OUR DEMOCRATIC PROCESS IN ACTION
If you’re not terminally fatigued by watching our country’s democratic process in action, you may want to turn your attention to North Beach. The old Italian neighborhood has been considering a once-a-week farmers’ market. The idea has been bubbling along on the back burner like a good spaghetti sauce.
More than a year ago, the North Beach Neighbors, a business and just-plain- folk’s association, got into the act and began promoting the concept. And our very own District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin — who ate his fresh veggies when he was a kid — climbed aboard the bandwagon. Things looked good. A farmers’ market with fresh produce sounds like a good idea, right? But, like our national political discourse (or farce, whichever you prefer), things got contentious and squabbles arose even though a study by the North Beach Neighbors showed that the idea was favored overwhelmingly.
A WIN-WIN SITUATION FOR EVERYBODY?
Several sites were proposed, including Upper Grant Avenue, Joe DiMaggio Playground, Washington Square Park, the short street in front of the North Beach Public Library, and Green Street between Grant and Stockton.
Deeming the other sites unsuitable, the North Beach Neighbors went with Green Street and worked out a deal with the Agricultural Institute of Marin to provide farmers who would sell their produce. No booze, beer, or soft drinks. No hot dogs or chicken wings. Sounds like a win-win situation for the neighborhood, right? Wrong!
THINGS MOVE SLOWLY IN NORTH BEACH
Opposition raged up and down Green Street. It was led by Richie Azzolino, proprietor of the fish restaurant Sotto Mare on the Green Street block in question. And now it appears Richie and his followers stopped the project. Back to square one.
Just as I was completing this column on an optimistic note, I received an e-mail from Tanya Small, chief operating officer for the Agricultural Institute of Marin. She wrote: “We are not moving forward with opening the North Beach market at this time.”
As I said, things move slowly in North Beach.
MORE ON OUR DEMOCRATIC PROCESS IN ACTION
And, if you think the North Beach farmers’ market is moving slowly, how about the Piazza St. Francis, Poets Plaza planned for Vallejo Street between Grant and Columbus Avenues? Lawrence Ferlinghetti conceived the visionary plan in 1998, and a committee has been working actively on it since 2002. But Lawrence Ferlinghetti hasn’t lost faith and neither have I.
AL’S ATTIRE MAKES THE BIG TIME
Fantastic Negrito, who won a Grammy this year for Best Contemporary Blues Album, accepted the award in a tuxedo designed and handmade by Al Ribaya of Al’s Attire on Upper Grant Avenue. The tuxedo was black moiré silk. The Grammy Award-winning album was The Last Days of Oakland. Let’s hope not.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON MUNI
A while back I was returning from a lunch in the Financial District at Sam’s Grill and jumped on the 8 bus for a ride back to North Beach. After a stop or two, my street haberdasher, Bernardo Quintana, boarded with his black, airline roll-on and began pulling out shirts for me to look at. I bought one and he threw in a pair of socks. It was probably the first haberdashery encounter on a Muni bus.
ANOTHER FUNNY THING ON THE MUNI
A few days later, I was riding Muni again. The driver looked at me and said, “How did the shirt work out?”
That’s my Muni tax dollars at work — friendly drivers.
NOSTALGIA STRIKES AGAIN
Those of you who know me will appreciate I’m always in pursuit of the real North Beach. While writing this column, I shed a tear for the old neighborhood. But then, things change, don’t they?
I miss all the old meat markets in North Beach. At one time, there were five or six. Now only Little City Market remains. How about delis? Once we had a bunch of them. Only the mothership, Molinari, is still with us. I miss all the old drugstores. There were three bordering Washington Square Park. Now there’s only Walgreen’s on Stockton Street. And, am I the only guy who misses the old Pagoda Theater and the Cockettes, the outrageous but wonderful group that played there?
I miss the old Spaghetti Factory on Green Street, and I miss Figoni Hardware on Upper Grant.
THE DAYS WERE FULL OF SUN
Yes, I’m nostalgic. This morning I dug out of my files a bunch of old Stanton Delaplane columns from the San Francisco Chronicle. I found the last column Delaplane published before he died on April 18, 1988. In that column, he wrote about North Beach.
I walked in North Beach to sharpen my wits. The best cops drew North Beach. The restaurants spread a good table for them, as they did for reporters. Delicatessens sold 27 kinds of sausage — each one better than the last. A vinegar shop sold 50 flavors. There was a store where I bought fresh pasta. A French bread bakery where we stopped at four in the morning for a hot, crusty loaf. The days were full of sun.
If some of you think you’ve read this before in an earlier column, you are probably right. I try to write like Delaplane so I have it memorized. And, Delaplane’s North Beach is so wonderful it bears repeating.
See you next month.