I was in San Francisco for a few days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I thought about posting a year-end or new year’s message here but wasn’t sure what I might say that would be timely and relevant. But I didn’t have far to look.
My husband and I have our San Francisco rituals and routines–we frequent the same restaurants and take the same walks on every trip, adding new adventures as well. On our first night, as always, we stopped for a drink before dinner at Vesuvio’s in North Beach, the renowned Beat Generation haunt. Sipping my Bloody Mary, surrounded by the trappings of Kerouac and company, realized that I was sitting right under Virginia Woolf, immortalized here in a framed copy of the 1937 Time magazine cover.
City Lights, across the alley from Vesuvio’s, is one of my favorite San Francisco bookstores; the other is Book Passage at the Ferry Landing. There, on our second day, I finally acquired a copy of To the River, Olivia Laing’s beautiful tribute to the River Ouse and to Virginia Woolf. I started it right away and, having walked stretches of the Ouse, found myself right there with her.
An early passage about Woolf is evoked by observing some bees. She recalls Leonard’s bee-keeping at Monk’s House and an entry from Virginia’s diary about them, “the whole air full of vibration: of beauty, of the burning arrowy desire…” Laing sees Woolf “as attuned to nature as she is to artifice,” and the diaries “more shaggy, more luxuriant than the novels … a stronger sense of the writer at play, practising her craft.”
So now I have two sightings, enough for a respectable post, but things happen in threes, right?
Our third day took us to Bernal Heights, a neighborhood near the Mission District where I lived for two years as a child. There, at the charming Red Hill Books, I picked up a used copy of Amy Bloom’s latest story collection, Where the God of Love Hangs Out. In the first story, “Your Borders, Your Rivers, Your Tiny Villages” (Bloom has a way with titles), there it was. Claire and William share popcorn and beer after their respective spouses have gone to bed (separately) and watch “Mrs. Dalloway.”
My list of Woolf sightings in fiction is now at 71, and I’m sure I’ll have more opportunities to add to it in 2013. Happy reading and best wishes for the new year to Woolfians everywhere.
- Style Secrets from Virginia Woolf (livingwomen.net)