My daughter arrived Tuesday and we were going to spend Wednesday in Berkeley, having breakfast with Judy Fjell, who had just arrived from Tanzania, then going up to Tilden Park for some wildflowers and out with Claudia to see Throw Down Your Heart in the evening. Candy Forest had recommended the film, a documentary about the African ancestors of the banjo. Breakfast went as planned, full of wide-awake conversation. I relayed the news I’d gotten from Bonnie Lockhart last Thursday, that the Albany (CA) school district had stopped having recess in all their schools. Bonnie teaches music at Cornell Elementary there, and thinks stopping recess is idiotic. Judy, who teaches music in small rural schools in Montana, hadn’t heard about the trend and was appalled. The Albany school board says they are responding to parents demanding more instructional time for their children, but Bonnie wonders what proportion of the parents are asking for this and if they really meant the time to come at the expense of recess.
Turned out Throw Down Your Heart wasn’t playing in the East Bay, so we decided to go to San Francisco; to Golden Gate Park for the tulips at the foot of the windmill, dinner at Mandalay, and the film at the Roxie. The tulips were at their peak, but what looked so good were the combinations with other flowers: a bed of yellow tulips carpeted with yellow-centered purple primroses, starchy red tulips mingled with silky orange-washed yellow Iceland poppies. Then the beach, and the kites we saw from the road turned out to be pulling surfers through the water. By the time we finished dinner it was too late to make the movie all the way across town. Claudia wanted to go to the original Trieste coffee house in North Beach, the mother ship of her favorite East Bay cafe, but I worried about finding a parking place in North Beach. It wasn’t a problem, maybe because the drooping economy is cutting tourism. Unbeknownst to us, this Trieste has a band every Wednesday night called Cafe Americain—lead guitar (amplified), three rhythm guitars (acoustic), stand-up bass, and mandolin—playing jazz standards with a few Italian tunes thrown in. The mandolin player’s wife was sitting across from us, as we found out after we struck up a conversation. She was pointing out the regulars, and I told her I’d been a regular here fifty years ago. Jerry (my then husband) hadn’t played here, but he’d played tenor banjo in other jazz venues in North Beach. Everybody was having a good time, and we did too. Afterwards, we walked over to City Lights Book Store which was, fifty years ago, the center for the Beat poets, including Alan Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I didn’t know them, but Jerry and I read their poetry and I did sing and tell stories at Ferlinghetti’s little daughter’s birthday party when we all lived on Potrero Hill.
Alas, at Trieste I had two decaf lattes instead of one, and I am wide awake now at 4:00 a.m. Thursday morning. This is how sensitive you can get when you don’t drink ANY caffeinated coffee. So I didn’t come through April Fool’s Day unscathed after all.
Last night I remembered a piece of the day I’d left out: On the way from Mandalay to Trieste, Claudia turned north on Hyde for the spectacular view of Alcatraz from the last hill. As we approached an intersection we saw some people standing around looking touristy. I thought “That must be Lombard Street!” And indeed it was. So we turned down San Francisco’s most famous crooked street.
There’s another block like this on Potrero Hill, where I used to live in the sixties, but this is the one with the fancy houses and gardens that gets in all the pictures.
© 2009 by Nancy Schimmel
Lawrence Ferlinghetti reading at City Lights Bookstore
Thursday, April 2, 2009