Learning to say ‘Amen!’

 

I’ve spent a total of five weeks in the San Francisco area during the last year, and I’ve managed to visit the city itself only four or five times. Briefly put, I’ve only glimpsed the city; I haven’t really seen it.

I’ve seen — or sensed — some of the problems people have with what venerable journalist Herb Caen called Baghdad-by-the-Bay. Most of all, it’s too expensive to live there — real-estate values are beyond the reach of even the relatively affluent, thanks in large part to the dot-com companies like Google and Apple. What’s more, the San Francisco celebrated in Scott MacKenzie’s song is long-gone — if it ever really existed….George Harrison of The Beatles took one look at the Haight  and got the hell out of there, and after one glorious summer the place became a hellhole filled with homeless, strung-out teens with wilted flowers in their hair.

But, still, there’s something about San Francisco and California. I’ve joined the other tourists and taken a ride on the city’s famed cable cars, all the while humming the Rice-A-Roni theme song. I’ve walked along the waterfront, looking out at Alcatraz or up at the suspension bridge to Oakland. I’ve stood  on the steps where Mario Savio jump-started the Free Speech movement in Berkeley — although I’ve seen Berkeley’s bums, young and old, who are but a sad echo of the old counter-culture. I’ve crossed the Golden Gate and visited John Muir’s redwoods. I’ve sipped coffee at a café in North Beach. I’ve huddled with the ghosts of the Beats in the poetry section upstairs at City Lights. I’ve looked out at the Pacific — and, while I can’t explain the difference, I have no doubt that there’s something very non-Atlantic about the Pacific.

I’ve driven along the coastal highway to Big Sur. I’ve never seen any place so beautiful in my entire life, and I found myself wishing I could travel back forty years and have a fling with beautiful Joni Mitchell, or travel back fifty years and get drunk with Jack Kerouac, or travel back sixty years and talk about Rimbaud and Celine and Anais Nin with Henry Miller, or travel back more than eighty years and spend idle hours sloshing through the tidal flats at Monterey with John Steinbeck — and witnessing the awful oppression of the farm workers at Salinas.

I think what it amounts to is that I’ve seen enough of San Francisco and the California coast to know that at the very least I’d like to see more. And I certainly will. I didn’t leave my heart in San Francisco — but I did leave a little piece of it. After all, how could I ever forget — and how could I ever be unchanged after reading it — the quote at the entrance to the Henry Miller Memorial Library in the town of Big Sur: “It was here in Big Sur I first learned to say Amen!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“Like the pines, I am lonesome for you…”

There’s a Laurel and Hardy clip for every mood, every place and every occasion — including a road trip from New Jersey for a stay in  faraway Virginia:

 

If we never meet again (or the Blue Ridge fare-thee-well blues)

I’ve been in Virginia for more than a week now, working on a couple of short stories and reworking a couple of longer manuscripts —

Here’s a photo of my writing studio, which is set atop a hillside of the peaceful former farm where the Va. Center for the Creative Arts is located.

studio exterior

Here’s a photo taken inside, where I’ve been spending a lot of time writing — and looking out of the window at the sky (which has mostly been blue) and those treetops.

interior of studio

 

Here’s what I see when I get a little stir crazy and go for a little drive (took this  photo yesterday )

blue ridge foothills

And here’s some of the music I’ve been listening to late at night:

Time is a jet plane/It moves too fast…so wrote Bob Dylan…I can’t believe time can pass so quickly in such a slow-moving place, but I’ve been here for ten days already and have just four more to go….I’m going to miss this place, but I’m sure I’ll be back….and until then I’ll just have to listen to lots and lots of old Stanley Brothers songs…

 

 

 

Terpsichore in Blue Jeans

I didn’t think I would ever do such a thing. For one thing, I don’t dance very well. For another thing, all of my fellow writer and artists here at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts are still pretty much strangers to me, since I’ve only been here for less than two days. But last night after dinner, someone shouted out “Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show!”

And somehow they managed to get me to agree to participate. See if you can figure out which one is me:

Rose of my heart

jersey roses

Best e-mail I’ve received all day had this photo, with a note saying simply “Roses still in bloom!” I’ve had a great time during my residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and I’m going to hate leaving — it’s a beautiful place, and I’ve made great progress on a new novel — but I’m also looking forward to returning to New Jersey and my gardening correspondent.

Years before Bill Haley became a mediocre and unlikely rock-and-roll pioneer he billed himself as Yodelin’ Bill Haley, performing country swing with his band The Saddlemen. Here’s Yodelin’ Bill singin’ “Rose of My Heart” —

Even better, here’s the late, lamented Eva Cassidy doing a beautiful rendition of a song based on Robert Burns’ “My Love Is Like a Red, Red Rose” —

A Blue Ridge Sunday

This is who I encountered this Sunday morning as I drove down through the pasture on my way into the small town of Amherst, Virginia, where — to my great surprise and joy — the gas-station convenience store actually had a stack of the Sunday New York Times, which meant I could indulge my Sunday morning habit of drinking a cup of coffee while doing the NY Times Magazine’s crossword puzzle.

Anyway, let’s call this first photo “How, Now…?”

brown cow

After getting my coffee and Sunday paper, I drove down to the Wash-and-Dry laundry, where the only patrons were me — and these folks. The husband nodded at me when I walked in — end of conversation. I took this portrait of my laundromat companions as she folded their clothes — and he watched her fold their clothes.

I’m stuck on two names for this photo. Either “A Woman’s Work Is…” or “Sons and Daughters of the Pioneers.”

laundry day