Friday, September 12, 2014

North Beach

A final evening in San Francisco before we ferry north to Vallejo and on to Yountville in Napa Valley wine country.

We walked from Fisherman’s Wharf to North Beach, an older-yet-thriving neighborhood known for its 1950s Beatnik roots, where we planned to meet long-time friend Jimbo for dinner.

First stop was City Lights Bookstore/Publishers, founded in 1953. It became very famous for publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems, which resulted in an also famous obscenity trial. From its beginning, City Lights has been a center of protest and revolutionary ideas. Ginsberg continued to use City Lights as his base of operations for the rest of his life.

Robin Ascending Stairs at City Lights Bookstore

When in City Lights Bookstore, there are little clues here and there 
that this is a hangout for philosophers, poets, and intellectuals. 
Is it just me, or is something profound happening here?

The Vesuvio Bar is next door to City Lights Bookstore. North Beach is still cool, man, cool.

After buying several books, including Joseph Conrad’s Typhoon and Other Stories, we wandered into Caffe’ Trieste to have coffee and wait for our dinner date with Jimbo.

The walls of Caffe’ Trieste are covered with ’50s-vintage photos. Also photos of Francis Ford Coppola working on his Godfather script in the caffe.

You might wonder, as we do, why Caffe’ Trieste has an apostrophe after “Caffe.” Good question, but if it’s on the window glass that way, that’s good enough for me.

Reading in Caffee’ Trieste.

I noticed the guy sitting at the table next to ours: his long hair was pulled back into a pony tail, he had long fingernails painted blue, and he was hunched over a journal, writing furiously and with great intensity. Trying to not invade his privacy I leaned over a bit and saw that he was writing in print, not longhand, and each line of print was equivalent to 3 point type, maybe smaller. Almost too small to see. Every page was totally filled from edge to edge, top to bottom, with tiny, tiny print.

I said, “You’re the only person I’ve ever seen that can write smaller than Robin (gesturing toward Robin).” 

He seemed flattered and touched his hand to his heart. He showed us some other pages in the journal in which he had varied the typographic design: tiny print, but with an occasional larger phrase enclosed in a hand-drawn border; or a page with tiny print and several lines with more open line spacing; and other pages that had tiny print with some lines of text that were wavy instead perfectly straight.

Three Writers in Caffe’ Trieste: another journal writer (left), Robin, and Jessie (right).

I introduced myself and Robin. He introduced himself as Jessie. I said “That’s incredible, Jessie. Really beautiful. Love it.” Jessie nodded and touched his heart.

The journal was probably more than two-thirds full of tiny hand-written print. Robin asked him what he was going to do with it when it was finished. 

“Burn it” he said.

“No!” we protested. “You need to scan every page so there’s a record of it.” No matter what the text said, genius or crazy, boring or brilliant, I thought it was an amazing example of… of… something, I don’t know what.

I put four quarters in the juke box, punched some random numbers, and music played non-stop for the next hour: Italian crooners, Italian versions of American Pop music, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash.

Eventually Jimbo found us and we left Caffe’ Trieste for dinner. I shook hands with Jessie and said “You're awesome.” He smiled, nodded, and touched his heart. 

Jimbo and Robin, outside an Italian Restaurant in North Beach.

After dinner, as we walked to Jimbo’s car, the foggy San Francisco night 
gave Coit Tower a mystical appearance.