Friday, May 10, 2024


When I was young and reading books such as Peter Pan and Treasure Island, my family traveled to San Francisco. As we walked down a street, a pirate turned the corner and brushed past us with his parrot on his shoulder. He had a pirate's hat and eye patch and jangled when he walked. I was enthralled and wondered if he came right out of the books I'd been reading.

I was reminded of the pirate the other day as I turned off Market Street and stepped down the stairs at Jessie Square to Yerba Buena Gardens. In front of me, a large grey pit bull paced rapidly over the stairs and into a flower bed. A long lead extended from his collar to a man dressed in a Union Army coat, with heavy black boots with metal-like shields going up his calves. The man had at least four knives (all plastic) stuck in scabbards on his right side and a shinier knife on his left. His large black hat with the Union insignia at the crown hid his face except for the grey beard that flowed down his front. He seemed to have dropped out of the sky into our century. The two of them cruised down the stairs past the Press Club towards the gardens across the street. I wondered if San Francisco doesn't have a portal to other times that occasionally opens to allow someone from another time to come through. And what would they think of us?

Living in a city is like that. You never know who will appear around a corner. People come to cities to seek anonymity so they can try on different parts of themselves. Others yearn to duplicate other times in history or to return to their own roots. When we lived in Paris, we rode the subway to the Garde du Nord. Out of the window, as the train slowed, I saw a group of men in a drum circle, but not the usual casual drum circle that we see in San Francisco. These men were the fiercest men I've ever seen. They wore the clothing of their home countries -- white robes and turbans. They seemed to have just ridden out of the desert in a cloud of sanddust, the drum beats compounding their intensity. They reminded me of the men at a Samurai parade in Japan who changed from the typical Japanese working man carefully dressed in coat and tie into powerful warriors as they posed in Samurai regalia. I could almost hear their rough growls, jangling body shields, and collective hard stomping of their boots as they approached a battlefield.

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