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San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods, each with distinct characteristics, attitudes, problems, resources and possibilities. From the Sunset to South Beach, San Francisco State University to Bay View/Hunters Point, these communities and their residents together make San Francisco one of the world's most engaging cities.

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The Neighborhoods of San Francisco

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Old San Francisco, Old news

One tragic trend in my neighborhood that I've noticed are all of the closed businesses. San Francisco always claims to be a city that is all about supporting its local neighborhoods and from what I have seen it is better than many other cities in that respect. However, walking along the commercial section of this neighborhood I walked past a lot of businesses that were closing down. I guess this is common in a lot of neighborhoods in a lot of cities, but it is still a shame to see a lot of the local businesses closing. What's always nice about places like these businesses is the fact that it has a greater tie to the residents near by and they have the neighborhoods interest in mind. I can't say what has caused so many of these businesses to close. This isn't to say that all of the businesses are closing because there are a lot of establishments that have been in the neighborhood for the better part of a century. It just seems that the when these things are lost the neighborhood loses an asset. And some neighborhoods need all of the assets that they can get. 

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Old Country

Something that I have always thought was weird about my neighborhood was its streets. Not the pavement itself. The neighborhood looks just like any other. It isn't grotesquely poor nor is it grotesquely posh. It is just a regular neighborhood where the neighbors try to look out for each other and their community. What I mean by streets are the actual streets signs. The giants slender giants that loom over head on the street corner. The large majority of them are named after European countries and cities. The street names are surprising and somewhat out of place in this neighborhood. The strangest part is the is the juxtaposition of the street names and the things that are found on those streets. The Italian American Social club is on Russia Street, the Chinese Hospital on Paris street, the Salvadorean bakery on Persia. Somehow Persia flew under the radar. Back to the point. It is so odd to walk down the streets here and see all of the organizations and businesses that cater to a specific national culture be on the street named after a completely different culture. 

interesting encounters

I will never say that it was easy to get people to talk to me this semester. Walking up to people in the streets to pry into what they consider personal was difficult enough. The experience was only made more difficult by the fact that people often treated me as some sort of leper. 
"Can I ask you a couple of questions about the neighbhorhood?"
"No! I don't know anything."
It was like some sort of knee jerk reaction that most people had. It was surprising to find so many people who didn't know anything. How they function without knowing a single thing is beyond my meager understanding. 
However, the people who were willing....Well when it rains it pours. One person in particular comes to mind when I think of my time in the Excelsior. His name was Winston. Straight talker is the best description for this guy. The first time that I met this man he told me to beware of anyone over the age of seven. "They always lie!" 
No, he's not some run of the mill crazy spouting nonsense for the sake of it. He is perfectly lucid and perfectly astute in his social estimations. He is a former Excelsior business owner who has moved to the Dominican Republic within the last two years. He stands about six feet three inches and with a black overcoat. His black fedora hangs low over his eyebrows and comes to a soft point around the level of his eyes. Looking past his rimless frames I saw the faintest blue rim around his pupil. He looked like he would be just as at home walking into a jazz club ready to blow out an improvisational masterpiece bound to change someone's life with its sound. He is in a word cool. 
For about 30 minutes he ranted and raved about everyone from the current police chief, to the former district supervisor, to the Ken doll look-a-like mayor. No one was safe, nor should they be. He was one of those men who calls it like he sees it and he makes no apologies because as he says "It's the truth". There isn't too much more about this I just thought that a man with such brazen honesty should be noticed. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mua isn't just the sound of a kiss

It was a cold and stormy night...Well not really, it was actually a really day. After a killer 10-hour work day at the dry cleaner I felt that I needed to let loose like a goose and enjoy a bit of the downtown Berkeley/Oakland's nightlife. I wanted to have a good time, but I also did not want to spend all of my money. I must have done a lot of good deeds in my past life because a friend of mine called me and told me that his friend was celebrating his birthday at a new bar in Oakland called Mua. He said there will be free drinks and there will be no cover charge. In my head I did several back flips along with a jumping leg kicker, but I kept my cool and said "I'm down." Several hours later we were on our way to this fantastically new bar. "There it is," my friend said as we passed by what seemed to be an inconspicuous warehouse. We parked conveniently close to the warehouse-bar and made our one minute journey towards the magical place of fun and booze. Upon entering Mua I initially noticed something that was terrifying odd: no one was there to check the door, let alone my i.d. Though the place looked like a run-down warehouse on the outside, the inside was beautiful. The walls were decorated with dozens of abstract paintings, the floor had dozens of lovely dark brown hard-wood tables that conveniently had candles on them, and a healthy mixture of people sat around while enjoying the calm atmosphere. I would get into details about the partying, but that is of no importance. OK I'll give a little taste; there was drinking, high fives, some hugs here and there, and a lot of dancing. In-between doing the running man and the robot I felt a bit of emptiness inside me. Maybe it was his first time or maybe he just didn't know what the hell he was doing, but the DJ was terrible. I've never once been to a bar or club where one minute the Cache-Control: max-age=0

plays gansta rap and the next minute he switches over to the sweet jams of Madonna. And never have I been to a place where one minute the dance floor is congested with people shaking their junk and the next they are scurrying away, hoping to find the nearest exit. I tend to think of myself as easy to please, but the DJ at Mua shouldn't quit his day job. Anyway, that was it for my interesting outing at a new bar in Oakland that I think will eventually get more recognition that it deserves. Party on!

Local Paper

One of the many characters that I've met at my favorite neighborhood cafe is this older gentleman who is a lawyer. When I met him I was doing the profile story about the Mama's Art Cafe. I didn't imagine when I was talking to him that I might get a job offer out of the conversation. In fact I didn't think that he would even remember me, but when I saw him in the cafe a few weeks after the profile he did in fact remember me. We started talking and I mentioned that something he said to me about the neighborhood being "old San Francisco" was going to be the focus of my final story. He then told me about the an idea that he had to start an online newspaper written by younger people in the neighborhood about the neighborhood, and he offered to let me write for it if they could in fact turn the idea into a concrete reality. I have to say I was floored by the fact that the man would offer a writing job to someone whose writing he never in fact read but it made me think of the idea little more. Community papers, if one can believe what they hear, are still relatively strong. Understandably, finances and resources may make production more difficult for local papers but those that stay afloat have an advantage. They are the only publications covering their neighborhoods and I think it's safe to say that people like to have something based in their own communities that speak to them specifically. The Excelsior doesn't get a much attention in San Francisco from what I've noticed outside of perhaps Jerry Day (Festival to celebrate Jerry Garcia's birthday. Jerry was raised in the Excelsior neighborhood). A neighborhood like the Excelsior which sometimes gets forgotten because it isn't a big tourist attraction could use a publication that is specifically for its residents. Whether or not the idea that my new friend has will take flight is still to be determined but the fact still remains that the neighborhood could use a little attention. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Maria Luisa

So this is going to be third blog about food, but I really have to mention this bakery. It's called Pacita's Salvadorean Bakery. The Excelsior has no shortage of Salvadorian restaurants and bakeries but it's the first that I've tried and I wasn't disappointed. 
I bakery is on Persia street just off of Mission. Because the neighborhood is predominately residential there aren't too many businesses outside of Mission and Geneva. The fact that it's tucked off to the side confirms my suspicion that the places that are well hidden are usually the most surprising and addicting. I ignored the fact that I had to park about two blocks away to find a parking space to go to a place that I wasn't even sure would be worth the walk. Walking down the street I noticed a barbershop at the corner and a papuseria right next door to the bakery. The fact that the bakery was this close to a papuseria earned the business major brownie points for me. 
I walked in and the place was sort of cramped. I could have walked the length of the entire store in no more than five steps. The owner was behind the counter and she was shuffling around behind the counter as if she were an Olympic ice skater. "Hi" she said to me and smiled a very warm smile that already made me feel at home. "I just mopped back here. I'm trying to dry the floor," she said next. I must have had an inquisitive look on my face that I was unaware of by the sudden offering of this information. I looked at all of the goods in the glass container. Sprinkles and chocolate and frosting, oh my! I was stumped when she asked me what I wanted. It was like my brain caved under the pressure of being in a new place and being around the sweet smell of butter and sugar that hit me before I even walked inside. So naturally I did the only thing I knew would yield some results I asked:
"What's your favorite?"
"Um...My favorites are the cookies here," she said while she pointed to the little round mounds of dough that were filled with different fruit. After overcoming the decision of which fruit-filled cookie to take (guava, apple and strawberry) I moved onto the little cakes that had the a small layer of pink covering them. 
"What are these?" I asked her. She went on to explain that they were Maria Luisa's and they are a small cakes with a layer of custard in between the layers. I know nothing about custard but something that cute couldn't be that bad I reasoned and I asked for half a dozen. When I asked how they got the name she admitted she wasn't sure but she said, "I think the cook was in love with someone named Maria Luisa. Men always name things after a woman," she said. This begged the question: Why do men always name their objects after women? I'm sure Freud would have a field day with this question, but it is beside the point. I just want to put it out there. Back to the important topic at hand: pastries. I left the bakery with two large pink boxes of culinary promise. And I have to say that the guava cookies deserve much of the hype surrounding the taste. 


I know that anyone who lives in this city has their favorite spot. It's the place where they would go all the time if they were able. It's the place that makes San Francisco a place worth living. Some people love eating cotton candy at the Wharf. Others like to get a book and waste an afternoon at Dolores Park. However, I like Mama's Art Cafe in the Excelsior. I'm well aware that the bustling cosmopolitan that is San Francisco has a number of sights and activities to offer anyone willing to find them. For me I have simple tastes which Mama's satisfies. It's completely sunlit. The walls are a bright charismatic green with paintings of a woman vaguely reminiscent of Diego Rivera's work. there is a large couch and large tables that force customers to sit with one another and get to know someone new. Aside from the fact that the cafe has free wi-fi which makes it an excellent place to study, the cafe features a different artist each month so there is always something new to look at. There's always a very calming feeling inside. The most attractive part of the cafe is the fact that most of the people who come here know one another. Each time I've gone in there I've ended up having two-hour long conversations with complete strangers. The people that I've met there have lived there for years and their families are rooted in the neighborhood for  three or four generations. The cafe has a spirit that is welcoming because the people are completely warm and inviting. Everyone that is there loves their city, but more importantly they love their neighborhood. They see the Excelsior for its faults but they have a love for it despite those imperfections. It is always refreshing to be around people who have an genuine enthusiasm for a particular thing no matter what that thing may be. I appreciate it since this enthusiasm is not something that I encounter in others often. Perhaps if I go there enough their enthusiasm will rub off on me. One can only hope, right?