Monday, April 5, 2010
In 2009, I had two Hardly Strictly appearances to make, one with Buddy Miller and Robert Plant, and the other with Emmylou Harris. Having plenty of time to enjoy this beautiful city, my Southern Born woman joined me for a relaxing weekend there.
Most of the October days I’ve spent in San Francisco have been fairly chilly, but this particular weekend was perfectly sunny and mild. We exulted in the opportunity to walk as much as possible.
It had been suggested to my dearest companion that we visit the San Francisco Art Exchange, a gallery showing photographs of famous musicians from Sinatra to the Stones. Under normal circumstances, neither of us would have cared about seeing pictures of aging rockers in the glory days, but we decided to honor her friend’s recommendation by popping in to take a look. The curator of the collection asked if we were in town for the Festival, and upon finding out that I worked with Emmylou, he took us under his wing, and gave us the cook’s tour.
Name dropping has its perks.
In an off limits room, we were given a glimpse of rare portraits of Elton John, Mick Jagger, and The Beatles. The curator explained that these prints were printed from the original negatives in limited runs, and the price tags were commensurate with their rarity.
The most captivating photograph was of Frank Sinatra tying his tie backstage, with a look of fatigue and weariness. He didn’t seem to be enthusiastic about having done it ‘his way’. It wasn’t a flattering picture, however, it was magnetic and telling, giving credence to the idea that when someone takes one’s picture, they are stealing their essence. Frank’s vacant blue eyes looked like his soul had been captured one too many times.
We crossed the street and entered the Weinstein Gallery, quite by chance, where a showing of Richard Kipniss prints was premiering. Fantastic prints, painstakingly constructed, revealed not only the stark imagery of autumn, but also the dedication of an artist to finding perfection, beauty, and balance.
The curator of this gallery was a twenty-something young man, who knew his stuff. His enthusiasm was unbridled, and while we knew he hoped to find customers in us, it was apparent that he truly wanted us to be enlightened about Richard Kipniss’ work.
Embracing us as eager students, our young teacher was more than delighted to dispense knowledge, explaining the painstaking printmaking process, which involved carving a negative image onto several sets of stones.
We left with our heads full of crisp, floating autumn leaves, tree limbs emerging from blackness, taking root in the creative soil of two people who like to paint.
From the galleries on Geary Street, we walked over to Chinatown to the Red Blossom Tea Company, another recommendation. Our host was another twenty-something man named Peter, whose family owned the business.
He stood with us at a wall of shelves on which hundreds of urns sat, full of fresh tea.
When my companion disclosed her taste for chai tea, Peter was diplomatically dismissive. We were informed that teas such as chai were low on the food chain of tea, and he compared them to cheap wine.
In moments like these, the “Southern” in my Southern Born Woman blooms like a fragrant rose, undeniable and undismissable.
“Well”, she said wryly, “Can you show me a tea that you can respect?”
Caught in airs, Peter broke into a smile.
She had him, as she often has had me.
He apologized and offered us a seat at a small table, where he methodically prepared tea. The ritual was calming and beautiful. As he brewed several different pots for us, he spoke of the origins of tea, taking great pleasure in dispensing knowledge on eager students.
Later in the evening, over a wonderful paella and a good bottle of red Zinfandel at the Hayes Street Grill, we noted the thread of passion that was woven from the photo gallery, to the print gallery, to the tea room. How wonderful to have encountered people whose vocations had relevance and connection to things that they were passionate about.
“I’m not interested in what you’re against”, she often says, “Tell me what you’re for.”
The next day, we decided to seek out a place of worship. We found Trinity Episcopal Church nearby, and walked over. It was a grand place, but a sign on the door pointed usaway from the sanctuary, and toward a small chapel.
Apprehensive about the follow-through, we poked our heads in for a look, and were immediately ushered up to the second row. We were probably 25 minutes late, arriving as congregates were exchanging The Peace.
Too late to turn back now.
The parishioners seemed to be from two people groups: Gay or octogenarian, with a few homeless people, and one exceedingly handsome young man and woman thrown in for good measure. Token hetros, I assumed, provincially.
Many were there with dogs and cats, and we realized that we had probably just missed The Blessing of the Animals.
On our left flank, not three feet away, sat a small choir, who rose for the offertory.
I’ll give them an A for effort.
The basses and tenors were everything one would expect from a choir in San Francisco. But the altos and sopranos, all very old women, warbled with vibratos that felt like the tremorous prelude to an earthquake.
It was like being at a mother-son banquet for a gay men’s chorus. Lap dogs welcome.
As we moved into the communion part of the service, the odd little band of priests and acolytes began vigorously making preparations. The priest in charge was English, which made things feel properly Anglican. And God knows, I’m all ears when it comes to an English accent.
But at some point, I tuned out, gazing about at the interesting group of worshippers. I was transfixed by an older homeless man, who seemed blind, or perhaps blind drunk. I was caught up in wondering about his story, probably making assumptions that had no basis in reality.
It was in this moment of daydreaming that I didn’t see the other priest, a 60-ish woman, fall over. There was so little commotion, as if this was part of the service, perhaps a very radical form of genuflection, that I didn’t even notice it. My Southern Born Supplicant, however, did notice, and wisely waited to tell me after the service.
It was a small act of kindness, God Almighty blinding me in that moment of unholy disruption, so that I wouldn’t lock eyes with my woman and fall together into a spasm of laughter.
The service ended, and we left all smiles. It was one of the oddest church experiences we’d ever had, not life changing, not particularly inspiring, but in its own way, it was lovely in its life affirming kookiness.
I wonder how that English priest feels about his crazy little flock. Maybe he feels the same way Jesus feels about His crazy little flock.
Some Sunday mornings, I find myself sitting in a side pew at Christ Church Cathedral in Nashville. It’s a vast room compared to Trinity Church’s chapel out in San Francisco. I look around me and take note of the society types, the young couples, the widows, and even a few homeless, as is the case with most downtown churches. I notice, with a particular amount of warmth, quite a few gay couples sitting together, reciting the Creed, kneeling for prayers, and finally bringing the chalice to their mouths to receive the Gift of God Almighty’s passion.
I am weary of a phrase many Evangelicals have beat into the ground: Love the sinner, hate the sin.
We can talk 'til the cows come home about every person being welcome in church, but this is an untruth of Evangelicalism. If you are gay, my friends, you are not welcome in their churches. So insistent are they on hating your sin, that they don’t have the time nor the inclination to hate their own sins of pride, hate, gluttony, lying, misogyny, lust, and a list of isms to long to write down here.
I think I’d rather find myself in the company of displaced persons and lap dogs.
The next time my Southern Born Woman and I visit San Francisco, we’ll seek out that little church again. And maybe once again the Body of Christ will bring us a good laugh.