Saturday, May 24, 2008

San Francisco from less of a countercultural tourist angle

I spent most of my time in San Francisco wandering around the Mission district, walking to and in Golden Gate Park, doing a daring Commando raid through the oh so dangerous South of Market Area, seeing SFMOMA, and going to City Lights and environs.

The Mission area that I went to was that along Valencia, which is colonized by youth counter culturalists of the non-hippy variety.

Very nice. There were five stores that stuck out as places to go to. There also seems to be some really cool bars there, but I didn't go there, and a couple interesting coffee shops and a few restaurants, but I didn't go into those either.

First, there was Modern Times Book Store, a venerable political bookstore that features all shades of radical political opinion. I had thought that it went out of business, but that might have been the bookstore in L.A. known as something like Midnight Oil, Midnight Special, but interesting enough not "Midnight Notes", which seems to be a radical, anti-authoritarian, collective writing about diverse topics. Modern Times is worth the hike, one of those places that's been around so long that they have radical books that are worth reading but are currently forgotten by the mainstream of youthful radical politics.

Next on the list would be "Dog Eared Books" a combination used bookstore and new book store leaning towards avant-garde and '90s counter culture type books, but not exclusively.

Following on that is "Needles and Pens", zine store and punk art gallery.

Then we have something very, very, very good "Aquarius Records". Aquarius Records is way, way, beyond the Amoeba (Amoeba music) when it comes to obscure Krautrock, European psychedelia, and experimental music. If you like any of these your mind will be blown by the store. It also helpfully provides labels on the ultra-obscure CDs explaining what they sound like. This store is of such high caliber that it's comparable to "Other Music" in Greenwich Village, New York City, which is not an easy thing to accomplish. Both Aquarius and Other Music sell things mail order from their websites. The website of Aquarius has copies of the explanatory notes that are on their CDs. I found out about bands that I didn't know that much about but that are very popular in the revival of "La Krautoma", as Amon Düül II once referred to it as. These bands would be "Magma", "Van Der Graaf", and "Franco Battiato", although I may be partial because that's the album I bought there. "Hawkwind" appeared there too, but the jury is still out on that one. Wish I could have gotten the Greek Psychedelic album that was next to Battiato, but limited budgets do figure into these things.

Last but certainly not least is the Valencia branch of"Good Vibrations", the famous and original San Francisco sex shop that has an excellent catalog and is responsible for the "Good Vibrations Guide to Getting it On" and various other books available every where (even in chain bookstores!). The good vibrations store has products that they themselves have designed and had manufactured. HIghly recommended for the sex positive and sex adventuress.

Leaving Valencia, City Lights books was confirmed yet again as one of the best, if not the best, over all bookstore in San Francisco. Some of the bookstores, like the anarchist collectives and the Modern Times collective, and other specialized shops may have deeper selections, but City Lights on the whole has the best cross section of fiction and non-fiction around. Maybe Moe's beats them for non-radical non fiction on things like political science, but I don't think any stores hold a candle to the fiction section of City Lights.

Before going to City Lights I violated a long standing taboo by going to :"Vesuvius", the bar directly next to City Lights that hasn't totally been taken over by tourist oriented Beat nostalgia and still has quite a bit of character. Ordered a rum and coke, very strange because I never drink alone, and try not to drink much at all. The drink was very good and very well made, with a lime slice included. I pretty much quaffed it down because it was so smooth. This lead to being slightly intoxicated in City Lights. That was interesting, but it didn't have any negative consequences. I returned to sobriety standing in the non-fiction section in the basement kind of realizing that I had been acting a little strangely in the store.

Then to complete the whole thing I went to the Cafe Trieste, another beat haunt that has its' own flair, that's pretty much just a coffee shop instead of a Beat tourism cash cow. Nice ambience, but the playing out loud Italian crooners somewhat took away from it. But that's what makes it and places like it authentic; the Beats discovered this interesting Italian neighborhood of North Beach and met, talked, wrote, in places that were already existent and that served the Italian population of the neighborhood.

Finally, there was the debacle of walking from the Mission to Golden Gate Park in hopes of seeing the de Young museum, which for some reason can afford a complete redo of its architecture but can't afford to stay open beyond 5:15 monday through Thursday. I saw quite a lot of San Francisco, most of which I had seen before when I walked from downtown to the Haight by the same route, but my legs hated me for it, and still hate me for it even though it's been two days since the walk. But I'm glad that I walked the trail on the Panhandle, which was new to me, then at least walked far enough into Golden Gate Park to see the de Young museum, which was unfortunately very close to closing for the day. The park is about as big as Central park. Out of the park and down one street to the Haight, or Haight Ashbury as you might know it as, and did nothing but get some inexpensive Mexican food and get out of there.

The Haight has come to represent the ultimate worst in psychedelic hippy culture. All the trashiest, "Let's get high, man!", unintelligent, unconscious, stoner culture has glommed onto the place, making it vomit inducing even though it was the place back in the day. A good sign though was that there appeared to be a lot of collectively run businesses manifesting there. Now, to compare with the Haight, the city of Mt. Shasta way north of San Francisco could be a model of how psychedelic businesses could be integrated into the fabric of a neighborhood without reducing the culture. Mt. Shasta city is small but the atmosphere is completely electric, you can almost feel it in the air. Mt. Shasta +Haight would = something nice.

That about covers it. May write some more about other stuff later but this appears to be the core of the great California experience.

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