Mark Twain once wrote, “Distance lends enchantment to the view.” I love this quote because it has a cool double meaning, both physical and psychological. When you physically pull back from something, you get a broader view, a deeper perspective. Metaphorically, when you have mental distance from something, it can look rosier in retrospect than it did in reality.
I keep both interpretations of Twain’s quote in mind as I drive Donica, our friend Megha and her 2 parents (from India) up the steep, windy road to Twin Peaks. This isn’t David Lynch’s Twin Peaks – the 1990 surreal drama taking place somewhere in the Northwest. I’m talking about the Twin Peaks in San Francisco, located near the geographical center of the city. Once dubbed “Los Pechos de la Chola” or “Breasts of the Indian Maiden” by the Spanish conquistadors and settlers who arrived at the beginning of the 18th century, Twin Peaks consists of two hills, “Eureka” and “Noe.” It’s one of the highest spots in town, and hence one of the premier places for viewing the sweeping San Francisco cityscape. It’s also a darn cold, foggy and windy place, which is why our Twin Peaks stop on the Dave Blum City Tour is always accompanied by jackets, scarves and blankets.
The view from Twin Peaks *is* magnificent; one might even say it’s “enchanting.” To our left is the Golden Gate Bridge, its red towers peeking out from atop the Presidio. Straight ahead is the downtown area, all jagged streets and skyscrapers, with the bay beyond it serving as a sparkly backdrop. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Oakland and Berkeley in the East Bay, like my Dad and I did back in October 1991 when the Oakland hills were ablaze with a massive firestorm. The dark plume of smoke, an inverted pyramid, was clearly visible from our lofty view on Twin Peaks—quite an impressive sight, albeit not exactly enchanting.
I love taking people up Twin Peaks. When you’re down on the streets of the City, it can feel crowded and chaotic. To be sure, there are beautiful places to be seen, but it’s also an American city – which means a fair amount of trash, a decent amount of homelessness. When you get up high, though, you see the contours of the city: the ever-present hills, the bay sweeping west into the Pacific Ocean, the bridges and the islands and the sailboats. San Francisco is such a unique city, built on the tip of a peninsula and surrounded by water on 3 sides. You see it all from Twin Peaks AND it’s a great place to contemplate “the bigger picture.” Like, “Where have I been in my life?” and “Where am I going?” For the five of us, on this chilly, foggy day, we know exactly where we’re going next: a nearby café for hot chocolates!
(Nostalgia is a curious phenomenon. Everything was better “back in the day,” wasn’t it? The distance of time has a tendency to lend “enchantment” to our memories of a person, place or thing. But if you could go back in time, would the past really be as rosy as you remember? There’s no way of knowing, of course, as time machines have not yet been developed. I suppose it’s worth contemplating, especially the next time you’re taking in the view from a place like Twin Peaks: should I be spending my time looking back on my “glory days,” or looking forward to what is to come?)