No photo’s please

You can be walking along, cool as a cucumber, so proud of yourself for not needing a map and ordering your coffee like a local when you see something amazing, pull our your camera and give away to every man and his dog that you’re a tourist.

When is it ok to take a photo? There must be a fine balance between keeping memories and actually experiencing them – not being so wrapped up in preserving pictures for dinner table stories that the stories themselves don’t get played out.

There are a lot of amazing shops here. Among today’s highlights were the pirate shop at Valencia 826, Paxton Gate (both Paxton Gate & Paxton Gate Curiosities for Kids) and The Booksmith. Believe me when I say that these are only a few of the shops in San Fran dedicated to the weird, the wonderful and the whimsical. Valencia 826 is a not for profit organisation started by Dave Eggers that inspired other similar projects (including Melbourne’s very own Pigeon’s Project). Because the project runs programs for children who don’t have the means or the access to writing, they operate San Francisco (and possibly the world’s) only pirate supply store. As well as raising funds for the literacy arm of the project, the pirate supply store is a living breathing wealth of imagination. You can buy compilations of works by 826 attendees, you can buy a beard extension, or you can just walk in the door and start opening the drawers that line the walls at random. Perhaps you’ll come across a drawer full of spare hooks (in case you’re missing a hand) or perhaps you’ll open one merely labelled ‘yank’ to find a neverending magicians ribbon that you can pull out and watch it billow out around you. If you’re ever in San Francisco this place is well worth a look – and if you’re there for an extended visit, or are luck enough to live there, you can volunteer or apply for an internship.

Right next door to the Pirate Store is the mothership of Paxton’s Gate. Again, no photo’s please. If you want to describe this later you’re going to have to use your imagination and powers of recall. Paxton’s Gate is a collection of bizarre ephemera. Walk inside to a world of terrariums, fossils, and an extensive collection of glass eyes under the counter in the middle of the shop. Out the back is a collection of plants – possibly to inspire you to start your own plant world inside a bottle.One table holds a collection of artworks that look like Shaun Tan illustrations come to life. A glass cabinet holds a collection of fossils and teeth ranging from wild bear to Megalodon (which I’m told is twice the size of a great white shark). Behind the counter, stuffed animals lunge out from the wall – a flying monkey looks as though he wants to leave his perch to say hello.

Doors down is Paxton Gate’s little sister – home to a quirky shop front gallery that opens into a magical toyshop for children. This isn’t the place to buy video games or hungry hungry hippos, but a chance to step back to the toys of yesteryear. A part of the store is sectioned off for play by a twisted and gnarled branch almost growing from the wall and then spreading to form a play area. Ropes hand from the ceiling. Beautifully illustrated books and paintings line the walls and toys are everywhere – small to large – from shadow puppets to wooden jenga sets where the planks look like bones and a skull balances on top.

With so much rich inspiration it is amazing that these stores aren’t filled with writers, madly jotting down ideas or using the opportunity to step back to their childhood and remember what it is like to really imagine something. No photos allowed, but none necessary. It’s easy to remember.

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