“A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” Gertrude Stein, born 1874 in Pittsburg, raised in Oakland.
I walk and I walk and I walk and I walk.
I walk on the steep carved hills. I walk to the tops of the hills and over the tops of hills. I walk down the hills. I let the busses go past. I do not get on the streetcars. I hear the cables whirring below the tracks. I cross streets of black veined tar that fills the fault lines of tired and rubbed out roads.
I walk on the pavements and pass by many people. I walk along long streets of three-storey houses, their walls conjoined, their textured and coloured facades and the shapes of their windows all different.
I walk into the cafes on Columbus Avenue that make thick syrup espressos and listen to the talk of animated men getting older. ‘Can you imagine having Eugene O’Neil as a father-in-law? Holy shit.’ The best coffee is made by quiet men in black cotton shirts.
I drink their good strong coffee and I piss coffee and I go to the City Lights Bookstore further down on Columbus – the Shakespeare & Co. of San Francisco. I climb the stairs to the poetry room and find the stores poet laureates. The first is Ferlinghetti. He owns the bookstore and edits the publications. He was ‘certainly surprised’ to be the first laureate.
‘This city has always been a poetic centre,’ he writes, ‘a frontier for free poetic life, with perhaps more poets and more poetry readers than any city in the world. But we are in danger of losing it … All that made this city so unique in the first place seems to be going down the tube at an alarming rate.’
Across the road on Broadway a guy from Monterrey has opened the Beat Museum. Upstairs are three old lounge chairs, two painted bookshelves of Jack Kerouac in translation behind screwed in perspex, photographs of Allen Ginsberg and other trinkets, and downstairs there is a DVD on Kerouac in a small theatre, ’50s typewriters and other trinkets. However sincerely, this place shows how the city now trades in remembrance.
I get press ganged into joining the email list as I leave to go around to the Trieste cafe where the espressos are long and where some guy wrote the Godfather script years ago. Tourists sit in and look at pictures of Pavarotti, Pacino and Bill Cosby and locals sit out and smoke and talk and sing opera on Sundays.
With coffee in my blood I go back to City Lights and buy a pocketbook of Ferlinghetti’s poetry. The poems change with me. When I am calm the poems are plainer.