San Francisco. I thought I hadn’t seen San Francisco; of course, I’d seen something of it, seen the centre and the buildings and the cable cars avalanching by; but I felt there was a social San Francisco out there, the supercool city of Maupin, which I was somehow missing by not knowing anyone there.

Yet, first off, the city’s much smaller than I thought it would be – it doesn’t feel as big as Manhattan by itself – and a lot more of it is suburbs than any major city I’ve been to. It also feels self-contained, because it’s on this cut-off peninsula and, more importantly, feels totally artificial, with typical cross-cutting streets and standard movie-magic houses. It’s like someone took an Acme American Town flatpack and rolled it out over the island before they noticed the hill. It’s like it was designed by a weeping tycoon or despot with a team of cartographers, Nero looking for his new Rome, Charles II’s London or Hitler and Speer’s Berlin. An odd analogy for such a liberated place but there’s a certain totalitarianism about its ideal of freedom, like any ideal that claims to count for a specific proportion of humanity.

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