Thursday, November 1, 2018

Samhain, a cross-quarter festival

Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh! Happy New Year. May the Gates of the Otherworld stay open long enough for you to escape the coming darkness. And mind the Galoshins!

Astronomically speaking, Samhain should be celebrated November 11, which means that gates of the otherworld are open until November 16. Beware!

Modern calend dates are somewhat meaningless as the Julian calendar was off by ten days when the Gregorian calendar was introduced.

In the 8th c., Samhain was shoehorned into the Christian festival calendar of saints, and the original Roman festival of the dead that was celebrated in in May, and later, the Mexican El Día de los Muertos (originally celebrated in summer) was added to the mix. (See my rant, El Dia de los Muertos was moved atop our Day of the Dead/New Year.

Blame Pope Boniface IV for that mass conflagration of holidays to the dead now celebrated on Nov. 1 & 2.

The Celtic fire festivals are held on the cross-quarter days, midway point between the solstices and equinoxes. Samhain means summer’s end. It is part of a harvest-pastoral, or hunter’s festival calendar. Imbolc is the beginning of spring (first milk) and Beltane is the beginning of summer, followed by the games gathering festival of Lugnasa. And the church tacked on a whole slew of saints to each of these festivals in an attempt to desecularize them. Didn’t exactly work.

There is some thought that the festivals predate the coming of the Celts, which is plausible, as the Bell Beaker folk were sometimes called proto-Celts—at least by my anthropology professor. However, the megalithic standing stone monuments wouldn’t record any astronomical alignment to denote the timing of these fire festivals as they’re aligned to the solstices and equinoxes, not the cross-quarter days.

According to the early medieval Irish epics, that reflect an earlier oral tradition, Samhain was equally celebrated in Ireland, and much of the modern Halloween tradition was introduced to Scotland from Ireland.

Whose? I did a Google image search via Sean Folsom, no luck.

The Celtic wheel of the year with the cross-quarter days, nestled between the solstices and equinoxes. Samhain, the end of summer and the beginning of winter, is a harvest festival, (Halloween), followed by Imbolc, or spring (first milk), and Beltane, (May Day) or the beginning of summer, and Lugnasadh, the time for the great games and clan gathering—which lives on today as the Highland Games. Lughnassad (no double s, btw—) or Lunasa, is the festival of Lugh, is the beginning of August. It lives on in Ireland as the Puck Fair. Someone’s thrown in some other festivals. Oestara was not a Celtic festival, nor was Litha, or Yule, but Mabon was celebrated on the continent. It’s a bit of a mishmash, as someone was trying to shoehorn Roman, Germanic, and astrological signs into one thing. It doesn’t work like that. It’s not an can’t mix apples and oranges and a box of thumbtacks and expect it to make a fruit salad

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

After the fall

Last day of the Celtic year, While moving boxes of my medieval Celtic books to the garage, rather than do a header, I took a spectacular backflip skid down the front steps while trying to protect my knee, I sort of rode it out on my back like a skateboard champ. But later, I got  clobbered by a demented box of art supplies stashed on the highest shelf of the closet on my left arm, and again by a crate of Xmas stuff leapt off the shelf and smashed my right arm, so I just gave up. I think they were going for the jugular and carotid. Or maybe my head. I said,  sheesh! Third time’s a charm. Don’t disturb the ghosts. I didn’t get much done. Some days are like that. I may have landed on my back but now I have a big bruise on the front of my shin. I must’ve flipped like a cat, mid-air. All those years on horse, and donkeyback have taught me how to fall. No tailbones were involved but it hurts to slouch. And sitting in a chair or car seat is plain uncomfortable. My arms are sumo buff and bruised. When I go down for the count, I do it with verve and style. But I hurt in some very odd places.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Summer’s End

We’re fast approaching the end of the Celtic year, Samhain, or Summer’s End, which marks the half way mark, or cross-quarter day between the equinox and the solstice. The night when the boundary between this world and the otherworld are thinnest. The night of the great bonfires, where my great-grandfather ran his cattle between two fires to purify them (the other cross quarter day was Beltane)—the smoke was probably also a great pest deterrent. To be fair, the celebration of the cross-quarter days predates the arrival of the Celts, but they took to the custom like ducks to water, or sparks to flame.

In 609AD, Pope Boniface IV decreed November 1 as All Saints Day, or Allhallowmesse, thus placing a Christian spin on the Celtic celebration of Samhain. And since the festival lasted several days, we have Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve, All Saints Day, and All Souls Day as well.

The Irish brought the vestiges of Samhain, rechristened Halloween by the church, to America, and to Scotland. In America, Halloween took off and became the secular extravaganza it is today, thanks to the candy industry, who saw a profit was to be made. During WWII, American GIs stationed in Germany, put on a Halloween festival in a castle, thus reintroducing elements of Samhain to its original Celtic homeland, and also back to Ireland as well.

We associate Halloween with zombies and characters like Frankenstein, but that story was penned during one dreary dreecht summer in Geneva by Irish lass, Mary Shelley, on a bet to produce a ghost story. Galvanizing the dead fits right into the premise of Samhain, or Halloween when the gates to the otherworld are open, the cauldron of plenty could raise the dead, and anything was possible.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Photos of my mom and Sean Ritter who killed himself 11 years ago.

How beautiful my mother looks in this photo with her new fiery redhead granddaughter Tiffany, and her son Sean, who ended his life 11 years ago, today, rather than face a draconian 3 strikes prison system. He went to prison at 21, on two counts of drug possession charges. He got into a fight in a parking lot, thus breaking his parole, so he went home and shot himself in his garage rather than return to Pelican Bay.

Sean was my half-brother, but raised as a cousin as my childless aunt Toddy who desperately wanted children and couldn't have any, or so she thought. After she adopted Sean, she had three kids of her own. Sean's father was a Dublin man, that's all we know. Somebody my mother met at the No Name Bar in Sausalito. Perhaps he was a sailor, a carpenter, or someone just passing through. He must've been a redhead or a strawberry blond like Sean. My mother never saw him again, but I'm sure she was reminded of him every time she saw Sean. Is the father still alive somewhere in Dublin, we wonder. What was his name? Who were his people? Did he ever know he had a son in America?

In the photo, my mother has no breasts, a cancer survivor, the implants will leak and bring back the cancer, it will grow undetected behind that wall of silicone. She will die of a heart attack after her first round of chemo October 23, 1994. This month is such a melancholy time for me, as my grandmother, and mother also died during the final days of October, also the end of the Celtic year. My grandmother died Oct 28, not quite Samhain, Summer's End, but close enough for the transition when the door to the Otherworld opens. Half way between the equinox, my mother's birthday, to the solstice, Samhain is the beginning of winter, or the dark half of the year. We will light a bonefire for them so that they may see the way forward.

My mom, Maureen Reilly, sister Kathleen (Toddy) Ritter, sons Myles, Sean, baby Tiffany & Judy Ritter.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Spiderweb (photos)

The mad eye of the sun at dawn rising from the mist, wild geese conversing among themselves while grazing on the dew-laden first winter grass of the season.

The field was covered with myriad globe spider webs, drowned in dew, each one unique, the rising sun turned them into a vast crochet fest of dainty handkerchiefs or lace anticamassar prisms on the deep armchairs of the lake reeds. I remember how my aunts would cover their heads with lace hankies before entering the church. Ah, Sunday morning, what tangled webs we weave...

Friday, October 5, 2018

Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival

23rd annual Poetry Flash
Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival
Stand up for the Earth

Saturday, October 13th
from 10 AM to 4:30 PM
at Civic Center Park,
Martin Luther King, Jr. Way 
in Berkeley, California.
Free to the public, bring low chairs, blankets, picnic on the grass.

Strawberry Creek walk hosted by Chris Olander begins at 10AM 
Meet at the corner of Oxford and Center streets. 
Featured readers: Iris Dunkle, Maya Khosla, Joan Gelfand,
plus eco-dance by Sharon Coleman with Barry Ebner on guitar at the grove.

Plus book signings and poetry writing and art events at River Village.


We are Nature reading (open mike sign up at noon).
1:15 PM: River of Words youth reading an awards with Robert Hass, 
1:30 PM California Poets in the Schools student reading 
with Maureen Hurley, Brennan DeFrisco, and other CPITS teachers.

2 PM: welcome
Big reading: Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Leanne Sullivan, Maya Khosla, Joan Gelfand, CS Giscombe, Tonga Eisen-Martin, Forrest Gander, Ellery Ackers, Robert Coats, Iris Dunkle, Chris Olander, Gwynn O'Gara, and more.

4:30PM closing ceremonies, grand finale.

Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival is a collaboration with Robert Hass, US Poet Laureate, 1995-1997, Poetry Flash, and the Ecology Center/Berkeley Farmers' Market, Pegasus Books, Moe's Books, East Bay Express, Poets & Writers, Berkeley Civic Arts  Commission, Zellerbach Family Foundation.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Groundcherries by any other name

CNN posted a slouchy article on the process of genetically modifying groundcherries, a species of tomatillo, for commercial harvesting. I think the headline, Groundcherries, the latest modified fruit scientists want you to try, was designed to get a rise out of readers. Anything for a few hits on Facebook. If the header didn't grab your attention, the synopsis was even lamer: They taste like pineapple, but also like vanilla. They're "tropical" but also a bit like a tomato. A bit like a tomato? they're such close cousins, they're practically Irish twins.

I’d chalk the article up to uninformed journalism, replete with bad headlines, or bad tastebuds, or both. Of course, the CNN journalist Arman Azad might not have had anything to do with the epic headline fail. Could be a wonky editor. I can't answer for their tastebuds. Vanilla? Really?

Of course, most Facebook readers lost their collective minds. If the headline hadn’t read “modified” would all the howling Facebook readers have had such an adverse knee-jerk reaction? One could almost hear all those knees smacking their owners in the chin. Don't knock out all your teeth in the process.

Groundcherries (Physalis peruviana) are not some kind of new frankenfruit. Modified does not mean inter-species spliced GMOs, no foreign fish, or alien fungus genes inserted into your tomatoes or groundcherries. People have been domesticating tomatillo species for millennia. If anything, they should be dubbed heirloom plants—even though they're considered to be weeds the world over.

Cape gooseberries, or Inca berries, Physalis peruviana, take some time to ripen.—Wiki

The CNN article nattered on about the significance of scientific development of a more compact groundcherry bush with larger fruit, and more fruit clusters. Talk about burying the lead sentence! If the CNN journalist had merely called the process “domestication” then there probably would have been no flappy Facebook furor. Talk about the five Ws of journalism gone awry. Never bury the lead.

The real problem is developing a commercially viable crop, so that Physalis peruviana can be harvested and shipped. It's just not commercially viable as is—wild grown. Harvesting, shipping, etc., is problematic, as the big rambling bush likes to flop about and lay down on the ground, and randomly drop its fruit—hence the name—groundcherries.

Cape gooseberries, Inca berries Physalis peruviana, yellow ones are the sweetest.

As to gene manipulation, any food you eat has already been modified. Call it domestication, cultivation, or breeding—whether by natural selection, farmers, monks, or scientists... Everything we eat has been modified, unless it's completely wild.

Take teosinte, or maize from the Central Balsas River Valley, Mexico, it was a tiny rock-hard grass seed. The native cultures of Mesoamerica developed it into a multi-grained maize husk about the size of a baby’s pinkie. It was still rock hard. Selective modification developed it into small hard ears of corn—capable of breaking teeth. But massive cultivation in the 16th c., and changing tastes, developed it into the sweet, tender juicy corn of today. But this process took centuries. Scientists can now tweak, or edit a plant’s own genes in a few generations in the lab.

And it's not just corn, bananas and apples—pretty much everything we eat has been manipulated. Have you ever seen a wild banana? It's all seeds and no banana pulp. Crabapples are bitter compact fruits with little flesh, and big seeds—ditto that with plums and peaches. Broccoli is a case of EXTREME plant modification on steroids. It doesn't even exist in the wild. A few tiny flower buds. I suspect cauliflower, which has been around since the 16th century, was also once a tiny posy.

Old school plant genetic manipulation was largely based on trial and error, and it took farmers and monks generations to isolate, and breed favorable genetic traits. Remember Gregor Mendel and his red and white flowering pea experiments? One red pea, and one white pea parent will equal a pink pea. Genetic manipulation is not a new concept. Well, in a lab, things are merely speeded up, genes can be tickled and tweaked to produce smaller shrubs, and more fruits. Pollen can be isolated, so there’s no outside interference, no stray genes in the family tree. And a commercially viable plant can be developed within a few years in the lab, vs. decades—or centuries—in the field.

And since most of the Facebook readers opined and shuddered over the twinned plant porn words like genetic mutation, and manipulation, without actually having read the article, I've pulled two quotes from the bottom of the article to keep us all on the same page:
"When you mutate the gene, it basically shrinks the plant like an accordion so you can make it much more compact"said Zachary Lippman, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory...researchers were able to make plants that grew 50% more groundcherries on any given stem, and those fruits were larger—weighing up to 24% more than the traditional, unmodified versions.
Lippman also notes that humans have been eating genetically modified crops for millennia, selectively breeding those fruits and vegetables that had the most favorable traits. "We have been eating mutations in plants and animals since humans started to improve crops thousands of years ago," he said. "That's a random process and took thousands of years. With gene editing, you're now just making one mutation in one gene in the simplest sense."
A lone voice of sanity and reason on the Facebook thread, UC Davis grad student, Randi Jiménez, a researcher, whose field of expertise is the nightshade family, explained it best (largely to a crowd of deaf ears, or, rather, blind eyes):
For those upset about the modification, this isn't the GMO of the past that you might have in mind. Previously, genes from totally different species were inserted into a crop's genome, this technique of genetic editing, also sometimes called precision breeding, causes small mutations in the crop's own genes. In this case, scientists at Cornell induced mutations in ground cherry to make the ground cherry genes resemble tomato genes. (Tomatoes are related to ground cherries.) These mutations could and in many cases already occur naturally. This way, though, scientists can get all the preferred versions of the genes into one plant without several years of screening and breeding.
There are some 2000 species of solanum, including potatoes, tomatoes, and chiles. And there are many wild tomato species that we know nothing about, including S. peruvianum, S. cheesmanii, S. galapagense, S. chilense, and S. pimpinellifolium—and its offspring, that lone domesticated cultivar, that tasteless supermarket darling, S. lycopersicum (AKA Lycopersicon esculentum). And there are at least 90 species of the tomato-like cousin, Physalis, that are such successful hitchhikers, they are considered to be weeds the world over.

Ground cherries (Physalis peruviana) too are a member of the nightshade family, hence the tomato reference. There are nearly a hundred species of Physalis, and to further confuse things, most species the world over, are called groundcherries, regardless of the actual species. That's what happens with common names. They get borrowed. With that many species to contend with, there's bound to be some variation in flavor. But, from the field reports, the taste of vanilla or pineapple don't seem to be among them. Dulcet sweet tomato, maybe. In fact, one reader said they tasted like stinky feet.

There’s Physalis missouriensis / P. virginiana (same species? sometimes erroneously referred to as black nightshade (S. nigrum), which is often toxic), Physalis philadelphica / Physalis ixocarpa —AKA tomatillos, native to Central America and Mexico, despite its Philadelphic neo-Latin name, is from Mexico, as it was cultivated in the pre-Columbian era. There are 46 species of Physalis native to Mexico alone. Wow. Some have made their way to Arizona, and have made serious inroads in Middle America, all the way up into Canada, and the Eastern Seaboard. I like to imagine, that along with the spread of teosinte, from Nahuatl teōcintli, teōtl god + cintli dried ears of maize (Zea mays), Psysalis too hitched a ride north.
The wild tomatillo and related plants are found everywhere in the Americas except in the far north, with the highest diversity in Mexico.  In 2017, scientists reported on their discovery and analysis of a fossil tomatillo found in the Patagonian region of Argentina, dated to 52 million years B.P. The finding has pushed back the earliest appearance of the Solanaceae plant family of which the tomatillos are one genus. Tomatillos were domesticated in Mexico before the coming of Europeans, and played an important part in the culture of the Maya and the Aztecs, more important than the tomato. The tomatillo (from Nahuatl, tomatl) is also known as... tomate de cáscara, tomate de fresadilla, tomate milpero, tomate verde (green tomato), miltomate, farolito, or simply tomate (in which case the tomato is called jitomate). The specific name philadelphica dates from the 18th century. In the United States, tomatillos have been cultivated since 1863. By the middle of the 20th century, the plant was exported to India, Australia, South Africa, and Kenya.—Wiki
Physalis peruviana, Cape gooseberry, despite its South African moniker, is native to South America, specifically to the Peruvian Andes, where it is called the Inca berry, but it is now considered a common weed in many subtropical areas. I like to think of the paper lantern jacket enshrouding the unripe fruit as a little paper cape—thus bypassing the confusing South African reference.

All Physalis are native to Central, and South America. Since 90% of all Physalis species hail from Central and South America, and since only Physalis philadelphica (or Physalis ixocarpa) was exported during the 20th c., I suspect some of the global escapees might have been successful pre-Columbian hitchhikers to Micronesia and Australasia and beyond. When the wild solanum genomes are fully sequenced, we'll have a better picture of the migration range.

Tomatoes (Solanum) and chili peppers (from the Nahuatl, chīlli, Capsicum) both from the Solanaceae family, arrived from Central America to the Old World in two different directions: Spain via the Spanish conquistadors, and the Far East—to the Middle East—via the Portuguese navigators, thus causing massive confusion as to both parentage and edibility of the family of Solanaceae.
Solanum is a large and diverse genus of flowering plants, which include two food crops of high economic importance, the potato and the tomato. It also contains the nightshades and horse nettles, as well as numerous plants cultivated for their ornamental flowers and fruit. —Wiki
European black nightshade (S. nigrum), introduced to the Americas, and Australasia, is considered toxic, but fully ripened fruit and foliage are cooked and eaten in many regions. But only if you know what you're doing. Otherwise, it's curtains—as black nightshade is highly variable—avoid eating the berries unless they are a known edible strain. With survivors present. (Nota bene: S. nigrum is not
Atropa belladonna, deadly nightshade, one of the most toxic plants from Eurasia—now naturalized the world over. In the Middle Ages women used belladonna to dilate their pupils.)
Some of the major species within the S. nigrum complex are: S. nigrum, S. americanum, S. douglasii, S. opacum, S. ptychanthum, S.retroflexum, S. sarrachoides, S. scabrum, and S. villosum.... Other species are significant food crops regionally, such as Ethiopian eggplant and gilo (S. aethiopicum), naranjilla or lulo (S. quitoense), turkey berry (S. torvum), pepino (S. muricatum), tamarillo, or "bush tomatoes" (several Australian species). —Wiki
Ripe berries of the "Red Makoi" variety of S. nigrum are edible. —Wiki

The English were content to grow various solanum as poisonous garden ornamentals for a few centuries, while the Italians and Iberians began experimenting with love apples and hot chilis (sweet peppers as well as the Physalis species), in foods. Imagine Italian cooking sans noodles and tomato sauce, or Hungary without its paprika. With the introduction of tomatoes and chilis Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and South Asian cuisine has never been the same. (Potatoes are another chapter in the story.)
Tomatoes were brought to Europe in the 1590s. The English botanist John Gerard was one of the first cultivators of the tomato plant. In his publication Grete Herball, he considered tomatoes as poisonous due to their levels of what would later be called tomatine, plus high acid content. Consequently, tomatoes were generally not eaten in Britain until the mid-18th century. —Wiki
Not all Physalis species have edible fruit. The tricky bit is to make sure you’re not eating a more deadly species of solanum. Solanum nigrum fruit is so highly variable and diverse, it looks a lot like several Physalis sp. Keep in mind that in general, the entire plant of any nightshade, with the exception of some species, and strains of ripe fruit, is toxic, all unripe fruit of the nightshade family is toxic—except maybe for fried green tomatoes. Just don't pig out on them, or eat them raw, as the tomatine, a glycoalkaloid, or glycospirosolane, is more concentrated in unripe tomatoes.

But solanine poisoning—from green-skinned potatoes—is the glycoalkaloid to avoid. The green color is merely chlorophyll, but green skin indicates high levels of bitter-tasting solanine and chaconine. Most of the toxins are concentrated close to the skin's surface, so peel off all that green before you eat them. When I was trekking in the Andean altiplano, I ate local black potatoes (papas negras—there are over 4000 varieties of Andean potatoes) but they were bitter as gall, and my GI tract never forgave me. Apparently I was supposed to also eat the arcilla de chaco jacket—clay, ancestor of Kaopectate, absorbs the bitterness.

The anti-inflamatory agent found in tomatoes, Lycopene, comes from the tomato's former Latin name, Lycopersicon, or wolf peach... Europeans thought tomatoes were poisonous for centuries.
Wiki tells us that:
Lycopene (from the neo-Latin Lycopersicum, the tomato species) is a bright red carotene and carotenoid pigment and phytochemical found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables, such as red carrots, watermelons, papayas.
Lycopene is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that helps protect the skin... it's reputed to have healthy heart benefits, reduce osteoporosis, reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and is a powerful antioxidant useful in combating cancers including prostate cancer. (See goji, or wolfberry.)

Making Physalis peruviana a commercial crop will take some doing. The biggest hurdle is, not getting the bush to be more robust, but getting people to eat them. It took the British nearly three centuries to eat their tomatoes. I fear the CNN article will not pave the way to help develop a sustainable market.

Since lycopene is a hot item right now, despite its wolfish moniker, I suspect this will be the best publicity a goundcherry could have. It could be marketed as The Next New Thing, and an heirloom plant all in one. Whatta howl!

Howling wolf —Wiki

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Vee Rae interview: Sausalito's Gate 5 Theater & beyond

Vee Rae (Virginia Rae Kane) was an actor friend of my mother's at the Gate Playhouse Theatre in Sausalito during the late 1950s- early 1960s. I was young, still in the single digits, so my memory was sparse. But my first blog pieces in 2007 were on Gate 5, Tiki Junction, and also Juanita, which led to this post.

The photo that started it all. My mother, Kellé Reilly (later it was Kellé Green—
her stage name as there was already an actress, Maureen Hurley in SAG), 
Richard Knablin, Skip Rognlien and Vee Rae, Christmas, 1960. 
(Photo by Chris Gracida, courtesy of Richard Knablin.)

Somehow my mom's friend, Richard "Dik" Knablin stumbled across my blog post in 2009, and contacted me which led me to an email from Vee Rae. He sent me a photo of my mother with him and Vee Rae, and the memories came flooding back. Wow!

So this interview is a decade, or more like a lifetime in the making. Also, my drama teacher from College of Marin, James Dunn just passed away, he was also part of the lively and vibrant theatre scene in Marin. Come what come may, time and the hour run through the roughest day.

I was able to glean information on Skip Rognlien and Les Abbot, thanks to Google. I found a few reviews that mention Vee and other actors in the ensemble (Bill Edwards, Jim Holiday, Vickie Frazer, Sharleen Lambert, Diane Santich, John Rose, Jack Brennan and J. W. Cheetham, see newspaper archives at bottom), but nothing in print on my mother who worked so tirelessly behind the scenes with costuming, and she was also in most of the plays as well. I only have a few stills of her.

Skip Rognlien (1934-2018) was a ballet dancer


When the Gate Playhouse director, stage manager, technical director, lighting and set designer, Skip Rognlien was killed in a head-on car accident in March, in Oregon, I realized that very few people held the oral history of that era were still among the living.

I had the idea of going up to Oregon to visit Richard Knablin and Skip Rognlien to collect their oral history. But life got in the way. I was laid up with a bum knee that wouldn't heal after surgery. I was goin' nowhere as they say. I couldn't even get across the room, let alone, drive to Oregon.

From what I can piece together, shows at the Gate Playhouse began in the fall of 1958 or 59. By 1962, or 1963, the Gate Five Players had folded, Les Abbott had gone off to Hollywood, as did Vee Rae.

Skip had returned to his home town, Kalispell, MT, to produce a few plays for Playhouse Actors in 1963. Then by 1965, he moved to New York and was producing plays for (another) Gate Theatre, and the Cricket Theatre. (Vee says he spent time in LA too. Need do get that story.) My mother would occasionally hear from Skip and tell me of his successes and escapades. I always loved Skip. He was kind to kids.

Skip, who was a lithe 6 foot 4 inches, was hand-picked by Mr. Balanchine, to attend the Balanchine School of American Ballet in Manhattan, but theatre was always his first love.
In the mid-50's, Marnie Cooper, a former Balanchine dancer, arrived at the University of Montana to teach ballet to football players. The theater department asked that she also teach a class for theater majors. The wife of the dean of music took home movies of our single performance, and a copy of the film was sent to Mr. B to show him what Ms. Cooper was doing out West. Evidently Mr. Balanchine took a look, for soon a letter arrived asking Ms. Cooper to ''send the tall boy,'' indicating me, to New York as a scholarship student. —Skip Rognlien

My earliest memory of Skip is during a rehearsal, him lounging on a tall wooden stool, wearing striped a sailor's shirt, telling everyone to "Take Five." And me asking my mother what it meant, as I conflated that with Dave Brubeck's album. She laughed and said it meant a smoke break. We stood on the ledge outside the back of the Gate as she smoked her Parliament, and flicked the butt into the dark bay.

While in New York, Skip also taught American square dance, and was founding president of the first gay square dance club, the Times Squares in New York.

Skip's obit mentions that he was involved with the theater for 50 years in New York City, San Francisco, and Sacramento. I wonder if that Sacramento nod is how my mother also wound up at the Music Circus theatre in the round, with Lloyd Bridges, in Guys and Dolls? My mom also costumed The Student Prince there. Vee Rae said that Les Abbot and Skip Rogniein worked several shows at the Sacramento Music Circus.

Skip also worked with  IBM’s Media Gallery, as the principal of Staging Techniques, LLC, which staged trade shows for major corporations. He retired to Oregon to run a B&B in Sullivan's Gulch, Portland. He retired from being an innkeeper, and built a home on the Oregon coast near Tillamook, and was active in the arts until his death at 83.

Les Abbott (1925-2012) DVC instructor IMDb


Another member of the Gate Playhouse ensemble, director and producer, and later, Diablo Valley College instructor, Les Abbott, had died in 2012. Richard Knablin told me that Les had Alzheimer's for years. So it would be difficult to interview him. At the time I began to realize that all the principal actors were taking that final curtain call.

I don't know when the Gate Playhouse came into existence, but from a Sausalito Historical Society article on the Sausalito Art Festival review, I found this: "in 1959...Entertainment included folk and jazz singers, poets, dancers and performances by the Sausalito Little Theatre summer program and Les Abbott’s Gate Theatre Players."

After the Gate Playhouse Theatre folded in the early 1960s, Les Abbott, who was a member of the Actors Studio, moved to LA where he directed and acted at the Pasadena Playhouse. He also coached acting at NBC and Desilu Studio. Vee's interview fills in some of Les's backstory from the San Francisco days.

Neil & I ushered for that Dame Edna show, Theatre in the Square.
Les's obit history goes from NY direct to LA without stopping off in SF, which was a very important time. He formed two theatre companies Abbott-Abrams Productions and TheaterFest. He received his MA in psychology at Stanford, and taught at Foothill College, And of course, at Diablo Valley College, from 1973 to 2008, he mentored hundreds of young actors including my ex-partner, actor-singer Neil O'Neill.
Les directed over one hundred and fifty plays, including the West Coast premieres of Blues of Mister Charlie, All the King's Men, The Immoralist, Man with a Golden Arm, A Clearing in the Woods, besides numerous other plays including his final production, Angels in America, before retiring from directing. He also directed seven original plays and musicals with his production companies.
Leslie also authored 2 published books, Active Acting and Acting for Films and TV, that became part of the curriculum in some theater schools.  —from A Retrospective of Les Abbott's Life

Wonder what play they're reading? (Chris Gracida photo, Richard Knablin)


When I contacted Vee in 2009, she was in the process of moving and didn't have access to her memorabilia, but we kept in touch over the years via Facebook. Of course I was curious as to what happened to Vee after the Gate Playhouse dissolved. The talented Vee was cast in the leading role of Annie Get Your Gun, and was going places. Did she make it, how did she get to Hollywood?

Last month, Vee sent me some photos of the Gate Playhouse which spurred me on to finally write this piece. I had originally planned on going to LA to collect her oral history, or folklore, but the timing wasn't right. So I made up a series of questions for Vee to answer at her leisure. This is what follows:

Gate Playhouse Theatre, ca. 1961. (Photo courtesy of Richard Knablin)

Hi Mo!                                                   Aug 29
I wrote a long answer to you about an hour ago but somehow the internet connection failed and I couldn't get it sent or even save a copy or have a draft copy! I can't tell you how frustrated I am (not the first time this has happened). Anyway -- I'll start again tomorrow. (Seems like I had to quit out but had no way to save the email I wrote). So... looking forward to answering some of your queries and will try to start again tomorrow. More to follow (hopefully)!!!

Gate Playhouse, Sausalito. Richard Knablin  photos 1961

OK, Mo—
I'm taking this a bit at a time, not in the order you wrote:
The Gate Playhouse: I got involved there approx summer 1958-59? when Les Abbott (having seen me in a theatre production at City College of SF) asked me to come audition for a musical he was mounting in Sausalito. I did audition and got the role of "Hildy" in the production of "On the Town".

I'm not sure Kelle was there at that time. After this show, Les directed "Annie". Your mom was very involved with the costumes and probably more at that time. She worked day and nite on the costumes.

Les Abbott and the Marquee. Richard Knablin photos 1961
Richard Knablin photos 1961
Skip Rognlien, I believe, did the sets and more. Kelle and Skip were close buddies. I believe that (as you may know), the theatre was formally a small movie theatre. I think it was Les who revived it. I don't know how long it lasted as I moved from Northern California in the fall of 1961. It was still going strong then, I believe.

My mom fitting a costume. Annie Get Your Gun?
Remembrances of Kelle are her endless patience and stamina. I'm serious when I tell you she worked thru the nite on the costumes and I believe had very little help. This was a huge costume show with tons of performers. I know we went to cast parties with the others and we were all one big happy group. She was very popular with us all.

Back of the Gate Playhouse opened abruptly into the bay,
a tiny ledge & nothing more than air. Richard Knablin photos 1961

I remember Athena—didn't know her last name (Note bene: Martin). She was legend there. She never did a show but was—apparently seriously with Les (tho he, of course, was gay).

I don't know what ever happened to Athena but my co-star, in "On the Town" who remained in Sausalito told me years later that she was "still around" (but this was many years ago). I "think" she may have had a son?? I may be confusing her with some of the other local characters??
(Note bene: Athena, who was my mom's best friend, was living with Les at the Alta Mira, and had a baby. Was it Les's? I remember visiting them with my mother.)
On "breaking free from the mold of the 50's" —hell, I have no idea but it's a great question. Maybe Dik (Richard) Knablin could help a bit with this one? As for the political climate—Geez! I was (and still am) somewhat apolitical, and being a rather "lightweight" theatre person wasn't at all interested in the outside world! We were ACTORS/ PERFORMERS, ETC! This was all that really existed for many of us I'm sure. (Ya' know—not too unlike the celebs today)!

On working with Les & Skip: Les was a gas! One of the funniest I ever met, and I still rely on some of his famous quotes. He worked hard on that theatre and held down a job as a waiter at the Alta Mira to help make ends meet.

I loved the guy—he was a dynamo and also quite intelligent. He was great in the City as a director of dramas and I think he excelled at this. In the City, he was a partner of "Abbot Abrams Productions". They were an equity house and produced many excellent plays.

My understanding is that Abrams caused financial problems and the whole thing fell apart so it was a few years before Les got to Sausalito. Interesting that he went on to teach and direct at Mt. Diablo (Valley) College for many years, and I think you are aware of that part of his life.

Skip Rognlien was truly a gifted and lovable guy. He and I became very close. We were friends in SF, in Sausalito & in L.A. Everyone who ever met him adored him. He was highly intelligent and had so many incredible jobs in NYC, L.A., etc.
When he and a partner bought a B&B in Portland (his later years)—I visited about 3 times & always had a fab time. Very hard to accept that he died in a traffic accident earlier this year. He was 83 but a very young 83 at that!

Back of the Gate Playhouse. Richard Knablin photos 1961

Got off the track with the last bit but on that note: I don't remember us all doubling up on duties at the theatre. Les had lots of minions who hung around the place and I'm sure they did most of the work.

Programs were always printed I believe and Herm Arrow who lived in Marin took all of our photos—gratis, I believe. Herm's son, David Arrow stayed a close friend of Skip's for many years. Not sure what the cost of tickets were—we played mostly on weekends and I remember no totally empty houses and Sat. nites, as expected, were packed! Not sure where the audience came from but you know many from the City and probably most from friends/relatives of the cast!

Hope this helps a bit, Mo -- I'll check off more on your list as time permits -- feel free to offer further questions or clarifications if you need them. Stay tuned!!!
I wrote back: Yes, please answer in any way you see fit. Hopefully it'll be fun too. Awesome, so far, and you're chronicling something that's never been done before! Feel free to expand...Another question: when you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Mo: It IS fun and a kind of "life review" for me as well. Hopefully some of it will be useful to you wherever it takes you.
Going back to your first question since you asked about childhood aspirations, etc. I first became interested in theater as a chum on our block in SF (Parkside district) had a mother who believed in a child becoming involved in ALL classes artistic!

Thru her mom, I heard about (get this): "Aunt Lolly's Children's Theatre"! It was a class this woman held in her home in the Sunset/ Parkside district. When I heard that this class was to be about "dramatics"—I had no idea what that meant. I thought maybe it had something to do with "Elocution" classes or?

Anyway—I went to the class and immediately "Miss Lolly" cast me in character roles (I had a deep voice for one so young). She was also doing a play "Little Women" at the local Orphanage. She cast me in the role of "Amy". I had no idea at all what I was doing. I must have been a pre-teen at that point.

Anyway—that was the first experience I had in theatre. I think it stuck but I didn't really get active again until I was in high school in SF and discovered the "Opera Ring" run by Irma Kay (sister of the illustrious Hershy Kay (google him). So it was set, I wanted to be an actress. I think I can actually say I became interested on becoming an actress at age 11.
In 1957 I think when I started City College—the director of the theatre, Dr. Michael Griffin—cast me as lead in many productions. That sealed the deal! And that is where Les Abbott came into the picture (I also did chorus & small roles in the Opera Ring (theatre in the round) in SF intermittently.

I also toyed with the idea of being a "detective" back in the day! (I know—errant gene I guess). Later, I became interested in being a psychologist (doesn't everyone)? AND an investigative reporter! (HUH)?

As a note about who inspired me in literature (if that was the case)—YES! It's interesting you mentioned it—I have always been a huge reader (gene from my mother) and in high school, I had a marvelous Eng. teacher but one book we were required to read was: "Pride and Predjudice". I hated that book!

Suffice to say—I've realized I'm ignorant when it comes to Jane Austen and wanted to figure out what all the hoopla was about. AND SO—I just finished reading the book and I was surprised that I actually enjoyed some of it. It was a struggle for me in some parts but I was happy to say I got thru it and was rooting for Mr. Darcy from the get-go!

That said, I think I'll leave it to the Brits movie versions of more of Austen in the future. One last thought: I wondered how sophisticated was my English teacher to think a 15 or 16 year old girl would be able to relate to that book? Wishful thinking I'll bet, or bets on a very advanced young teen?

So that's it for now, Mo! thanks for your interest and the "stirring up of my much-needed dusting off—gray matter! More to follow after a day or so...hope you have a relaxing and peaceful and PLEASANT weekend and hopefully cooler!!

Hey Mo:                                                 Aug 30
Sorry for the stop and start. I'm overloaded with stuff to do but will try to knock out more answers to your questions as often as I can (and at the risk of boring you to tears).

Did I live in Sausalito or commute: Lived with my parents in the foggy Parkside district of SF and an actor friend used to drive me to Sausalito. I also often took a bus or my dad, if available, would drive me there. I lived in Larkspur much later in my life— from 1999 to 2003.

BTW: used to enjoy shows at the little theatre there (name escapes me [Lark Theatre?] ). This group was in the heart of Larkspur and a talented group of actors as well. I "think" I may have heard of or seen James Dunn at that venue (or maybe not).

As for Kelle's house in Sausalito? I never knew where she lived actually. One of the actors rented a cool abode in the hills above Sausalito and I think that is where we attended some cast parties, get-togethers, etc.

As for the cast from the shows at the Gate: I know Skip, after hanging around L.A. for awhile, finally ended up in NYC —he had a couple of great jobs there and even partnered with 4 other guys and formed a company called: "Staging Techniques" (rented video/movie equipment).

They were based as I recall in NY but also here in Hollywood. After that and a gig with IBM in NY, Skip and another guy bought a charming old house in Portland, ORE. and ran a B&B there for a number of years—much later—he moved to the northern coast of [Wheeler] Oregon—built a cool house there with another partner, and was there until he died in March, this year.

Dik (Richard) Knablin, one of my funnymen babysitters

Richard (Dik) Knablin also lives in Northern Oregon now—he went to work for a school in Palo Alto I believe (after the Gate). He retired to North Bend. Dik, as you probably know wasn't in any of the shows but hung out with us all—he wanted to be a writer.

Other cast members: Ronnie De Benedictis moved to NYC and then years later moved back to Sausalito with his partner and they bought a gift shop in town that they ran for a number of years.

Stan Church had several jobs over the years and I lost touch with him along the way.

If there are others I've forgotten— I'll send you an update—trouble is I've been involved with so many shows, theatre peeps, etc. Hard to remember, let alone keep track of them all.

Where did I go after: OMG! This would take forever to explain. Directly after the Gate, however, I wound up in Hollywood. A quickie explanation: I was having fun being in the chorus and taking small parts in Les' production of "Of Thee I Sing" (not sure if Kelle did the costumes for this one but think she may have)? (Note bene: she did.)

I got a phone call while actually at the theatre from Jack Pierce (a director friend from SF). He was in Hollywood directing "The Boyfriend" and wanted me to come down for a part in the show. Since I thought this was probably a good opportunity, I packed up and moved. Unfortunately, Jack had been fired and the new director was keeping the gal who originally had been cast!

Here's an interesting note for you: Remember Litchfield's Bermuda Palms in San Rafael? Jack signed on to direct an original musical there titled: "It's Great to be Alive". Thru my buddy who was in the chorus, I got to join in as well. When that was over, Jack staged a musical review on the premises and I was one of the principals.

Next door to Litchfield's was a club called: "The Wye Club". It was sorta tacky but I signed on with another actor pal to do their melodramas on the weekends. It wasn't very exciting BUT we got PAID!!!

Signing off now, Mo, for part 3 (we're almost done). bye for now....v

I just finished reading this, Mo and I loved it all! It's neat that this piece filled in some blanks for me and I picked up a few names I can elaborate on later, tho not sure I'll have much to report. I was a friend of Bill Edwards aka Guy Edwards aka Guy Williams (I think)! He was such a talented guy and very handsome. I wonder what ever happened to him.

I also knew Vicki Frazier —I just loved her. She had a terrific Jazz voice and I heard she gave up singing to marry an airline pilot.
John Rose was one of my closest and bestest of friends. He was a brilliant actor but could do anything necessary in the theatre—editing music, running lights, doing photography, etc. He got some fantastic reviews in the LA Times on his acting performances. Unfortunately, he died of AIDS very early on. 

I was surprised to read that Les Abbott actually lived at the Alta Mira.  My understanding was he lived in a room above the theatre (Skip also used a room there as well for awhile). But since Les worked as a waiter at the Alta Mira—maybe they gave him a room before he wound up living in the theatre?

Re: Athena's son—intriguing that Les might have been the father but somehow I doubt it. I knew Les very well over the years and I think he would have let something slip about this child. Also, Athena was "very" popular with many guys—she may have even married somewhere along the line. I do remember, now, my chum in Sausalito telling me
she got very involved in political events there.
To be continued....

(Photo by Chris Gracida, Richard Knablin photos 1960)

Saturday, August 25, 2018

That City by the bay: by any other name

During a TGIF moment, a woman named Erika posted a whimsical iPhone photo of the Transamerica Building, replete with sunspot bubbles, on Facebook, and called it Frisco. People lost their shit. It was a landslide against. But old monikers die hard. 

One reader said, "frisco, the word that sounds like a brand of lard, sucks. everyone is entitled their opinion. You can be an outlier, but just know that people will make fun of you for it. Sorry not sorry," 

 I get weird connotations too: Frisco/Crisco, Friskies with Crisco.

Another reader tried to establish a quasi terminus post quem by stating that Frisco, Texas was...
So named because part of the Frisco rail line, originally incorporated in 1876, ran nearby. Care to guess which city's name is in the full name of the line? Frisco is in Texas only because it was here first. You do realize that the place in Texas was so named because part of the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway a.k.a. the Frisco line ran through the area."
True, Frisco, Texas was named after a railway line, but wasn't named after the city of San Francisco. Frisco, Texas was called Frisco City. And the train system never left the Midwest. Not only that, it was named after another San Francisco landmark, a name of a mountain range that predates the founding of San Francisco. 

That same someone who headed up an unsuccessful campaign to rename the Bay Bridge after Emperor Norton, then tried to call in the race card, saying it was a class system. He said only the cocktail set call it by its full name, while the African Americans in the Divisadero, and the Latinos in the Mission call it Frisco. 

Well, I beg to differ. Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Besides, the Mission was Irish, it was not always Latino. That came much later. It is not a class thing, it’s more about old San Francisco vs the influx of outsiders that began arriving during the 1970s.

He said
A 175-plus-year stream of San Franciscans have addressed their city with this term of endearment. What also is true, though, is that the longshoremen of the 1860s and the African-American residents of the Fillmore district, a century later, never were going to have the approval of the cocktail-party set. Antipathy to "Frisco" often has been an index of class snobbery."

Well, speaking of presentism, lifting a theme from today's social milieu and blanketing the past with it—about all we agreed upon that people from outside SF called it Frisco—primarily sailors who didn't live here. A frisco was the place where you got your boat repaired, it was not so much about the city's name. Frisco stems from an old Icelandic term for safe harbor. And equally for 175 years, people have been objecting to outsiders calling it Frisco. Nothing to do with demographics, or cocktail party sets, as he put it. Not class snobbery either. But if it fits his agenda....

He said:
"There are number of theories about the origins of "Frisco." Peter Tamony's little article, "Sailors Called It 'Frisco,'" in the July 1967 number of the journal Western Folklore, is worth checking out. No agenda here. It's fine that many have been schooled to have a distaste for "Frisco." But, they should be honest enough to admit that it is, in fact, an issue of taste. When they step into language policing, to say that it is objectively wrong to say "Frisco," they are out of their depth."
So you know I looked it up, only to find, he lifted it out of context from an article. Tamnony was merely strengthening the sailor reference. How folklore works, is what's passed down. More people grew up with the full name vs. using the moniker Frisco. It had nothing to do with working class vs the hobnob set. It's not a matter of taste, status, or even language policing, it's a subcultural trait. And it's not cut and dry either.

JL said:
To the contrary, Mo, it is precisely BECAUSE preferences about the name of the City are "passed down generationally" that these preferences become, and are, a matter of taste, status and language policing. I don't challenge the point that "more people grew up with the full name vs. the moniker Frisco." I simply am saying that THAT FACT, such as it may be, does not give those who weren't trained to tolerate "Frisco" the right to badger those who do use "Frisco" into some kind of submission, as though the "Frisco" crowd is "doing it wrong."
So, according to JL, those who say Frisco are allowed free reign, and a pat on the back because they feel justified in calling it Frisco, but those of us who learned it as San Francisco must stay mum because he says so? De gustibus non est disputandem; call it what you will, but expect a reaction.

I pointed out that there are 14 place names called Frisco, or Frisco Station, or Friscoville, none of them were originally called San Francisco, then shortened to Frisco, and they're named after a St. Louis, Missouri train route that didn't even go to San Francisco. Ever. "Despite its name, it never came close to San Francisco." It never even left the Midwest.
For the record, there's a town called Frisco, aka Fresco, in Alabama, Frisco, Arkansas (no train), Frisco is a Colorado mining town, as was Frisco, Idaho (no train), Illinois, Friscoville, Louisiana, Missouri (trains), Frisco, North Carolina on Hattaras Island (too watery for trains), Oklahoma, Pennsylvania (no train), Texas (train), Tennessee, Utah, a  mining town named after Frisco Peak in the San Francisco Mountains, named BEFORE San Francisco was founded, I might add; and Frisco, Virginia.

Yes, dahling,
calling San Francisco Frisco is a bit problematic. It could refer to some place completely different. If you want to live in Frisco, consider moving to one of those states. Then it won't be an issue.

went on to say:

"The narrative that San Francisco natives and residents never have, or don't, call their city Frisco is both tired and false. The term has a long, storied history here dating back before 1850."
I repeated: The only problem with your train story, is that it never came to SF. And not once did I say that San Francisco natives and residents never have called their city Frisco. I said, it wasn't a class issue, that was too cut and dry, because many working class people, my own family included, never called it Frisco.

Many of those Frisco place names were derived from other places: In 1629, Spanish friars founded a mission at Oraibi, a Hopi village, in honor of St. Francis, 65 miles from the San Francisco Peaks. The Franciscans gave the name San Francisco to the peaks to honor St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of their order.

The San Francisco Peaks, and the San Francisco Mountains both lent their names to several hamlets. Frisco Mountain, Washington, got its name from a mining camp, as did Frisco, CO, UT, etc. Frisco Coloradans are quick to defend their town's name, saying it's NOT named after San Francisco, CA, but that it's an acronym.
"Frisco, CO, wasn’t named after San Francisco. The name Frisco is desired from the letters associated with the St Louis- San Francisco Railway company. You have the FR from Francisco, IS from St Louis and CO from Company!" Frisco Colorado History Facts
So, the point is that the moniker, Frisco, did not originate in San Francisco. It's an exogamic term. Accretion. Like those barnacles on the ships.

The name of our city, San Francisco (est. 1769), was derived from the Latin, San Franciscus—full name: Mission San Francisco de Asis (1774), which was later dubbed, Mission Dolores. And it brought much sorrow for the Ohlone and Coast Miwok tribes.

Saint Francis of Assisi was a Frenchman. Frank, France, or Francis means a "free man." Oui! San Francisco's first European name was Yerba Buena. Good herbs. The island we now call Yerba Buena was called Goat Island. What, goats?
San Francisco was also called The Golden City, after John C. Frémont dubbed it Chrysopylae in 1846, before the Gold Rush. It was also called The Golden City, or The City, probably because nobody could pronounce Chrysopylae. The Yelamu Ohlone names are lost. One candidate is Ahwaste, "place at the bay."

San Francisco was also called the Barbary Coast, and coined Bagdhad-by-the-Bay by Herb Caen. Though we refer to SF as a she, and Francisco may be a masculine name, in the City, gender is fluid. 

Herb Caen, the Pulitzer Prize–winning San Francisco Chronicle columnist, was adamant that no one call his "fair city by such a sliced-up moniker." Herb Caen, "the voice of San Francisco," wrote a a sequel to his 1949 loveletter to his multicultural adopted city, Baghdad-by-the-Bay, entitled Don't Call it Frisco in 1953, "named after a local judge's 1918 rebuke to an out-of-town petitioner ("No one refers to San Francisco by that title except people from Los Angeles")‍." He said “the F word” as “a salty nickname, redolent of the days when we had a bustling waterfront.”

Caen's column appeared in the SF Chronicle for nearly sixty years (with a brief defection to The San Francisco Examiner). Everyone turned to his page first, then, read the news. "Herb Caen" (archive) was the longest-running newspaper column in the country, until Caen's death in 1998.

Caen also coined, or popularized the terms Beatnik, hippie, and Beserkeley. A thousand words a day with Caen's trademark ellipses "three-dot journalism banged out on his "Loyal Royal", defined our city. June 14, 1996, was designated Herb Caen Day. He had that much influence. He didn't call it Frisco.

Herb Caen articulated it best.
You don't call New York, York do you? Nor do you say Kong. Or Angeles. Or Diego. Maybe Moscow should just be 'Cow. And while we're at it, let's cheapen St. Louis to just Louis. Why should San Francisco be shortened?
For the most part, only people from out of state, the recently arrived, or the tragically hip call it 'Frisco. There are exceptions. But it still draws ire. And it's also an old saw. There's even a sitcom called Don't Call it Frisco.

You also need that apostrophe BTW, as 'Frisco is a contraction. Otherwise it could refer to those 14 other cities legally called Frisco.

I found this 2006 story by Sean C., a frequent contributor to Trip Advisor:
"The city is named for Saint Francis, one of the most loved Catholic saints. Apparently, that word was shortened to "frisco" and was used by sailors to refer to a place where a sailing ship could be scraped, repaired, and refitted. The Court of Historical Review convened to decide if such a nickname was acceptable. The court ruled that the name of the city was San Francisco and that no nickname should be tolerated."
LOL it's the law!

Pancho (or Paco, Chico, Cisco,) is a diminutive Spanish baby name for Francisco. But Ess Eff is not a baby. Then, by way of parallel structure, in English, we oughta be calling The City St. Frankie, San Pancho, but not 'Frisco.  Just don't call it San Poncho, or San Pacho! SF may be free and easy, but nothing is ever truly free. One way or another, there's always a price to be paid, la mordida.
Absurdum infinitem.

Can you imagine Tony Bennett singing, "I left my heart in Frisco"?

Me neither.