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    Troubadour finds bliss on Haight

    The Last Flower Child


    She was born too late for the Summer of Love, but Maria Mango's life is firmly entrenched in 1967. You can usually find her in the Haight, playing her songs for change, groovin' on the magic, feeling San Francisco's bliss.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    Marianne Costantinou Tuesday, February 24, 2004



    There among the street grunge and punks and tourists and Boomers, the beggars and the shoppers, the wannabe hipsters and the long-ago wasted, a lone street musician stands against a wrought-iron gate, invisible but for her voice.

    She wears a brown suede jacket with fringe, a red velvet skirt down to her ankles, woolen socks and Birkenstocks, a necklace of wooden beads, dangling crystal earrings and a smile. An acoustic guitar hangs from her neck on a strap of smiley faces. On the sidewalk a worn guitar case lies open, filled with loose change.

    Haight Street used to be filled with street musicians. But these days, they're rare. And her songs of peace and love, themes that once defined an era and the street, now seem quaint.

    At 23, she was born more than a dozen years after 1967 and the Summer of Love. But like so many other young people drawn to Haight Street over the years, it is the legend of those days that carried her here.

    "It's part of the adventure, to come to California,'' she says. "It's San Francisco. It's Haight Ashbury. It's legendary.''

    Her name is Maria Mango -- or rather, as she says, "it is now." She arrived in September from Canada by way of Hawaii. But she's so into the mythical groove here, she already belongs.

    "There's still a lot of magic here,'' she tells a sidewalk cynic. Her tone is motherly, though the cynic is twice her age. "There are some of us keeping that magic alive in the present day. It's not just something that happened back then ..."

    In midsentence she begins strumming her guitar. Her voice is lilting, pure. As she sings, she closes her eyes. She has sung her songs hundreds of times, but to watch her is to know she still feels them.

    Do you remember the Summer of Love?

    Well, I don't think that one summer's enough ...

    Some would have you think that it ended back then

    But it never stopped growing and now is the when.

    And the love-olution is still happening to this day ...

    "I'm in my bliss here,'' she says, delighted with her song and herself. "I'm spreading the love. "

    She pauses so folks can get past her and into the apartment building behind the wrought-iron gate that is her stage curtain.

    "You guys love me, huh?'' she says to them, her face beaming.

    Love? They look at her as if she has three heads. This, after all, is Haight Street 2004, and love-thy-stranger is in deep hibernation for the winter. Finally, one of them takes pity and musters a smile:

    "We don't mind.''

    Mango feels the love, even if they can't. She's there to help.

    She writes most of her songs, usually in a park, under a tree. She likes to keep things happy. She has no tolerance for bad vibes.

    "Hey, this is a positive zone,'' she says to a veteran panhandler who's hassling a listener for three pennies. She plucks some change out of her guitar case, hands it to him, and shoos him away with the promise they'll talk later.

    OK, so maybe the Haight's not nirvana.

    "There's a lot of people here just to buy shoes,'' she admits, somewhat bummed. "There are people who look like hippies but don't have the love in their hearts. I guess that was true then ...

    "When somebody gets cynical about the Haight, I say, 'I don't feel that. It's what you make it.' "

    It's hard to see the big picture when you keep looking down ...
    Feel the love around you,

    Let it make you glad.

    Mango has been creating her own reality and happiness for years. She says she grew up in a tiny town near Winnipeg, Canada, the daughter of middle-class professionals who were neither hippies nor musicians. While her pals listened to 1990s grunge music, Mango grooved on Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan and taught herself to play the guitar.

    Soon she was strumming and singing on street corners. She was studying sociology at the University of Winnipeg when she realized that music was her life. So in the spring of 2001, just three courses shy of her degree, she hit the road with a backpack and guitar.

    She traveled across Canada, couch-surfing at the homes of instant friends she made on the street, landing in whatever town her new pals were headed. Last year she ended up on Kauai. It was there, while writing a song under a mango tree, that she came up with her last name.

    A mango tree, she says, drops its fruit to share whether anyone is there or not. She says her songs are mangos.

    Last summer, someone she met was heading to Burning Man and she tagged along. The desert arts festival was "far out ... cool,'' she says. When it was over, she hitched a ride to San Francisco and the Haight.

    She has played in a few neighborhood clubs but says she is happiest on the street, where she can feel that one-to-one connection with people.

    "I would do this even if I did gigs,'' she says. "It's real out here.''

    Most days, Mango comes out after noon, maybe 1 p.m. She's never sure what time it is, much less what day. She doesn't wear a watch. She tells time by the sun. She stays out singing into the night, rain or shine or cold. She always stands on the north side of Haight Street, "the sunny side of the street.'' She's usually on the 1500 block, next to the Haight Ashbury Market, which has an outdoor stand of vegetables and fruit. Mangos included.

    She feels lucky to be making money by singing her songs and occasionally selling a $15 to $20 CD of her music, "Playing for Change," which she recorded at a pal's studio in Canada. People in the Haight drop by her sidewalk spot and give her food and offer her places to spend the night. Others let her use their computers so she can send her parents and friends e-mails and can tweak her Web site, http://www.mariamango.com.

    She has no wish for fame or fortune.

    "I am a star,'' she says. "I love what I'm doing. I would be singing anyway.''

    She plans to make a trip home to Canada soon. Maybe she'll come back to the Haight. Maybe not. The best plan, she has found, is no plan at all. She goes where the spirit moves her.

    People they come and people they go
    Live in the moment, know when to let go ...
    Some things they last for only a short while
    I bid you farewell with a tear and a smile.
    E-mail Marianne Costantinou at mcostantinou@sfchronicle.com.

    Archived from The San Francisco Chronicle

    Please subscribe to the paper if you live in San Francisco !!!!

    Editor's Note:
    We archived this article and Maria is approved of it. We want to have it available to share with you. Most articles on online newspapers as well as many web magazines do not stay online for more than a few months or days and most articles are not being archived by the original web sites.


    IF you are going to San Francisco.....
    Be Sure to wear some flowers in your hair...
    Listen to the song....
    ......... and don't forget.....
    We love you!!!
    ;)
    Peace!


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