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Monday, January 5, 2009

The Voyeur's Walk

“What’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take?” ~ Jack Kerouac


I'm going to try to capture a little of the magic I felt last night here, and I'm not really sure if I can do it. It might have been one of those times where you just had to be there, which is why I use the photos, to add something when words fail me.

But I think it's only fair to say that in part I take these walks with you in mind.

Yes, you. For those of you who I know a little or a lot, I think of you when I'm out wandering around. I think what julochka might notice, or what Tom would think was cool, or what would make Christina happy. I just do. I guess I travel with a bunch of you in spirit.

A spirit tour of San Francisco.


At sunset, the air was crisp and froze your lungs a little, but in a way that feels wonderful because all of a sudden you realize that you have lungs (a good thing). The air in San Francisco always feels clean. You can take big deep breaths and sometimes smell the salt in the air, from the ocean or the stronger smell of the water of the bay. It was a bit chilly, but the thing about San Francisco is that if you're cold, just head for a hill. In a moment or two, you'll forget all about being cold.

So that's what I did.


I had no real destination, except that maybe I would end up at City Lights Books, for Gabby.

This was my first guidepost, my turn signal, my directional: the Transamerica Pyramid.

I'm not really a huge fan of this particular building, but when it's lit up like a candle as it was here, how could you not be drawn to it? (For the record, I did not alter this photo in any way. This is exactly how it glowed in the sunset's light.)

On my way, the Why Building stopped me in my tracks. What a discovery.
Why was I going where I was going? Why did I choose that particular route?

And then I knew.

Below the level of the street was an open door. I don't know if you're like me but if you see an open door, you have to peek inside. I think I'm worse now that I have a camera. I'm a snoop.

But I'm still shy so I don't trespass.

Inside the basement, I could see intriguing sculptures sitting on sawhorses. I couldn't see anyone, and just as I was getting ready to take a photo, a man's voice called out, "It's okay if you want to take a picture."

I froze. Il flagrante delicto. Caught in the act.

A tall, thin man with dirty hands, hair standing on end as if he kept running his hands through it, came to the door. He looked like softer version of Tony Bourdain, minus the attitude.

He invited me into his atelier, his studio.

In amongst the wooden planks, the walls were covered with the most beautiful painted canvases. Each one, a still life or portrait, was stunning. I couldn't believe my eyes.

We talked a little, and even though he said I could take pictures, I still felt shy.

He was carrying sculptures around and setting them on dollies.

All of a sudden, I asked if I could take a picture of his hands. I felt so forward and it embarrassed me. I had to explain that I like taking photos of hands. Hands interest me, they fascinate me, especially if they are doing something.

He just smiled. For some reason, I got the feeling that anything I wanted to do there was fine with him.

So I took a bunch of photos.

As I was leaving, I promised to give him some prints of the photos I'd taken.
He looked so thrilled. It was an amazing moment.

As he grasped my hand to shake it in thanks, he was holding my hand as if it was the most treasured thing in the world, or it was a delicate flower. I can't describe the sensation. I almost cried.

It's not everyday that you feel like you've made a person really really happy.


And then it was time to get back to my mission, to the bookstore.

You can walk through Chinatown to North Beach, where City Lights Books resides proudly on Columbus. There is an intersection of cultures, where the shabby yet lovely buildings of Chinatown meet the Italian neighborhood of North Beach. That fascinates me. In one step you jump from China to Italy. I love it.

City Lights Books is not just a bookstore.

You feel that it's truly part of the city, in every step you take.

I don't know much of anything about the Beat Generation, but even without reading their books and poems, you can feel what they were all about just by being in this store.

So I took these images so you could feel it too.

Upstairs in the poetry room, I caught my reflection in the window. Before me were the lights of the city, and behind me, the rows of books filled with lifetimes' worth of poetry and plays.

This store has little nooks and crannies, just like a good bookstore should.

I didn't buy anything this time. I was just there to be there, and that was more than enough.


And then, one last flourish to end the Spirit Tour.

On the corner, at Columbus and Broadway, there were glowing things suspended in the air.

At first I couldn't tell what they were. As I walked towards them, I could see they were books. Glowing books to illuminate the night.

Honestly, my heart leapt. It was so pretty. You would have loved it.
(In this photo, you might be able to make out the Transamerica Pyramid again.)

And if that wasn't enough, beautiful words appeared under my feet.

I can't make this stuff up.

This is San Francisco. And this is why I love it so.
And wish you could be here too.


So that was my little excursion.
Again, I tried to share the feeling of it more than the facts, and I hope that came across. Thanks for coming with me.



Elizabeth Halt January 5, 2009 at 11:11 PM  

Oh, I can feel it! Magical, just magical. Thank you for sharing your walk.

I can see the talent in his work. I would be lost in there .. for me, there is just something about sculptures.

How I love San Francisco! Can't wait to see City Lights Books in person someday.

tim January 6, 2009 at 12:19 AM  

So cool, I mentioned the beats in a comment on your previous post. I read a lot of the Beats, both poetry and prose. Has Ferlingetti's City Lights bookstore moved...it looks different.? I love his poetry. There were so many from that generation who were not necessarily Beats but from that era, Henry Miller was a little early but had an influence. There's just so many great one's I can't remember them all right now. I guess the "leaders" would be Kerouac and Ginsberg. "Howl" is a classic as is "On the Road". These guys were the catharsis for Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters who were immortalized in Tom Wolfe's "The Electric Koolaid Acid Test."

How about some Owsley LSD?


julochka January 6, 2009 at 1:01 AM  

wow, that was magical! i'm glad you're thinking of us as you stroll along, camera in hand.

and i realize that prairie lights books in iowa city must be echoing the name of city lights. perhaps i'm a bit slow, but i didn't realize that.

i think i'll go try to stumble across a basement artist now...

Teri and her Stylish Cats ~ Coco the Couture Cat, FurryDance Brighton, and Disco NoFurNo January 6, 2009 at 2:43 AM  

I felt like I was there with you, walking. Amazing ability you have to draw us in like this.

Teri and the cats of Furrydance

Anonymous January 6, 2009 at 2:46 AM  

Thank you for taking us on this walk with you. I've always heard such wonderful things about your city and now I know why. I love the little changes that you've made to your blog btw, especially your new banner :-)

paris parfait January 6, 2009 at 4:59 AM  

Oh your beautiful photos make me so homesick for San Francisco. And the encounter with the stranger - what a precious moment in time! See, sometimes it pays to be a snoop - especially a snoop with a camera! :) xoxox

iasa January 6, 2009 at 5:35 AM  

Well thanks for letting me tag along. I enjoyed the little visit to the studio, I a ,inspired for the day.

Laura Doyle January 6, 2009 at 5:53 AM  

I used to take so many walks! Alone and Free and I swear I could taste the Promise in the air. Thank you so much for sharing the magic of yours! You succeeded! I Loved the Why? building. The sort of thing that might make you actually stop in your tracks and ponder the cosmic Why of your life for a minute. And I also Loved the sculptor and your description of your shy hesitance. And the exquisite feeling of making someone truly happy!

Queenie Francie January 6, 2009 at 5:59 AM  

that was a beautiful journey to begin my day today. thank you! i hope to someday visit SF.

p.s. i watched your tango in the street video and i wept, it was such a beautiful moment in time.

Alexandra January 6, 2009 at 6:03 AM  

Oh magic, so magic it brought tears to my eyes. Thank You <3

Cynthia Pittmann January 6, 2009 at 6:22 AM  

It's incredible how you maintain that 19 year old girl/woman feeling of wondrous discovery. I think the shy and bold combination comes across so well in your photographs, note the header photo! Thank you for the walk through your unique and beloved city.

eunice January 6, 2009 at 6:35 AM  

Lovely. Makes the heart want to travel.

Mari January 6, 2009 at 6:46 AM  

Oh, the meeting of two artists- what a great story! Stunning photos, I love the lamppost with the Kerouac sign, and the bookstore and the book lights and the words and the city... sigh
Magical was what came to mind for me as well

~DokterKenny January 6, 2009 at 6:53 AM  

WOW...just wow. What a surreal journey. You can't make stuff like that up! And now you have captured it for a life time.

Amanda January 6, 2009 at 7:09 AM  

Oh, I was holding my breath while I was reading as I wanted the walk to go on and on.

I love that you think of us while you are out and about. I do too, and I thought it was a little corny, but now that I know you do it too, I feel much better! :)

Yoli January 6, 2009 at 7:44 AM  

I love how you create stories with images. You should have studied cinematography, you are a natural.

Char January 6, 2009 at 7:46 AM  

Oh....I so wish I was beside you taking that walk but, I feel as though I were with you. a beautiful story - a love story to your city. I could spend hours in the bookstore. And the artist in his studio? magical. His hands...I have a thing for hands too. *sigh* so beautiful and poetic. the shots were pieces of art and bits of a carpet taking me to your world.

Just Jules January 6, 2009 at 9:17 AM  

You know SF is the only city where I actually walked and discovered while on a vacation. I just love the cities accessibility and how is has maintained it's authenticity with it's little nooks and crannies. You are wise to appreciate where you live. Thank you for sharing it with us to. Sometimes one wants to keep that magical feeling close to their chest to protect it, keep it real. But, sharing it you have made it something bigger, more....

Sarah January 6, 2009 at 9:39 AM  

I love the journey that you take us on with your words and pictures. It really is something very special... Thank you for sharing the little treasures of your world. :)


Laura @ My Thoughts-Uninterrupted January 6, 2009 at 9:51 AM  

Wow - it really does make me feel like I am there. Thank you for your picture stories!

vsm/whirling dirvish photography January 6, 2009 at 10:01 AM  

I don't know where to start... this post took my breath away... it's been awhile since I've read and post, paused, and read it again.
It's like you hiked us all up, threw us on your shoulder, and we all ventured through the city together.

Beautiful tango, just beautiful...

Gabby January 6, 2009 at 10:12 AM  

So incredible! Thank you so much! I've been there, and now I've been there with you. I miss walking through those narrow shelves and secret rooms with cats roaming everywhere and people smoking (no more, and me never) at little tables, and cappucino next door at the cafe. slay me!

Here's a beat poem for ya by allen ginsburg:

First Party At Ken Kesey's With Hell's Angels

Cool black night thru redwoods
cars parked outside in shade
behind the gate, stars dim above
the ravine, a fire burning by the side
porch and a few tired souls hunched over
in black leather jackets. In the huge
wooden house, a yellow chandelier
at 3 A.M. the blast of loudspeakers
hi-fi Rolling Stones Ray Charles Beatles
Jumping Joe Jackson and twenty youths
dancing to the vibration thru the floor,
a little weed in the bathroom, girls in scarlet
tights, one muscular smooth skinned man
sweating dancing for hours, beer cans
bent littering the yard, a hanged man
sculpture dangling from a high creek branch,
children sleeping softly in their bedroom bunks.
And 4 police cars parked outside the painted
gate, red lights revolving in the leaves.

December 1965

d smith kaich jones January 6, 2009 at 11:11 AM  

Oh God. When I got to the end of this perfectly enchanting post, I thought I woud cry - glowing books & word appearing under your feet?!!! Oh my. Oh my.
I want one of those books to attach to my wings.


robin laws January 6, 2009 at 11:51 AM  

did you take in what yoli said about you? a cinematographer? it fits you doesn't it? it's grand scale like you personality. this was a wondrous walk and sharing the astonishment, delight and emotions with you was a most satisfying experience. you made it feel very intimate. diane varner makes me want to go out in nature and you make me want to go out and explore urban.

i can't not say it... i adore you :)

i also come here for your quotes as you are a masterful quoter you are.
hope you are having a good tuesday! i'm off too get dressed for work too.

sonorossa January 6, 2009 at 1:37 PM  

What a beautiful journey through San Francisco! I absolutely love North Beach as well. Something about that neighborhood makes me feel truly connected to San Francisco's past.

My favorite North Beach bar is Specs. Divey, comfortable, full of misfits...just what the Beat Generation would have wanted.

christina January 6, 2009 at 3:39 PM  

I love your spirit. Minus the attitude huh, I would have liked him too.

I am left speechless at this beauty. I'm thankful to Jah the day ya pick de camera up.

Buck! Buck! That means I'm feeling the hell outta these photographs. ; )

Ron McBride January 6, 2009 at 5:54 PM  

wow, a little tour...I read all the beat poets and Kerouac,et al all mention City Lights Bookstore...thanks for taking us there :-)

I have always loved Boston and talk about it to everyone I meet but now you are making me want to visit SF too. Maybe I will finally get there... I was "this close" in the late sixties...trapped in So Cal...... I will write you that story ;-)

thanks, Jules!!


Ron McBride January 6, 2009 at 5:56 PM  

almost forgot, I really like your header photo... I was hoping you would use one of those pictures on your header one day and I got my wish.....


The Pink Cowboy January 6, 2009 at 6:36 PM  

You live inside a living book where poetry, colors, twilights and words dance. Through your lenses San Francisco becomes a fairy tale waltz, a little revelation in every corner. I specially liked your photo of "I am the door." It reminds me of the big human family. I am the door that opens and closes as it deems necessary. A door that is an invitation to self discovery and communion. Behind that door I know Love has found a home.

* I always capitalize the word Love, it is the supreme truth.

rhonda valentino January 6, 2009 at 7:02 PM  

"As a wedding present for his sister Suzanne and his close friend Jean Crotti, who were married in Paris on April 14, 1919, Duchamp instructed the couple by letter to hang a geometry book by strings on the balcony of their apartment so that the wind could 'go through the book, choose its own problems, turn and tear out he pages." Calvin Tomkins quoted in Roberto Bolano's 2666. "Duchamp told one interviewer in later years that he had liked disparaging 'the seriousness of a book full of principles,' and suggested to another that, in its exposure to the weather, 'the treatise seriously got the facts of life.'"

affinity January 6, 2009 at 9:01 PM  

Magical is just the right word....thanks for sharing your adventure in our incredible city.

I blog for the Black Rock Arts Foundation, and we were a supporter of the "Language of the Birds" installation that you came upon, but most of it was financed by the City of San Francisco. I would love to share some of your story in our blog if that is okay. If you would like to know more about this fabulous public art feel free to read our blog...

Last of the Fauxicans January 6, 2009 at 10:00 PM  

Well. That made my day. I'd like to move to San Francisco now please.

GossipGirlNY January 7, 2009 at 5:11 AM  

Hey there tangobaby! I just discovered your blog yesterday. I think it's amazing! The way you write you take people into your world and it's so imaginable what you describe. Your photos are very magnifique too!
Check out my blog: www.blogspot.helensgossip.com
I just started two days ago. ;-) And I think I have ZERO readers...which is fine, maybe it's stupid, idk.


shabby girl January 7, 2009 at 8:12 AM  

That was awesome! Oh how I miss the city! I lived most of my life in Santa Cruz. My hubby and I would go for long weekends to SF, mostly to see Giants games, but also to wander, walk, eat, tour, explore, have breakfast at the Puccini cafe.
Thank you for taking me there! There is just no other place like it!

rosedale's 4head January 7, 2009 at 8:35 AM  

Love the photos. Will be there in June. Lil sis lives in North Beach. Thanks for sharing and can't wait to take some photos of my own.

Flamedrinker January 7, 2009 at 9:56 AM  

That was so awesome. I miss my city. New york is OK, but I still miss MY city.

La Pianista January 7, 2009 at 12:03 PM  

Life is beautiful, isn't it? I get all those sensations when I walk downtown to Bass Hall or through Sundance Square. It's one of those places that makes you feel that life is more than worth living. It's worth savoring, enjoying, experiencing every second like it's your last.

Eh, sorry if this post is too sentimental - I'm inspired! :)

Wendy January 7, 2009 at 12:29 PM  

This was so wonderful. It was like being back! When I was living in SoCal I would take a trip up every year to SF and go to the Stinking Rose, China Town and walk to City Lights. Oh how I loved it so much. I've moved to the center of the U.S. so I don't get to go out there like I used to. I MISS IT!!!

Anonymous January 7, 2009 at 1:58 PM  

Oh TB. All I can really say is


Kim and David January 7, 2009 at 3:33 PM  

I really want that Books Not Bombs Sign and I Am The Door. Do you think they would sell it? Kim

Nancy Ewart January 7, 2009 at 6:04 PM  

You are truly awesome! This should go into your next book about North Beach/Chinatown. We've got to walk that walk on one of your "free" Fridays and have lunch at the US Cafe, one of the old time places still left in North Beach.

Red Shoes January 8, 2009 at 12:37 AM  

I simply cannot keep up with the fabulousness you produce, my lady. My goodness. What magic.

Incidentally, sometimes on Jack Kerouac Alley there can be found a young woman with an accordion, wailing medieval French children's songs into the night.

Dutchbaby January 8, 2009 at 5:40 PM  

You know what a sucker I am for City Light Books!

Gorgeous images! The TA building, the Why? building - all of it.

And the serendipitous meeting with the artist is beyond belief!