It’s that Chuck Berry time of year: summer is over, school days are here, and it’s time to hit the books! I cannot wait to introduce you to our Fall 2017 to Fall 2018 Bohemian Book Club lineup! Cue Chuck Berry’s song School Days…
But before I walk you through our year in books, let’s briefly discuss the framework and intention of the Bohemian Book Club:
How are the titles chosen each year?
This reading list was curated with Becoming Bohemian in mind. It includes books both by and about bohemian icons; books about philosophy, art, music, food, travel and social activism. The goal of the Bohemian Book Club is to read both deeply into each title as well as widely into many genres; to expand our literary horizons and become more bohemian.
You will notice these titles are by no means the latest releases in the publishing world. This is by design. New releases are hot commodities and often difficult to procure at your local public library. Few pastimes enrich my life to the degree that reading does, and I want to ensure everyone is equipped to read along with an internet connection and library card.
How do I join the Bohemian Book Club?
There are a few ways to get connected and read along:
Live Monthly Book Club Meetings: Our main monthly event and connection point is the Book Club livestream. The Book Club will be live the last Thursday of the month on Facebook Live at 7 PM PST/10 PM EST, with the exception of January 2018 when it will be held on the 31st at 7 PM PST/10 PM EST. Join us live and discuss the books with the community and a guest expert.
Facebook: Join the Becoming Bohemian community on Facebook to discuss our monthly selections and all things reading-related. From reviews to memes, we’ve got reading covered. No spoilers allowed.
Email: Sign up for our newsletter to get reminders about upcoming book club news and events.
That’s all for the set-up! Without further ado, please meet the inaugural Bohemian Book Club Reading List with a brief description of how each title fits in:
Summer is over. But, that doesn’t mean that the road trip has to end! Enter Jack Kerouac’s wild adventure on the road. It is considered a defining work of the bohemian beat movement, with its characters living life against a backdrop of jazz, poetry, and the postwar American landscape. Heralded by Time Magazine as one of the best 100 English-language novels of our time, this book should have a spot on every boho’s bookshelf.
Many know about her husband Scott and his defining novel The Great Gatsby. But, few know just how much Zelda not only influenced his work, but may arguably have been the better writer of the dynamic Fitzgerald duo. This month we’ll get to learn all about Zelda through the book that inspired the hit Amazon series Z: The Beginning of Everything. This is the month where we will encourage club attendees to dress up in flapper gear for a swanky, speakeasy style party.
Prepare for a real feast! This month is all about food. Emile Zola describes food like no other. Here’s a bite-sized amuse-bouche of what to expect in this month’s delicious book: “All around them the cheeses were stinking. On the two shelves at the back of the stall were huge blocks of butter: Brittany butter overflowing its baskets; Normandy butter wrapped in cloth, looking like models of bellies on to which a sculptor had thrown some wet rags; other blocks, already cut into and looking like high rocks full of valleys and crevices. […] But for the most part the cheeses stood in piles on the table.”
I recommend pairing this book with a robust merlot, accompanied by sliced pears topped with fourme d’ambert blue cheese.
This is a shorter book for a shorter month of reading. But, as the saying goes: good things come in small packages, and A Girl of The Limberlost illustrates that trope brilliantly. As winter begins to rear its angry and stormy head, this young adult novel is a welcome escape into the beautiful great outdoors.
Honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day with March. This graphic novel is a vivid first-hand account of Congressman John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.
Rodin is widely known as one of the most sensual artists to have ever breathed with such famous works as The Kiss and Eternal Springtime. This book takes a look at how aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel became Auguste Rodin’s apprentice, muse, and mistress. Their passion is etched into the smooth marble sculptures we all know and love today.
When it comes to Alain de Botton’s works, I have serious writer’s voice envy. Sharp witted and approachable, Alain de Botton deftly explains how a study of philosophy can help us all deal with existential angst. Drawing inspiration from six of the finest minds in history – Socrates, Epicurus, Seneca, Montaigne, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche – he addresses lack of money, the pain of love, inadequacy, anxiety and conformity.
Ahhhh April, a time when birds start whistling their springy tunes and we will too! This book is all about music education. A little about the author from his bio page, and why he is worth listening to: Alex Ross has been contributing to The New Yorker since 1993, and he became the magazine’s music critic in 1996. He writes about classical music, covering the field from the Metropolitan Opera to the downtown avant-garde, and has also contributed essays on pop music, literature, twentieth-century history, and gay life. His first book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, a cultural history of music since 1900, won a National Book Critics Circle award and the Guardian First Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
Another bohemian icon, Thoreau’s off-the-grid living has been the inspiration for many minimalists and non-conformists to follow. The way he describes his transcendentalist and existentialist ideology is poetic: “I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life. And see if I could not learn what I had to teach. And not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Is hacking and whistleblowing where bohemian activism is heading? Here is the ultimate book on the worldwide movement of hackers, pranksters, and activists that operates under the non-name Anonymous; by the writer the Huffington Post says “knows all of Anonymous’ deepest, darkest secrets.” There is no doubt that this will be an exciting summer read!
“I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book.”~Ernest Hemingway
You know that anything that comes highly recommended by Ernest Hemingway is sure to be an impeccable work. This book is an autobiography about a lesser-known bohemian, Beryl Markham. She was a triple threat: an aviator, racehorse trainer, and rare beauty. Her writing and philosophy is every bit as gorgeous as her outer appearance. Buckle up for a life-changing ride with this bohemian icon over the plains of Africa.
Isadora Duncan is known as the woman who broke with tradition and brought the world Modern Dance. She claimed ballet was “ugly and against nature.” She wanted her “modern” dance style to be free and natural. She believed that “nature is the source of the dance; the movement of the waves, of winds, of the earth is ever in the same lasting harmony.” However, while her carefree movements on the stage are what made her famous, her inner, personal life was certainly not free from cares and trials. This book gives us a glimpse behind the curtain at the raw and real Isadora.
Get excited my fellow bookish bohemians! This is going to be a mind-blowing year of exploration, deep thoughts, and heart talks. Please drop me a line if you have any questions or concerns about the BBC (not the British Broadcasting Corporation–although I love it dearly–but, the Bohemian Book Club).
You’ve heard the old adage: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” However, I would argue the meal to beat all meals is the very necessary weekend brunch. The questions of where and what to brunch on in San Francisco are not questions to be taken lightly. But, fear not dear reader, I have done the research for you. In fact, this happens to be my favorite research project to date, as I self-identify as a major brunch junkie. The following are my top three locals-only San Francisco favorites. These are the places you don’t find in guide books or in tourist trap areas of the city; they don’t have 3 hour long lines out the door forcing you to wait for rubbery eggs and watered down mimosas; these are the brunch spots to beat all brunch spots—the breakfasts of champions.
#1 El Techo de Lolinda
El Techo de Lolinda: 2516 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110 | Brunch Hours: Sat-Sun 11am-3pm
The magic glass elevator from the Roald Dahl children’s book classic Charlie and The Chocolate Factory has nothing on El Techo’s ride to the rooftop. If you take BART to the 24th and Mission stop, you are just a few blocks away from this brunch adventure. As a heads up, those few blocks might have you guessing and questioning my choice and research. The area is a little Scorsese film set feeling. It’s The Mission district after all. But, stick with me kid, and you won’t regret it.
Since you were smart and made a reservation online through Open Table, you will check in with the host at the street-level door like a VIP and be told “Down the hall and up the elevator to your left.” The hall and elevator are both very no-nonsense. But when the elevator doors open on the rooftop, you will immediately understand why this place scored a 10/10 ambiance rating: 360 degree city views, hot Latin music, and dozens of locals in on this secret are clinking glasses and celebrating being young and being alive.
Food & Drink: 9/10
Cuisine: South American
The chips and guac are pretty standard fare. But, the cornbread and Buñuelos are both starters that are a cut above the rest. Order those with either the La Paloma or the Lorito cocktail, and you will be in brunch heaven.
After those starters, I recommend ordering Carnitas to share. Or, if you are really hungry, go for the Benedictos. Generally, it’s game over for me whenever I see an eggs benedict dish on the menu. These are no exception; they take your classic eggs Benny to a whole new Latin level. Try them. You won’t be disappointed.
#2 Zero Zero
Zero Zero: 826 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Brunch Hours: Sat-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm
I’ve got 99 problems but Zero Zero ain’t one. Seriously, Zero Zero is a problem solver. Suffering from weekend ennui and a manic Monday ahead? Let Zero Zero handle that with a perfectly balanced cocktail and melt-in-your-mouth biscuits.
The ambiance is a little on the hipster meets Westworld side. It’s a fresh take on a steampunk saloon. It isn’t overly boisterous or noisy which is nice when you need a place to relax and have a good conversation.
Food & Drink: 10/10
Cuisine: Elevated Comfort Food
My cocktail recommendation is Violet Death in the Afternoon. It’s a killer combination of prosecco, absinthe and creme de violette and is garnished with a frozen orchid. For an appetizer, you must get the biscuits. Trust me, it’s a must. For your entrée, I recommend the Short Rib Pastrami Hash. Or, if you are feeling like something a little more sweet, The French Toast is also excellent.
#3 Local Kitchen and Wine Bar
Local Kitchen and Wine Bar: 330 1st St #1, San Francisco, CA 94105 | Brunch Sat-Sun 11:30-2:00PM
Simple and minimalistic modernity is Local Kitchen and Wine Bar’s style. But, there is a warmth to it—coming from the direction of the pizza oven— and the lighting is soft and inviting. There is a communal long table in the center of the space, the pizza bar up close and personal with the chefs, and your regular run-of-the mill restaurant tables to choose from.
Food & Drink: 9/10
California Cuisine Using Fresh, Local Ingredients
The food here is simply delicious. For a light and bright bunch meal, I recommend the two eggs cooked your way, fingerling potatoes, and greens. If your appetite is more robust and you need something with a little more heft to fend off the hangry, select one of their amazing Breakfast Pizzas. It is sure to fill you up.
When it comes to drink, they have a lovely Rose Cava and fantastic mimosas. If you would prefer something a little stronger, the Brexit is excellent as is the El Jefe.
So, there you have it, three brunch spots to try when you are next in San Francisco—the beautiful city by the bay that I call home. If you are in town, and looking for a brunch buddy, drop me a line. I never turn down an invitation to brunch.
Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, and makes weariness forget his toil.” ~Lord Byron
I realize that the words I am about to type will be viewed as sacrilege by many. But, I just can’t help but make the following statement and comparison: Prince, formerly “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince”, should change his name once more to “The Artist Formerly Known as Lord Byron”. Why? Because Prince is basically Lord Byron version 2.0.
Like Prince, Lord Byron was perhaps the most talented, over-sexed, famous and controversial icon of his time. For him, anything worth doing was worth overdoing. With his expressive writing, flare for the flamboyant, and political activism, Byron challenged societal norms as few artists have, making his mark on nineteenth-century art, poetry, politics, and fashion. His image and name will forever be connected to bohemianism…and wine.
According to Edna O’Brien, “Lord Byron insisted that his Cambridge college dorm room be outfitted with various glasses, decanters and four bottles each of wine, port, sherry and claret. He also brought his pet bulldog.” (See Edna O’Brien, Byron in Love (W. W. Norton & Company, 2009).
It’s impossible to speak for the dead. But, if he were alive today, I am sure Lord Byron would have loved Napa. Through this guide, I hope to share with you the specific New World bottles I think he would have requested for his dorm wine cellar, the wineries he would have frequented, and the wine club memberships he would have held. In short, the following is a Napa Valley wine tasting adventure that I hope Lord Byron, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, and you—my fellow bohemian wine enthusiast—will all enjoy. Because, as the famous poet himself once said: “Wine cheers the sad, revives the old, inspires the young, and makes weariness forget his toil.” Cheers!
If Lord Byron only drank one California red wine, it would most certainly be from Quintessa. Why you ask? The answer is simple: Quintessa red wines are pure, unadulterated, poetry in a bottle. It is THE winery you go to if you can only visit one winery in the valley. Period. Full stop. Mic drop. The bottles are not cheap. But, they certainly have the leg up on their competitors when it comes to production quality. And, speaking of legs, at 14.5% alcohol content, a glass of 2013 Quintessa Rutherford Red has legs for days!
Recommended Wine Details
Appellation: Rutherford, Napa Valley Harvest Dates: September 6 to October 18, 2013 Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Carmenere Maceration: 21 to 25 days average
I will pick the mic back up for a moment to say that Quintessa is more than the bottles of wine it sells. Visiting Quintessa is an unparalleled back-to-nature experience. I’ll hand the mic to Lord Byron for his poetry reading to more adequately describe the way you feel when you visit Quintessa:
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society, where none intrudes, By the deep Sea, and music in its roar: I love not Man the less, but Nature more, From these our interviews, in which I steal From all I may be, or have been before, To mingle with the Universe, and feel What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.
Clearly, Lord Byron really gets Quintessa. But, you don’t have to take Byron’s word for it. If the poem wasn’t enough to pique your curiosity about the natural wonder and beautiful setting of the Quintessa estate, you can learn more about the winery and its unique, biodynamic production process from the owners and winemakers themselves here:
Too much wine on an empty stomach is never a good idea. After your tasting and tour of Quintessa, there are two excellent nearby lunch options Lord Byron would surely frequent if he could:
1. V. Sattui for a 19th Century Manet-style (minus the nudity) picnic on the grass. A short 8 minute Uber ride from Quintessa, V. Sattui is always a good idea. Bring a picnic blanket, buy your lunch and a bottle of wine from the Deli, and relax under a tree in front of the main buildings. On weekends they have outdoor BBQ and wonderful brick oven pizza you can purchase for your picnic.If you are in the mood to splurge, you can opt instead for one of their more premium picnic packages. This allows you to reserve a private picnic table on the spacious grounds, and enjoy the ideal combination of artisan foods prepared by their Michelin Star Italian chef Stefano Masanti, paired with wine from V. Sattui’s exclusive cellars.
2. Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen is perfect if you are dealing with an inclement weather situation on your trip, or you simply would rather sit indoors at a table. You really can’t go wrong with Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. Lord Byron would have loved the history of this place. Once a bordello and speak easy, if these walls could talk, they would have many stories of sordid love affairs and bootlegged liquor to tell.
The décor is minimalistic: light, bright, and charming. If you are “wined out” (gasp) at this point, this is the place to go for a perfectly balanced cocktail or North Coast Brewery Scrimshaw pilsner beer. The menu is full of modern twists on old comfort food favorites.
Because I love cheese almost as much as I love wine, I suggest starting with the grilled local white peaches, burrata, crispy walnuts and saba. On my last visit, I had the Chinatown Duck Burger with housemade shiitake mushroom ketchup and French fries. Every time I visit feels like coming home—perhaps because my own mother’s name is Cindy.
Admittedly, I am sparing no expense with the wineries I recommend on this post. Lord Byron was not a man who worked within a budget (which got him—and his family into some trouble on many occasions). These are the “say ‘yes’ to life” wines California vineyards yield. Consistently high point wines, they are not mass-produced on a scale like Robert Mondavi. They are truly palate expanding experience wines analogous to the difference between a Thomas Kinkade painting and Mark Rothko work of art. The latter is Cardinale the former is Mondavi. Both have their place and purpose in the world. But, there is a reason that Rothko is found in museums and auctioned at Sotheby’s, and Kinkade is hung next to Dr. Seuss prints in tourist town galleries and the subject of 1000 piece puzzles shelved next to the kitten puzzles in toy stores.
I love Mondavi dessert wine! But, Cardinale is for serious vinos. This is the wine that separates the men from the boys. Like Quintessa, a Cardinale tasting experience is practically a Catholic mass. I assure you, that is not meant to be a sacrilegious statement, nor is it hyperbole. It is spiritual. If you have time after Quintessa, make a reservation for a tasting at Cardinale. You will not regret it. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the bottle Lord Byron would reserve to share with the women and men in his life he would like to impress.
Recommended Wine Details
Appellation: Mount Veeder, Napa Valley Harvest Dates: September 6 to October 18, 2013 Varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot Maceration: 21 to 25 days average
Had they been contemporaries, I am sure Lord Byron and Rene di Rosa would have been friends. Yale educated, and a writer himself (SFChronicle), he too had a flare for the flamboyant and a deep love of art and wine. The Di Rosa property is gorgeous. Peacocks roam the estate, and the views of winery lake and nearby mountains are lovely. But, the real reason you go to di Rosa, is for the art. The collection includes significant works by Bay Area artists, including: Robert Arneson, Mark di Suvero, Robert Hudson, Paul Kos, and William T. Wiley. Purchase tickets online here for a 90 minute tour of the art and grounds.
After your wine and art adventure, I recommend relaxing at the Meritage Resort and Spa. Unwind with a massage, then sit on your balcony with a glass of complimentary wine from your room and a good book of Byron poetry. Freshen up for dinner. You can take the sprinter van shuttle the hotel provides into town for more wine at Vintners collective and dinner at Morimoto.
Vintner’s Collective is a unique tasting room. This is the place Lord Byron would definitely have a wine club membership and here is why: They have a collection of wines that are usually the small-batch passion projects of some very famous winemakers in the valley. Their wine is unique and expressive. The labels are obscure. They have a whole range of wine to suit every budget.
Sit at one of the bar stools and have a tasting before walking down the street to Morimoto for an unforgettable sushi experience. If you aren’t completely smashed after a day of tastings, be sure to order the Moshi-Moshi. It is a sake based cocktail complete with flower foam.
I have many more wineries to recommend, and many more Napa tales to tell. But, as this post is already too long, I feel it is time to say farewell. Yes, that was my pathetic attempt at a poem. Lord Byron will bid you adieu more elegantly:
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.”
One of the things I think [poets] enjoy about a great meal is that it goes away… that you make a terrific meal for friends and family, and if you succeed, it’s gone. And there’s this pleasure in that because it’s exactly the opposite of writing a poem or writing anything. You are struggling and struggling, and finishing means it’s permanent, or at least feels that way. ~ Kevin Young, the editor of “The Hungry Ear”
We knew it would be great. It just had to be. Standing on the platform at Poroy Station, you couldn’t help but be impressed by the beautiful blue and gold spectacle there on the tracks. It was once an Orient Express train; now it is known as the Belmond Hiram Bingham train to Macchu Picchu. Greeted with Intipalka Extra Brut sparkling Peruvian wine and white glove service, we were shown to our seats and told by the maître d’ that our luncheon would be served promptly at 11AM.
Through the window, we could see the dancers on the platform dressed in colorful Peruvian alpaca woven wool costumes twirling to pan pipe music and drums. Soon the train whistled and, at the sound of a bell and steam rushing out from the engine, we began our journey through the sacred valley and onto the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu.
Dear Passengers, Our meal is prepared with ingredients that Pachamama or Mother Earth offered us. The trout, avocado and corn are grown and raised in these valleys. The dessert will delight you with a unique mixture of flavours of our local products including a variety of corns which are collected from the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Allin mikhúkuy káchun! ~Hiram Bingham Train Menu
We had a couple of hours before lunch would be served. So, we made our way to the back of the train where the bar car was located. Coca tea for my altitude headache along with delicate pastries and sweet rolls made for a lovely light breakfast. The plush armchairs and large windows in the lounge area of the car gave us a front row seat to a visual symphony of gorgeous fertile landscapes, rushing rivers, waterfalls, and emblematic animals like the llamas and alpaca.
Coca tea on the Hiram Bingham train was more of a refreshing Moroccan mint, palate cleansing flavor experience than the no-nonsense medicinal coca tea from our hotel. The pain au chocolat and crescent rolls, while perhaps more Parisian than Peruvian, were so light and buttery that you felt as if you could be a 19th century Le Train Bleu passenger on your way to the south of France. They were very well done, and while perhaps not culturally accurate or indigenous, eating them with the smooth minty coca tea became an instant antidote to all my Bohemian existential angst. Coca tea definitely has a “cast all your cares and worries aside” quality to it. Let’s just say, Celestial Seasonings would fly off US shelves if they added that magical ingredient to their Tension Tamer tea.
After a couple of cupfuls, a trip to the well-appointed restroom, and taking in the open air panoramic views of the valley from the small terrace at the back of the glass observatory car, tea time was over and lunch time began. We returned to our seats for the main food event.
First to take the stage was the appetizer: Wayllabamba’s Smoked Trout with mashed fava beans, quinoa tabbouleh. All of the food served on the train is sourced from small organic family farms on the land the train travels through. Wayllabamba is the first campsite for those hiking the Inca Trail. In Quechua, Wayllabamba means ‘grassy plain’.
Alongside the grassy plain of Wayllabamba runs the Kusichaka River which is home to many fish varieties including popular wild rainbow and brown trout. This lovely trout was like eating smokey Japanese rice paper. It melted onto your tongue and, mixed with the texture of the quinoa and flava beans, made for a light beginning that left us excitedly anticipating the main course
But, before moving on from the opening act in this three part culinary concert, I must take a brief intermission to discuss the wine.
To pair your brunch we have carefully selected this wine to create a unique experience. ~Hiram Bingham Train Menu
We could have chosen to deviate from the white and red wine options included with our admission. They have additional bottles, including some from Europe, at additional cost. However, this whole experience was already feeling a little more Bougie than Boho, and we wanted to experience South American wines that went really well with the tasting menu. So, we stayed with what the sommelier had pre-selected for this meal.
Accompanying our appetizer was a glass of Tacama Blanco de Blancos D.O. Ica, Peru. It was pale in color, very drinkable and refreshing. It reminded me of Cakebread’s Sauvignon Blanc from back home in Northern California. It was the perfect companion for the trout. The dry acidity in the top note helped the fish melt in your mouth, while the soft, sweet after taste it left behind nicely rounded out each bite.
Upon finishing that glass, our red glasses were filled with a unique Merlot. The Montes Classic Series Merlot D.O Valle de Colchagua, Chile was unlike any Merlot I have tried. It had pinot-like tanins and a spice to it that reminded me of a Hess Collection red to compare it, once again, to wine from home. As soon as our glasses were filled with Merlot, the main dish appeared: Grilled Tenderloin Beef.
The meat was tender and served with a traditional Peruvian sautéed sauce, rustic mashed potatoes, and a bouquet of colorful steamed vegetables. Each bite sent me straight to Inca god heaven.
Last, but certainly not least, was dessert: Sacred Valley’s Corn Cheesecake. Its foundation was constructed from crispy corn flour, the next layer was a light cheese cake the top of which was garnished with a sprig of Andean mint and Chulpi’s corn praline. But, this was not all. There was a beautiful brushstroke of purple corn and elderberry sauce on the plate to dip each decadent spoonful of cheesecake into.
The saying “It isn’t over until the fat lady sings” rings true once more here. The final note of this exquisite culinary concert was a silver tray of cookies and Pâte à Choux washed down with freshly brewed coffee and cream before pulling up to Aguas Calientes station. I was the fat lady, and my soul was singing after experiencing the transcendental meal and journey of a lifetime aboard the Hiram Bingham Train to Machu Picchu.