We had a friend visiting from Chicago, a good friend that we meet a few times a year in the most unlikely places. We met him all over the world, in Madrid and in Venice, in Bucharest and in Germany, in Strasbourg and in Los Angeles. Currently he’s a visiting professor in Chicago and came to visit us in San Francisco for the weekend. He’s a fan of San Francisco and he visited us a few times before. And yesterday after having lunch at the Romanian Cultural Center in Hayward, Florin said he wants to go to Chinatown.
We started in North Beach with a cappuccino at Caffe Greco, one of the best places for coffee in the city. From there we walked to City Lights Bookstore and browsed the shelves a bit while waiting for friends from Santa Cruz to join us. City Lights is an enjoyable little bookstore, a “San Francisco literary landmark”, famous for being the hangout place for the beat poets in the 50s’. From there we took Grant Avenue, the main tourist avenue through Chinatown. Grant is a mixture of cheap souvenir shops – selling everything from slippers and “Escape from Alcatraz” t-shirts to pottery and oversized sculptures of Mao – restaurants, banks, the occasional tea parlor, Chinese markets, clothes stores and any other kind of business you can think of. It’s a crowded street full of color and sounds and smells, burned incense and fish odor at the same time. We entered a small bakery to buy some rice cakes and our friend started chatting up the cute girl at the counter. On the walls they had some pictures of Clinton visiting the place. “Did you kiss president Clinton when he was here?”. The girl started to giggle. “No kiss. Only Monica kiss”. “Who’s Monica? Is she Monica?” and he pointed to a 60 year old lady also behind the counter. The girl started giggling harder and we had to drag our friend out, otherwise he would go on forever. We also stopped at a tea place and bought milk tea with tapioca, a tasty drink that is the latest rage in the Bay Area as I heard on NPR. We walked the eight blocks to the entrance and stopped for a drink at Cafe de la Presse on the corner of Grant and Bush. To our surprise the waiter started to chat with us in Romanian. He was French but he had lived in Bucharest for three years. He had an accent but in general his Romanian was outstanding, way better than my French. We had some wine and chatted about the state of the world and about our future plans and eventually we left and started to look for a place with live music. After entering a few places we ended up at Jazz at Pearl’s in North Beach. I’ve never been there before, I remember we tried once but it was full and they turned us away. This time it wasn’t crowded, after all it was Sunday evening and people had to work the next day. The Johnny Nocturne Band was playing and they sounded very good. There was a lady next to us who was cheering louder than everyone else and later we found out that she was a jazz singer too. The band invited her to play a song with them. During the break we told her we like old jazz and later she sang Honeysuckle Rose, an old song that Cris and I knew. We thought that was very nice of her. We returned home around midnight.