Here lives the more forthrightly word-driven portion of my site, and thank you for your perseverance in clicking through the various links. Distilled Spirits is, in a sense, my doctoral dissertation in search of an academic discipline.
While it will no doubt begin as a rather disparate collection of personal essays, the intention is that a more substantive oeuvre emerge over time … in the most enjoyable of ways (no need for an elaborate research design or familiarity with statistics). Furthermore, it would be lovely if these writings plant the seeds of dialogue with fellow haunted artists.
I’ve initially focused on imagery in birthing Dreaming Outward, but simply don’t want to wait any longer to begin chatting with myself (and you, or so I hope). So for the moment, I’m marking this space with a distant but personally worthwhile memory.
And so, a first sip from the waters of my distilled spirits …
A Vintage Memory: Maiden Lane, circa 1955 San Francisco — A foray into cultural diplomacy
My paternal grandmother, Jessie Leatart, lived for the first years of my life on the top floor of a 2-story building in South San Francisco. From my youthful perspective burnished by the unrelenting sunshine of Los Angeles, her home and city were magical. I shall return to this address from time to time. But for the purposes of the particular digression, briefly visiting my grandmother was a subtext to indulging in a short but sweet family vacation.
My father, mother, and older brother and I were in complete agreement when it came to the charms of dining out in style, settling into a somewhat swanky hotel room, sprinkled with ample doses of window shopping and braving the perils of navigating the city’s ups and downs a hanging by sheer determination to the poles of cable cars.
This particular trip included the delicious meandering of Maiden Lane, and whenever I tap into my visceral love of color, this short street comes to mind. Among the charms, the glorious blossoms of sidewalk flower stands and the rich colors and textures of textiles for sale within a chi chi fabric store come together in a riot of visual joy — all brought together of the exclamation point of a panting chow whose tongue was a remarkable blue-black, as if the lucky pup had been sucking on boysenberry lozenges.
What I didn’t realize until … well, a couple of days ago, is that these newer residences of Maiden Lane were the least of that which comprised this alleyway’s colorful history. While absolute dates and details may differ a bit from one source to another, the gist is that:
From the 1870s until 1896, this little street was one of downtown’s most notorious brothel alleys, filled on Saturday nights with drunken men doing business with the women who presented themselves in street-level windows.
Luxury shopping strip Maiden Lane was once upon a time San Francisco’s notorious red-light district where maidens would sell themselves on the street. Many of the female named streets in downtown San Francisco are named after working maidens of yore, like Jessie and Mina.
And so, my sweet memory has had to survive it’s own little earthquake, but the reality of history is rarely enough to shake my faith in the glory of color, or San Francisco — a perfect home for a muse or two.