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There Was Plenty To Do -- Without Pomp and Politics

Glen Martin, Catherine Bowman, Chronicle Staff Writers

For ambassadors and dignitaries, the 50th birthday of the United Nations means lavish parties and red-carpet events. But for many Bay Area residents, yesterday was a day of music, a day of contemplation or a day to avoid any festivities at all.

At the Baha'i Center in San Francisco, the mood was definitely upbeat. The Baha'is, devotees of a religion that promotes world peace, held a daylong celebration to honor the United Nations. The Baha'i community is based on the teachings of the 19th century Iranian prophet Bah'a'ullah.

``There are two forces at work in the world today,'' said Kathy Curtis, who helped organize the event. ``One is sectarian strife -- but the other is a spirit of unity. Baha'u'llah talked of a hard winter preceding a glorious spring, and that's what we believe is happening in the world today. We're very optimistic.''

The celebration included a performance by Raices Indigenas, a Mexican folkloric dance group from Santa Cruz. Director Teresa Morales said some of the young Latino dancers in the troupe are the sons and daughters of farmworkers and have felt the pain of Proposition 187, the ballot measure targeting illegal immigrants.

``To bring them here gives all of us the opportunity to expand our world,'' Morales said. ``To be in a place where you are seen as a world citizen is really great.''

Across town at the Yerba Buena Gardens, people in T-shirts and shorts braved the scorching sun to walk quietly around the International AIDS Memorial Quilt. There were panels from as far away as Romania and as close as San Francisco, each remembering a loved one lost.

``I've got AIDS, and I've got a lot of friends I made quilts for,'' said 58-year-old Louis Tores. ``It's sad, sad, sad. It's not our disease -- it's the world's.''

At Stern Grove, nature buffs and music lovers lounged beneath the towering redwoods and listened to the music of the Opera de Lyon.

For most, the entertainment value of the event far outweighed its political significance.

``We're here for the sun, nature and space,'' said Eric Kattwinkle, who knew little of what had been planned for the U.N. festivities. ``We knew about (the opera) because we saw the listings.''

Some thought there should have been more free events.

``This is about the only event you don't have to pay $200 for,'' said Lynda Wiener. ``As diverse as San Francisco is, the general public should have been included more. The parties don't seem to be for the people.''

Nowhere, perhaps, did the U.N. festivities seem less important than among the philatelists at the San Francisco Stamp Fair. In an air-conditioned room at the Golden Gateway Holiday Inn on Van Ness Avenue, collectors looked at stamps and talked about little else.

``I came here for the stamp collecting -- not the U.N.,'' said Edward Franco, 39. ``What really happened 50 years ago was a catastrophe. The festivities today are not geared toward making American people learn their lesson.''

A few tables away, Oregon stamp dealer Al Soth sat behind a table of rare U.S. stamps. He will stay in San Francisco through today -- long enough for the unveiling of the U.N. 50th anniversary commemorative stamp.

``The U.N. has a lot of charitable purposes, but in times of enforcing international law, they have little, if any, enforcement power,'' Soth said. ``(It's) the world's last great toothless tiger.''

©Copyright 1995, San Francisco Chronicle
Original Story

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