It isn’t the end of days but, as the bard Robert Zimmerman (aka Bob Dylan) wrote, The Times They Are a-Changin. I’ve published one piece about the coronavirus and have begun another but I can’t seem to keep up with the a-changin’ times. What was relevant two weeks ago is ancient history. Hell what was up to date an hour ago is just dust.
I’m taking a break from the family jigsaw puzzle and I’m not down to counting sheets of toilet paper – not yet anyway. I’ve stepped away from watching my retirement money take “the highway to hell” as the bards Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Bon Scott wrote (Do AC-DC count as bards?). The song promises that satan will be “payin my dues” but I’m not counting on old Beelzebub to carry my freight. I hear tell that he’s something of a loan shark; charges steep interest rates but all of that smacks of religion and I’ve no truck with such legends.
It’s going to be a while I think before any of us can take a trip to San Francisco so instead of binge watching every single season of Friends let’s take a random tour of The City through images both previously published and new. Let’s start with my absolute favorite San Francisco district – North Beach.
North Beach is San Francisco’s Little Italy and, being of Italian descent, it’s only natural that this little enclave is a favorite. It’s where I go when I want an Italian food fix; good pecorino, creamy mozzarella (not those rubber supermarket balls), authentic sausage and salami, a cappuccino and cannoli, or a Peroni beer at a sidewalk table. But dearest to my heart its a place where I can mingle with the old Italian guys, watch them gesture and listen to them speak the native tongue.
Molinari Delicatessen has been a go to place for Italian specialties since 1896. Those of my generation (the ones now under covid constraint) remember going into a deli and being kissed by the unmistakable aroma of a genuine Italian delicatessen.
In the 1950’s North Beach was the epicenter of the Beat movement and a hangout for the likes of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. City Lights Bookstore founded by Ferlinghetti and college professor Peter D. Martin is not just a venerable independent bookseller, it has been, as Evan Karp wrote in his article in The Guardian, a powerful influence not only on American poetry – with the publication of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl in 1955 – but also on the American consciousness, being the nation’s most daring publisher of independent literature and an epicentre for progressive thought.
If you’re looking for a place to hang out when you crack open your new progressive book you can step across Jack Kerouac Alley and have an adult beverage at Vesuvio, a historic tavern founded in 1948 by Henri Lenoir. The barstool that you’re sitting on might have accommodated some very famous asses (uhh, butts); Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, Paul Kantner, and Francis Ford Coppola being among the famous asses (uhh, butts).
Above and below, formal street art at Kerouac Alley
Vesuvio is a fun, funky bar. Three floors of kitsch, friendly service and classic North Beach ambience.
Mangia e buon appetito are vital elements of the Italian lexicon. Good food, good cheer, family and communion are in the Italian DNA. North Beach is the soul of mangia e compania.
I’m going to miss North Beach during this corona confinement. My thoughts are with those many small businesses that keep San Francisco’s Italian heritage alive.