It was only a couple of years ago….April 11th 2019 to be exact..as I was heading towards my 60th birthday, that I finally got to visit the famous City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, home base of the legendary Lawrence Ferlinghetti – writer, poet, publisher, bookstore owner, artist and facilitator extraordinary. Without him, so many poets would not have seen their works in print….without him we may not have even heard of the Beat Writers.
My purpose in San Francisco was two fold. Firstly to spend time visiting my son and daughter-in-law who had recently moved there from Boston, and secondly to visit the abundance of bookstores that San Francisco boasts. I should have, perhaps, visited City Lights first, but my reasoning for leaving it until last was that, having seen what is broadly acknowledged as the best and most welcoming bookstore in SF, it would spoil the experience of visiting the many other lesser known bookstores. The problem with this was that by the time I finally set foot inside City Lights and was astounded by its multitude of books, many not available elsewhere, I had already bought so many books at other bookstores that my suitcase was over weight for the trip home to New Zealand. As a result, my only purchase there was Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island Of The Mind – his 1958 best selling collection of poems from his early days.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti departed this earth on February 22nd 2021 – just one month shy of his 102nd birthday. A life well lived, a literary legend and rather than me re-hashing the many well researched and well written obituaries I will link 3 of them below, from the New York Times…..Reuters…..and from the Guardian as featured on MSN News.
Actually the Reuters one would probably have made him laugh as he always insisted that he was not a “Beat Writer” as such, he was there but was just a bookshop owner. Many would beg to differ. I never met him, sadly, just visited the shop, picked up a book, sat and read a while in the poetry room upstairs soaking in the atmosphere and wondering about the many writers who had been there before me….before making my purchase and moving on. The outpouring of grief in Jack Kerouac alley outside City Lights by many of his fans and followers after his death, even in times of Covid-19 anti-social distancing regulations, showed the extent of the love and respect they have for the man and the legend.
I close with a few lines borrowed from his poem titled autobiography – which appears in A Coney Island of the Mind.
I have written wild stories without punctuation. I am the man. I was there. I suffered somewhat. I have sat in an uneasy chair. I am a tear of the sun. I am a hill where poets run…….
George R Stewart originally published “Earth Abides” in 1949, but it’s as readable and as prophetic today as it was then. This book is a CLASSIC (yes in big letters) – classic post-apocalyptic story. It deals with an end of the world as we know it situation – one that wipes out 99% of humankind – and follows, initially a lone survivor, and then a small group, who learn to depend on one another and to begin again. It’s not the literal end of the world – just the end of the world “as we know it”. We as humans have to adapt to change in order to survive.
I love a good dystopian novel/survival novel/even a good zombie (blood splattered) novel. And often-times I even envy the survivors – having a chance to start again with a clean slate – where hopefully they, and humankind as a whole, will not make as big a mess of things this time as they did the last time. Here there are no politicians, no corporations, no armies – doing the bidding of the political or corporate elites….just ordinary people with a will to survive. Earth Abides has no zombies, no gratuitous violence, and only implied sexual acts and either in spite of, or because of, this it is still a great story – of hopes, fears, strength and frailty of the human spirit, of quest, an adventure and a journey into an unknown future by learning from, and in some cases ignoring, the lessons of the past. But don’t get me wrong – there is death/murder and there are relationships and the usual relationship issues in this story.
This was one of the books I bought recently on my trip to the west coast of the USA. The story is based primarily in San Francisco (where I spent much of my time) and is a multi-generational epic. I highly recommend it. It’s not only about the quest for survival and a rebuilding (of a kind) of society. It makes you question things. To look at your own life and evaluate what’s important (the theoretical meat and potatoes of life) and what is merely gravy…trimmings… that are more there as a front to give the ‘right’ impression rather than having any real substance. It makes you look at the possibilities that a totally fresh start – either for humankind as a whole, or for ones self as an individual – could mean. Does a fresh start mean a clean break from the past or are there some things from the past worthy of carrying forward into a new future?
There are a couple of quotes, that may help in pushing a person to take the decision to make a fresh start, from the book, that I’d like to share with you. The first is “men go and come, but earth abides.” Which I think kind of puts our lives into perspective by which I mean that all our struggles and worries of today in our daily lives mean very little in the grand scheme of things. The worrisome things that keep us awake at night are not really worth the importance that we give them…..we live, we die, we become one with the earth…the whole ashes to ashes, dust to dust thing. The earth goes on regardless, so why not do what makes you happy? The second is “without courage there is only a slow dying, not life.” Sometimes you have to stand up – for either yourself, or for an ideal – even if it means swimming against the tide of public opinion. Live YOUR life, by your rules, not someone else’s.
It’s taken me almost 60 years to find out who I am, who I was, and who I want to be, and to figure out what sort of world I would like to live in – to be a part of…and what I can do to start to move me in the right direction. I am not an anarchist, but do believe that we have had a lot of pointless rules and regulations imposed upon us, by the people we elect to represent us. The same people who seem to think of new things to tax us for each day. We are being over regulated, our freedoms are being taken away (little by little in the hope that we don’t notice) and we are being taxed to death to finance the lifestyle of the rich and powerful. Sometimes I ask myself… would the end of the world as we know it be such bad thing?
As usual your comments and thought on this are appreciated.
“Goodreads” gives the book a 4 out of 5 and I’d certainly give it at least 4 out of 5 myself. They say “A disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of the globe, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he ultimately discovers will prove far more astonishing than anything he’d either dreaded or hoped for.“
I have just returned from a visit to the Pacific north-west – mainly staying in San Francisco, along with a side trip to Portland, Oregon.
A couple of things that I wanted to do while in this area was to firstly visit a number of independent book stores, and secondly buy books either by writers who live in the area, or books with stories set in the area. And so, during a visit to Powell’s City of Books in Portland (about which I will blog in detail in another post, shortly), I bought a second hand copy of Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” which is set, for the most part, in San Francisco. BUT it’s a very different San Francisco to that of today.
Set in 1962, just 7 years after the end of WW2, it offers up an alternative ending to the second world war. In this book the war was won by the Axis – Japan and Germany (with the Italians in tow). The west coast of the USA is in the hands of the Japanese and the east coast is under German control. There is a slim buffer zone – kind of a neutral area – in the middle, down the Rocky Mountains, where American life is more or less business as usual. In San Francisco where much of the novel is set, American’s are allowed to live, work and run businesses, but very much under the eye of their superiors – Their Japanese masters.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot as it would spoil things for potential readers. So here is a brief summary.
The Japanese are clearly in control of American lives and businesses in San Francisco and the west coast – and have stamped Japanese values into the American culture and yet, perversely it seems, the Japanese also hold American memorabilia in very high regard – almost like priceless antiques. Part of the story follows a memorabilia shop owner who is constantly trying to find pieces to satisfy the whims of his high ranking Japanese clients. This is a world where a Mickey Mouse watch is a sought after item.
As well as the memorabilia man, the novel follows a number of other lives and reveals that some of them have been reading a book – banned on the east coast by the Germans, yet a blind eye is turned to it on the west coast by the Japanese rulers…..some of whom also read and have copies of the book. The controversial book in question is called “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” – a book that gives an alternative and, for some, unthinkable ending to WW2 where the USA, Britain and their minor allies are the victors. Whilst the Japanese are intrigued by the book, the Germans absolutely hate it, and it’s author, Hawthorne Abendsen, is believed to be in hiding, in fear for his life, in a fortress like building somewhere in the Rocky Mountains…hence the title of Dick’s book – The Man in the High Castle.
The story indicates that although the Germans and Japanese were on the same side during the war, there is a certain amount of political friction between the two over their control of the former USA. This “friction” boils over into violence…..BUT, I’ll say no more about that. Read the book.
Philip K. Dick is mostly known for his Sci-fi books. This is more of an alternative history/thriller and, to be honest with you, is the only one of his books that I have read…so far. It has had a lot of hype, many people love this book and I have a liking for a dystopian story. It is, however, a strange book for me to try to give a rating to. On the one hand I found the idea of the Japanese/German victory and control of the USA quite fascinating. AND I thought that the premise of the other book – The Grasshopper Lies Heavy – with it’s real ending of the war was a nice twist of irony.
Dick starts off slowly focusing on the every day lives of the main characters and builds things up nicely for a big ending….starting very slowly, almost boringly slowly, and gradually adding action and tension. I kept looking at how many pages there were left and thinking that he wasn’t leaving a lot of time for the big finish. BUT I found the ending to be a bit of an anti-climax and the whole thing left me feeling quite flat.
As a result I could only give it a 3 out of 5. I’d say it’s worth a read just to see what all the hype is about.
If you like the idea behind an Axis victory, but like a little more action and thrills, I’d recommend James Herbert’s book “48” – which is set in a post war London where Hitler has been victorious by using a biological weapon which targets specific blood groups. It follows one mans survival story.
Interestingly, Goodreads give The Man in the High Castle a rating of 3.63 and Herbert’s “48”, which I felt was a far superior story, rates only slightly higher on 3.75
As usual – thank you for reading – your comments and shares are always appreciated. AND please remember to support your local book sellers.
One of the items on my wife’s “must do” list, when we visited San Francisco recently, was to visit a church where the choir sang Gospel music. A quick ‘Google’ recommended Glide church in one of San Francisco’s seedier areas – the Tenderloin. I wasn’t all that keen on attending a church service but went along to make sure she was safe on the streets.
Neither of us are overly religious and don’t attend church on anywhere near a regular basis at home (usually weddings and funerals), nor follow any particular religion, but for some reason when we travel overseas we tend to visit quite a few churches, chapels, temples etc. – mainly from an interest in their history and architecture. We do however feel a certain degree of spiritual uplift after visiting these buildings, particularly if there is a service on at the time of our visit.
We were in the UK a couple of years ago and, as is our habit when overseas, visited a few churches there. We were told the same story where ever we went – falling congregation numbers and churches closing or having services every couple or more weeks instead of every Sunday. In one village we visited in Cornwall, the church officials outnumbered the congregation, us included. I believe that, although modern day people live busier lives than in the past and the internet has made knowledge more accessible – particularly about “the Creation” and scientific alternatives – the main reason for falling congregation numbers in the UK is because the church still sticks to its format of old. It has not moved on, has not evolved.
No such problem, it seems, in America. Some churches maintain the status quo, others are more progressive and not only maintain congregation numbers but in some cases have increased them. And I add – slightly tongue in cheek – one can’t help feel that more people are praying these days as a result of who is in the White House.
Glide church, in one of the poorest areas of San Francisco, has two services each Sunday to accommodate everyone who wants to go – one at 9am and another at 11am. We went to the 11am service, or should I say “celebration”? Prior to the “celebration” we had mistakenly wandered into another room, downstairs in the church building, used to help both feed those in need and help to rehabilitate and offer assistance to people with addictions. We were greeted by a man of about my age who was obviously there to be helped, but also made a point of making us feel welcome. He gave us his life story and then shed tears when telling us how much he misses his parents who died in 2012. A lady helper then told us that if we were looking for the Sunday Celebration…..it was upstairs in the church proper.
It was certainly an interesting and surprisingly emotional experience. Being a “gospel” church, and I know I am being stereotypical and for that I apologize, I expected a black preacher. The main preacher here is white…..but delivered the sermon with a sense of humour, even if it did seem like he was using “dad” jokes. He made sure the emphasize that this is a church that is fully inclusive and supports the community it serves, by being a community. Every day they need 70 volunteers to help in the task of feeding the homeless. They also run rehabilitation programs for those dependent on drugs, alcohol or gambling. They care and they try their best to make a difference. Of course there was the usual plea for folks to “give money”, but when you see what they are doing with it and the programs they have to help the needy you don’t mind digging deep to put something into the collection plate.
San Francisco has a huge problem with homelessness. Except in the rich areas, where I’m guessing the streets are policed a little more strictly, you will find the homeless sleeping in shop doorways, the middle of footpaths, or even in some cases in makeshift tents on the median strip of busy roads. Most of them with cardboard signs asking for nickels and dimes “anything you can spare to help”. It’s bad enough in the middle of the day, but the “body count” increases once the stores close and more of the homeless take up their usual spot, wedged into alcoves against shop doors, to find as much shelter as is possible, from the weather, for the night. The weather is one of the reasons that San Francisco has such a high population of homeless people. The temperature range here is fairly constant – no extremes of heat or bitter cold – making outdoor living at least bearable, if not comfortable. Other cities, such as New York, constantly hassle the homeless and move them on as quickly as possible – in some cases they even bus them out of the city so that they become someone else’s problem. Not so in San Francisco.
And not so at Glide church where everyone is welcome regardless of your status, skin colour, gender (or gender choice), religious beliefs, social problems, health or mental state etc. So, as you can imagine, there is a diverse cross section of the community here and ALL are warmly welcomed and embraced into the heart of this church. Very early in the service – or celebration, as they call it here at Glide – the preacher gets everyone to shake hands (or hug) someone that they haven’t met before. It was something very much out of my comfort zone and not an inherently English thing to do, but after the initial pang of discomfort I couldn’t help but warm to the feeling of love and belonging that these folk – the congregation here – exude.
Before the “celebration” began a lady circulated though the pews offering either a fan or a tissue to each of us. It was quite chilly in the church anyhow so there was no need for a fan and I had no idea, at the time, why she thought we might need a tissue – other than to blow our noses on. However I could have used that tissue later on. I was emotionally affected by the whole experience – the sermon (which wasn’t much related to the usual biblical texts that I have been used to in more staid Church of England services) was more about life experiences and struggles that ordinary people have to get through to survive….not just those on the street, but working families where mum and dad are both having to work two jobs – drawing minimum wage – just to pay the bills.
The American Dream lifestyle of the 1950’s and 60’s has become an American Nightmare for many in the 2000’s as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen at an alarming rate, enslaving many in a seemingly unbreakable cycle of debt. Combine this with the singing of the choir and a talented bunch of musicians, playing everything from keyboards, drums and guitar to a brass section…..add in the words of Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” – the choir and band did a brilliant job of this number – experience being in this tumble dryer of humanity and humbleness and next thing you’re dabbing away tears of emotion and gratitude.
The celebration featured many things other than the choir and the sermon. At one point a gentleman was asked to step up and talk briefly to us from the stage. He was 27 years sober, thanks to the support of Glide church, and a former member of the choir. He spoke most eloquently and you could see that he was in a good place both literally and figuratively speaking – very comfortable in his own skin and in addressing the congregation – interesting to listen to.
We also had an appearance on stage from another member of the congregation – a transexual called Stacy – who was very flamboyant and totally ‘out there’ – and her favourite word was “fabulous”. She was on stage to announce a LGBT event coming up in May where everyone was invited “including straight people”….but they have to dress up and of course “be fabulous”.
There was a short sermon by a former Glide minister (he also covers for the current minister when needed) – this time a black man, or man of colour (I don’t mean to offend but never know when to use the word black or colour so I’m using both to cover all bases). He delivered a very modern take on the crucifixion and why God didn’t save his son from the suffering of the cross. He said it was due to modern day pressures. God was holding down 2 jobs, had already taken time off work to help his troubled son out previously and was going to lose his job if he left his work station to take yet another call from him asking for help. He related it to the lives of every day working class Americans and the message came across very clearly. Another eloquent speaker.
It was a very humbling, moving and uplifting experience during which we weren’t merely visitors or tourists – we were part of the congregation and community….and I am glad that my wife dragged me along.
Those of you who followed the blog of my backpacking trip around the UK and Europe will know that I usually have no luck at all when it comes to visiting photography galleries. I either visit on a day that they are closed, are between exhibits…or in one case… had moved premises. However thanks to the internet and Mr Google….and making an on-line booking I was able to visit and view photos at Pier 24 Photography.
Pier 24 Photography is a non-profit art museum located on the Port of San Francisco directly under the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge. The organization houses the permanent collection of the Pilara Foundation, which collects, preserves and exhibits photography. It’s free to visit and view the exhibitions here, but to limit overcrowding they only allow a restricted number of visitors each day, so an on-line reservation is needed. See their website for details – https://pier24.org/visit/
The current exhibition is called “This Land” which is a snapshot of life in the USA. The exhibition’s title is drawn from Woody Guthrie’s song “This Land Is Your Land” (1940) and features work by some of the best and most well known photographers around – such as Bruce Gilden, who is not only one of America’s best street photographers, but he is also a member of the prestigious Magnum Photo Agency.
The exhibition is housed in a collection of around 18 different rooms, is very well lit and displayed, but still left me feeling a little flat. There were very few photos that I thought were extraordinary…in fact I thought the majority were very ordinary indeed. Bruce Gilden’s contribution was a wall of faces – portraits – of the…and I hate to be unkind here or to be seen to mock the afflicted, but it seemed like he wanted to highlight the freakiest people he could find. He claims that the photos were taken “to try to capture the souls” of those who were captured by his camera.
I’ll pause here and post a few photos of the exterior of the building, the general area, and of course the exhibition and exhibition space its self. Pier 24 is directly underneath the Bay Bridge – I’d hate to be in there during a big earthquake.
Even though they were not -in my opinion – exceptional photos, they do give an insight into the people and places of ordinary America. I’m glad I took the time to visit the gallery but hope that next time…if there is a next time…that I visit, there will be something more inspirational. I am glad and grateful that such a place exists that is dedicated to photography.
I also paid a visit to the galleries at 49 Geary Street – there are round 2 dozen free to visit galleries of various sizes – many of which have the kind of art that I just don’t understand at prices I understand even less. BUT 2 of them have photographic displays. Robert Koch Gallery featured a number of black and white photographs from across the years and by numerous photographers. They were just in the one smallish room but of really good quality and content. The other photo gallery is Fraenkel Gallery currently featuring coloured photos by Alec Soth. They were OK but nothing marvelous. I just wish we were going to be in San Francisco in July for the Lee Friedlander exhibition.
Murals are on just about every building in the Mission District. It’s a bright and colourful, if somewhat run-down part of the city. There are a cross-section of people living here, but it’s a predominantly Hispanic neighbourhood.
There are a few homeless people on the streets and a few “crazies” or people down on their luck talking to themselves. Some of the alleyways have a strong aroma of urine, but over all we felt quite safe walking there and chatted to a few friendly locals along the way. We took the bus from 22nd and Iowa Streets in the Dogpatch to 24th and Bryant Streets in the Mission. Each bus ride costs $2.75 if you pay cash, or you can buy a “Clipper Card”, load it with money and use that on the buses, trains and trams at a discounted $2.50 per ride.
The mission District got its name from the Roman Catholic Mission and Church – the oldest in San Francisco – which can be found on the corner of Dolores and 16th Streets. There is a suggested donation of $7 per adult to take a look inside the original mission building, the gorgeous church next door and the garden and cemetery…..end exit via the obligatory gift shop of course. Photos of the Mission and Church are below.
But now, back to the murals. Our walk took us along 24th Street past Alley Cat Books – which of course we felt the need to explore – and purchase a couple of books. From there we went in and out of side streets and alleys until we turned into Valencia Street. We then followed Valencia all the way down to a small park sandwiched between 19th and 20th Streets. I chose this route because it took us past another two bookshops – Dogeared Books and Borderland’s Books…..but this post is meant to be about the murals. Almost opposite Alley Cat books is Balmy Alley which is literally wall to wall with murals so here are a few of our favourites. There’s even a motorbike that’s covered in paintings.
Here are a few more of the murals from along our walk. Click on the individual photos to expand the photo.
After trudging around the streets and alleys in search of murals, we needed a break to recharge our batteries in a nice green space known as Mission Dolores Park – often shortened to Dolores Park. Bounded by 18th and 20th Streets, we entered off 19th and climbed up the main pathway that divides the park in two. Boy was it steep! The park is very popular for locals and tourists and has views over the central business district. It’s also a popular hangout for the homeless so be on your guard. Most of them are harmless and only looking for somewhere to lay their heads for a while.
We had prepared a picnic lunch, so sat on one of the many benches in the park, ate lunch, enjoyed the views, the occasional aroma of weed wafting by on the breeze and read our books. I will do a separate post about the bookshops in this area and books we bought. Weed, cannabis, marijuana – although still illegal in the USA by Federal law, IS legal in some states (including California) by State law – so plenty of people take advantage of that and use the park to get “mellow”. Here’s a few shots of the park to finish off this post.
Heading west and up hill from the flatlands of the Dogpatch area is the mainly residential Potrero Hill which clings to the curves of the east facing hills, giving it a sunny disposition. The condition and quality of the homes here change with each street and sometimes with each cross street from swanky to shabby. Along with homes, this neighbourhood also has cafe’s and eateries and an interesting local music scene…..plus Christopher’s Bookshop which is on my “to visit” list.
Historically a working class neighbourhood until the gentrification of the 1990’s – you’ll now find a mainly working-professional and upper-middle class, family-oriented scene. And talking of scenes, due to the elevated position you have a wonderful outlook over both the Bay and the financial district skyline. I guess I could have lumped Potrero Hill and the Dogpatch together as the Spanish name for the Dogpatch area was Potrero Nuevo, but as you saw from my earlier Dogpatch post there was enough happening there to warrant a post of its own.
I’m not sure how much there will be here of interest from a tourist viewpoint as it is mainly residential and by San Franciscan standards very quiet…..but we’ll see. One benefit is that there is a Caltrain station here so that means easy access to and from the main city.
When ever we visit cities anywhere in the world, we usually seek out the parks and open green spaces for a break from the hustle and bustle to give us a chance to recharge our internal batteries. Potrero Hill has a few such areas. Mckinley Square, popular with children and dog lovers and contains several levels of trails that make up the official off-leash dog area. The park is pretty much on the crest of Potrero Hill and since my blog is primarily about books and writers, has a literary connection. Part of Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s novel “The Language of Flowers” describes the park.
Published in 2011 The language of Flowers is Diffenbaugh’s first published novel and is about Victoria Jones, an itinerant foster child who gets moved from home to home until at the age of 18 she becomes a flower arranger…..hence the title. According to Wikipedia, “The novel was inspired by a flower dictionary, a type of Victorian-era book which defines what different types of flowers mean”. It’s also love story, which is why I won’t be reading it, but for those who enjoy love stories with a heavy accent on flowers and their meanings…it is most likely a good read. In fact Goodreads (did you see what I did there??? Lol) rates it at four and a bit out of five and says “A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past”.
Around the corner from McKinley Square you’ll find Potrero Hill Community Garden which was established in the 1970s and has a panoramic view of the city. About 10 minutes walk from the Community Gardens is Potrero Hill Recreation Center. Renovated in 2011 – here you’ll find a baseball field, a tennis court, a basketball court, and another dog park. It seems like Potrero Hill residents love their dogs. Likewise, the Jackson Playground at the North Slope also has a baseball field, a tennis court, and a basketball court. And another loosely literary connection…there is a public library which was renovated in 2010 and is located on 20th St. and Connecticut St.
So what else other than homes and parks does Potrero Hill have to offer, I hear you ask? The answer is….not a lot. It’s mainly a residential area with a few shops and cafes to service the locals – which actually makes it quite a good place to visit….WHY? – no tourists and no crowds. From our son and daughter-in-laws apartment, the closest mini-markets within walking distance, of any note – mainly Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are in or along the edge of Potrero Hill so we have ventured into this area quite a few times since our arrival almost a week ago.
To get to Christopher’s Book Store means a steep-ish climb from the Dogpatch up 18th Street to the corner of 18th and Missouri, where you will find a lovely little shop (open every day 10am to 9pm) on the corner with a good variety of stock and a knowledgeable lady owner. The original owner “Christopher” who opened the store in 1991 has a New Zealand connection. Christopher Ellison was from Te Kauwhata (not too far from Hamilton, New Zealand) a very small town of just over 1000 people – serving an outlying area of maybe 10,000 people. He decided that what the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco needed was an independent bookshop. The current owner – Tee Minot – started off working for Christopher back in 1992 and has been here ever since, taking over sole ownership of the shop in 1996. As you would expect of someone who has owned a bookshop for over 20 years, Tee is very knowledgeable about her stock and the area of San Francisco that her shop is based.
The only thing I could even begin to be negative about this shop is that it’s not big enough to have a dedicated reading area. There are just 3 aisles of books – but a good selection. Tee herself said she wished that there was room for a couple of couches in there – sadly there isn’t – otherwise this shop would be just about perfect.
I can buy books cheaper on line but, as I may have mentioned in earlier blog posts, I prefer to support the bricks and mortar establishments – particularly independents – when ever I can. Visiting San Francisco, I wanted to buy a book or two either by San Franciscan writers or featuring stories set in San Francisco. With this in mind, Tee recommended several books/writers and I selected two of them – Rebecca Solnit’s “Call Them by Their True Names” – American Crises (and Essays) printed in 2018 and which I have just started reading.
Solnit, although born in Connecticut in 1961, moved to California when just a girl where she was educated from kindergarten to graduate school. She’s been an “independent writer” since 1988 and has published over twenty books covering everything from Feminism, History, Politics and Power, Social Problems, Travel, Insurrection, Hope and Disaster. This book however is a series of essays about, as she says, “the war at home” – referring to social injustice, climate change, domestic violence and of course the travesty that is Trump. The people at Goodreads rate this book as a 4 out of 5. I’m only about 20 pages in so far but she writes well – informs rather than preaches – so I will no doubt enjoy it.
The second of my book selections from Christopher’s is David Talbot’s “Season of the Witch”. Which according to the cover “tells the story of San Francisco in the turbulent years between 1967 and 1982 – and of the extraordinary men and women who led to the city’s ultimate rebirth and triumph”.
According to the Washington Post “An enthralling and harrowing account of how the 1967 Summer of Love gave way to 20 or so winters of discontent”.
So it should be a good read – at over 400 pages I am going to have to set aside some serious reading time for this one. Talbot was born and raised in Los Angeles, but now lives and works here in San Francisco. He specializes in “hidden histories” where his journalistic training is put to good use.
It scores a high 4 and a quarter on Goodreads but has been criticized for it’s racially singular accounts – being told by a white man basically from a white viewpoint about predominantly white people. I’ll keep an open mind when I eventually get to read it.
My wife Liz bought Jenny Odell’s “How to do Nothing” subtitled “Resisting the Attention Economy”. Unlike my two paperbacks, this is a very nice hard cover book with a colourful dust cover.
Odell is another local writer, being based just over the bridge in Oakland.
Again this book is a 4 plus rating on Goodreads. “This thrilling critique of the forces vying for our attention re-defines what we think of as productivity, shows us a new way to connect with our environment and reveals all that we’ve been too distracted to see about our selves and our world”.
Where better to sit and peruse our new purchases than just over the road and slightly down the hill at Farley’s Coffee. Farley’s have really good coffee, by the way, so if you’re in the area you’ll be doing yourself a favour by calling in for a cup. The prices are much cheaper than in the tourist parts of the city too – a win / win situation. And the barista’s there are friendly and very good at what they do.
There are tables inside where you can sit and work / browse your laptop, or enjoy a bite to eat from their menu. We chose to sit outside in the sunshine beneath the Bottlebrush trees, sip coffee and read. This little seating area is right outside Farley’s door but is actually a kind of mini public park….or “parkette” if you like…where anyone can sit and while away a few minutes of a few hours, with or without a purchase from Farley’s.
Just a block further up the street from Christopher’s – which is quite a steep climb – there are some nice views of the city from this lofty vantage point on 19th Street.
Later on in the morning, passing the back of the library, the shutter doors were open revealing an area dedicated to selling used books – either ex library books, or donated by members of the public. Every book regardless of size, type or condition costs a mere $1. What a bargain. AND never being one to pass up a bargain I bought 4….and my wife bought 2. Our suitcases will be right up to that 23 kilo limit by the time we’ve finished buying books.
My picks were – Randy Shilts “The Mayor of Castro Street” about the life and times of Harvey Milk. A book of Essays edited by Jennifer Lee by American writers about their experiences in Paris – “Paris in Mind”. A pictorial feast of a book “Gertrude Stein in words and pictures” and my final selection was ironically by a guy who lives and works in my town of birth – Sheffield called Simon Armitage “Walking Home” subtitled “A Poets Journey”, which is about is attempt to walk the Pennine Way (the backbone of England).
My wife’s books were a paperback by Marianne Williamson’s “Healing the Soul of America”, and a cookbook by Terry Walters called “Clean Food”which is a nice quality hard cover book.
I’ll leave you with a few more photos of buildings that caught my eye – this time showing the bottom of the hill, back on the flat easy walking streets….and I’ll throw in another shot or maybe two of Christopher’s Books for good measure, since it’s such a great little shop.
This is the first of what will surely turn out to be many posts about the City of San Francisco featuring photos and hopefully interesting information taken/collected by me and my wife on our recent visit to this amazing city. I have been here before, firstly in 1986 and more recently in 2012. Now that our son and daughter-in-law have moved here and SF is their new home town, we’ll no doubt be visiting more often. I hope so anyhow.
Why choose the Dogpatch as my first area to blog about here in this very interesting and beautiful city? It’s where my son and daughter-in-law live, and where we’re staying, so it makes it a natural start point for our investigation of the city. So let’s have a quick look at the history of the Dogpatch and that of San Francisco its self.
The first people to live and hunt in and around this area were the native American tribes – Miwok, Wintun and Wappo. This was prior to San Francisco and indeed most of California being under Mexican control from the early 1700’s until after the Mexican-American War, which ended in 1848, when Mexico ceded California to the Americans. Two years later in 1850 it became part of the Union. It wasn’t until 1847 that San Francisco came into being – before that it was called Yerba Buena by the Spanish and Mexican settlers. So I guess that when Mr Trump talks of throwing the Mexicans out of “our country”, he’s overlooking the fact that the Mexicans were here before the USA officially existed and so, the USA kicked the Mexicans out of what was part of THEIR country…(Independence day wasn’t until 4th July 1776)….and before California became part of the USA (1850). But he’s still hell bent on building his wall.
So, why call this area Dogpatch? Truth is no one is quite sure and there are several thoughts….1) The area was originally covered in a plant called Dogfennel….2) The area had slaughterhouses and so used to attract packs of dogs searching out scraps of meat and offal….and 3) It was named after Dogpatch, the fictional middle-of-nowhere setting of cartoonist Al Capp’s classic comic strip, Li’l Abner (1934–1977)…..Dogpatch is also a colloquialism describing an under developed backwater, which I guess San Francisco’s Dogpatch was. It was an area mostly taken up by warehouses, industry and shipyards. Part of the land here used to be marsh and has been reclaimed. Only the poorest of workers used to live here by choice as it was a very low rated, low rent area. This later attracted the “art community” so set up studios here, in old warehouses, which in turn brought the “hip” and “trendy” who converted warehouse space to fashionable lofts. It’s now an up and coming neighbourhood but still has the benefit of slightly lower than normal San Francisco property prices and rents…..but it’s catching up fast!
There was little redevelopment up until quite recently, as this was one of few areas to escape damage from the huge 7.9 San Francisco earthquake of 1906 so, from an historical viewpoint, the architecture is worth checking out.
Within a few blocks of where we are staying there are bars, cafes, art galleries, breweries, the waterfront and of course dog parks…..San Franciscans just love their dogs. There are a lot around, all being pampered and well loved by their mostly apartment dwelling owners – maybe another reason why this is called the Dogpatch?
We’ll start with the two breweries we have called into so far. The first of which was Triple Voodoo Brewery on 3rd Street, who have a rotation of 16 boutique beers on tap – and are dog friendly (the brewery, not the beer), what would you expect here in the Dogpatch? They offer a flight of beers to taste – you can have a flight of 4 or of 6 of beers of your choice from their menu. Or you can have a glass of beer served in a choice of glass size and this is reflected in the price. My wife and son both opted for a glass of Czech style “Anxiety Pils” where as I opted for a flight of 4 consisting of – “Inception” – a Belgian style golden strong beer of 8% alcohol rating, which was one of the nicest tasting beers I have had for a long time. Strong but smooth and very drinkable. Next up was “Season of the Boch” described as SF Giants IPA. SF Giants are the local Baseball team and this is a big hitting 7% IPA with very nice fruity citrus notes. If I hadn’t already tried the “Inception” I would have been totally won over by this beer. Next came “Summerwood” described by the brewer as Grisette aged on wood – it’s brewed using the “wort” from pressed grapes. This was my least favourite beer – and at 4.5% the weakest – as I just didn’t care for the taste at all. Call me weird if you like, but as far as I am concerned, grapes are for making wine, not beer. My 4th and final beer was “Corpse Paint” – described as a black common lager – at 5.3% alcohol it’s a nice seasonal dark beer with flavours bordering on a stout but without the heaviness. The brewer says it’s his favourite and I can see why….but for me it came in at number 3. Back home in NZ, MOA brew a very similar product…..equally tasty. Anyhow, below is a photo of my, already partially sampled, flight of four.
The flight was priced at $11 and the small glasses of beer at $5 each but the very nice lady bar teller only charged us $17 all up….so got a nice $3 tip. We win and she wins.
The other brewery we tried was Harmonic Breweries on 26th Street – just a few blocks down the street. Walking distance there and staggering distance back! Here they also offer tasting flights, but instead I opted for a full sized glass of beer and tried the “Harmonic Kölsch”. I had no idea what a Kölsch was so thought I’d try it. According to Wiki – Kölsch is a style of beer first brewed in Cologne, Germany. It is unusual because although it is warm fermented with ale yeast, it is then conditioned at cold temperatures like a lager. It’s a 5.8% lager and is a smooth easy drink…..maybe a little too easy! My second beer here I went for an oatmeal stout – “Cold-Press Stout” – at 5.3% it still tasted full bodied enough to be a stout, but I thought it was fairly similar to the “Corpse Paint” I’d tried at Triple Voodoo, and that was a black lager, not a stout.
Harmonic is another Dogpatch, dog friendly brewery and there were a couple of dogs sitting patiently under the tables while their owners imbibed and even one at the bar hoisted on its owners shoulders. I’m not sure what the prices were as my son and daughter-in-law kindly bought the beers.
Just 8 minutes walk away at 1275 Minnesota Street is the “Minnesota Street Project” – a collection of 13 art galleries in a warehouse space. The galleries are spread over 2 floors and are of various size and content with a large open space in the middle of the building which is very industrial like. Art of course, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and I’ll be honest about this – there are somethings that people call art that I just don’t get at all. For example the short videos where nothing at all happens, or you get flickering light across the video screen so you can’t really see what’s going on. Conversely I really enjoyed visiting the Rena Bransten Gallery which featured, in one room, paintings by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in celebration of his 100th birthday. Ferlinghetti is best known as a poet of the beat generation and also as a publisher and owner/founder of City Lights Bookstore. His paintings are somewhat childlike but I still enjoyed them.
In the other room was a display of photos – all but one in black and white and the centre photo on the walls was in colour – by photographer Louis Stettner (1922-2016). Coinciding with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s retrospective Louis Stettner: Traveling Light, curated by Clément Cheroux’s, the works in this exhibition represent fifty years of Stettner’s prolific career and illustrate many of his most frequented subjects: people in pairs, workers, bodies in transit and rest, and cityscapes. Again, art is in the eye of the beholder and I am a photography nut so loved this exhibition. The photos below show the outside of the gallery building – as I said it’s very industrial both outside and on the second photo showing the open space in between the galleries. The individual galleries are either side of this open area over two floors. The third photo is of my wife standing outside the Rena Bransten gallery with one of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s paintings on the wall behind.
Scattered through a number of the galleries were works of Iranian artists now living in the USA. Many of the designs look like Persian carpets and are offered in a variety of colours – for example with an emphasis on the colour yellow or the same picture but in the colour red. They are quite beautiful. The galleries are free to visit as they are there to promote the artists and to sell their wares. Some of the gallery staff are more friendly and welcoming than others.
Along Indiana Street in the other direction is a small open area outside a nice little cafe – where I am told you can get a very tasty brunch. This open area for better or worse is called the Dogpatch Arts Plaza. They have in the past held some outdoor music events here, but looking at their website – last updated in mid 2018, it doesn’t look very promising for anything happening during our visit. There is quite a nice sculpture occupying space in the middle of the plaza though. See photo below
As you can see it looks like a cross between Centaur meets the Terminator. I quite like it.
Just to round off our Dogpatch experience this far I should also mention Piccino restaurant just around the corner from the apartment on the corner of Minnesota and 22nd streets. It’s located in an old weatherboard building painted bright yellow on the outside, but with an open and modern interior. It’s obviously THE place to be around here as it was very popular on the evening that we dined there. The food was divine. I am usually a very predictable eater in that I know what I like and usually stick to it. BUT for once, encouraged by my son and daughter-in-law I decided to try a few things that I wouldn’t normally try and much to my delight, enjoyed everything put in front of me…..including the raw fish and the cooked octopus. The food is presented on shared plates so it’s easy to try different things. The highlights in my opinion were the Octopus (which was far from the rubbery experience I expected), the Short Rib (that was melt in the mouth delicious) and my dessert – which the menu describes as “zeppole, huckleberry, white chocolate pudding”. I had no idea what zeppole or huckleberries were but was attracted by the white chocolate pudding. It was a taste sensation of light and fluffy mini-doughnut like balls of yumminess with the semi-sharp, semi-sweet fruity berries and the smooth creaminess of the white chocolate pudding. The wine list is what I would describe as being on the expensive side, but accompanied the food perfectly. The staff there are knowledgeable about the food and wines on offer and very attentive. And of course the company my son and daughter-in-law, plus my lovely wife made for a wonderful evening. Sorry – no photos of the food or the restaurant – I was too busy eating!
Next up is our “Mission” to find murals in the very colourful Mission District.
I don’t know about you, but my home is full of books. Bookcases line the walls of my lounge and my office, the shelves sagging under the weight. And there are more books squirreled away, hidden in boxes, under the beds. Which is probably why, of all shops, I feel most at home and at my happiest in bookstores. Here are a few quotes from like-minded souls.
“You see, bookshops are dreams built of wood and paper. They are time travel and escape and knowledge and power. They are, simply put, the best of places.” —Jen Campbell
“Browsing through the shelves in bookstores or libraries, I was completely happy.” —Louis L’Amour
“I have gone to [this bookshop] for years, always finding the one book I wanted—and then three more I hadn’t known I wanted.”
—Mary Ann Shaffer
“Don’t patronize the chain bookstores. Every time I see some author scheduled to read and sign his books at a chain bookstore, I feel like telling him he’s stabbing the independent bookstores in the back.” —Lawrence Ferlinghetti
I will end on that quote from the centenarian poet, publisher and co-founder of City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco…..a bookstore that I will be visiting in the next few days. One of many of San Francisco’s independent bookstores on my “to visit” list.
I’ll soon be heading off to San Francisco to catch up with my eldest son and his wife….and aim to visit as many of the amazing independent bookstores there as I can. Immediately Green Apple Books, City Lights, Alley Cat Books and Dog Eared Books spring to mind, but there are dozens more scattered around this awesome city. Since my blog is primarily about books, writers, and bookstores, this will form the “bones” of my trip, but I’ll also flesh it out with lots of other bits and pieces and pursue my other passions of photography and travel…..not to mention the cafes and boutique breweries, bars, restaurants, galleries and shops. Speaking of galleries, there will be visits to photography galleries and art galleries plus there is a lot of art in public spaces outdoors such as the hundreds of murals in the Mission district. Then again, San Francisco also has some wonderful parks and open spaces to explore too, so after exhausting ourselves in the parks on this side of the bridge, we’ll probably head over the Golden Gate Bridge and see the mighty Redwoods in Muir Woods and since we’re almost there already… there are the vineyards of Sonora to check out.
We’ll also be spending a few days on the Monterey peninsula and a long weekend in Portland, Oregon – where I’ll spend some of my time in Powell’s bookstore – the biggest independent bookstore in the USA.
If anyone has any other tips on “must see” things in San Francisco, OR if you have any requests for things you’d like me to check out and blog about while in SF, please let me know in the comments below. I won’t be going to visit Alcatraz as I have already been there twice – once a few years ago and once back in 1986….but any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.