Wednesday, 9 June 2010


By Cecilia Seilern travelling with Lily Barton

We left LA for San Francisco happy finally to be hitting the road. Music is an integral accompaniment for a road trip like ours and if your trip starts in California, there is no shortage of music to fit the landscape. We left the city driving down the Sunset Strip listening to The Doors and the Byrds, both bands which in my mind are synonymous with Los Angeles. As we drove on, we finally flick our ipod to the Beach Boys while snaking along the Californian Coast. Some music sounds amazing everywhere, but the Beach Boys sound best when heard in the surroundings by which they were inspired. No sound could better have taken us north towards San Francisco.

About half way between LA and San Francisco, on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo, right off Highway 101, a big pink sign caught our attention beckoning us off the highway to take a closer look. The Madonna Inn was most unexpected. The exterior, like a pink and white meringue or a fantastical take on Hansel and Gretel’s sweet house gives a distinct sense of the absurd. Still, its candy floss exterior cannot prepare you for what awaits inside. The gargantuan shiny fireplace that greets you in the lobby looks almost modest next to the dining room it conceals. With plastic looking gold chandeliers covering every inch of the ceiling, illuminating the bright pink leather upholstered thrones and benches, its’ light reflecting shimmery flickers on the colorful goblets on the tables, each plate heavy with a fluorescent pastry served by a waitress in a dirndl… All that, off a highway sandwiched between a Subway and Burger King! We managed to convince a maid to take us around the bedrooms. The rooms we saw varied from a cave, in which I half expected to see Wilma Flinstone come out of the cavernous bathroom its décor was so cliché; to a flower room in which flowered wallpaper was ubiquitously covering everything floor to ceiling with overflowing flowerpots and vases adding up to an avalanche of clashing colours. The list of rooms goes on from a ‘jungle room’ and an ‘old-style honeymoon suite’ but I’ll stop there. Suffice to say I wanted to stay for 100 days playing musical chairs with every room.

As we approached San Francisco, our ipods appropriately preparing us for our stay with Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Janice Joplin, we began talking about the city we were about to explore… We have grown up being taught that everyone is equal, be they gay or straight, black or white. I have personally rarely encountered racism or extreme homophobia first hand, (though I am neither black nor gay) and though there is still progress to be made, we have come leaps and bounds in the last fifty years. San Francisco, in particular Haight-Ashbury, a street in the west of the city, was central to the progress in question. In the 60’s, musicians and artists and many, many hippies set up camp in Haight-Ashbury. Never having been to San Francisco, when I think about the city, I think of them. Images of people playing music on the street, hairy naked people making love and acid come to mind. I hoped it was still like that. As we drove into the Bay Area, up and down the famously hilly streets, I was on the lookout for flower children and hippies but found none. We arrived at our hostel, and were instead greeted by a skinny goth (an equally desirable sight but rather in Prague). The city is beautiful, with Victorian houses built on a slant and its people far more relatable in many ways than Los Angeles and because of its legacy, a definite highlight of California but I often felt as though I had arrived very late to a really good party. Everywhere we went I was reminded of what happened here in the 60’s and all I wished was to have been there. Haight-Ashbury, still filled with vintage shops full of amazing clothes from the 60’s and 70’s, which in my mind were no doubt worn by Janice Joplin herself, were yet another reminder of what was no longer here.

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