Heart of the City Archives

Illustration: Paul Madonna.




City by the bay, sometimes by the book
by Hank Donat

I just read Mark Bittner's forthcoming nonfiction book "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" and it is full of surprises.

Over the past several years, San Franciscans became aware that Bittner cared for and chronicled the whimsical flock of cherry-headed conures that screeches across the city sky each day, attracting curiosity from the Greenwich Steps to Cow Hollow to Cole Valley. Bittner says the steadily growing flock now numbers around 120 birds.

What will surprise even those most familiar with Bittner's story - relinquished dreams of rock stardom led to odd jobs and squatting until parrots redefined his existence - is that Bittner is an excellent writer. By the end of his tale, you will no longer see humans as the center of the universe, if you ever did.

I won't offer any spoilers except to say that "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill" is indeed a love story with wings. The book will appear on store shelves early in 2004.

Hitting stores in time for the holidays is "Time Off! The Unemployed Guide to San Francisco" by Dean LaTourrette and Kristine Enea. LaTourrette, a marketing consultant, writer, and surfer, believes that leisure time presents an opportunity to feed the spirit. I wholeheartedly agree.

The gainfully employed will also enjoy "Time Off!". You don't have to have all the time in the world in order to enjoy San Francisco - you just have to relax and act as though you do.

The guide includes comments and tips from such leisure advocates as writer Ethan Waters, Mayor Willie Brown, and myself. Harry Denton contributed the forward. For more information visit www.leisureteam.com.

San Francisco literary icon Barnaby Conrad swept through the city last week to promote his new novel, "Last Boat to Cadiz."

At a luncheon at Moose's hosted by Nob Hill Gazette founder Gardner Mein, Conrad said that "Cadiz," an international thriller, is based on a close encounter he had with the niece of a key Nazi while working in Seville, Spain during the days before U.S. troops landed on the beach at Normandy during World War II.

Conrad, whose El Madator club on Broadway was the Moose's of the '50s, is always a compelling raconteur. Among those rapt by Conrad's stories in Moose's Eden Room were "Above San Francisco" photographer Robert Cameron, Ann Caen, Roger Boas, Margot deWildt, and "Painted Ladies" authors Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen.

Conrad created the Santa Barbara Writer's Conference, held each year in June. He brings the very first San Francisco Writer's Conference to the Sir Francis Drake Hotel in mid-February, 2004. Scheduled speakers include Pam Chun, Ishmael Reed, Terry Ryan and Catherine Coulter.

By far the most beautiful book I discovered this fall came from an unexpected source. "Kaleidoscope" is a poetry anthology written by residents of Laguna Honda Hospital.

Sharon Pretti, the social worker who teaches Laguna Honda's poetry class and edits the anthology, says the writers "examine their world using images that are surprising and poignant. Their voices are strong, courageous, and inspiring. They remind us that creative expression is a necessary part of being alive."

Copies of "Kaleidoscope" may be obtained by calling Laguna Honda Hospital at 759-3368.

There is already a hole in my heart where Matthew Brady's Independent column The Old Town used to be. Where else can we hear stories of Old San Francisco and old San Franciscans such as "King" Frank McManus of Potrero Hill, or Yankee Sullivan the ballot box stuffer?

The Society of California Pioneers presents "The City Rises," a collection of etchings by George Taylor Plowman, Lawrence Norris Scammon, and Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt. The exhibit depicts an unvarnished landscape - lopsided houses, sagging fences, slag heaps, and sinkholes - as a historical record of a once-ruined San Francisco.

The Society of California Pioneers is the state's oldest historical organization. "The City Rises" runs through December 19. For more information call 957-1859.

History buffs can also catch a presentation on movies made in and about San Francisco offered by the San Francisco History Association at the 3371 16th Street auditorium this Thursday at 7 p.m. Members of the non-profit history association, now in its 23rd year, meet on the last Thursday of each month.

Emily Mann's play "Execution of Justice" focuses on more recent history. The story of Dan White's trial for the November 27, 1978 assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk was performed earlier this month by University of San Francisco Students and was directed by Peter Novak.

Milk's protege, the photographer Daniel Nicoletta, former Lt. Governor Leo McCarthy, Carolene Marks, and Milk's nephew, Stuart Milk, attended the premiere of the short run on November 6.

Marks and I agreed that the students' performances were some of the best we've seen onstage all year. Paul Kaliszewski as Dan White, and Pim Kyne as both reporter Barbara Taylor and mayoral secretary Cyr Copertini were stand outs in a cast of stand outs. Mann's script is just as wrenching as it was when it was first produced in 1984.

Because the play sounds a note of forgiveness early in the first act I was emboldened to ask Nicoletta if, 25 years later, he forgives White - who committed suicide in 1985 - for killing the mayor and his friend, Milk.

The photographer said, "I hadn't thought about it, but there's only one person in my life I don't forgive and it's not Dan White. So I guess the answer is yes."

A light in the eyes of the eternally youthful Nicoletta called to mind a passage from one of Laguna Honda's "Kaledioscope" poets, Doris Moore.

Moore writes, "I will leave behind a ray of hope for those who battle for a better world, one where prejudice will not exist.

"I will carry with me love, goodness, and kindness given by the myriad of people who wondrously crossed my winding path of life

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Copyright 2003 Hank Donat
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