Noe Valley Voice April 2002

Noe This 'n That

By Laura McHale Holland

Spring is here, and visual artist Jenny Badger Sultan is closely watching the sour cherry tree in her backyard garden at the northwest corner of Sanchez and 30th streets. As soon as the white blossoms start to bud, she'll remove the dozen or so blue glass bottles that adorn the tree in winter. She hung her bottle collection out on impulse several years ago.

"Just about anywhere in the desert you will find dead trees where people have upended bottles on the branches, and I've always thought those were wonderful," she says. "Also, I'm interested in African-American folk traditions, and hanging bottles in trees is one of them. There's a whole practice in the rural southern U.S. where people make what are called yard shows. They hang all kinds of interesting found objects on fences and trees and arrange them around their yards."

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Most gardens in our neck of the woods are not visible from the street, but Sultan's is, so you might want to stroll by and take a peek. While you're ambling along, you may see local author and 30th Street resident Terry Ryan walking her pit bull Ollie. Ryan, who wrote the heartwarming bestseller The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less, recently returned from London. "I've been all over the world touring for this book, and it's just re-convinced me that Noe Valley is absolutely the best place in the world to live," she says.

Prize Winner's paperback edition comes out April 9, and Ryan's publisher, Touchstone, has arranged for her to appear at bookstores throughout the Bay Area, including A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books on Van Ness Avenue on May 16.

About the phenomenal success of her book, Ryan says, "It's been such a thrill. Who would ever think something so positive would come out of something so negative, like the death of someone you love so much, but this book is keeping my mother's spirit alive, and who could ask for more?"

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An excerpt from Andrea Bastidas' parting message to friends and family shortly before her death from cancer on Feb. 27 follows a parallel thread. Showing wisdom beyond her 16 years, Bastidas wrote, "I have learned to appreciate many more things in life. I've learned to be forgiving and not to hold any grudges. It [her illness] was really hard for me, but the best thing about it all was that it made me stronger. And no matter what, always stay on top of your things, whether it be school, work, or whatever it is you may be doing. And always remember, keep your head up and that something good always comes out of something bad. My good thing was you letting me into your life."

First diagnosed with a rare form of cancer that began in a muscle in her hand while she was attending St. Paul's Elementary School, Bastidas matriculated to Leadership High School in 1999. Likened by her fellow students to the Energizer Bunny and known for her "Coca-Cola" smile, she was given an award for "Best Personality" in the 2000 ­ 01 school year, a year in which she not only endured numerous cancer treatments but also the unexpected death of both of her parents. An aunt and uncle took over the care of Andrea, her younger sister Rosanna, who is a student at St. Paul's, and brother Eduardo, who graduated from Leadership last year.

"I will always remember what she offered us despite all that had been taken from her," says Elisa Dumesnil, a counselor at Leadership who became a family friend. "She was very giggly, and when she started laughing, she'd laugh a lot.... Her presence was so loving. I think she knew her life was going to be short, and just wanted to soak it all up."

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Perhaps someday, one of the hundreds of mourners who packed St. Paul's Church for Andrea Bastidas' funeral on March 1 will write a book about this teen who was taken, as local poet A.D. Winans might say, by "Lady Death."

Winan's poem of that name, along with poems by Ezra Pound and Kenneth Koch, has been set to music by Pulitzer Prize ­ winning composer William Bolcom. The resulting work, entitled The Naumburg Cycle, will premiere April 29 at prestigious Tully Hall in New York City.

Winans, a native San Franciscan now living on Clipper Street, has authored over 30 books of poetry. "Lady Death," the first of his poems to be set to music, was originally published in the Anderson Valley Advertiser in Boonville, Calif.

"Fate works in strange ways," says Winans. "Had the composer not subscribed to the Advertiser, the poem would never have been set to music."

The poem delivers a wallop in such lines as:

she's harder than a pimp

she's cunning, she's cruel

she's after me

she's after you

she wears a top hat

she carries a cane

her eyes a dagger aimed at your heart

lady death

lady death

Also, hot off the press of Dust Books this month is Winans' memoir The Holy Grail: The Charles Bukowski/Second Coming Revolution. Bukowski, known for his hair-raisingly honest, free-form poetry, died in 1994.

"It's more than just a book about my relationship with Bukowski. It covers my days publishing the small magazine Second Coming, the West Coast small press scene in the '70s and '80s, and my relationship with local Beat poets like the late Bob Kaufman and Jack Micheline."

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Cara Black, another member of our neighborhood literati, has a book coming out from Soho Press April 14. Entitled Murder in the Sentier, it is the third in Black's series of mysteries featuring detective Aimée Leduc. The book received a starred review in Publishers' Weekly.

"The book is set in Paris, which is off the beaten track, and it's really nice when people take notice of something that isn't mainstream and has more of a literary feel," says Black, who lives on Alvarado Street. "They might put your book not just in the mystery section, but also on the table with the other new books, and so it gives you wider recognition."

Black, whose first book in this series was inspired by real events in a friend's family during the Nazi occupation of France during World War II, will be signing her latest oeuvre on April 18, 7 p.m., at Cover to Cover Booksellers (3812 24th Street). If you miss that, maybe you can fly to Paris, where she'll be reading at Brentano's on June 20.

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If you can't make it to Paris, perhaps you can jet to New York to catch one of our former neighbors, S.K. Thoth, performing in his scanty red, gold, and black costume in Angel Tunnel in Central Park.

In Egyptian mythology, Thoth is the god of the moon and of wisdom. Thoth the musician is inspired by this ancient realm, and by his violin in creating his music, which he describes as "the divine message that I have been blessed to bring to this world."

Filmmaker Sarah Kernochan heard him singing in the Angel Tunnel, and was, says Thoth, "instantly inspired to do a documentary about me." That film, Thoth, just won an Academy Award, for best short documentary. You may have seen Thoth twirling on stage at the Oscars.

Thoth, who left his Noe Valley apartment two years ago when his rent hit $2,100 per month, used to perform in the neighborhood at the Noe Valley Ministry and Bethany Church, as well as every weekend for years in front of Martha's Coffee on 24th Street.

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Tokyo is more to the liking of Dolores Street resident James Paul McLean. In December he began a six-month assignment there as part of the consulting arm of Hewlett-Packard, for whom he has worked for 15 years.

Here's a slice of an e-mail he sent: "Whether it's kimono-clad ladies with mobile phones at their ears shuffling onto the trains that worm their way under the city, or blue-haired teenagers standing in line to offer prayers at the Shinto temples, people here seem very happy crossing back and forth between very different worlds.... Prayer notes, written on wooden plaques decorated with a horse (this year's animal on the Japanese calendar), dangle in crowds at the entrance to temples, asking for luck in business ventures alongside more traditional requests for happy marriages, success in exams, and babies."

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They didn't try writing prayer notes on a wooden plaque, but third-generation Noe Valleon Anna Siria Clerkin Ortiz and her husband, James Ortiz, didn't think they could have a baby of their own, and they were poised to embark on the long journey to adoption. Then, early in 2001, Anna got pregnant. Their daughter, Sophia Isabella Grace Ortiz, was born Oct. 31, 2001, at 7:58 p.m., at Alta Bates Medical Center in the East Bay.

"I didn't realize that some of the nurses were in costume that night, and when I was going through my contractions I thought I was hallucinating when I saw a duck and a pumpkin come through my room," recalls Anna.

Now 6 months old, little Sophia is a crowd stopper. "Every single time we take her out, without fail, people will stop us to comment on her hair. Sophia was born with a full head of hair. As weeks passed, it began to curl up, and now those loose curls kind of stand 'straight up' off of her head. People have even asked me if I put gel or mousse in her hair to make it do that. Nope. It's all natural," Anna says.

Anna can no longer recall what she used to do with her free time. "I also feel like I am now part of this great new moms club. I can be waiting in line at the bank, and another mother and I will begin talking about stretch marks. It's amazing. We seem to be able to talk about anything -- the exhaustion, the frustration, and the absolute joy that parenthood brings."

Both mom and dad (whose first date was at Bud's Ice Cream, a one-time neighborhood institution at 24th and Castro streets) say that parenting has slowed them down and made them realize what is truly important in life. "It's not the huge house or the fab car. It's making a difference in the life of your child -- being with her, sharing with her, loving and protecting her, all the while encouraging her to be independent and to explore the world around her."

Some young folks who have ventured successfully into the world around them are the members of the speech team at Adda Clevenger Junior Preparatory and Theater School for Children. In February, the team won first place in the annual Grammar School Speech Tournament held at Mercy High School. Located at 23rd and Fair Oaks streets, Clevenger has participated in this tournament for eight years. But it is the first time the students have won this award. It is also the first time in recent memory that any team has beaten the St. Thomas the Apostle School team, so the victory was a big upset.

"These tournaments are a decades-old tradition both for the schools that put them on and the schools that attend them," says Will Huddleston, the team coach. "For most of these middle school-aged students, they are the first opportunity to compete with and see students from other schools."

Students competed in five categories of public speaking: expository speaking, humorous interpretation, dramatic interpretation, oratory, and impromptu speaking.

So congratulations to winners Lino Moser, Terry Smith, Andrew Vega, Alice Chapman, Katharine Swilley, and Allyscia Covina for leading their 17-member team to victory.

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Congratulations are also in order for students at Immaculate Conception Academy (ICA), who served as poll workers in our November general elections. Fourteen percent of ICA's eligible seniors worked at the polls, the highest per capita participation among San Francisco secondary schools. For this, the San Francisco Department of Elections awarded the school, located on 24th Street at Fair Oaks, four new HP Vector computers for their library.

"We were kept busy all day at the polling place I was assigned to," says senior Therese Deignan. Her classmate Karen Valentine adds, "I was amazed at how carefully many of the voters prepare to cast their ballots and at how much people know about political issues."

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And that's the end of this carefully prepared column. Thanks to everyone who shared their triumphs and opened their hearts. Please keep us busy next month by sending in news of your beautiful babies, graduations, academic honors, engagements, weddings, professional awards, book publishing parties, art show openings, web site launches, amazing pet tricks, extraordinary gardens -- even encounters with swarthy PG&E workers.

E-mail leads to or mail them to the Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114, or leave a phone message at 821-3324. Again, we eagerly await your news.