h a l l o w e e n

[ 15:53 saturday 3 november – leavenworth street, san francisco, california ]

the afternoon sun filters through maple leaves where i sit on the roof terrace atop warren and ann’s san francisco house. a humming- bird flits back and forth, restlessly probing flowers on one bush after another. the honk of sea lions drifts up from fisherman’s wharf half a mile below. a permanent gaggle of tourists chatters and snaps their cameras at lombard street’s famously wiggly section immediately beneath the house. each time i come i feel more at home. it helps when the weather is so sublime, unusual even for san francisco in november.

i landed here on tuesday for some conference presentations and a string of meetings. an hour after i arrived at the house i was startled by a bang followed by several seconds of creaking and lurching. reverting quickly to ann’s instruction i leapt up and stood under the open doorway, recognising that an earthquake was in progress. the following day it was reported as 5.6 richter, the strongest since 1989, with an epicentre near fremont on the east bay. san francisco’s way of saying hallo.

wednesday evening was halloween which it turns out is a key date in the city’s calendar, on a par with good friday in trapani. the festival here has transcended the conventional panoply of witches, ghouls and trick-or-treating to become a much broader orgy of self- expression and outrageous costume. the whole city takes part but the homosexual community seems to play a catalytic role and the castro, the city’s “gay ghetto”, has established itself as the centre of festivities with tens of thousands of revelers cramming into a few blocks.

however last year things got out of hand and there were nine shootings during the castro party so this year the city government decided to cancel it. they persuaded a lot of bars and clubs to shut for the day, closed down buses and underground services to the area and mounted a propaganda campaign on the theme “home for halloween”. but it’s hard to stand in the way of a public ritual that’s gathered such momentum and ten to twenty thousand people turned up despite the government’s efforts. people kept coming up and congratulating me on my costume which was slightly perplexing since i was just wearing my everyday clothes.

: c :

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