When I was in San Francisco last week – no, the week before last – at Jack Stauffacher’s regular Friday lunch in North Beach, the people seated around the table found themselves reading about…themselves. Occasional luncher Kristina Bell had brought one of the editors of Task Newsletter, and he had brought with him copies of the first issue – which included an article by Kristina about these very lunches. Actually, it was a selection of transcripts from the conversation on various Fridays, plus a few thumbnail photos of attendees. To see some of the same people intently reading, or at least browsing through, an article about themselves and their conversation some months earlier…it gets recursive, like an infinitely receding set of mirrors.
I always make a point of trying to time my San Francisco sojourns so that I can make it to lunch on Friday. The café is nothing special, just a friendly place with decent sandwiches, not too crowded and not too noisy, where we can talk. To preserve the privacy of these permeable but non-public gatherings, the Task article blacks out the name of the café each time it’s mentioned, giving the piece a resemblance to something you might obtain through the Freedom of Information Act after it’s been redacted by the FBI.
Jack encourages a sort of show-and-tell from the people who come to these lunches, and you never know what people will bring. Sometimes it’s a book from Jack’s own collection, sometimes a project someone is working on, sometimes intellectual booty brought back from afar by a recent traveler. This time, Jack had brought a copy of the 1946 edition of László Moholy-Nagy’s The New Vision and Abstract of an Artist, designed by Paul Rand; I had just been looking at this very book’s title page in Alan Bartram‘s Bauhaus, Modernism & the Illustrated Book. It was instructive to see how much more effective Rand’s design was in the hand than in a tiny reproduction.
Like Jack himself, the lunches make connections: not just of people, but of ideas. I firmly believe that it’s in unpretentious exchanges like this that culture is made.