On the passing of an old friend
Death often arrives unannounced, of course, and at my age more frequently. This past year has brought the passing of family and most recently my dearest friend of 41 years, Kurt von Meier. Kurt was unlike anyone else I’ve ever met. Even as he grew older, he never stopped being a surprise. Brilliant, unpredictable, outrageous, generous; all these words refer to Kurt. Let me explain.
I first met Kurt in 1970 when he and two others opened a restaurant in Noe Valley in San Francisco. Located around the corner from 24th Street on Diamond, two blocks from my apartment, The Diamond Sutra Restaurant billed itself as serving “Tantric Cuisine,” offered a daily menu of one or two items, and was an immediate hit. Its tiny open kitchen provided a full view of chef Jean LaRue and partner Tom Genelli at work, and its eclectic ethnic food was often so spicy as to defy description.
I was only 22 at the time. My hair was long, my pant bottoms were belled, and the folks running the Diamond Sutra looked like my kind of people. Kurt was teaching Art History at Sacramento State University, but would come to S.F. from time to time and hang around the restaurant. He was a baffling mystery to me. I could barely follow his thoughts for more than a sentence or two before I was lost in a fog of unknown cultural references and vocabulary. Kurt was magnetic and incredibly entertaining. I didn’t know at the time that he was a polymath with a photographic memory; a walking, talking human encyclopedia of world-wide cross-cultural references spanning global history.
Over time I learned to go with Kurt’s flow, and though he was 14 years older than I, we became friends. One evening in 1971 he dropped by the apartment I shared with my girlfriend, and we decided it would be fun to go out to dinner at an elegant restaurant. I called L’Orangerie, at the time one of S.F.’s finest, to make a reservation. “Do you have a dress code?” I inquired; I’d used my ties for belts and had chucked my fancy clothes. “Of course, Monsieur, jackets and ties for the gentlemen and evening dress for the ladies.” I tuned to Kurt…” They say jackets and ties!” I whispered. “Ask them about holy men in native garb,” he grinned. “How about holy men in native garb,” I asked. “Hold on, please,” was the reply. “Yes,” said the voice on the phone, “holy men in native garb is acceptable.” I made the reservation.
We threw together the most insane collection of wraps, shawls, robes, and beads we could muster and headed downtown. Entering the restaurant we approached the Maitre d’ and said we had a reservation. He looked us up and down, in wide-eyed disbelief. I expected to be thrown out, but he grinned and shook his head. “Ah yes, the holy men in native garb! This way please,” he said politely and escorted us to a private dining room where we were waited upon by a full staff. An epicurean world-traveler, Kurt ordered for us in French and paid the bill.
I miss Kurt terribly; I loved him like a brother. I visited him often, and over 41 years we became so close that I could actually understand what he was saying.