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Photo: Eye Ubiquitous/Rex/Shutterstock
“It is not in dispute that the shark is not in harmony with its surroundings,” a planning inspector wrote in 1992.

This is not a story about a real shark, although sharks are often on my mind as warming seas move the dangerous kinds to the northern beaches that my family frequents. There is certainly plenty say about real sharks — both about avoiding the places that their food congregates (seals, for example) and about protecting them to live in the wild. (My 4-year-old granddaughter will tell anyone willing to listen that shark fin soup is bad.)

But this story is about shark art.

Aamna Mohdin writes at the Guardian, “One April evening in 1986, Bill Heine was sitting on the steps opposite his newly purchased terraced house in Oxford, drinking a glass of wine, when he turned to his friend and asked a simple question: ‘Can you do something to liven it up?’

“His friend, the sculptor John Buckley, provided an answer in the shape of an eight-metre (25ft) shark which would sit on his roof, perpetually appearing as though it had just crashed into the house from the sky. The fibreglass fish, which became known as the Headington Shark after the Oxford suburb, led Heine, a local journalist and businessman who died last week, into a six-year legal battle with the local council.

“The process turned a relatively unremarkable street into a beloved local landmark and resulted in one of the most notable triumphs of British eccentricity over petty bureaucracy. …

“ ‘You could see the Americans were taking off from Heyford outside of Oxford to bomb Gaddafi in Libya,’ Buckley said. Both Buckley and Heine wanted to make a powerful statement about the barbarity of war and the feeling of vulnerability and utter helplessness when disaster struck. …

“The artist started on the work immediately after his discussion with Heine. He worked with a group of volunteers – largely students and other anti-war activists – to build an artificial roof to hold the shark outside his studio. He didn’t tell any of them where he planned to put the sculpture. …

“ ‘The crane just dropped it straight in and it went in beautifully as the postman was passing,’ Buckley said. ‘That first morning was amazing. By Sunday, it was worldwide and its been like that for 30-odd years.’

“Oxford city council immediately opposed the installation of the shark. At first, they said it was dangerous to the public, but engineers and inspectors pronounced it structurally safe.

“Heine, an American who moved to the UK to study at Oxford University in the 1960s, then submitted a planning application, which was rejected by the council. He appealed to the environment secretary, then Michael Heseltine. …

“Heseltine’s planning inspector, Peter Macdonald, investigated and ultimately came out in favour of keeping the sculpture, with an official ruling that has gained legendary status among town planners for its defence of art.

“ ‘In this case it is not in dispute that the shark is not in harmony with its surroundings, but then it is not intended to be in harmony with them,’ wrote Macdonald in his official ruling. ‘The council is understandably concerned about precedent here.

‘The first concern is simple: proliferation with sharks (and heaven knows what else) crashing through roofs all over the city. This fear is exaggerated.

” ‘In the five years since the shark was erected, no other examples have occurred … any system of control must make some small place for the dynamic, the unexpected, the downright quirky. I therefore recommend that the Headington Shark be allowed to remain.’ …

“After Heine died [in March], tributes came flooding in from many locals, including city councillors.

“[Patrick Gray, an economist who lived his whole life in Oxford], described Heine as a ‘colourful character’ who inspired people. He said: ‘We once had a 12-year-old boy visit from America. He was miserable and unhappy when he arrived, so we took him to see the house. He left with a very big smile on his face.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Nederlandse Spoorwegen
A special book given out as gift to readers during National Book Week is accepted instead of a ticket on the train.

The Dutch seem to be ahead of the curve on many things. I’ve posted about their friendly communities for people with dementia, about their environmental innovation, about their biking culture. This story is on their support for reading books.

Jon Stone writes at the Independent, “Dutch book lovers got free rail travel across their country’s entire network [in March] as part of the Netherlands’ annual book week celebrations.

“Every year since 1932 the Netherlands has encouraged reading with Boekenweek – a celebration of literature marked with literary festivals and book signings across the country.

“Traditionally, a well-known Dutch author writes a special novel – the ‘book week gift’ or Boekenweekgeschenk – which is given out for free to people who buy books during the festivities or sign up to a library.

“But the special book – this year the novel Jas Van Belofte by celebrated author Jan Siebelink, can also be presented instead of a rail ticket on every train in the country on the Sunday of book week.

“Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS), the Dutch state railway company, has long been a sponsor of the annual festivities – and even organises book readings signings by top authors on its trains.

” ‘It is good to see all those happily surprised faces of travellers,’ author Jan Siebelink said after boarding a train for the city of Utrecht to meet passengers and read his book. …

“This year the book week gift was given out by bookshops to anyone who spent €12.50 on Dutch-language books.” More here.

And check out this cool article by Feargus O’Sullivan at CityLab, in which he describes a wide array of unusual ways to pay fares — ideas from all around the world.

Because of a problem with rail passes, he writes, England’s Virgin Trains let people pay with an avocado for a while. And “Indonesia’s second city, Surabaya, came up with a novel way of clearing its streets of plastic waste last autumn: It has been encouraging passengers to trade in trash for bus tickets.”

Among other creative approaches, Russia promoted the Winter Olympics by offering passes for doing a certain number of squats, Berlin partnered with Adidas to offer sneakers with a pass in the tongue, and Japan started experimenting with cryptocurrency.

Can you think of other ideas cities should try? Maybe on Giving Tuesday, transit systems could allow free travel for proof you gave to a charity.

 

At the beginning of June, my sister was back in the hospital because her cancer was causing new symptoms. Although the worst of the symptoms were brought under control fairly quickly, there were a couple weeks when we thought only a miracle would get us to Provincetown for the late June weekend we’d been counting on. My sister wanted to show her husband a part of Massachusetts she loved, as he had never seen it.

We had that miracle. Suzanne nudged it along by working on transportation, accommodations, and other details, but the main thing was that my sister was feeling so much better. Unlike me, she was able to walk miles without needing a nap!

Provincetown lies at the very tip of Cape Cod, and having a National Seashore there ensures that much of it is breathtakingly beautiful. The center of town is too hyper for some visitors, but I really love the manic energy. Drag-show Sunday brunch anyone?

No, we didn’t do that, but we had great walks, window shopping, and meals. The weather was perfect.

Below you can see beautiful clouds over the beach, with the Pilgrim Monument in the background. (Next year will be the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing at what is now Provincetown.) That photo is followed by a picture of Commercial Street, which in summer looks this peaceful only in the early morning.

After the mural in the ice cream place that my sister likes is a wildly decorated shop building. Next up: a welcoming bathroom sign. (My younger grandson thought it was pretty odd of me to take that photo, but what can a kid do? Grandparents are sometimes odd.)

The Portuguese roosters around town are promoting a bakery. I found that Portuguese culture was well represented in P-town. And Wikipedia further explained that, historically, many sailors who spoke Portuguese landed there, often coming from the Azores.

I loved some of the shop signs — and much of the kitsch. Only in P-town will you find proper appreciation of Betty Boop. Isn’t she cute?

The final three photos don’t need explanations.

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Well, I had a treat last week! I went to watch horseshoe crabs being tagged for research — kind of like birdbanding, but for crabs. The woman with the funny expression above was actually enjoying the whole thing and helping to take notes for the scientist, Kim Gaffett.

Kim, who may be best known to New Shoreham visitors for birdbanding, has been working for some years with Connecticut’s Sacred Heart University on an initiative called the Limulus Project. The idea is to learn more about the amazing horseshoe crab, a species that, depending on whom you ask, has managed to survive between two and five mass extinctions on Planet Earth, including the one that wiped out the dinosaurs.

In spite of their amazing record of survival, the crabs are considered threatened today, so it’s important to study them and try to find out what’s going on. As I wrote a few years ago, their blood has the ability to clot in the presence of bacteria, so it has become invaluable to pharmaceutical companies. Researchers are supposed to draw the blood as one would for a human and then have the fishermen return the crabs to the ocean, but that may not be happening consistently.

I asked Kim how she knew she would find any crabs that particular morning, and she told me that when there is a high tide and a full moon in June (flood tide), the horseshoe crabs come up to the shore to mate. The male has one claw like a boxing glove, with which he attaches to the female’s shell in order to be available when she drops her eggs. The eggs are fertilized outside the body. Sometimes other males are hanging around, and it’s possible for one batch of eggs to get fertilized by more than one male.

All sorts of marine life forms attach themselves to horseshoe crabs — seaweed, barnacles, slipper shells. Kim calls the crabs “their own ecosystem.” The crabs’ fellow travelers don’t usually cause any trouble, but as you can see below, a quahog had snapped onto a claw of one crab. A citizen scientist is shown detaching it.

From Phys.org, I read this about horseshoe crabs’ survival: “They have a special kind of blood, which … coagulates when it encounters bacteria. They can ‘wall up’ any wounds they receive.

“Another key to their survival seems to be their tolerance of habitats that fluctuate in salinity (levels of salt). When environmental changes happen, they can move to safety.

“An ability to live with low levels of oxygen is also important. [Natural History Museum expert Richard Fortey] adds, ‘The horseshoe crab was able to cope with periods of oceanic deoxygenation that were fatal to many marine organisms.’ ”

I was also interested in what Quartz had to say: “These amazing crab species are among the handful of species referred to as ‘living fossils’ because their current form resembles those found in the fossil record. Externally at least, the crab hasn’t changed much in nearly 450 million years. In that time, it has survived all five of Earth’s great mass extinctions, the worst of which killed off an estimated 95% of all marine species, and the most recent of which did away with the dinosaurs. …

“The crab’s blue blood contains a chemical called limulus amebocyte lysate (LAL), which thickens when it comes in contact with toxins produced by bacteria that can cause life-threatening conditions in humans. Labs use LAL to test equipment, implants, and other devices for these toxins.”

Kim says she hopes labs will start using the synthetic version of LAL more and give the horseshoe crab a break.

Note the tag below. Kim found one crab with a tag from a previous year, and she attached another tag to a newer find.

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Photo: Brian Peterson
Hmong writer Kao Kalia Yang with her father, Bee Yang. The daughter’s lyrical book about Bee Yang’s unconsciously artistic storytelling,
The Song Poet, will be turned into a youth opera in Minnesota.

When I was working at a magazine that focused on the concerns of lower-income communities, I sometimes tried to get the voices of immigrant authors in there. One such author was Kao Kalia Yang, a Minnesota Hmong writer whose work I greatly admired.

Yang spent her early childhood enduring the privations of a refugee camp in Thailand but eventually moved with her family to St. Paul, where poverty and a strange new culture made life difficult in whole new ways.

One of Yang’s lyrical memoirs focuses on her father and the way he sang stories about life in the old country that brought other Hmong immigrants to tears. Now it’s being turned into an opera for young people.

Jenna Ross writes at the Star Tribune, “Author Kao Kalia Yang’s father has been a farmer, a refugee, a machinist. But in a book about his life, Yang elevated his true vocation — poet. Soon, his story will be an opera.

“The Minnesota Opera announced [in April] that it’s creating a youth opera based on ‘The Song Poet,’ Yang’s acclaimed 2017 memoir about her father, Bee Yang, who composed and sang songs about life and politics, love and family.

“It’s the first time a Hmong story will be translated to the operatic stage, Yang said. … The book follows a young boy [Yang’s father] whose father dies, who grows up in a warn-torn country, who tries to find the place his father was buried. The tale begins in Laos, moves to a refugee camp in Thailand, then makes its way to Minnesota. …

“For its Project Opera, a youth vocal training program, the Minnesota Opera is scouting for stories that connect with young audiences and reflect the Twin Cities community, said Jamie Andrews, the company’s chief learning officer. When he sat down with ‘The Song Poet,’ he knew it would make an incredible opera.

“ ‘Kalia’s writing is just so lyrical and beautiful — so singable,’ Andrews said. … ‘The Song Poet’ becomes the third opera commissioned for Project Opera, which will premiere it at the Lab Theater in Minneapolis in 2021. …

“Bee Yang has performed traditional song poetry, or kwv txhiaj, since he was 12 years old, becoming a keeper of Hmong history. ‘When I began singing song poetry, I discovered I could share our stories of hurt and sorrow, of missing and despair, of anger and betrayal,’ he said in the book.

“This daughter’s telling of his story — and how it shaped her own — won the Minnesota Book Award for memoir and creative nonfiction. The 39-year-old author and Harding High School graduate is best known for her 2008 book ‘The LateHomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir,’ which nabbed two Minnesota Book Awards. After graduating from Carleton College, Yang earned an MFA in creative nonfiction at Columbia University. …

“To ensure that the cast is diverse, the opera company will reach into the Hmong-American community, Andrews said. It’s working with the Saint Paul Music Academy and talking with Theater Mu, an Asian-American troupe. ‘It’s not just a Hmong cast,’ Andrews said. ‘But we’re doing some strategies already now for 2021, to build those connections and find those kids.’ …

“When Yang was young, she took the occasional field trip to the Ordway or the Guthrie. ‘You’d go in knowing that you’d be entering into a different culture,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t have imagined, as a child, walking into a place and seeing something from the Hmong story represented.

“I hope that for those young Hmong people who get to see this, it opens up possibilities for them. Not just Hmong — but all refugee children.’ ” More.

I highly recommend Yang’s memoirs. Maybe some of you will check them out.

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Photo: Virginia Arts Festival
The original fire curtain of the Attucks Theatre in Norfolk, Virginia, depicts the Boston Massacre and the death of Crispus Attucks, the first to die in the Revolutionary War. Attucks was part African American and part Native American.

Don’t you love seeing old things restored and given new purpose? It’s not just the sight of a lovingly renewed object or building that’s inspiring, but the sense that anything that once had value can be brought back after years of abandonment.

Nicholas Som writes at CityLab, “Behind the modern walls of the Attucks Theatre in Norfolk, Virginia, century-old murals hide in darkness. Three pastoral scenes, created on the theater’s original 1919 walls, were uncovered in 2004 during the restoration that brought the theater back to life. But because of their age, exposing them to light and air could ruin them.

“ ‘Trying to find ways to create access to them without damaging them has been challenging,’ says Anthony Stockard, artistic director at Norfolk State University. So they’ll remain out of sight, sealed and preserved until a plan to display them safely can be established.

“Much like the murals, the history behind the Attucks itself is not immediately apparent from the brick and white terracotta that form the theater’s facade. But ask around Norfolk, and it won’t be too long before you find a city native with some kind of connection to the building. The place the Attucks holds in the collective memory of Norfolk’s African American community has not disappeared, even after years of vacancy, name changes, and collapsing ceilings.

“Appreciation for the Attucks is especially perceptible this year, the centennial of the theater’s construction. A steady stream of stars — from Leslie Jones of Saturday Night Live to basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — is lined up to speak or perform, complementing the typical artists the Attucks welcomes every year. Ticket sales have accordingly skyrocketed. …

“ ‘The Apollo of the South.’ That was the nickname the Attucks garnered, referencing the famed Big Apple music hall. With national sensations like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, and Ella Fitzgerald frequenting the stage, the Attucks was more than worthy of the designation. …

“Perhaps the Apollo Theater should be known as ‘The Attucks of the North.’ Because unlike the Apollo, the Attucks was funded and designed exclusively by African Americans, an extremely rare occurrence at the time. Twin City Amusement Corporation, the original developer, was formed by a group of black business owners. They approached local architect Harvey Johnson, who went on to help found what became Norfolk State University, to draw up the plans.

“Johnson always intended for the Attucks to be more than just a performance venue; in addition, it doubled as a silent movie house and contained 21 upstairs offices for African American businesses (Johnson himself set up shop there after its completion). They named the theater in honor of Crispus Attucks, a man of African and Native American descent who was the first person to die in the Revolutionary War, and depicted his death on its fire curtain. …

“The end of World War II brought changes that even the Attucks could not survive—at least, not in the same way. Young soldiers with money to spend returned to the city, and as Norfolk began to desegregate, the once-vibrant Church Street declined.

“Eventually, the curtain fell on the building’s time as a theater in 1953. … Denise Christian, project manager for the Attucks’ restoration, helped devise a three-phase approach. The first stage addressed the most pressing concerns: the blighted roof and the preservation of the historic curtain.

“Once pieces of the ceiling were no longer falling and the curtain had been cleaned and stored, the team moved on to the reconstruction of the auditorium seats, which had all been removed during the room’s years as a storage space. They decided to build around 700 new seats for comfort’s sake, though the theater originally squeezed in many more. Significant repairs also had to be made to the balcony and box seats.

“Finally, the Attucks was equipped with the modern trappings necessary for a multipurpose theater to succeed in the 21st century. A new three-story wing behind the building provides banquet rooms, dressing rooms, a green room, and a loading dock, transforming the Attucks into a place for events and arts classes, not just entertainment. …

“For Stockard, personally, being selected to co-chair Attucks100 by Norfolk mayor Kenny Alexander has felt like the culmination of a career-long dream, a ‘bucket-list moment. …

” ‘There was sort of a sense of nostalgia, of realizing these bricks were laid for and organized by African Americans,’ he says. ‘It was revolutionary for them to invest in the arts and entertainment that way—not just being the act, but being the producer and provider, and being able to control the place they had in the community.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Ann Hermes/ Christian Science Monitor
Judge Abby Abinanti presides over the Yurok Tribal Court in Klamath, California.

There has been a movement lately to restore to tribal courts the adjudication of certain types of crimes committed by Native Americans. The idea is that the traditional ways of handling problems often work better than those imposed by an outside system.

Henry Gass writes about one such court at the Christian Science Monitor.

“The mouth of the Klamath River – the spiritual heart of Yurok country – can be hard to find.  … Ira Thompson is here for his court date anyway, having made the 30-minute drive south from Crescent City. He grew up here, and when he got in serious trouble for the first time – a third DUI and a possible four months in jail – he knew he needed to come home. …

“So he reached out to the Yurok Tribal Court. He reached out to Abby Abinanti. …

“As Mr. Thompson enters, the air tastes of musky angelica root (burned by a paralegal minutes earlier to cleanse the room of pain, anxiety, and other negative energy).

“Judge Abby, as everyone calls her, is not your average judge. She sits at a table across from Mr. Thompson wearing her typical court attire: gray jeans and a crimson turtleneck. …

“ ‘How are things going?’ she asks him.

“ ‘Staying home,’ he replies.

“Mr. Thompson is under house arrest and participating in the court’s wellness program, a treatment employing Yurok cultural immersion. That’s the deal the tribal court struck with the county instead of jail time. He’s been home carving earrings out of redwood, making elk horn purses, and selling them. ‘That sounds good,’ she says, bringing the hearing briskly to an end about five minutes after it started. …

“When Judge Abinanti joined the Yurok Tribal Court in 2007 it operated like a normal state court, albeit on a much smaller scale. When most Yuroks got into trouble with the law they went to local state courts, and they entered a system designed to be adversarial and punitive. Root causes often went ignored and unaddressed, and recidivism inevitably followed.

“Judge Abinanti has taken the court in a different direction: one more communal and rehabilitative. It’s a judicial path followed by other tribes around the country. Personal responsibility and renewal – two pillars of the once nearly extinct Yurok culture – now permeate the court’s functions.

“Incarceration has largely been replaced by supervised release combined with Yurok traditions such as dancing and wood carving. Lawyering up for family disputes and child custody battles has been replaced by mediation. Almost every case is resolved through mediation – victims and perpetrators talking with each other – even if it takes years. Tribal courts resemble the growing U.S. restorative justice movement, which emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior and getting all stakeholders involved. Judge Abinanti says it just resembles the old Yurok values system.

“The Yurok were village people, she likes to say. Living in clusters of redwood cabins along the Klamath River, people in the communities were so interdependent that when villagers did something wrong, they couldn’t just be locked away. They had to face consequences, but also become responsible, productive community members again. That’s tribal justice.

“After what she calls ‘the invasion’ by European settlers, the Yurok way of life was lost. By helping revive those values and applying them to modern-day problems – addiction, domestic violence, foster care – the Yurok say she’s not only meting out justice, she’s helping revive the tribe itself. And some U.S. criminal justice reformers are now beginning to explore what lessons can be learned from tribal courts. …

“Any Yurok tribe member is eligible to have their case heard in the tribal court (except for felony cases, which go to state or federal court). Judge Abinanti has expanded the kinds of cases the tribal court hears. … She also negotiates with other judges for alternative sentences for Yuroks convicted in other jurisdictions. …

“To fully understand Judge Abinanti’s approach to justice requires going back to the mid-19th century. … Massacres, slavery, and disease reduced California’s native population to about 30,000 within 23 years of statehood. Some tribes lost 95 percent of their population. The Yurok Tribe says three-quarters of its population died in this period, and the tribe faded into obscurity. …

“Judge Abinanti says that the Yurok history of decimation creates a generational trauma, a mental framework that shapes a cycle of behavior among some tribal members. ‘Until they get that, they feel sort of caught up in something that they can’t control or stop because they don’t know what it is or where it came from,’ she says. ‘We have to take responsibility for acquiring those habits and we have to deal with it….

“ ‘It’s one thing to just stop behavior, but I think it helps to stop the behavior if you know why,’ she says. …

“Understanding the ‘why’ helped change the ballgame for Jon Riggs, who has Yurok, Chetco and Cherokee ancestry. Raised off the reservation in a drug-addicted family, he started drinking and doing drugs at a very young age. He was 18 when he was arrested for the first time. …

“When last year he came back to the Klamath for the Jump Dance – a dance that’s meant to renew the world – he ‘was able to connect with something that was much deeper than I had ever done before.’ In January, he became a wellness case manager for the tribal court.”

More here.

 

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