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Walking in New York

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I’m still getting used to having an iPhone and was surprised to learn that my new one was counting my steps. When my husband told me that in Japan, walking 10,000 steps a day is considered ideal for good health, I wondered if I could manage that. At home, it means taking two constitutionals a day, a feat I doubted I would be able to keep up in the winter.

But in New York City, no problem! One day this week I walked more than 16,500 steps without thinking twice. New York is just such a fun place to walk — so much to look at, constantly entertaining. Maybe the storefronts don’t change numerous times a day, but the array of people does. And their pushcarts, fruit stands, clothes, behaviors.

People seem so uninhibited in New York that you could express your inner self to an unheard-of degree and no one would blink. Of course it’s sad that some people on the streets clearly have mental illness. But being used to living around them seems to free up New Yorkers not to care much what people think of their own behavior. I watched one guy oblivious of furiously honking rush-hour traffic and blocking a whole lane while he tried to hook a car to his shish-kebob trailer after work.

Another slammed into wet leaves on a rented Citi Bike and wiped out with a loud crash in the middle of an intersection, picked the bike up, and went on his way. If that happened where I live, it would be on the front page of the local bugle the next Thursday.

Most of what I saw happened too fast for me to get a picture, but I include a couple things that stayed still.

It’s relatively quiet to walk along Riverside Drive in the early morning, and many people and dogs do. Other people sit on the benches and read the paper or drink coffee. This worn park bench had a plaque I particularly liked. It says, “The friends of Susan G. Schwartz honor her and remember how she taught us to sit still.”

Going home today to sit still.

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Photo: CTV News
In 2009, people in New York took turns reading a poem by the late Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy in 111 languages — and broke a Guinness record. For organizer Ashrita Furman, this was just one of many world records to his credit.

As I walk around New York City, I like reading the electronic kiosks that provide information about the city. Other people walk with their heads bent to their phones. I like the kiosks. Among ads and pieces of practical information that the city wants people to know, are brief factoids about the city’s history.

One tidbit that caught my eye on a recent trip highlighted the day that a poem was read in 111 languages outside city hall. My interest in languages and poetry led me to investigate this feat for the blog. But I soon discovered that for the event’s organizer, neither poetry nor language was a motivator. He’s into breaking records.

Clare Trapasso reported on the 2009 event for the New York Daily News.

“Reciting poetry in Zulu may not seem like much of a talent, but it landed Ashrita Furman in the record books — yet again. Furman, 54, of Jamaica, Queens, became the first person to hold 100 Guinness Book of World Records simultaneously Tuesday after assembling a group that recited a poem in 111 languages at City Hall Park. The bunch took turns reading ‘Precious,’ by the late Indian spiritual leader Sri Chinmoy. … More than 100 participants — followers of Chinmoy from around the globe — recited the poem in languages ranging from Dzongkha to Picard.

“Furman, a health-food store manager, has earned about 230 Guinness records since 1979, when he did 27,000 jumping jacks in five hours. Earlier [in 2009], Furman broke the record for eating the most M&Ms with chopsticks in a minute. He ate 38. Over the last 30 years, the man who has broken a record on every continent — including the fastest mile on a pogo stick in Antarctica and the fastest mile on a kangaroo ball on the Great Wall of China — has seen many of his own feats toppled. …

” ‘As a kid I was always fascinated by the Guinness Book of World Records. But I was very unathletic and I never thought I could,’ Furman said. It was only when he discovered meditation as a teenager that he said he started to believe in his own abilities – however quirky they might be.

” ‘I believe we all have an inner strength that we very rarely use,’ Furman said.”

More at the Daily News, here.

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Photo: MTA Arts for Transit
Faith Ringgold’s mosaic “Flying Home: Harlem Heroes and Heroines (Downtown and Uptown),” 1996, is one of the pieces of subway art featured in a PBS documentary.

I’m always amazed by the beauty of the mosaics in the New York subway, even the ones that merely tell you what street you’re at. It makes me happy to see that the city values them, too, and periodically cleans up the oldest ones. They go back as early as 1901.

My sister alerted me to an excellent PBS documentary about recent additions to the art in the subway system. You can read about it at the website Mosaic Art Now.

“For a delightful immersion into the history and current activities of the enormous underground museum that is the New York subway system’s Arts For Transit program, treat yourself to WNET Channel Thirteen’s free one hour video called ‘Treasures of New York: Art Underground.’ …

“Mosaic artist Steven Miotto gets major face time. His decades-long collaboration with artists of all stripes is a fascinating story in itself. When selected by a commissioned artist as a collaborating partner, he gets into their minds and hearts, leading them through the complex process of translating their vision and their graphic designs into mosaic ‘paintings for eternity.’ …

Faith Ringgold, speaks eloquently and nostalgically about the series of paintings – now mosaics – that portray the heroes of her Harlem childhood. Writers and musicians fly across the cityscape in flattened but vivid characterizations. I had the opportunity to interview her when she was in Miami last year, and she spoke about the challenges of trying to ‘make it’ as an African-American artist dealing with political themes at a time when the galleries favored the abstract.  Click here (http://bitly.com/yxGJ3R) to listen to that interview with her.”

See some of the beautiful new mosaics and watch the video here.

If you are up for more on transit-system art, be sure to check out an excellent article by Sarah Hotchkiss at KQED about what’s going on with San Francisco’s Transbay system, here.

 

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Photo: Glenn Castellano
A design by Meredith Bergmann of suffragists Elizabeth C. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, the first Central Park statue depicting real women.

Other than fictional characters like Alice in Wonderland, females have not been represented among Central Park’s statues. A new sculpture, of suffragists Elizabeth C. Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, is the first step in changing the all-male array of historical figures in the park.

Nadja Sayej reports at the Guardian, “In 1995, the artist Meredith Bergmann was working on a film set in Central Park when she noticed something was off.

“ ‘I noticed then there were no statues of women,’ said Bergmann. ‘There was a wonderful Alice in Wonderland sculpture, but there were no sculptures of actual women of note and accomplishment.’

“Now, 23 years later, Bergmann has created the winning design for a bronze statue of New York suffragists Elizabeth C Stanton and Susan B Anthony, who fought for women’s right to vote. Bergmann’s creation will be erected in Central Park on 26 August 2020, coinciding with the centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment ‘Votes for Women.’ …

“There are only five public statues of real women in New York City (excluding fictional characters like Alice in Wonderland and Mother Goose), while there are 145 sculptures of men, including statues of William Shakespeare and Ludwig van Beethoven, who are both in Central Park.

“ ‘We are happy to have broken the bronze ceiling to create the first statue of real women in the 164-year history of Central Park,’ said Pam Elam, the president of the Monumental Women campaign, which is backing the statue. …

“The statue has a long scroll that snakes from a desk down to a ballot box, which is meant to represent the change they made to the 19th amendment – but it doesn’t stop there. The scroll will detail the voices of over 20 other women, including Ida B Wells-Barnett and Sojourner Truth, with quotes written chronologically from 1848 to 2020. …

“While the quotes are currently kept under wraps, a few potential teasers have been posted on the group’s Instagram account. For example, Shirley Chisholm, the first black congresswoman, once said: ‘You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining, you make progress by implementing ideas,’ while Maya Angelou once said: ‘We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.’ …

“[Says] Elam, ‘Women’s history is such a treasure chest of inspirational stories, it gives us courage to keep fighting for women’s rights and achieve equality in our lives. We want to get their stories out there for people to be energized by their contributions.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

I’m in New York this week to be with my sister as she winds up six weeks of radiation and chemo. If I see any statues of women, I’ll be sure to share a picture.

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Photo: Year Up
Ana Vargas took part in the Year Up program, which helps many young adults from low-income backgrounds earn college credit, gain skills, and land jobs after serious internships with partner companies.

This was a great idea when it started in 2000, and it’s a great and successful idea now that it has spread to many US cities. It’s all about helping motivated young adults who can’t afford college to get a decent foothold in the job world.

Allison Hagan writes for the Boston Globe, “When Gerald Chertavian started Year Up in 2000, the nonprofit set out to help 22 young adults from low-income Boston neighborhoods earn a decent wage.

“The organization has come a long way from that modest beginning. A new study has found that 4,100 Year Up participants from 21 cities across the country are benefiting from the largest earnings gain associated with any workforce program in US history.

“The research was part of the Pathways for Advancing Careers and Education project sponsored by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families. It reported that Year Up group members earn 53 percent more than economically disadvantaged young adults who did not participate in the program. The findings said Year Up increased total hours worked by three to four per week and graduates earned nearly $4 more per hour than members of a control group that were part of the study.

“Under Year Up, young adults from low-income backgrounds — ranging in age from 18 to 24 — with a GED or high school diploma can earn college credit while gaining skills in areas such as information technology, quality assurance, and testing applications to assess functionality. Upon completing the yearlong program, graduates earn on average $17.41 an hour, which amounts to $34,000 per year and triumphs over the state’s $11 minimum wage.

“Researchers analyzed Year Up alongside eight other workplace development programs. … It ‘absolutely shows that we can enable people to lift themselves out of a situation of poverty and into a good job, and therefore should be investing in people and seeing them as assets instead of social liabilities,’ [Chertavian] said.

“Year Up students spend six months learning an array of skills such as time management, networking, and leadership. The next six months are devoted to an internship with one of Year Up’s corporate partners, which include 40 Boston-based companies every year. The money that affiliated corporations pay to get interns covers 59 percent of the program’s operating costs, according to Year Up. Combined with sponsorships and private donations, that leaves only 2 percent of the national program’s $150 million budget to public funding. …

“Bank of America Corp. has hired 690 Year Up interns, while State Street Corporation has hired 700, according to Chertavian. State Street reports that it converts 60 percent of Year Up interns into full-time employees.

“ ‘Year Up has opened a new talent pipeline for us that we’ve been able to take advantage of with terrific results,’ said Mike Scannell, senior vice president and president of the financial firm’s philanthropic arm the State Street Foundation.”

More here.

Some years ago I interviewed Year Up founder Gerald Chertavian for a government magazine that hadn’t yet learned to post its articles in html. Here is a pdf. The thing that struck me most about this man is that he was so grateful for being mentored in the urban high school he attended that he volunteered for Big Brother throughout his own college years and then, after selling a successful company at a fairly young age, sought a way to take mentoring to scale.

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Photo: Masswildlife
American chaffseed has been found in Massachusetts after 50 years, and nature-lovers are cheering.

Maybe finding a plant that was thought to be extinct in Massachusetts doesn’t rate high with you amid all the distressing things happening in our world, but I will take good cheer where I can find it. And botanists are certainly excited.

Steve Annear reports at the Boston Globe, “State wildlife officials and local botanists are sprouting smiles after the ‘Holy Grail’ of plants was discovered this summer, a ‘jaw-dropping’ find that puts to rest a decades-long search in Massachusetts.

“According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, in July, Rhode Island botanist Doug McGrady located an abundance of the plant ‘American chaffseed’ growing on a relatively small patch of land on Cape Cod.

“The discovery is particularly exciting because American chaffseed has been listed as a federally endangered species since 1992 — and it hasn’t been seen in Massachusetts in more than five decades, officials said. …

“ ‘There are historic records of American chaffseed along coastal plains from Massachusetts to Louisiana,’ they said. ‘But populations declined over time due to habitat loss and fire suppression.’

“After McGrady found the plant, MassWildlife staff visited the site to further confirm that it was, indeed, American chaffseed. While there, they counted over 2,600 stems, officials said. …

“The plant is currently listed as growing in New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. …

“In a video posted on MassWildlife’s Facebook page … State Botanist Bob Wernerehl can be seen crouching down in front of a patch of American chaffseed, as he explains the significance of the plant.

“ ‘In Massachusetts this rare plant is so rare it has never been seen since 1965, despite numerous attempts to search for it,’ Wernerehl says. ‘So this is a brand new find of this very rare and special plant.’ …

“He said when botanists went out to the site where the plant was found — an area he can’t divulge because it’s endangered — the population was ‘really good.’

“ ‘It wasn’t just a meek little population hiding out. It was pretty big,’ he said. ‘They look healthy, and they should theoretically reproduce and continue good solid population numbers over time.’ ”

More at the Boston Globe, here. Next up for lost species: How about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker? Stranger things have happened.

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Photos: Indonesian Marine Affairs and Fisheries Ministry
Children on the island of Bangka in Indonesia receive free goggles in a bid by the maritime affairs minister to engage them early in caring for endangered reefs.

It’s never too early to get children interested in nature. And anyone who has contact with young children can help provide experiences that will one day make them want to protect the environment. I’m sure reader Will McM. does that in his Making Music Together classes, and I know my kids and their spouses do that.

Meanwhile across the world, a maritime affairs minister sees hope in her country’s very youngest. Kate Lamb reports for the Guardian, “Indonesia’s maritime affairs minister has come up with an unconventional way to help preserve precious reefs from marine pollution: distribute boatloads of free goggles to children in the archipelago’s remote coastal regions.

“An avid snorkeler who is known for blowing up illegal fishing boats, minister Susi Pudijastuti said she wanted to give the next generation of Indonesians ‘the eyes’ to fully appreciate their marine environment.

“During visits to Indonesia’s remote eastern areas, home to the ‘Coral Triangle’ and some of the most diverse marine life in the world, the minister said she noticed Indonesian children watching tourists snorkelling for hours, not fully understanding what they were doing.

“ ‘I just realised in one moment: how can we ask them, how can we push them to take care of the beauty of the underwater world if they don’t even see how beautiful it is,’ she said, ‘I realised, what we see, they don’t see.’ … Visiting Banggai Laut in Sulawesi, one area where goggles had been distributed, the minister said children were swimming and jumping around, amazed by their reefs. …

“In a country suffering from chronic maritime waste, the minister hopes the initiative will encourage young Indonesians to appreciate their reefs, and in turn inspire them to protect their marine environment. Indonesia is the world’s biggest marine polluter after China, discarding 3.22m metric tons of waste annually. …

“Susi said she was angered when she saw plastic ‘at the beach, on the shore, on the reef, everywhere,’ and took measures to reduce usage in her own ministry. Single-use plastic is banned at Indonesia’s maritime affairs and fisheries ministry, and at all its ministerial events.

“Susi told the Guardian she looked forward to the day when Indonesia could ban single-use plastic altogether.” More at the Guardian, here.

Speaking of single-use plastic, I have recently learned that straws are dangerous to sea turtles and intend to stop using them. But recently at an earthy-crunchy juice bar, plastic straws were all they had. Disappointing. Everyone needs to do their bit.

Indonesian students on the island of Belitung receive free goggles.

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