I ALMOST missed the e-mail with the invite to “travel” for a story. My work inbox is a loud mix of music, arts, books press releases and announcements and miscalleaneous musings, so I was happy that the editor pinged me a second time to make sure I’d seen the request to participate.
I haven’t been back to San Francisco now for a couple of years, but I think about the city often. I lived there for a short time in the late 80s and spent much of the 90s visiting friends and colleagues and trying to keep myself familiar with the changes — which were as rapid if not more as those I was experiencing here at home in Los Angeles.
I hadn’t thought about that chapter in a long while. Not deeply. That required that I reach back into old journals (sparse evidence there) and photographs (a little more) to try to recall what it felt like. I told the editor that I wanted to write about ghosts and the names in the address book that don’t correspond with streets and phone numbers any longer. But what triggered precisely where I wanted to go was happening upon a series of photographs on Twitter that depicted Caffe Trieste over the decades. That unlocked something inside me about rituals and how one sees oneself in a place.
From the piece:
“Advancing through the frames, a half hour slipped away. An hour. More. Not until daylight fully faded did I stop myself: what sort of wish — or melancholy — sent me scrolling through scores of other people’s memories? Decades of regulars ringed around small tables, nursing the last swallow of a cappuccino; solo patrons’ eyes focused on middle distance; loose configurations posted just outside the entrance on Vallejo Street in animated conversation — stilled.
It wasn’t simply wistfulness that powered my search. Perhaps it was a shade of self-absorption or hubris, but I realized I was looking for myself. I was, without at first knowing it, hoping against hope to find some ghost of myself — part of this story, too. I was searching for evidence, not just that I had been there, but that it had moved through me.”
From there, I was able to drop down the rabbit hole, shadowing old routes, reacquainting myself with old selves.
What a great experience working with my editor, Claudia La Rocco at SF MOMA’s Open Space. I hope to be able to work with her again. She took great care and was such a wonderful sounding board.
You can read the rest of the piece here.