Friday, October 29, 2010

California Dreamin' – Fabulous Freebies in 'Frisco

Books fly near City Lights Bookstore
San Francisco is one of the few cities that charges admission (If you access the city via the Golden Gate Bridge, the charge is $6.), but the admission price is worth it because there are so many fascinating, free things to see all over town.
Take time traveling for example. David and I traveled back to the 1950s Beat Generation by going to the City Lights Booksellers and Publishers at 261 Columbus Avenue. Founded by one of the early Beat poets, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in 1953, the bookstore originally served as a meeting place for intellectuals and writers.
One frequent visitor, Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road, is now on the sidewalk in a dedication to the iconoclastic writer. If Kerouac visited the store today, the man who is considered by many to be the inspiration for the Hippie movement of the '60s, would be delighted that the character of his old haunt remains intact.
Wander through the rooms where book “walls” create the corridors and read a few of the signs. Sit at one of the tables. If you concentrate really hard, you can almost hear William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg trading ideas with Kerouac and Ferlinghetti.

Even if you can't imagine the old poets' voices, you can still enjoy the ambience created so long ago because this bookstore still caters to writers and intellectuals with discussions and book launches—all free and open to the public.

It's no wonder City Lights was declared a literary landmark by the Friends of Libraries in 1992. It's funky, opinionated, and delightfully different from the traditional, mass-produced chain bookstores found in every mall in America. Oh, and it also stocks an excellent and eclectic range of books for sale.  We loved it.
Finished with time traveling, we decided to visit two other countries next and Little Italy was first on the list. This enclave tries to remain incognito—it's not marked on any maps or listed in any guidebooks—but when David and I strolled up the street looking for a restaurant, we discovered lots of shops selling gelato or pasta and cafe tables dotting the sidewalk.
After lunch, we used our bus passes to ride the short distance to Chinatown where the crowded sidewalks surely mirror the hordes in China itself. The throng of people outside the stores, though, is nothing compared to the sea of striking items found inside. Seemingly endless tables hold bins of shark fins, sea cucumbers, octopus and at least twenty varieties of mushrooms in all shapes and sizes—plus hundreds of items we could not identify.

We wandered for hours snapping photos, calling to one another to come and see this unbelievable item that was only surpassed when we got to the next store and saw an even more amazing item.

At dusk, we finally finished our “free day" and dragged ourselves back to the Lombard Inn. But the sounds, sights and smells of Chinatown, along with the memories of the City Lights Bookstore, and the taste of gelato that was almost as good as that little corner place in Rome, lingered long into the night.

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