Monday, 29 August 2016

A birthday on the bay (48 Crash)

As I lay in my hotel bed I was so overwhelmed with kind and funny birthday messages I didn't even have time to have an existential crisis about my advancing years and diminishing prospects. Friends'n'family had delivered the goods yet again.

What a city to spend your birthday in.

Breakfast was consumed in the Pinecrest and then this blogger headed off for a solo exploration. On the walk to the Jackson Square Historical District I passed Mexican buskers, Falun Gong meditation practitioners, and marvelled at Perreira's prick. More formally known as the Transamerica Pyramid.

It was a Sunday so the primarily business oriented district was pretty quiet. I wandered up for a better look at Chinatown which was certainly livelier.

Garish dim sum restaurants competed for trade with bubblegum machines as mah-jong was played beneath pagodas. There was a live recital of some traditional sounding Chinese songs but most of the elderly Chinese were more engrossed in playing cards on makeshift tables fashioned from cardboard boxes.

Portsmouth Square was the heart of it all. San Francisco's first real city centre in the mid 1800s and named after John Montgomery's ship. Montgomery came ashore here in 1846 and claimed the land for the US.

The Chinese first arrived as sailors during the Gold Rush and then later as labourers after the completion of the transcontinental railroad. They weren't exactly welcomed with open arms. In fact they were subjected to a tide of vicious racial attacks and an 1882 law, the Chinese Exclusion Act, which remains the only law in American history aimed at a single racial group. Though should Trump find himself in the White House that could easily change.

Thankfully it's calmer now and the juxtaposition of this peaceful oasis of China at play with the imposing skyscrapers in the background create a wonderful incongruity.

A circuitous route led me down to North Beach in the hollow between Russian and Telegraph hills. It became a centre of counterculture in 1953 when the City Lights Bookstore was opened by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. It achieved notoriety when Allen Ginsberg's Howl came out in 1957 and the subsequent shitstorm after obscenity charges were levelled.

Leftfield jazz played as I perused their impressive array of Latin, political, and arty tomes. I picked up one that hopefully ticked all three of those boxes. Cuban author Alejo Carpentier's The Kingdom of this World. A 1949 tale of the Haitian revolt told in a magical realist style. I'd looked for it a couple of times in London with no joy.

Next door stands the Vesuvio, a North Beach institution, where Jack Kerouac and Dylan Thomas used to drink. It's a splendid looking building both inside and out. The allure of literary excused alcoholism was too strong so I popped in for a cheeky birthday beer on my own.

Managed to resist the temptation of the Condor Club across the way despite it having an equally impressive claim to fame. It's where, in 1964, a waitress named Carol Doda popped out of her top and kickstarted the 'concept' of topless waitressing. A likely story and one a more intrepid blogger would be brave enough to investigate further.

Back in The Edinburgh Castle I was first to arrive. Explaining it was my birthday the barman gave me one 'on the establishment'. Simon arrived after returning the Jeep to Avis and then Annasivia and Owen. Soon we were chatting and telling filthy jokes. It was good to have the gang together again.

We took an Uber down to the Mission district, grabbed a beer (and, in some cases, banana margaritas) in a cantina, before sitting down for birthday pizza in Berata. The joint was packed on a Sunday night and the first taste of our starters told us why.

I had margarita burata (I went deluxe) and Simon arranged for our server to bring me out a tiramisu with a candle in it. One for each year and the fire department may've been called out. I love tiramisu so it was a really sweet, and much appreciated, touch.

At Doc's Clock (recommended in the New York Times it seems) there was a fairly dreadful comedy karaoke going down. Karajoke? That's not much worse, and way cleaner, than what was coming from the stage.

So we headed to the Tenderloin for lasties. In the Ha-Ra bar a trio of salty old sea dogs knocked out standards with enthusiasm and charm. Their version of Soul Man and a Doobie Brothers tune (whose name none of us could remember) the surprising highlights.

It was 1.30 in the morning when I retired to bed. I may not have been fit to drive a coach load of school kids to the beach but remarkably I wasn't particularly pissed.

Just one of many elements that made it, for me, a truly special birthday.

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