Friday, August 12, 2005

Artists, Writers, Ancient Beatniks, Ageless Bohemians, Bibliophiles, Boulevardiers, Billionaires and Bums

I had such a great goddamn time last night with The Bookseller to the Stars (on a visit to San Francisco in his very first visit to the USA) and the lovely Karen. Mark is just as funny, personable and brilliant in person as he is on his blog, and Karen is so smart and witty and gorgeous.

We did a North Beach evening starting with running into the two of them in the crosswalk while I was wandering around trying to figure out what was where, cos I'm a local but I also can't find my way out of a paper bag... We started with a drink at Vesuvio's, next to City Lights, at Jack Kerouac Alley.
This world-renowned San Francisco saloon located in North Beach just across from the infamous City Lights Bookstore, was first established in 1948 and remains an historical monument to jazz, poetry, art and the good life of the Beat Generation. Vesuvio attracts a diverse clientele: artists, chess players, cab drivers, seamen and business people, European visitors, off-duty exotic dancers and bon vivants from all walks of life.

On October 17, 1955, Neal Cassady, the real life Dean Moriarty of the quintessential Beat classic On the Road, stopped at Vesuvio on the way to the now legendary Six Gallery for a poetry reading, and the place has never been the same. It became a regular hangout of Jack Kerouac and other famous Beat poets and has become ground zero for pilgrims on the Beat trail ever since.

It was here that Jack Kerouac once spent a long night in 1960 when he should have been on his way to Big Sur to meet with Henry Miller. Miller had written Kerouac that he enjoyed reading The Dharma Bums and would enjoy a visit from the emerging writer. Kerouac, however, had other plans. He continued to hoist drinks and called Miller every hour telling him that he was just a bit delayed in leaving the city. The two would never meet that night..

After that we went to the legendary City Lights Bookstore, where I did a drop-in signing (they had four hardcover copies of The Bitch Posse right in front! Yay, City Lights!) and browsed and bought.
Founded in 1953 by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, City Lights is one of the few truly great independent bookstores in the United States, a place where booklovers from across the country and around the world come to browse, read, and just soak in the ambiance of alternative culture's only "Literary Landmark." Although it has been more than forty years since tour buses with passengers eager to sight "beatniks" began pulling up in front of City Lights, the Beats' legacy of anti-authoritarian politics and insurgent thinking continues to be a strong influence in the store, most evident in the selection of titles.

The nation's first all-paperback bookstore, City Lights has expanded several times over the years; we now offer three floors of both new-release hardcovers and quality paperbacks from all of the major publishing houses, along with an impressive range of titles from smaller, harder-to-find, specialty publishers. The store features an extensive and in-depth selection of poetry, fiction, translations, politics, history, philosophy, music, spirituality, and more, with a staff whose special book interests in many fields contribute to the hand-picked quality of what you see on the shelves.

The City Lights masthead says A Literary Meetingplace since 1953, and this concept includes publishing books as well as selling them. In 1955, Ferlinghetti launched City Lights Publishers with the now-famous Pocket Poets Series; since then the press has gone on to publish a wide range of titles, both poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction, international and local authors. Today, City Lights has well over a hundred titles in print, with a dozen new titles being published each year. The press is known and respected for its commitment to innovative and progressive ideas, and its resistance to forces of conservatism and censorship. All City Lights Publications that are currently available are proudly featured in the bookstore.

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.

Then we wandered a bit to find the apartment building where Allen Ginsberg wrote Howl. Just looked like any other old apartment building, fancy that. Maybe someone is in there right now writing the next great American masterpiece, but they're probably just washing the evening's dishes. Then again, you never know.... And a trip to Washington Square,

One of the most recognizable and must see on your tour of North Beach is the SS Peter and Paul Church on Washington Square Park...or The Church of Dirty Harry. If the facade looks familiar, it's because these are the steps where the priest gets whacked by the rooftop psycho..(the sniper's rooftop perch by the way is located at The Dante Building at 1606 Stockton at Columbus Ave) Dirty Harry may have ruled the Park in the 70s but in the Beat 50's it was a favorite hangout for the Beat Literati..including Mr. Kerouac. You can almost picture him now, lolling in the grass, soaking up the sun and some cheap wine on a lazy San Francisco afternoon.

And then our evening was topped off with a dinner at Enrico's, listening to jazz and talking and talking.

Since 1958, the preferred haunt of Artists, Writers, Ancient Beatniks, Ageless Bohemians, Bibliophiles, Boulevardiers, Billionaires and Bums, Critics, Cynics, Clampers and Curmudgeons, Poets, Pimps, Politicians and Profiteers, Cops and Robbers, Radicals and Revolutionaries, Rogues, Rebels and Rotters, Hell's Angels, Strippers, Musicians and Jazz Aficionados, Dilettantes, Debutantes, Degenerates, Manic Desperados and other Shady Characters, Slumming Socialites, Coyotes, Courtesans, Feminists and Cigar-puffing Adventurists, Arbitragers, Actors, Athletes and Authors, Men of Letters, Women of Numbers, Journalists, Columnists and Media Hacks, Professors, Teachers, MD's and PhD's, Winos, Cork-sniffing Oenophiles, Cuisine Weenies, Sycophants, Gourmets, Gourmands, Gossips, Gangsters and the Broadway "Kosher Nostra", Outlaws and Lawyers, Hipsters, Hookers, Hippies, Yuppies, Techies and Dot-Commies, Ex-Techies and Dot-Commies, Geeks, Nerds and Webmasters, Hollywood and East Coast Expatriates, Finocchios, Transvestites, Scoundrels and Skells, Tenderloin Touts talking trash, Ex-spooks and Green Berets, Broken Down Thugs for hire, a Detective, a Rocket Scientist, Art Hungry Impresarios, Book Artists, Fine Printers and Friends of Calligraphy from the World over.

Very trippy to meet someone you only know via email. I can't even really express how great it was to meet Mark at last and to put a face to the famous and lovely Karen. A grand time was had by all.

By the way, I'm at Joshilyn Jackson's blog today!