By Edgar Weinstock
During the years between 1970 to 1978 I taught voice majors of The San Francisco Conservatory of Music everything about performing except singing. Often, walking in the halls between classes, I would pass the glamorous petite singer Pierrette Alarie who was married to the great Canadian tenor Simoneau. Invariably her gracious smile, which had brightened many stages of Europe was bestowed upon me as I heard a cello sing out softly “Bon jour, Edigarghh.” Had I been a glacier named Edgar, I would have melted enough to fill the streams of California.
San Francisco was the cultural capital of the world during the 1960s in the same way other cities had been the world capital before; New York during the 1950s; Berlin during the 1920s; Paris, some other time. Art forms from different epochs and genres kept entering my soul but my invisible heart knew the song of hope for a better world was ending yet its melody still lingers as I remember my bittersweet San Francisco days and nights from 1967 to 1978. All …except for the one year I spent on its Washington side, overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, watching the salmon leaping into the air, against that great pounding river’s heaving its way west to the great Pacific.
I lived as an artist in San Francisco during my beloved city’s final desirable years as a most fecund and wonder filled home: my studio is the front room of a second story in a railroad flat almost where the Mission district becomes the population of Potrero Hill. At midday you might have waved to me smiling, even as Sheriff Hongisto and the later murdered Mayor Moscone waved smiling when I, looking out onto bustling 24th Street, a bit louder than the parade passing below, called out loudly and wished them both good luck and a long life after the coming election and from the back of a slowly moving car just below, they calling out, wished it back merely to a citizen of San Francisco, leaning on the sill of his second story window, cheering them on.
I used to enjoy eating my lunch at that same window watching the very varied citizens go about in all directions and purposes – small but vital dramas, dramas starring a cast of characters. Many of the “hippies” had by this time moved out well beyond the city limits. Remaining in this neighborhood are old longtime homeowners, paralyzed poor, or the new resident rodents who are some evil low things that slither on two legs and express their inner selves via their dope peddling, their knives or their guns. It is definitely becoming a war zone.
That is why I get apprehensive when I see Mr. Ricci, the old owner of the grocery a couple of doors down on the other side of the street, every day around lunch time, walking almost at a gallop to the corner looking very carefully around him as he carries his daily cash intake in a small canvas bag with dollar signs printed big enough to be read by me from my second story window while he hugs that advertisement of his purpose to his chest with both hands – maybe 100 feet before the corner and across Bryant street to be quickly, routinely, and most assuredly immediately deposited into his and his wife’s account with the bank … on the corner just across the street.
Mr. & Mrs. Ricci, my grocers, one store up and across the 24th Street, are even older than my parents. That afternoon I visit the grocery but not to buy. I wait till the store is almost empty. While Mrs. Ricci is still behind the counter, I quietly ask Mrs. Ricci’s husband if I may talk to him a moment. First, I tell him that I direct theatre musicals of the lyric theatre and classical tragedy. I tell him by words, that I could tell he is carrying money. I advise him never to use the bag with dollar signs but rather to put his money at the bottom of a small brown paper bag. On top of that money will be a small sandwich with easy to chew food or even small pieces of soft fruit easy to chew if you’re nervous. “Begin nibbling from the bag as soon as you exit your store. And don’t hug the bag to you, Signor Ricci: It’s merely your lunch.” He laughed and nodded his head. He is already becoming my least famous but most able student. “And take it easy; walk slowly, Mr. Ricci. Look at the sky, the people, and smile at the children. When you cross the street, guarda not to bump into anyone but don’t even once look directly at the bank. The Bank of America is a big building. You don’t have to look for it. You cross the street and by some coincidence when stepping on the other curb, you happen to be walking slowly very near the edge of the bank building so when it becomes a space for the front door, you turn quickly, go right in, and the bank takes your money not some ‘vigliacco.”
The next day I was at my spot eating my lunch and as nervous as I get before I go on stage. Finally the old man comes out of his store and he does everything… How well? I wanted to shout “Bravo Ricci! Ecco un artiste!” But that would give up the game. So I pretended I didn’t notice him and I just shut up. My job was done. I don’t even remember the rest of the day. But the next time I went shopping I looked up my student and quietly told him what I wanted to shout looking out from my window about his acting.
[part 2 will be posted in early February.]