Noe Valley Voice April 2003

This 'n' That

By Laura McHale Holland

Did you know that Friends of Noe Valley president Jeannene Przyblyski is also executive director of the San Francisco Bureau of Urban Secrets? (No, this is not an April Fool's joke, and the Bureau of Urban Secrets is not a new division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.)

"The Bureau was founded as a way of engaging people with ideas about our city's history and how we use it in our everyday lives. The objective is to make people think about the city as a place of experiences and pleasure and community, rather than just a frustrating place where one happens to live," says Przyblyski. "It's an alternative arts program. We have museums, galleries, and then we have groups like the Bureau of Urban Secrets for whom the whole city is a gallery. We tend not to work in traditional art contexts so much, but in other contexts, such as parks and streets," she says.

And what sort of projects might this lead to? The latest one is called Urban Essence: The Scent of San Francisco. It is a perfume now on sale at 826 Valencia, a center founded by best-selling author Dave Eggers that provides free tutoring, workshops, and classes for youth ages 8 to 18. Urban Essence has joined the center's inventory of books, pirate supplies (eye patches, glass eyes, pirate flags, spy glasses, maps, wooden dice), and a line of perfumes with such monikers as Siren, Buccaneer, Damsel, Cavalier, and Swashbuckler. Store manager and perfume designer Yosh Han created all of the pirate-inspired scents. Han and Przyblyski collaborated on Urban Essence.

The project evolved from Przyblyski's membership in the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), a nonprofit, private urban policy think tank. "People who are in urban policy, design, and planning talk a lot about the essence of a great city--that it's something you have to cultivate and promote," says Przyblyski, who also teaches seminars in contemporary art and urbanism at the San Francisco Art Institute. "I would listen to them and think, well, what does the essence of a great city smell like?

"And so Urban Essence was created out of a process of literally going around smelling the city, and then, with Yosh, translating those smells into a fragrance. Now, you can not only live in the city, but you can wear the city on you. The interesting thing about it is that scents change according to the person who wears them, so every time you wear some, you become a part of the essence of the city. It's a very distinctive smell," she says.

A mix of Tunisian amber, East Indian sandalwood, neroli, China musk, custom 826 blend, Siberian fir, citronella, earth, and eucalyptus, it is, just like its namesake, unique.

Since this is a cutting-edge art project and not a business venture, Urban Essence will be on sale only until Przyblyski gets a whiff of it on a passerby, she says. Then she'll take the perfume off the market.

Its price tag is $45 per quarter-ounce at 826 Valencia, or you can order it through the Bureau of Urban Secrets, P.O. Box 460823, San Francisco, CA 94146. The Bureau sells an introductory package for $7.50, which includes a sample and supporting documents. To find out more, e-mail

Another art form is also flourishing in our midst. Linda Carr, head of the modern dance program at Berkeley High School and a resident of 25th Street since 1993, has a show at Noh Space April 4 to 26. Titled "28 very short scenes about love," it is a dance/theater performance created by a five-member ensemble, including Carr, who also directs.

"We created all of these little scenes last year, but now we've reworked it and are starting to see how the pieces are settling together," says Carr, who studied Action Theater with Ruth Zaporah and co-founded the critically acclaimed improvisational performance trio Etiquette Physical Theater in 1998.

"There's this amazing thing that happens when you're creating an ensemble piece," says Carr. At first, it feels like your private personal vision, "but then in working with other people, at some point the piece becomes its own entity, and not so much about you personally. My task [as director] becomes to serve the piece, to make sure the direction it is heading gets fulfilled. That's really exciting, challenging, and fun," she says.

As for what audience members will see at the show, she says, "The piece is funny and it's touching, and some parts of it are uncomfortable. The [scenes] show the harsher edge of romantic relationships and how communication can fall apart--how people can fight about nothing and everything at the same time."

Her poetic description on the show's web site ( tells even more: "[A] pinwheel of elbows and knees flails beneath the calm monologue of a woman leaving her boyfriend; a man twitches, charms, and convulses his way across the stage before sputtering to his admirers, 'Don't touch me, I'm busy'; lovers sit in chairs that are slowly pulled in separate directions as a seemingly benign conversation turns to squabble...."

Carr's fellow dancer/actors are Ed Purver, Jenny Schaffer, Sean Seward, and Cassie Terman. Tickets are $15 for the show, which plays Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m., at the Noh Space Theater at 2840 Mariposa Street. To find out more, call 621-7978.


A neighbor who has brought us far more than 28 scenes is award-winning children's book author Robert San Souci. Robert is currently writing his 87th book. Nine books in his oeuvre are collaborations with his brother Daniel San Souci, an illustrator. Their first book was The Legend of Scarface, a Blackfeet Indian legend published in 1978.

On Sunday, April 27, at 2 p.m., the brothers will appear at the Main Library for the seventh annual Effie Lee Morris Lecture, named for the woman who championed children's services at the San Francisco Public Library in the '60s and '70s. Their talk will be titled "Creative Collaboration with the Picture Book."

A majority of Robert San Souci's books are retellings of folk tales, myths, and legends from around the world. He also created the screen story for Disney's 1998 animated film Mulan, about a young Chinese girl who disguises herself as her father to take his place on the battlefield.

Robert says he is looking forward to talking about the creative process with fans in his hometown. "As a San Franciscan born and bred, it is particularly gratifying to be recognized on my home turf. I love traveling [having just returned from speaking engagements in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Missouri]. But I guess the ultimate satisfaction comes from realizing that family, friends, and the greater community have an appreciation for my writing, which tries to build bridges between cultures, nations, and historical eras," he says. "It's also wonderful to be saluting such a marvelous person as Effie Lee Morris."

From now through April 30, the library will also display an exhibit, "Celebrating the Brothers San Souci," featuring their artwork and manuscripts.

Meanwhile, Robert is celebrating the sense of community here. "There's a wonderful feeling of being somehow in a college town or artists colony, with all the advantages of 'big-city living' no more than a ride away on the J-Church or 24-Divisadero," he observes.


Someone who has lived for 19 years on a street that once had a major encounter with the J-Church is Jane Reed. Reed, a resident of Chattanooga Street, points out that "some houses on our street were moved, some destroyed," during the construction of the streetcar line back in 1917.

To help us remember our roots, Reed and her neighbors are compiling a history of their quiet, tree-lined, speed-bumped road. "This has always been an important working-class community ever since the 1906 earthquake, when the golden fire hydrant on Church and 20th saved the Mission and what is now called Noe Valley," she says.

"We have a lot of San Francisco history on our street that we don't want to disappear. So as a neighborhood we have been compiling wonderful tales of our houses for each other and to share with the city. For example, the oldest house on our block is number 76, which was originally number 34, and was built in 1866. It was owned by a teamster and his brother, a city employee. The stories go on and on. If anyone has stories or details about this area, please pass them on," she requests.

You can reach her at jane@jane

Another woman active in the neighborhood is Lori Shannon, who established See Jane Run on 24th Street, a women's athletic store, three years ago. She was mentioned in this column in November 2002, when she was named Established Entrepreneur of the Year by Renaissance Entrepreneurship Center. Now she has won another award: the San Francisco chapter of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) has given her its 2003 Rising Star award.

"NAWBO is a group of extraordinary women. It's quite an honor to be recognized by them because most have been in business for a great deal of time with established companies. It's pretty cool," Shannon says.

If you want to meet this rising star yourself, stop in at the store's third-anniversary weekend celebration April 12 and 13. Shannon will be holding a donation drawing to benefit the Breast Cancer Fund.


One star who brightly glowed was former Noe Valley resident Betty Garvey. She was featured in this column last month because the senior center on Diamond Street that she founded in 1980 was renamed in her honor. Sadly, she died from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma on March 13. Garvey was 75 years old. Amazingly, she worked at the Betty Garvey Diamond Street Senior Center until a week before her death.

A graduate of St. James Girls Grammar School and of Immaculate Conception Academy, Garvey earned a bachelor's degree from Oakland's Holy Names College in 1949 and a master's degree in social welfare from U.C. Berkeley in 1952. In addition to a career devoted to bettering the lives of senior citizens, she and her husband Frank (also deceased) raised five children, all of whom survive her: two daughters, Judith Garvey of San Francisco and Claudia Curran of Pleasanton, and three sons, Mark Garvey of San Francisco, Paul Garvey of Orinda, and John Garvey of Moraga.

Betty Garvey was a member of numerous clubs and civic organizations. She also competed in the race walk in the first National Senior Olympics in St. Louis in 1987. Subsequently, while in her 60s, she competed in the discus throw competition.

Garvey established a list of activities at the senior center that was long enough to exhaust a college student. The roster includes yoga; tai chi; origami; lessons in Chinese, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian, and Japanese; tap dancing; country-western dance; walking groups; current affairs discussions; and outings to the theater, ballet, opera, symphony, and circus.

Indeed, she left a bold mark on this world, and will be missed. May we all be so inspired in this time of war, with all the heartbreaking repercussions it engenders.


Lift your neighbors' spirits with some good news. Let us smile at the charming idiosyncrasies of your babies and toddlers. Shower us with your smashing successes. Tell us about your school honors, athletic feats, engagements, weddings, CD releases, book parties, plays, art shows, or any other personal news worth sharing with your community.

E-mail leads to; mail them to the Noe Valley Voice, 1021 Sanchez Street, San Francisco, CA 94114; or leave a phone message at 821-3324.