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Love for a Place

Art: Josie Merck
Mansion Beach, New Shoreham, Rhode Island

Oh, my poetry-loving readers, you are in for a treat! Praised by poets Lisa Starr and Naomi Shihab Nye and US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, among others, a book of paintings and poems that captures a powerful love of a place just became available. It’s Present on Block Island, by poet Nancy Greenaway and painter Josie Merck.

I have written about Nancy Greenaway in several posts, including the time she asked for feedback on her owl poem. Her collaborator Josie Merck is both a fine painter and an extraordinary benefactor of environmental causes. Her love of nature, especially in Rhode Island, is palpable in the art illustrating the collection.

I welcomed like an old friend Nancy’s owl poem, but the other poems were new to me. They cover a variety of themes, especially the joy that the beauty of nature can inspire. But there are also poems about friendships; a poem about a big-shot visitor who failed to engage school children; a moving contribution about a brush with death (the plane’s fuel line froze; “we all now know/ just how we’d handle/ a situation like that”); a funny one about being trapped in brambles near home and calling out for help before deciding to crawl on her belly to safety; and a very touching poem about island great Fred Benson, who lived to 101 and hoped that the afterlife would be something like Block Island.

I enjoyed Nancy’s many intriguing turns of phrase, too — like a new meaning for “weather underground” and the reference to ice cream as George Washington’s “revolutionary dessert.”

You can find the book at http://www.lulu.com. Or you can call the Island Bound Bookstore at 1 401 466 8878, as I did to buy my copy with a credit card. It arrived in the mail soon after.

From “Astonished,” by Nancy Greenaway

“Each morning that I wake
“to sun painting black sky blue
“and inhale ocean-chilled air,
“I am astonished.

“First glance out my window
“grants me cloud migrations
“over Great Salt Pond,
“sails on Long Island Sound.

“I drive to work with crows,
“gulls, hawks, terns, herons
“following overhead,
“pass waddling ducks, walkers,

“check ocean choppiness
“in scene-slots between dunes,
“wave to fellow drivers
“who wave to me in turn. …

From Fall to Winter

I wanted to share a few photos documenting a view of New England’s transition from fall to winter. (Maybe it’s not officially winter, but we have had our first snow.)

I start off here with one of my favorite photographic subjects: shadows. These are shadows of late-autumn weeds. Next we have a view of French’s Meadow along the Sudbury River. It is nearly always covered with water from the river escaping the banks.

Concord was the site of the military funeral for Tom Hudner, Korean War hero and a native of Fall River, Massachusetts.

The classroom picture was taken December 12, when students from a Providence English-as-a-Second-Language class where I volunteer gave me the sweetest thank-you celebration. Many of them also took phone videos of me trying to replicate the dancing of a Congolese woman in the class. Now I am worried about how many Facebook pages it’s on.

The gingerbread house is the 2017 version by the woman who does one every year for the town library. Each year’s is more amazing than the last. Note the little duck pond in the lower left.

The Grasshopper Shop, a women’s clothing store, put out a tree decorated with the holiday wishes of children. How sad that one child would have to wish “that North Korea doesn’t nuke anyone.”

The deciduous holly and white pine are pictured after our first snow. The town was really pretty when my husband and I walked through the shadows cast by streetlights and holiday lights on our way to dinner that night.

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Photo: Sara Miller Llana/Christian Science Monitor
The annual Festival Verdi in Parma, Italy, brings opera to the people by performing in private homes. Just like the old days.

I love the idea of having arts performances in one’s living room, whether it’s a cabaret duo, jazz, opera, drama, or anything similar. It’s partly because I used to write and perform plays as a kid, especially at Christmas in the living room.

Sara Miller Llana has a cool story about living-room concerts at the Christian Science Monitor, a really interesting newspaper with an international focus, in case you’re interested.

She writes, “A young tenor’s voice, in his rendition of ‘La donna e mobile,’ fills the palatial living room with one of Giuseppe Verdi’s most famous canzones from ‘Rigoletto.’

“It’s a late Thursday afternoon and the sun is setting, as guests seated around the piano begin to clap. The hostess is suddenly in the center of the circle for a short waltz.

“For a moment, it feels as though we are transported back to the 19th century, when Verdi, among the world’s most famous composers, created 27 operas, some of them the most-loved in the world.

“But it’s 2017, and this is the sidelines of the month-long Festival Verdi held each year in Parma, Italy. If any region can call itself a heartland of opera, it’s this one.

“The festival … aims to bring opera off the stages into the community in a series of events – from Verdi sung in rap, to the staging of ‘Nabucco’ by inmates at the local jail, to these living room performances for aspiring opera stars. And at least with the latter, the festival brings an ancient custom of private home performances that started in mid-18th century Europe to 21st century Italy.

“Accompanist Claudia Zucconi, who is studying for her masters and wants to specialize in opera, says that playing these antique keys in such a living room ‘was very emotional.’

“ ‘The piano was very ancient, so it was special for a pianist to play it. I felt like it was another epoch, in another time, like I could be dressed liked a princess playing in a room like this.’

“Opera – and specifically local hero Verdi – are so central to the town’s identity and culture that people debate it at locales the way they might discuss the latest soccer match. …

“The director general of Parma’s Teatro Regio, Anna Maria Meo, says the responsibility she feels is nothing short of enormous. Only a few nights ago, after a performance that had only one intermission, theatergoers stopped her on her way down from her office and asked why there weren’t two. She replied that the opera was already long. ‘ “But you can’t cut the space for us to discuss what we are watching, we need at least two,” they said,’ she recounts over a cappuccino in the theater’s baroque café.”

More here.


Photo: Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
IV Safe T developers Melinda Watman (left) and Maggie McLaughlin have spent about $5,000 to make a prototype to keep IVs from slipping out of newborns.

Nurses have been a largely overlooked source of innovative ideas although they are constantly jury-rigging improvements to keep patients comfortable. Fortunately, people in the medical-device field are beginning to recognize the possibilities.

Andy Rosen writes at the Boston Globe, “Maggie McLaughlin’s path from nurse to entrepreneur started last year when an IV tube became unhooked from an infant in the neonatal intensive care unit at Tufts Medical Center, where she works, causing the child to begin bleeding unexpectedly.

“A specialist in IV procedures, McLaughlin was asked to study ways of preventing such an incident from happening again, and she learned there is no universally accepted tool to safely lock the line onto an infant’s tiny body. …

“Since then McLaughlin has been working to develop an IV connection that lies flatter on an infant’s skin and holds more securely to the needle than the alternatives on the market today. She has teamed up with a former nurse she met at a Northeastern University event to form a company called IV Safe T to make and market the device.

“McLaughlin is among a number of nurses — with the help of programs from nursing schools and their own hospitals — who are using their bedside experience to develop new products and innovations in the medical industry.

“Rebecca Love, director of the year-old Nurse Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at NU, said research has shown that nurses spend a significant portion of each shift using workarounds and making impromptu fixes to ineffective processes or equipment. …

“The NU program, which connects nurses to resources and guidance to help them carry out their ideas, said it has attracted 1,600 people to events it has held, and it has connected at least 20 nurses to business mentors. …

“These programs strive to put nurses on equal footing with other professions, including doctors. … Some who follow innovation in health care say nurses represent a relatively untapped reservoir of expertise about improving patient care. …

“McLaughlin calls her device ‘Lang lock,’ after her maiden name. The rounded device connects tubing to an IV catheter with a single twist, and it has one flat side to make the needle approach the skin at a lower angle so it sits more securely.

“She has teamed up with Melinda J. Watman, a former nurse who later got an MBA and went into business. … NU has been helping them to protect their intellectual property and study the market.”

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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Photo: Jessica Mendoza/Christian Science Monitor
Mike Fleming, owner of Farmers Feed Co., in Stockton, California, wants every customer to feel comfortable.

Well, yes, our country is polarized. But Stockton, California, not so much. Maybe there is something we can learn from the people there about what happens when you get to know the “other.”

Jessica Mendoza writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “When customers walk into Farmers Feed Co., Mike Fleming’s first priority is to make them feel at ease. He goes out of his way to befriend his clientele, ‘whether they spend a dollar or $300.’ When he sees a customer struggling to speak English, he uses his bit of Spanish to communicate with them. …

“ ‘It makes them feel more comfortable … and that’s what I like.’ ”

Fleming — an actual Trump voter and a reason not to see that constituency as monolithic — says this is pretty typical of Stockton.

“A city whose historic ties to agriculture have helped it retain a streak of classic conservatism, Stockton’s population today is 70 percent people of color and 15 percent non-citizens. Immigrants both documented and undocumented work and live with conservative landowners, growers, and businessmen – and family values, hard work, and individual merit are principles that sit side-by-side with opportunity, tolerance, and equality.

“The result is that Stockton – and the San Joaquin Valley in general – provide a snapshot of an increasingly rare reality in 2017 America: what happens when people with a broad range of histories, ethnicities, and ideologies rely on one another within the same community.

“Immigrant advocates here are less inclined to alienate those on the opposite end of the political spectrum by shutting down Republican voices. Local conservatives also tend to be more open to immigration reforms that involve pathways to citizenship for undocumented workers. …

“ ‘In communities where a lot of undocumented immigrants live and work, people are more sympathetic to them,’ notes Sarah Trumble, deputy director of social policy and politics at Third Way, a centrist think tank in Washington. …

“Michael Tubbs, Stockton’s 27-year-old mayor, … says, ‘Because we’re forced to come together, the conversations aren’t in an echo chamber.’

“Given that reality, a city official who wants to get things done has little room to pander to one side or the other with extreme positions on polarizing issues like immigration, Tubbs says. … Just because he disagrees with a group or individual or what they represent, he says, ‘that’s not going to stop me from having a conversation if I need to have a conversation.’ …

“This isn’t to say that Stockton is a political utopia where Republicans and Democrats live in harmony. In the past decade the city has dealt with … events charged with political, socioeconomic, and racial tension. But interviews with Stockton residents and community leaders do suggest that when people view one another as part of the same group – when they are able to empathize with one another because they live and work together – compromise and compassion are more likely to become viable options”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

Photo: fractalx via VisualHunt.com
Street art outside Nottingham Playhouse. The city has a plan to integrate arts and culture into all aspects of life.

What do we know about the city of Nottingham? We know about the sheriff, I guess, and his adversarial relationship with Robin Hood. But did we know that modern-day Nottingham is really into the arts? A website called Arts Professional wants to enlighten us.

Christy Romer writes, “Nottingham has committed to embedding culture in education and healthcare as part of an ambitious ten-year vision for the city.

“By 2027, the city aims to make ‘culturally-inspired lifelong learning’ available for every person in Nottingham, and establish cultural programmes, research and partnerships that enhance health and wellbeing.

“The vision … aims to achieve national and international acclaim for the quality and diversity of locally-produced artistic work.

“ ‘Culture will unlock potential in our city. The next ten years will continue to see a transition that takes the city from its industrial, manufacturing past, paving the way to reimagine the city for generations to come,’ the [Cultural Statement’s] foreword reads. …

“Plans include supporting schools to develop a world-class cultural learning offer and giving every person opportunities to access creative skills and careers. …

“The City Council also aims to work in partnership with public health professionals and local commissioning groups to understand and enhance the health and wellbeing of the city’s residents. …

“The city announced its bid for the European Capital of Culture 2023 title in August.” More.

Alas, the Brexit vote to leave the European Union means that UK cities will not be eligible. Here’s hoping that Nottingham’s worthy ambitions are not derailed by Brexit and that the UK government will help the city find the resources to carry out its plans. (One has to wonder if the ramifications of leaving the EU was ever fully thought out.)

AmeliainHull, it sounds like Nottingham wants to give Hull a run for its money!

Art: Louis Rhead, “Bold Robin Hood and His Outlaw Band,” New York: Blue Ribbon Books, 1912.


Photo: Jason Rosewell
No one’s singing is hopeless, says a Toronto voice teacher.

I know many people who say they can’t sing, but a teacher in Toronto begs to differ. Anyone can sing, she says. People just need a little help.

Anya Wassenberg writes at Ludwig van Toronto, ” ‘I’m tone deaf. I can’t sing.’ It’s usually accompanied by a smile or laugh, but the message is both clear and absolute. And wrong.

“Lorna MacDonald is Professor of Voice Studies and Vocal Pedagogy at the University of Toronto, and she puts it even more strongly. ‘That’s a blatant lie.’

“Of all creative endeavours, singing is perhaps the most poorly understood. To the chagrin of vocal teachers everywhere, singing is the one pursuit where you will be told, you can’t sing, so don’t bother. Parents will readily pony up the resources for acting lessons, or soccer, but when it comes to the ability to sing, many people are still under the impression that it’s something magical – you either have it, or you don’t. …

“Sean Hutchins is the Director of Research at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music. His lab looks into how music affects the mind, and how the mind affects music, in essence. …

“He points out that in older generations, in particular, the sole emphasis was on performance. When school children who couldn’t naturally hit the right notes, rather than training them, they would simply be told to mouth the words, and not sing at all. ‘There’s no better way to make sure someone is bad at something than to tell them they can’t do it.’ …

“Lorna MacDonald cites breath, posture, and vowels as the essential elements that are integral to vocal training for anyone. ‘It’s very much a physical process,’ she explains. ‘Our larynx isn’t necessarily made to create those beautiful sounds, any more than our legs were designed to kick soccer balls.’ …

“[MacDonald] suggests that thinking about what styles and genres you’d like to sing, and your ultimate goals as a singer are a good place to start. ‘It’s so important that it comes from a place of communication — not to be famous.’ …

“In reality, people with congenital amusia, or the innate inability to hear pitch properly, form a very small percentage of the population. The study of amusia is still quite recent, but estimates put it at no more than 1.5 to 4 percent. …

“In essence, amusia testing looks for evidence of faulty pitch perception. That’s the difference. Someone with clinical amusia actually can’t hear variations in pitch. …

“In extreme cases, a little delusional thinking can help. Florence Foster Jenkins was a Manhattan heiress in the early 1920s to 1940s who dreamed of being an opera singer, and was somehow entirely convinced of her talent. There are a smattering of Youtube videos that attest to the fact that she was, let’s say, entirely lacking in training. Still, she went on to become a cult favourite of the NYC music scene. …

“So why sing, in the end? Professor MacDonald puts it best. ‘You contribute beauty to the world,’ she says.” And pleasure to yourself, I’d add.

More here, at Ludwig van Toronto.