Sunday, August 19, 2007

San Francisco's Carlotta: Her Spirit Still Lives

By Lars Trodson

The Styles section of the Sunday edition of The New York Times this week has a brief profile of the writer Armistead Maupin, and it was interesting to hear him say, when people ask him how much San Francisco has changed in the 30-plus years since he arrived, that it has not changed that much. I liked that.

I love that city, and during a recent trip I went around and took pictures of signs and other small things that can sometimes go unnoticed, and it seemed as though there was quite a bit of architecture and other identifying places in the city that had not changed much.

I also tried to trace some of the scenes from "Bullitt" and "Vertigo", but I wasn't very successful at that. San Francisco has been the setting of some great movies, including, "D.O.A." (the 1949 version), "The Lady From Shanghai", "Dirty Harry" -- which remains amazingly chilling and exciting to this day -- and of course the recent "Zodiac." (Vote for Downey Jr.!) Mr. Maupin makes a brief appearance in that latter film -- at least in name only -- which only emphasizes what a fixture he is in that town.

The Times profile of Maupin slightly meanders, but it sketches out the similarities between the writer and the protagonist of his latest novel, "Michael Tolliver Lives." The lead character Tolliver has a younger partner, as apparently Maupin does. They both drive a hybrid car, a Toyota Prius, which the article points out has a "bossy G.P.S. he calls Carlotta."

Leave it to a writer of Maupin's humor, one that is also imbued with a San Franciscan sensibility, to name a "bossy" G.P.S. system Carlotta. This was the name, after all, of the spirit that supposedly overtakes Kim Novak's character, Madeleine Elster, in Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo." It is also this same spirit, Carlotta, that -- and I have to use this word, I suppose, that drives Jimmy Stewart's hapless cop to his eventual madness.

Anyway, Maupin's Carlotta was a neat little homage, and since the Times didn't make the connection, I thought it shouldn't go unnoticed.