Before a jaunt to San Francisco, my Starbucks friends offered a litany of places for me to see and do. La Cañada is a conduit to San Francisco.
My friends spared no effort in directing me toward the finest restaurants and experiences. I listened politely. However, I’ve my own idea of experiencing the marrow of life.
My thoughts often tell of my proclivity toward attempting to understand a sense of place, that unique circumstance where one experiences an “aha moment.” In that isolated respite, one becomes aware the experience is worth living. I’m not sure how you’d even intellectualize such a moment. However, I’m convinced that if you were to attempt to do so, you wouldn’t recognize the experience if it hit you in the face.
Before I raced to Burbank to catch the 7:20 p.m. flight, I was told to “bring back some good stories.”
I arrived at the onset of a rainstorm. Perfect weather! It was cold as frozen iron and the wind drove the rain nearly horizontal, cutting into the faces of those who’d left the warm hearth of home.
I was anxious for morning to arrive. I stepped out at first light, driven by the spirit of novelty to walk the neighborhoods, particularly North Beach, the Italian enclave. Although I’m 54 years removed from my Italian community in the Bronx, I enjoy an immersion of hanging with the local cumpás. My knowledge of the Italian language is gone but there was a time I knew every Italian guttural slang and I could make a longshoreman blush.
I headed for Café Vesuvio, a 70-year-old bar located across the alley from City Lights bookstore. On Saturdays they open at 6 a.m. It’s an amazing haunt where Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan shot whiskey at the bar. Standing in the shadows of genius whose artistic legacies have inspired generations was an indeed an aha moment.
I had a shot of espresso. Then left to explore the alley dedicated to Kerouac. Encrypted in the cobblestone, writers of the Beat Generation left their mark. I found the following by Kerouac: “The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great.” Bada bing! Another “aha moment.”
My goal that morning was to walk the Golden Gate in the rain. Since I had my Navy pea coat and my camouflage boonie hat, I was confident I wouldn’t be whisked away in the storm. But, because of the excessive winds, the Golden Gate was closed to pedestrians.
I glanced at my watch: 8:30 a.m. Too early for lunch. But, what the heck? I headed to Washington Square and Liguria Bakery. There, the Soracco family has made the best handmade focaccia since 1911. A sheet feeds three people and is neatly wrapped in white butcher paper and tied by a thin string. I ate the whole thing. I’m from the Bronx. I know their secret: old ovens and OO-based flour. Another “aha moment!”
I then went to Café Trieste for a cappuccino and cannoli, settling in to attempt to work on the final chapter of my sequel. Trieste was also a haunt for famous artists. Today is no different. There were conversations about Faulkner, Hemingway and contemporary novelists. Some of the patrons were writing and drawing in sketch pads. It was a much older crowd, a haven for people-watching.
The intense conversations and productivity at Café Trieste were abruptly interrupted. I saw her running in the rain and, as the little girl threw open the door, she shrieked at the assorted cookies waiting for her grasp. Her mother couldn’t calm her. I was amazed at the metamorphic change in the café. The magic of this child captured the focus of these creative minds and they were reminded of why life is worth living. That’s the definition of an “aha moment.”