San Francisco doesn’t look like San Francisco today, she said, fastidiously rearranging a lock of her unruly hair. “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” is a quote that Mark Twain probably never said. She mistrusts quotes like she mistrusts most things. Memory plays tricks with our minds, but there were photos. She in her pre-nuptial grin at Neptune’s Palace Seafood Restaurant. She imitating the mermaid’s pose at Girardelli’s Square. Both of them in an embrace full of promises – happiness announced. Sometimes she revisited these pictures with a lump in her throat: she couldn’t feel anymore. She had shunned life.
But San Francisco today can be seen in all its splendor, don’t you agree? – the American husband answers with a question. As constant as the north star.
– Alcatraz Island looks so lovely and the Golden Gate Bridge seems really golden, that’s all she could come back with.
– Yes, he promptly replies. A spark of hope. The Golden Gate is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
– Really? She raises an eyebrow and savors the last sip of wine.
Can’t you realize? This is so out of place. Where is the fog? Where is the San Francisco from eight years ago? We could hardly discern the bridge. It was part of the local aesthetics. He pretends not to understand, it’s best like this. He searches for the smallest twinkle in her oblique eyes. She hadn’t slept well last night. On the way back we will stop by City Lights Bookstore, he thinks. She loves the ambiance and books tend to make her happy.
What happens to the lost minute? Which millisecond marks the solemn loss? When and how the gaze loses its luster and the yearning for life starts to fade? She looked for answers in the wind when she could not fall sleep.
They both stare at the bridge. The Golden Gate has an impressive history behind its construction. Joseph Strauss had bequeathed to posterity the most iconic San Francisco landmarks but he also left a few verses:
As harps for the winds of heaven,
My web-like cables are spun;
I offer my span for the traffic of man,
At the gate of the setting sun.
She translates the words her way. The winds of heaven; the traffic of man; the setting sun sound foreboding enough: The Golden Gate had become a monument of suicide. How many people have jumped off the bridge? She asks. He doesn’t know and does not care. He never cared too much about people. She thought this was his hamartia, a major flaw in his character. The bridge of suicide. Is it the height, the imposing architecture, the plunge, the gelid melancholy of the Pacific ocean or a combination of all of this?
Because of the high suicide rate, it is believed that San Francisco bay residents suffer from gephyrophobia, a disorder characterized by the fear of bridges. It must be a gruesome death, she shudders. At least a thousand and two hundred suicides were officially registered. There was a macabre excitement when the number of suicides approached five hundred and then a thousand, in 1995. Alarmed, members of the American Association of Suicidology asked the media to stop divulging the numbers. It is known, however, that Eric Atkinson, 25 years of age, was the thousandth.
Some jumpers wrap suicide notes to their pockets. “Survival of the fittest. Adios — unfit,” is a note found in the pocket of one seventy-year-old jumper. Stories surrounding suicide at the Golden Gate Bridge are incredibly popular – human disgrace has always been a guaranteed success.
Only one percent survive the leap. This is the case of Kevin Hanes who claims he was helped by a sea lion who kept circling around him until the Coast Guard rescued him.
Survivors report that they often regret their decision in midair.
Her gaze shifts south and lingers on Alcatraz, another haunting monument to despair. What choice was there but to plunge in the icy Pacific waters? Death for some is more than a certainty. It is a defiance to a fate unduly prescribed to you.
That day the San Francisco bay was the aesthetics of pain. Eight years and everything changes. San Francisco and, above all, the gaze.
The waitress approaches and sums up the scene: the melancholic eyes of the beautiful woman (she is not an American, her trained eyes venture) and the curious and slightly embarrassed look of the husband. He asks for the bill, politely.
The sun shines on, oblivious of the moment.
– Let’s go, my love. We can’t waste this wonderful day. One more day in paradise!
She stands up and smiles charmingly: let’s go.
Neptune’s Palace Seafood Restaurant (San Francisco, CA 94133 tel. 415-434-2260) is one of the best located restaurants at Pier 39. From there you can marvel at the flights of seagulls criss crossing the sky. From there you can delight in the languor of the sea lions. Families of tourists, happy disheveled heads receiving the cold bay breeze. For a moment, the girl lets go of her mother’s hand. The boyfriend forgets about the world warming in the sun nestling on his girlfriend’s lap. A passerby whistles joyfully. Shots of life that seem to serve a purpose. Protected by the right to live, living poems captured by the gaze.
The traditional New England clam-chowder served on a bread bowl is a popular starter at Neptune’s Palace. But the highlight of the restaurant is its fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz island. Particularly on a foggy day.