VIVA VIVANDE!

Photograph of Carlo Middione at Vivande by Daniel Bahmani

By CHRISTOPHER BRUNO

“Smell this!”

Carlo Middione said, as he thrust two handfuls of fresh, limp, uncooked spinach fettucine in my face.

I was the newest hire in the spring of 1985 at his gastronomical time machine, Vivande Porte Via, which masqueraded as a restaurant on Fillmore Street. I inhaled deeply and was shocked at the sweet, earthy smell of the uncooked strands. “It smells like…” Dare I say it? Am I crazy? Was this a test? “It smells like…” I looked at Carlo, unable to speak — and he burst out laughing.

He smiled at me with his bristling salt and peppered cheeks. It smelled like that vital life force, that injection of sweetly salted humanity from which all humanity is spun, betraying the true nature of my new place of employment: Vivande comes from the Latin vita, meaning life.

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On a Theme of Helgi

Photograph of S.F. Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson by Erik Tomasson

CULTURE BEAT | PAMELA FEINSILBER

Just before Helgi Tomasson moved to San Francisco — and to the neighborhood — to become artistic director of the San Francisco Ballet, he wound up a stellar first act as an acclaimed principal dancer with George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.

In his 33 years here, Tomasson has turned a regional troupe into one of the most admired ballet companies in the world. The company’s 85th season showcases Tomasson’s skill in planning wonderfully varied evenings of story ballets and three-act programs of modern and neoclassical choreography — such as his own “On a Theme of Paganini,” beginning February 15.

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Quick end to a stickup at Sterling Bank

The Sterling Bank branch at Fillmore and Bush.

CRIME WATCH | DONNA GILLESPIE

Sterling Bank at 1900 Fillmore was the target of an alarming, if ultimately unsuccessful, robbery attempt on January 16. It happened at 4:50 p.m., just before closing time.

Some inside the bank were aware of a man in a blue rain poncho pacing up and down the sidewalk in front of the small, glassed-wrapped bank, but at first no one paid much attention. Then the man entered the bank, confronting manager James Rensch. Covering his face with one hand and wielding a gun with the other, the robber told Rensch: “Give me all your cash or I’ll shoot.”

In accordance with bank instructions, “I complied,” said a clearly shaken Rensch. He said the man was in the bank for a tense three minutes before he fled with the cash.

Rensch called 911, and two plainclothes policemen, along with beat cop Gordon Wong, were nearby. The plainclothes officers chased the suspect up Bush Street and caught him just past Webster. The apprehension was witnessed by the bank’s neighbor, HiHo Silver shop owner Victoria Dunham, who was leaving her flat as the arrest unfolded outside her front door.

Police dispatch had given the officers a description of the man, but during his short flight he had managed to shed his clothes and don new ones. Although the suspect was arrested, the police investigation is still ongoing and the FBI is now involved.

Fillmore 1996: a moment in time

TEXT & PHOTOGRAPHS BY LUCY GRAY

Two decades ago, in the summer of 1996, I photographed shopkeepers and workers on Fillmore Street. I thought there were wonderful looking people in my neighborhood, people who looked like characters. They understood the performance aspect of small shops, the need to create a style.

I could see that the street was changing, as independent stores and thrift shops diminished and branding put a shellac over individual expression. I wanted to hold on to a moment when individuality was celebrated. The people in this series of photographs all owned or dreamed of owning their own shop, or they were living the dream of expressing themselves through their choices. There was an ideal of earning a modest living through self-expression that may have been sentimental, but it was an era when to be inimitable was prized.

I regret not taking a picture of Cheryl, who was given the dress shop Jim-Elle by its previous owner, which was true for several shops on the street. She was very funny and I can still hear her joking. She married the handsome Irish UPS driver we’d all known for years and she was gone in a snap. Lucky guy.

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Bringing life into the present tense

Kelly Johnson composed and performed the music on his new CD.

FIRST PERSON | KELLY JOHNSON

In the sunset years of my life, I sometimes realize that many of my friends don’t see me as I see myself. They see just an old guy on the corner outside Peet’s. But inside my head, I know I’ve had an interesting life — even if the interesting parts all seem to be in the past.

Recently I took on a new project that involved writing original music for ballet class, publishing a CD and developing a website. It was life changing.

And it turned out to be the glue that holds together all of the disparate parts of my life: as a child performer in vaudeville, later at the S.F. Dance Theater, which started on Fillmore Street; then as executive director of the Berkeley Symphony, followed by my years as a concert pianist and now my newest work as a composer.

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Teaching human kindness

Photograph of Deb Anaya and friends by Suzie Biehler

Photograph of Deb Anaya and friends by Suzie Biehler

By LIV JENKS

On the corner of Fillmore and Jackson stands the imposing edifice that is home to Calvary Presbyterian Church, moved there from the western side of Union Square just in time to open with a community Thanksgiving service in 1902.

Often overlooked is the warm, bright preschool located on the top floor of the adjacent education building, with its rooftop playground, which has been welcoming and shaping 3- and 4-year-olds since 1956.

Deborah Anaya has been director of Calvary Nursery School for 19 years. As she walks through the six mini classrooms that divide the preschool’s open, inviting space, she points with pride to the reading corner, the student artwork that hangs on the walls, the portfolios tracking the progress the children made in learning how to write their names.

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Learning more about Santana

Santana book

BOOKS | LEWIS WATTS

I have always admired Carlos Santana, but I think I had begun to take him for granted. He made his career in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, starting in the Fillmore. I’ve always loved his music, especially his early albums, but I only knew a few particulars about his life. So I borrowed my wife’s copy of his autobiography, The Universal Tone: Bringing My Story to Light, which is well written and makes you feel as if you are sitting in a room with him having a conversation.

Santana was born in Autlán de Navarro, Mexico, the son of a professional Mariachi musician. He developed his blues chops playing guitar in strip clubs in Tijuana. He moved with his family to San Francisco in the early 1960s and formed the Santana Blues Band in 1966. I remember seeing him play with B.B. King at the Fillmore. His international reputation was sealed by his performance at Woodstock.

Santana always had a wide variety of influences in music. His unique style was formed by expanding his foundation in the blues to include Latin and jazz influences. One of his first big hits was “Oye Coma Va,” originally recorded by Tito Puente. I was fascinated to see that he was very tight with people like Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, John Lee Hooker and many others.

Santana was married for many years to Deborah Santana, the daughter of Saunders King, a prominent R&B guitarist during the heyday of the Fillmore District in the 40s and 50s, featured in Harlem of the West. He is now married to Cindy Blackman, a drummer who has played with Lenny Kravitz and many jazz ensembles. One of the notable qualities of Santana’s life is his deep spirituality, which has taken a number of forms, and which has sustained him and influenced his broad musical reach.

I was happy to learn more about Santana. The book made me break out his old albums in my collection — and then seek out some of his new music. It’s a good read.

Lewis Watts is co-author of Harlem of the West: San Francisco’s Fillmore Jazz Era.

Bodhisattva of Browser Books

Latif William Harris (1940-2017)

Latif William Harris (1940-2017)

By ERIN C. MESSER

Latif William Harris — post-Beat poet, seeker and Bodhisattva of Browser Books — passed away on October 15 in Watsonville, California. He was 76 years old.

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Immigration fight snares a familiar face

Luis Quiroz, a staffer at Fillmore’s Invision, is among those threatened.

Luis Quiroz, a staffer at Fillmore’s Invision, is among those threatened.

By JAYA PADMANABHAN

When 27-year-old Luis Quiroz heard the news that DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program — was being rescinded, it was as though something he’d worked for all his life had been stripped away.

“I felt completely defeated,” he said.

Quiroz was born in the Mexican state of Guerrero and was brought to America when he was 6 months old. He grew up in San Diego and later moved here to attend San Francisco State University.

“My whole life has been devoted to the United States,” he said. “I know no other home. California has been my home my whole life, pretty much.”

DACA changed Quiroz’s life in two crucial ways: He found a job at Invision Optometry on Fillmore Street, which helps him pay off education expenses; and he obtained a driver’s license, which allows him unrestricted movement. DACA validated his identity.

“I could prove to the world that I was Luis Quiroz and that my birth date was the date it was and that I was a California resident,” he said.

Quiroz worried about his family living close to the Mexican border in San Diego, where there was heightened immigration enforcement activity — and he was right to worry. When Quiroz was 15, his 23-year-old brother was detained and subsequently deported. Two years after that, his father was deported. And in 2015, his mother was sent back to Mexico.

“The reason they fled Mexico in the first place was for economic opportunity, to escape violence, for a better future for themselves and their children,” Quiroz said. “As much as we want to see each other again, my parents recommend I stay in San Francisco.”

His voice thickened with emotion, Quiroz talked about a recent tragedy in his family. In March of this year, his brother, who operated a business for tourists, was assaulted and shot point-blank in front of his 4-year-old daughter.

“I currently have no way of going to Mexico, or visiting his grave, or visiting my parents or my brother’s daughter, whom I have never met,” Quiroz said. He had just finished putting together the paperwork and fee for DACA’s advanced parole, which would have enabled him to visit his family in Mexico. But now, with DACA rescinded, advanced parole is no longer an option.

“I’m very lucky to be in San Francisco, of all places,” Quiroz declared, enumerating the various resources the city has offered him.

S.F. State set up healing circles at their Dream Resource Center after the DACA announcement. San Francisco’s Office of Civic Engagement and Immigrant Affairs offers advice, support and sanctuary to Dreamers. That office also provides help with DACA renewals, fee assistance and legal aid.

Dreamers like Quiroz are concerned about what might be compromised in the zeal to get Congress to pass the pending Dream Act.

“I personally feel torn about this,” Quiroz said. “This Dream Act offers relief to less than 10 percent of the undocumented population, and it excludes everyone else.”

He fears that while he would personally benefit from the bill, the larger undocumented population will be left unprotected.

“It’s like saying, ‘We get to stay, but our parents will get deported,’ ” Quiroz said.

An earlier version of this article appeared in Jaya Padmanabhan’s In Brown Type column in the San Francisco Examiner.

Historian Kevin Starr: A personal memoir

Photograph of former State Librarian Kevin Starr by Andrew Burton.

Photograph of former State Librarian Kevin Starr by Andrew Burton

By CHARLES FRACCHIA

He was born and grew up in public housing on Potrero Hill. When his parents could no longer take care of him and his brother, he was sent to a Catholic orphanage in Eureka. After a stint as a seminarian he attended St. Ignatius High School, where his Jesuit teachers noticed he could not read well, had his eyes checked, and bought him glasses.

It is a surprising start for what happens next. He attends the University of San Francisco and graduates with honors, does a stint as an officer in the U.S. Army, is given a Danforth Fellowship and attends Harvard University, where he receives a Ph.D. in American literature. Following a teaching stint at Harvard, he returns to San Francisco in 1973, where he becomes a special assistant to Mayor Joseph Alioto and City Librarian.

This protean figure is Kevin Starr, who, during the four and a half decades after his return to San Francisco, became one of the major cultural historians of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, a journalist and editor, a generous abettor of many authors, an amiable clubman, State Librarian of California and a distinguished professor at the University of Southern California, to which he would commute weekly from his home in San Francisco.

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