Dance is a metaphor for how we get through life. It’s about timing, it’s about daring, it’s about grace, it’s about intensity, it’s about overcoming difficult steps—but then, finally, it’s about finding joy.” ~ Robert Battle, Artistic Director of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Mauro Bigonzetti’s Deep. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Ibeyi music pulsed through Zellerbach Hall, the energy was electric, and the bodies moving across the stage shared their gifts with the audience freely. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater had come to California, and I felt a deep sense of gratitude sitting in the balcony and experiencing the soul cleansing ceremony the choreographer, Mauro Bigonzetti, titled Deep. During intermission, I downloaded the music. I needed something to take me back to that dance after the dancers left the stage.
“Carry away my dead leaves Let me baptize my soul with the help of your waters Sink my pains and complains Let the river take them, river drown them My ego and my blame Let me baptize my soul with the help of your waters Those all means are so ashamed Let the river take them, river drown them”
After intermission a completely different kind of dance was performed—one that explored the depth of human relationships, social norms, and even mental illness, but was much more lighthearted and laced with humor. This was Walking Mad.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Johan Inger’s Walking Mad. Photo by Paul Kolnik
The music was different too. The familiar bull fight Bolero by Ravel helped us see that these issues and social scenarios are truly timeless even if the dance is contemporary. As the choreographer himself put it:
“The famous ’Boléro’from Ravel, with its sexual, almost kitschy history, was the trigger point to make my own version. I quickly decided that it was going to be about relationships in different forms and circumstances. I came up with the idea of a wall that could transform the space during this minimalistic music and create small pockets of space and situations. Walking Mad is a journey in which we encounter our fears, our longings and the lightness of being.” ~Johan Inger
I loved the use of the wall that bisected the stage; the doors symbolizing, perhaps, opportunities and the entirety of the wall signifying the mental stumbling blocks we create for ourselves and the impediments that life presents us with that can make relationships challenging.
After “Walking Mad” the audience was treated to Ella. Ella Fitzgerald is a jazz-age icon. This work, choreographed by artistic director Robert Battle pays a beautiful tribute to the Queen of Jazz.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Robert Battle’s Ella. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Using a live concert recording of Fitzgerald performing the song “Airmail Special,” Ella matches the iconic singer’s virtuosic scatting with lightning-fast, articulated movement in an irresistible tour-de-force that left me (and the dancers) breathless.
Finally, the moment every Alvin Ailey devotee waits for came, Revelations. This is the dance that really brought Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater its acclaim.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s Revelations. Photo by Paul Kolnik
Revelations, choreographed by Alvin Ailey, debuted in New York City on January 31, 1960–nearly 60 years ago. The dance tells the story of African-American strength breaking free from from slavery and embracing freedom through a suite of dances set to spirituals like “Wade in the Water” and blues music.
If you have a chance to see Alvin Ailey perform, I cannot recommend it enough, it is a wonderful experience that will stay with you long after the curtain falls.
What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up their brains and imagination?” ~Alan Ginsberg: HOWL
The above quote from the poem Howl concisely sums up the angst of most Bohemians. This poem was a howl against the pillars of capitalism, corporations, and lemming living. With his words, Alan Ginsberg inspired a new generation of poets, and came to be recognized as one of the icons of the beat movement, and one of the more famous residents of the North Beach neighborhood. When you are seeking inspiration and good food in San Francisco, there really is only one place to go: North Beach. This post is a guide to the North Beach Area through the eyes of its bohemian residents. We’re starting right on the street where Ginsberg lived: Montgomery Street.
Stop 1: 1001 Montgomery Street
This is our first stop because it is barely in North Beach. Some might challenge that it really is North Beach at all. But, it is certainly significant. This is the place where Alan Ginsberg penned his famous poem: Howl. If you look down the street across Broadway you can see the Transamerica Pyramid and the “cement and aluminum” skull bashing structures that make up the financial district.
Though many of the skyscrapers had not been constructed when Ginsberg wrote the poem, the concept of fascistic conformity to corporations and consumerism was alive and well. This is what his poem was howling about. It was met with fear and criticism on the one hand, and acclaim and praise on the other in an age when poetry truly mattered and had the power to shape society.
Readers in the ’50s found the poem exciting, even frightening, because they were already anxious about Beats, hoodlums, communists, and delinquent youths. They discovered the poem in the first place, though, because they were in the habit of reading—and reviewing—new poems. A young man’s first book from a small West Coast press (Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights), Howl nonetheless won lengthy praise in the New York Times Book Review from the established poet Richard Eberhart.” http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2006/04/the_paradox_of_howl.html
You can listen to Alan Ginsberg himself read Howl in its entirety here:
Stop 2: City Lights Bookstore & Jack Kerouac Alley
Howl was first published here at City Lights books by fellow poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti who had opened the establishment with his friend Peter Martin in 1953. Poor Ferlinghetti didn’t know what he got himself into when he published Ginsberg’s work.
On March 25, 1957, over 500 copies of the book were seized by customs officials due to “obscenity” when the books arrived on American shores after being imported from the printer in London. The seizure of goods did not stop City Lights from publishing and selling the work.
Just over two months later, on June 3, Shig Murao, the bookstore manager, was arrested and jailed for selling Howl and Other Poems to an undercover San Francisco police officer. City Lights Publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti was subsequently arrested for publishing the book. Nine literary experts testified on the poem’s behalf at the obscenity trial. Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, and with the help of defense attorney Jake Ehrlich, Ferlinghetti won the case when California State Superior Court Judge Clayton Horn decided that the poem was of “redeeming social importance”. You can learn more about the trial by watching the 2010 film Howl. James Franco stars as the young Allen Ginsberg and Andrew Rogers portrays Ferlinghetti.
As the saying goes, “No publicity is bad publicity”, thankfully City Lights Bookstore remained open through the trial, and it along with Ginsberg’s book were better off for it. People came pouring in, and books flew off the shelves.
Speaking of flying books, if you look up across the street at the corner of Columbus and Broadway you will see a flock of books flying high above the street corner. This was part of the installation Language of the Birds by Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn. The books light up at night and illuminate words and phrases from famous works of literature.
Passing under the flock, pedestrians notice words and phrases embedded in the plaza floor that appear to have fallen from the pages. On closer inspection the fallen words are in English, Italian and Chinese and were selected from the neighborhood’s rich literary history, ranging from the Beats, to SF Renaissance poets and Chinese writers, over 90 authors are represented including Armistead Maupin, Gary Snyder,William T. Vollman, and Jade Snow Wong.” http://www.metaphorm.org/works/language-of-the-birds/
This bookstore was the first “all-paperback” selling bookstore in the country. Its goal was to bring literature to the proletariat. It accomplished this by publishing books in house and selling them too.
With this bookstore-publisher combination, “it is as if,” says Ferlinghetti, “the public were being invited, in person and in books, to participate in that ‘great conversation’ between authors of all ages, ancient and modern.” City Lights has become world-famous, but it has retained an intimate, casual, anarchic charm. It’s a completely unique San Francisco experience, and a must for anyone who appreciates good books.” http://www.citylights.com/info/?fa=aboutus
I recommend purchasing a copy of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road”. After you have had your fill of books, it’s time for a nice drink or a sweet treat, or both. Check out Jack Kerouac Alley, named after the famous beat author himself. Directly across the alley, behind City Lights Books, you will find Vesuvio Cafe serving up a drink bearing the same name.
The Jack Kerouac cocktail, just like the man himself, is larger than life. It is a combination of rum, tequila, cranberry juice and a splash of lime served up in a big glass. Cheers!
Stop 3: The Baked Bear
So, because the beats of North Beach were all about rebelling and questioning systems of authority, I suggest you do the same by having dessert first before your main meal. One block up from City Lights Books is a blue sign with a polar bear that you just can’t miss. This spot serves up ice cream sandwiches like you wouldn’t believe. If you have ever had a late night Pazookie at BJ’s be prepared to replace that old standby with this new decadent treat.
This isn’t a historical gem, or one of a kind. It’s a four year old company with lots of west coast locations. But, it’s just so damn delicious; I thought it was worth mentioning.
Stop 4: Molinari Delicatessen
Back to history, and back on track to more complex carbs, step right up to Molinari’s. This place has been around in San Francisco since 1895. It’s still in the family, and is currently run by Frank Giorgi, the great grandson of founder P.G. Molinari.
Upon entering, take a number and make your way to the bread bin back by the refrigerators. Choose your bread and make your sandwich selection. I recommend the North Beach Special. They roast the red peppers right there at the deli. The meat and cheese are incredible. You would be hard pressed to find a better sandwich anywhere else.
Pick up a nice Italian soda to wash down the sandwich and head out to Washington Park for a picnic.
Stop 5: Washington Square Park
This park was a favorite hangout for the beat bohemians. At the height of the movement there were many poetry readings, folk songs and gatherings that took place here.
Other interesting attractions in and near the park include sculpture and a historic church. There is a statue of Benjamin Franklin is located at the heart of the park. The monument was a gift from dentist and entrepreneur Henry Cogswell whose Gold Rush investments made him one of the city’s first millionaires. I don’t think many of the beats practiced the temperance Cogswell chose to erect a statue to. But, they were probably a fan of Franklin’s free love practice.
Another sculpture of note near Columbus Avenue honors the volunteer firefighters of the city. Lillie Hitchcock Coit, the namesake of the tower located on Telegraph Hill, sponsored the monument. It is a testament to the ephemeral nature of things–how quickly an entire city went up in smoke in 1906, and the courage and endurance of the human spirit to put out fires and move forward.
The adjacent Saints Peter and Paul Church served as a backdrop for a scene in the Clint Eastwood film Dirty Harry. It was also the setting for Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe wedding pictures. The famous baseball player and Hollywood star were actually married at City Hall. But, DiMaggio–a North Beach homeboy–wanted to have photos taken that made it look like they were married in his hometown church. Sadly, both of those stories (Dirty Harry and the Monroe and DiMaggio love story), as we all know, would end in tragedy. Built in 1924, the Italianate style structure has a remarkable stained-glass rose window similar to the ones found at Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
Stop 6: Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Café
When you visit Mario’s, you feel all the rich history of North Beach. Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store founded by Mario Crismani and his wife, Liliana has all the wonderful ambiance of North Beach packed into one little Cafe. No longer selling cigars, the focus of this joint is on good eats and coffee.
They make the best no-nonsense lattes around. It’s great coffee at an even better price. This is the place that I wish I lived above. I would have my coffee here every morning if I could. It’s the place that tempts me to leave my SOMA digs every time I visit North Beach.
Sit a while with your bohemian brew and read the book you bought at City Lights Bookstore. Forget about the soul crushing political and social cement and steel ceilings. Enjoy the moment, let your imagination run free, and as Jack Kerouac would say: “Be in love with your life–every minute of it.”
Sliding a wave removes our brains out of the ordinary and slips us into the extra ordinary of being there now. No more worries about mortgages or strife of being poor or rich. When you enter the domain of an ocean cylinder, that moment, those split seconds belong to the Zen part of just being. Period.” ~Bill Hamilton
It’s 6:30AM. The moon has just set and the sun is rising in the sky above, its golden rays dancing on the dark water lapping at the shore. In a trance I get out of bed and make my way toward the gurgle of the coffee maker. Pulling a mug from the cupboard and taking the coconut creamer out of the fridge, I pour myself a very necessary cup of jo, and pull on my swimsuit and rash guard. Reaching for my phone I dial 596-SURF. “Holding on the small 11 sec SSW. Surf is 3-4′ and fairly clean with light-moderate offshores. Top sets are slow rolling and inconsistent but showing decent form.” With my long board in the back, I head for Ho’okipa my whole body anticipating the adrenaline and one of a kind one with nature feeling shared by bohemian beach bums everywhere.
Duke Kahanamoku, one of the original bohemian beach bums, once condensed the surfer philosophy down to six short words: “Out of water, I am nothing.” In a very meta way, Duke is right. They say the world is 70% covered with water, and human beings are made up of something like a whopping 80% water. Surfing is the sport that drives its participants out of bed at early hours each and every day because we all have water coursing through our veins, and it feels like coming home to be in a large body of water. It’s somehow like an extension of ourselves; and without water we cannot survive.
The modern-day bohemian beach bum has ancient roots. It is connected to the Hawaiian tradition of “he’e nalu”, which translated to English means “wave-sliding”. In the Hawaiian traditions of the past, the sea was anthropomorphic and had human traits, which could reflect emotions. A good day of surfing required the proper waves, and in order to convince the sea to provide these waves, Ancient Hawaiians relied on Kahunas to pray for good surf. Kahunas would engage in ritual chants and dances, with the intention of pleasing the sea to provide the people with surfable waves. Beyond spiritualism, surfing also served as a mediation practice of conflict resolution. Disagreements were resolved on the waves.
All this tradition changed though upon the arrival of the white man, or what the Hawaiian’s would call ‘haole’. With their arrival came all of the complexities and cultural conquests associated with colonialism. The ancient Hawaiian culture in its unadulterated form would soon be sullied by the arrival of Captain Cook in the late Eighteenth Century. Increasing numbers of foreigners visited Hawaii after hearing accounts of Cook’s adventures. Initially these intruders were explorers and traders seeking wealth, yet soon missionaries and settlers came, looking to convert the native Hawaiian’s to Christianity, impose their beliefs and political structure onto their culture and take the land for themselves.
“These people brought no respect for the ancient traditions of the culture they invaded, and soon it would be nearly lost. The introduction of western religion stripped the supernatural elements from surfing. Forced to adapt to a new lifestyle, the natives lost touch with their ancient ways, and surfing soon went into a major decline.”
For close to one hundred years surfing was nearly an extinct pastime. However, the dawning of a new century brought with it a new era of surfing. The ‘Beach Boys of Waikiki brought popularity to the sport once more and the surfing bug would soon spread like influenza.
The surfboard became emblematic of the counterculture movement of the ‘roaring twenties’, and the technological and commercial progress in surfboard design made the sport more accessible to the public. The first ever major surf competition was in 1928. With the invention of the automobile, surfers were able to easily venture along the Californian coast in search of the best waves. “This led to the days of Surf Safaris (or Surfari’s), during which the dedicated surfers of California would spend entire weekends travelling up and down the coast, partying as hard as they surfed.” This was the beginning of the bohemian beach bum era. Beach bums were nomads; they travelled with the seasons and followed the waves. This was a time where seeking emotional highs, and living for human experience more than mere existence were prized.
The media caught onto the craze, and sought to profit from it. Advertising would be the next major boost for surfing. Dale Velzy was the business executive credited for the popularization of surfing. He was the sport’s first sponsor, giving boards to local surfers in exchange for endorsements. Velzy was also the first major surfboard manufacturer to utilize a wide-scale advertising campaign. Velzy made surfing visible to the American public.
But what really popularized and, some would argue, commodified the sport were the surf movies. From Gidget to The Endless Summer. These surf movies ignited an explosion of interest. Who could resist the sport when an adorably sporty and spunky blonde actress says the following line on screen about her first experience: “Surfing is out of this world. You can’t imagine the thrill of shooting the curl. It positively surpasses every living emotion I’ve ever had.”
These films not only attracted athletes and sports industry folks, music, fashion, language and literature were all impacted. The culture caught on and many young people moved to where the surf was best. Without high paying jobs, these nomadic wave-riders became known as beach bums. Camping on the sand, or renting whatever cheap housing they could find, they would surf by day, and waitress and tend bar by night. Surfing became their religion. It was the sense of freedom it provided that attracted young and old to the sport. It is what makes it the bohemian sport of choice.
Ultimately, the difference between the casual surf sport enthusiast and bohemian beach bum is made clear by Cliff Robertson’s character The Big Kahuna from the film Gidget: “Ride the waves, eat, sleep not a care in the world. […] For them it’s a summer romance; for me it’s a full-time passion.” The key take-away from all of this is that if you really want to become bohemian, you should try surfing this summer, and then…forever.
Plutarch once said: “No man ever wetted clay and then left it, as if there would be bricks by chance and fortune.”
Every craft takes practice, patience, perspiration and inspiration. The art of ceramics—one of the most ancient of arts is no exception. In her Seattle studio, Katie Marks wets ordinary clay, and creates everyday objects that are extraordinary works of art. While Katie has a mentor, professional ceramicist Matthew Patton, and has had some formal training, she credits most of her initial ceramics learning to the power of the internet–watching youtube.
Her history is best explained by the artist herself on her shop’s webpage:
I have been creating things since before I can remember starting with play-doh moving to polymer and now finally with ceramics. I took 3 ceramics classes at my local community college in 2008 but it wasn’t until after I acquired my first wheel in 2010 that I attended the University of Youtube. You can learn anything on the internet…Most things are wheel thrown gas fired porcelain but I experiment from time to time with electric fired work.Art is life…”
From unicorns to crystals, Katie takes the banal coffee cup and elevates it to art. But, just as Plutarch pointed out, clay just doesn’t become something brilliant or useful overnight. It isn’t ever that simple. Katie describes her creative process as very cerebral:
I usually spend a good 3 months coming up with an idea in my head. I like to work out all the problems I will face in my head before I try to make it exist in the real world. I also like to do sketches of ideas before I make them so I can see a 2d version of what I‘m making just in case the design is actually quite “rubbish” and I just couldn’t see it [in my head]. But, then I can make changes and build off of it and something pretty happens. Then after all the thinking and sketching I make things. It’s like 80% thinking, and 20% doing.”
After seeing the world Katie Marks envisions through her pieces, I think it is safe to say we all would love to live there. Each piece has a unique way of combining the terrestrial and the extraterrestrial, making her imaginative fantasy land feel like it could actually be an existing alternate universe or a piece of organic material from another galactic planet or 4th dimension.
She gives us a hint of how she achieves this by stating the following:
I have two main inspirations lately. The crystal pieces are inspired by the idea that if all the materials I use in clay and glazes were left in the ground, they [would] form natural crystal structures. I like the idea of using my human brain to manipulate the earth into looking like what it would do naturally but with my own interpretation of it. I also spent a month in Maui in the beginning of the year and I was so inspired by the sunsets that I saw there and I wanted to make mugs that looked like them so you could drink out of a sunset. I love putting my version of love and wonder into my work and I hope people can feel it when they look at or use my pieces.”
Katie does not do commissions or wholesale orders. I personally find that refreshing and brilliant. In my opinion commissions and wholesale orders would effectively stymie the creative process. It elevates each piece to a true work of art, not something imagined by anyone else or mass produced.
Katie announces when her next batch of ceramics will be posted on her etsy shop “Silver Lining Ceramics” on social media. If you are interested (and let’s be honest, who isn’t?), her newest collection will go live on Etsy this Friday, May 5th at 3PM PST.