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Photo: South West News Service
Pat Smith, married mother of two, grandmother, and owner of a B&B in Cornwall, cleaned plastic from 52 English beaches in 2018 and is still going strong.

Doesn’t 2019 feel like the year that environmentalism will pick up more proponents than ever? Thanks to activists and journalists, people are really up in arms about the plastic that’s defacing our beautiful beaches and about what fossil fuels and giant agribusinesses are doing to the climate. Humanity seems to take steps forward and then take steps back, but I feel like this is a forward year.

Consider these three anti-plastic, anti-litter stories.

Maddy Foley writes at Inverse about the origins of plogging, which is a “mash-up of ‘jogging’ and plocka uppa, the Swedish word for ‘picking up.’ …

“Plogging first emerged in 2016,” she says, “started — or at least branded — by Erik Ahlström, following his move from a resort town to Stockholm. Ahlström was reportedly struck by the amount of trash he passed by during regular runs — so he began picking it up along the way, often sporting medical gloves. Soon Ahlström was organizing community runs throughout the city, marrying environmental advocacy with sensible amounts of exercise.

“The practice supposedly grew from the long-standing Swedish philosophy of lagom, the Goldielocks of lifestyle tenets. Meaning ‘not too much, not too little.’ Lagom values moderation; it heralds the pleasure of existence, without being seduced by the lure of consumption.

“In plogging, those tenets translate to picking up some trash (not every single piece), while jogging (not sprinting). It’s about being out in the world, while accepting that it’s become a world beset by trash.” More at Inverse.

There’s also a nice story at Public Radio International’s The World about Ripu Dama, a long-distance runner in India who caught the plogging bug and who recently spread the word on a run through Europe.

Marco Werman reports on Dama’s efforts in India, “Dama, who is being called ‘India’s first plogger,’ is spreading a message of physical activity and environmental protection in Mumbai while participating and organizing clean ups — documenting everything on social media @ploggersofindia.

“ ‘I’m a runner. I run marathons and ultras. When you’re a runner and you run in the mornings, the thing that you observe most is trash and plastic. So [members of my running group and I] were already cleaning up individually. In 2017, we came across the term “plogging” and we thought “this is exactly what we do.” It was kind of becoming a global trend.’ …

“Dama hopes to make an impact on the younger generations. … ‘Schoolchildren take it up like fish to water. And that’s been the biggest high out of all of this. When we are doing this activity in our local parks or somewhere and kids see us doing it … they just come and join us and the habits that get inculcated at this young age will last a lifetime.’ ” Listen to the PRI interview here.

But wait! You don’t need to be a runner or a kid.

As Ed Riley writes at the Daily Mail, an English grandmother walked 52 beaches in 2018 cleaning up plastic, and she has no intention of slowing down.

Pat Smith, “founder of the environmental campaign group Final Straw Cornwall, said: ‘Doing 52 beach cleans in 2018 was my New Year’s Resolution and it’s finally done. I won’t stop as our beaches need me.

” ‘A lot of the rubbish I have picked up consists of everyday items. These things are used by all of us and it is shocking to find them polluting our beautiful beaches. …

” ‘I’m driven to try and protect our living planet for my children and grandchildren, and I will continue to do everything in my power to achieve that. …

” ‘I grew up in the generation where plastic use was at its worse. … [But] even though it was everywhere, we had no plastic at home — we would walk to the shops or get the bus to get groceries.’

“Mrs Smith said that she was often joined by other volunteers who were determined to keep our beaches clean. But she said not everyone understood, and on some occasions, she would be mistaken for doing community service.

“She said: ‘People don’t understand I’ve been doing this voluntarily. We should all take responsibility for picking up the litter, as well as ensuring we don’t drop litter in the first place.’ ” More at the Daily Mail, here.

If you are ever in Cornwall, you might consider staying at Mrs. Smith’s B&B. She sounds like a good person to know.

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Photos: Nichole Sobecki for the New York Times
Samuel Lagu set aside five acres of his land in Mireyi, Uganda, for a rice venture in which South Sudanese refugees and Ugandans work side by side.

Sometimes it’s the poor who do the best job of helping the poor. That is also true of nations. Uganda is no utopia, as those who have been oppressed by the government know firsthand, but it’s doing a better job of helping Sudanese refugees than many richer countries. Officials understand that refugees can build the economy, and individual Ugandans have not forgotten when they were in need and Sudanese people helped them.

Joseph Goldstein writes at the New York Times, “Solomon Osakan has a very different approach in this era of rising xenophobia. From his uncluttered desk in northwest Uganda, he manages one of the largest concentrations of refugees anywhere in the world: more than 400,000 people scattered across his rural district.

“He explained what he does with them: Refugees are allotted some land — enough to build a little house, do a little farming and ‘be self-sufficient,’ said Mr. Osakan, a Ugandan civil servant. Here, he added, the refugees live in settlements, not camps — with no barbed wire, and no guards in sight. …

“In all, Uganda has as many as 1.25 million refugees on its soil, perhaps more, making it one of the most welcoming countries in the world, according to the United Nations.

“And while Uganda’s government has made hosting refugees a core national policy, it works only because of the willingness of rural Ugandans to accept an influx of foreigners on their land and shoulder a big part of the burden.

“Uganda is not doing this without help. About $200 million in humanitarian aid to the country [in 2018] will largely pay to feed and care for the refugees. But they need places to live and small plots to farm, so villages across the nation’s north have agreed to carve up their communally owned land and share it with the refugees, often for many years at a time.

“ ‘Our population was very few and our community agreed to loan the land,’ said Charles Azamuke, 27, of his village’s decision in 2016 to accept refugees from South Sudan, which has been torn apart by civil war. ‘We are happy to have these people. We call them our brothers.’ …

“As the sun began to set one recent afternoon, a group of men on the Ugandan side began to pass around a large plastic bottle of waragi, a home brew. On the South Sudanese side, the men were sober, gathered around a card game.

“On both sides, the men had nothing but tolerant words for one another. … As the men lounged, the women and girls were still at work, preparing dinner, tending children, fetching water and gathering firewood. They explained that disputes did arise, especially as the two groups competed for limited resources like firewood. …

“Recent polls show that Ugandans are more likely than their neighbors in Kenya or Tanzania to support land assistance or the right to work for refugees. Part of the reason is that Ugandans have fled their homes as well, first during the murderous reign of [Idi] Amin, then during the period of retribution after his overthrow, and again during the 1990s and 2000s. …

“Many Ugandans found refuge in what is today South Sudan. Mark Idraku, 57, was a teenager when he fled with his mother to the area. They received two acres of farmland, which helped support them until they returned home six years later.

‘When we were in exile in Sudan, they also helped us,’ Mr. Idraku said. ‘Nobody ever asked for a single coin.’

More at the New York Times, here.

A goat shelter on the land that Ugandans such as Mark Idraku lent to a refugee from Sudan. Queen Chandia, who cares for 22 children, some of whom lost their families in Sudan’s civil war, said the donated land has made all the difference.

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Photo: Cory Weaver
Wexford Festival Opera:
Dinner at Eight, by William Bolcom, got its European premiere at last fall’s event.

Back in the 1990s, I worked with a woman whose father was an opera buff. He loved opera so much that, although he had no real connections in the field, he managed to organize a high-quality company in the part of New York State where he lived. Westchester, if I remember correctly.

It wasn’t his day job: it was what he did for love. In another example of opera lovers who go out of their way to lend support, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has taken small, non-singing parts on stage, attracting some new audiences.

At the Irish Times, David McLoughlin has another example of what some folks will do for opera.

“Never intimidated by the weight of cultural heritage, each new generation of Irish artists continues to reimagine, reinvent and reinvigorate. The arts are constantly changing, finding new forms of expression and igniting new flames. …

“Wexford Festival Opera was founded on an idea and ethos which still remains at its core today, 67 years later – to present rarely performed operas, to unearth and shine a light on hidden gems.

“I was once told by the then chairman of a leading American opera company that the reason Wexford has rightly survived is because from the outset its rationale was plain wrong.

“He was right: the dream by a small group of local people, including a GP, a hotelier and a postman, in the early 1950s, of bringing international singers to a remote corner of Ireland to present rarely performed operas, wouldn’t even get past the first page of a modern-day feasibility study.

“But they weren’t dissuaded, and the minor detail of no real financial underpinning was from the outset not even considered a hindrance. The dream they were determined to see become a reality was enthusiastically shared and championed by the local community, who volunteered their time and skills. …

“The festival opened up not just Wexford itself, but Ireland and its arts sector, to the international performing world in a way no other cultural venture had done up until then – nor, I would argue, since. The spin-off has been enormous – artistically, culturally, and economically, generating [$14 million] annually. …

“Wexford is often defined as what it is not: a national opera company. It isn’t. Wexford is an annual festival, an international event, proudly Irish, presenting Irish and international audiences with a distinctly international repertoire, featuring Irish and international performers and attracting an audience that stretches well beyond these shores. It makes a vital contribution to the profile, development and reputation of the Irish opera sector. It may be niche but it’s broad enough to accommodate new audiences.”

More at the Irish Times, here. It will be interesting to see how this festival fares after Brexit, when Ireland will still be part of the European Union and its closest neighbors won’t.

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Image: Munro Orr
This iconic map from
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is in the collection of the British Library.

As a longtime reader of fantasies, I know the pleasure of following the action with the help of maps. I also know how frustrating it can be if the maps don’t explain enough. As Sarah Laskow writes at Atlas Obscura, the art of fantasy mapping is a special skill.

“One of life’s great treats, for a lover of books (especially fantasy books),” she writes, “is to open a cover to find a map secreted inside and filled with the details of a land about to be discovered. …

“A new book, The Writer’s Map, contains dozens of the magical maps writers have drawn or that have been made by others to illustrate the places they’ve created. ‘All maps are products of human imagination,’ writes Huw Lewis-Jones, the book’s editor. ‘For some writers making a map is absolutely central to the craft of shaping and telling their tale.’

“The book includes the map from Thomas More’s Utopia, which when published in 1516 contained the first fantasy map in a work of fiction, as far as anyone can tell. The book also has the maps that were the objects of obsession of many a fantasy-filled childhood: Middle Earth, the mysterious Narnia, the Hundred Acre Wood, the roads Milo explores in The Phantom Tollbooth.

“But there are more private treasures here, too: J.R.R. Tolkien’s own sketch of Mordor, on graph paper; C.S. Lewis’s sketches; unpublished maps from the notebooks of David Mitchell, who uses them to help imagine the worlds of his books, such as The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet; Jack Kerouac’s own route in On the Road (a fantasy of a different kind, no less obsessed over).

“Among these maps, the one for Treasure Island is a landmark, ‘one of the most iconic literary maps of all,’ Lewis-Jones writes. It comes up more than once in the book’s essays. …

“In one essay, Cressida Cowell, the author of How to Train Your Dragon, writes of being inspired by maps drawn by the Brontës as children, ‘in tiny, beautiful books that were in themselves a fascination, for the writing was as small as if created by mice.’ …

“Abi Elphinstone, the author of the Dreamsnatcher books: ‘I begin every story I write by drawing a map because it is only when my characters start moving from place to place that a plot unfolds.’ Mitchell doesn’t print maps in his books, but he needs them to get through the writing. …

“Philip Pullman (author of the His Dark Materials books): ‘Writing is a matter of sullen toil. Drawing is pure joy. Drawing a map to go with a story is messing around, with the added fun of coloring in.’ …

“Mapping does have difficulties. Frances Hardinge, a British children’s book writer, explains the problem of having described in her writing an island with an outline that ‘resembled a bird-headed biped with long fingers.’ Her first attempts at mapping the place just looked wrong. ‘For the record, drawing something that looks like both bird-human hybrid and a plausible landmass is a lot harder than you might think,’ she writes.”

More at Atlas Obscura, here, where you can see other maps, including one of Walden Pond — a surprise because Walden Pond is no fantasy. I know it well.

Image: Roland Chambers
Map by Roland Chambers for
The Magicians, by Lev Grossman. Doesn’t this map make you want to read the book?

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Photo: Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Dean Kaplan and Sarah Heintz chatted in the apartment they share in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Empty nesters are faced with a challenge: they hate to leave their home, but maybe it would be practical to get a smaller, cheaper place with more people around and less snow shoveling in winter. Meanwhile, grad students have a different conundrum: their university may be in a high-rent area, but they don’t have much money.

Idea!

Dugan Arnett at the Boston Globe describes one creative solution that is working out for both empty-nesters and young adults.

“After living with more than a dozen different roommates in his young life, most of them strangers, Dean Kaplan is well-versed in the particulars of those first meetings — the short introductions, the perfunctory pleasantries, and then the quick getting on with life. …

“In late August, though, as he stood on the front porch of a sizable multistory house in Cambridge ready to meet his newest roommate, he found himself uncharacteristically nervous and eager to make a good first impression.

“Of all the roommates he’d had in the previous few years, Sarah Heintz would be the first septuagenarian. In fact, Kaplan, a student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and Heintz, a 77-year-old whose grown daughter now lives across town, are part of an experiment in connecting young people in need of cheap rent with older residents who wouldn’t mind a little extra companionship and an occasional hand around the house.

“The notion is driven by the Boston area’s housing crisis, which has propelled rents through the stratosphere [while] some 90,000 spare bedrooms are going unused in the homes of aging empty-nesters.

“That got a pair of MIT urban-planning graduate students thinking: Those rooms might be valuable to young people, especially students. And they might also provide a way for older people, who increasingly are living alone, to stay in their homes as they age.

“ ‘They get helped around the house, doing everyday sorts of things — walking the dogs, going grocery shopping, technology tutoring, and feeling that they can help a young person get started in their life,’ said one of the students, Noelle Marcus.

“To match these odd couples, Marcus and classmate Rachel Goor last year launched a startup called Nesterly, which works roughly on the principles of a dating app, with searchable online profiles and features that help work out details of a lease. …

“That day in August when Kaplan showed up on Heintz’s porch, he came with his mother and some luggage stuffed with clothes. Heintz invited them in and gave them a tour.

“At first glance, they would seem an unlikely pairing. … But as Heintz led Kaplan and his mother through the house, his nerves started to ease.

“ ‘The walls are covered in books,’ Kaplan said later. ‘And that made me feel at home immediately.’ …

“Under the terms of their lease agreement, rent is $800 a month (about half the cost of apartments Kaplan had been looking at before the arrangement with Heintz), knocked down to $700 if he devotes eight hours each month to helping Heintz with a range of chores.

“But even without that incentive, they said, they’ve discovered they like doing favors for one another. He helps in the garden and gives her a hand logging into her e-mail account; she offers him rides to Market Basket and recently taught him the proper way to gut a fish.” Read more here.

I love this idea, but I just have to say one thing. There are plenty of septuagenarians who don’t need help logging on to their email accounts. It’s a lazy journalistic assumption that is really starting to grate.

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Photos: Ciro Fusco / Pompeii Parco Archeologico
Frescoes in Pompeii’s newly discovered “Enchanted Garden” room. The ashes of Mount Vesuvius left the ancient city remarkably intact after the volcano erupted in 79 AD.

When my younger grandson told me about a volcano in Guadalupe, where Suzanne’s family spent the holiday, he hastened to reassure me that it didn’t erupt. He’s six, and a stickler for fact.

Whether young or old, we are all fascinated by the extraordinary power of volcanoes and the way they change the world very suddenly, sometimes with no warning at all.

The complete destruction of Pompeii by the volcano Vesuvius in Italy is one of the reasons eruptions have such a hold over the collective imagination.

Interestingly, Pompeii continues to yield previously unseen beauty to archaeologists even after all these years.

As Sarah Cascone reported in October at ArtNetNews, “Pompeii is the city that keeps on giving. More than two hundred and fifty years after the ancient Roman town was discovered buried under a heap of volcanic ash, the archeological finds show no sign of abating. Now, archaeologists for the Great Pompei Project have uncovered yet another impressive discovery: an ancient shrine, or lararium, covered in gorgeously preserved frescoes, in a 16-by-12-foot room containing an altar, a garden, and a small pool.

“The Italian media has dubbed the new room, which would have been partially covered by a tile roof, ‘the Enchanted Garden.’ The figures in the paintings include two serpents, a wild boar fighting unidentified creatures against a blood-red backdrop, and a mysterious man with the head of a dog that may have been inspired by the Egyptian god Anubis. In front of a painted peacock, strolling through the plants, there would have been a planted flower bed, extending the illusionistic decorative design into the real world.

“ ‘It is the first time that such complex decoration has been found in a space dedicated to worship inside a house,’ Massimo Osanna, the director of the Parco Archeologico di Pompei, told the Wall Street Journal, praising the find as exceptional.

“ ‘Every house had a lararium of some kind,’ Ingrid Rowland, a professor at the University of Notre Dame and the author of From Pompeii: The Afterlife of a Roman Town, told the New York Times. But ‘only the wealthiest people could have afforded a lararium inside a special chamber with a raised pool and sumptuous decorations.’

“After clearing out the volcanic rock fragments, or lapili, that had buried the room for almost two millennia, archaeologists found an altar decorated with eggs, a symbol of fertility. There are burnt remains, which archaeologists believe may have contained food offerings, such as eggs, figs, or nuts, to fertility deities. The altar is flanked by paintings of the Roman gods of household rituals. …

“New excavations are much more careful than the original explorations of the site, which began in 1748. Without modern technology and techniques to aid their excavations, early archaeologists could be quite destructive. The new discovery helps provide a better understanding of what the early excavations would have looked like when first uncovered. …

“Since 2011, Italy has been carrying out much-needed preservation and restoration work to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Great Pompeii Project, an initiative aimed at stemming the deterioration of the ancient structures, had an initial budget of €105 million ($140 million). … The discovery of the ‘Enchanted Garden’ represents perhaps the project’s greatest success thus far.”

More here.

In Pompeii, a recently uncovered household shrine, or lararium, features two serpents among its beautifully preserved frescoes.

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Photos: Sonia Narang for WHYY
Kamikatsu has become a hub for workshops on recycling. Employees from the Osaka branch of the Patagonia clothing store traveled here to learn waste-reduction techniques. Recyclables are sorted into 45 bins.

The other day I was reminiscing with my husband about the first time we took our recyclables to a voluntary recycling station outside Philadelphia. It stands out in my mind because John was a brand new baby in the car seat and the young man who assisted us said, “Oh, what a tiny baby,” and I was indignant because I thought John had gotten really big in his first three weeks!

Today most municipalities offer or demand curbside recycling, but if you think we are advanced in this department, consider Kamikatsu, Japan.

Sonia Narang reports at Philadelphia’s WHYY, “It’s not yet 8 a.m., and the recycling center in the town of Kamikatsu is already bustling. Locals arrive in a steady stream, unloading bags full of bottles, cans, and paper into dozens of clearly-labeled bins — all neatly lined up in rows.

“Kamikatsu is a rural town of about 2,000 people in the forested mountains of Japan’s Shikoku island.

“The town’s waste collection center runs a tight ship. Each resident gets a thick booklet of recycling guidelines.

“At the collection center, everything is carefully sorted and arranged with the help of staff. There are a whopping 45 different categories of recyclables, and the town recycles 80 percent of its trash.

“Akira Sakano heads up the town’s Zero Waste Academy, a non-profit organization that manages the recycling program. …

“ ‘We have newspapers, cardboard, scrap papers, shredded papers, paper containers, paper containers with aluminum packaging on back, paper cups, hard paper tubes, other papers,’ she says. …

“The town of Kamikatsu adopted a ‘zero waste’ policy in 2003. Before that, the town used to burn all its trash in incinerators. …

“When waste decomposes in landfills, it releases methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases. A large amount of that methane leaks into the atmosphere, heating up the planet. …

“Zero waste has become a buzzword, and cities around the world are pledging to drastically reduce waste. But, in Japan — where land is scarce and there’s limited space for landfills — aggressive recycling has been a way of life for years.

“In addition to helping the environment, Sakano says recycling also has an economic benefit for the town. Incinerating trash can be expensive. …

“There’s no garbage truck service here. Almost everyone has to bring their trash into the waste collection center, and only about 20 percent ends up in the dumpster.

“For older residents who can’t drive themselves to the recycling center, the town does send a pick-up truck. Kazuyuki Kiyohara, who works for the town, also drives the truck around. He’s really concerned about using the earth’s resources wisely, and super enthusiastic in his personal life about recycling. He’s got 14 separate bins at home. …

“Everyone has to wash and dry all their food packaging. Many locals say that’s the most annoying part of the town’s trash policy.

“Back at the recycling center, I catch Daichi Hyakuno as he unloads bags of juice cans, plastics, and … dirty diapers. He moved here from Osaka a few years ago.

“ ‘At first, I was quite confused because the categorization was so detailed,’ he says. ‘It was easier in Osaka, since all I had to do was separate trash into burnables and non-burnables.’ … He’s not a big fan, but understands his social responsibilities. …

“Personally, I got better at recycling when it was practically mandatory. Fifteen years ago, when I lived in rural Japan, all the residents in my town had to write our names in big black letters on clear trash bags.

“It made me feel conscious about what I threw away: If I left even one bottle in there, the town wouldn’t pick up the trash, and everyone would see my bag left out there on the curb. …

“The town is small, but Kamikatsu is gaining international attention. Now outsiders are traveling here to take workshops at the academy.

“On the day I visit, folks from a Japanese branch of the outdoor clothing company Patagonia are here to learn.” More at WHYY, here.

Now who’s going to teach this town about composting so it can burn even less?

Hat tip: @morinotsuma, One More Voice, on twitter.

Once every two months, the town of Kamikatsu in Japan sends a truck to pick up bags of recyclables from elderly residents who are unable to drive to the recycling center.

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