There’s a place in Nob Hill that my own mother used to talk about. It’s the restaurant on the highest floor of the Mark Hopkins Hotel – The Top of the Mark. It’s a totally gorgeous spot with big windows all the way round, offering a panoramic view of the city from its vantage point high above the intersection of California and Mason. By night, it’s an upscale music venue, a bit like the Rainbow Room here in New York, I guess. My mom went there with my dad, from what I understand, when we were little and when she heard that I was coming out to San Francisco to work at The Magic (when you and I met, my love), she told me that that was something I absolutely had to do – go to the Top of the Mark. She must’ve told me that a dozen times.
At some point, just a couple years ago, I mentioned this to your mom. And it turns out that she and your dad had gone there, too. She even remembered that they went to see Judy Collins perform.
Anyway, last year when I came out to see your folks at Christmas, your Mom told me that she had learned that on Sundays they have a champagne brunch at The Top of the Mark. And she made a reservation for the two of us (your dad was working). You wouldn’t believe the spread they have! It’s an enormous buffet in the middle of the room, a sort of raised platform that, now that I think of it, is probably the stage, the tables all around the periphery and against the windows that surround the beautiful space. There’s even a pianist softly tinkling away and singing standards. The food is amazing, pretty much everything you can imagine from eggs benedict to fish and foul and French toast, to yogurt parfaits and fresh fruit, bagels and lox, even desserts. And there’s a chef or two on hand ready to slice a nice cut of meat for you and another to whip up any variety of omelet you might like, and, your favorite – waffles! You just pick up a plate and go back as many times as you like, trying a little (or a lot!) of everything. And when you come back to your table, the breathtaking vistas surrounding you, the very nice waiters are filling up your coffee again and/or your glass of champagne (none for me this year because I’m sober again but last year, several glasses.)
It’s just lovely. And that has become a new tradition, my sweetheart. But there’s also a second part to it. One we didn’t plan last year when we set off for your old stomping grounds but something we simply came across before getting back in the car and liked so much we did again this year.
After brunch, we came back down into the lobby of the hotel, looking at the huge beautiful Christmas tree there and then wandered out into the fresh air. A beautiful Northern California day, it seemed like we should at least walk around for a bit before driving back, so we did and we came across Grace Cathedral.
It’s a beautiful and historic gothic structure, full of inspiring art and architecture and extremely welcoming. There are so many wonderful things to tell you about this place, my sweetheart. All around the far walls are paintings of historic scenes in the life of the church and the city. On the floor, as you first enter, is a big labyrinth, a kind of prayer path based on a French monastic tradition, that people are invited to walk and quietly meditate on. The vaulted ceilings and stain glass throw the most beautiful light and shadows everywhere and there are dozens of little alcoves and nooks where one might say or write down a little prayer (as I did for you, for us) or sit quietly in thought. There’s a beautiful pipe organ and in addition to the regular schedule of services, there are any number of musical events planned – there’s almost always music in the chapel or main altar/space. That first time your mom and I visited, just as we were about to leave, a woman was coming through wheeling an enormous harp for a recital later that night. And one of the most striking things about the cathedral that day was an art installation we had the good fortune to come across at the end of its public showing.
Grace Cathedral actually has an annual “Artist in Residence”. How cool is that? The display was/is called Graced With Light – The Ribbon Project and it features hundreds if not thousands of ribbons hanging from the top of the high ceiling, streaming down to just overhead. The artist’s name is Anne Patterson (she lives in New York and I’ve recently been in touch with her, my love) and her vision was to create “a series of light pathways, connecting heaven and earth, manifest as ribbons. The ribbons carry our prayers, dreams and wishes skyward, and, in turn grace streams down the ribbons to us…” They’re all different colors, little sweetheart. She started by hand-assembling the blue ones and hanging them in March 2013. In May and June, hundreds of community members wrote their prayers and hopes and wishes on red ribbons and then in July, she hung those alongside. In October, she added the white ones along with a video projection in collaboration with another artist, Adam Larsen.
Your mom and I just walked around in thrall to its beauty. And the beauty of the idea that people had written their prayers on the ribbons sending them skyward. We read that the installation was only up for another two days so imagine our surprise and delight when, continuing our tradition, we came back this year after post-Christmas brunch at the Top of the Mark to find the beautiful ribbons still hanging!
And that wasn’t all. They added a beautiful Christmas tree in another part of the sanctuary, near the entrance, that looked to be decorated with small white paper birds, but when observed up close were actually hand-written prayers people had penned on white paper and folded into the little bird shapes. Nearby was a table with paper and markers, so I took one up and wrote our prayer on it, my darling, and placed it in the tree with the others.
After that we walked around a bit. There was a young man playing classical guitar near the altar and your mom thought it might be nice to sit up front and listen to him. So, we did for quite a while. Finally, his dad (at least we think it was his dad) came and collected him and we were about to go ourselves, when a nice man in robes invited us to stay for the service. He said if we liked, we could come up and “sit in the choir”. We were down in pews, sort of down front, but he was inviting people to come up much closer – it’s a big church! We were a bit shy and not entirely sure what to do but your Mom was game and me, too – I really wanted to stay.
When we got up close and took a seat in the rows way up by the altar facing in and I got a look at the little program or order of service handbill they gave us, I noticed that where we were sitting, where we’d been invited is called the “quire”. So, it sounds like the word choir and one could even imagine a choir being seated there, but it’s a totally different name. I liked that. Don’t you, my gorgeous girl?
The service was lovely, sweetheart. And everyone was so nice and friendly and I really think your mom enjoyed being there. She kinda didn’t want to leave. Me, either. We sang Angels We Have Heard on High (did I ever tell you that when I was a little boy I thought the part where they go “Glor-o-o-o-o-o, o-o-o-o, o-o-o-o- ria” was “Beau- oh-oh-oh-oh… regard”? I think I’d been watching too many Foghorn Leghorn cartoons…) and we turned and shook hands with everyone, saying “hi” and “peace be with you” when the Passing of the Peace came round. And there was a wonderful quartet of musicians, sweetheart – trumpet, clarinet, piano and a little harmonium! Your mom asked me what that harmonium was. I don’t think I’d ever seen somebody play one before. And the second hymn was that one I like so much from Nine Lessons and Carols – the opening one – Once in Royal David City. I leaned over when I saw it in the program and told your mom, “this is a great song!” and she looked at me and smiled a smile very much like one of your surprised smiles and said “really?” just about exactly the way your little nephew says it. “Really?”
There wasn’t a sermon or anything, just a blessing, which was really nice. And I said our prayer, sweetheart. And then at the end we all sang Go Tell It on The Mountain. I think your mom liked that one best. I always think of it as very closely aligned with the 60’s and Civil Rights – sort of a companion to We Shall Overcome. Ya know?
And, like I said, afterward, we really kind of dawdled. Kinda weren’t in a hurry to get back. It was such a lovely day, full of thoughts and prayers and music… and you, my little sweetheart. I just know it. I could feel you near me. And I know if I just do right, let all the noise around me go, be quiet and get to that deepest place inside me, I will always find you near. And soon, so very soon I pray, I will find you, you will collect me, and we will be together forever in Love and The Beautiful New Place.
Thank you, my sweetheart. I love you, Summer. With all my heart and soul I do. Always be with me. In everything that I do. Don’t go too far away, right, little sweetheart? Love you forever, my love….