Readers here will know I love my city – London – with its many failings not forgotten or ignored. I’ve been lucky to visit many others: friendly, coherent, stunning, beautiful, historic, quirky. None come close to holding my attention apart maybe from one. One on another continent, with a different character and where I’ve never lived, only visited. That one? San Francisco. I took part in a prompt last week, over at Microcosms, the prompt being a characetr: Professor, place: San Francisco, and genre: Romance. This little piece won it. Who knew I could do soppy?
Maybe it was the wild hair, the half moon glasses or the piecing stare that got him his moniker: the Professor. He was a fixture here, just as much as the vertiginous Russian Hill, the Presidio, that bridge, Ghiradelli’s and Boudin’s sourdough. He sat at the top of Lombard Street every Monday giving motorists advice in haiku form as they eased their hired cars down the impossible hairpin. Tuesdays and he took a spot in the shadow of the iconic Coit tower, where he serenaded visitors with a set of tankas set to Music that eulogised the union labour that inspired its creation. The rest of the week was variously spent: in Haight Ashbury celebrating diversity through sonnets; Chinatown and the power of multiculturalism via rhyming limericks; and Union Square and the dissonance of capitalist consumerism through blank verse.
No one knew where he went at weekends. Rough guides, who spoke of catching the Professor as a local character much like any attraction, were equally clueless.
What they didn’t realise, what no one knew was how the Professor changed. From the bodily odiferous shabby hobo, he morphed into James Pattison, clean cut, grey suited and passionate cheerleader for all things San Frankie. He attended town meetings, appeared on local TV, wrote blogs, rallied and protested and tweeted and posted. He loved his city, the City like no one before or since. And in those quiet moments of repose, between debating and proselytising, he composed his weekly poetry output, taking time to include, expressly or obliquely that love in his homages to his Golden City, the place that had accepted a broken, bereft loner, embraced him, fed him and given him hope.
His job was indeed as a Professor – a Professer of his adoration to this great conurbation, his Olympus.
PS any errors in geography are mine and mine alone. I wanted to work from my memory of that splendid, beguiling place…