San Francisco, CA – Friday 19th August
Oak Street on which we are staying is a busy thoroughfare and the morning traffic is an effective alarm clock. Since we are up and moving, I propose we go in search of a hearty breakfast. A few blocks down hill and around the corner and we find ourselves in a bustling enclave of designer retail outlets and cafes. The pace is slower here. No one is hurrying off to work. Young families with dogs in tow linger outside the bakery.
From across the street I spy a restaurant with the subtitle Comfortable Food.
‘I want to go there.’ I say, pointing at the black and white striped awning.
‘There. Stacks. Comfortable Food. I don’t know what constitutes comfortable food but I want it.’
Phone in hand, Steve proceeds to look up said restaurant. I’m already crossing the road to see if there’s a menu in the window.
‘All American breakfast. Old fashioned hospitality,’ he calls out after me. ‘Waffles, omelettes, pancakes.’
By the time he joins me at the front door a server has emerged with a couple of large laminated menus.
‘Good morning. Where can I seat you guys?’ a young, perky woman asks us.
‘Here looks good,’ I point to the aluminium chairs on the pavement behind me. Menus are placed on the table and she returns with iced water before we’ve managed to read even a quarter of it.
‘Can I get you guys some cawfee to start with? Or a fresh-squeezed juice perhaps? We have a fabulous range of fruit smoothies too’
‘Umm, I’ll have a coffee,’ I say without looking up.
‘I’ll have one too thanks,’ Steve adds.
‘Great. Milk or cream?’ she asks.
‘Cream,’ Steve pipes in before I can say the word milk.
A short stack of two raspberry pancakes, whipped butter already melting served with a jug of maple syrup for me and banana pecan waffles with whipped cream for Steve. Possibly we should have chosen from the something light section instead. Oatmeal, yogurt or fresh fruit somehow don’t leap off a menu in the same way. American breakfasts are often sugar-laden affairs and I prefer not to think about the calorie content when I’m fork deep in fluffy, syrup-laden pancakes.
Coffee is needed to cut through the tooth aching sweetness of this meal. Our standard issue cafeteria mugs rarely are allowed to dip below the halfway mark of caffeinated beverage. Bottomless jugs of drip coffee are the expected level in American cafes and this one doesn’t deviate from that.
Two-thirds through my breakfast, I feel the need for a bathroom break and so step inside the café for the first time. Inside, the ceiling is rimmed with artificial plants. As my eyes accustom to the dark, I see large ceramic urns weighted down under bouquets of flowers. Waiters in stiff white shirts descend on me to help.
‘Bathrooms?’ I enquire and am pointed towards the rear of the restaurant, past several large red columns.
Large groups and noisy families fill the majority of the seats, their tables groaning under plates of half-eaten dishes. I’m grateful for the relative peace we seem to have found outside on the footpath. Upon my return, Steve has thrown in the towel on his breakfast also. I’m informed that our next move from here is one of his most anticipated.
395 Hayes St, San Francisco, CA 94102, USA
TRIP TIME 00:07:41
FARE BREAKDOWN Trip fare 9.61
Driver – Antonio
Although this day may be slotted for art viewing, our brewcation is not taking a back seat. Our first stop is Mikkeller bar in a seedy area known as the Tenderloin. Drug deals and sex workers aside, theatres and dive bars sit side by side and I’m sure it all looks shinier when lit by neon at night. With Uber Antonio dropping us right at the bar’s door, it wasn’t long before Steve has an oatmeal coffee stout in hand. I choose a lingonberry-flavoured sour. Soon enough we have a couple of brews under our belt and it is only a few blocks’ walk to the art.
San Francisco may well be my new favourite city. The weather is nicely temperate; there’s a cool breeze off the water, which means walking around isn’t over heating us. Steve has a tendency to get sweaty easily, which means he’s reluctant to do much walking. I love walking around a new city as it’s such a great way to get to know a place at ground level. The slow pace allows me to peek into stores and eavesdropping is unavoidable. The pavements are dirtier than I’m used to. Lots of chewing gum is stuck to the surface and I feel the need to remove my shoes the moment we step in from outside. It’s summer and I’m wearing sandals so my skin is too close to this filth for my ease.
As a visual artist, the art museum in every town we visit is usually on my list. San Francisco is no different. Steve is trained for this by now. I think he secretly appreciates a respite from the heat and sun as well as a chance to sit where he can. Before we even get to step inside a gallery, we come across two people perched on makeshift stools at a fold out table offering poems for sale.
I can’t resist. After a short conversation, Devon starts tapping away at his vintage typewriter to produce a bespoke poem for Steve and I.
There’s winter left
so so have we, we’ve
traversed meridians, both in our minds and globally, taken to
the air, decided to discover
the new lense(sic) of a new street or two
From Winter Left by Devon Kingsford August 2016
Ten US dollars later, I tuck my personal poem in my notebook and we head through the large glass doors and into the expansive light-filled atrium. With admission tickets purchased, the pressing job is to decide where to begin in the seven levels of galleries.
As both daughters are also studying art, my camera is rarely out of my hand as I snap images and artist details to send to them later. There is so much great American art but one that really connects with me is a piece by the artist Chuck Close. He makes large portrait paintings in which he lays down a unifying grid then adding circles and other shapes of varying colours. This has the effect of pixelating the image and slightly abstracting an otherwise straightforward head portrait. I remember loving his work at The Met in New York City and this was a chance to share it with Steve.
But how can you share art with someone? A person’s response to a piece of art is just that – their response. It is also tied to a particular time and place. If this was the first time I had seen Close’s work, would I even feel moved by it? That’s a question without an answer. It was on a visit to New York five years prior. I can recall seeing the painting in The Met as I entered a contemporary art gallery and it was on a far wall. Initially, it was just a large painting of a man’s face. Only as I walked towards it (or is it more accurate to say pulled towards it?) did the gridded abstraction technique make itself clear. It was a hot summer day in New York City when my then-partner and I decided to spend the bulk of the day in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Central Park to which it abuts. The bright sun was unrelenting with heat radiating off the brick and concrete all around us. So it was that the lush dark green and cool shadows of the park called.
After a slow stroll through the park and a snow cone replete with lurid red flavouring, we joined the throng climbing the steps from Fifth Avenue to enter the museum. Immediately, visitors find themselves in a vast multi-storey foyer, light streaming in, wide arches and dome that, in itself, makes you draw breath. I’m sure I spied Close’s piece just as I had started to reach overload. It’s that point when nothing starts to make a connection and you find yourself walking past more than you stop at.
And make me stop it did. I rushed past the adjoining walls, seeing only the painting in front of me and there I stayed for a long time. Standing, watching, observing others as they barely glanced at this masterpiece. I stood back and I stood close. I didn’t want to leave it but once I did I knew I was done for the day. Nothing else would matter now. How do I share that with another person?
So goodbye to Chuck Close, my tired feet and swollen ankles signalling the end of art appreciation for the day and the start of the evening’s entertainment. Another Uber to our dining establishment is both welcome and needed. A fortuitous meeting the day prior has lead to a masterclass of American west coast wines pre-dinner at the restaurant’s bar.