Friday, June 21, 2013

Recollection: Being in San Francisco in the 1960s - part 2

In late September 1961 I left my things with my roommate in the apartment at 1415 Larkin Street in the Nob Hill section of San Francisco and a few days later I boarded a Greyhound bus for Great Falls, Montana, to visit my boy-friend Patrick and his family.  We had met in France in late 1960, had seen each other on week-ends and taken a small trip to Brittany to the Mont St. Michel.  In the US, Patrick owned a 1939 Chevy Coupe and took me sightseeing around Great Falls.  I could appreciate why Montana is nicknamed the "Big Sky Country" as the sky there looked enormous.  I came back to San Francisco after a month but went there again for Christmas.  In both fall and winter the landscape was superb.  The top left picture was taken on our trip to Brittany, France, the rest are in Montana.  (Click on collage twice to enlarge, but keep in mind that these slides date back to 1961...)

As I mentioned in part 1 of this post, I found a job at the beginning of 1962.  In the spring of 1962 my roommate decided to leave the apartment and move in with her Japanese boyfriend.  I had met Patrick's sister in Great Falls and she decided to come to San Francisco and stay with me for a while and work.  We got along well and I was pleased for the company (she is in the collage below) and to share the $90 monthly rent.  Then in June of that year Patrick decided to finish his studies in San Francisco for his college degree and come and join me in July.  We choose to get married so we could live together - this was the 60s after all and our families would not have approved cohabitation.  We were married on 14 July 1962 at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco.  Patrick's parents were Catholic and wished for us to have a religious wedding and my sponsors were hoping that an Armenian Orthodox priest would also be there - both a Catholic and Armenian priests were there that day.  I don't have a picture of the cathedral but just a vintage postcard, shown below.  We then rented a small apartment at 4170 17th Street in the Castro area of San Francisco.  I commuted to work on the K street car.

In the summer of 1963 we went back to Great Falls for vacation.  This time Patrick had gotten a large Cadillac from a friend - it was quite comfortable.  Patrick's parents also owned a small cabin in the mountains and from there we went to visit Glacier National Park.  Coming from Paris and having been to the seaside and other cities mostly, I was enthralled by the beauty of the mountains and the majesty of the landscape.  This was nature on an epic scale.

Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful parks in the United States.  It sits in the Rocky Mountain Range on the Continental Divide and borders Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada.  All around us were alpine lakes, soaring peaks, wildlife, wildflowers and more.  We drove to Waterton as well.  On the way back we stopped in a "ghost town" - which was like walking back in time to the real west, indeed.

For the 14 of July 1964 an Eiffel Tower was erected in Union Square in San Francisco.  It was fun seeing it there, together with a French cafe and even an accordionist.

But Patrick and I were not getting along too well.  We had gone to a wedding and taken a nice portrait but then I went back to France to think.  My father who had been very upset about my leaving Paris was pleased to have me back and asked me to fly to Cairo, Egypt, to visit his sister, my aunt, all expenses paid.  I stayed with my aunt and uncle for a couple of weeks and had a great time in Heliopolis.  My cousins spoke Armenian, Arabic, French, English and German and could read the heliographic alphabet.  They took me to places where tourists did not go and read the writing for me on the ancient tombs.  Below is the portrait and pictures from Cairo.

I seriously thought about staying in Paris for good but Patrick and I had corresponded by mail while I was in France (there was no Skype, email or cell phones then) and we decided to try to patch things up.  I went back to San Francisco.  Patrick obtained his degree and went to the University of California in Berkeley to study for his Master's Degree - he moved into a single apartment near the university.  My best friend Virginia was also studying in Berkeley at the time, so I moved in with her, near Durant Avenue and attended the university part-time at night (I was still working.)  But, maybe because of the stress, I started to get sick.  I moved back to San Francisco and rented a studio on Hermann Street, near the U. S. Mint, to be closer to work, avoid the tiring commute and also be near my doctor.  I had to stay in bed for two weeks.  Luckily a friend from the office lived close by and brought me some food in the evenings.  By my husband and I filed for divorce (Patrick is below with a moustache now.)

I guess we both were to blame - we were very young, away from families, and with different temperaments and culture - misunderstandings were unavoidable.  Parting was not easy.  But it helped to live in beautiful San Francisco.  Below is an old slide from that time period (and it shows...)

Count your garden by the flowers
Never by the leaves that fall
Count your days by golden hours
Don't remember clouds at all.  (Anonymous

Fortunately I had made some good friends at work, like my best friend Vince Middione, who also lived close to my studio with his partner Garth, and was a divine cook.  Another friend from the SF Art Institute, George Smith (whose address I unfortunately lost) was cheerful and would go and drink coffee with me in the old Italian coffee houses on North Beach.  Another friend, Roland, was an artist and we enjoyed discussing art.  Mary Spears was quite funny and would crack me up constantly.  Friends helped me feel happy again.  From top going clockwise:  Roland, George and me, Mary Spears and Vince.

My studio was on 77 Hermann Street (building shown below) and was on the same hill as the U. S. Mint.  I had painted the kitchen blue.  I also had a pet bird, a parakeet, that I named Dimitrios (after the mystery "A Coffin for Dimitrios" by Eric Ambler.)  I had taught Dimi to speak, he would say "Hello! How are you?" and "Bon Appetit."

 Another friend from work, Jim, would also go on outings with George and me.  Once we went on a hike in Emigrant Basin.  We went by the Gianelli trailhead in the wilderness area.  The Emigrant Wilderness is part of Stanislaus National Forest in the Sierra Nevada and offers outstanding scenery.  In 1852 it was used as a wagon route.  It borders Yosemite National Park.  It consists of granitic ridges, sparsely vegetated with small lakes and meadows.  It is about 140 miles (230 km) from San Francisco.  Below are George and Jim on the left and my slides from the Emigrant Basin.

Jim had an MG TF 1500 sport car and we would go to rock concerts in the Bay Area.  His friend, Marvin, was a close friend to several members of the group "Big Brother and the Holding Company" whose singer, Janis Joplin (1943-1970,) became a part in 1966.  Jim would go and visit Marvin where he would meet these musicians and also Janis.  I did not meet her but saw the group in several concerts.  I had many of the psychedelic posters advertizing these concerts (am not sure where they are now.)  Below are some of the posters, Jim and Leslie on the left, Janis Joplin and members of the band, Janis on the right and Jim's MG.

Jim had bought two 1930's leather pilot headgears to wear in his MG when he lowered the windshield, as you can see above.  When I wore the headgear I also placed a long white silk scarf around my neck that would float in the wind.  It was a lot of fun and people would smile at us on the road.  I still enjoyed listening to jazz and went to the San Francisco Opera but I bought many 33 LP albums of the rock groups from that era.  I gathered some below (some are collector items now.)

By then it was 1966 and the "Flower Children" were in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco.  I was not a "hippie" but I did believe in many of what they embraced: peace, love and freedom and be friends with everyone regardless of color, sex, faith, lifestyle and country of origin.  Both Jim and Leslie attended San Francisco State College where Steven Gaskin taught.  Actually, later on in 1970, Gaskin and his wife Ina May Gaskin would lead a caravan of 60 buses, trucks and van across country to speak and would end up buying land in Summertown, Tennessee and create a commune.  Leslie went with them and we visited him at The Farm several times in the last couple of years when we drove to Tennessee.  The Farm now is still going strong, but no longer as a commune but as a cooperative "intentional community."  I wrote a couple of posts on it, click on "Visiting our Friends from the 60s at The Farm."  Back in the days I would wear flowers in my hair sometimes, but they did not stay put too well.  Because of the wind I wore small scarf-type hats that I had sewn as you can see below where I am sitting near a little neighbor.  

So my friend Leslie became a full hippie, but not what people believe "hippies" were - untidy, dirty, unkempt and druggies.  He believed in the philosophy.  The youth then had more of a utopian view of society than they do now - the youth now are much more materialistic.  Society may look down on the hippie movement, but they have benefited from it.  You could not protest in public then without being arrested as Mario Savio was in Berkeley in 1964 - there was little public freedom of speech.  The hippies stressed recycling and they were considered freaks - humane treatment for animal? that was considered weird then by the general public - whole grains, organic (biologique in French) and natural food?  that was considered outlandish then but a healthy diet now.

How about clean water?  that was considered eccentric since people thought that there always would be clean water in the US, no need to talk about the environment, and if you did, you were an extremist.  It would have been better if society had listened more carefully to the hippies then to look at the problems we face now, but the hippie movement was also disorganized.  Other protests were against the Vietnam War.  Robert McNamara, who was Secretary of Defense at the time, confessed in his book of memoir "Retrospect" that the war had been futile and wrong, terribly wrong.  On April 15, 1967, a march called "Spring Mobilization to End the War" (MOBE) was held in San Francisco.  More than 100,000 people marched from Market Street to Kezar Stadium in Golden Gate Park - people from all walks of life and families too.  There were performers at the stadium in the afternoon including Big Brother and the Holding Company,  Quicksilver Messenger Service, and an appearance from Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King, Jr.  My friends and I marched.  I took many slides - below are some of them.

I am convinced that if we succumb to the temptation to use violence in our struggle for freedom, unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to them will be a never-ending reign of chaos." - Martin L. King, Jr. 1957 (1929-1968.)

More to come in part 3.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Recollection: Being in San Francisco in the 1960s (part 1)

People then would ask me "Why did you come to San Francisco?  Did you marry one of our boys in the military and he brought you over here?"  I would reply "No, I came all alone."  They were surprised.  There were several reasons why I left France.  Even though I had traveled to some foreign countries during holidays, I had spent all my childhood and youth in France, mostly in Paris.  Other young people felt like me - after school, wishing to go somewhere else.  I was not trying to immigrate because my life was difficult, on the contrary I had, at 21 years of age, my own car, an apartment in Paris that my parents let me use, and a glamorous job off the Champs Elysees.  Below is a postcard of the Champs-Elysees in Paris around 1961.

I worked as a translator in a music publishing company, translating English lyrics into French, and also translating correspondence to and from British and American musicians, singers and groups.  I met many.  For example, the famous singer, Edith Piaf (1915-1963,) once called the office in late 1960 to change some lyrics on one of her new songs - our secretary was out so I was pleased to get Edith's lyrics changed.  My office gave me a free ticket to hear her sing at the Olympia Music-Hall in Paris - she was exceptional.  Then I purchased the 33 LP record from that 1961 concert. (Click on collage twice to enlarge.)

My hair had been died black by my girl friend because she needed a model for her dye exam to become a hairdresser - my parents were horrified when they saw me... but I liked the color and was a brunette for a couple of years.  Here I am below on the Place de la Concorde in Paris in early June 1961.

US flags can be seen behind me on the right because President John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie had visited Charles de Gaulle, the President of France, earlier that week.  I watched the two president parade going down the Champs Elysees and there were US and French flags all along the avenue.  (Pictures below courtesy Life Magazine.)

Another reason for me to travel was that my father, an Armenian born in Turkey and raised in Egypt, was very strict and rarely let me go out, unless a girl friend came to meet me.  I had thought about going to Canada because then it was very easy.  Canada would provide an apartment upon arrival and even a job to a French citizen, but I was afraid of the cold weather.  I spoke English and Italian fluently but I had already gone to Italy during the month of August four years in a row and also been numerous times to England including a year in college to study, so I decided to go to the USA.  I had been told that an immigrant visa would take a long time to obtain.  I knew I would have to work as my budget was not large enough to stay for two years and travel in the US as I had projected.  One way to obtain a visa was to give the US Embassy an amount in escrow (in case they had to repatriate me back to France for some reason) and at the time this was $1,000 which would be about $7,000 in 2013 money.  Below is the US Embassy in Paris now (courtesy Wikipedia France) - then it did not have all the cement blocks in front of the gate.

I did not have the large amount that the US Embassy requested and knew my father, who was against me going anywhere, would never lend it to me.  I went to his estranged first cousin who knew people everywhere.  He had good Armenian friends in Los Angeles and asked them to "sponsor" me.  I thought my visa would take several years to obtain, but within a month or so the US Embassy called me because not many French people wanted to immigrate to the US and the quota was low.  I was not prepared yet and asked for an extension.  They told me to come back 3 months later, in June 1961.  I did and obtained the visa and a permanent resident "green card" which was blue, actually.  Below is a sample showing the back of a "green" card - on the front was a picture with name, date of birth, etc.

I knew I would have to go to Los Angeles first to meet my sponsors but was not sure where to go afterwards.  First I purchased, from the Greyhound Bus Company, a 3-month pass for tourists for $99.  It gave me free transportation on any of their buses in any state for a period of 3 months.  Then I purchased a one-way ticket from Le Havre to New York City on a German transatlantic ship.  In April 1961 I read the special issue of "Holiday" magazine which was devoted to San Francisco.  That magazine is what made me go to San Francisco - it sounded so lovely.  There were many photos of the Victorian houses, the cable cars, the Golden Gate, Chinatown and it said that there was a vibrant art and music life there in the city.

The city was not far from Los Angeles and sounded cultured but mostly there were some good jazz clubs in SF, and I was a jazz enthusiast  Since my teens I had collected many jazz albums, had a subscription to the French magazine "Jazz Hot," listened every evening to the jazz programs on Europe No. 1 radio station.  With my friends I went dancing in jazz cellars on the Paris left bank, mostly New Orleans jazz like Sydney Bechet, but I also liked modern jazz and had seen Miles Davis at the Olympia Music Hall in Paris. Here are some of the jazz albums that I took with me to the US - I had and still have quite a collection.

On October 21, 2010, I wrote a post on New York showing the ship on which I traveled to the USA in 1961, click here to see it.  I'll write more posts on my trip and my years in San Francisco as this post is to give an overview of the nine plus years I lived in the city by the bay, and it cannot be too long... So in mid September 1961 I arrived in Los Angeles (I took the Greyhound Bus from New York and had stopped in many cities.)  I met my sponsors who were very nice and kind.  Mr. Setrag Vartian was a film editor for the Warner Brothers studios in Hollywood and had also acted and produced a movie earlier.  Mrs. Zaruhi Vartian was a singer in the Armenian Church.  They had no children and wished for me to stay in Los Angeles and said they would find me a job in Hollywood at the studio.  Here they are below (most of these old pictures have been scanned from slides- they are 50 years old and show it.)  I am standing in front of St. James Armenian Church (which is no longer at this location I understand.)

I was not interested in show business and really wished to go to San Francisco.  Through a friend I had met on the ship I found a roommate  in San Francisco.  She lived on Larkin Street, in Nob Hill.  She was the only woman there as all the other tenants were gay men.  I enjoyed living there and made many friends.  I spent the month of October in Great Falls, Montana, with my boyfriend and his family - an American I had met in Paris earlier.  I went back there several times with the Greyhound bus.  I also spent Christmas that year in Great Falls.  It is not far from Glacier National Park and lovely in winter.  Below are postcards of Great Falls in the early 1960s, me standing over the Giant Springs (which were discovered by Lewis and Clark in 1805 and are one of the largest fresh water springs in the country,) my boyfriend Patrick and a USA map showing the state of Montana with a red star on Great Falls.

Back in San Francisco I quickly found my way to the Black Hawk, the famous jazz club.  I would go there every evening and did not look for a job until the beginning of the following January.  I just could not believe the talented jazz musicians who came to perform in the club, like Oscar Peterson, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Horace Silver, Blue Mitchell, etc.  I made friends with the owners and they would give me a ride home after the shows.  They took me to a Thanksgiving dinner in Oakland at the home of Earl "Fatha" Hines where there was a multitude of jazz musicians (I'll write a post on this sometime.)

Quickly I found a job on Post Street, walking distance from our apartment.  I was a purchasing clerk for a drafting and engineers' supply firm, The A. Lietz Company.  The firm was not very large.  They imported many drafting equipment from Japan.  The staff became my family really, and a sales clerk there, Virginia, became by best friend.  Below is a picture of Virginia, in the blue and red sweater, next to me, and the two managers, Merril Yoh on the left and Mr. Crocker on the right.

By then I was no longer a brunette.  I was tired of having to die my hair black so often and decided to return to a light shade.  It is not easy to go back from jet black hair to blonde.  The wife of one of my friends was getting a hair dresser license and referred me to Clairol.  I went to them and since I already had a job, they offered to slowly bring my hair back from dark to light, free of charge, if I would be a model for their company and go to hair dresser shows for them.  I accepted.  This took over a year and I went from black to dark brown, to dark red, all the shades in between until I finally came back to a blond shade.  Below is a (not very good quality) picture showing the dark brown shade.

I did not like to be a model and never wished to have my photo taken by friends because the styles were quite outlandish.  But two pictures were taken after shows when the style was not too strange, as you can see below.

I did not have time to be homesick, as I also took evening courses at the San Francisco Art Institute.  I would take the cable car to the school.  Then it was easy and cheap and there were hardly any tourists on the cable cars.

 My teacher at the Art Institute was an Armenian named Sam Tchakalian (1929-2004.)  He was into abstract expressionism and had tremendous talent.  He was a tough teacher but was great.  He exhibited many of his paintings in the US and abroad and taught painting at the SF Art Institute for decades.  Here he is below with some of his work.

For a time I also worked in an exclusive French restaurant called La Bourgogne, in the evenings, to help out.  I also learned to play the recorder with Carlo, the brother of my best friend Vince Middione.  You can see us below - this was taken during my dark gold shade of hair.  I certainly had a lot of energy then.

This covers the early parts of the 1960s in San Francisco, so I'll have to continue this post in part two.  I'll leave with this photo taken from the roof top of our building on Larkin Street where we would go and sun ourselves.  Maybe I can figure out a way to eliminate the dust and spots on the slides (any suggestions?)  More to come ...

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Blog Intermission No. 21 (entr'acte) - Villes, a poem

Traveling in nature is one of the great joys we have.  We can watch a sunset over the sea, snow on a mountain and brilliant flowers in a garden.  Experiencing the splendor of nature brings powerful feelings I think, feeling of joy, of gratitude even for being part of all this magnificence.  I'll share some of my pictures below such as a sunset over mountain in Alaska.

But we are also attached to the place where we spent our childhood and young years, and we carry it with us. Until I was 21 I spent most of my life in Paris, the capital of France.  It is a large city where I felt at home because it was home.  So I feel at home in large cities also, in any country.  In a city you encounter a diverse range of people, from many backgrounds.  The sounds, the architecture, the smells can be so different and exiting - the food too.  The culture, the arts - there is no monotony.  You can find a quiet place in a city too, like this bench I found in a park.

Or enter (and exit, as my husband is doing) the CNN Center in Atlanta with its quick pace.

There is such a diversity of happenings in a large city - you may be witness to unpredictable gatherings, such as these two men below we saw in a busy street in Oslo, Norway - one acting like a statue, the other wearing a pink dress.

Or you can feel part of a happy event such as the bride answering my wave in a street of Marseille, France.

Or watching another bride and groom walking by in the Montmartre hills of Paris.

You can study appealing architecture, such as the tall buildings in Manhattan below

and the professionals with their vehicles coming to peoples' assistance anytime they are needed.

Or spend a peaceful evening on a roof garden in Tunis, Tunisia where we could smell the flowering jasmine.

Or you can stop in the middle of a bridge to watch a boat float by, as we did a Sunday morning on the Danube River in Vienna, Austria.

 One of my favorite things is to be on a high point and contemplate the city below, such as Los Angeles from my friend's Naomi's home in the hills of Hollywood

or observe the port of Oslo on a overcast day.

And my favorite view, of course, is the view closest to my former home - the Paris panorama from the Montmartre hills near the Sacre-Coeur.  But I embrace all the cities I have known.

Below is a poem by Andree Chedid (1920-2011.)  She was of Lebanese descent and born in Cairo, Egypt (another city I like, home of my late aunt and cousins.)  She studied in a French school and in an American University.  She spoke French, English and Arabic.  She moved to France with her husband in 1946 and they both took the French nationality.  For over 50 years she created a body of work in France that includes 40 volumes of poetry, novels and plays.  She won the Goncourt prize for literature and many other literary prizes.  Below is a picture of Cairo, Egypt.

Le Chant des Villes     
Je m’attache aux pulsations des villes
A leur existence mouvementée
Je respire dans leurs espaces verts
Je me glisse dans leurs ruelles
J’écoute leurs peuples de partout
J’ai aimé les cités Le Caire ou bien Paris
Elles retentissent dans mes veines
Me collent à la peau
Je ne pourrai me passer
D'être foncièrement :
Urbaine.  - Andree Chedid

Window cleaners in Paris in May 2011


The Song of cities

I cling to the pulsations of cities
To their animated existence
I breathe in their greenspaces
I slip into their alleyways
I listen to their people from everywhere
I have loved the cities like Cairo or Paris
They echo in my veins
Stick to my skin
I could not live without
Being fundamentally :
Urban.  Andree Chedid

Paris seen from the roof tops by Robert Ricart, French born in 1948


Note:  Post pre-programmed - this is a blogger break. 
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