California has always been a strange idea for me. I have lived in the tropics and the snowbelt but I have never been able to understand the allure of the Golden State.
It always seemed so fascile to me. Be it the Beats or the pace of life which is so slow or the lack of a hard edge California always seemed alien to me.
Some of the Poets I most admire, Robert Duncan for example are essentially California writers and I wish that Chicago- my hometown had the kind of literary infrastructure that San Francisco does. San Francisco has two of the greatest Chicago poets Paul Hoover and Maxine Chernoff as well as Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy...
I have been to San Francisco many times but over the past weekend I was able to steal a free Saturday afternoon and so I made a pilgrimage to City Lights Bookstore and then to Caffe Trieste. Lawrence Ferlinghetti's father is from the same valley as my mother, the Valle Sabbia north of Brescia and I also love Ferlinghetti because he nurtured Kerouac and Thomas Merton two writers that were important to me in my youth. I felt it a priority to spend some money there.
To be able for the first time to enter City Lights was a kind of pilgrimage to a great font of our poetic lives. I have to say that while it was a great thrill to go there and to buy Judith Goldman's new book of poetry DeathStar Rico-chet which I am enjoying and will review here shortly-- I could not get away from the feeling that all of this was artiface.
I have always been attracted to places with grit and edge; Rome, Sao Paulo, Chicago, New York, Istanbul and Hanoi. I have never been attracted to places like San Francisco which I put in the category with Florence, Rio, Hong Kong, St Petersburg and Sydney. All the cities in the second category are great cities as is San Francisco but they are places where polish is always over substance and where the hard and the broken are not seen.
I realize what I am writing is unfair. But it is just a sense of a place. San Francisco is a city of a sense. It would be impossible to write a book like Bellow's Augie March or any of Faulkner's books there but we did get cannery row out of San Francisco.... So I digress-- I guess I missed the red brick buildings and bungalows of Chicago when I was there and like an alien I was soothed to know that winter is coming and that my face will freeze soon and that is part of not living in San Francisco.