I grew up very close to the infamous intersection of Haight and Ashbury. The bus line around the corner from my house runs through it, and I spent countless weekends as a teenager hanging out with friends there--window shopping, eating and giggling immaturely as we wandered into smoke shops to check out the shelves of colorful glass pipes and bongs. And sometimes we bought them. By the way, one should never utter the words "marijuana", "weed", "pot", etc. in those stores unless one wants an employee to ask him or her to leave. The merchandise is strictly for smoking pipe tobacco (Ha, yeah, right.).
It's hard to imagine that there is anyone who hasn't heard of Haight-Ashbury, but in case you haven't, here's the significance. Let me start by saying that locals don't refer to it as "Haight-Ashbury," If you want to talk like the natives, it's just called "Haight." If a person said, "I'm at Haight-Ashbury." I would know right away that they were not from San Francisco.
Haight-Ashbury is the birthplace of the hippie movement. Homes are mostly old, beautiful Victorians. But 'til this day, in the midst of the elegant Victorians, one can find all the fashionable tie-dye that one could ever want. I'm not just talking about T-shirts, no, no, I speak of dresses, skirts, bikinis, leggings, baby clothes and so much more.
The neighborhood was home to, like, all the great musicians of the 60's and 70's: Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Santana. So many of them got their start there.
Haight is also ripe with "headshops", although I honestly had never heard that word in my life until very recently. We never called them "headshops", we referred to them as "incense shops" or sometimes "New Age shops."
When I was in my teens, Silicon Valley was booming, and unbeknownst to San Franciscans, it would quickly change things in ways we never could have imagined. Gone are the manners and pleasantries I was used to, the affordable housing, the mom-and-pop shops. They have been replaced by an absurdly high cost of living, gentrification and incredibly snarky attitudes. When I was a kid, I remember my dad telling me that people moved here because they didn't have to be rich to enjoy everything this small city had to offer. An ordinary guy could have his own piece of the pie. Well, times have changed.
While the whole city has changed, one thing that hasn't is the spirit of Haight. While businesses come and go, which is natural, there are still some shops that have been there since I was a teenager, such as the incense shops and Tibetan imports. You still smell weed everywhere you go. There are still people standing around on the street, quietly offering to sell drugs. And about half the people wandering around look like they are on drugs. Food is still affordable. Some people still just want an ordinary burger with lettuce and tomato, not with candied bacon and a drizzle of truffle oil. Some people just want Ben and Jerry's, they don't want lavender ice cream with a balsamic reduction and a sprinkle of hickory-smoked sea salt. Actually, though, I am vegetarian and I would absolutely want all the fancy stuff, but the point is that other people don't, and fairly ordinary food is still attainable on Haight.
In many ways, Haight is San Francisco. It's what gave Americans, and the world, a taste of hippie life, free love and drug experimentation. These are things that influence people to move here to this very day, a certain allure of personal freedom and exploration. Whether freedom is the reality or not is a whole different story, but it's certainly the ever-pervasive perception. Let's put it this way, it's easy to move to an unfamiliar place and think you are free to be yourself, having no idea what is actually going through people's heads. And trust me, things are certainly going through people's heads. I digress....
I was introduced to A Wing and a Prayer Perfumes at the pop-up salon that I wrote about in my last post. The owner, Jane Cate, subsequently sent a mini to me of her perfume called San Francisco, as I told her that I would like to try it sometime. Being San Francisco-born-and-raised, I love to check out perfumes that are influenced by my hometown. There aren't that many perfumes inspired by San Francisco that I know of, and other than Bois de Paradis by DelRae, which is a gorgeous interpretation of the Presidio, none have ever hit the mark for me since.
I wanted to list the notes of San Francisco, but A Wing and a Prayer's shop is closed for a few more days, so I will have to come back and comment later. I have not seen the notes before, so my decriptions are totally subjective and based on my own perception of what I smell.
As soon as I sprayed San Francisco, I was transported to the good ol' days, hanging out on Haight. So many memories of standing at the incense display at the New Age shop and sniffing incense sticks in seemingly endless scents and colors. I always loved sandalwood, vanilla and jasmine, and when I scrutinize the perfume on my skin, those are the notes I pick up immediately. Then I notice a very light touch of patchouli, followed by an orange note that actually grows stronger with time. The orange gives the perfume a hint of something clean and sweet, so the incense is not heavy or oppressive.
After 8 hours, what's left is a very simple yet comforting blend of orange, sandalwood and vanilla. But I find the initial hit to smell just like walking into one of those shops. It's a mixture of incense, candles, soaps, aromatherapy oils and San Francisco fog. The vanilla isn't too strong, which is nice. Too much vanilla would overpower the other notes, but in this case it remains comfortably in the background.
I really love San Francisco. For a moment I wondered if it should have been named Haight-Ashbury, but my answer is no. Haight represents the San Francisco in my heart; the city I love and will always remember before it was spoiled by dot-commers. I feel that San Francisco's image on the national and international stage has already begun to change. People still move here for the perception of personal freedom, but more often nowadays, they come here for tech jobs. With families constantly being pushed out, and mom-and-pop shops being replaced by fancy-schmancy ones, the City, as we affectionately call it and as we once knew it, is slowly fading into non-existence.
There are numerous perfumes on the market that smell like incense. While I own many gorgeous incense perfumes and have sampled even more, almost none of them remind me of San Francisco like this one does.
Many thanks to Jane Cate for her generosity in sending the San Francisco mini.
As always I want my readers to know that I am never paid to write reviews. All words and opinions are my own, honest ones.