New fallen snow blanketed the countryside. The sounds of passing cars along the road were muted in the still, peaceful air. Hills and valleys, in their blanket of snow, rolled softly into the distance, bathed in the mellow light of a nearly full moon. A woody smell of burning pine and warm hearths teased at my nostrils as I turned up the lane toward the house, snow crunching beneath my boots.
The house shone with a warm hazy glow, gentle sounds of laughter and Christmas carols hung sweetly in the air. A string of lights - red, green, blue, yellow - bright and happy, wound around the big picture window next to the front door of the house. In the window stood a tall, handsome Spruce, freshly cut from the surrounding hills. Bright shiny ornaments, colorful lights, garland, and tinsel adorned every sturdy branch. At the very top, a big star blazed brightly, beckoning me into this warm, cozy house. A dog barked in the moonlit distance as I walked up the narrow path to the front door. I reached out my hand to turn the big brass doorknob... There was a squeal of brakes and the clatter of garbage cans, the men in their stained coveralls hoisted the contents into the back of the garbage truck. Then the roar of the diesel engine as they moved up the rain-soaked street to continue their daily, early-morning rounds... Once again, the world from outside my San Francisco flat intruded abruptly into my dream-induced inner reality. The crunching snow under my boots and the dusky smell of smoke in my nostrils was my dream-like version of Christmases long gone...
I awoke to Christmastime in San Francisco.
It was all a dream of course. The passage of thirty or forty years tends toward an idealized, Norman Rockwell-like remembrance of my childhood Christmas. I’m sure that even then the early morning rounds of garbagemen jolted people out of languid, happy dreams of Christmas and youth.
But as my drowsy brain awakens to reality, I recall fond memories of a more recent past, right here in the City.
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in San Francisco…
Winter in San Francisco is the one time during the year that it is generally warmer in the City than in the outlying areas.
Mark Twain once observed that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer day in San Francisco. The summers are cool, and the winters are mild. The changing of the seasons are a bit more subtle here, but they are here.
The brilliant blue sky after a good winter storm - one or two inches of rain - as the late autumn afternoon sun casts dramatic shadows on the flats in the neighborhood. The deep, sound-deadening fog of winter that seems to come up from the ground instead of the summer variety that comes off the ocean. The light dusting of snow on the outlying hills surrounding San Francisco - Mt. Diablo, Mt. Hamilton, Mt. Tamalpais.
People bustling down the street, dressed in their winter garb. Odd combinations of scarf, heavy down jacket, gloves - and shorts… sometimes even sandals. There tends to be confusion here if it’s really hot or cold. Or both at the same time, which, oddly enough, happens in San Francisco. Dressing in December can be tricky– indeed, any month of the year – and “layers” is the mantra of the well-dressed shopper or merry-maker. And there are people here that just seem to have an aversion to long pants.
From the silly to the sublime, concerts and shows celebrate the Christmas spirit… From “A Christmas Carol” at the American Conservatory Theater. To “The Nutcracker Suite” performed by the San Francisco Ballet. To Handel’s “Messiah”, at the magnificent Grace Cathedral atop Nob Hill. To the venerable dancing Christmas Trees and Sequined Santa of “Beach Blanket Babylon”, the unique cabaret-style show that is a San Francisco landmark in its twenty-eighth year. A walk down to Union Square with all the high-end retailers competing for the best window display… Eight stories of neon Christmas wreaths – dozens of them - adorning Macys. Winter scenes at Tiffany’s reminiscent of my Christmas dream….Wegman Dogs – dogs with human bodies - cook Christmas dinner, play at snowball fights, and dream sweet dreams of Christmas in the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue. At the corner of Post and Mason, two young women display their musical talents with voice and harp, the sounds of Christmas music mixing gently with the sound of car horns and busses… A passing cable car slowly climbing Nob Hill, brightly-lit reindeer on the roof cheerfully guiding its sluggish ascent as the cableman skillfully rings out Christmas carols with the bell… The mix of humanity on the sidewalk, from wealthy shoppers to homeless street people. Pan-handlers offering their usual mix of “Street Sheets” for a dollar; guilt - “come on… it’s Christmas” - as they challenge your averted glance; and humor – “can you spare two-thousand for lunch in Rome?” - and whoever smiles first gets the rest of the spiel.
From Union Square, an aimless walk up Nob Hill among the fine, old, brick apartment houses with their white-gloved doorman attending the entrance, a tall Christmas tree brightly lit in the lobby. On to the stately Victorians of Russian Hill, with their mix of lights and garland and trees decorating the individual flats.
An eggnog and rum at a lively North Beach pub, or a delicious meal at one of the many fine Italian restaurants, or perhaps some jazz at Pearls, in the neighborhood made famous by the “beat” generation. Yes indeed, San Francisco is alive with sights and sounds and smells and stories.
At Christmas, this city that has always been a little quirky, a little colorful, and even a little strange, comes alive with the sights, sounds, smells, and stories of the season - San Francisco style...
With a twist.
Published by TDS Information Service
©copyright 2001-2006. All Rights Reserved