I have visited San Francisco more times than any other American city and I have lots of fond memories of it. Save for Anaheim/ Disneyland, San Fran was the only American city my family visited when I was kid, and I still remember being simultaneously shocked and delighted by all the tattoos, piercings and homosexual PDA that I witnessed on that teenage trip (I grew up on farm on the Canadian prairies in the 90s, so these things were all novel…). I’ve been back to the city 4 times in the last 10 years, and I like getting new and different perspectives on it as the years pass- in this vein I picked up Kamiya’s book as a vacation read while I was there, with the goal of feeling really immersed.
Cool Gray City of Love is a series of short vignettes (49 in total) which provide a “view” (background, history, descriptions) of different areas of San Francisco that hold meaning for Kamiya, and he hopes for San Franciscans more generally. His interests are vast and varying, so this means that the vignettes are too. A sampling of topics: the geology of the different rock formations, tied to a particular outcropping; the AIDs crisis, tied to the Castro; the period of the Californios, tied to the earlier settled areas of the Bay; the history of the Tenderloin, tied to (surprise!) the Tenderloin; the history of black navy workers during the second world war, tied to the ports; etc.
I implicitly trust the information that Kamiya is imparting in his vignettes- in the process of putting together this collection, he literally walked the whole city of San Francisco, likening his journey to that of the London taxi drivers who were required to know all the city streets before they were certified to drive fares through it. Despite this, I’m not sure that I love or would recommend this book to anyone other than a San Fran resident or a die-hard San Fran fan- I’m a fairly big fan and even for me this book was a little much- dense and uneven as far as what held my interest (the AIDs epidemic vignette was fabulous, the one about geology less riveting). All told, I think I’d chalk that up to my interests, rather than a flaw on Kamiya’s part- he was very clear that he was providing views into San Fran, and everyone will have a different passion that speaks to them within those views.