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In Art, Food, Literature, Philosophy, Travel on
August 31, 2017

Introducing: The Bohemian Book Club

Bohemian Readers~

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:
  1. 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 November and December when we’ll meet the third Thursday to avoid holiday conflicts). Join us live and discuss the books with the community and a guest expert.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:
SEPTEMBER
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.

OCTOBER
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.

NOVEMBER
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.

DECEMBER
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.
JANUARY
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.
FEBRUARY
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.
MARCH
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.
APRIL
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.
MAY
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.”
JUNE
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!
JULY
“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.
AUGUST
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).
Your fellow bohemian-in-training,
In Art, Literature, Philosophy, Travel on
August 15, 2017

There’s Something About Painted Mary

There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” ~ Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse

Have you ever experienced the road rash that comes from a spectacular Vespa fall in the South of France? While I can’t whole heartedly recommend it, I can say that I would do it all again for the experience. Not the experience of falling, but the experience of standing in front of a master work by a master artist with blood running down my shin and the overwhelming sensation that all the paths I have walked down in life– the tumbles and the triumphs–are shapes of paper in a collage that individually seem insignificant, but collectively mean everything.

The date was June 21st, 2012. The place was The Musée Matisse in Nice. The artist was Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse. The work of art was Nu bleu IV – 1952.

Nu Bleu IV, Henri Matisse, 1952

Matisse once said “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” I think he meant there is beauty to be found everywhere: in the simplest of expressions and in the seemingly mundane; it’s all about perspective. I believe this statement to be true. I also believe that occasionally out of the seemingly banal and Albert Camus-esque absurdity of life we can be blessed with meaningful moments, if we are open to them.

However, I have also found that while roses can be found everywhere for those who are willing to stop and smell them, and meaning can be made out of triviality, some flowers are like the rare Middlemist Red, and some of life’s experiences will never be duplicated.

When you see Middlemist Red twice in 5 years you can count yourself very lucky, and I lucked out when I stumbled upon a Matisse-like master artist and her paintings last month.

The date was July 15th, 2017. The place was the Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco. The artist was Mary Finlayson. The work of art was French Masters, Plants and Blankets –2017.

French Masters, Plants and Blankets, Mary Finlayson, 2017

Mary Finlayson is the San Francisco based artist behind paintedmary.com. A transplant from British Columbia, Finlayson grew up surrounded by beauty. Inspired by nature, she has painted large and colorful landscapes. But, she has not limited her scope to the exterior world:

I am interested in the stories that interiors contain and how we use these spaces to tell stories. I never look at a room without thinking of the choices inherent in each object and how they are used to portray personal narratives. When I am in other people’s homes I think of myself as a voyeur, glimpsing at the intimacy of how one creates a home and uses interior spaces to reflect their personal identity. Interior spaces are deeply personal and reveal an intimacy that is rarely discussed or considered.” ~Mary Finlayson

Photo Credit: Nicola Parisi, 2017

This is, I personally believe, how Mary Finlayson truly blooms where Matisse was once planted. Like the famous 20th century colorist and fauvist, “her use of vivid color and energetic line suggest feelings of gesture and movement that help enliven emotional responses to otherwise ordinary, mundane, private settings.”

Another clear point of intersection for Mary and Matisse is the therapeutic nature of both artists’ works. Drawing on color theory and expressionism, each artist creates special moments of joy and serenity for their viewers. Mary’s mastery of “Art Therapy”, the subject of her advanced degree, is evident in each of her paintings. Her deft use of fauvism pushes boundaries as it experiments with more colors than just the normal palette eradicating stigma and stereotypes, and helping the viewer to see the value in their own different and unique perspective.

It would seem that Mary and Matisse share the same vision for their art, as Matisse once said:

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity, devoid of troubling or depressing subject-matter, an art which could be for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as the man of letters, for example, a soothing, calming influence on the mind, something like a good armchair which provides relaxation from physical fatigue.” ~Henri-Émile-Benoît Matisse

Yellow Chair, Mary Finlayson, 2017

Mary’s artwork achieves the goal Matisse was striving for: a mental escape to a world of color, shape, and serenity; and the assurance that Vespa rides to museums in the South of France, while dangerous, are always worth it.

In Art, Literature, Philosophy, Travel on
June 29, 2017

The Summer of Love Experience

If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear flowers in your hair…and go to the “The Summer of Love Experience: Art, Fashion and Rock & Roll” exhibit at the de Young museum.

50 years ago, thousands of young people flocked to the city for a season that would change the world. It was the summer of love—the summer that really put San Francisco on the map as the epicenter of modern bohemianism.

The de Young museum has done an excellent job creating not just an exhibit, but an experience for its patrons. You come away feeling like you passed through a wrinkle in time and lived the summer of 1967 in San Francisco. So whether it’s your first time in the city by the bay, you’ve visited before, or are a full-time resident, the de Young museum’s latest offering is not to be missed!

The exhibit catalog begins with an essay by Dennis McNally titled Not Past At All: The Legacy of San Francisco’s Summer of Love. In his essay he demonstrates the impact of the Summer of Love era on culture and society:

As William Faulkner so wisely put it in another context, ‘The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.’  The Summer of Love era has never really left us; our current national culture wars are rooted in the profound intellectual challenges of the 1960s, which themselves go at least as far back as the 1840s, when bohemianism—art and the spiritual arrayed against bourgeois achievement—arose in Europe, and when Henry David Thoreau confronted American notions of its own exceptionalism, the Protestant work ethic, and humankind’s relationship to nature.”

The fact that the Summer of Love played an integral part in the evolution of bohemianism is indisputable. When people hear “boho” or “bohemian-chic”, most automatically think of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Flower crowns, peace signs, drugs and rock and roll all have become the icons today’s society associates with hippie culture and bohemians. All of these bohemian emblems, this exhibit suggests, can trace their history back to this fateful summer in San Francisco.

As the Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco explained:

Though the 1960s counterculture was an international phenomenon, the “Summer of Love,” as it was proclaimed by the media, in San Francisco was unique, namely because it was as much a creative movement as it was a political one. Artists, designers, poets, writers, musicians, and performers developed their own visual language and new forms of communication, leaving a legacy of material culture that owes an aesthetic debt to the city of its origin.”

Something truly unique about this exhibit is that it begins outside of the museum. Walking up to the museum doors, visitors can see iconic street signs such as “Haight” and “Ashbury”; there are large blown up images of popular buttons from the era with slogans such as “Make love not war” and “Equal Rights” on the ground and plastered all over the windows. This was intentional and fitting as the events surrounding the historic Summer of Love took place on the grounds around the museum and in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood a stone’s throw away.

Once inside the building, and downstairs in the exhibit gallery, museum patrons will walk down a long hall wallpapered with black and white photos and philosophical quotes from the champions of the Summer of Love.

The lesson on the bohemian philosophy of the hippie movement continues inside the first gallery with a collection of books on display. These books are the genesis of the ideology that led to the Summer of Love. They are the literature of the movement—the bohemian canon.

In addition to the literature of the movement, The Trips Festival of 1966 is contextually significant. This festival became, in essence, a “preview of coming attractions” for the Summer of Love three years later.  In the Trips Festival gallery you can experience the festival through an old black and white film of the event itself projected on the walls of a small space.

The trippiness of the exhibit does not begin and end with information about the Trips Festival, you get to experience what an LCD trip would feel like in a room with a psychedelic light show projected on the walls and bean bag chairs on the floor.

Without giving too much away, because I do want you to go and experience the exhibit yourself, I have to say that in my opinion the piece de resistance for the entire exhibit is the fashion. Mannequins dressed in clothing that was popular and worn by influential people from the era are displayed throughout the galleries.

So, listen to Scott McKenzie’s hit song, and head to the de Young museum in Golden Gate Park before the exhibit closes on August 20th.

Ten things not to miss in ‘The Summer of Love Experience’:

  1. Psychedelic LCD trip simulation room
  2. The 1967 message board from the Psychedelic Shop, including a notice about hippie volunteers cleaning Haight Street Saturday mornings.
  3. Robert Rauschenber’s Revolver II, 1967.
  4. Birgitta Bjerke’s crocheted wool and glass-bead bedspread, commissioned by Frankie Azzara, girlfriend of Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir.
  5. Jerry Garcia’s red-and-white striped “CaptainTrips” top-hat.
  6. Rainbow Cobblers, “Sequoia” boots, ca. 1970. Appliqued dyed leather.
  7. “Watergate” Jeans, ca. 1973. Cotton denim with printed, hand-drawn, stamped cotton plain weave appliques.
  8. Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley’s Grateful Dead posters.
  9. Humbead’s Map of the World, 1968, Color offset lithograph poster by Earl Crabb and Rick Shubb.
  10. Larry Keenan’s gelatin silver print of Micahael McClure, Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, 1965.

‘THE SUMMER OF LOVE EXPERIENCE’: 

When: April 8-Aug. 20, 9:30 a.m.-5:15 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday

Where: de Young Museum, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Admission: $10-$25, 415-750-3600, deyoung.famsf.org

More info.: Video and audio elements from the exhibition are at digitalstories.famsf.org/summer-of-love

 

 

 

In Art, Food, Literature, Travel on
June 5, 2017

Lord Byron Goes to Napa

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!

Quintessa

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

Price: $189/bottle

Winery Details

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.

~Lord Byron

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:

Where to Eat in Napa

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.

Cardinale

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

Price: $249/bottle

Di Rosa Art Collection

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.

Where to Stay in Napa

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:

Farewell !   if ever fondest prayer

For other’s weal availed on high,

Mine will not all be lost in air,

But waft thy name beyond the sky,

‘Twere vain to speak, to weep, to sigh:

Oh !   more than tears of blood can tell,

When wrung from guilt’s expiring eye,

Are in that word — Farewell ! — Farewell !

These lips are mute, these eyes are dry;

But in my breast, and in my brain,

Awake the pangs that pass not by,

The thought that ne’er shall sleep again.

My soul nor deigns nor dares complain,

Though grief and passion there rebel;

I only know we loved in vain —

I only feel — Farewell ! — Farewell !”

~Lord Byron

In Food, Literature, Travel on
May 16, 2017

A Bohemian Guide to North Beach

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.

One Sunday per month, local artists gather in the park to paint and sell their wares. You can see the schedule for the artists guild Washington Park art shows here: http://www.artistsguildsf.com/showSchedule.html.

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.”