Literary Movers and Shakers (and Litquake-ers)

9 10 2009

It’s that time of year again, and I (tear) am missing it. Litquake, the world’s best literary festival and big sister to LitCrawl NYC, begins tonight. And promises to be the best one yet. it had better be. It’s celebrating its 10th birthday. I’m especially sad to be missing Sarah Vowell, the North Beach Literary Tour and, of course, the Kerouac event, but as always the entire schedule looks phenomenal. Guess I’ll be spending the week doing a little extra reading…





Warning: Highly Addictive

16 02 2009

During a recent catch-up brunch with Tiffany, she reported back, that her California trip was fantastic (no surprise) and, much to my delight (and envy), that the visit to Ano Nuevo State Beach was the major highlight. As I mentioned back when she was planning this trip, the elephant seals at Ano Nuevo, just outside San Francisco, have long been an obsession of mine, though I’ve yet to make it to see them myself.

Tiff’s visit, during which she saw a very long fight between two males and a live birth (according to her naturalist guide, a very rare sighting) only made me more angry that I never went while living there, though my mother has since informed me that we did in fact visit the beach once, but that, alas, there was only one seal there when we did. The fact that I have no recollection of this is shocking, given my current obsession with them and the fact that I generally remember almost everything. Anyhow, my dear mother has brought the elephant seals to me, or, rather, the California park system (and a very generous donor) have.

I recently received in the mail this clipping from our local newspaper, sent by my mother and announcing that the seals are now eligible to become worldwide stars (or simply the subjects of mass voyeurism). Regardless, Ano Nuevo has installed a high definition webcam, the first of its kind in any California State Park and worth a whopping $20,000. The camera covers the entire nine acre island and allows nature lovers all over the world to witness the fighting, mating and general life practices of the fascinating elephant seals. I’ve finally seen my first (in memory) elephant seal, and have left the player up on my desktop. Not only are the nature sounds sort of soothing, but a quick visit to the beach is a great escape from a cold New York work day. As I type this post, all is bathed in a rosy glow as the sun rises in California. Check it out for yourself, but be warned: you won’t be able to pull yourself away. I myself and waiting to catch that elusive live birth…





Park-ing

9 01 2009

There is something about having a major, beautiful park that makes a city fantastic. If Central Park is the epitome of this, Golden Gate Park is a close second (though I think perhaps it is on par, and getting better all the time).

Some things to do in Golden Gate Park:

  1. Stop and smell the roses (or other flower of your choice): The stunning glass-domed building, just as amazing as when it first opened in 1979, is just the beginning. Inside the Conservatory of Flowers are nearly 2,000 species of plants, each more amazing and beautiful than the next.
  2. Take Tea: The Japanese Tea Garden is one of the most-visited sights in San Francisco, and for good reason. It is a tranquil oasis within the city, for relaxation, meditation, or just a nice long stroll. All the rest is so amazing, you just have to see for yourself.
  3. Look at Art: After tea in the garden stop in the nearby de Young Fine Arts Museum. In its new modern (and eco-friendly) building since 2005, the museum still houses elements of the original 1921 museum, including the Pool of Enchantment, sphinx sculptures, and the initial palm trees,  ferns, redwood. Plus, of course, a whole lot of beautiful art.
  4. Commune with Nature: Though I’ve not yet been the newly re-opened California Academy of Sciences is a recent obsession. Here a four-story rain forest, an aquarium, a planetarium, and a natural history museum all reside under one living roof. That’s right, the entire building is sustainable, from its radiant sub-floor heating to the tippy-top of its (literally) green roof, created of native vegetation that will capture rainwater and serve as a habitat for wildlife. Incredible just doesn’t seem enough here.
  5. Eat. After all that exploring, head to the historic Beach Chalet, which combines yummy food with lovely views, both inside, where WPA frescoes capture a 1930s San Francisco, and outside, where the Pacific waves crash against Ocean Beach.




Yes, I’m Bi-Coastal

7 01 2009

I interrupt this “I Heart SF” week with a bit of New York love, or, rather, I remark on a fabulous proof that my two favorite American cities are inextricably linked, making each even more lovable. and so…

New York

I must report that this Friday evening Bohemia is back in all its glory with a celebration of, Herbert Huncke, who inspired the word “beat” of the Beat Generation and then inspired Beat greats from Kerouac to Ginsberg to Burroughs. January 9, 2009 would be Huncke’s 94th birthday, and in order to celebrate his friends, fans, and fellow writers will be gathering at Bowery Electric for a tribute to Huncke and his own lyrical and poignant writing. Show starts at 8pm but doors open at 7:30pm. It promises to be a fantastic and enlightening event.

San Francisco

It’s a New York event, yes, but the heart of the beats truly lies in San Francisco. Though Huncke and his friends all met in New York City, it was San Francisco where most of their mayhem took place, and it is still San Francisco that is a tribute to the Beats and their fabulous legacy. And so, in keeping with the week’s theme, some of the best places to keep a San Francisco Beat (pardon the pun).

  1. City Lights Booksellers. 261 Columbus Ave. It doesn’t get much more Beat than this. Not only is the store, which takes up a block of Columbus Avenue, one of the few independent bookstores left (thanks Barnes), it is truly a “Literary Landmark,” both for the alternative culture it sanctions and for its 50-plus year history of commitment to progressive ideas. It was the nation’s first all-paperback bookstore, and its three floors house a vast selection of books, including many “harder-to-find” titles as well as a poetry room. Oh, then there was this little poem called Howl, and the man who caused quite a stir by publishing it.
  2. The Beat Museum. 540 Broadway. It’s just across form City Lights and features everything from Beat letters to Kerouac bobbleheads.
  3. Vesuvio. 255 Columbus Ave. It’s in Kerouac Alley. What more needs to be said?




Winter at the (North) Beach

6 01 2009

As a continuation of my “I heart SF” week, I present: Beach Blanket Babylon. Though it’s not the first thing that generally comes to mind when one thinks San Francisco, this hilarious song-and-dance with the giant hats has become something of a San Francisco staple, and it should be. It’s been running for 34 years; it’s the longest running musical revue. Ever. Not to mention that the zaniness, the theatricality, and, most importantly, the political plays make it everything we’ve come to know and love (and expect from) San Francisco.

The show began in 1974, a brainchild of Steve Silver and was so popular that it now has a permanent home at North Beach’s Club Fugazi, a tiny nightclub where there are no bad seats.  The story itself is silly to say the least, but it’s filled with upbeat songs, side-splitting jokes (that change based on the current events), and fabulous singing from the likes of BBB star Val Diamond who, celebrating her 30th anniversary with the show this year, has become something of a San Francisco institution in her own right. But man, those hats.

The show runs Wed and Thurs at 8 pm, Fri and Sat at 6:30 pm and 9 pm, and Sun at 2 pm and 5 pm. Ticket prices range from $25 to $78.

If you’re making a night out of it, try Steps of Rome for fantastic Italian (where the eye candy is as yummy as the food) or  L ‘Osteria del forno, a tiny North Beach hideaway with some of the best food in the city. For a nightcap, try Figaro, where dessert is a must or the historic Tosca, a favorite watering hole since the 1920s, complete with red vinyl booths, the famous antique jukebox and seven strong classic cocktails, including the Tosca signature: rich cappuccino flavored with Ghiradelli chocolate and spiked with brandy. You don’t get much more San Francisco than that.





New Year (Vicarious) Trip

5 01 2009

One year ago today I was frantically racing around New York buying important things (like shoes I would wear once and bandaids that would mend my feet from the damage caused by said shoes), saying countless telephone goodbyes and, giant Squirrel on my back, boarding a plane for the long journey to Buenos Aires, full of excitement and nervous jitters.  This year I am parked at a coffee shop near Union Square typing away and dreaming of the Argentine summer. Sigh.

Since I’ve used up money and work days on holiday travel and have no trip in sight of my own, I’ve decided to focus my wanderlust on Tiffany and her trip to California. Yesterday during brunch I frantically scribbled down thoughts of things she must do, and today I have even more to add. So, I hereby dub this week “California Week” and will offer up Tiffany’s trip (or my vision of her trip) as the one I will be dreaming of while I stay here in frigid New York.

Today’s highlight stays true to the New Year Trip theme: Ano Nuevo State Beach. I must say that when Tiff’s boyfriend Mark told me they’d be seeing the elephant seals I turned a little green. I’ve wanted to visit for years and never got around to it (though my mother informed me today that we went when I was small but saw no seals).

This rocky point, named Punta Ano Nuevo because it was first sighted by Spanish explorers on New Year’s Day 1603, is best known as the site of the largest mainland breeding ground (in the world) for the massive and amazing northern elephant seal. Though I have yet to see them for myself, this I know: that elephant seals are enormous (males stretch from 14 to 16 feet long and weigh up to 2 1/2 tons), mean (males fight to determine the alpha male, who will do most of the breeding), and were hunted for their oil and nearly wiped out until protected in 1922. And, of course, that they head to Ano Nuevo, just south of San Francisco, to mate.

Things to know for planning a visit

To protect the seals and minimize disturbance to their routine, visitation is regulated year-round, and regulations vary based on the seasons. During breeding season (December 15-March 31) visits are limited to naturalist guided walks that must be booked in advance. From April to August, visitors may head out on self-guided hikes after obtaining a Visitor’s Permit. For full visiting details, hours, fees, etc, here.

To further enhance the experience, stay at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel. Not only is it a certified green business, its cozy, affordable, and, well, a lighthouse, one of America’s tallest lighthouses at that. Oh, and did I mention the oceanside hot tub that is perfect for pelican and whale watching? Maybe I’ll be finding a way to get another vacay in after all…





Queens Towers (by special request)

18 10 2008

I was recently chided for having written about two of my nieces and not their sister, my darling Olivia.

And so, without further ado, a post especially for Olivia, in two parts.

I may be belaboring the point but I love being an aunt for the simple joys of passing on knowledge, joy, enthusiasm, and for cultivating those female bonds which I think are so special. At home in California this summer I had several opportunities for just these things, some already noted and others soon to be forthcoming. The added bonus of all this, I found, is that I get to learn in the process as well. And thus, part 1…

We have a tradition when my brother Gregg brings his girls from Colorado to California for visits. We head to Oakland’s Jack London Square and take the East Bay Ferry into the city. From there the routine is pretty generic and pretty touristy, usually consisting, in random variations, of lunch at Johnny Rockets, playing and shopping on Pier 39, and a long time marveling at the famous sea lions who lounge there. Then we make the long walk along the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building, where the rest of us wander the markets waiting for my brother to spend an inordinate amount of time purchasing wine before we catch the ferry back to Oakland. It’s always a great day and the kids look forward to it every visit.

This summer, however, we switched it up, especially for Miss Olivia. Last year, on the walk to the Ferry Building, I pointed out Coit Tower to the darling and she has been obsessed ever since, determined that we must visit the “Queen Tower” and also the “other Queen Tower,” which happens to be San Francisco’s other most distinctive building, the Transamerica. So this year, we diverted from the usual plan and took Olivia to the Queen Tower, no small feat given that I have not lived in the city for more than two years now and have become a little rusty on my geography, not to mention there’s that massive hill to climb (we cabbed it).

Once up there, however, it was well worth the trek. For my mother, who had visited often with her own mother (my Gaga), it brought happy memories of growing up in San Francisco. For Olivia, who for a year had been talking about the Queen Tower, it was a thrill, nearly equaled but not overshadowed by the joy of seeing “Alcatrax.”

The Princess in front of the Queen Tower

The Princess in front of the Queen Tower

And for me, who managed to grow up in the Bay Area, live in San Francisco for two years, and only see one of its most iconic landmarks for the first time on a visit from New York, it was a reminder of what we take for granted when we have easy access to some of life’s most amazing places, and a reminder that you don’t have to travel to travel. Often the best things to see are in our own backyards. Or at the very least just a ferry ride away.

Coit Tower, which can be seen from most places in downtown San Francisco, looms over the city from its perch on Telegraph Hill in North Beach. It was erected in 1933, and was commissioned to honor San Francisco’s firefighters by Lillie Hitchcock Coit, a wealthy eccentric San Franciscan who often rode along with the firemen, despite this being considered unladylike behavior. For more information, click here.





Unexpected Happy Ending(s)

27 03 2008

Today’s post was supposed to be the first of my book(s about travel) review series. It will be, but not in the way I’d intended. It seems I got sidetracked.

Yesterday’s New York Times UrbanEye email alerted me to the Happy Ending reading series, which held a reading last night at (surprise) Happy Ending Lounge in the Lower East Side. Yes, the bar’s name refers to its seedy past, when it was an “erotic massage parlor.” I’ve never been downstairs but imagine that the self-described “1960’s Las Vegas” vibe must pay more homage to its former incarnation than the sophisticated red velvet booths on street level. Either way its sign-less facade on a deserted street feels a bit speakeasy-esque.

But last night was about the reading series, which was not only phenomenal but particularly apropos given my upcoming (as in—yikes!—next week) writing group meeting, for which I’ve done nothing, except decide (another yikes! for good measure) that it’s finally time to let go of those novel chapters I’ve been hanging onto since college. But the evening was brimming with talent, and, as luck would have it, inspiration. Happy ending number two. But enough about me…

Amanda Stern hosts the music and reading series at Happy Ending on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month (summers off), where readers gather to sip complicated (but delicious) cocktails from Happy’s long list while singers sing and writers read. Each reader must take some sort of public risk while the singer of the evening has to get the audience to sing along to one cover song. (Supple-voiced folk singer Kelley McRae, whose own songs render chills, sang En Vogue’s Giving Him Something He Can Feel but the audience was a little shy—or just too entranced by her voice.)

Artist Matthew Bokkam read from his 2006 project “The New York City Museum of Complaint,” a tabloid/newspaper he created of letters of complaint compiled from the New York City municipal archives. The gist of his findings: New Yorkers complain. About everything. Just last night we heard from a man requesting that Mayor LaGuardia champion the right of burlesque dancers to be more, well, burlesque, and from a woman who had a list of complaints longer than my ever-growing to do list (odd thing was many of her would-be outlandish hardships—like not having heat—were things I’ve experienced). Bokkam’s risk, as an act of sympathy for said women, was to read her letter with a quarter stuck up his nose. Well done. (Un)happy ending number 4.

And now for the book review portion of this post, even if it’s not the book review I initially intended, nor even one I’ve yet read. Tod Wodika read from his newly published novel with the elaborate title, All Shall Be Well; and All Shall Be Well; and All Manner of Things Shall Be Well about a mixed up historical re-enactor who takes his re-enacting a little too seriously. Not only well-written but utterly hilarious. I was so excited by the 10 minutes he read that I can promise a more thorough review to come. In the mean time, suffice to say it’s travel enough in its jumps from modern to Middle Age worlds. And if it has a happy ending, all the better.

And one last thought that proved to be an unexpected delight of an evening. I got to speak with Amanda afterward about my latest project, and not only was she excited but willing to partake. The project being that of bringing a part of my beloved Litquake, otherwise known as San Francisco’s amazing, stupendous literary festival, here to New York. More on that one later. For now, it makes yet another happy ending (so many that I’ve lost count).





Short List: Forgotten Fourth Passion

26 03 2008

How on earth could I—with the completion of MA in literature and the madness of December’s paper writing (which, frazzled though I was, I must admit I oddly enjoyed) in my so recent past—forget a fourth, and oh-so-important passion in my About page?

I can’t really figure it out actually, but I neglected to note a lifetime obsession with books, which ranks (gasp!) even above my love of shoes. The bookshelves in my tiny apartment as well past the point of being overstuffed with books and that’s to say nothing of all those that were left behind at my parents’ house. And yet I still enjoy trips to the bookstore whenever possible. Bookstores are actually, in my opinion, a key aspect of travel. Many cities have famous or historic bookstores that are just as important as churches and more conventional landmarks.

So because I haven’t done a list in a while, a short one featuring my top three bookstores in great destinations. (And no, Barnes and Noble has not made the cut.)

  1. City Lights Booksellers in San Francisco is a North Beach mainstay and the icon of an era. Founded by Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1953, the bookstore and publishing house earned notoriety in 1956 when Ferlinghetti was caught up in (and won!) an obscenity trial for printing Allen Ginsberg‘s Howl & Other Poems. Since then City Lights has been a San Francisco institution. It stands proudly on the corner of Columbus and Broadway as a memory of the tumultuous and controversial Beat writers and all the great literature that has followed.
  2. New York’s Strand is a booklover’s heaven. It takes up most of a the block of Broadway and 12th St. in the East Village (with another location downtown) and boasts 18 miles of books. As if this weren’t enough, the books are cheap. The Strand has a huge selection of used books, but even most of the new ones are discounted. I know I’m a nerd, but I could spend hours there.
  3. El Ateneo (the Santa Fe location) in Buenos Aires has retained the architecture it had in its former incarnation as the Grand Splendid Theater. Its four stories of books, music, and movies are as exciting and lovely as the ornate theater in which they reside. There is something remarkable about having a coffee where the stage once was (and Carlos Gardel once performed), but I may just prefer cozying up with Neruda in a box seat.

And last, since I’ve already established that my talents (and passion) don’t lie in counting, I’m throwing in a bonus, since I just happened upon it again the other day: McNally Robinson Booksellers in Nolita, a cheery independent bookstore that is as much about edifying as entertaining. It’s a friendly community space that alternates its front displays based on community and progressive statements, not bestsellers. I had the pleasure of wandering through again and didn’t want to leave, especially when I found a small table with a set of beautiful books I have never seen before. It seems Penguin has a series called Great Ideas, with reprints of books that have “changed the world,” from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, all in pocket-size with simple but lovely covers.

All this book thought gave me a great idea of my own. I hereby start a new Around the World in Gold Stilettos category: book reviews. For EuroCheapo’s blog I regularly posted reviews on books relating to Europe, books that gave a sense of culture or history, so I’m reinstating that on my own blog (starting tomorrow).