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As I noted the other day, the approach to saving the Harlem home of Langston Hughes is online fund-rising.

Meanwhile in France, the home of James Baldwin may be saved by a squatter and a quirky French law.

Shannon Cain writes at LitHub.com, “To clean the floor of James Baldwin’s guest room would take 32 disposable cleaning wipes. I figured this out on my hands and knees, estimating the square footage of the terra cotta tile surface. There were 40 wipes in the package. If I used one wipe per roughly two square feet, I’d have enough. I was camping here without running water or electricity, but damned if I was going to live inside a dusty mess.

“Four days earlier, struggling under the weight of a camping backpack laden with supplies, a duffel of linens, bag of books and a deluxe inflatable bed, I’d pushed aside the unlocked wire barrier of the ten-acre property and entered the 17th-century stone house, illegally.

“It wasn’t hard to do; the door had been busted off its frame long before I arrived and the place was wide open. I was sweating, exhausted and elated; I’d spent the previous six hours traveling by trains and buses from Paris, stressing hard about this moment, worried I’d be detected. …

“I needed to establish my squatters’ rights, which according to French law would be mine after 48 hours. The cancelled postage on the postcard I was about to send to myself would serve as one of these proofs. … To send a letter, one addresses it to the Ancienne Maison Baldwin, chemin du Pilon, St. Paul de Vence 06570. It seems the post office, at least, remembers James Baldwin. …

“The squatter’s law in France is meant to dissuade land speculation and absentee ownership. It is perhaps one of the purest manifestations of socialism. For seven years, the real estate developer that owns the Baldwin house has let this historic structure and its magnificent gardens go to seed. In the meantime, they’ve been busy with other projects, including the construction of an enormous American-style shopping center in Nice, all superstores and parking lots, reputedly built within a flood plain.

“In my research over the last months I have heard nothing but disdain and outright hatred for this corporation among the local people. ‘He’s a bandit, that one,’ muttered a local business owner.”

Read the whole crazy adventure and how Cain outfoxes the “bandit,” here.

Photo: Shannon Cain
Former home of writer James Baldwin on the French Côte d’Azur.

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Sandra and I have been keeping an eye on a neighbor’s lotus all week, hoping to see it bloom. Today was the day. Above is what the lotus looked like at 7:30 a.m. Below is the lotus at 8 a.m., at the end of our walk.

This exciting development sent me to the Tennyson poem about Odysseus landing on the island of lotus eaters. I don’t think I had ever read the whole thing. Here are excerpts.

A land where all things always seem’d the same!
And round about the keel with faces pale,
Dark faces pale against that rosy flame,
The mild-eyed melancholy Lotos-eaters came.

Branches they bore of that enchanted stem,
Laden with flower and fruit, whereof they gave
To each, but whoso did receive of them,
And taste, to him the gushing of the wave
Far far away did seem to mourn and rave
On alien shores; and if his fellow spake,
His voice was thin, as voices from the grave;
And deep-asleep he seem’d, yet all awake,
And music in his ears his beating heart did make. …

Surely, surely, slumber is more sweet than toil, the shore
Than labour in the deep mid-ocean, wind and wave and oar;
O, rest ye, brother mariners, we will not wander more.

I’d say that’s an early example of an altered state.

According to wikipedia, however, our lotus is Nelumbo nucifera, whereas the one that hooked the Greek mariners was probably Ziziphus lotus, which doesn’t look nearly as pretty.

Sandra was interested in the showerhead-like seed pod. If you get close, you can see a blue-ish seed peeking out of every hole.

And what amazing seeds they are! As the invaluable wikipedia reveals, “An individual lotus can live for over a thousand years and has the rare ability to revive into activity after stasis. In 1994, a seed from a sacred lotus [in Northeastern China], dated at roughly 1,300 years old ± 270 years, was successfully germinated.”

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The Value of Darkness

Every once in a while reporter Ted Nesi adds a tidbit to his valuable “Saturday Morning Post” that doesn’t seem to fit with the news from Rhode Island and yet fits everywhere. This link from the Virginia Quarterly Review (VQR), a “national journal of literature and discussion,” is one such example.

Amanda Petrusich writes in part, “Darkness is a complicated thing to quantify, defined as it is by deficiency. … Unihedron’s Sky Quality Meter is the most popular instrument for this kind of measurement, in part because of its portability (about the size of a garage-door opener) and also because it connects to an online global database of user-submitted data.

“According to that database, Cherry Springs State Park — an eighty-two-acre park in a remote swath of rural, north-central Pennsylvania, built by the Civilian Conversation Corps during the Great Depression—presently has the second darkest score listed …

“The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a nonprofit organization that recognizes, supports, and protects dark-sky preserves around the world, designated it a Gold-tier International Dark Sky Park in 2008, only the second in the United States at the time, following Natural Bridges National Monument in San Juan County, Utah.

“Earlier this year, I drove the six hours to Cherry Springs from New York City to meet Chip Harrison, the park’s manager, his wife, Maxine, and a park volunteer named Pam for a 4:30 p.m. dinner of baked fish. Afterward, Chip had promised, we’d go see stars.  …

“On a clear night, from the proper vantage, watching constellations emerge over Cherry Springs is like watching a freshly exposed photograph sink into a bath of developer, slowly becoming known to the eye: a single crumb of light, then another, until the entire tableau is realized. Pam pointed the telescope toward Jupiter, which had risen over the east end of the field. The four Gallilean moons—Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto—were clearly visible through the lens. …

“When I got back to New York, I visited with Matt Stanley, a beloved colleague at the university where I teach. Stanley … has a particular interest in how science has changed from a theistic practice to a naturalistic one. He leads a seminar called ‘Achilles’ Shield: Mapping the Ancient Cosmos,’ and another called ‘Understanding the Universe.’

“ ‘I’ve found that probably 95 percent of my students come from either an urban or suburban environment, which means they can only see a dozen stars at night, and no planets,’ Stanley said. ‘When you say the Milky Way to them, they imagine a spiral galaxy, which is fine, but that’s not what the Milky Way looks like — it’s a big, whitish smear across the sky. I have to do a lot of work to orient them to what human beings actually saw when they looked at the sky. They don’t know that stars rise and set. Their minds explode.’ ” More here.

In Rhode Island, New Shoreham offers a pretty good look at the night sky. There are shooting stars in August. I feel lucky about that and hope that the five nearby offshore wind turbines don’t change anything.

Photo: Gary Honis

When dollar bills of any denomination get too beat up to use, the federal government shreds them. For a long time, the various Federal Reserve banks gave out small bags of shredded money to visitors as a souvenir — always a big hit with kids.

But for the last few years, shredded money has been used as compost in gardens. Here’s a story from Seth Archer at Business Insider about the new approach.

“Have you ever wondered what happened to currency that gets damaged? If you have a paper shredder in your home, you already have a pretty good idea. But that’s just the start….

“The New Orleans branch of the Federal Reserve shreds $6 million in cash each day. They mainly shred bills that are dirty, taped, graffitied or otherwise unfit to be used as cash.

“The bills are shredded to a fine texture to make compost. … The cash is transferred to a compost facility, where it is mixed with other materials to make nutritious plant food.

“After the compost is made, it is sold to local farmers, who use it to grow peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.

” ‘It is very fulfilling to be growing using a material that would otherwise go to waste.’ — Simond Menasche, founder and director of Grown On.”

More here.

Photo: Great Big Story

Photo: Robert W Kelley/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
Langston Hughes on the front steps of his house in Harlem, June 1958.

Before Suzanne and Erik moved to Providence, they were living in a lovely renovated brownstone in Harlem.

There’s a fine line between newcomers investing where there’s been too much disinvestment — and gentrification. The early changes seem to benefit a neighborhood and its people, but inevitably rising property values push out many longtime residents and institutions.

Today, a group of Harlem artists from various disciplines are banding together to keep a significant piece of the Harlem Renaissance around to nourish African American arts.

Tom Kutsch writes at the Guardian, “All that signifies the legacy of a house once occupied by the poet laureate of Harlem is a small bronze plaque, partially covered by a cedar tree’s branches and the green ivy that envelops much of the building.

“The onetime home of Langston Hughes has sat largely unoccupied for years, but a new movement is trying to reclaim, for a next generation of artists, the space of a man who is forever intertwined with the Harlem Renaissance.

“Spearheaded by writer, performer and educator Renée Watson, the collective effort is busily trying to raise the necessary funds to purchase a lease and make needed renovations to the house. …

“Watson plans to make the Hughes house the home of the I Too, Arts Collective that she launched alongside the effort, which aims to, in her words, have ‘programming that nurtures, amplifies, and honors work by and about people of color and people from other marginalized communities.’ …

“The collective gets its name from one of Hughes’s most famous poems – I, Too – in which his narrator concludes by intoning:

They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.

“Watson is using the crowdfunding website Indiegogo to solicit donations for the project, for which they’re hoping to raise at least $150,000 to cover a lease and begin the renovation process. By the time of publication, they had raised more than $54,000, already exceeding the $40,000 Watson says would cover at least a six-month lease. …

“For more than a century, Harlem has been inextricably linked to black life and culture in America; the birthplace of the aforementioned Harlem Renaissance, which fostered a wide array pre-eminent black artists and writers, from Zora Neale Hurston to Claude McKay and Duke Ellington. …

” ‘The erasure of black Harlem may come despite our best efforts …’ said Tracey Baptiste, a local children’s author who is involved with Watson’s collective. ‘But this project is about making sure that gentrification doesn’t also happen in the hearts and minds of our artists.’ ”

More here.

Video: PBS NewsHour

Not long ago, Julia Griffin of PBS NewsHour interviewed an artist who has turned plastic trash into sculptures with a message.

“JULIA GRIFFIN: Octavia the octopus, Priscilla the parrot fish, and Flash the marlin, all sculptures now on display at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C., and all made of trash pulled from the Pacific Ocean. …

“Angela Haseltine Pozzi is the lead artist and executive director of Washed Ashore, a nonprofit seeking to educate the public on the plastics polluting the word’s oceans.

“ANGELA HASELTINE POZZI: We create sculptures that can teach people about the problem. And, as an artist, it is a real challenge to use everything that comes up off the beach.

“JULIA GRIFFIN: In six years, Haseltine Pozzi and her team of volunteers have created 66 sculptures from more than 38,000 pounds of debris collected from a stretch of Oregon’s coastline.

“The countless bottle caps, flip-flops and beach toys are just a fraction of the more than 315 billion pounds of plastic estimated to be in the world’s oceans.

“Such plastics not only pose entanglement threats to Marine animals, but are often mistaken for food. …

“JULIA GRIFFIN: As scientists debate how to clean the water, Haseltine Pozzi hopes her sculptures will inspire visitors to curb pollution in the first place.”

The exhibit can be seen at the zoo until September 16, 2016. More at PBS here. Check out the Smithsonian’s site, too.

Photo: Smithsonian

Photo: Lancaster Farming

Wish I could remember where I first saw that this Ephrata-based magazine had a story on a farm that I have been driving past for 30-plus years without knowing much about it.

Sarah L. Hamby writes at Lancaster Farming, “Since 1999, the Farrell family has lived and worked at Sunset Farm, transforming nearly 150 acres into a well-known destination for freshly baked pies, heirloom tomatoes, and quality, all-natural meats not just for sale to the public, but also served at dozens of beach-front restaurants.

“Located on a four-lane highway in the south end of Narragansett, a small beach town in Rhode Island with a population that doubles during the summer months, Sunset Farm is one of a kind.

“In 1986, the Narragansett Land Trust was established to preserve open land in the largely developed Rhode Island town. …

“In 1991, historic Sunset Farm, established in 1864, along with Kinney Bungalow, a turn-of-the-century landmark and picturesque spot for weddings, was acquired by the town. … Since 2013, both the farm and bungalow have been on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The farm has been so successful that in 2014 the family signed a 25-year lease with the town of Narragansett. In return for taking care of the farm, the Farrells live rent free, though they do pay utilities. Maintenance and restoration work is part of the job, too, and must be up to historical standards.

“If you ask farmer and landscaper Jeff Farrell why he and his family applied to be caretakers of Sunset Farm, the last working farm in Narragansett, he will answer you with the candor and humor of most who work the land for a living.

“ ‘I lost my mind.’

“Ethan Farrell, who is now 25, has put a marketing degree from Johnson and Wales University to work at Sunset Farm. His phone constantly rings with calls from local restaurants and delivery trucks. … Last July, he started a food truck designed for local festivals and events, bringing his own flare to the farm-to-table movement. …

“The family donates to the local food pantry, supports area events for veterans and charities, and recently introduced gift certificates to increase activity from the local community.”

Read about the challenges of being the only farm in a tourist town at Lancaster Farming, here. And do check out Sunset Farm on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SunsetFarm505 — or  at http://www.sunsetfarm1864.com.

Photo: Seth Jacobson
Kinney Bungalow is available for events.

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