At Home in the World

Gettin' it Done and Then Some

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

bernal heights cont.. There are no symbols in the city.

though i was staying in a house at the End of a (Moultrie) Street (another phenomenon for another time) most of the way down the hill of bernal heights, i could still look down on more housing. at the very bottom of the hill, right next to the highway, behind noise barriers was a housing development. would it be as scary if i didnt hear shots coming from down there a couple of nights a week? the discarded bicycle wouldnt have menace. the two vans that never moved from their spots on the curb would have fewer associations. the delapidation of the units, the raw, patchy grass, the total lack of people walking around, it would all feel less of a type. but it shouldnt be this way. cities defy this sort of associative, unimaginative thinking. this is not an evasion of statistics. its defiance of the statistics. crime may occur way more often in certain neighborhoods. then those neighborhoods become branded. you think you know what you are getting to any given place. it sickens me when i hear someone refer to a place (Harlem is a good example) as though a place 'means' something. a place gains associations and accrues statistics. but to limit a place by trying to bound it is irresponsible. the victims are the people who live there. they must live with the facts of their neighborhood AND the associations. how can their lives not tend more towards self-fulfilling prophecy? this goes for The Bottom of the Hill and Belle Aire.
so lets all skip down through the jackgrass at the end of moultrie st. and have a hootenanny in the projects.


a month and three american cities. some backtrack.
san francisco, bernal heights --> the main street, cortland, organizes the neighborhood with a spine of mostly yuppie consumer fair. a couple of down home places with varying ethnic homes. a bar that is solidly black, yuppie and hipster on different days of the week. but the business district of a nieghborhood too often can be taken for its face. i preferred the garage where every night these two guys stood outside in the california cold and rapped off pieces of paper to beats. the traffic signs that read "speed humps" and all the people working in their garages on cars, woodwork, machines, metal, artwork.
i was living near the bottom of the hill of this neighborhood with cortland being the near top. going up into the commericial area and down the hill was another reminder of "high and low" the kurosawa movie where an embittered student living in poverty kidnaps toshiro's son out of their luxury pad looming atop the hill.
vague impressions from books and newspapers of port au prince has all the shack housing and leanto structures up in the hills overlooking the town. heights and there counterpoints, walking them, living on or near them. getting up a hill is more of a goal-oriented walk than a flatland walk. the new viewpoint / status is attained -- more of a physical impression of changed circumstance. these experiences affect us.
i grew up on the most modest of mountains. technically a mountain, though it felt more like a hill. it was near the top. the drive up the hill on the visit home is full of attached history and the slight anxiety of considering my current life in relation to a more tangible past. driving up the hill heightens this feeling. as though i am climbing into that tricky region, working to get there. you can tell yourself these things make no difference to the facts of your life but they exert an influence on you and your lying if you think they dont. geography is strong perfume.