Thursday, October 09, 2003

If you go to Paris, you shouldnt rely too heavily on Karen Elizabeth Gordon's Paris out of Hand

"..catch the Metro Marquis de Sade for Ars Poetica, La Toucherie, and further wondrous adventures. From the disconcerting Brasserie Loplop, steal your chair for the Pont Neuf cinema, whose movies flow onto the Seine. Your curiosity sated for the day, check into the Hotel des Etrangers where phantoms change the sheets.."

The Paris she writes about is imaginary. But each city has its quirky charms. When my girlfriend (at the time) and I landed in Madrid, we booked ourselves into the Hotel Monaco. We knew it was a converted brothel, but the mirrored ceilings still took us by surprise. But that hotel, like all first impressions, affected everything else we saw there. And so Madrid still feels like a city that seems unknowable on the outside but is charming though a bit surreal in its depths. I blame Almodovar too.

But a real guide to a city should be more than a list of museums and famous streets. The heart of cities like San francisco, my own city, is not to be found in a casual stroll in North Beach. It is also there on Sunday mornings as the hipsters on Valencia st. vie for brunch tables at Boogaloo's, leafing through the Atlantic at Farley's in Potrero hill, standing in the burrito line at Pancho Villa, watching the campfires at Ocean beach, Shopping for fruit on Mission St. on a weekend, coffee in Noe Valley as a small parade of baby strollers and dogs go by...

But even as I wrote that, I realized I was hesitant to write too much. The best city is the one you discover on your own. Perhaps the best guide would be called The City guide to Moments of Accidental Discovery. By definition that perfect quide to a city cannot be written.

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