On Thursday I amazed myself by sleeping until 9:00 a.m., something I very rarely do on Eastern time, and never when my body thinks that means noon. Two consecutive nights of very little sleep plus a dark room and an extremely comfy bed worked wonders. By the time we finished breakfast, blogged and organized our day, the morning was over. But hey, it's vacation.
First thing, we headed down to the Ferry Building Market, new since the last time I was in San Francisco. The Ferry Building is a San Francisco landmark, more than 100 years old and the survivor of many earthquakes, including "the" quake of 1906. It's been lovingly and impeccably restored (and made accessible), and is now home to a beautiful market, along with commuter and travel ferries to dozens of towns across the Bay. We love markets and like to see them wherever we go, so this beautiful building right on the water was a must.
Three days a week there is a farmers' market and street food outside, which we saw briefly. We mostly wandered around inside, browsing through the permanent shops and restaurants. They're all independent and locally-based, but somewhat high-end, which is very easy to do out here. A shop selling only varieties of olive oil or organic mushrooms is not something you see in Toronto or New York, but it's not uncommon here. We had some delicious sandwiches from Boccalone - "tasty salty pig parts" - and gelato, and browsed through a nice bookstore.
Outside, from a huge array of tables, I found a pair of earrings, delicate hand-painting on shells. I told the artist I would link to her website, but at the moment her domain seems to be up for grabs. Rosa Moore and her husband Joso Vidal do beautiful work, and in case the site comes back, it's Clearlight Jewelry dot-com.
My Ice Hotel keychain died a few months ago, and yesterday I replaced it with a keychain made from a Susan B. Anthony dollar, showing that radical woman smoking a pipe. The artist creates figure-ground art by cutting out the backgrounds of coins, to leave only a face, or a buffalo, an eagle, and such. He's cut out several figures in such a way that has them smoking pipes - George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, for example. He said if I didn't want Susan B. Anthony to be a smoker, he could remove the pipe for me. But the pipe is great. I like to think if our hero Anthony had wanted to smoke a pipe, she damn well would have.
Leaving the area, we ran into some young canvassers from Equality California, wearing great t-shirts with the bright EQ CA logo. We let an enthusiastic young man named Oscar give us his whole pitch, proudly telling him we are from Canada, where we have full marriage equality. California activists, working towards a ballot initiative to repeal Prop 8 in 2012, are raising money to open more local offices throughout the state. We made a donation, wished them luck and got directions to our next stop.
On the streetcar, an incredibly friendly driver - an Ellen DeGeneres lookalike - directed us to a better bus route, and dropped us at the appropriate stop at no charge. When we said we were going to City Lights, she mentioned Vesuvio next door. She also asked where we were having dinner, and tipped us off on $1 oysters and half-price beers at Hog City Oyster bar, at the Ferry Building Market. It seems I exclaim, "These friendly Californians!" at least three times a day. I love New Yorkers and I will never badmouth my own breed. But I never understood why people find Easterners unfriendly until I spent time in California and the Pacific Northwest. I used to think the difference was urban versus rural, but SoCal, the Bay Area and Seattle are plenty dense, yet people are still incredibly friendly compared to New Yorkers, Bostonians, and others in the east. And whereas Canadians are extremely nice and friendly, they are still (stereotypically speaking) reserved, compared with the openness and warmth I feel here.
We took the bus up to North Beach, the old Italian neighbourhood that is still chock full of Italian restaurants and cafes. Maybe it's me, but I think the area still has a very authentic feel, despite the tourist interest. Our destination, though, wasn't Little Italy, but City Lights. City Lights is a landmark bookstore and publisher, founded by the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It was the home and hangout for Beat Generation writers, and perhaps most famous for publishing Allen Ginsberg's "Howl".
But City Lights is no museum. It is still a vibrant bookstore, still publishing fiction, nonfiction and especially important political work, and still fanning the flames of free expression. There's an entire room of poetry upstairs - in which I confess I never get past Whitman and Ginsburg - and a whole floor of revolutionary politics downstairs. We love this place and go whenever we're here. Not least among my reasons for loving City Lights is my love for Allen Ginsberg - writer, New Yorker, early out queer, compassionate humanist, and literary descendant of another writing hero of mine, Walt Whitman.
City Lights has recently published The Bomb, a short monograph by Howard Zinn, taken from some of his earlier writings plus an new introduction Howard finished just a month before he died. It is a concise and painfully true treatise against war. It felt good to buy this from people who were so recently working with and publishing Howard Zinn. I also bought Hungry Planet: What The World Eats, which I blogged about when it was making the rounds in newspapers and magazines. The book is extraordinary: NPR feature about the project, website for What The World Eats, reviews on Amazon.
Allan also bought a 'zine - an actual old-fashioned, ink-on-paper 'zine - published by a woman in New York: The East Village Inky. He also found a cool magazine called Rejected Quarterly, dedicated to publishing fiction, poetry and art that other publishers have rejected, along with the rejection letters themselves. The inside cover says: "All fiction submissions must be accompanied by at least five rejection slips"!
I left Allan to continue browsing, and went across the alley to Vesuvio, a legendary cafe/bar/club/hangout of Beat fame. Although it's a famous spot that every tourist sticks their head into, it's also a thriving neighbourhood hangout. I came in expecting to have a coffee but ended up with a Guinness instead. Hey, it's vacation!
After Allan reappeared, we took the bus back to our hotel for the afternoon wine reception, then walked down to the Museum of Modern Art, or SF MOMA, half price on Thursday nights. Most of the museum is currently taken up with the newly acquired Fisher Collection, which had some limited interest to us. It seems like a nice museum and I'm glad we went - but also glad we went for half price.
Back at the hotel, Allan was having horrible foot pain, an ongoing issue that is worsening. I was so lucky to have solve my foot pain with orthotics two years ago, but his new orthotics are not yet doing the trick. We had more wine and tapas at the bar downstairs. The hotel's restaurant, Postrio, is top-notch, but the real attraction was only needing the elevator to get home.
Today, Friday, we go back to the Oakland Airport to pick up our rental car, then drive up to the cottage in Sonoma County. The rehearsal dinner is tonight. The only other thing on the agenda today is In-N-Out. Allan was exceedingly jealous of my In-N-Out fests on my last two trips to visit friends in California, so now he'll find out what all the fuss is about.