Friday, June 11, 2010

North Beach: A Recipe for Happiness?

The annual North Beach Festival is coming up June 19 and 20 and there may be no better ringside seat than one of the neighborhood cafes. The North Beach Chamber of Commerce says that tens of thousands are expected for the weekend. Count on every seat in every cafe to be filled.
About 125 arts and crafts booths, 20 food booths and three stages of live entertainment are on tap for the event, which stretches down Grant Avenue and around Washington Square Park in the heart of North Beach. (If you're driving, the chamber set up validated parking for $3 for the day at the Golden Gate Garage at 250 Clay, between Battery and Drumm streets, with a shuttle departing for North Beach every few minutes. You get a validation stamp at Calzone's restaurant at 430 Columbus. No purchase necessary).
At some point, you'll want to linger at one of the North Beach cafes, which are a main feature in my new North Beach app. (Yes, I know, a shameless plug). There's Caffe Trieste, of course, the best-known of them all because of its beatnik past. Caffe Puccini still attracts some of the old-time Italians left in the neighborhood and its Lucchese roots are showcased with posters of native son Puccini's works on the walls. Everyone's favorite sandwich and people-watching spot, Mario's Bohemian Cigar Store, stands as it has for decades on the corner of Columbus and Union. A young crowd packs Steps of Rome, where flirtatious Italian waiters keep things light and fun. With World Cup matches taking place, this cafe, with its big-screen TVs, will be rocking. There are probably a dozen more cafes around the neighborhood.
Find your own and think of this Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem -- "Recipe for Happiness: Khaborvsk or Anyplace" -- that I heard recited recently on a brilliant sunny day in North Beach. It made me teary, the way something beautiful and true sometimes does. Ferlinghetti, of course, was a co-founder of City Lights bookstore in North Beach and still is seen around the neighborhood. Even though a place called Khaborvsk is alluded to in the title, I like to think the poem was written at one of those well-worn tables in one of North Beach's old cafes:

One grand boulevard with trees
with one grand cafe in sun
with strong black coffee in very small cups.

One not necessarily very beautiful
man or woman who loves you.

One fine day.