Simone De Beauvoir: San Francisco- “A geometric delirium”

Simone De Beauvoir
America day by day (1954)


“Where is the city? It’s as though someone had conjured it away. Suddenly, we come out on a great, red-gold bridge – the Golden Gate Bridge- and on our right we discover the splendor of San Francisco, tiered on its hills around a magnificent bay. The city is all white and golden in the setting sun. It’s heart-stopping. (…)
I’ve seen many cities built above the sea. As different as Marseille, Algiers, Lisbon and Naples are, they all have a common feature: their hills are used as architectural elements. The streets marry their curves; they climb in spirals so artfully that the sea can be glimpsed from almost anyplace. What looks so complicated on the map seems simple and natural in reality. But it’s quite the opposite here: San Francisco is a shockingly stubborn abstraction, a geometric delirium. The plan was traced on paper without the architect even glancing at the site. It’s a checkerboard pattern of straight lines and right angles, just as in New York or Buffalo. The hills, those very material obstructions, are simply denied; the streets scale up them and hurry down without deviating from their rigid design. As a result, you hardly ever see the ocean. (…)
Suddenly, at the top of an avenue much like the others, we find ourselves on the edge of a cliff with a view of the sea. The road leading down to the plain spread out at our feet is so dizzying that it seems mad to risk it by car.”


America day by day, 1954
Page 135-137
University of California Press, 1999
Translated from Simone De Beauvoir “L’Amérique au jour le jour” , 1954 Edition Gallimard.


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