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Cave a Jazz, Paris

 

San Francisco—1 April, 2014 ... It's been a long time since anyone has mentioned Mr. San Francisco. That used to be Herb Caen, I believe, but it has been seventeen years now since he died. For awhile after he died, when some difficult issue arose, people used to ask, "What would Herb think?" But these days, I think the response would be, "Who the fuck's Herb?" The younger generation is not big on respect and even shorter on memory, unless you are talking semiconductor memory in hand-held devices. But let us be frank. "Mr. San Francisco" is just a model of what a good San Franciscan might be. There is nothing absolute about it, and I think Caen even pooh-poohed the idea that he was Mr. San Francisco. But models can serve a purpose. They can show what might be considered good or desirable behavior or character, and they provide some notion of what is truly bad or deplorable. In short, they have usefulness. So it is an interesting question to ask: Who or what is the model today in San Francisco? And what are his—or maybe we had better say her too—attributes?

Shanghai—August 17, 2010 ...

Gu p shān h zi ...

(The) country (is) broken, mountains (and) rivers remain ...

(D Fǔ)

Qiān shān niǎo fēi ju ...

Thousands (of) mountains, birds fly not at all ...

Lǎo de shīrn, old Chinese poets, word paintings. But where are the new ones? 

De la musique avant tout chose ...

Shanghai—May 16, 2010 ... After I arrived back in Shanghai in early January. Daytime temperatures were down around freezing, nigh time temperatures dipped lower. My life as a "refugee" was not quite over. For two weeks I lived at "Captain International Youth Hostel" on Yan An between the Bund and the Old Chinese City in Shanghai. I picked it because its location was ideal for finding an apartment in the Old Chinese City, where I had lived before. It had been four months since I had left Shanghai, largely because of a visa problem. The first thing I noticed heading south on Sichuan, then west on Fangbang to the Bank of China, was that the pace of construction had not abated. As before, I found myself stepping over broken concrete where sidewalks were being replaced and skirting piles of construction materials and staring up at the scaffolding on buildings that were either rising out of nothing or being remodeled or given a face-lift. "Expo 2010" was coming and the Chinese, always conscious of "face," wanted to present a good one....

Shanghai—March 28, 2010 ... After three months on the streets of Paris, I became a refugee on the run. I went here, I went there, calling no place home. I was alive, however, and ever busy devising the next step. Strange! I must have thought there was a future. I went to Spain again to visit my daughter for a few weeks, then I went back to Paris for a day to move some of my stuff to a cheaper locker on rue Cardinet. Lockers in Paris are not cheap. The cheaper one now costs 64 euros per month, down from 90. But there wasn't a good alternative; it was too expensive to move my stuff to another city. The airlines are charging an arm and a leg for everything. Then I flew to San Francisco. Or actually I flew to Dublin, then to Chicago, then to San Francisco. These days on economy class it is nearly impossible to get a direct flight. Still, I thought when I booked my flight, one could chose one's airline. I wanted very much to avoid United Airlines, which was once a great airline, I believe, but has ceased to be in recent times. They have cut everything that was once considered good service and developed an attitude to match....

Paris—December 27 , 2009... Having been kicked, insulted—called a "bitch" for some reason, rather than a bastard—and robbed by the Arab guys in Pigalle, I decided it was time for a break. I took the night train from Gare Austerlitz in Paris to Latour de Carol in southern France. My daughter picked me up and we crossed the border into Spain. In Puigcerda near the border and in the Pyreness Mountains I relaxed for a few weeks, walked around the lake, watching the leaves turn yellow and brown, then fall off the trees. The colors were as beautiful as fire at night but also depressing. It was the season of dying. I returned to Paris only partly refreshed. On my first night out on the street again there were five incidents. Four were minor, such as blocking my way on the center island of rues Clichy and Rochechouart Two incidents involved African guys, which is the first time anywhere I have ever had problems with Africans. I got around them but it wasn't easy....

Paris—October 31, 2009... "You At 5 o'clock in the morning the rats come out. At 6 the pigeons drop from the trees and the roofs of buildings and the rats go back into the shrubbery of the center island of Boulevard Clichy. It is the pigeons' turn to to pick over the garbage. At 7 the city workers show up for cleanup. By 8 the area has been picked over in various ways and a few tourists show up out of nowhere. It will be hours before the sex shops open for business but the day has begun. How do I know all this? I am hanging out there every other day—or should I say night?—as a cost-saving measure. I can only afford to stay in a hostel every other day. At least I am in Montmartre, a nice part of Paris, once frequented by artists and now, with the Moulin Rouge just up the street, coveted by tourists. I don't know how long this will go on. "Business," I read, has begun to recover. Buy my business has not....

Paris—September 27, 2009... "You have a wonderful resume," she said. "Your teaching demonstration was the best I've seen; it was really vivid. But," she added, "you're too old." She was the young Chinese girl who was interviewing me for a job teaching English. She had been impressed by the masters and doctorate degrees from Stanford University in a way that I no longer was; and she noted that I had not just the TESOL teaching certificate but the "advanced" one. Many of the teachers they hire don't have the teaching certificate—it's not a "fixed" requirement—and some don't even have four-year college degree. Mei you wenti, not a problem, so it seems, if you're under 30 and female. "I wonder what Lao Zi would think?" I asked. "Huh?" she asked. "Nothing," I said....

Shanghai—July 17, 2009... When the cockroaches in New York City heard about Jesus Day(1) in Texas, they declared Bush Day in the sewers of Manhattan.... Bush is out of office but the Bushmen are still there, dreaming up the next war and the funding scheme that will benefit their business associates.... If you were robbed on the street and you knew who did it, would you not go to the police to report the crime? In politics the robbery is considered to be "water under the bridge"—unrecoverable. Bu hao, not good! Why not go after the real estate industry and its accessories, the assessors? Simple answer: They are the biggest contributors to political campaign funds.... Cheney the sportsman? Seventy pen-raised pheasants left dead on the ground on a single day—beaks in the dust, eyes glazed, buck-shot broken legs and wings, drops of blood on downy feathers, beauty destroyed—Cheney the killer....

Shanghai—June 14 , 2009... Xing Xing comes by today. She wants help with her visa paperwork for Paris. She is a first-year university student, and like a lot of university students, wants to visit that great city in the Summer when she is out of school. Also, Paris and Shanghai are officially sister cities; they have a connection. This does not interest her so much as it does me. I am always looking for connections, anything that links one thing to another and makes more sense of them. And did I mention that both Shanghai and Paris are officially sister cities of San Francisco? That turns me on because these are some of my favorite places on earth. But back to Xing Xing and her trip. She lamented that Paris is so expensive. I've got the same gripe these days because I'm living in Shanghai on the Yuan, and it doesn't buy much in Paris, or anywhere in Europe or the United States, for that matter....

Shanghai—May 1 , 2009... "The girls?" I asked. It was Monday afternoon. I was sitting at a booth at a "coffee bar" on Hangkou Lu (road) near the Bund in Shanghai practicing Chinese with Xiao Ping, a waiter there. As a young woman walked towards the fancy doors at the rear, he casually remarked, "The girls are starting to come in." We were talking about the word for culture, wenhua in Chinese. I guess the girls were part of that. Actually, I was not surprised. One of the street pimps had pointed out the place a few days earlier and I had put it on my list of curiosities. Xiao Ping is 23 and has been in Shanghai for two years. But he says he hasn't seen much of it. He works seven days a week, 12 hours a day. "Sometimes I smile, sometimes I cry," he says. I ask him if he has a girl friend. He says he has many. But then I realize he doesn't mean the same thing by girlfriend that I do. He says his girlfriends are the girls he went to school with back in his home town.

Shanghai—April 16 , 2009... It was a very tiring day of travel: San Francisco to Beijing, then Beijing to Shanghai. Security was even worse than usual. Because I bought my tickets at the last minute, I was targeted by airport security. I guess terrorists also buy their tickets at the last minute. They took everything out of my carry-on luggage and confiscated the cork screw I had bought in San Francisco. The last time it was my Swiss army knife, which I had had for twenty years and which had, among its many useful tools, a cork screw. I could I get a new cork screw pretty easily but the Swiss army knife was beyond my means these days. "Screw the bastards," I muttered under my breath. "Sir?" one of them turned and asked. "You do good work," I said. I didn't want to make things worse. "Thanks!" he said. In a way it was true. If I had a bomb, they would surely find it. It was just sad that we all had to go throught this.

Shanghai—March 3 , 2009... "You touched me," she screamed. I was standing in the narrow passageway between the door and the bar trying to get out but being blocked by the manager. It was a setup. I had not touched her; she had grabbed my hands and placed them on her. The idea was this: I had had a lap dance with her and now owed the club, named Cabaret, 85 Euros. Times were desperate, I guess. "Ce n'est pas raisonnable," I said I to the manager. "You touched me," she said again like an injured party in a dispute. She was a tall, rather odd-looking black woman. I had gone in for 10 Euros that included a drink to "see the show." There wasn't any. Or I guess she was the show. When she asked me if I would buy her a drink, I said no. When the drink came anyway, I decided there was a problem and got up to leave....

Paris—December 31 , 2008 ... I am sitting at the Royal Custine in Paris. The bar is long and clean; it is well polished. I am not royal but I have begun to feel like a person again. I begin to remember things piece by piece, my mind wandering over the fragmented remains of the last three months. "Ladies, shut up," shouted "Senior Academic Teacher" Blaire Greasly at a group of students laughing in the hall. Blaire was an ex-military guy from Australia and seemed to like his title a lot. He put it on every document he wrote and personally signed it. Unfortunately most of these documents showed up on the desks of the English teachers at Shanghai Jiao Tong University and amounted to new orders or rules and regulations.

Shanghai—July 25, 2008 ... "Teacher, teacher," my students said when they discovered that I did not know how to count in Chinese. The drilling began immediately: Yi, er, san, si, wu, liu, qi, ba, jiu, shi ... I had come to China to teach English at a summer camp in Shanghai. I needed a break from Paris, I needed to get away from the "girls" in Pigalle. Shanghai seemed like a fine escape. There would be fewer language problems in Shanghai, as my knowledge of Chinese was extremely limited, unlike my knowledge of French, which always seemed to be getting me in trouble....

Paris—8 Juin 2008 ... "Don't say I'm nice," she said angrily, then looked away. I said I meant it. She had just told me how things worked at the Le X-Oh. It was one of those small girly places off the main drag in Pigalle. I liked this one better than the others. There were more "girls" and it was friendlier. You could buy a drink and talk, and there wasn't the pressure to go in the back for "sex." She had been working the trade for eight years, she said. She rotated between London and Paris: six months in London, where she was from, then six months in Paris. Her name was Somali. She was a British citizen of African descent. She was actually promoting her friend to me, who did not speak English. She told me the prices and informed me that her friend would go home with me if I wanted. "How much?" I asked....

San Francisco—January 31, 2008 ... It was Friday. I got off BART at Powell & Market and walked a block up to Ellis, then over to Les Joulins Jazz Bistro. At the far end of the long bar stood Reuben, the manager. He looked exhausted. The cause? Alfie Javier Almonza, his son, born October 9, 2007. The kid is doing well but exhausting both the parents. I told Reuben there was hope: In just a year or two he and his wife would be sleeping again. I knew; I had been through it. Between sets I had a quick conversation with musicians Charles and Valencia, then split for Le Central. I had too many places I wanted to go tonight and was rushing. Why the rush? Maybe I was making up for lost time, lost sleep; too many babes, too many babies....

San Francisco—December 9, 2007 ... So much for Treasure Island RV Park, I decided. I would "camp out" in San Francisco for a week or two and see how it went. It was Friday night and first I hit Les Joulins Jazz Bistro, Cafe Claude, Cafe Bastille, and Enrico's. I must have had the feeling that I was going out of circulation for awhile to hit all those places. Then I headed down to Ocean Beach, which I thought might be a safe starter. Past the Cliff House I wandered down the hill to the big parking lots below. pulled into the second of the two lots, the bigger one. I turned off the engine and just sat for awhile in the dark. There were other vehicles in the lot and a couple of blazing fires out on the beach. I could see figures illuminated by the flames....

South San Francisco—Nobember 28, 2007 ... So it was I said good-bye to Paris for awhile. A few days later, on Halloween, I found myself headed back to San Francisco, or more precisely, South San Francisco. I had given up my apartment in The City when I went to Paris, so was planning to stay in South San Francisco until I found another place or went back to Paris. Since I have an RV that I have practically never used, I thought this would be a good opportunity to put it to use. I rented space in Treasure Island RV Park, not on Treasure Island, which might have been interesting, but in South San Francisco....

Paris—October 26, 2007 "How was Paris?" I could hear Jen's question even before I'm off the plane in San Francisco. She's was picking me up at the airport. I probably should have refused her offer but hadn't. "Paris is Paris," I would say, delaying the answer for awhile. But I can hear the response to that: "Paris is Paris? That's all you've got to say?" "It is a mixture of all the species," I would then say, hoping to delay things, "it is a chaos, a throng where everybody hunts for pleasure and hardly anybody finds it, at least so far as I could see." ...

Paris—October 7 , 2007 I may have eaten the worst meal in my life the other day but I'll get back to that. On Wednesday last week I decided to go visit a couple of those famous Paris restaurants. I was tired of reading about them or having people tell me about them and having to say, "No, I've never been there." I'd rather say, "Oh, yeah, I know that place. Overrated, in my opinion. Now let me tell you about a little place no one knows about on Rue Saint ..."

Paris—September 20, 2007 Le Royal Custine. It's on the corner of rues Custine, Ramey, and Labat. It's one of those wedge-shaped bars in Paris. Such corners challenge architects and builders. In Paris the results are gems. In San Francisco there is only one that I know of that qualifies as a gem. It is the Coppola Building in North Beach. Know that green-tinged building in need of polish? It was once the home of Caesar's Grill and the Hungry i....

San Francisco—July 1, 2007 Cafe Bastille. I strike up a conversation but there seems to be no real interest. Words are spoken but elicit no exchange. I let it drop. The smell of food, the noise of the kitchen, the colors of the bottles in back of the bar, the polished glasses; on the walls, Piccasso, Toulouse Latrec ... Fullness of the senses but not a word of expression. The void in the middle of the feast. Or the appearance of the feast. Communion withheld....

San Francisco—June 24, 2007 Ya gotta wonder how interested the Homicide Section of the San Francisco Police Department is in solving some of its cases. As I reported a couple of weeks ago, I ran into an execution-style homicide down at Donut World on Market and 6th streets. Donut World is where al the dealers stop at least once a night to get their "fix" of coffee and pastry. As I've said before, make coffee and donuts illegal and they would be the hottest illegal substances sold in the Tenderloin....

San Francisco—June 10, 2007 Friday was a day of stress. It starts with driving over to Balboa High School for the graduation and looking for a parking place. Then waiting with a lot of parents to get into the auditorium. It is cold out. A foggy wind from the ocean chills to the bone. Those who have dressed warmly are okay. The young with hot blood are okay. But those who dressed to show off their bodies are very uncomfortable. A black woman in a silky thin dress is distressed about being kept out. She is muttering to the crowd at large. Then we are let in....

San Francisco—June 1 , 2007 My friend from Paris asked me to pick her up a pack of cigarettes. It was Friday and I was headed downtown. By downtown I mean the Tenderloin, not the financial district. Gazebo Smoke Shop came to my mind. "What brand you want?" I asked. "Gaulois," she said. "Unfiltered."Katrine is not exactly into her health. Truth to tell, she's more into her body and sensations. At least that is the way I read her behavior. Gaulois is that big fat French cigarette that smells like a cigar....

San Francisco—April 12 to May 26, 2007 It is Saturday night and there is not much to do so I drop by Aunt Charlie's down in the Tenderloin for the Saturday night show. It starts about 10 but I usually wait until 11 or so when things have warmed up. It is a drag show that attracts a lot of people, some gay, others, like myself, straight. Everyone is welcome. You can't go to Aunt Charlie's and watch the show without shedding a tear or so for Fennochio's in North Beach, which closed in 1999 after 53 years....

Paris—May 16, 2007 Sarkozy est dedans, Chirac est dehors. Sarkozy is in, Chirac is out. I did not ask the politicos what they thought; I asked musicians. They, after all, are the ones who count. From Christine Flowers, a New York singer living in Paris: "Eeeks ...Sarko!!!! Hmmmm, I wouldn't have voted for him, and as an artist I'm terrified at our prospects, culturally; but like the song goes, 'I Will Survive!'" ...

San Francisco—May 5, 2007 A week ago I passed it by and did not think to shoot a photo. It was a little wilted now but I shot anyway. "It" was a shrine for "Skateboard," the black guy without legs who got hit by a mail truck down in the Tenderloin. I didn't know him but I used to see him occasionally. Now that he was dead, the full story came out. He lost his legs at age 6 in an accident in Oakland. He adapted to a life without legs via the skateboard....

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