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The Mythical Land
Notwithstanding the fact that Webster gives no recognition in his dictionary to the Land of Bohemia or the occupants thereof, the land exists, perhaps not in a material way, but certainly mentally. Some have not the perception to see it; some know not the language that admits entrance; some pass it by every day without understanding it. Yet it as truly exists as any of the lands told of in our childhood fables and fairy stories.
The old definition of Bohemian was "a vagabond, a wayfarer." Possibly that definition may, to a certain extent, be true of the present-day Bohemian, for he is a mental vagabond and a mental wayfarer.
In our judgment the word comes from the French "Bon Homme," for surely the Bohemian is a "good man."
Whatever may be the derivation the fact remains that not to all is given the perception to understand, nor the eyes to see, and therein lies one of the dangers of writing such a book as this. If you read this and then hurry off to a specified restaurant with the expectation of finding the Bohemian atmosphere in evidence you are apt to be disappointed, for frequently it is necessary to create your own Bohemian atmosphere.
Then, too, all nights are not the same at restaurants. For instance if you desire the best service afforded in any restaurant do not select Saturday or Sunday night, but if you will lay aside your desire for personal comfort in service, and wish to study character, then take Saturday or Sunday night for your visit. It is very possible that you will think the restaurant has changed hands between Friday and Saturday. On Saturday and Sunday evening the mass of San Francisco's great cosmopolitan population holds holiday and the great feature of the holiday is a restaurant dinner, where there is music, and glitter, and joyous, human companionship. At such times waiters become careless and sometimes familiar. Cooks are rushed to such an extent that they do not give the care to their preparation that they take pride in on other nights, consoling themselves frequently with the thought that the Saturday and Sunday night patrons do not know or appreciate the highest form of gastronomic art.
Remember, also, that the world is a looking glass. Smile into it and it smiles back; frown and you get black looks. In Bohemia we sometimes find it well to overlook soiled table napery, sanded floor or untidy appearance. Of course this is not in the higher class of restaurants, but there are times and places when you must remember you are making a study of human interest and not getting a meal, and you must leave your fastidiousness and squeamishness at home.
It takes some time to get well within the inner circle of Bohemianism, but after you have arrived you have the password and all doors are open to you. If our friends think of a new story they save it up until our next coming and tell us something that always has a bearing on Bohemia. For instance, how few of us know the origin of the menu card. It seems to be a natural thing, yet, like all things, it had a beginning, and this is the way it began (according to a good friend who told it to us):
Frederick the Great was a lover of good eating and his chef took pride in providing new and rare dishes for his delectation. But it frequently occurred that the great ruler permitted his appetite to overcome his judgment, and he would eat so heartily of the food first set before him that when later and more delicious dishes came to the table he was unable to do them justice. To obviate this he ordered his chef to prepare each day a list of what was to be served, and to show their rotation during the meal, and in compliance with this order the first menu card was written. To Frederick the Great is also attributed the naming of the German bread now called pumpernickel. According to one of our Italian friends the story runs this way: Frederick wished some bread and his chef sent him in a loaf that was of unusual color and flavor. It did not please the king and he was not slow to express his disapproval. He owned a horse named Nicholas but commonly called "Nicho!," and when the chef appeared before him to receive his censure for sending in distasteful bread, Frederick threw the loaf at his head, exclaiming, "Bon pour Nichol." From this it received its name which has become corrupted to "pumpernickel."
After the doors are open to you, you will find not only many new stories, but you will learn of customs unusual and discover their origin dating back to the days whose history remains only in Folk Lore. You will be let into family secrets of the alien quarters, and will learn of hopes, aspirations, and desires, that will startle you with their strangeness. You will find artists, sculptors, and writers of verse in embryo, and if you remain long enough in the atmosphere you may see, as we have, some of these embryonic thinkers achieve fame that becomes nation wide.
It is said of the Islands of the South Seas that when one eats of certain fruit it creates such a longing that the mind is never content until another visit is made. San Francisco's Bohemia lays no claim to persuasive fruit, but it is true that when one breathes in the atmosphere of this mythical world it leaves an unrest that is only appeased by a return to where the whispering winds tell of Enchanted Land where "you get the best there is to eat, served in a manner that enhances its flavor and establishes it forever in your memory."