“Beware of the glitz,
especially if it starts
to give you fits.”
“…Amor, sublime amore,
in tale istante ti favelli al core.
Ah si, ben mio, coll’essere
io tuo, tu mia consorte.
Avro piu l’alma intrepida,
il braccio avro piu forte…”
Back to matters immediato—first off, no less Italian; Italian, no less: The other side of Scott Street brought out more of the Marina’s northern Mediterranean flavor. Most immediately, there was no ignoring the Consartaras, an operatic brother-sister duo staged between a street cleaning towaway sign and several mail storages boxes, within lyric-spitting distance of the Emporio Regale Caffe.
These singing siblings were body-massive dots in a land of dashes, rotund in shape as well as spirit, with outsized voices for a peculiar, spare-change streetcorner act. Having already sung canto snippets and shuffled selections from Otello, Rigoletto, Puccini’s Tosca and Rossini’s Siviglia, the pair had worked up quite an operatic lather. Brother Mario sweated profusely in the stubborn afternoon sun, drenched from the receding hairline down, his shapeless pin-striped shirt drenched at the collar and pits, baggy brown dress slacks sagging over kneel-worn cordovan loafers.
Francina covered significant girth in an annatto gingham peasant dress, her rose, cheeky glow in a conestoga bonnet, hands clasped placidly behind, fronting a crown of violets and benign smile between her partes, with the quiet patience of the divine. She had nailed her abbreviated Carmen aria, the two had tag-teamed on Bellini’s la Sonnambula, drawing quite the corner crowd and replenishing their offertory basket four-fold.
By this time, the Consartaras were actually displaying a little sibling rivalry in their performance of Verdi’s Il Trovatore. Mario’s face went Campari red as he belted Manrico’s tenor passages, gesturing his pudgy arms for tragidramatic effect. Then Francina swayed gently, tapped the flower-strapped sandals beneath her sweeping hemline as she adagioed the rejoinder soprano lines of Leonora, which punctuated Di quella pira. Granted, he was no Caruso, no Placido Domingo; she no Luisa Tetrazzini, Maria Callas, or Joan Sutherland Bel Canto.
The karaoke orchestral tracks on their squawky boombox were hardly the stuff of Zubin Mehta, and this open-air venue was no Teatro San Carlo. Impressive nonetheless was the blessed earnestness of Team Consartas’ efforts and slick velo packaging of their indie CDs. Altogether, they were setting a forte Tuscan mood on this sunny Marina corner, voicing the last rose of summer, while either captivating or visibly annoying the café society looking out upon them, depending upon the posture, if not posturing, of a captive audience so nearby.
“Era gia figlio prima d’amarti
non puo frenarmi il tuo martir
Madre infelice, corro a salvarti
a teco almeno corro a morir!”
“Non reggo a colpi tanto funesti…
Oh quanto meglio saria morir!”
“Di quella pira l’arrendo foco
tutte le fibre m’arse, avvampo!
Empi, spegnetela a ch’io fra poco
col sangue vostro la spegnero!”
“Let me get this Mideast thing straight,” I itched, closing back in—not grasping any of Il Figlio Della Zingara, yet humming along, just the same. Got so I could hardly hear ourselves think. “With all your classes and other teaching chores at CU, you still find time for this kind of…research. Damn, I remember a blur of all-nighters just keeping up…”
“Priorities, my friend. Sometimes one has higher priorities,” Reese Paulen replied, hesitantly tossing a five-spot into their greenback stuffed basket. “After all, this Middle East quandary is one of the crucial issues of our time. What could be more compelling than that?”
“Oh, I don’t know—tenure, maybe, your teaching career…”
“That’s the difference between a career, and what has become a calling.”
Tough crowd: these opera re-buffers wonting for more of a no-fugue zone, doubtlessly wondering how much jack it would take to make the fat lady sing no more. Klatched behind plantered shrubs and ovoid glass breeze shields, they weren’t here for a makeshift musicale. They came here for the scene, to be seen, but mostly they were out here for the artisan dolce, the rich caffe and vini dolci.
Various two and threesomes tête-à-têted about compact round marblelite-topped chromed tables and red padded stilt stools along a narrow open-air terrazzo, sipping vintage Moscadeddu, Dettori and Moscato d’ Asti, nibbling arugula and Margherita pizza. Other, more intimate ‘items’ cozyed stylishly Fila or Versace/Armani Sport, sparking electric cigarettes over rich macchiattos and Della Mela; romantics shared panini among castered green flower carts and glowing heater stands taking any chill out of the patchy afternoon shade.
Backdrop to them all, Emporio Regale’s sienna brickface and faux marble motif, the ristorante’s airy walnut portafinestre, evoked Torino and Milano—the cradle of espresso civilization, no less. Its gold-leaf signage defined this glittering café as variously a pasticerria, torrefazione, cioccolateria and enoteca. Even Zagat or Michelin couldn’t flag the splashy Marina newcomer on any critical count.
Regale’s bustling front sidewalk tables boasted rolled linen napkins, with gleaming stem and flatware on frosted logo glass tops. Never had the tactile pleasure, but my quick peek inside, past an antique coffee grinder, beyond a curvilinear polished wood and glass-paneled retainer, yielded a gran ovale salon. Fanciful Michaelangelic Etruscan friezes rose to its Sistine center ceiling fresco—sort of a flowerful cirque du caffe trapeze theme—illuminated by a massive crystal chandelier. Continental brunching and imbibing around the spacious room was an even dressier set: Prim patrons down from Pacific or Presidio Heights, enroute to Davies Symphony Hall.
Tan-chested film studio execs hopped up from L.A.. Doubling couples swept in from Marin to survey their income properties and checkbook their way on over to a benefit at the DeYoung, early dining on Stracotto al Barolo and Involtini di pesce spada at glowing glass-top tables. Black-shirted consigliore waitpersons with white knit ties served Taleteller, Torsion de fungi and porcini risotto del groin to some of the neighborhood’s more equity-fat maggiorenne.
The only slackers in this crowd were a table or two of overpaid wunderkinds, skywalkers on break from animating Lucas Digital’s newest cinematic franchise. Look again, and you could swear you spotted the Pelosis, Aliotos, the Coppolas or Nicolas Cage—a Toscanini concerto further leavening it all. L’ Emporio seemed a taste of where the Marina was headed, not where the district had been, just so long as this high-wired economy held its ground.
I peered at the mahogany stand-up espresso bar, which delivered me back unto that smoky stazione dei treni barista in Catania, where my whole blasted caffeine fixation got jump started—waiting there among the black-clad Sicilian gumbas, for the early morning return trip up to Firenze and the bahnhofs of Bavaria and Allemagne.
Paulen appeared somewhat ambivalent about the Italianate authenticity of the place as he marveled in at Regale’s brightly fluorescent glass pastry case, extending across much of the room’s rear wall. Even from this distance, he couldn’t miss the brassy trays of Bavarese and creamy Panna Cotta, the warm Tortina di Cioccolato, buttery Torta Della Nonna, raspberry domed San Francesco, rum-layered Torroncino, towering orange and Limoncello liqueured wedding cakes, a sheeted white cocoa Nozze Bianchi, the vanilla cream shortdough of a five-deck Crostata di Frutta. Christ, this wasn’t just a pasticceria; it was a San Franciscan galleria.
“Sorta feeds your inner Italian, huh?” My curiosity was soon damped, however, by a vaguely familiar face, that mauve-caped dame curled up in a red leather chair over near Regale’s front corner table, beside its first arc-vented window door. She sat spooning a dish of Tiramisu alla Veneziana, passing a mascarponed lady finger to her Polo sweatered companion—momentarily seizing my eye as she made the delicate exchange. I turned away with a sudden chill, making her as a former …client, recalling how ours was far from a mutually…satisfying transaction. A little intra-house interaction—misdirection, at that. If only it had ended then and there.
“Feeds it to a tee,” doc replied, “or to a fault, as the case may be…”
We found ourselves standing awkwardly between tables, giving way to a black tie-white shirted waitress—all business, she—dropping tip trays to both stations. On our right was a hard-striving broker expressively snowing a prospective Larkspur helmsman over a litre of Orvieto Vallesanta. Just west of us, a comparatively subdued couple who sounded somewhat on the outs picked over one last Lottuga & Pinoli and vanilla-almond frangipane, perhaps before a matinee finale at the Presidio Theater.
There we left Emporio Regale, not without taking awed notice of the jet black Maserati Berlina idling in its loading zone, a Napa-bound don ducking in for a quick ristretto and affogato from a latte artiste, a macchiato and Cioccolato del Doge to go for the little lady. Sweet—Birra Moretti chaser, Toscanini Coriolan Overture soundtrack, and all.
“Fault? How come…” Moving on once more, here I saw a chance to redirect the subject, maybe explore a juicier fault line—as in, something to do with that phone call? Were we finally digging down to some really gritty paydirt here?
“Look, I believe you were asking me about my study of the Middle East,” Paulen dodged, steering us further out Chestnut Street, past a hard-hatted phantom in a fetid overcoat, plastic bags knotted with shoelaces to his clothesline belt, oversized shitkickers worn down to their rusty steel toes. Heavy smoke-congested breathing in a nose guard, neck brace and black safety glasses, he was paranoid ready for the next head-on attack, drifting toward his day shift and sink shower at the public library, smelly just the same. I could have personally shown him the way.
“Ri-ri-right, your inner Israeli,” I retreated, taking visual refuge in an adjoining fresh flower stand. Still, I was beginning to sense something of a doc divided. Could it be time to start going for the Jungular? “Sorry, I got sidetracked a bit there—took me back to munching stale marzipan on a train trip down the boot—mainly the gorgeous leg between Salerno to the ferry docks at Reggio.”
“One heritage at a time, shall we, Herbert?” Paulen appeared to be growing a bit more irritable, curiously disconcerted—some pain in the ol’ paisan? “I simply do not have the bandwidth, as it were, for such speculative cross referencing.”
Regale’s fructose aroma of glazed fruit, caramelized almonds and chantilly cream quickly surrendered to the commingled fragrances from the nondescript next-door florist shop. Vases of roses, carnations, hothouse orchids and golden sunflowers; color-coordinated clay and plastic pots of daylilies, azaleas, geraniums, gladiolas and purple violets; hanging planters of ivy and hydrangea, and assorted dwarf shrubs spread along the sidewalk, deep into the store—a bright burst of color in a relatively plain brown package, flowers for the little lady, tended by a butchy pair of grad schoolgirls. And unfortunately, Arturo’s 4th Movement was soon laid low by a rock ‘n’ roll ruckus across Chestnut, never mind the poor Consartaras.
No way that was coming from the bus shelter over there, all those Giants fans sporting orange and black, waiting on a 30 Stockton downtown for the back end of a Dodger day-night doubleheader. No, the golden oldie soundcheck was pouring out from behind them, a mongrel local cover band tuning for a freebie gig that was already drawing a sizeable streetside swarm.
In truth, the Doobious Brothers were a sudsy pick-up act stirred together from a network of Marina bars: Monahan’s, Cooly’s, Dennehy’s, O’Herlihy’s—pride o’ the Irish, I shuddered, reckoning anew how much more inventive Italians could be, let alone Israelis. Still, the Doobios had their neighborhood following, as evidenced by a rockin’ crowd that spilled out over the red bus zone curb now that MUNI had carried the diehard Gigantes fans away to The Phone.
“Now, coda for the ’73 war,” Paulen added, as the sidewalk rockers quickened their tuning. “Coming on the heels of the Palestinian terrorists’ Munich Olympics massacre, Yom Kippur didn’t bring much of any peace or resolution for long either.”
“Sorry, drawing total blanks on that one,” I said in passing. Identity clashes, inner Jewish, inner Italian: maybe his inner Frenchman could mediate the divide. “Was truckin’ around Europe about then. Yep, even got to the Anne Frank House once.”
“Yes, but Amsterdam isn’t the Sinai,” Paulen said, as we paused in an upstairs apartment doorway to survey the Doobious scenario. “And by the way, have you donated to save her beloved chestnut tree?”
“Tree? I remember climbing up to the attic, but…” There, a little authenticity couldn’t hurt.
“Well, you didn’t miss much in the Mideast then, anyway. Because the Yom Kippur War didn’t last all that longer than 1967. To wit, Egypt and Syria blindsided Israel at high noon on October 6—the holiest day of the Jewish calendar yet. Then Moscow seeded the Arab blitz, Saudi Arabia capped off the attack by leading an oil embargo. Arabs may have wanted those pre-1967 lands back, but Israel ended up with another 165 square miles from Syria—and had stopped Egypt’s army on the west bank of the Suez Canal by the time a U.N. cease-fire was declared on October 22.”
“Think I would have heard more about that,” I caught a whiff of the florist’s Impatiens and hanging Wisteria. “Humph, from a six-day war to a three-week one,” “Sounds pretty weak to me…I mean, sneak attack, Soviets and Arabs still couldn’t drive poor little Israel into the Mediterranean Sea?”
“Not in their wildest dreams. So after the Security Council passed Rez 338, they turned to diplomatic warfare,” Paulsen said, reeled anew in the Neapolitan spumoni sensual contrasts, more accustomed as he was to Boulder’s lactose-free vanilla. “Even though Israel had given back much of their ’73 spoils, the anti-Israel bloc started in with the ‘Zionism=Racism’ rubbish at the U.N. They pulled in much of the General Assembly’s Third World delegation, not to mention the Euro left, who absurdly linked Israel to the former Nazi sumps of apartheid South Africa, portent of the BDS Movement, to be sure. Battle lines pretty near froze in cold war stalemate—Israel settled ’67 territories, Arafat burst on the scene, after launching ’50s Fedayeen guerillas, then terror-jacking with the PLO—declaring the ‘Zionist Entity’ null and void—at least until Camp David came along.”
“Right, with Washington basically footing the bill,” I muttered, gradually recognizing some dated 1970s AOR guitar licks, slipping in a lick or two on my own. Yah, gettin’ on top of this, wrappin’ my head around the whole drill.
From where we stood, the backdrop to that Doobious scene seemed appropriate enough. Let out a full corner storefront and a half, TrustyJeans was the Marina’s house of blues—denim, that is. The anti-Levi brand was everything bluejeans: pre-faded, pre-stoned, pre-worn and torn, pre-stained and frayed. Straight legs, stovepipes, boot-cut and flares hung like unclaimed dry cleaning from wheelie racks and stripped wood rafters; vast display windows topped the denim and occasional white bell bottoms with batik and paisley hoodies, day-glo tanks, flowerchild tie-dye and embroidered lace muslin tops with cuffed up sleeves.
Forget musty, crusty Gaps. Trusty’s 60s theme of late carried into an auxiliary showcase of a kiddie band of rock stars, a five-piece laddequin group with toy guitars, drum set and Pignose amps. Plastered on the background window display was a collage of period 45s and LP album jackets—psychedelic old-school yet iconically cool: Moody and Moby, Santana’s Abraxas, Blind Faith, Beau Brummels, Buffalo Springfield, Goodbye Cream. The cover display bed included a strewing of Quicksilver Messenger, Jeff Beck’s Truth, Satanic Majesty’s Pink Surrealistic Pillow, Big Brother Dead Doors Family Stone Ponies Fixin’-to-Die Gratefully Born On the Bayou Highway 61 Traffic Mystery Tour Experience Foray Good Vibrations Aftermath, Otis on A Beautiful Day—and basically every local Power but Tower and steel-bodied Taj Mahal.
“Footing only part of the bill, Herbert—the enlightened self-interest part—much of it coming back to the U.S. military-industrial complex anyway. With Iran erupting, Israel was all we could count on in the Middle East as a democratic ally,” Paulen answered sharply, watching the crowd burgeon, with an expression of some alarm. “And the Camp David Summit, September, 1978, Sadat’s and Menachem Begin’s handshake, hell-o? Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt, dismantled a number of settlements—to what end? Fatah Palestinians hijacked an Israeli bus and 32 died, while attacking its northern border from southern Lebanon. Suffice to say, ‘habemus pacem’ went nowhere after that: Jimmy Carter got ousted and Anwar Sadat got his in Cairo for signing the peace treaty of ’79 recognizing Israel.”
“Yeah, I remember…September ’78…” Aaggh, damn my autonomic nervous system, reflexive epinephrine secretion, brown fat oxidation—long-suppressed declarative episodes nodal potentiating in a parahippocampal web of Saturnine deconstruction—which only served to drag me back off beam. “Had some other stuff goin’ down around here about then…”
“I can imagine,” doc nodded, scanning me up and down. “Then, even after Saddam’s SCUDS, Pappy Bush’s Madrid Conference misfires, the Achille Lauro killing, Sabra and Chatilla carnage, an Intifada, came the first Oslo Accord and Taba. Likud PM Shamir ousted, Israel and the PLO recognized each other, Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin shook hands anew—Nobel Peace Prizes all around. But Oslo’s Declaration of Principles largely went nowhere faster: Bill Clinton blew it with the intern, and alas, sui generous Rabin got blown away by a soi-disant Jewish extremist—and any Oslo Two advances beyond ABC Area parcelling abeyed. Further Gaza and West Bank negotiations stalled until Wye River, let alone final status solutions.”
“River, the Wye River conference, where Clinton pressured redux Israeli Likudnik Netanyahu to turn over more of the West Bank to the Palestinians, a declaration Bibi proceeded to ignore until he lost the Prime Minister election to Labor’s Ehud Barak, albeit in a squeaker.”
“Yassir, that’s my schemin’ Bibi…” Jab and dance—a little biding footwork to catch my breath, in an attempt to steer this back more shallow and lite.
Fittingly, it was around Trusty’s west-side display window, a rockin’ retro backdrop, that the latest bright, shiny young hipsters had crowded, streaming from the Marina’s restobar circuit to groove on some live long-gone vinyl. Across the ages, good-timers danced and hooted and toasted—cosmos, Buck’s Fizzes and kamikazes slyly in hand—hard-partying softball types who knew a good, free round when they found it.
Headed for the watering hole or coming up for air, this gathering throng of barflies knew their local guitar heroes almost as well as they knew their poison. So more than likely secreted in those water bottles, hip flasks, juice boxes and soda cans would be their Sazeracs, Mudslides, single-malt Blue Blazers, Redheaded Sluts—jello shots and JaegerBombs from the sports bars—Cherry Smashes, frozen daiqs, Malta Fizzes and Singapore Slings for the ladies, young to more aged and cured.
As the Doobios strummed through mic feedback and off-keyboards into an actual Doobie Brothers medley, clap-dancers in flirty dresses and air guitar heroes bounced about to the 70’s covers with 1960’s abandon. Beyond the angel dusted or absinthe minded Mata Haris among them, a goldenrod goddess in pushed-up Daisy Duke halter and buckskin dropped inhibitions with acid and mescaline disregard—possibly touched by GHB/ Ketamine or Polonium 210. All for the peace and love of their verdant rock ‘n’ roll glow, as if this was, like, Hippie Hill or Speedway Meadow grown uptown. Duly distracted, seemingly despite himself, doc was particularly keying on her.
“You might say that,” Paulen began to tap his shoulder attaché in time. “Barak did about all he could to reach agreement with the Palestinian Authority. Withdrawing from south Lebanon, handing over 90-95% of the West Bank, offered to divide Jerusalem, place the Temple Mount under U.N. control, negotiating actual boundaries on a two-state solution. But the PLO’s Arafat blinked, gutlessly waffled on signing on until Clinton was out the door, and Ariel Sharon marched his Likud troopers to the Temple Mount. Purportedly still seething over Baruch Goldstein’s Hebron massacre in 1994, Palestinians took that show-of-force as an affront to the al-Aqsa mosque there, and Intifada Two exploded, along with the suicide bombings.”
“Yeah, but Arafat’s history now, doc,” I shouted, somewhat regrouping over the scratchy PA noise of the Doobios’ shout-outages to their loyal peeps. “So what’s the problem?”
“Still no LSD there, Herbert. No Palestinian leadership, no security, no dependability—just more official corruption and deceit.”
We lingered a bit, to absorb the surging scene and sounds, kickin’ it with pass around sampler cups of Ronrico and Red Bull. At least until the Doobious Brothers sequed from ‘Listen to the Music’ to ‘Takin’ It to the Streets’ to ‘Jesus is Just Alright With Me, Jesus is Just Alright, Oh Yeah’.
“Trusty Jeans—betcha that’s where Lucas’s star warriors get their unies,” I digressed apprehensively, having made my point, bereft of an apt counter. However awkward that Jesus freak number might have been for Paulen, the Doobious amped-up transition into ‘It Keeps You Running’ caused me nothing if not a little more recollective hyper-anxiety myself.
As we stepped advisedly out of the doorway, this meaty neighborhood Sophia in a billowing pink jogging suit with beaded silver piping huffed past us—peach perfumed cigarette in one hand, little caramel Maltese cuddled up against her bosom with the other—shuffling her virgin white cross-trainers—mocking, visibly attitudinal over what she had just passed through up the street.
We could hear her still mumping like a meerkat about it, under the engine roar of a new black Wrangler gunning out of a precious mid-block parking space, the citified Jeep looking uncannily like a 1929 Ford sedan. She seemed headed into the Curl & Cut Salon here for a perm or some henna highlights, but bugging her most likely were curls of an entirely different kind.
“Couldn’t tell you anything about George Skywalker,” Paulen said, the next 30 Stockton honking the rockster crowd clear from MUNI’s bus stop, right at the keyboard fanfare to haunting faux (Old Michael McDonald) falsetto of ‘What a Fool Believes’. “It’s getting so I can’t even hear my own synopsis. In any case, bottom line is, Ehud Barack and Israel bent over backwards to meet the Palestinians halfway at Camp David II. Clinton was the one who let things erode to the bitter end. As for Arafat, he was either too corrupt or cowardly to pull the trigger for peace and the best deal ever offered him. This, while he was snaking to the U.N. for Palestinian statehood—calling to ‘liquidate the Zionist presence’, denying there ever was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. So may he rest in pieces.”
“Ahem, siete scusati.”
“There’s that, too…”
Care for more?
Chapter Thirty-Two. Past history is
history. Now, a ‘grimbo’ eruption sparks
a shift in perceptions, if not a
wholesale spate of suspicion…