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Photo: Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP/Getty Images
Chef Jay Fai in Thailand wears a wool cap and safety goggles to ward off the heat from the charcoal fires in the alley where she cooks all of her restaurant’s meals. She won a Michelin star for her high-quality food.

Quality can be found anywhere, as this National Public Radio (NPR) story about a chef in a Thailand alley shows.

Michael Sullivan writes, “Bangkok is legendary for its fun and its food. Especially its street food. And one vendor’s is so good, it has earned a Michelin star for the second year running.

“Raan Jay Fai is a small, seven-table joint in Old Bangkok that’d be easy to miss if it weren’t for the line. There’s always a line.

“You can try to make a reservation, but the place — named after its chef/owner, a local legend — is usually booked a month or two out. Signing up for the walk-in list is the best bet for many, especially tourists. But you need to get there early.

” ‘I got here at 7:30 [a.m.],’ says 24-year old Kashmira Velji, from Austin, Texas, who was determined to try Jay Fai after viewing the chef’s star turn on the recent Netflix special Street Food. Never mind that the restaurant doesn’t open for lunch until 2 p.m. …

” ‘I’ve never had anything like this before,’ Velji says between bites. … ‘Our first bites were very intense. We kind of just stayed silent and were in shock at how good it tastes.’

“Suparat Tretachayakorn — a doctor — isn’t shocked at all. He’s a regular. And the crab omelette is one of his go-to dishes. … He and his friends have also ordered Jay Fai’s famous tom yum soup, and half a dozen other dishes. Tom yum is a Thai staple — made with shrimp, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, chilies, garlic and mushrooms — and it’s found almost everywhere. But that doesn’t mean it’s always good.

” ‘Actually, I don’t normally order tom yum because I know that I’m going to be disappointed at most places,’ he says. …

“It’s another of her signature dishes. One that’s got the visitor from Austin, Velji, baffled. In a good way.

” ‘It tastes just like the soup, but it’s dry,’ she says. “It’s exactly the same flavors of the tom yum soup, but instead of slurping it, I’m chewing it and I’m still getting all those sour, spicy flavors’ …

“Part of the fun [is] watching the maestro at work. The 74-year-old Jay Fai cooks everything herself — over two blazing charcoal fires, in the alley next to the busy street. …

” ‘It’s faster to cook when using charcoal, to stir-fry vegetables,’ Jay Fai says. … Jay Fai is a perfectionist — so much so that she doesn’t let anyone else on her staff do the cooking. That’s another reason why it takes so long to get your food here — even with reservations.

” ‘They can’t do it. This is very hard to do,’ she says. ‘It’s not that I don’t want them to do it, I do. But even when they watch me, they can’t remember anything.’ …

“About that Michelin star: When she got the first phone call, she kind of blew them off. By accident.

” ‘I was confused,’ she says. ‘They said they wanted to invite me to an event, a gala dinner, and I said, “Oh, my, a gala dinner, no thank you. I don’t want to go. What would I wear?” ‘…

” ‘To be honest, it was the high point of my life. If I die now, if anything happens now, I’m OK with it. I’ll die peacefully.’ ”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: David Jennings for the New York Times
David Esterly in 1989. His woodcarvings were in the tradition of a 17th-century English master.

How some artistic geniuses stumble onto their metier is a mystery. This wood carver didn’t even know how to carve wood when he was blown away by the beauty and intricacy of works by a 17th century master. He had to know more.

Katharine Q. Seelye writes at the New York Times, “David Esterly was in London in 1974, walking with his girlfriend to meet her parents for the first time, when she steered him into St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, to see the intricate woodcarvings by Grinling Gibbons, widely considered one of the greatest woodcarvers in history.

“Mr. Esterly, an American who had studied at Cambridge University in England and was trying to figure out what to do with his life, had never heard of Gibbons and knew nothing of woodcarving.

“But inside the church he was mesmerized by what he saw — a cascading cornucopia of delicate, lifelike blossoms, foliage and fruit above the altar, all sculpted in wood by Gibbons in the late 1600s.

” ‘I was seduced by the power of the carving and its capacity to convey the beauty of nature,’ Mr. Esterly told the New York Times in 1998. ‘It seemed to me beyond belief that a human hand had fashioned those seashell swags, drooping bellflower chains, birds with laurel twigs in their beaks and dense whorls of acanthus. My fate was sealed.’

“He decided to learn more about Gibbons, and to do so, he realized, required taking chisels into his own hands. He taught himself woodcarving, becoming so skillful that when some of Gibbons’s 300-year-old carvings were destroyed by fire, Mr. Esterly was summoned to recreate them. He became not only an expert on Gibbons, but also the maker of sought-after sculptures of his own. …

“Mr. Esterly’s life was shaped by his obsession with Gibbons, master carver to the crown, who was commissioned to work in Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral, among other landmarks. …

“For Mr. Esterly, carving was as much an intellectual exercise as a physical one.

” ‘The wood is teaching you about itself, configuring your mind and muscles to the tasks required of them,’ he wrote in his book ‘The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making’ (2012). ‘To carve is to be shaped by the wood even as you’re shaping it.’ …

“He worked slowly, creating only about 50 pieces in his lifetime. But as his literary agent, Robin Straus, said by email, he was ‘equally fluent with words and wood’; besides books, he wrote numerous articles and reviews about art and carving.

“The subjects of his carvings varied. One might be Gibbons-like but with a twist — a spray of delicate roses, but with insect holes in the leaves, or a broken stem; another might be a head covered in elaborately carved vegetation.

“In most cases Mr. Esterly carved to the specifications of a patron. For a buyer who revered Thomas Jefferson, he carved a necklace like one sent back by Lewis and Clark, whom Jefferson had sent to explore the Northwest Territory. In others he whimsically updated traditional themes by inserting, say, a carved iPhone or a set of car keys.

“After a fire in 1986 at Hampton Court, Henry VIII’s palace, Mr. Esterly spent a year creating a replica of a seven-foot-long Gibbons carving that had been destroyed.”

More of the story — and some terrific photos — here.

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All I do is shoot random things that catch my eye, but now when gathering them together, I note a bit of a theme. Ripening. It’s only mid-August, but when you see acorns and pine cones developing, you know autumn is coming.

The first photo is of a footbridge in Concord, where the invasive Purple Loosestrife is starting to take over the swampy area along the Mill Brook. Then there is the herb garden behind the Unitarian Universalist church and the sexton’s bonsai trees.

Those pictures are followed by a progression of grapes and by the pine cones and acorns. Next comes a landscaping business with an unusual name (for a landscape business), a midsummer sidewalk sale, and a local hero being used to promote an antiques shop.

I wonder if the landscaper chose the company name after hearing that potential clients were frustrated about other businesses not communicating. That can be an issue, and not just with landscapers. I appreciate that workers may get overwhelmed by demand in certain seasons, but customers do value having someone answer the phone or explain why it was impossible to come on the day originally scheduled.

Recently my husband saw a handyman’s truck with “We show up” in giant letters on the side. He told the handyman he liked the sign. “So do our clients,” the man responded.

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Photo: Portland (Maine) Museum of Art
The quilts of artist Gina Adams tell the tale of broken treaties.

Lately, I’ve been reading books that have given me a deeper, more disturbing understanding of American history. Of course I knew about slavery and broken Indian treaties and adventurism abroad, but I tended to slink away from knowing too many details. You can hide only so long. Two books I would recommend are the novel Underground Railroad and the history Ramp Hollow.

Artist Gina Adams found her metier in quilts about broken treaties. There are no shortage of those, she says. This article by Indian County Today recounts the evolution of her work “Broken Treaties Quilts.”

“Gina Adams’ journey to becoming a political artist began as she probed deeper into her Native roots. Trained as a painter and printmaker, Gina Adams made apolitical art for many years. …

“While studying the effects of post-Colonial trauma and assimilation at the University of Kansas, Adams identified feelings of remorse and grief in her own life, stemming from her Ojibwe-Lakota grandfather’s forced boarding at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Her art began to change.

“ ‘I realized how powerful it was to be able to speak about all of those feelings,’ said Adams, who lives in Longmont, Colorado. …

“ ‘Broken Treaties Quilts,’ involves sewing text from Indian treaties onto antique quilts. … Sewing the words of injustice, letter by letter, onto objects of comfort and beauty represents the turmoil that Indians have suffered. …

“Adams, 52, recently finished quilts about both the 1851 and 1868 Fort Laramie treaties, which she made in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline standoff at Standing Rock. She has made 18 quilts so far, and shown them from Maine to the Midwest. Wherever she shows her work, she makes a new quilt that’s relevant to the treaty history of that geographic area.

Her goal is to create a quilt for every U.S. state.

“There’s no shortage of broken treaties, she said, and all were populated with twisting, confusing language that purposefully misled people and subjected the treaties to misunderstanding and different interpretations.

“Adams has spent most of the past three years reading the treaties, word for word.

” ‘In cutting up these letters and reading and re-reading these treaties, you begin to realize how the language was meant to be confusing when they were written. They are still confusing today. They’re very duplicitous in their meaning,’ she said. ‘You can understand why the misunderstandings happened. …

“In Native cultures, the quilt transcends modern timekeeping. It’s been around forever, serving as a source of warmth and comfort, as well as a feeling of home and family. Quilting is also thoroughly American, she notes, and both the quilt and quilting bees symbolize community and the idea of working together. …

“Adams begins with antique quilts that she finds at flea markets and elsewhere. Many people also give them to her. She prefers quilts that are a century old or older, so they reflect the general vintage of the treaties she represents. …

“The process of making the quilts is time-consuming and labor intensive, and enjoyable, Adams said.

“ ‘It’s very contemplative. It’s very mindful,’ she said. ‘I so look forward to every single aspect of it, even when I am doing the detailed stitching on the quilt. It’s a really focused time. I am lost in my thoughts and just focusing on the work itself. I find it to be so rewarding.’

“Adams … descended from indigenous and colonial Americans. Her grandfather was Ojibwe and Lakota, and Adams has always identified with her Native roots. ‘I remember being 3 and 4 years old and going on hikes with my grandfather. He would talk to me and introduce me to plants and animals and things in nature in the Ojibwe language,’ she said. ‘He would tell me everything in Ojibwe and then translate it. It was a wonderful connecting point that stuck in my heart and soul and has been there my whole entire life.’

“Adams, who is not an enrolled tribal member, plans to take Ojibwe language classes this fall, to deepen her cultural immersion.”

Read about Adams’s quilting process here.

Hat tip: @WomensArt1 on twitter.

 

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Recently, I took a couple trips to New York to see my sister, who’s been having ups and downs with the brain cancer. We had decided to have a sibling gathering when the Midwest and West Coast brothers were in town with wives and several kids.

I’m not going to show you the group photo from our delicious Maialino lunch because my poor sister, despite feeling much better, is still horrifically bruised from tripping and getting a black eye. Falling is one of the biggest worries these days.

Instead I’ll share other pictures from my trips and explain any that need explaining.

In July, I took Amtrak from Kingston, Rhode Island, where there is a cute historic train station and, across the track, some interesting graffiti.

In New York, my camera was drawn to verbal images: Biblical messages chalked on the sidewalks, a port-a-potty pun for my collection, and outreach to immigrants (I saw the electronic kiosk message in Spanish and Chinese, too).

I also shot a giant balloon version of the city mascot (just kidding, it’s not the mascot) and one of the ubiquitous mini gardens planted around street trees. I especially admired the gardens that managed to do without the “curb your dog” signs because they completely spoil the charm. But how do people protect the plantings otherwise? I wondered. Do the doormen rush out and chase away dogs? Is there a spray deterrent that dogs hate? Some successful mini gardens used higher fences.

A large and glorious volunteer-maintained series of gardens in Riverside Park proclaimed a different kind of success with its clouds of delirious, happy butterflies, like the butterfly below. Red Admiral? Not sure.

Olmstead’s tinkling waterfalls in Central Park make me delirious.

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idea_sized-cod-newsroom-38012019442_148f3964b4_oPhoto: CoD Newsroom/Flickr
Singers at the Illinois American Choral Directors Association conference. Research explores how people bond through singing together.

Sometimes when the grandkids were small and fighting, I would break out in a song they liked — “Mister Moon,” say, or “Baby Beluga” — and they would join in enthusiastically and forget to fight.

The bonding aspect of singing together is something that many other people have discovered on their own. Now researchers want to learn more.

Eiluned Pearce, a postdoc research associate in experimental psychology at the University of Oxford, writes at Aeon, “Singing is universal. It is found in all cultures and, despite protestations of tone deafness, the vast majority of people can sing. Singing also often occurs in collective contexts: think about sports stadiums, religious services and birthday celebrations. Given these two characteristics, my colleagues and I wondered whether singing is a behaviour that evolved to bond groups together.

“Being part of a group is essential to human survival. In our hunter-gatherer past, having supportive social relationships would have enabled people to get the resources they needed to defend them against outsiders, to benefit from collective childrearing, and to share and develop cultural knowledge about their environment and about useful technological inventions. We now also know that feeling sufficiently socially connected guards against physical and mental illness, and increases longevity. …

“Whereas monkeys and apes create social bonds through one-to-one grooming sessions, human groups are too large to be able to do that and still have enough time to eat and sleep. We needed a more efficient mechanism of creating social cohesion, a way to bond larger numbers of individuals together simultaneously.

“To find out whether singing might fill this role, we needed to find out if this activity was capable of making large groups of individuals feel closer to each other. To help us answer this question, we teamed up with Popchoir, a British organisation that runs local choirs across London and beyond. What is great about Popchoir is that these different local choirs of a few dozen members periodically come together to create a unified ‘Megachoir’ of several hundred members.

“Our research team went along to some rehearsals to collect data before and after they sang together, either in their local choir or in the amalgamated Megachoir. … On average, people showed a significantly bigger increase in how close they felt to the Megachoir over the course of singing with them, compared with when they were singing with their local choir. …

“So singing can create cohesion in large groups of several hundred individuals, supporting the idea that this behaviour might have evolved to create community cohesion in humans.

“What we still didn’t know, however, was whether singing itself is special, or whether any activity that provided opportunities for social engagement could have similar bonding effects. To tackle this issue, we collaborated with the Workers’ Educational Association (WEA), a national adult-education charity in the UK. We predicted that singing classes would become more closely bonded than other types of classes (either creative writing or crafts). We were wrong: at the end of the seven-month courses, all the classes were equally bonded.

“But as we looked more closely at the data, we saw something that surprised us. Singing seemed to bond the newly formed groups much more quickly than the comparison activities. It was the most effective. So singing is special: it has an ice-breaker effect.”

More at Aeon, here. Even when groups of singers are competing, the researchers found, bonding occurs among opposing groups.

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Photo: Wayne Hathaway
The endangered Piping Plover is a species that actually benefited from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 — at least on Fire Island.

It’s a ill wind that blows nobody good, as they say, and the ill wind of Hurricane Sandy seems to be a case in point. As devastating as it was along the East Coast, there are reasons why an endangered shore bird benefited on Fire Island, a place I spent many youthful summers. Annie Roth has the story at the New York Times.

“The wrath of Hurricane Sandy’s powerful winds and violent storm surge left considerable damage across New York and New Jersey in October 2012. But for one tiny bird, the cataclysmic storm has been a big help. …

“The piping plover is a small, migratory shorebird that nests along North America’s Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast. The species, which is listed as endangered in New York State and threatened federally, has been the focus of intensive conservation efforts for decades. But on one island that was heavily damaged by the big storm, the piping plover population has increased by 93 percent, [as Katie Walker, a graduate student in wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech] and colleagues reported in the journal Ecosphere. …

“Fire Island, a 32-mile-long barrier island off the southern coast of Long Island that is popular with vacationers, was hit particularly hard by Hurricane Sandy. The storm washed sand and seawater across the island, flooding homes, flattening dunes and breaching the island in three places.

“Sand deposited from Fire Island’s oceanside onto its bayside created a number of new sand flats. Some areas were also breached by seawater but most were filled by the Army Corps of Engineers shortly after the storm as part of the recovery effort. …

“Piping plovers like to nest on dry, flat sand close to the shoreline, where the insects and crustaceans they feed on are easily accessible. But over the past century, coastal development and recreational use of shorelines have vastly reduced the amount of waterfront property available. …

“For the past three years, the majority of new and returning plovers chose to nest in habitats generated by the storm. And now, for the first time in nearly a decade, Fire Island’s population of piping plovers is growing. …

“Barrier islands like Fire Island are known as early successional habitats, which means they require regular disturbance events to keep their ecosystems in check. Under normal circumstances, Fire Island would experience disturbance events on an annual basis. However, engineers have gone to great lengths to stabilize the island, and now only powerful storms like Sandy are able to have a significant impact on the island’s ecosystem.

“ ‘Barrier islands are very dynamic systems, they don’t stay the same from one year to the next. The species that inhabit them there are adapted to these changes, so if we try to keep these systems static, we are going to lose these species,’ said [Jonathan Cohen, assistant professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, who was not involved with the study].

“Last year, 486 pairs of piping plovers nested along the shores of New York and New Jersey, approximately 10 percent of which did so on Fire Island. If current trends continue, the two states may soon reach their recovery goal of 575 breeding pairs set out by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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