Our main walk into town from North Beach (because it was the only route that didn’t involve steep inclines) was along buzzing Columbus St., cutting diagonally through the grid structure of San Francisco. Columbus is lined with mainly Italian businesses, cafes, delis and restaurants that spill out onto the pavements.
The walk leads you towards the very impressive and iconic Trans-America Pyramid building, looming over the city like one of the ministries in George Orwell’s 1984. Big Brother also seems to be present here as a siren like a WW2 air raid warning goes off every Tuesday at noon and has done ever since 9/11. This is followed by a very muffled inaudible tannoy message that should say it is a test.
As we are approaching the Trans-America Pyramid another architectural gem pops up on the right of Columbus – the Zoetrope Cafe. A beautiful building with an exciting history. It was in this building that Zoetrope Films was formed, and the editing for classic films such as Apocalypse Now and The Godfather took place here. Francis Ford Coppola now owns the building and keeps an apartment on the top floor. There are still film editing suites and offices on the middle floors and Coppola’s Zoetrope Cafe now runs at street level selling wines from Coppola’s vineyard in the Napa Valley.
Again, I made use of the shelter of the large street furniture to sneak an easel onto the busy street and gain a viewpoint that compared the two buildings. I have brought in some dark canopies and lampposts to carve into the sky and help achieve a sense of urban claustrophobia.
I talked to a lot of passers-by during this piece and at last felt I had scratched the glossy surface of American culture, with one meeting in particular. William Bates was an African American who, during a two hour intense conversation on the street corner, relayed the tensions and frustrations of being a black male in this country. These bubbled right to the forefront with news from Florida of a ‘not guilty’ judgement of George Zimmerman in his murder trial for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Two major protests about this case happened outside Federal buildings while we were in San Francisco. William also told me about the meetings of local poets. San Francisco and North Beach in particular has a rich history of activist poets including Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, the Beat Museum and the City Lights Book shop on Columbus, and the culture continues today. From William’s recommendation we went to a evening poetry reading at a book shop in Fort Mason. These regular meet-ups to vent frustrations through an art form are refreshing and exciting.