At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


On Monday evening, while it was still light outside, the fog enrobed the city with a cloak of invisibility. From Polk Street the tops of Nob Hill was where the world ended, the buildings that one knew to be there were quite erased by mist. Less than ten minutes later the reverse was true.
I wandered across the hill and down through Chinatown in silence for the most part, till I came to Waverly, where the happy chatter of tourists speculating about the Szechuanese restaurant that had magically appeared before them broke the reverie. Given that Chinatown was founded by the Cantonese, and serves as the service district and social centre for people of primarily their language, you can understand that the French (the tourists) and Szechuanese (the restaurant) are equally foreign there.

But the Cantonese put up with outsiders gracefully.
They're quite fascinated by other people.
Even weirdoes like Szechuanese.

A few blocks later I walked into the cigar bar on Pine Street. Which is the only place in San Francisco where one can smoke indoors.

Often it's a zoo at that time. Out-of-towners and locals alike yelling animatedly at one of the screens as the big spandex-covered rears of professional football players perform a gay fandango for a home-town crowd, or baseball players swing wood at flying objects before running quadrangularely.
Businessmen from points east boast about their favourite roll of dead leaves, programmers make snarky comments, and strange fish gulp happily of the sooty air.
Evolution has slowed down there.

Sometimes there are pipesmokers on the premises.

Not very often, as we aren't into spectator sports, and would actually prefer a quiet place where we could read the newspaper, for instance the Frankfurter Algemeine or the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, while we contemplatively puff our pipes and munch a red-bean pastry. Perhaps with a tall glass of hot yin yeung. Brought to our table by a bright and intelligent mathematical genius who is not blonde.
Yes, the yin yeung is heung heung gwat gwat. Precisely as we like it.

[Yin yeung: Mandarin ducks (鴛鴦), also the name for a mixture of coffee, tea, and condensed milk (lin naai 煉奶) popular in Hong Kong and Chinatown. Heung heung gwat gwat: Fragrant fragrant slickety slick (香香滑滑), as all hot beverages should be. Really, I do not know WHY everyone is drinking that Starbucks crap. And non-fat soymilk decaffeinated ventis are strictly for the gwailos.]

There used to be more bakeries and coffee shops in Chinatown. Their number has reduced over the past several years, but you can get that nasty bubble tea muck all over the place now. Finding a decent pastry at eight in the evening is impossible.
As I do with nearly everything else, I blame tourists, republicans, vegans, and anti-smokers for this sad state of affairs.

There are no Chinese bakeries or coffee shops between Powell Street and Polk Street. Which is very sad.

Having a favourite coffee shop where one can sit for hours reading and smoking, or, if one is a young person, doing one's trigonometry homework while getting swacked to the gills on caffeinated beverages, is one of the great joys in life. The over-priced steamcoffee joints with WiFi which are so popular with yuppies, or the Italian places in North Beach which are infested with tourists and hipsters, just don't suffice. One needs a roomy space, with a selection of cheap eaties, and bright lights for reading. No loud music, no jukebox or sound system, no poetry readings or blaring headphones allowed.
An establishment, in other words, precisely like the two or three places in Chinatown where adults hang out for a while before going home. They close at six or seven.

The local café should be the neighborhood living room.

Not a nest of East-Coast yuppie WiFi vipers.

Or alcoholic sportsfans.

Oh, and smoking should be allowed, but I'm willing to compromise.
I'll gladly sit out on a terrace in the fog wearing a sweater.
Foreign newspapers are hard to find now anyway.
Except for the Wall Street Journal.
Which I do not read.

Smoking around children doing homework and elderly gentlemen reading newspapers has been illegal in California since 1998, and soy milk contributes mightily to horrid karma. That's why everyone in that smarmy Seattle-type coffee shop looks sour and pallid.
The cigar bar is as good a place to visit for a smoke as any, and on nights when the shiny pants models of professional sports aren't performing their crypto-erotic pirouettes, it can be pleasantly peaceful there. Especially later, after the suburbanites leave.
The fog will swirl and eddy outside on Pine Street, happy diners from Belden Alley nearby will wander in for a post-prandial smoke, and young ladies will take one sniff of the place before whining "it's too smelly!", and pulling their gentlemen friends away from the door.

I had three bowls of flake, and strolled back over the hill in darkness.
The music had not been too loud, no one misbehaved.

Up near Grace Cathedral I lit a fourth bowl.
Nob Hill can be beautiful at night.
It's a very private place.

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