North America | United States of America (USA) | California | San Francisco – Rewind…Day 1: 26 April 2002
The scenic train ride up the coast took 13 hours, 2 more than it normally should and I felt horrible because my hosts, my Grandparents, were picking me up at the Oakland Station and they did not carry their mobile phones. But on the bright side, 20 minutes after arriving I was snug in the guest room bed in their home in Lafayette, literally dreaming about wandering the next day, Friday, up from the Powell BART station to Union Square, over to Grace Cathedral, down California to Grant, to North Beach via Chinatown…
I got a late start and didn’t get a ride to the Lafayette Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Station until noon. I am always so impressed with how efficient and pleasant riding on the comfy padded seated BART trains are. I can imagine making that commute from the East Bay every day. If only I could afford it.
I disembarked like a pro, as if I never left, at the Montgomery Station and after a whistful wander around the Rand McNally store right there on Market Street and 2nd I headed down Market, took a left on 3rd Street and entered the ever so funky San Francisco Modern Art Museum (SFMOMA).
The building itself is a marvel of modern architecture, as we find these days with most museums. And inside is one of the classiest collections of contemporary painting, sculpture and photography I have ever seen. Not like some of the pretentious ‘art’ I saw at the Tate Modern in London. This was a true collection of cubists, fauvists, Italian futurists, and some of today’s hippest artists.
The present temporary exhibition is Eva Hesse, truly original. The exhibition gives the details of her career from schooling to the present and shows her growth as an artist. I love her later work, the sculptures of rope and the interesting names like ‘Ennead’.
Last time in town, my roommate and I were dying to see the famous location for Francis Ford Coppola’s film ‘The Conversation’. The entire opening scene takes place in Union Square. Our bad luck. Last year (2001) it was under major construction and everything was boarded up with green plywood.
Well, the plywood is down, for those interested, and a smart chain link fence put up in its place. I got the general idea, the tall statue in the center, the huge buildings like walls surrounding it. Maybe next year I will be able to walk around the square myself as the characters did in Coppola’s film.
UP TO GRACE
And I mean ‘up’. The charm of San Fran, to me, is that it’s a totally walkable city if you don’t mind the hills. I headed up to California Street, the main thoroughfare, by way of Taylor Street. Taylor and California is the intersection for the wonderful Grace Cathedral church. It’s a church that somewhat renews my faith in organized religion.
Taylor Street’s sidewalks are equiped with stairs, believe it or not, and I diligently trudged up because I wanted to see the replica of Ghiberti’s Baptistry Doors. That’s right, a little bit of Rennaisance Florence, Italy right here in San Francisco. And what fine replication it is. This time I didn’t have to queue up to see them.
The interior of the Cathedral is your standard gray stone with vaulted ceilings. But the stained glass windows are brilliant, light shining through the bright hues of blue and red. Not having done my research I assumed this a Catholic church. I was corrected right away when I noticed to the right a nondenominational chapel dedicated to those who have died or been diagnosed with AIDS. Wow, so not Catholic.
After more wandering I found that this Cathedral is affiliated with the Episcopalian faith and welcomes those of any and all religions, calls itself a true ‘sanctuary’ for any of us disillusioned with life, religion, whatever. There is a ‘labyrinth’ both inside and outside where they invite you to walk the maze and then send in your experience. Right away I decided to go back on Sunday (tomorrow) for Evensong. I am not religious, in fact I consider myself a devout athiest, but I am curious about this progressive church with the unconventional style.
I walked down California (yes, DOWN) and over through Grant Street and tourist Chinatown to get to my favorite borough, North Beach. I am a beat poet fan, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, and whenever I can I visit the attic at Ferlinghetti’s independent publishing bookstore City Lights on Columbus Ave. just north of the bohemian hang out Vesuvio Bar and within visual distance from Coppola’s offices in the historic green Columbus Tower.
And the poetry attic in City Lights did not disappoint. I picked up a new EE Cummings anthology and Ferlinghetti’s San Francisco Poems from when he was elected San Fran’s Poet Laureate in 2000. I want to be a beat poet too, Lawrence.
LATE FOR DINNER
Time flies when I am in North Beach. Must be the peace I feel when I hang there or whatever because my watch said 5:30 and I told my Grandparents I’d call them from the Lafayette BART station at 6pm. Oops.
I strolled down Columbus, hung a right at the Transamerica Pyramid on Montgomery, but to save me a little cash on my BART pass I walked down Market to the Embarcadero stop. 6:00 and I am in rush hour commuter time.
And I am shocked by the politeness here. The communters queue up in double lines at the black marks where the trains line up their doors. I’d heard stories of how the British were the kings of queuing, but the Underground was a mess compared to this. When the doors opened, the double line parted like the Red Sea for anyone exiting the train. When that was complete they filed on two by two. Man, San Fran knows public transport.
6:30 and the arrival at Lafayette is met with a call to the Grandparents who zoom over as fast as Grandparents can and we hit the best Mexican restaurant I have ever been to, El Charro, right on Mt Diablo Blvd. in Lafayette. Highly recommended.
Margheritas and vegi burritos and chips and salsa and I am a stuffed and happy traveller. My Grandparents reminice of their travels to Hawaii, China and Japan. We discuss relatives who have been to or were born in Australia. We go home happy.
I couldn’t wait for Saturday.