San Francisco Fifty Years Ago

(Kenneth Rexroth’s complete columns from the San Francisco Examiner)



June 1965

A Silly Plaza Design
War on Poverty at the Local Level
The Spread of Drugs
Escape from Theatrical Orthodoxy
The Demand for Education
Challenge to the City Clergy
California Living at Its Best
Disappointing Spring Opera
Letters from Readers




A Silly Plaza Design

That irrepressible art critic of impeccable taste and patron of Medicean munificence says that anybody who doesn’t like the prize-winning design for the Civic Center Plaza doesn’t show proper respect for the artists and the jury. That’s right. I don’t on both counts.

It is a silly, provincial and vulgarized imitation of a minor movement in avant-garde painting — not landscape architecture — of 50 years ago.

I admire many of those painters still. I was once associated with them and painted that way myself. But I would not have chosen Mondrian, Van Doesberg, Moholy, El Lissitzky to design the shrubbery in my back yard, even when they were at the height of their glory.

The jury undoubtedly wanted to be just as chi-chi and up-to-date as they could be, and the hell with the people of San Francisco. All they revealed is that they are elderly people who think their own youth is still the latest thing.

As a matter of fact, if they wanted to be really thoroughly up-to-date, they should have chosen a plan in which the Sunset Scavengers dumped a load of garbage once a day in the fountain, all the benches were stood on end and covered with rancid honey, small land mines went off when you stepped on them and naked ladies emerged hourly from the ventilators pursued by Buck Rogers and the Phantom.

Don’t worry, 20 years after the junk artists and the pop artists and the op artists are all dead, just such a jury will do precisely that.

A plaza is for people, not for making bad imitations of the last generation’s painting. That principle is called “functionalism” and in fact motivated the very artists being mimicked in concrete and grass. The plaza should be a social center to which people like to come, meet each other, air children and dogs, eat lunch, or even sing folk songs and beat guitars.

The principal problem with our Civic Center is the awful wind. This can be cut down appreciably by carefully oriented planting of hedges and low trees. There should be shade, but only light shade, because heavy shade in San Francisco is almost always cold. There should be fountains. Spouting water, unlike spouting art commissioners, is lovely and soothing.

Maybe when the “revolt of youth” has spread to the nursery schools, picketing babies will force the authorities to permit wading, and that will be dandy.

We have all this right now. Objections to the design of the plaza are largely affectation, however passionate. Give the olive trees time to grow and put in a real waterworks fountain, one that is beautiful to watch because the designer knew how to get the most out of the effects of water; improve the shelter of the hedges by raising them to the north and west of the benches.

The prize-winning design would be an unqualified disaster.

[June 2, 1965] 



War on Poverty at the Local Level

The controversy over the local administration of the poverty program is generating a great deal of heat and not much light. It is necessary to understand the government’s intentions, the reasons for them, the background of previous experiences of this type, the results expected, and the nature of the resistance.

San Francisco is not a typical case. It is probably true that, as a colleague once said, “San Francisco City Hall is riddled with honesty.” It is also true that there are large numbers of highly trained and articulate Negroes and people of Oriental and Latin-American ancestry employed as social workers and in similar positions and on various official as well as watchdog committees. There are plenty of places, amongst them the largest and worst urban and rural poverty areas in the country, where exactly the opposite is true.

Chicago and New York are cities whose governmental structures are saturated with criminality. The same is true of the rural South. Only recently has the rest of the country realized that these redneck politicians are just are just tobacco chewin’, country talkin’ Al Capones. It is obvious that the Negro poor are going to meet with discrimination in the South if their welfare is going to be entrusted to white local politicians . . . or even white liberal southern sociologists.

What few people realize is that the poor in the northern cities are completely alienated from the professional people of their own races whose job it is to deal with them. They consider them Toms, sell-outs to the white power structure . . . “The Man.”

This is far from being universally true. Hundreds of Negro social workers are amongst the most creatively militant members of the civil rights organizations. But the poor don’t know that. They don’t belong to the civil rights organizations. Few of the Negro working class, even, belong to such groups. Even the most dedicated and sympathetic professional is felt to suffer from allrightnikism or White Fever. This is just a fact, and anybody who knows the field knows it, even if he doesn’t think it discreet to tell you — The Man.

Bernard Shaw said that what was wrong with the poor was poverty. How true that is. Higher up the ladder of the upwardly mobile society such feelings, such situations, lead to militancy at best, truculence at the worst. At the bottom they lead to apathy.

The object of the poverty program is not to feed people — welfare does that. In San Francisco the welfare recipient eats better than a common laborer in Russia. Falsely or not, the Russian believe he has a future, the chronically poor American does not.

The object of the poverty program is not to abolish poverty. If that were its purpose it is certainly the most pitiful tokenism.

Its object is to set the poor in motion — to ginger the social structure with some action at the bottom. “The healing gift we can make to the weak,” said Eric Hoffer once, “is the capacity for self-help.” The question is — is this the way to do it?

The model for the government program is TWO, The Woodlawn Organization, created in 1960 as a broad, grass-roots organization of bona fide community groups in the largely, but not entirely Negro neighborhood just south of the University of Chicago. They hired Saul Alinsky, director of the Industrial Areas Foundation, a professional organization in the business of advising community groups. Alinsky kept the Woodlawn people actively participating at those grass roots and he insured maximum initiative and democracy throughout.

“The little man,” said he, “can gather into his hands the power he needs to make and shape his life.”

The pillars of Alinsky’s first venture, Back of the Yards, were the Packinghouse Workers Union, the Chicago Archdiocese, the local churches, of all denominations. Back of the Yards accomplished several remarkable things. It turned the neighborhood, unchanged since Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, into a livable environment. It erased the bitter hostility between the various ethnic groups in the local parishes. It broke for good and all the Communist influence in the Packinghouse Workers Union.

TWO, in its turn, after giving the University fits and spasms and standing Urban Renewal on its ear and shaking Chicago ward politics and welfare administration out of their shoes, produced a successfully integrated and de-slummified district, far more humanely and far cheaper than the Hyde Park project north of the campus.

Such is the end in view. Can a sort of government-created Unemployed Councils or Workers Alliance, resurrected from the ’30s, work? The Negro poor today look on all the programs to help them as “just another hustle,” if they have ever heard of them at all. The danger is of course that this is what the poverty program will become, a hustle at the mercy of petty demagogues.

The problem is not impending class war — quite the opposite. It is overcoming apathy and the cheap careerism that feeds on apathy. That, anywhere, any time, is nice work if you can get it. The problem is to make it work and make it stick.

[June 6, 1965]



The Spread of Drugs

Periodically, when the stuff gets all over the papers, I feel it incumbent upon myself to do a bit on dope. I always say the same things — but here we go again.

The prevalence of marijuana amongst adolescents is not the pipe dream of a sensational press. In this instance, the press is squarer than it thinks. Goof balls, boop and doop caps, methies, tranquilizers, bennies and dexies, and the weirdy pills that make you make funny movies for yourself are steadily increasing in use, in these latter cases commonly at the college, not the high school level.

In the larger cities, amongst the technical and professional classes, adult use of drugs is becoming commonplace. Taking advantage of this state of affairs, the internationally organized criminal trade in true narcotics — the addictive opium derivatives, primarily heroin — is flourishing.

If you object to marijuana, its devotees say, “Oh, but you should read the LaGuardia Report.” I read it when it came out. It is perfectly true that marijuana is not truly addictive, and that continued use shows no lasting physical effects; it is certainly less harmful to the body than excessive use of alcohol.

All true — but — it is socially addictive, because it has acquired all the criminal mystique of true narcotic addiction. Its wholesale peddlers are part of the organized criminal underworld. Its users talk the lingo and copy the psychopathic alienation of addict society. The pushers frankly treat it as “highschool” to a “hard” habit. “When you gonna graduate, punk? I’ve got some real stuff I can let you have cheap.”

Marijuana is not likely to be legalized for the simple reason that it cannot be taxed. If it were, and if it could be taken out of its sociopathic context, it, along with all these other newer drugs would still present a most serious problem. Without exception they all distort vision, sense of scale and distance, and plain judgment, in a way that only advanced alcoholic intoxication does.

The drunkard who says, “I can drive when I can’t walk,” is a menace. Highways and freeways full of people high on hallucinogens — well, I don’t know — it would sure be a quick way to solve the population problem.

As for the new armamentarium of funny pills and caps — if adults have to take seconal to sleep, dexebarb to keep down their weight, dexedrine to get to work, tranquilizers to keep from blowing up, LSD to get up the nerve to face their own inadequacies and evasions, and deinhibitors to have satisfactory sex, they should stop blaming their kids if they steal some of this junk from the medicine cabinet and pass it around amongst their little playmates.

Maybe we need to do something about a society whose interpersonal relations are becoming unbearable to all but rascals and the insensitive. If more and more of the trained elite of society have to be drugged to go on living, maybe the moral bottom has dropped out of our civilization. Trying to fill it with pharmaceuticals is pouring sand down a rat hole, for sure.

[June 9, 1965]



Escape from Theatrical Orthodoxy

Now that Blau and Irving have left the scene, the San Francisco “off Broadway” theater seems to be making valiant efforts to escape from the long dominance of their orthodox and dated highbrow taste. Recent months have seen a decided breakaway from thirtyish plays of social protest and thirtyish styles of realistic acting and directing.

This is all to the good, and a great credit to our local theater people. Certainly the New York off Broadway theater is as hidebound by convention and as commercialized in its own devious way as was ever the Broadway theater itself.

There are people hereabouts who have always known that the tradition of the Group Theater, the Guild, the Theater Union, the Playwrights’ Company was essentially a reactionary tradition — a true reflection of the anti-modern politics which inspired those groups of the thirties, on a par with the socialist realist paintings of “Stalin and Lenin Planning the Siege of Ekaterinasberg.”

Michael Linenthal chose Ghelderode’s Pantagleize and a style deriving from the avant-garde Polish theater — the most exciting in contemporary Europe. It in turn was the most exciting thing of its kind I had seen in San Francisco, but it was welcomed by the critics with dismay and distress.

Ernest Lonner has always been our one living connection with the great tradition of the Middle European theater of the days before the social realist counterrevolution. He is the only person in San Francisco who has had actual personal experience of the stylized, slow-paced, let’s call it “anti-cinematic,” style of the disciples of Max Reinhardt, Meyerhold and the young Piscator. He too has chosen to make a bridge between the revolutionary theater of the first quarter of this century and a possible contemporary anti-realist theater with, amongst others, Ghelderode, whose Miss Jairus opened last week at the International Repertory Theater.

I thought it was a splendid job, possibly the most efficient thing Lonner has done in his varied career in San Francisco. My colleagues once again reacted with dismay and distress. Now either they genuinely want a break with the stereotyped Theater of the Absurd and the domestic dramas of the Angry Young Men, and the various modifications of Stanislavsky’s now 70-year-old “Method” and are prepared to encourage it, or they don’t.

If John Osborne is modern, Ghelderode is “anti-modern.” As for Beckett and Ionesco — Beckett’s one original play, Godot, is strongly influenced by Ghelderode, as well as by cornballs like Lord Dunsany, whose influence Sam Beckett prefers you don’t mention.

Before The Chronicles of Hell opened in Paris in 1949, Ionesco and the rest of the international avant-garde — except Beckett — had never heard of Ghelderode, although he had been given practically every season for a generation only four days’ brisk walk from Paris. After 1949 it was like Old McDonald’s farm, with a here Ghelderode, there Ghelderode, everywhere Ghelderode.

I think Herb and Jules looked on him as some sort of “clerico-fascist,” a term one of the Workshop brains once applied to the equally important, and equally unknown in the U.S.A., playwright Gabriel Marcel. Anyway — they refused to do him.

I prophecy, and I strongly hope, that the next couple of years in the local theater are going to see more and more plays like Miss Jairus and Pantagleize. Further, we are going to see more and more anti-Method directing and acting and more and more far out decor. We are going to see more highly stylized acting, “theatricalist” is the jargon term for it, slow paced, simplified and ritualized and as naïve in its unreality as the behavior of circus clowns, opera singers, ballet dancers. This is the opposite theatrical pole from the underplaying, quick pace, snapped dialogue, “natural” voices, realistic motion to express emotion, and all the rest of it, that the movies and television have taught us to expect as the right thing in directing and acting.

The only movies that resemble Pantagleize and Miss Jairus are the early full-length Buster Keatons in the first case, and Dreyer’s demonological slow and solemn nightmares in the second. Good. My favorite theater is the Chinese, and I am all for three hours of audience immersion in hallucination.

If you like the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch and Breughel and Ensor, if you think you’d enjoy sinking into a child’s nightmare with the immemorially old demons of Jung’s collective unconscious creeping up through the patina of naivety — go see Miss Jairus.

If you like Arthur Miller or think Ionesco the latest sensation, you may well react with the dismay and distress of my honored colleagues.

[June 13, 1965]



The Demand for Education

I’ve seen cartoons that were greater works of art, but I’ve seldom seen any that imparted more important and more stunning information than the one we ran on Monday’s editorial page — “$3,500 a year for a criminal in prison; $2,500 a year for a family on relief; $1,800 a year to keep a delinquent youth; $483 a year per child in public schools.”

I hope you’ve been pondering that bit of statistics these two days.

We ran the cartoon concurrently with a roundup of commencement addresses across the country. The most important trained seals the given colleges could afford — or in the case of the politicians, strategic men in strategic vote-getting spots — alternately abused and flattered the students for their headline-catching “revolt of youth.”

They told them all about self-reliance and self-discipline and wisdom and balanced judgment and all those other virtues they themselves practically to a man could use a lot more of. Nobody, as far as I could read, mentioned that our educational structure is inadequate and is cracking, if not yet cracking up, under the strain.

Yesterday I got a phone call from one of the most creative pedagogues hereabouts. Would I talk to two sessions of a special graduate seminar he will be running this summer. Sure would. Fine. How many people? Thirty.

What sort of seminar is thirty people?

A graduate seminar is supposed to be a small group of people, the best number is eight or ten, well prepared and intensely interested in the subject and capable of extracting maximum benefit out of discussion in which all, professor and students, participate constantly. Thirty is, we know, considered too large for an efficient grammar school class.

My friend was not to blame. He has to make do with what he has. Considering the obstacles to pedagogy, he does very well indeed. As for the students, the miracle is that they do get something resembling an education, even out of factories like the University of California. They try, bless their little hearts, but sometimes they get tired of trying and say dirty words or obstruct traffic.

All the authorities agree that the best education is to be found in small colleges with strictly limited enrollment and intimate teacher-student relationship. Reed, Oberlin, Bard, Haverford, Whittier, Franklin-Marshall — applications for schools like these are many, many times the possible enrollment. This demand has overflowed and has now upgraded hundreds of little small town church schools throughout the East and Middle West that once taught the kids of the nearby farmers.

This is what we are coming to: and how many of us are prepared to even dream of it — a college within walking distance of any home in a major city. This is the only way we will be able to take care of the demand which automation and abundance and all that is going to create. If we were to spend on education what we spend on madhouses and penitentiaries and welfare, we could have a one-to-eight teacher-student ratio and never miss it. If we spent one-tenth what we spend on war . . . oh well, why rub it in?

{June 16, 1965]



Challenge to the City Clergy

Every week or so I get a flyer from the Judson Memorial Church announcing all sorts of activities — poetry readings, hootenannies, plays, baroque music concerts, tape music concerts, art exhibits — it is sure a boss place and a focus of its world-famous neighborhood. In addition, there’s a lot of activity that is not publicized by leaflets — advice, counseling, psychiatric help, aid to people tangled up in the administration of welfare, a huge program of very outgoing, trouble seeking, pastoral care.

From across town, in the heart of a newer and similar community, comes like information from St. Mark’s. In addition, they carry on other programs designed to meet the needs of the interracial and polyglot slums which are interwoven amongst the homes of the upper class professional and technical workers who are taking over the neighborhood with fancy apartments and remodeled old houses.

They have jazz accompaniments for Holy Communion, lectures on Zen Buddhism and Christian mysticism, pageant plays by modern poets at Christmas and Easter, jazz record concerts every fair day in the churchyard, record concerts of liturgical and other music indoors at lunch time, as well as conveniences for people who bring their lunches. In addition, they have strong civil rights groups, others concerned with the problems of dislocated Latin Americans, an alcoholism clinic, and one of the best narcotics programs in the country.

These two churches and others like them are making a significant difference in neighborhoods overrun with crooked and lewd nightclubs, urban demoralization, housing project namelessness, slum criminality and all the other problems of the contemporary city. They are in fact powerful levers lifting the city life around them out of the slough of despond and danger. And being connected with either is great fun. They make life meaningful and exciting for everybody who takes part in their manifold activities.

They make it worth while to live in their neighborhoods. They should be lavishly subsidized by the local merchants and real estate men because they are important forces turning what were once chaotic slums into the best places in town to live.

Isn’t it wonderful we have such churches in San Francisco? We don’t. Judson Memorial is on Washington Square in Greenwich Village. Across town is the ancient church of St. Mark’s-in-the-Bowery in the heart of the New Village on the East Side.

If the religious leaders of our problem areas are so concerned with their pastoral responsibilities, why don’t they do something about it? The Church of SS. Peter and Paul has an enormous and expensive plant. In front of it is a beautiful little park. The Church of St. Francis is not so well equipped, but it is right in the heart of the hottest problems of North Beach. There are doubtless some Protestant churches in the neighborhood, but they’ve slipped my mind. Where is the parochial care, the mission to the troubled and demoralized people at arm’s reach, the social responsibility to the thousands of highly educated technical and professional workers who live thereabouts?

It does not say in the Gospels that Christ came to save the North Beach Lions Club, though of course he did them, too — but to save sinners. The Beach is full, say the neighborhood clergy, of weed heads, pill pushers, whores, alcoholics, pickpockets and assorted other petty hustlers. There’s no harder work, and no more unhappy people. How many come to their local clergy for help in lives which are nothing but trouble?

The essence of an apostolic life is the ethical activism of outreaching responsibility. SS. Peter and Paul went to Rome, Rome didn’t come to them.

Those pitiful girls with their breasts stuffed with silicone are amongst the most barbarously exploited workers in modern society. There is nothing obscene about a woman’s breasts; they were commonly revealed in pictures of the greatest mother and child in history. What is obscene is the ruthless exploitation and the destruction of human dignity.

Do the clergy in North Beach know any of these girls, the problems and catastrophes and plain ignoble toil that marks their lives?

Pierre DeLattre’s Bread and Wine Mission carried on an historic apostolate during the height of the Beat craze on Grant Avenue. He was subjected to relentless harassment. A semi-amateur holiness sect recently attempted a similar mission to even more disturbed and uprooted youth. They were closed up.

Recently there was an epochal poetry reading, with all the most promising younger writers, in Fugazi Hall. It drew about 400 people. The poets financed it themselves. Why wasn’t it given in one of the churches? Vince Guaraldi wrote and performed a Mass to jazz at Grace Cathedral recently. The first demand of the North Beach clergy was to close up the Jazz Workshop where Guaraldi has often played.

As for art — all I knew know about art and the North Beach clergy is that they kicked Bufano’s St. Francis off the church steps.

[June 20, 1965]



California Living at Its Best

Once when Mary and I were eating in one of London’s better restaurants a handsome and scholarly looking man, eating at the next table with a most beautiful girl of about fifteen, struck up a conversation. He opened with the observation, “One of life’s greatest pleasures is taking one’s young daughter out to dine.” How true.

Last week The Examiner was represented at the graduation from Herbert Hoover Junior High School by both Alex Fried’s daughter and mine. That sounds like an unimportant Rite of Passage, but it isn’t really. It marks the transition from childhood to adolescence.

My family celebrated with a dinner at Orsi’s. A surprise dinner, with a blazing surprise dessert, all prepared by Orsi himself. My, what a nice man!

I am not the best possible guide to dining out in San Francisco. I only eat where I am certain I will get faultlessly prepared food, and equally important, genuine personal hospitality. My theory is, if you don’t enjoy being a host, become a lighthouse attendant or a phone-in radio professional abuser. If being a restaurateur isn’t fun, it’s just misery.

So I usually eat in one of, let’s see, seven restaurants. Doubtless there are many more as good, but I’m set in my ways. One of the ways is Orsi’s — Florentine cooking at its best (there are few places in Florence near as good) and hospitality which is special to Orsi himself. This is a shameless plug — because we all just love to eat there.

And then for the weekend we had opera at Music at the Vineyards on Saturday. This is another of my big reasons for living in San Francisco. I don’t know of anyplace in the world where music is played under more enchanting circumstances and in more beautiful surroundings.

The little piece from Bizet’s juvenilia, Dr. Miracle, was lyrical and amusing. Margot Blum and Carole Bogart warbled and provoked the birds in all the trees, while when Louise di Tullio, the prettiest flautist in living memory, played a solo, birds for a half mile around went out of their minds.

Speaking of hosts — it is impossible to be more hospitable than the Fromm family. As we came in Mary said, “Look at Norman. He looks happy as a child at his birthday party. He is really personally delighted that each and every one of these people has come.”

There will be more Musics at the Vineyards, all little operas this year. Be sure to go. It’s, as they say in the advertisements for all sorts of less enjoyable things, California living at its best.

In August the Masson Winery will be host to the symposium on Erasmus, St. Thomas More and Luther, “Freedom and Authority,” a sort of humanistic dream-come-true being planned by Fr. Monihan, S.J., librarian at USF. About this I will have more to say in the future. It promises to be really something.

[June 23, 1965]



Disappointing Spring Opera

Last week the Spring Opera ended its season with quite a bang.

As literature, the libretto of The Crucible is a triumph of middle-browism. The score by Robert Ward is fundamentally meaningless. It simply accompanies and underlines the action; it never creates drama or even tension musically. Commonplace and inappropriate melodies and their chord changes, mostly of a pseudo-folkloristic character, are liberally sprinkled with accidentals and concealed with outlandish time signatures. It’s as though an obscure disciple of Hindemith had been cohabiting with George Gershwin.

This does not prevent The Crucible from being an effective show. As a piece of satisfying theatricality it is better than most operas of the last 50 years and far better than most American operas. It is never in execrable taste like Blood Moon of unhappy memory, or silly, like the popular Susannah. In fact, it is gripping.

Not least important to the San Francisco production was the beautiful and efficient stage direction of Benno Frank. I have seldom seen so smoothly functioning theatricalism in opera. He seems to have been able to make all the cast mind — something far from easy to do with the average singer.

It is difficult to single out anybody for kudos, the parts are so many and so rich. I suppose the star role is John Proctor, and Chester Ludgin certainly gave it a stellar performance — but everybody was good. Without exception they managed to make the empty, noisy music dramatically convincing — musically — besides all of them acting, not like a bunch of opera singers, but like real, genuine actors.

It just goes to show that opera is a unitary synthesized experience when it is truly good. The model is the Chinese theater. There the librettos are, with only a couple of exceptions out of a repertory of many thousand plays, trivial as literature. The music is usually stereotyped. Of course the acting is the best in the world and what we call direction has been evolved to perfection over 400 years or more. Callas-Smallas, Caruso-Maruso — opera is best when it has the same kind of totality of theatrical experience.

One of the reasons this year’s Spring Opera was mostly a failure is that only The Spanish Hour and, to a lesser degree, Cosi fan tutti had this balanced and coherent dramatic and musical impact. Star of Bluebeard’s Castle was Gerry Samuel, who did a marvelous job of conducting. I have never, but never, heard the score better read. It’s not a singer’s opera. The relentless trochaic rhythms and the monotonously repeated descending melodies are simply boring.

After you’ve heard them wail “HEE a WAH tha, BAY la BAR tok” for the hundredth time you are ready to rise and say, “Would the singers kindly be quiet and let us listen to Bartok’s pretty orchestral music?” But why give it so soon again? We just had it a while ago.

Butterfly was out of balance. Grossman seemed to think he was conducting the Ninth Symphony and you could see the singers losing their tempers if you watched through opera glasses. Won’t some anarchist put his pocket atom bomb under that frightful set? How much longer do we have to put up with it? But why Butterfly in the Spring Opera?

Rigoletto was at sixes and sevens. The cast didn’t seem to get along. Linda Newman, who did a fine Mary Warren in The Crucible, was all over the place, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some of the direction was splendid, but too often the show got away from the man who should always be boss. But why Rigoletto?

Why all these old chestnuts? They are not audience shows. Quite the opposite. Spring Opera promised us fresh repertory, new works and little-known ones from the past, young singers, imaginative decor, adventurous direction. What happened? Who wants to go to old-time “summer opera” and see stuff that would have looked hackneyed at Ravinia in the days of Mary Garden?

The same mistake is being made by the Spring Opera management as is being made at the Symphony. The best conductors and performers in the world cannot redeem commonplace repertory.

For some music you may not have heard, try the Bach to Mozart Festival at Nourse Auditorium this afternoon and evening, Purcell’s stirring trumpet sonata, things by Schutz, Pergolesi, Telemann, Manfredini, as well as the standard names. And I just heard that there are still some returned tickets available for some of the Royal Ballet shows, although the houses have been sold out for weeks.

[June 27, 1965]



Letters from Readers

Last week we went to “Dance Spectrum,” a lecture demonstration on ballet by Sally Kemp and danced by Janet Sassoon and Alan Howard. This was an impressive job of education. People, including balletomanes and critics, know little enough about ballet and their appreciation would be greatly improved if they’d bother to learn.

I would like to see this little show toured through the school auditoriums. It would do much to teach youngsters to understand ballet and would doubtless also recruit many kids to a hard, ill-paid, but very satisfying career.

Janet and Alan make a fine team. Each has a highly individualized style, outstanding amongst local dancers, yet they go well together and always give the impression they’re having a wonderful time pas de deuxing.

A rash of letters asking me to do a bit on California wines in answer to Sydney Harris. I may do just that, come Sunday, unless more pressing matters intervene.

Other letters asking, “What are the six restaurants besides Orsi’s you commonly eat in?” For Japanese food, Cho-Cho; for Chinese food, Nam Yuen, and on the night it’s closed, Sun Hung Hueng next door; north Italian high cuisine, La Strada; downtown, the Old Poodle Dog; when there’s doings at the Opera House, Rocca’s; for old San Francisco, Jack’s.

This doesn’t really cover all the places I like to eat. I’m going to have to visit the French and Levantine places. I haven’t in a long time. I don’t care for Mexican food, and I don’t know of a good Spanish place.

More letters about the responsibility of the churches for the homeless boys and girls of the ragged edges of bohemia, and for the unhappy and demoralized and usually viciously exploited people on the hustle in North Beach, the Tenderloin and the Fillmore — as well as, if truth be told, diffused all over town.

There is a good article on the work of Rev. Donald E. Stuart, minister to San Francisco’s night people, by Lynn Fenstermacher in the June United Church Herald. There are several articles in the Methodist magazine Together for May, and in their June-July bulletin, The Pacific, on similar activities, including the Precarious Vision Coffee Shop, the Glide Urban Center, and the Freedom House on Fillmore Street. If you’re interested, you can get copies from your nearest United Church of Christ or Methodist church of these publications.

One of these days I plan to do a long column on the work Protestants are doing in this field. What I was talking about was the responsibility of the North Beach, and specifically Roman Catholic, clergy. From them I did not hear.

[June 30, 1965]


“San Francisco Fifty Years Ago” is an ongoing project of posting all of Kenneth Rexroth’s columns for the San Francisco Examiner (1960-1967). Each of the columns is being posted on the 50th anniversary of its original appearance. Copyright 1960-1967 Kenneth Rexroth. Reproduced here by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.

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