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North Beach Expedition

The summer season has arrived in the Bay Area (predictably, right around Labor Day) and B. and I spent much of yesterday afternoon tromping around North Beach in the heat. I really would have preferred that it be about 10 degrees less, as I had stupidly not provided myself with hat, and ended up doing the rinse-the-shirt out trick twice and drinking enough water that finding bathrooms was a bit of a concern.

I had been feeling a bit nostalgic for just before I moved to SF (twenty years ago Oct 12 ... yipes!): went to the Stone with some friends to catch the new hot band Los Lobos and the Blasters, drinks at Vesuvio (Campari and soda ... we are all about pink here), goggling at Carol Doda's neon Boobs Over Broadway, and learning the rinse-the-shirt-out trick to survive the leftovers of one of SF's 90+ degree days in a club with no AC and a lot of dancing bodies in it. And then after I moved to SF, Annie and I used to walk up there regularly for fun, usually heading for Viva right behind the Condor (Boobs over B'way) to consume a plate of tasty fried calamari.

Well, the Condor is a sports bar now and you have to go inside to see the sign, I think the Stone is gone (I fade so early most evenings that I've given up even scanning the listings), but Vesuvio, City Lights, and happily Viva are still around. (I was also pleased to learn that the US Restaurant, one of my favorite Old North Beach hangouts, has reopened in another location after losing the lease on their old one. Plus the SF branch of my favorite, Black Oak Books, is right there.)

I parked the car at Sutter-Stockton and popped down Powell to Lush (this was also a test run of my new fancy flip-flops), put my goodies back in the car, and walked through the Stockton St tunnel, through the sea of humanity that is Chinatown on a weekend morning. Most of the few other white faces on the street looked like tourists, and dazed, although one young woman with henna'd hair was quite purposefully striding out of a dim sum place with a bag of goodies (it was tempting, although I had Italian pastry to look forward to).

We met in front of SS Peter and Paul and snagged the last two pieces of onion focaccia at Liguria Bakery (that's a real North Beach institution). We got a bit confused trying to find Caffe Trieste (note to self: it's the same block as the front door of St. Francis) and I made an Executive Decision to stop at Stella Pastry instead. It was an excellent one as they had my favorite Italian pastry, that custard tart with berries on top (remembered with great enthusiasm from when I first encountered it in NY's Little Italy at Ferrara's) and were nowhere near as crowded as Trieste was. We ate our tarts and drank our iced coffee at a sidewalk table, providing Street Scene for a bus of tourists. I confessed to occasionally flipping off the turistas in my yoot. (Actually, although I completely understand the utility of the two-or-so-hour narrated tour around town and have done it myself so many places, it still sorta bugs me to see the motorized cable cars chugging around. I was pleased to get back to California Street and see a real one.)

We moseyed down the street (checking out various menus for suitability for a coming event), drank a pint at Vesuvio (Anchor Steam, wine of the country), browsed at City Lights, and were faffing around about lunch. B. made the Executive Decision to try the advertised gnocchi at Figaro, which turned out to be an excellent decision; I had my fried calamari, and it was all very, very good (the gnocchi were light little pillows, as they should be). While we were waiting to order, a brass band came marching down Columbus; I thought it was the Sally Ann but it turned out to be a Chinese funeral, as the hearse appeared and was serenaded.

After lunch we poked our noses into St. Francis (following the trail of incense), and were encouraged to stay by the exquisite strains of their Schola Cantorum practicing for High Vespers, which started in 15 minutes' time. I did pretty well on the singing (the hymn was Old Hundredth, which helped) until we got to the Salve Regina, which sent me completely out to sea. I must unsay every harsh word I have ever said about the state of music in the modern Catholic church. It was divine. B. reports that a number of other people in the (sparse) congregation were singing along in good voice, although that doesn't go to disprove my general contention that places with good music programs tend to attract the musically ept and interested.

More beer and then back to the garage via Grant Street, which was crowded (half of tourists) but not the teeming sea of humanity that Stockton had been earlier in the day.

All in all, a great day except for the fracking heat; I got to see some parts, and experience some parts, of Old (and New) North Beach that I hadn't before.

(to be edited later to provide links)