Thursday, October 12, 2006

HARROWING tour, week 5: San Francisco/Berkeley

Oh, I was working it this week. Hard. The Northern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show in Oakland. Three formal booksignings, a bunch of drive-bys, an alumni reception at Berkeley. Reviewers, booksellers, book club leaders, aspiring writers. I suppose I could have done more, even in Bay Area traffic, but not by much.

But this week was also about writing, and life, and that weird Twlight Zone between the two.

And I took a couple of walks along the edge, because, you know, that’s my job.

And the edge is what my next novel, THE TRAVELLER’S TALE, is all about, and San Francisco, though far from the setting of TRAVELLER, will inform it on every page.

I am all too familiar with this city’s precipices.

There’s Golden Gate Park, of course, otherwise known as Wonderland. Walk a couple of miles, or even a couple of blocks, and you will inevitably slip down one rabbit hole or another. It might be the contact high from the clouds of green smoke wafting from every other dreadlocked spacy teenager or maybe the sight of that creek that flows inexplicably upstream to the lagoon, or the blinding Victorian whiteness of the newly restored Conservatory of Flowers, with its vulvic tropical treasures, or the pollen from those sweet tiny daisies that are such an imprint from my childhood (stoned longhaired girls cooing over my blonde hair and putting daisy chains around my neck…)

This weekend the whole park was taken over by a Bluegrass Festival to rival Woodstock, complete with mud from the latest downpour (the weather, as usual, went from typhoon to heatwave to autumn gorgeous to pea soup fog, in all of four days). My brother and best friend from college and I raced over after my last convention event on Sunday, a half hour hike into the Park (ah, yes, and this is why San Francisco is such a fabulous city for asses and thighs – the constant uphill walks…)

There were five stages in different groves of the park, each with a different unbelievably brilliant act, plus buskers in every available space in between. There were fans from as far as Canada and Alaska and Berlin.

We got there just in time for Richard Thompson, truly one of the most transcendent musicians I’ve seen in a long, long time. Rolling Stone has called him one of the 20 greatest guitar players of all time, and that’s no lie. It was just him, on acoustic guitar, and I swear you could hear three to five instruments at any given moment, plus a voice from some Irish version of Heaven.

Then racing to another stage to see Emmylou Harris and her band, sitting on a bed of Eucalyptus leaves, one of my favorite scents on the planet…

These events aren’t easy. It’s a hike, and it’s cold, and muddy, and God help you if you actually have to use one of the privies. But that’s all part of the weird, wild experience of it – that no sane person would really put themselves through it, and yet you do, and it’s unforgettable (It all becomes clear, why we all lived in those huge thrift store coats of black cashmere – they were sleeping bag and picnic blanket and concert seating and love nest and body armor, all rolled into one heavy indispensable garment….)

We ate Mexican Food Of The Gods, and danced, and sang along, and watched a sprite of a woman carve incredible designs into leather on the grass in front of us, and I think a skeletal, clearly diseased man might have died in a lawn chair a few rows over….

San Francisco.

Madness, clearly. But divine madness.

(Tomorrow, the Haight...)

1 comment:

JT Ellison said...

I feel like I'm there. Great run down. Can't wait for the Haight...