The Pastor's Kids

The Pastor's Kids

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Scandia Bakery

Vivian and Marian Brown
Looking back at the 1970’s in San Francisco, the Scandia Bakery on Powell Street looms large for me. Crowded with small tables which threw its patrons into amenable groups, it served good coffee and an array of delectable pastries and cakes. Most weeks, if I went down town at all, I stopped in at the Scandia. My sisters and I used it as a meeting place, and on one magic occasion, I arrived to find my mother, who had not been in San Francisco in my memory, calmly sitting at one of the little tables.

A Swedish baker and his family owned the coffee shop. (Try as I might, I cannot find any reference to their name on the web.) While you sat drinking coffee, you might hear the pounding and rolling of dough on the balcony above you and smell the sweet and yeasty smells wafting out of the oven. The baker was grey-haired, older; his wife was behind the counter most of the time. Once I arrived to find their daughter, dark-haired and vivacious, holding court over a circle of admirers who filled up the tables in front. Dark-complected Eastern Europeans, they looked incredibly full of life to me.

I had a hard time choosing between my two favorite pastries, a cherry or a prune Danish, lightly glazed with sugar icing. The dough for Danish is similar to puff paste, rolled, folded and interleaved with butter. Making it is hard, heroic work. I didn’t try to make it myself more than once. I understand it comes from Austria, though it became wildly popular in Scandinavia. Wonderful Princess cakes of vanilla sponge, jam, and cream topped with a pale green marzipan frosting, and other cakes and puffs filled with pastry cream, as well as cookies were also served at Scandia.

The place was always full of exotic people. European tourists found it quickly. I loved listening to the many different languages at every crowded table. But there were also the regulars. I remember a well-dressed older woman, in hat and gloves, who I often saw there, or the concierge of a nearby hotel whom I talked to several times. I often saw Marian and Vivian Brown, the San Francisco twins, dressed to the nines and happily talking to people around them.

Tame as it sounds, I have a lot of wild associations with this bakery, partly because it was on Powell Street. The rows of sycamores at the base of the street cast light and shade on fair and foul alike, making it look like a European avenue. Those of us who lived in the city were not deceived, however! The street was just north of the Tenderloin, where many of the city’s most unfortunate lived. On Powell Street in the 1970’s you might walk past a derelict person lying face down in the street or see a wasted person who no longer cared that their rags barely covered them.

Because it is here that the cable car drivers push the cars onto a turntable, then turn them around and catch the cable under the street north, long lines of tourists waiting to go to Fishermans’ Wharf attract street musicians and entertainers. An indelible image for me was a thin, long-legged girl wearing woodsy material dancing in the center of a ruffian gypsy band. Tall dark men with long unkempt hair, brown faces and sinewy limbs, wearing ragged accretions of leather and cloth surrounded her. Wild, enchanted, gypsy fiddles made the music. The girl whirled as though possessed with a joy unequaled in the civilized city. They looked as though they had wandered out of a fairy tale.

Beside the bakery was a bookstore, a deep room infinitely filled with shelves and tables graced with books and stationery. I spent long hours there, sifting through the art books, hunting down new writers and decrying the fact that my favorites weren’t in print. The city changes constantly, but for my first years there a few blocks surrounding the Scandia Bakery was its cultural center.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Lifestyle

We began to use the word “lifestyle” in the early 1970’s mostly as a discussion about choice. I had made a few big choices by then, but was just starting to be able to make money enough for daily choices. What to eat, what to wear, where to live and how to get around. These choices all counted, we thought. In was a matter of citizenship in the world. The civil and political efforts of the past decade had led us to ask ourselves how to vote with our dollars and live responsibly.

Living simply was high on the list. We did not want to live in highly ornate, single-function rooms. We were quite mobile and minimalist, happily moving into apartments with a mattress on the floor and a few dishes, but we had definite quality standards. We thought older things had been crafted better than new ones. We loved natural materials, cotton, wool and linen, and avoided cheap polyester fibers. And we loved folk arts, things crafted by people from around the world which flowed into the Bay Area.

There was a strong sense of egalitarian camaraderie about these values in San Francisco. We had little money, but we were never hungry or homeless, as Patti Smith describes in Just Kids, about living in New York at this time. We always had jobs, places to live and money to spend on food. When our friends ran out of food stamps, they came over for dinner! People traded grass for stuff. Some of it wasn’t very important. Easy come, easy go. Experience ruled.

In scavenging bits and pieces, we gave preference to older things and anything made with wood. At the time you could find sturdy wooden boxes on Grant Street in Chinatown in which china had been packed. We brought them home, stained them and used them as shelves. We absolutely had the redwood burl slab which became a table when set on a stump. It was kind of rickety, so it mostly stood in the corner, covered with plants. David acquired a red Navajo rug which we used for everything. I bought a small knotted pile rug from the Caucasus at the flea market that had been used as a camel bag. I still have it.

When I first went to work in San Francisco in 1970, women were not allowed to wear pants of any kind. (That changed within the year!) The dresses we could afford in stores were awful, so we bought good cotton and sewed our own. Peasant dresses, often. We could buy cotton tee-shirts and jeans, and they became even more valuable as they aged and grew ragged. The handmade jean patches I made were loved. We all felt that we could make better things than we could afford. Friends became accomplished weavers, potters and embroiderers.

The wealth of ethnic restaurants in San Francisco enabled us to eat out a little, but we were also experimenting with all the kinds of cooking we had never done at home. Beef stroganoff, quiche lorraine, shepherd’s pie, eggplant parmigiana and salmon casserole were some of our specialties. I remember how delighted I was to buy abalone in the store (!) and learn to cook it. I baked breads until my Sunset bread recipe book fell apart, and all kinds of cookies and pies. When we could get our hands on a car, we went out to the produce markets on Alemany St. Of course we did entirely without table grapes or iceberg lettuce, part of a boycott on behalf of the United Farm Workers.

We did not want to spend time and money commuting. Since we hardly ever had more than one car, we moved into apartments close to my job. When I took a shift at a newspaper from 3 until 11 p.m., we moved to South San Francisco near the paper and I bought a 10-speed bike to get back and forth late at night. When I got a job in a building near Fisherman’s Wharf, we moved to North Beach. I could then walk to work.

And yes, there were drugs and music. Everyone was exploring, testing. Parties were epic, rock concerts pervasive, often free in the park. David was terribly interested in, even a purveyor, of drugs. Acid, cocaine, grass and hash of many different provenances (all of which he knew), even heroin. I did my last heraldic acid trip on the island of Hawaii in 1977. It was great. It was wonderful. It was enough.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Volkswagen Bus

Nothing is more emblematic of the 1970’s than the Volkswagen bus! I know. We had several Volkswagens, including the proverbial bus. At the time, those of us who came to San Francisco from other places were rolling stones. Everyone was searching, on the move to find information no one else had, out of sight music, the wilder side, land you could own, or maybe, friends and community. The Volkswagen bus made a turtle out of you, your house on your back. You could fill it with your stuff, sleep in it, pick up hitchhikers, even tune it yourself. It was the ultimate backpack for a fluid world.

David and I had thick pieces of foam cut to fit the back of the bus, so we could lay out our sleeping bags in it and be at home anywhere. Taking a hibachi to cook on, we drove up and down the California coast on the weekends, thinking ourselves kings of the road.

No Volkswagen was complete without a set of metric tools and a greasy copy of John Muir’s “How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive.” Drawings carefully demonstrated exactly how to tune the Volkswagen and many other tasks. Not being the mechanical type, I never learned much about the engine, but David (having made friends with a great mechanic named Ernie) did learn to tune ours. He would listen to the purring of the motor, sensitive to all its sounds.

One Christmas we drove the bus down to Baja, hoping for sun and warmth. It was foggy and chill on the Baja beaches, however. And I had to take a plane home to get back to work in time, leaving David to nurse the bus home. The engine on the bus was air-cooled, and a piece of the aluminum foil he had used to try to draw air into the engine got sucked into the pipe. On the way home David drove slowly and stopped often to keep the poor thing from overheating. At least that was the story.

I never had driven much, as I mostly lived in San Francisco and took buses. But when David had a bad car accident and ended up in Crystal Springs Rehabilitation Center in San Mateo, I got my California driver’s license and learned to drive the bus. I liked being up high with not much car in front of you. When David was able, I drove down, picked him up and took him places, reminding him there was life outside.

We had many cars and apartments in the 1970’s. Coming from other parts of the country, we didn’t know how to settle down. There was some philosophy behind our transience, of course. We were trying to see what the basics were, what we did and didn’t need, to live lightly upon the earth. We didn’t collect furniture or anything else. We “borrowed” landscapes and libraries, sat in coffee shops and explored every inch of our city and our world, though we did keep friendships and held down regular jobs. We had acquired the habit of searching and there was always a reason to move.

I didn’t really know I was a rolling stone until I married a native Californian. I’ve now lived in the same place for fifteen years. It puts a different perspective on things to be sure!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Pulled into Nazareth

This year I’m working on a book entitled Pulled into Nazareth, from the first line of “The Weight,” a song generally attributed to Robbie Robertson of The Band. It was first recorded in 1968 on the album Music from Big Pink, one of the albums I listened to obsessively. Full of allusion and cryptic references, the enigmatic lyrics leave themselves open to many interpretations. For me, without putting too fine a point on it, they suggest the stumbling process of individuation, which for myself and some of my siblings, took up the years of the 1970’s.

This great version features the Staples Singers. It isn’t really a matter of the lyrics alone. The music is very exciting and the combination of the lyric suggestions and the music’s blues and wailing against the drums adds up to an emotional experience which might mean something to whatever place you currently find yourself. And that, is what the Seventies were about: finding yourself somewhere you didn’t expect but which is surely (is it not?) helping you along your very own path.

Pulled into Nazareth, was feelin' about half past dead
I just need some place where I can lay my head
“Hey, mister, can you tell me where a man might find a bed?’
He just grinned and shook my hand, "no" was all he said.

Nazareth was at least partly the location of a legendary guitar maker in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, but also the home of a wandering carpenter.

Take a load off, Fanny
Take a load for free
Take a load off, Fanny
And you put the load right on me.

According to Robbie Robertson: “For me it was a combination of Catholicism and gospel music. The story told in the song is about the guilt of relationships, not being able to give what’s being asked of you. Someone is stumbling through life, going from one situation to another, with different characters. In going through these catacombs of experience. you’re trying to do what’s right, but it seems that with all the places you have to go, it’s just not possible. In the song, all this is ‘the load.’”

Titles for books are really interesting. I tried other ones, but kept coming back to this. The song is so well known and has been covered by so many people it can’t help but be recognized. In this book, Line, Marty and Paul have all left home. They all stumble, but their experiences take them deeper into the lives they have been given to lead.

Paul goes to Alaska, determined to find himself in a place none of his family has been. Alaska is the North Country and no mistake. So much is happening there in the Seventies. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 is, at the time, “widely described as the most openhanded and enlightened piece of legislation that has ever dealt with aboriginal people” [John McPhee, Coming into the Country, 1977]. An oil boom brings people to work on a pipeline laid from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in the south, a technological feat. And midway in the decade, high schools begin to be built in the villages which had previously sent their high school age kids off to board under difficult conditions.

After a few dicey adventures, Line’s husband attracts her to Santa Cruz, where he is studying for his doctorate and later teaches in the History of Consciousness department at the newly-formed university. During this time, Allan Chadwick introduces French intensive gardening and is called the “Pied Piper” of the organic gardening movement in California. Line spends much time in his garden established at the university. She has more kids of her own and becomes midwife to others.

Marty, doing administrative work in architecture firms, finds herself at the beginning of a tech revolution. She is introduced to databases and word processing and there are rumors that architects will soon begin doing computer-aided drafting. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Erik continues to dabble in drugs on the one hand and architecture on the other. None of this answers the urgent identity questions Marty continues to pursue on her own, but this cannot be helped.

I look forward to the year of research, discovery and writing!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lightly Held Books

With the preparation of a manuscript, the design of a book cover and a couple of digital uploads, Don and I have become book publishers. Or at least I have. He still has way too much to do with his own film business, but given the turtle-ish speed of the book business, I think I can handle it.

We published a memoir scavenged from the weblog we published from 2002 to 2009 called Living in the Flatlands. We used Amazon’s CreateSpace and an imprint we set up which follows the Lightly Held theme we’ve used for filmmaking. We’ve ordered proof copies, which will arrive in about ten days, but, given Don’s amazing visual sense in designing the book cover, and a CreateSpace template, I expect the result to look like a real book! It’s kind of a trial run, but we didn’t want Flatlands to disappear. The blog came to a natural end upon Jesse growing up and going to college, and our family changing.

Living in the Flatlands will be available as a paperback and also in a Kindle version. I am coming around to self-publishing partly because I have grown to understand the economics of the publishing business. As someone said, “the pie is smaller now.” Any fool can publish, of course, and many do. Marketing and distribution are utterly foreign to me, but it is possible to get your work out and it will just have to take its chances. For Amazon, distribution is partly accomplished by keywords. “The world’s become a big database,” says Don.

I’m well aware of the controversies surrounding Amazon. It does take business from small, local bookstores. But independent bookstores which build on their strengths as community centers are thriving. From my work in the library, I know what best-seller-dom is like. Entertainment! For all those books that the few big publishers don’t want to take a chance on, small publishers step in. Most use print-on-demand technology such as CreateSpace! We certainly appreciated the freedom to put into our book what we wanted. Our ideas are subversive to the corporate culture we are using to get them out.

What this means for So Are You To My Thoughts is not quite certain. I’ve had some interest from agents. A typical response was, “while this sounds like a strong project, I'm afraid it doesn't strike me as a likely fit with me and my particular editorial contacts.” This year I will be working on Book 4 of the series, entitled Pulled Into Nazareth. After finishing it, I am thinking of taking off next year, 2015, to publish the first four books. I would love to have a dedicated editor for them, but it is a lot to ask when there is no financial incentive whatsoever.

As a younger person I longed for certain kinds of books that I usually couldn’t get my hands on. Now, when everything is available yet time is so short, getting people’s attention is difficult. However, I still believe that a book is a Trojan horse. Particularly in a conformist culture, which we are once again becoming. You can still take a book to bed with you and your friends will never know. The ideas in it may change your life.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Our Bodies, Our Lives

Of all the upheavals which happened in people’s personal values in the late 1960’s and 1970’s, none can really compare with the revolution in how we viewed our bodies. When I grew up, discussion of bodies was almost taboo. One’s attention was constantly directed inward, toward inner virtue as opposed to external beauty. We tried to look as nice as we could with our limited circumstances, and cleanliness was certainly next to godliness. But all of our family’s resources were directed toward education and inner value.

Only in the late 1960’s did people begin to take a finely-tuned look at the body instead of ignoring it. In my case, as for others, in The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing’s feminine honesty broke new ground. If she could discuss menstruation, the clitoris, writing the words down in a novel everyone was reading, perhaps we could discuss them with each other. Not that I did. The prohibitions for me were much too strong. But I began to think about myself physically in a different way.

I never owned a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, first published in 1970 by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective to give accurate health and medical information to a broad audience of women, but I think all my friends did. Wilhelm Reich’s phrase “the body is the unconscious” also contributed greatly to this new way of looking at oneself. For if this were true, people were whole, all of one piece. There was no separation between body and soul. The one reflected the other completely.

What followed was a wealth of new ways of thinking, spawning interest in many new and old fields. All of the hippie traveling we did helped, leading people to understand that what we were doing in the West was not the only way. The mind/body connection was explored in physical practices such as yoga, hard and soft martial arts, massage, quigong and meditation. Alternative healing, birthing and dying were all opened to examination and experiment. Food and diet were finally admitted into the health picture.

We had new attitudes about what was attractive, such as natural looking bodies, and people began to understand that emotional weather was part of one’s personal picture as well. People began to sort out what could be cured and what you must live with. Chemical imbalances could now be treated. Handicapped people were helped to achieve their goals. Sexual orientations of all kinds were tested. Everything could be talked about, and generally was!

Line, Marty and Paul live through this change. Each of them is reticent about their own physicality, but they begin to see its importance. Line becomes a nurse, working first in gynecological wards and then in oncology. She studies herbal remedies and practices such as Reiki, and is fully awake to the extraordinary journey people take from birth to death. She becomes a midwife in later years, sharing all that she has learned.

Marty, who has always thought of herself as unattractive, moves into a stronger relationship to her body as she studies tai chi and disciplines her voracious, intellectual mind. She takes photographs which show that consciousness is fully present in the body. Paul, who spends the 1970’s in Alaska, contributes as an educator with an open heart. He marries a French-Canadian woman who insists on treating her early cancer in her own way. Paul also has to deal with his own post-polio syndrome as he gets older.

All of this change was welcome. It complicates things to have so many choices, but also enhances one's ability to give of one's particular gifts. By this time we have come full circle and focus too much on surfaces. We need to get back to an understanding of how much inner values affect our external selves. But time and our ever-renewing culture will probably take care of that.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

With One Hand Waving Free


Yesterday, before lunch, I finished a first draft of With One Hand Waving Free. Unlike last year when I celebrated the end of a draft of Fit Company for Oneself with a fire, a glass of wine and some chestnuts, this year I took a nap in the sun in the hammock! Yes, in October in San Rafael, California, the sun is strong in the middle of the day and, though it has moved far to the south, it falls full on the hammock that is the furniture of our front garden ‘room.’ Sweet sun lies upon me like a human hand, blessing me with its warmth.

The title of this book, from Dylan’s song “Mr. Tambourine Man,” is apt for Line, Marty and Paul. Each of them, in his own way, finds a “diamond sky” to dance beneath, intent on seizing the day and letting tomorrow take care of itself. Indeed it is inherent in their understanding that if you embrace the gifts and needs of the day, tomorrow will follow naturally, resulting in the life you are meant to live.

Line uproots herself from Chicago, taking her small son but leaving her husband who is embroiled in growing violence. She takes a train to San Francisco, where Marty is already living. Marty goes to California to live with a family she met in England, but then takes a clerical job which frees her to read and think as she likes. She falls for an enigmatic young architect whose absences and silences Line distrusts. Paul finishes college, at last brought face to face with the fact that he cannot become a Lutheran pastor as is expected. He takes a teaching job in Fairbanks, Alaska. The end of the book finds Sparky (Line) reunited with her gang in San Francisco when Paul stops briefly on his way.

So now that you know what happens, do you want to read the book? When I read fiction, I go straight to the end to get it over with. Then I am free of the plot and can read to find out what the writer thinks is important, and how the characters embody his or her values, or not. I am reading for values, plain and simple. Needless to say, many books do not stand up to this kind of reading! But that doesn’t stop me. I write for values too.

Robert Pirsig states in Lila: An Inquiry into Morals that the world is nothing but value, that value in fact drives evolution. He asks whether quality is to be found in the subject or the object, and when he realizes that it is in neither, he decides that it is independent of either and the source of both. He states that “without Dynamic Quality an organism cannot grow. But without static quality an organism cannot last. Dynamic liberals and radicals need conservatives to keep them from making a mess of the world through unneeded change. Conservatives also need liberals and radicals to keep them from making a mess of the world through unneeded stagnation [http://robertpirsig.org/MOQSummary.htm].”

This is a big topic to drop into a blog post crowing about finishing the draft of a novel! Nevertheless, in trying to place what my novels are doing in the world I think about it a lot! They are clearly not providing heroes and heroines fighting obvious good and evil. They do not sponsor the received ideas of any nation or creed. They are a sincere attempt to watch my characters muddling through experience based upon my own and that of my friends and relations. Line, Marty and Paul make mistakes, have successes and failures, which are often not understood until much later. In a complex world such as ours, growth is not always in one direction. People grow up, down, around and through.

And it is slow! With a great deal of luck, my characters will be in their fifties before I let go of them. Maybe even older. What does it mean to become whole? To become a real person? These questions open a look into the dynamic values in which I am interested and which I hope that Line, Marty and Paul’s lives embody over time.