Friday, January 23, 2009

A day in North Beach

We’d been trying for ages to have a walk though/photo shoot so I was delighted when she e-mailed me with the date. It was a drizzly day when I met up with Julie at City Lights (you can read her account here plus enjoy her fantastic photos:
It was a bit early for lunch so I suggested that we go to Coit Tower and walk down the hill, exploring the side alleys and looking for whatever old houses are left. Fortunately, the 39 Coit Tower came around right away so we didn’t have to toil up that hill. I have a friend who lives on Greenwich and I know from personal experience how difficult it is to trudge endlessly up one steep hill after another.

We got on the bus going in the wrong direction but felt like we were having our own personal tour. Our bus driver was a delightful and protective Asian gentleman who made us get off and wait until he finished his break because we might not be safe inside the bus. He made me smile so I teased him that we were certainly the types who would hijack the bus and drive it to Reno.

When we got off at the top of the hill, I was a bit disoriented. I hadn’t been there in ages and I still have very powerful memories of the way it was back in the early 70’s. My ex-husband’s aunt lived in one of the tiny, wooden cottages on the bay side of the hill. I remember walking down endless steps, picking the wild anise for her to make into candy. Most of the small cottages then were modest, inhabited by long-time residents of the hill. There were poets, musicians, some beatniks and fishermen; G’s aunt worked at a local factory and wrote poetry in her spare time. The wooden steps are no longer there and you really have to look hard to find any of the modest homes. But all are not new and soulless condominiums. Julie pointed out to me an incredible piece of Art Deco architecture, complete with silver bas-relief and a cutout of Humphrey Bogart in the window. Apparently it had been used in the 1947 movie, Dark Passage and hasn’t changed much since then.
By now, we were carefully walking up and down the slippery wet stairs and side alleys, trying to find the source of a whole lot of parrot screeching. After a few false starts, Julie had the good sense to walk up a tiny, obscure alley where we found a whole flock of them devouring the red berries of a Pyracantha tree and conducting a whole opera in parrot. Go check her blog out for far better photos than mine!

Later we walked back to Columbus Ave down Union Street, exclaiming at all the city views, the architectural detail and the general ambience of the area. A lot of it has been gentrified but you can still fell what it must have been in the 40’s and 50’s. We stopped for lunch at my favorite café in North Beach – the Original US Café. Well, it’s not the true original; that was in an oddly shaped space up the street and was forced to move (after being in the same location for 80 years) by obscene rent increases. But the restaurant reopened and still serves the same delicious and homey food. Julie sprang for the Pappardelle Boscaiola, which is homemade wide ribbon pasta with bacon, onion, and mushrooms in a tomato cream sauce, and the Spaghetti Bolognese (tomato meat sauce). She gave me a bit of her pasta which was cooked a perfect al dente. I had grilled lamb chops and pasta a pesto which is one of my favorites. Julie took a menu and vowed to eat her way through it, which is a vow that I completely agree with. We didn’t have desert here because I wanted to introduce her to Stella’s, the best Italian pastry shop in North Beach. It’s another honey, nondescript store that’s been around for ages and for a reason. The pastry is fresh, with clean flavors from good ingredients. You won’t get soggy or stale pastries here. We split a cannelloni and danced out of the store on a sugar high.

Afterwards, we walked down Montgomery Street, sharing views on art, dance, history, politics and more things than I can remember. We stopped to photograph the old advertising piece on a wall, which was exposed, prior to City College building its Chinatown Campus. The perfect day ended with a ride on the F Line where Julie was going to see Bud Cort and I was going to take a nap!


tangobaby said...

That was such a great day! Thank you for all of the adventures and talks and the food was wonderful. I am already craving that pasta again.

Eva said...

Oh I loved this. I did this a million times when I lived in SF ....and I walked all the way to Coit Tower when I visited there last too. Thanks for this!

Zoomie said...

I know just the Art Deco building you are referring to - My Beloved and I stopped dead in our tracks to photograph it one day! It's hard to get a good photo of it but easy to remember!