Tuesday, October 5, 2010

American veteran

The Loma Prieta earthquake of October, 1989, had already struck, and San Francisco's homeless had exploited sudden shelters in the fallen freeway overpasses in the Civic Center.

This young man is not homeless. He is an independent scholar of the works of the German classicist, Johann Joachim Winckelmann, and will shortly give a lecture of his findings in a parish church in the Castro neighborhood, attended by le tout monde. We dimly know each other, but we all know him, and we know he is worth hearing.

He is a bookseller.

This is a calling, not an accident of earthly plates. The young man is the mainstay, adjutant and heart of the City's leading resource for books in interior design, gardening, and antiquity - up the street one block from its hottest gym, down a back street from the Symphony.

We are on a Sunday morning stroll, playing with high-grain film and settings of contrast. It is December and the day is beautiful, as it so often is in that month of clearest skies. Something draws us down to the water, 'though the sun is everywhere. 

We pause frequently to rest. We're conscious of the textures where we stride and where we sit, without saying so. We're touching the City, and we know we are. He is, himself, happy, but he tires, and we are quiet about that. He dies in four months. This is an accident of earthly plates, not a calling. He is recalled now for his work of knowing others, as their bookseller.

Winckelmann's radical History followed the publication of Rousseau's Le Contrat Social by less than twelve months. The pier where the bookseller sits was the site of one of the most reviled triumphs of the labor movement in the history of the United States. 

It would be hard, and in the end undignified to say whose imagination was more generous, whose work more naïve, more repudiated in our time. He understood that, and gently, brightly sustained their faith. 

Now this lady has freight in her arms to look out for, and one less bookstore in her town.

Photography Laurent, Leica M-6


  1. Beautifully written, Laurent. This one left me with a lump in my throat.

  2. Not intended, Dan, to serve you a lump. It strikes me, the story is the mother with the child. He's now a college graduate, and I hope he is well formed.