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April 13, 2009

History isn’t always that old, you know

Monday. Oh that means Houston, doesn’t it? Murder by the Book, 6.30 pm tonight. But let’s step back to San Francisco for a moment, back into history. When I’m in Italy I tend to do this in giant steps. In The Garden of Evil, for example, my research took me to little alleys where, in 1605, Caravaggio once lived in squalor, his career in tatters, his temper growing ever more violent by the day.

For its predecessor, The Seventh Sacrament, I descended into underground sewers and catacombs that were almost two thousand years old. And in San Francisco? It’s there, you know. Not as ancient, but full of the loquacious ghosts I hunt in my stories, some of them a little more talkative than usual.

Here are my favourite locations from Vertigo which I recycled in Dante’s Numbers

The Palace of Fine Arts in the Marina. As we discussed earlier, this is a recreation of an imaginary Rome, a sketch by Piranesi turned into a beautiful fake ruin in northern California. Piranesi, by the way, really did design the actual square of the Knights of Malta where The Seventh Sacrament begins. See what Nic Costa means when he says, on occasion, ‘everything connects’?

The Legion of Honor. This rather remote art gallery is used in the movie for a spooky scene where Madeleine Elster sits in front of the portrait of Carlotta Valdes, the dead woman she supposedly believes is beginning to take over her personality. Scottie watches, aghast, as she sits motionless in front of the painting. In the book my elusive female lead, the actress Maggie Flavier, uses the real paintings in the gallery as inspiration for her parts. Nic watches her as she explains this, more than a little worried.

Mission Dolores. Tucked away in the Mission District this is one of the original Spanish Catholic missions set up in the 18th century when California was being colonised. The first church is still there, set in a beautiful cemetery with the graves of many early San Francisco residents. In the movie Hitchcock has Madeleine stand in front of Carlotta’s headstone while Scottie watches her with the avid, greedy gaze of a sexual voyeur. The cemetery is hardly changed. In the book I use this as a key location for one of the clues that draws Teresa Lupo towards her belief — rejected initially by her colleagues — that Vertigo is as much a part of the mystery as Dante.

The waterfront from the Marina to the bridge. This is one of my favourite parts of the city, quiet, with wonderful views of the bridge. Full of history too. How many people know that Crissy Field, now a nature reserve, was once an early aerodrome? Hitchcock’s primary use in the area was for the important scene where Scottie saves Madeleine from her apparent suicide attempt. Since I have Costa and co living nearby in Cow Hollow, and the premiere of the movie at the Palace of Fine Arts, I use it a lot more.

The ‘Brocklebank Apartments’. Home to Madeleine in the movie, and Maggie Flavier in the book, you will find these at 1000 Mason Street, barely changed from fifty years ago.
There’s a wonderful roundup of the locations on this fan site here. I hope you enjoyed this little virtual tour of San Francisco — though it’s nothing like the real thing.

I will be back in California tomorrow — at the Mystery Bookstore in LA tomorrow night, Tuesday, at 7pm, and noon at Vroman’s in in Pasadena on Wednesday. On Thursday I will be nearing the end of my tour in Portland (with only Seattle on Friday left) but will lodge some closing thoughts here then.

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