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This 'n' That
By Laura McHale Holland
On the world's stage, the drums of war reverberate. Some of us are resolute; others are in despair; some appear not to notice. But no matter how we feel in these troubled times, we neighbors carry on. We take comfort in ordinary tasks--feeding a friend's cat, weeding our gardens, walking to 24th Street, volunteering at James Lick, creating works of art, whipping up an omelet, booting up our computers, or pulling out our toolboxes and getting to work. It's these day-to-day actions that build the milestones we celebrate. And we have several of those to share this month.
Clive and Maxine Nisse had two things to celebrate on Sept. 7, 2002: The Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah and the first birthday of their daughter Nadine Hannah. Nadine weighed in a year ago at 8 pounds, 11 ounces, at California Pacific Medical Center.
"We postponed Nadine's birthday party because of the holiday, but I don't think she noticed," laughs Clive Nisse, who in addition to being Nadine's dad is the manager of Noe Valley Bakery and Bread Company on 24th Street. A native of London, Clive has been at the bakery for 11/2 years. He has been in the bakery business for the past 15 years, eight of them in San Francisco. Mom Maxine is a rarity: a native San Franciscan.
Nisse finds that his business has advantages when it comes to parenting. "I wanted to be a hands-on father. It's very important to me. I'm able to have a career and be very active in my child's life, and that's awesome. Since I start work from between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m., I can usually leave between 2:30 and 3:00. Then I have the afternoon with my child. Being able to provide for her and play with her too is so enriching. I get to see all the new things she's doing, rather than just hear about them," he says.
Lately, little Nadine has been enjoying pulling open drawers and peeping inside so much that Clive and Maxine have created a baby drawer in their home kitchen that is hers alone to open and explore. It is filled with safe plastic things to play with.
Nisse's business has other advantages when it comes to parenting. He's been able to ply his clientele for information. "Many of my customers are young families. I did a lot of research on baby products through them," he says. "I asked them questions about their products and asked whether they're happy with things. I really want to thank them for their interest and for the fact that they keep coming to the bakery. One customer even remembered Nadine's birthday."
Nisse is looking forward to when Nadine can spend time with him in the bakery. Customers will be able to wish her well in person, and she'll be putting other things than (safe) plastic toys in her mouth. "My daughter hasn't got enough teeth yet, but at some point she'll be very lucky that I work here," Nisse muses.
As far as the future goes, world peace is on Nisse's wish list, but he says, "I'll settle for a healthy, happy child. In this day and age when you see families breaking up and other things going on in the world, you just want to do the best you can to raise your kids."
Twenty-second Street resident Dianne Platner is doing the best she can to help the homeless. Inspired by the more than five thousand 11- by-17-foot earthquake relief cottages built to house people after the 1906 earthquake and fire, she has been quietly working in her Leese Street studio (near Mission), on an installation and video documentary called "Encampment." The installation consists of breadbox-sized cottages built from cardboard signs that homeless people and others in need hold up as they stand on median strips and street corners throughout the city--signs that say things like "Trying to Get a Room," "Thanks and God Bless," and "One Dime at a Time."
"I think it is an interesting juxtaposition to bring the present situation back to a time when we were able to care for a lot of people who needed shelter, in a city that was devastated financially, emotionally, in every which way. If you look at images of the city after the 1906 earthquake, there are just huge open spaces covered with these cottages."
Mayor Willie Brown thinks Platner's concept is interesting as well. She visited him on a recent Saturday because she wanted to exhibit her work at City Hall. Initially she was planning to make enough cottages to fill an 11-by-17-foot space, but it looks like she'll soon have enough material for a 20-by-20-foot installation.
"The dilemma of showing a piece like that is that the Arts Commission has no floor space to show on, and you get your work into City Hall through the Arts Commission. So I filled out an application to see the mayor. He said he thought that within the year I could get it installed at City Hall. I was hoping to get it in there before the [Nov. 5] election, but he wasn't going to go there. He doesn't want either side to take this exhibit and use it for their own political gain. He also wants some people to see the work and pass judgment on whether it's art or not. Whether it's the Arts Commission or some other group, I don't know, but it's great that he wants people to see it," Platner says.
Platner is going to incorporate video monitors into the installation. "When you're walking around the cottages, you can pause and listen to [homeless] people talk about their viewpoints, their families, their illnesses, their joys. You'll be able to stop and listen to what the people I work with on the street say when I gather material from them."
In working on this project, Platner has developed relationships with many people who have given her cardboard signs. The connections she has made have led to a performance art collaboration. As Election Day draws near, she says, the performance will take place sporadically throughout the city. It will involve street corners and unusual signs. Platner hopes this piece of guerrilla theater will give people a different image of the homeless. So keep your eyes open.
Another thing to watch out for is photographer Beverly Tharp's Open Studios exhibit. You may recognize Tharp's name, since she has shot photos for the Noe Valley Voice for more than a decade.
Tharp has been working on what she calls her Lotus Project for the past five years. (The lotus, in this case, is the white water lily found in tropical climates.)
"My mother's family is from Hawaii. When she was young, they used to go to the north side of Oahu to visit relatives. They always stopped off to see her father's Uncle Manini. He lived in Waialua near a lotus pond," Tharp says. "Decades later, Mom and Dad retired to the Sierra foothills here in California. One day while they were away from home, Dad's cousin came, and as a surprise, dug a pond on their property. They came back to find this huge body of water. Mom remembered the lotus and planted some in the pond, and they flourished, which they don't always do. Since then neighbors have asked for transplants, but most have failed."
Over many years of visits to her parents, Tharp's interest in the lotus grew. "Every stage of the plant is fascinating: the huge, deep-green velvety leaves that flap like elephant ears in the wind; the flowers--at first huge pink globules, then white and wide as a plate when they open.... And the pods! After the petals drop, the center grows into a green pod high above the water. Eventually, they dry deep brown in the winter and disappear to come back in the spring."
Initially, Tharp stayed on shore casually photographing the lotus with a 35mm long lens. She was not satisfied with the tiny images she produced. To get closer to the flowers, she got into an old aluminum boat her parents had bought from a neighbor for $25. "Since I wanted saturated color, I had to use slow film; this meant long exposures on a tripod. Lots of frustration! Taking the camera into the wobbly boat was scary. Balancing the tripod holding a very heavy medium-format at weird angles as I craned my neck to see down into the viewfinder at the reversed image was arduous," she recalls. "And sometimes when I get it all set up, the sun changes or the wind comes up and the boat drifts off. I've tried anchors, tying up, all kinds of schemes. Sometimes everything is still, and I sit waiting for something to be just right. Then I realize my body, in the same rigid position for the past 15 minutes, just can't move. By that time, the boat has started leaking, and my feet are a slosh in water."
Now, don't you want to see the oeuvre that resulted from all that effort? Tharp's studio is at [address removed] in Bernal Heights. It will be open Oct. 12 and 13, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Here's something else to keep an eye out for: Dhaia Tribe, a six-member multicultural group of artists who weave together poetry, prose, and music from around the world, just received their very first grant. The Zellerbach Family Fund gave them $2,500 for use in staging their upcoming show: "Homelands: Stories of Immigration, Arrival, and Identity."
"It's nice to have some affirmation of our work. We were very excited when we got it, so I guess we weren't expecting it," says Pireeni Sundaralingam. She, a poet from Sri Lanka, and her husband Colm O'Riain, a musician from Ireland, live in the neighborhood on Castro Street. They comprise a third of the group.
"We're going to combine the myths of our ancestors with more recent historical documents and first-person accounts of immigration. The money will go in part to cover our archival research. We're also hoping to do a series of projected visual images as a backdrop to our poetry performance. Some of the money will go towards actually constructing those images," says Sundaralingam.
The location and dates of the show are as yet undetermined. The group also has periodic, creative salons open to all members of the community. The next one is tentatively scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 13, from 4 to 6 p.m. For up-to-the-minute details on both their upcoming show and their creative salons visit www.dhaiatribe.org.
For up-to-the-minute, impressively improving test scores you might want to log on to www.edisonaction.org. It's the web site for Edison Charter Academy, at Dolores and 23rd streets. The students' latest scores are the highest in the school's history. Some grades even doubled their scores over the previous year.
"I have four children at the school in kindergarten, second, third, and fourth grades. I can't even begin to tell you how thrilled I am," says Laura Baker, who, in addition to taking care of her brood, volunteers in the school's library. "It's just really rewarding to see how much change it's made to be able to become focused and just really concentrate on learning. The thing that gets missed more than anything with regard to Edison is that there's never been a discussion about how fine the design is. The only thing you hear is the catch phrase, 'It's a for-profit school.' We always have to talk about everything except what it is that makes us have the highest parent satisfaction rating. It's because of the design. It's phenomenal."
Baker says the "Success for All" reading program, which groups children by reading ability rather than by grade level for an hour and a half each day, is a very strong part of the school. It makes sure each child gets the help he or she needs to master material before moving up to the next level. An expanded curriculum, where math, social studies, science, and language arts are all taught by homeroom teachers and where specialists come in to teach music, art, physical education, and Spanish, is also key. And Baker finds the cooperation among homeroom teachers creates a real sense of community.
"One teacher will do a science plan, and another will do social studies. Then they'll teach their lesson to their own class and to the other teacher's class. This allows them to do more teaching and less planning. And because my kids don't just have a single teacher they relate to, they know they're accountable. More teachers know the children's personalities and behavior, and it makes them much more able to deal with situations that arise and help keep kids on track," says Baker.
So congratulations to the students at Edison Charter Academy, as well as to the others in this column who shared good news with us this month. For November, as images of savory Thanksgiving dinners fill your thoughts, please give us plenty of news to be thankful for. Tell us about your bouncing babies, academic honors, athletic achievements, engagements, weddings, professional awards, book parties, art show openings, literary salons, and any other good personal news worth sharing with your neighbors.
E-mail leads to firstname.lastname@example.org; mail them to the Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114; or leave a phone message at 821-3324. Again, we eagerly await your news.