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Full Circle

Day 234: San Francisco

San Francisco, California, USA 
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At Alcatraz with two ex-inmates, Glenn Williams and Jim Quillan.
Michael Palin - Full CircleA day off here has been enough to re-tune my system from the exotic to the familiar. It is a cliché and a half that San Francisco is the most European of American cities, but there are some truths in all that. The moderate maritime climate, the love of bookstore and café life, the fuss over art and culture (ninety million dollars was raised within the community for the new Museum of Modern Art), the impression of a class system based on old rather than new money, the proportion of houses as opposed to apartment blocks, the tram cars and the hills - all contribute to the sense of having shifted a continent. Or it could just be the fact that I fell asleep last night to the sound of a church clock striking?

There are aspects of the city that remain resolutely American and one of them is Alcatraz, perched on its island in the bay like a grounded battleship. Because Alcatraz was a high security prison for the most notorious long-term criminals, not many men passed through it, perhaps sixteen hundred altogether. Nor was it a prison for very long. It opened in 1934 and closed after steadily mounting running costs in 1963. But it is the most famous prison in the world and, now, very much on the tourist circuit, it is run by the Department of Parks and Recreation. They take their task very seriously. The large sign on the quayside, 'Alcatraz Easy Access Program', shows no trace of irony.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 234
  • Country/sea: USA
  • Place: San Francisco - California
  • Book page no: 304

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