We are here, here being City Lights Bookstore

Yesterday was exhausting in all of the best possible ways. It was just me and my mom, though having my siblings along would also have been fun. We decided to hit North Beach because that is where the Italian section of the city is and that is where City Lights Bookstore is, but that all sort of comes a bit later in this post. This post really begins at Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture.

Our intention was to be dropped off somewhere near Fisherman’s Wharf, but we saw a sign on the way that read something about an Italian American Museum. My mom had been telling me there was a museum. I wanted to check it out, but the sign was small and it was a bit hard to tell that Fort Mason was anything but a giant series of warehouses on a pier that jutted out into the bay. We had to check it out, so we explored and found that the warehouses did in fact contain some pretty cool cultural things that included the Italian American Museum, an art space that features works by Italian American artists and offers cultural events such as lectures and Italian classes. If that wasn’t enough, next door was the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Bookstore, where I scored books on wet felting, something I’ve dabbled in and want to explore further, and for my mom there was a wonderful art supply store that carried all the paints she uses for her work.

That was the first part of our day. We had a great bit of lunch at the Goody Café, which is adjacent to the library bookstore. After lunch we made the long haul by foot to Columbus Ave. and then all the way down following the lampposts painted with the colors of the Italian flag. On the way, I saw a trolley, the first an only trolley I’ve seen while here, though I have ridden quite a few busses. My mother wanted to show me the Italian part of town, because she knew I’d love seeing it and she knew I’d want to see City Lights Bookstore, which is right there as well. We walked a long way. We were pretty beat by the time we reached the Italian section. We stopped at Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Café for an espresso and a short rest before moving on to the candy shop and the deli where my mom bought salami for sandwiches we ate later that night.

The last stop was City Lights Bookstore, the place I couldn’t wait to see, though by then I’d blown my book budget at the other three bookstores I’d already been to in my jaunts around the city with my mom and sister. Really, the store came upon us more than we came upon it, and there was a man in a white beard standing casually out front kind of chuckling at us as we realized we were there. “This is it,” my mom said. “Oh, this is it,” I said. “This is it,” the man said. In my exhausted, overwhelmed delirium, I knew on some level I recognized the man, but in that moment I admit it didn’t register that it was Lawrence Ferlinghetti talking to me. I said to him, “This is all there has to be.” He sort of chuckled and we walked into the store. Inside, I was still overwhelmed. I didn’t know where to begin, especially with the vast poetry collection upstairs. Ultimately, in a relatively short amount of time, I found a new collection of poems by Diane di Prima. I knew I’d likely never find it anywhere else, and I thought it fitting that I buy her book of new poems at City Lights, so I did and that was our day, exhausting, fun, even a brief moment with Ferlinghetti. I won’t soon forget any of it.

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