“I love this book! It is a fascinating and hilarious magical mystery tour of that unmapped land called Bohemia.”
—Pat Conroy (author of The Prince of Tides)
“Postwar Paris, the San Francisco of Beats, and Hippies, these are but a few of the island stops on Herbert Gold’s journey.”
—Thomas Sanchez (author of Mile Zero and Rabbit Boss)
“For Herbert Gold curiosity has been a lifelong unrestrained appetite. He has gone to and fro in the hep, beat, hip world-looking, listening, tasting, translating a bewildering mess of would-be outsiders’ wacky dreams and pretenses into comely, shrewd, wonderfully funny stories. He has everybody’s number, especially his own; this is cultural autobiography at its personal best.”
—Geoffrey Wolff (author of The Duke of Deception)
Bruce Cook of the Washington Post Book World has written that “Bohemia has become an acceptable, even desirable lifestyle all around America, and indeed the world over.” To understand how this happened, how an “alternative” lifestyle became so mainstream, there is no better guide than Gold. In his company, you will visit Bohemia’s golden age with William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Genet, Henry Miller, Woody Allen, William Saroyan, Anais Nin, and Jack Kerouac.
About the Author
Herbert Gold was awarded the Sherwood Anderson Prize for fiction in 1989. Raised in Cleveland, he has lived in various Islands of Bohemia, including Greenwich Village, Paris, Haiti, and South Beach in Miami. He is a longtime resident of San Francisco.
1: Protocols of the Elders of Bohemia
2: When North Beach Made an Offer, Old Bohemia Couldn’t Refuse
3: Coffee, Sex, Art, Terror, Money, and Other Rituals: France, Boheem Mamas, and the Pursuit of Pleasure in the Bohemian Religion—Some Necessary Histories
4: Search for a Star, Finding a Bliss, Demanding Correct Pronunciation
5: Colonial Outposts/World Headquarters/Downtown Bohemia
8: Miller and Nin
9: Upper Bohemia in America
10: California Nation—“Eureka! I Found the Water”
11: Greenwich Village, a Palimpsest
12: Travels in the East Village/Loizaida
13: Bohemian Diaspora/Bohemian Archipelago/The Territory Ahead and Behind
From Chapter 1: Protocols of the Elders of Bohemia
I live on Russian Hill, which seeps downward into Chinatown, the Barbary Coast, the International Settlement, and the traditional Italian-fisherman settlement of North Beach. Vines cling to the wall opposite my house, there’s a fig tree bearing inedible, fog-stunted figs, but the dappled sun and green make it resemble a wall and fig trees I remember in Fiesole. Sometimes the street outside smells like the harbor of Port-au-Prince—the drains have been clogged during my thirty-two years here—but most often the sweet sea fog and currents of wind keep the air crisply laundered.
A few days after I arrived to settle forever, at least temporarily, taking my dinner one night at the “lonely table” of the New Pisa Restaurant—seven courses plus wine, $1.75—I was startled at the end of my meal, apple with a slice of Monterey jack, coffee poured into the wineglass, when an entire Japanese opera troupe arose to do honor to the cook. In 1960 we still imported courtesy, not Hondas, from Japan. They sang, in Japanese, every verse of “Oh! Susanna.”
I realized I had fumbled my way into a very important corner of the universe.
Later that evening I met a young woman in the basement of City Lights Bookstore. She was reading the Hudson Review, and she had been the drum-majorette champion of the state of California, and she had a jeweled baton given her at the Orange Bowl by the very hands of Debbie Reynolds.
I realized this important corner of the universe was a congenial place for me.
Michael McClure offered to read his beast poems aloud, in the beast language, sonnets composed by lions, tigers, and bears through the medium of Michael’s tongue and palate, in the privacy of my monkish flat. To an audience of the drum-majorette champion and me.
I realized I would find friends in this corner of the universe. Michael told me that silly putty had been invented here. Someone dug a hole in his backyard, and by morning it was filled with silly putty. I realized that irony and fun would not be omitted, even in the place of beast poetry.
Home at last!
From Chapter 2: When North Beach Made an Offer, Old Bohemia Couldn’t Refuse
Thank the gods that protect writers from the obligation to write: the phone just rang. It’s an old acquaintance from North Beach days whom I haven’t seen since breakfast at the Trieste Caffe this morning. We Bohemians in our red-lined satin capes and berets believe in mystic synchronicities.
Ffrank Ffollet (don’t forget the extra fs, to differentiate him from the bogged-down Irish one-f Francises) is writing his own version of Roots—in this case, the roots of a Welshman, since Dylan Thomas just didn’t have enough genius to do the job right. You need spark. You need fire. You need Ffrank Ffollett.
But now my friend’s wife has been laid off from her job as a teacher’s aide, and the IRS says he owes $623 in taxes from four years ago when he briefly sold out to the military-industrial-bucketshop complex and took a job selling circus tickets by phone for the Firemen’s Alzheimer’s Benefit. Those bastards were supposed to forget to report his earnings, but you can’t count on the boojwah to do it right by not doing it, despite the promise that their brains have turned to tofu.
Since Ffrank owes such a small amount, the whole force of the government was coming down on him in a strike force of attack helicopters filled with auditors from the Federal Building. It makes him nervous. Even after three double espressos, his stomach is still jumpy. How can a person sing the truth of the Welsh race, their sagas, their kings in fur hats, under such pressure? As a member of an ethnic group myself, can I dig what he’s saying, brother?
That’s his story. And since I bought a pair of circus tickets from him, I’m partly to blame.
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll lend you a hundred. Come and pick up the check.”
“Jeez,” he said, “couldn’t you meet me at the Puccini? I’m pretty busy right now, got to make a couple more calls, but I could take a break in an hour. Can I lay a cappuccino on you, pal?”
Ffrank qualified. The Christmas Alzheimer’s circus ticket salesman and Welsh epic poet knows I won’t change my mind. He’s got other trapezes to fly. And I’m a sucker for a free cappuccino.