HOWL-ing in San Franciso…

Had a really good trip in California to see my identical twin sister (and yes, we really do look like each other). We met up in San Francisco – what a great city! I have been there several times, but as I had done my homework prior to visiting, this was a very different trip as I was more aware of the history of the city, and the various landmarks. (I highly recommend researching the place to where you are going to get the most out of your trip. It makes a *huge* difference (or at least, it does for me). )

I had emailed my sis and requested that we visit two places during my hours in SF: the first was the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral, and the second was a visit to the City Lights bookstore. Sis was very open to this, and so off we went walking all over the city.

Living in the South Plains of West Texas, I am more acquainted with flat landscape so it was very different to have to lean forward to climb the steep streets of SF – and what a view you had at the top! Definitely worth the hike.

So – Grace Cathedral’s labyrinth …

This is outside the actual building so is available all the time, 24 hours a day (I would think), and is completely free. It’s a labyrinth (or sort of maze) which is created in the concrete floor and follows the template of the original labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France. It’s an ancient tradition (12th century or so), and is an excellent escape from the stimulus of a large city as when I was walking the labyrinth, it’s remarkably calming and meditative and I found myself concentrating inwardly and ignoring the racket of the city that surrounded us. Absolutely loved it and will be looking for other labyrinths now when I travel.

(A labyrinth is a meditative walk through a predetermined pattern on the floor; it looks complicated, but there is only one way into the center of the labyrinth and one way out. It is not a puzzle (like a maze), but more contemplative. You do it slowly and with purpose, and it’s really nice.)

So, after the labyrinth (which didn’t take that long to complete but whose effects lasted for ages), we tooled off down the streets to find the famous City Lights bookstore , the home of the original Beat Poets and the Ground Zero of an important First Amendment court case back in the 1950’s. (More on that later.)

It’s in an unassuming building which is tricky to spot at first as it blends in with the other shops and restaurants around. However, once inside, it’s another labyrinth (!), but this time filled with books of all descriptions. The rooms were packed to the rafters with new books, and although I didn’t really get the details of the organizational system they used, it was clear enough that both fiction and non-fiction were on separate floors.

 My sister is as much of a bookworm as I am, and so we spent some pleasant time walking around looking at the many books, and being ensconced in all that literary loveliness. It’s hard to find a nicer place to be than a place filled with books, sometimes, I find. So, seeing as I am a big fan of independent bookstores, I ended up buying a book (naturellement) and postcards. (Well, we were in the Ground Zero of Beat Poetry et al.)

So – as to why the City Lights bookstore is an important fixture in books and first amendment rights: in 1956, the bookstore owners (through their newly established publishing arm) published (in its entirety) “Howl”, the long poetry work by Allen Ginsberg. As this was the tail end of the 1950’s, this publication caused a stir mentioning (as it does) homosexuality and other controversial (at the time) topics. Thus, the bookstore’s publishing imprint was charged with obscenity, and the trial that followed drew widespread attention to the Beat Poets, the book store and to alternative culture,  and established an important legal precedent for “publishing controversial work with redeeming social importance.”

Anyway, a fun time to spread a few hours (and a few dollars) in San Francisco. A cup of tea was in order after that, and then back to the small Utopia where my sister lives for the rest of the weekend. This was where I met this little guy:

A very sweet little dog whose nickname is “MonkeyLamb” as he has the eyes of a monkey and the fur of a lamb. 🙂

Fun times!

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