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a man slumped on his desk, from 'The Sleep of Reason Produces



living by a hill in san francisco

I grew up in Essex. One of the many exciting things about Essex is that it is tremendously flat. My aunt and uncle lived in Derbyshire, and when we went there for holidays, I marvelled at the ravishing exoticness of real hills. Now I live in San Francisco, and I have my own hill, called Bernal Heights, which has wild flowers, one (1) microwave tower, coyote, lesbians and illegal soap-box derbies. I actually don’t live on Bernal Heights, being none of the preceding: I live in the neighbourhood of Precita Valley, which is about two foot away from Bernal Heights. (San Francisco neighbourhoods are about five feet by ten feet, and are mainly differentiated by differing property prices, native language, and whether their climate is tropical rainforest, saharan, or fogbound arctic tundra.)

Anyway, today Liz wondered what Precita meant in Spanish, and looked it up in a book. “Dude,” she said, “It means ‘damned‘. You live in the valley of the damned.” I refused to believe this, and looked it up on the Internet itself. People who live in Precita deny this, and claim we live in the Valley of the Dammed. The confusion between dammed and damned may have come from the location of San Francisco’s first sewer, which, as explained in this beautiful description of the city’s adventures in sewerage, was both.

We also discovered that Bernal Heights still has a few of the old prefab earthquake cottages that were built to house the homeless after the 1906 quake. We drove to a nearby shack (maps), and hummed and ahhed at its brutal simplicity and hardiness, and I took several photographs. When we got back we realised that we’d got the address wrong and we’d been admiring somebody’s very expensive apartment instead. It’s a fine line between shack and des. res. in SF.

6 Responses to “living by a hill in san francisco”

  1. Liz Says:

    I looked it up in the DRAE right after checking the printed Velázquez dictionary (that mysterious “book”). The DRAE definition deserves quoting for its poetic beauty:

    precito, ta.

    (Del lat. praescītus, sabido de antemano).

    1. adj. Condenado a las penas del infierno, réprobo.

  2. Saltation Says:

    you doan wanna live on bernal heights. fulla NIMBYs. they objected to a “gas-belch valve” there!

  3. Todd Says:

    Hey neighbor! That’s my blog post about the Illegal Soapbox Derby you linked to above. I also live on Precita (near Shotwell). In any event, thanks so much for answering the Precita question for me… I’d tried to research the origin of the name a few times, but I’d never found an a satisfying explanation.

  4. Danny O'Brien Says:

    Hey Todd! In other special-to-you-and-me news, I saw somebody moving around in that abandoned corner shop by Precita and Alabama yesterday — we might get a new sandwich place. Either that, or somebody is hiding out to catch the person who keeps breaking car windows on that side of the park. Don’t leave your car there for now!

  5. Ash Says:

    I was just talking about this bizarre tiny division of neighborhoods yesterday. I live in the Haight, and two or three blocks away is Cole Valley. Even the people on the streets seem to stick to one neighborhood over another. Maybe I’m not doing something right, but I prefer to dabble all over..

  6. Danny O'Brien Says:

    That is exactly what I have come to expect of Haightians. It is in their nature to be insufficiently patriotic.


petit disclaimer:
My employer has enough opinions of its own, without having to have mine too.