North Beach Journal

Mama’s, Annie Hall, and the pornographic butterflies

The other day someone said she thought I was becoming the Herb Caen of North Beach. Good try on a compliment, but I could never match Herb’s wit and wisdom. Bruce Bellingham could — perhaps. He’s much more of a Herb Caen clone. And Herb himself thought he was more of a Walter Winchell clone.

Actually, I fancy myself more of a Marcello Mastroianni clone. Remember Marcello in the Fellini movie La Dolce Vita? Mastroianni played a gossip columnist in Rome who leads the sweet life. He attends a press conference for a visiting Swedish-American movie star played by Anita Ekberg and — well you know how that turns out. Moral of this Herb Caen-like item: If a good-looking Swedish-American movie star comes to town, invite me to the press conference.


The Travel Channel’s top-rated TV show Food Paradise was prowling around a while back and zeroed in on Gigi’s Sotto Mare on Green Street. Some of Gigi’s regulars were tipped off and showed up for the filming, a large and distinguished cast that included the Gentleman Trencherman James Melling, pal Joey De Roen, and Marco Rossi of Gino & Carlo, where some gathered for prefilming spirits for the hard work ahead. This humble columnist was filmed whipping into a Dungeness crab cioppino and describing the sensation on camera, but he mumbled and stumbled and may wind up on the cutting-room floor, thereby becoming a has-been in his own time. The production crew said the Gigi’s episode would be on the tube mid-July. You might want to check with Gigi Fiorucci or the captain of his stalwart team, Louise Taylor.


Word is around the neighborhood that Mama’s on Washington Square, which has been serving omelets, salads, and sandwiches for more than 50 years at the corner of Filbert and Stockton, is in a pickle. Mama’s rent shot out of sight (another story) and the Sanchez family, which operates the popular restaurant, elected to move the operation to the Piazza Market site at Vallejo and Columbus. All systems were go. But now I’m told Mama’s has run afoul of — are you ready to be not surprised — the byzantine Telegraph Hill Dwellers, which has its own flabby but starchy reasoning, and has the city Planning Commission’s ear clamped firmly in its teeth.


As an afterthought to my recent column on North Beach art galleries, let me tell you about the pornographic butterflies. A while back, the Telegraph Hill Gallery (491 Greenwich Street) showed the work of Vietnamese artist and poet Truong Tran. To produce the butterfly collages he has become known for, Tran tore apart hundreds of pornographic magazines, turned the porno photos face down on his art board and cut out thousands of small butterflies. Then he turned them over to the porno side and affixed them to his paintings. No, they are not X-rated.


I’m happy to report that Piazza Saint Francis, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s vision for a pedestrian enclave on Vallejo between Grant and Columbus, is gathering a good head of steam. It’s a civic project to be created by neighborhood volunteers, donations and community grants. The Chinatown Community Development Center, North Beach Merchants Association, Telegraph Hill Dwellers, North Beach Citizens, and hundreds of local residents have offered their endorsements. Ferlinghetti, a poetic handyman with words that count, says: “Inner cities around the country are tardily learning that they do not have to allow the automobile and car culture to overrun them. Notable and successful strategies have been conceived to stem the automotive tide that is polluting so many cities around the world. We hope the city of San Francisco will be a leader in such a movement.”


Trombonist Mal Sharpe and his swing and Dixieland band, Big Money in Jazz, are playing on Sundays at Original Joe’s in North Beach. When I was there a few weeks ago, the band played the 1931 standard “When I Take My Sugar to Tea,” and Sharpe sang new-and-improved sudsy lyrics like this:

When I take my sugar to tea
We never go to Chez Panisse
Its Original Joe’s for me


Recently I met an attractive young woman named Chloe Hollingsworth at Colosseo Ristorante in North Beach. She’s a singer — operatic arias, classic Renaissance folk music, and show tunes. She had been signed to perform at a private political event at the restaurant.

I was sitting at the bar and was bored. The young woman began to sing — a little Puccini, a little Verdi. No one gave her a listen. I thought she deserved some attention and some respect so I applauded wildly when she finished each number. I introduced myself, and told her that I probably wasn’t going to write anything about the political event, but I might figure out a way to write something about her. And so here, I am doing just that.

As I sat there sipping wine and listening to her, I was reminded of Woody Allen’s movie Annie Hall, in which Dianne Keaton, in a weak but moving voice, sings “It Had to Be You” in a nightclub. You can barely hear her over the din of conversation, glasses clinking, and persistent telephone ringing. One person listening to Annie Hall besides her boyfriend, Woody Allen, was a Hollywood music producer played realistically by the great Paul Simon. Simon discovers Annie and she is off to Hollywood for a career. I’d like to think that something like that would happen to Chloe Hollingsworth. But it didn’t happen at the Colosseo event.

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