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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Ode to San Fran

This Life column from last Friday's Day and Night magazine in the Irish Independent.

Right now, I'm moaning to anyone who'll listen to me that I just want a week lying on a beach in the sun. I don't want to see anything, learn anything or talk to anyone. I just want to lie there, baking and turning intermittently like a rotisserie chicken.

But I know that's just the stressed-out, washed-out side of me talking. I think anymore that I'd just go mad after a few hours of doing nothing. Maybe it's the nature of my job, or, more likely, that I'm just an atrocious time-keeper, but my free time has become very precious to me of late.
It's almost gotten to the point where I can't decide on anything to do because I feel I should be maximising every last second of my time off on something that really matters to me. That mentality has inevitably seeped into the way I approach holidays too.

So earlier this year, four of us decided to hit the States for a round trip to Vegas, LA and San Francisco. It was an amazing experience: cultured (kinda), mature (sorta) and sober (not at all). But for me, the last part of the trip was more than just a holiday. It was more like a big gift wrapped in a giant rainbow-coloured bow had been handed to the little inner Declan (not him again!) who had dreamed of visiting the City by the Bay for as long as he could remember.

One of my all time favourite books, Tales of the City (Armistead Maupin's 78% gay ode to San Fran) opens with the following line: "Mary Ann Singleton was twenty-five years old when she saw San Francisco for the first time."

I was also twenty-five years old when I saw San Francisco for the first time, and while I'm not a woman named Mary Ann (not anymore, anyway), I was a singleton when I got there. So I took it that the connections between me, the book that I've loved for years, and the city that I've always wanted to visit were all mystically aligning themselves. Not bad going for a holiday.

I loved every second in the place, and if holidays are supposed to rejuvenate you, a holiday that's also the fulfilment of a youthful fantasy is the energising equivalent of pouring a bag of Skittles into a bottle of Coke, shaking it and downing it one.

People love San Francisco for all sorts of reasons, but for me, like so many other gay men, The City is like the mothership. It's a city where a quarter of the population are gay, and probably the only place on earth where straight folk are a minority - spiritually, if not statistically.

What's more, the images of the city are intricately linked in my mind to the TV adaptation of Tales of the City, which I saw when I was 15 or 16, and of trying to sneakily watch it, with my hand on the remote, ready to flick over to the Oireachtas Report the second anyone came into the room, lest they rumble what you were watching and perhaps figure it – and you - all out.
Of course, the content of that show is harmless beyond belief by today's standards, but when you're young and have found something that makes a little more sense of your life for the first time, that can take you on its own kind of holiday, the likes of which you've never experienced.

So walking those streets, visiting those landmarks, throwing myself into that city's indescribable essence – that did for me what no seven days attempting to get a farmer tan on a packed beach could ever hope to do. I’d recommend that everyone ask their own ‘inner Declan’ where they want to go next year.

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