Kristiina's California: Palm Branches, Earthquake Paranoia and Fiery Cheeks
We have arrived. A little dog has sniffed through our trolley of luggage and found the apples that my mother had collected from our Rapla garden and packed in. The border guards of Mexican descent apologise. They apologise for every apple that they are forced to confiscate. "Oh your mother packed them in! Oh, Rapla! Estonia!! How nice, what a smell these apples have. I have to go to Estonia!” our apple customs officials conclude. Then they see our garmoshka case and ask us to play something. Yes, California welcomes us endearingly. But I started missing singing and playing music during the following three weeks, although Silver filled that void from time to time.
In an LA shop called Meowdy Silver finds me a little bag with a picture of a cat which can also be used as a mask. From that moment on nobody notices me any more on our trip, everyone admires my bag. Children run after me and wherever I go women ask for the shop's address.
From time to time I feel that Silver is a cat. He is so nimble and energetic and I wouldn't be surprised if he caught a squirrel or a mouse, or climbed up a palm tree. I see a painting on a shop wall and begin to fantasise which of those card players is my husband.
Bring me a coconut and he does!
In the bookshop we find an advert for our reading-concert.
I am waiting for my coffee in the market hall. Who would have guessed that the time would come where in Estonia and elsewhere every coffee is a work of art. This time as well I get a big heart, overflowing white milk foam and cinnamon. But that doesn't cure my claustrophobia. As a Rapla girl I can't stand big cities very well, nor underground car parks and huge market halls. Silver laughs at that. He has brought stronger nerves along from Treiman. But in LA and SF I do suffer from earthquake paranoia. The window is fortunately nearby. In my thoughts I calculate the seconds - how long would it take me to get to the exit. I examine the ceiling to see if there are any big lamps that could fall on my head. This time it all goes well ;)!
A person obviously enjoying the park and technical wonders;)
There are other residents enjoying themselves.
At that same fountain I give an interview to LA radio station KCRW. At least the sky above is clear blue. In the US, media titles are bandied about and stuck on so that people believe that this is the real thing. A journalist introduced Silver as a rock star and we were both called "Estonia's most famous writer and best-known musician" or something like that. We thought we were keeping a moderate profile and not exaggerating in any way, but when you read the headlines you can only be amazed. We asked friends afterwards how these things really are and were told it is quite common and the title rock star can be taken as a compliment; that at the beginning even Obama was a rock star in the eyes of the media. We have also heard ourselves referred to here as Estonian bombshells. That was said to be a compliment as well, I suppose we'll try to accept it as such, although Wikipedia says that bombshells are something blonde and dangerously explosive and shows a picture of Marilyn Monroe.
With publisher Chris Heiser in front of Skylight Books. These independent bookshops are much loved in the US and cultural treasures in and of themselves, as we have begun to understand.
After appearing at the University of California Riverside,an Estonian paleontologist Helje Pärnaste takes us to Mission Inn, where, by the way, several scenes of Gone with the Wind were filmed. It is a castle-like centre where we allow ourselves big Mexican margaritas as a reward for a successful reading-concert.
Paleontologist Helje Pärnaste. she has read my book Paleontologist's Diary and its very interesting to hear about her discoveries and see that actually it is possible for an Estonian woman to become a paleontologist in spite of everything. Thank you Helje, for making our afternoon so festive, exciting and colourful.
Some sporting event is beginning at the stadium and the national anthem is sung. "The land of the free and home of the brave" rings out over the excited multi-cultural campus.
Signing books after our third appearance, which took place at the legendary bookshop Skylight Books. It was the kind of audience I dream of. Serious, interested and very open for a laugh. Here you can see an excerpt of the reading:
IN SAN FRANCISCOthe sun shone against the cheek in a very different way. The climate here is more northern, changeable, the air somehow bluer and mistier than in LA. The views from every hillside create a feeling that there is a lot of air and sea in the city. Which of course there is.
In the background the famous Alcatraz can be seen. Our capable map-reader Silver with a map found by accident under a palm has brought us to the Russian Hills area where the shops are full of tasteless glittery polyester dresses, but on the street we still find a plaque that says that in the cafe here Allen Ginsberg read "Howl" for the first time. It has become a classic but was a scandal at the time. Its publication landed him and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti in court, but he won the case. Ginsberg's statement that that literature has to reflect real life and people's vocabulary, and doesn't need to embellish it still echos through literary history.
In a nearby restaurant we were served in a way that exceeds anything we had seen before.
In front of the house we were staying in we met Duke, who for me sang a soul into this city. Duke is a street artist who has always written songs as well. He says that on the street he sees how some song starts to follow him. Or he sees that some song is waiting for him, sitting on cafe steps on a sunny streetcorner. Or he hears a song calling him in a dream. He wakes up and writes it down. The accordian isn't his main instrument, but he says he likes to sqawk away on it, because then you don't see the fingers and only hear. He is from Kansas, one of fourteen children. After Martin Luther King was assassinated, his cousin was shot and killed too, accused of taking part in rioting in Kansas by looting after King's murder,. The boy apparently wasn't guilty, but when the police came to arrest him, he panicked and ran. A bullet in the back made it his last run. Duke says that Obama's election has made life better for Afro-Americans, but there is still a lot of inequality and oppression. For years, Duke has been preserving SF street views on the glass of old windows. Now the city government has taken note of his paintings and he was offered a big exhibition at the central square. It was a big day for the artist.
During the trip we landed up at lots of concerts - Bob Dylan, Childish Cambino, Outback, Janelle Monae, but none of those great stage performers had anything on this man. Only Erykah Badu, who appeared at Berkley University's Greek Theatre sat on the same branch with this man as regards telling musical stories. It felt as if he hadn't had good listeners in a long Time. Everything seemed to come from behind a dam.
Here is a recording made in his back garden:
He gave us this painting from his exhibition collection. The next day, when we were already on the road, we discovered that we had forgotten this window, which had already become dear to us in the flat we had been staying in. If some good person is on the way from SF or sending goods from there, we would like to have it delivered to Estonia.
North Beach is a part of the city which is thick with pleasant cafés. Every café has, along with casual tourists, its own community, which for decades has chosen just this snug place to sit. North Beach's spiritual home is of course City Lights Books, an independent bookshop with a huge and wonderful selection. It was established in the 1950s by the famous American poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ferlinghetti and the legendary circle of Beat poets are for me the most exciting part of North Beach. The Beat Museum is located in one of our side streets and this is itself a pleasant communal centre. The most famous object on display is A hudson car used in the film based on Jack Kerouac's "On the Road". The most special thing about this is that the car supposedly still has dust that collected on it when the film was made in the 1970s. An interesting example of how in some cultures dust can take on a holy, almost ritual meaning and this is presented to visitors as something special. I'm not arguing, it was great to sense that there is such dust and that not everything is washed clean, that history isn't shaken off, that 1970s' dust is within arm's reach.
We spent hours in the small, cosy Beat Museum. Among the Beats was also Gregory Corso, one of my favourite 20th century poets. Corso started writing in prison and later stressed how greateful he was to one prison worker who led him to books. Later Corso met the Beats and became one of his generation's youngest, boldest, most honest, raging, but also humorous poets. Corso's life story is worth reading and sympathising with - an orphan rejected by his parents, he lands up on the street and is imprisoned for theft. Later he meets Allan Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who, in a spiritual sense, become his friends, parents and teachers. The youngest writer in the inner circle of the Beats develops his own voice and publishes one successful book after another.
A journalist is said to have once asked Corso, why there wereso few women among the Beats. Corso answered that in the fifties and sixties American women weren't allowed to be wild. Women were simply locked up in prison or the madhouse for bold thought and expression, where they were subjected to electric-shock therapy, as for example Ginsberg's mother was. Bold journeys, breaking conventions, breaking out of the bubble of middle-class comfort, uncompromising honesty (Ginsberg himself liked to walk around naked in company)... in the America of those days, all that was unattainably distant for the gentler sex. Of course there were women around and among the Beats, but none of them became as famous as the men of the literary movement. In the Beat Museum it was exciting to imagine myself as a man. What would my path have been if I had been born as an Estonian man? Or an American man? One thing is certain - many things would have remained unwritten. But perhaps all things considered, I would have been bolder and more self-confident if I had been a man. Or am I trying to idealise the opposite sex under the influence of the Beats? Such thoughts came into my head... probably for the first time in my life.
Later I heard from literary people that the Beats are held in contempt in contemporary US culture. Respected literature should be born in and around academic institutions. Such self-taught, rakes, even druggies, as the Beats undoubtedly were have a frightening effect on many. They are the bad boys of American literature. For some reason I think they would like this.