embarrassing to admit i finally understand that awful brooke poem

I miss Cambridge. My commitment to contrariness is the stuff of legend. I particularly miss Grantchester, which is a fairly obvious sublimation of the extent to which I have always missed Grant and Kirsty.

San Francisco, my equal in contrariness, is doing its utmost to win back my affections. On Friday we left the kids with a babysitter and went to the Lumiere to see Werner Herzog’s film Encounters at the End of the World. As we arrived a limo pulled up and a whole bunch of people in fancy dress got out. I regret to say I was quietly sarcastic about this, because they turned out to be the producer/cinematographer and several of the interview subjects.

Encounters is about Antarctica. Unusually for a Antarctic film it was made for no budget under the Artists and Writers program; so there were no minders following Herzog around whitewashing everything, ho ho. This shows, especially in the early scenes, where McMurdo squats on Ross Island like a filthy little mining town, and we spend a good deal of time talking to the service workers who make up 90% of the population.

If you like Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel Antarctica, funded by the same program, you’ll love this film. Herzog likes the same misfit-idealists for the same reasons. And it’s not all righteous social anthropology either. You can’t really point a camera anywhere down there without seeing something unimaginably beautiful and strange. Producer Henry Kaiser is a specialist diver who blasts holes in 20-foot-thick ice with TNT, then swims in the ocean underneath.

The footage from those dives is otherworldly. There are aliens down there.

Encounters may be the best science fiction film I have ever seen.

After the excellent Q&A, Jeremy and I headed out into Russian Hill walking randomly. I wanted to try Petit Robert, although I had no idea where it was. We walked briskly up Polk, under a friendly fog, past wine bars with warm laughter spilling out. It all felt very French and lo, there was Petit Robert. Jeremy had rabbit risotto and I had moules frites. We split a bottle of really delicious pinot blanc, and the dessert came with milk jam, a kind of dulce de leche that catapulted me back to the alfajors my sister used to make by boiling cans of condensed milk, when I was a little girl.

On Saturday we went to Spanish class then drove out to the newly-reopened Warming Hut for sandwiches. I was not-quite-subliminally looking for a place as pretty as Grantchester. Crissy Field is not it; it’s striking but not beautiful. Still, I loved seeing one of the Pier 39 sea lions porpoising along right in front of us.

“Sea monster!” Jules cried joyfully.

We spent the afternoon at the Dyke Rally in Dolores Park. It was too crowded for me, I don’t really like human beings en masse, they are strange, unaccountable chimpanzees. But it was lovely drinking chardonnay with Ian and talking about Europe. We agreed that San Francisco looks and feels like a frontier town compared to Paris or London. Ian says that no one is allowed to build anything in Barcelona until they can prove the new building will be much prettier than the old one.

Today we took both kids to see Wall-E. Jules particularly loved it and was able to follow the plot very closely: “Robot! He has lost his friend. Oh! He has found his friend again!” I cried, because I am a big girly wuss, and also because the dystopian beginning – an Earth of garbage – is much more plausible than the hopeful end. I tend to think the future will look more like McMurdo and less like Grantchester or Oz Farm, but I hope I am very wrong.

Oh! I forgot to mention that a neighbour brought his kid to Martha & Bros this morning. Not his human child. His baby goat. An orphan from the herd he keeps down at the Port of San Francisco. She was adorable and soft, and capered about. A goat in the cafe! Maybe I am wrong!

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