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Living La Vida Loca 

Fiesta in the Mission

SAT-SUN 5/24-25

No, that's not the sound of the local taqueria exploding. It's Carnaval! Part street fair, part parade, and part excuse for San Franciscans to samba their way through the Mission District in skimpy outfits better suited to warmer climates like Rio, Carnaval is the largest multiethnic artistic celebration in California.

This year's 25th-anniversary bash carries the theme of a "mass affirmation of peace" and boasts food, music, dance, and crafts from all over Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Asia and Africa. Learn to merengue or mambo, taste empanadas and baked plantains, or just watch the Brazilian-style escola dancers shake their stuff in giant feathered headdresses and not much else.

The festival culminates with Sunday's Grand Parade, at which musicians, dancers, and probably some spectators who've had one too many Mojitos prove that thousands of folks from different cultures can all dance to the same beat. The two-day festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., stretching along Harrison between 16th and 22nd streets. The parade kicks off at 10 at 24th and Harrison, tangos up to Mission, cha-chas over to 17th, and then mambos back to Harrison. Admission to the festival and the parade is free; call 920-0125 or visit -- Jack Karp

Wild Woman
A great American novelist

THURS 5/22

Novelists, in our collective mind's eye, are dashing, intense figures who lead wildly interesting lives. This, we think, is what qualifies them to tell us what's up. Though sometimes they're boring (which is OK), at other times we get what we want.

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, the daughter of a left-wing Cuban professor and a beautiful hippie girl, got a degree in saxophone from Berklee and a master's in journalism from Columbia -- and then became notorious for the manner in which she resigned from the L.A. Times. But that was before she became, with The Dirty Girls Social Club, the subject of a publishing-house bidding war that netted her a fat advance. Screw Hemingway's drinking problem; give us Valdes-Rodriguez any day. If she can raise this much hell by age 33, we're fans. Hear her for free at 7:30 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 98 Broadway (in Jack London Square), Oakland. Call (510) 272-0120. -- Hiya Swanhuyser

Bel Canto
Opera for the masses

SUN 5/25

Think opera is for blue hairs only? Think again. For the past seven years, "Opera in the Gardens" has attracted people from all walks of life. Hard-core fans and folks new to the style have come out in droves for the San Francisco Opera's annual concert -- now a Memorial Day weekend tradition -- and who can blame them? It's not every day that the illustrious troupe performs for free.

Today's concert features arias from famous operas, including Pagliacci, La Bohème, and Il Trovatore. The show begins at 2 p.m., but arrive early and come prepared with lawn chairs and picnic baskets. See it at Yerba Buena Gardens, 701 Mission; call 543-1718 or visit -- Lisa Hom

Art at the Dump

FRI 5/23

Artists in residence Isis Rodriguez, aka Little Miss Attitude, and Nicole Repack, alias Jocelyn Superstar, present "Casa Dulce," a one-day show of work they've produced from materials salvaged at the landfill. The pair has concentrated on reinterpreting Martha Stewart by redecorating furniture that someone obviously thought was beyond help. At the Sanitary Fill Company, 401 Tunnel (at Blanken), S.F. Admission is free; call 330-1414 or visit -- Hiya Swanhuyser


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