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Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Garcia’


In 1995 we were finally persuaded to avert our enraptured gaze from Italy (we had already been to Milan and Sicily that year), to make our first belated trip to San Francisco and, indeed, the United States.

As our tour bus rattled over the Bay Bridge on a balmy early October afternoon, Louis, pronounced Lewis, our chain smoking guide from Barcelona with a penchant for stand up comedy, took to his feet, but not before instructing the driver to press play on the cassette recorder and release the crackling strains of Tony Bennett upon us.

(The loveliness of Paris seems somehow sadly gay,

  the glory that is Rome is of another day)

These words were, however, indistinct on this occasion as they coincided with Louis loudly clearing his throat before uttering the two words that we had become accustomed to hear him preface every announcement with:

“Okey cokey”.

(I’ve been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan

I’m going home to my city by the Bay)

This was the cue for another, more violent attack of phlegm.

(To be where little cable cars climb halfway to the stars

The morning fog may chill the air, I don’t care)

That was the last we heard of Tony, at least for now, because Louis, larynx lubricated, was gearing up for a speech. He had an important message to impart to us before we were disgorged at our downtown hotel.

“You’ve all heard this song, haven’t you?”.

He couldn’t resist another, much more genteel, croak while fifty three passengers smiled and nodded in his direction.

“Well, it’s true. You WILL leave your heart in San Francisco”.

Emboldened by such an emphatic statement, he continued:

“We’ve been together on this bus now for twelve days and we have seen some incredible sights – the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Las Vegas , the Hoover Dam and even Disneyland. But this city is the place that will capture your heart. I am telling you that when you leave in three days time, you will know exactly what Tony Bennett means”.

As his fans beamed in childlike anticipation, Louis made one final claim before reaching for his cigarettes:

“If you don’t, then Louis knows nothing”.

If the last twelve days had taught us anything, it was that this squat, swarthy man from Spain, who might have passed for either fifty or seventy years of age, knew a lot about everything. We were, therefore, inclined to trust him on this one.

With one final, hearty cough – and another “okey cokey” for good measurehe descended the steps of the coach, shook hands with the proprietor of the Best Western Canterbury Hotel and lit up while the driver helped us to locate our luggage.

(Your golden sun will shine for me).

And for me.

Louis was right.

Despite twelve days witnessing one jaw juddering attraction after another, which had also, bizarrely, included listening to the outcome of the O.J. Simpson trial on the pier at Santa Monica, San Francisco did not disappoint. Not everyone in our party was as thrilled by its charms, as complaints about the homelessness, dirt on the streets and crowded cable cars testified.

But I saw beyond this.

Of course, I was primed for love.

It had been one of the longest courtships from a distance in history.

We stayed three nights in the heart of the Tenderloin, which rendered the moans about aggressive panhandling and grime entirely believable, and crammed in just about every tourist hot spot we could:

  • Twin Peaks (for orientation);
  • Cliff House (for the washrooms inside and jewellery stalls outside, no time for brunch yet);
  • Golden Gate Bridge (for what we would learn later was the second best view – from Vista Point);
  • Pier 39 (for family presents and the sea lion show);
  • Fisherman’s Wharf (for the clam chowder and fleeces (only joking about the latter));
  • Ghirardelli Square (for the chocolate, what else);
  • Union Square (Lori’s Diner and the Gold Dust Lounge, though I’m told there were a few reputable stores there too);
  • North Beach (for the coffee and Italian ambiance);
  • Chinatown (for cheap gifts on Grant Avenue and unmentionable looking foodstuffs on Stockton Street), and
  • Alcatraz (or at least we would have if we had had the gumption to purchase tickets in advance).

We still contrived to fit in an afternoon on Haight Street to enable me to pay homage to Jerry Garcia, the Grateful Dead’s lead guitarist, who had died just eight weeks before. And, of course, we stood in line for hours at both the Powell and Hyde turnarounds to catch a ride on the cable cars, marvelled at the cars snaking down Lombard Street, had dinner in Chinatown, and on our last night at The Stinking Rose (I still feel sorry for the other passengers sitting within three rows of us on the flight home the next afternoon).

And the rest is, as any regular reader will know, history.

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Readers of this blog will already be aware of my affection for the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. Several articles have been devoted to its history, architecture and culture.

Following my recent trip I have revisited my collection of photographs of the neighborhood. It started off as just a series of images but I have found it hard to resist commenting on a number of them in passing.

I will start with the store in which my vacation dollars and I are most easily parted – Land of the Sun, the  best place on Haight Street for tie-dye shirts and hippie paraphernalia such as jewelry, beads, throws and other household accessories.

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The other store in which I have often satisfied my craving for tie-dye is Haight Ashbury T-Shirts.  It might not be as enticing as Land of the Sun from the outside, but it is a great place to hang out in, even if it does mean you having to spend much of your time craning your neck to view the merchandise that occupies the entire ceiling space.

But it does have the added kudos of being sited at the iconic Haight  and Ashbury intersection (though not the definitive corner – that honor now goes to Ben & Jerry’s).

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Haight-Ashbury is not just hippie clothing and smoke shops of course. It also boasts some of the finest Victorian architecture in the city, as illustrated by this fine pair of Queen Annes situated literally yards off the main drag.

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My first port of call on hitting the ‘hood was once Positively Haight Street, a wonderful hippie-oriented store with stunning facades.

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In June 2012, new owners opened Jammin on Haight on the same premises. Still dedicated to tie-dye fashion, it is undeniably a beautiful store but I haven’t yet quite warmed to it.  Much of the overtly Grateful Dead apparel and accessories – despite the sign in the window below – have gone (or do I have “two good eyes” but “still don’t see”?), and it exudes a more upmarket, well scrubbed vibe that I can’t readily relate to. The window displays, though sporting different designs, remain beautiful.

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I once sang (I use the word advisedly) the Grateful Dead song, Ripple, with a young busker on that corner above. I often wonder whether he was still able to eat that evening.

Though I have not had cause to visit these establishments much, here are some more colorful shopfronts.

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Although I’ve still not managed to beat the lines at the legendary Pork Store Café, the following have provided hearty sustenance over the years. And we will get to eat at Cha Cha Cha one day too!

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Familiar and long gone (but not forgotten) look out on you every few yards along Haight Street.

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No photo gallery of the Haight would be complete without a full frontal view of 710 Ashbury, the Grateful Dead’s home between 1966 and 1968.

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Back to Positively Haight Street, once the retail king of the neighborhood for an unreconstituted Deadhead.

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With every visit to San Francisco I learn of the demise of more quality neighborhood bookstores. Even since my last trip less than a year ago, Badger Books in Bernal Heights and Phoenix Books in Noe Valley, the latter replaced by an inferior alternative, have closed. I was shocked also to find that Aardvaark Books on Church and Market had been remodeled as a secondhand store.

It is reassuring, therefore, to find that Booksmith on Haight Street appears to be flourishing. I continue to make my small contribution to its future.

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Curiuously, in view of my love for the music that originally flowed out of San Francisco music scene in the late sixties and early seventies, I have never got excited about the prospect of visiting the massive Amoeba Music.

It might just be the sheer scale of the place and the fact that it occupies a single floor that disconcerts me. I am, or rather was, accustomed to the stores (Virgin, Tower, HMV) back in the UK  that occupied several tiers which made it easier to find what you were looking for.

Or it may be the legacy of my first visit when I was told rather aggressively that I had to leave the small bag I was carrying at the entrance. I understand that theft may be an issue, but I form an aversion immediately to any establishment that tells me at the front door that I am not to be trusted. I may be naive but this struck me as especially disappointing  on the street where the concepts of love and peace were once so trumpeted.

I haven’t been confronted recently but I still find it difficult to cope with the size of, and lack of warmth in, the store. But that’s as much my problem as theirs. As it happens, I am not a great fan either of Rasputin Music which has recently been providing competition for Amoeba on the street.

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I will finish where I started – with the Land of the Sun store and its reference to the familiar Grateful Dead lyric from Truckin’ of “What a long strange trip it’s been”.

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There are many other places, events and photographs that I could have included, some of which I have paid tribute to in previous posts, but I am conscious that this post will already have tried your patience.

Many will accuse me of having a romanticized, tourist’s – or even dippy hippie’s – view of the modern day Haight, and claim that what echoes there are of the Summer of Love are slight and inauthentic; that, effectively, it is no more than an open air museum (the number of tour buses that still crawl along the street might reinforce that argument).

I don’t presume to know whether there is any vestige of truth in that or not. What I do know is that, amid the upscale stores and expensive accommodation (the Haight boasts more single millionaires (283) than any other San Francisco neighborhood), it still means something valuable and relevant for many people – those who lived through the sixties and those who are their grandchildren. You only need to walk the area during the annual street fair or 4/20 festivities to recognize that.

May the trip continue to be long and strange!

 

 

 

 

 

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Any visitor to San Francisco who still hankers for the Summer of Love might seek some solace in the Red Victorian bed and breakfast on Haight Street, between Belvedere and Cole.

The Jefferson Hotel, as it was  originally known, was opened in 1904 as a resting place for visitors to the newly opened Golden Gate Park, but had its name changed to Jeffrey-Haight in that momentous year of 1967.

Ten years later it was bought by a 52 year old Washington state born doctor in Transformational Art and Societal Change, Sami Sunchild, who immediately set about painting its façade red with 9 other trim colours and renaming it the Red Victorian (though the building is Edwardian of course). Her aim since then has been for the “Red Vic” to embody the ideals that, if only briefly, pervaded the Haight a decade before her arrival – peace, concern for the environment, a sense of community and social justice.

From here Sunchild runs her myriad operations – the non-profit making Peaceful World Foundation, the Peaceful World Center, the Peaceful World Café, the Living Peace Museum and the Peace Arts Gallery, which contains her own bright and colourful artwork in the form of t-shirts, postcards, posters, peace buttons and mugs, available for purchase in the adjoining gift shop.

Every Sunday morning, from 9.00 to 10.30, or as long as its participants want it to last, Sunchild holds “World Conversations” or “conversation cafés”, which “bring people together to talk about topics that matter in their own lives and in the world as a whole”. These are seen as an “opportunity for San Franciscans and travelers alike to get together and share stories of our lives and the lessons we’ve learned, make new friendships and engage in open dialogue”.

In addition to these semi-formal events, guests are encouraged to engage in conversation with the owner and each other over breakfast, whilst passers by are welcome to “drop in” for a chat at any time.

Sunchild, who has travelled extensively, including the Polynesian Islands and much of Europe and North Africa, hopes through her work to build “a global network of travelers and conversationalists committed to doing good for the world and each other”.

Back in the sixties the rooms in the hotel served as “crash pads”, containing Indian bedspreads and other hippie paraphenalia, and accommodated as many occupants as could be crammed in! Using what she calls “Transformational Interior Design”, which enhances the consciousness of her guests, Sunchild has restored it to the state where it now boasts 18 guest rooms, each of which has been designed and decorated by her with an specific theme, such as the Japanese Tea Garden, Flower Child, Redwood Forest and, of course, the Summer of Love (complete with Grateful Dead posters!).

Internet reviews of the Red Vic reveal that Sunchild’s enterprise excites strong emotions.  Many celebrate it for its living embodiment of the hippie ideals espoused in the time when Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin and Grace Slick were residents of the area.  Staff are universally regarded as friendly and helpful, and words such as “quirky”, “quaint”, “funky” and “eccentric” are regularly uttered with a smile by visitors and residents alike.

Others complain, however, about a dark, dreary, rundown feel, and lament the lack of private bathrooms in most of the rooms, though those that there are, both private and shared, are beautifully decorated.  Radios, TVs, refrigerators and ice machines, staples of a more conventional modern hotel, are conspicuous by their absence.  Wireless connection can also be unreliable. And the verdict on the food and drink available in the café is similarly mixed.

On my previous visit (preparing this article has refuelled my desire to go again on my upcoming trip), I found the people welcoming, if, perhaps, a little earnest, and  the coffee and vegetarian sandwiches wholesome.

So if you want to get a glimpse, warts and all, of what it might have been like to stay in the neighbourhood in those “heady” days, this is as close as you are likely to come in modern day San Francisco.  Moreover, if you want to understand what makes a historic part of the city tick, a visit to Sami Sunchild’s Red Victorian is essential.

And when you do, pay heed to the words of Sunchild’s When you travel:

When you travel take peacemaking, friendship, learning, and listening as your sacred, God given duty. Refuse to carry with you an empty head or an empty heart. Give thanks for every human encounter,  every bird, animal, every plant that shares this gorgeous planet. Thank them, talk to them, nourish them. Let no greed or selfish thoughts distract you. Let no anger, anxiety, or bitterness accompany you.

Travel unencumbered by too much stuff or by too many pre-conceived ideas. Enter every new encounter with gratitude for another opportunity to learn and listen. To be the happiest and best travel ambassador on earth.

Affirm the natural ability to balance out the injustices of the world. Know that hate crimes will cease when we listen to each other, when selfishness and envy are replaced with compassion and even enemies become friends. Hold in you mind a vision of a peaceful world where travelers are the sowers and seeds of joy!

This message emanates from one of the more than 50 Peace Posters that Sunchild has designed and created and which can be found at www.peacearts.com .

Finally, I am extremely grateful that Sami has taken the time and trouble to proofread this post and given her personal blessing to its contents.

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