Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Whenever I go somewhere new, I find myself creating mental maps of the place, both unconsciously (because I love maps, and it's instinctive) and deliberately (because it helps me get about). Another kind of map is a kind of map-plan which lays out the things I want to do in the order I want to do them. Being in San Francisco for only a few days means I have to do this quite carefully, observing the nearest points across the map and across the city and watch for ways to tighten the thread of my movements without the thread become tangled. Does that make sense? Perhaps not.

I had it in mind all week that one of the first things I would do in SF is go to the Museum of Modern Art, and funnily enough it was one of the first buildings I passed, getting a cab from the Caltrain station to my hotel that first evening. Then, somehow, getting excited about the things to do and the great advice that various friends have given me, I left it off all my maps and forgot to do it. Today I got up lateish and decided to jump on the Bart over to Montgomery and walk up through Chinatown to North Beach, specifically so I could go to City Lights and stop by at Vesuvio, which was recommended to me by both Dave and Dustin.

Getting to Montgomery, I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten all about SFMOMA, but remembered that it was close by so tracked back and found it. I'm really glad I did. I didn't pay to go into the Picasso and American Art exhibition, and was disappointed to find that the photography work was out of bounds today, but I did spend a calming hour and a half walking through the cool, white curved corridors of the building, admiring the paintings. Seeing some was a revelation - Jasper Johns' Flag (below) occupies the same place in my subconscious as Kerouac's On The Road, a vital, instructive work which informed the tap-tap progression of my interests. Less pretentiously, I was about 14 when I discovered both the beats and the pop art painters, and both blew my mind.
Best of all in the museum, though, was the magnificent exhibition of paintings by Brice Marden, which took in his pavement style slabs of colour, more refined flag-style triptychs, his stunning Cold Mountain squiggles and pages from his notebooks, which were more jagged and erratic. The Cold Mountain paintings, and his amazing Study for the Muses (below) were the highlight. I spent about quarter of an hour following the lines, falling into a reverie. When I was little, besides drawing maps, I liked drawing mazes, and watching the undulating curves of his work reminded me of the process of creating them.

Finished there, I walked up to City Lights. Crossing the door into the bookshop felt stupidly significant, like a step I was always going to make and finally did, which I suppose, in fact, is true. I went up to the poetry room and stood there in the silence, grinning, then went and touched all the books I read when I was a teenager - Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Faulkner, Kerouac, Wolfe, Hunter Thompson, Steinbeck, Burroughs.

I smiled when I saw a copy of David Berman's Actual Air out on the recommendations table, and thought of one his simpler lines - "half hours on earth / what are they worth? / I dunno". And I felt like I had a slightly better idea, now.

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