Moisés Rosas is an organ grinder in Mexico City. According to Azam Ahmed at the NY Times, Rosas’s art is not as popular with the public as it used to be, and that makes some folks wistful.

“ ‘This is a dying art,’ Mr. Rosas said as he turned the dull metal lever of his instrument, wrenching out a troubled squawk. ‘The youth don’t really value us.’

“So it goes for Mexico City’s organ grinders, among the city’s more curious class of street performers. For years, they were beloved by residents, but now they are in a gloomy mood, convinced that their art — and a central part of the city’s culture — is fading away. …

“They are losing fans. Many young people, forced to listen to their music while out at a restaurant or in a square, pay them to leave. The ranks of older patrons, who recall the organ grinders with nostalgia, are thinning.

“Then there is the competition, which has multiplied in recent years. There are break dancers, mimes, movie characters, musicians, artisans and the afflicted, all vying for spare change.

“Worse, there are the superheroes.

“ ‘Don’t even get me started on them,’ [Luis Román Dichi Lara, the head of the organ players’ union], said. ‘You place yourself in the perfect spot, start your music and, boom, here come Thor, Batman and Spider-Man.’

” ‘They intimidate us,’ he said. ‘There’s like 15 of them. They just kick you out.’ ”

But people who want to preserve the culture are supportive, Ahmed reports.

“On a recent evening, Carlos Martínez dropped a few coins in the hat of Sergio Pérez, an organist midway through his evening shift.

“ ‘Not many people help them,’ said Mr. Martínez, 44, an office worker. ‘I don’t really like to listen to them that much, but if no one gives them money, they won’t survive.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Thelmadatter
Barrel organ player in the Zocalo Mexico City.

The Great Blue Whale

When I was a child, the great blue whale was the attraction I most looked forward to seeing at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Now my grandchildren look forward to it.

But in an article on the website called Seeker about how the whale gets cleaned every year, I learned that the model I saw was not anatomically correct.

“The original model was based on measurements taken by American Museum of Natural History scientists in the 1920s. The measurements were of a dead female blue whale captured by a whaling station in the southern Atlantic, and although the artists who crafted the whale followed the original records, there were anatomical inaccuracies, likely because the whale that the scientists examined was already decaying. …

” ‘It was the wrong color. It had bulging eyes, probably due to decomposition,’ [Melanie Stiassny, curator for the Department of Ichthyology] said. In 2001, artists adjusted the body color and flattened the whale’s eyes, also adding a navel that had originally been omitted.

“Today, the [whale] resembles living blue whales more closely than before. However, while scientists’ knowledge of blue whales has certainly improved, there is still much about these giants that remains elusive.

” ‘We still don’t know how many blue whales are out there,’ Stiassny said. ‘We don’t know exactly where they go to breed. They still remain one of the great mysteries of the ocean.’ ”

More at Seeker.

Art: Richard Ellis

Photo: The Economist

Reversing desertification in Africa has to be one of the biggest challenges ever attempted. But if we believe that the longest journey starts with a single step, then the continent’s long journey is off to a good start.

According to the Economist, “Building a wall of trees across the width of Africa is a tall order. Solving the twin problems of land degradation and desertification poses a greater challenge still. But more than 60 years after it was first proposed, just such a project is underway at the edge of the Sahara. …

“In 1952 Richard St Barbe Baker, a British environmental scientist, proposed planting a swathe of trees across the southern reaches of the Sahara. The trees would block the wind and sand that move southward from the desert and improve the quality of the soil by binding sediment together and adding nutrients to the mix.

“Although Mr Baker was unable to convince others of his plan during his lifetime, the idea has since taken root. In 2005, Olusegun Obasanjo, then president of Nigeria, revisited Mr Baker’s proposition, seeing in it an answer to some of the social, economic and environmental problems afflicting the Sahel-Sahara region.

“An estimated 83% of rural sub-Saharan Africans are dependent on the region’s land for their livelihoods, but 40% of it is degraded—worn away by soil erosion, human activity and scorching temperatures—leaving much of it unfit for use.

“In 2007, Mr Obasanjo gained the support of the African Union. The Great Green Wall Initiative was launched the same year. Today some 21 African countries are involved in the project, which has grown in scope. Trees have been planted, but building a wall of them is no longer the priority.

“Instead, the wall of trees has become a vehicle for a wider goal: countries in the region working together to tackle climate change, food security and economic growth. Recent projects include abating soil erosion and improving water management in Nigeria, agri-business development in Senegal and forestry management in Mali.”

More at the Economist.

An ESPN sports producer set out to do a piece on two high school wrestlers with disabilities. Today they think of her as family. Karen Given reports the story at WBUR radio’s Only a Game.

“Dartanyon Crockett … is legally blind. ‘Being a black kid in the inner city with physical limitations, or what people call a disability, you’re already written off,’ Dartanyon says. ‘No one expects much from you. You’re basically useless. And I wasn’t in a position where I could fix that.’ …

“So he pretended he could see. He joined his high school wrestling team and didn’t even tell the coaches. … Dartanyon didn’t want the coaches to treat him any differently, so they didn’t. Then one day during senior year, Leroy Sutton joined the wrestling team at Lincoln-West High School in Cleveland. Dartanyon was one of the team captains, and he wasn’t the least bit worried that his team’s new recruit was missing something. Well, two somethings.

” ‘We were talking in the cafeteria, and I asked him what happened to his legs,’ Dartanyon says. ‘And he told me that, “Yeah, I was run over by a train.” And I laughed, one of those deep belly laughs. He had always heard the, “Oh, my god. Oh, I’m so sorry. Oh, how did that happen? Oh.” Just to see someone not feeling sorry for him, just kinda sparked a bond almost instantly.’ …

“Soon, Dartanyon was carrying Leroy on and off buses, up and down stairs and into the bleachers. …

” ‘I didn’t know he was blind,’ Leroy says. ‘I found out in class. I noticed he was, like, really close to the book we were reading. So I was like, all right, he has problems seeing. So I turned to a couple of the other students around me and I was, like, “Hey, man, let’s do this like a project style and read out loud.” ‘

“And that’s probably how things would have stayed, Dartanyon and Leroy helping each other out — both thinking it was no big deal — if not for an ESPN feature producer named Lisa Fenn.”

Fenn goes to interview them and is greeted by a coach who said that “he’d been praying really hard for Dartanyon and for Leroy because he felt, once they graduate, the world had nothing for kids like them.”

Turns out the world had quite a bit for them. But it took years. Read the whole story at “Only a Game,” here, because look:

Four years after they first met, Leroy “wrote Lisa a letter for Mother’s Day. … That letter is printed in Lisa’s new book, Carry On, A Story of Resilience, Redemption, and an Unlikely Family. …

When I first met you those were dark days,
In that time I was stuck in my dark way,
There was no light, so you set the world ablaze,
And you snapped me out of that phase,
Then you went further,
Showing me you cared,
Answering my calls now I know that you’ll be there,
Then you ask questions, so slowly I shared,
This world you showed me is simply more fair,
You pull me out of a world where it was not clear,
Glad you did, there was no more air,
But now these days I’m full of smile, and full of play,
Hope you feel loved today,
So I’d like to take this moment to say,
Thank you Mom.
I love you.

Photo: Brownie Harris
Leroy Sutton (left), Dartanyon Crockett (center) and Lisa Fenn, the ESPN producer who came to Cleveland to tell their story.

Did you hear about the time a mule won the Great American Horse Race? It’s kind of a tortoise and hare story.

At WBUR’s Only a Game, Martin Kessler explains why endurance mattered.

“The year was 1976. … In honor of the bicentennial, trains and airplanes were painted red, white and blue. A fleet of tall ships sailed down the Hudson River.

“And there was a horse race unlike any other.

“It was called the Great American Horse Race, and it would span nearly 100 days and 3,500 miles, starting in New York, heading to Missouri, and then following the Pony Express route to California.

“[Curt] Lewis was hired by the race organizers to document all the greatness and Americaness of the Great American Horse Race. And also the competition.

“The rider who covered the distance fastest would get $25,000 – worth about $100,000 in today’s dollars.

“About 100 riders signed up. Cowboys took a break from rodeos. World War II veterans, finished with their missions on submarines and B-17 bombers, also entered. So did a sheriff — and even an Austrian count. …

“And then there was Virl Norton. He was one of the oldest riders. He didn’t have as big a bank account as most of the others. He didn’t have any fancy horse equipment. Or a big crew to help him set up camp or cook or do laundry.

“But he had a plan.

“While some riders entered Icelandic ponies, quarter horses, and Appaloosas, the consensus was that the horse to ride if you wanted to win was an Arabian. … Virl Norton entered a mule.”

With his 16-year-old son as the only crew, Norton set out across country with his mule Lord Fauntleroy and a backup called Lady Eloise. And left those fast horses in the dust.

Read all about it here.

Photo: Curt Lewis
Virl Norton, winner of the 1976 Great American Horse Race, with mules Lord Fauntleroy and Lady Eloise.

Greening the City

EcoRI News is a local environmental site where I often find good stories. I especially like this one. It’s not only an upbeat environmental story, but it features middle-school and high-school enrichment in a district that has not often been able to afford enrichment.

Frank Carini writes from Central Falls, “Crammed into 1.3 square miles is a diverse community of 19,300 residents, lots of traffic and plenty of pavement. The most densely populated city in the smallest state also lacks green.

“Central Falls has the lowest percentage of tree cover in Rhode Island. … Today, only 3 percent of Central Falls is green space, a problem Mayor James Diossa soon began addressing when he took office three years ago.

“ ‘Past administrations had never given priority or importance to the role of trees,’ he told ecoRI News earlier this year during a tour of revitalized Jenks Park and a nearby community garden. ‘Trees are instrumental for a community.’

“When Diossa took office in January 2013, it had been nearly three years since the city filed for receivership and nearly two years since it had filed for bankruptcy. Those challenges, however, didn’t prevent Diossa and his administration from implementing ‘Operation Tree Hugger.’

“In December 2014, students from Calcutt Middle School and Scituate High School partnered with the city to develop a proposal for the America the Beautiful-Tree Rhode Island 2015-2016 grant program. The students’ proposal was funded. Four months later, on April 10, 2015, the students planted 14 trees around Calcutt Middle School and established the Central Falls Arboretum.

“Since then, tree plantings haven’t stopped. Last year a group of local middle-school students planted 15 trees along Hunt Street. On National Arbor Day in April, six trees were planted in front of City Hall. A line item has been added to the budget to fund the planting and maintenance of the city’s slowly growing green space. …

“The city and its many partners, however, aren’t limiting new green to the tall variety. They are bringing back all kinds of vegetation. The 26th-most densely populated city in the country wants an urban jungle that features more than concrete, asphalt, steel and brick.

“The community seems to have embraced its greening. The mayor noted that neighborhood volunteers water new plantings, weed, and keep a watchful eye on new green space.”

More at EcoRI, here.

Photo: Joanna Detz/ecoRI News
Middle-school students have planted 15 trees along Hunt Street. Six trees were planted in front of City Hall in April. Central Falls High School students have planted eggplants, peppers and tomatoes in what used to be a vacant lot.

A Week Away, Weaving

I’m reblogging this post from KerryCan. She and her husband just came back from an intensive weaving immersion, learning Swedish, Danish and other Scandinavian weaving techniques.

Love Those "Hands at Home"

Whew! We’re home again, mentally exhausted and physically sore, but full of ideas and enthusiasm for a craft we love.

And you, too, can achieve all this!

I have one purpose in writing—to encourage you to go away, to find an intensive learning experience in your favorite craft, whether it is cooking, knitting, writing, gardening, quilting . . . just go.

Not a mellow retreat, not an afternoon crafting with friends, although those have their place.

Find yourself an opportunity to spend a week, or more, undistracted by daily chores and obligations, to work really hard, with nothing more important than immersing yourself in something you love.

Our week at Vavstuga Weaving School felt, at times, like boot camp. But, like boot camp, we came out stronger and more confident, and ready to move to a new level of weaving.

The course we took was Nordic Classics and, because I…

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