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This is a photo from a time when I still liked to celebrate birthdays. I found it while sorting through boxes of old pictures last summer.

I’m the one in the middle with a hat and (typically) eyes closed. The girl to my left in glasses is a blog follower who attended my Sunday School. On her lap is my dear baby sister, who died of glioblastoma last year. To my right is one of two friends from my nursery school days that I keep in touch with on Facebook. The other is standing a bit behind her and to her right, with glasses.

Another of the partygoers has since died. One became a celebrated author and professor. One was ordained and headed a school in Wilmington. Another became an artist. She’s the one sitting next to my sister and wearing a big grin. On her lap is a girl who became a professional weaver. A cousin in the picture taught in inner city schools for years and later went into politics and conservation. I’m not sure what everyone else ending up doing, but I’m enjoying remembering each in turn.

I’ll also mention someone not in the picture, a former neighbor, now known as Caroline, who follows this blog. She helped me one year with writing birthday party invitations. I still remember her line about how the invitee should come “to my humble abode on Haverstraw Road”! Too funny. She thought an invitation should rhyme.

Art: Wayne Thiebaud/ National Gallery of Art

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Photo: Sinclair Miller/Maryland Zoo via the Washington Post
A wheelchair fashioned out of Legos helped this Eastern box turtle, shown in 2018, to recover from a broken shell.

For your delectation today, I offer you two turtle stories. The Washington Post apparently has a thing about turtles, and that’s great. I do, too, remembering fondly long-ago box turtles in Rockland County, New York.

In the first report, Dana Hedgpeth, describes a clever use of Legos to repair the shell of a badly damaged turtle.

“A turtle that had been injured and had a customized wheelchair built for it from Legos has been released into the wild. [The] male Eastern box turtle had been in the care of the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. … With a transmitter on its back, officials said they’ll be able to keep tabs on it in its native habitat.

“The turtle’s tale started two years ago when it was found by a zoo employee in the park and brought to the facility. The turtle had a badly broken shell and underwent surgery that involved placing metal bone plates, sewing clasps and surgical wire to keep its shell held together.

“Ellen Bronson, senior director of animal health, conservation and research at the zoo, said … ‘We faced a difficult challenge with maintaining the turtle’s mobility while allowing him to heal properly,’ Bronson said.

“Garrett Fraess, who was a veterinary student and in a clinical rotation at the zoo, said at the time that it was key to ‘keep the bottom of the shell off the ground so it could heal properly.’ …

‘They don’t make turtle wheelchairs,’ Fraess said, so he and a team sketched a customized wheelchair. He sent the sketches to a friend in Denmark who is a huge Lego fan, and she made a wheelchair for the turtle.

“The wheelchair worked because the Lego frame surrounded the turtle’s roughly grapefruit-size shell, and with plumber’s putty it attached to the edges of the upper shell, which got it off the ground and allowed it to move its legs, according to Fraess. …

“The turtle used its Lego wheelchair through the winter and spring of 2019 until ‘all of the fragments were fused together and the shell was almost completely healed,’ according to Bronson. Then they took off the wheelchair and the turtle underwent ‘exercise time’ to build up strength. …

“The zoo has done a project to monitor Eastern box turtles at the park since 1996. They’ve recorded, tagged and released more than 130 wild turtles. The work is used to help conservationists see how the turtles, which are native to Maryland, are doing in an urban setting.” More.

The second article, by Karin Brulliard, is about returning the rare Kemp’s ridley turtle and green turtles to the sea at Assateague, Maryland, a place that (along with Chincoteague) I associate more with Marguerite Henry and her children’s books about miniature wild horses.

“Seven months after washing up on the shores of Cape Cod, Mass., No. 300 stoically scanned the powdery beach while being held aloft by Maryland’s second-highest elected official.

“It was hardly the strangest thing to befall the young Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, a Gulf of Mexico native, since the animal found itself in cool northern waters in November. Its body temperature plunged, making it too lethargic to swim. It was scooped up by volunteers who found it near-dead on shore. It was trucked to Baltimore, then warmed by aquarium workers who named it Muenster and treated its pneumonia.

“The turtle swam in a pool with other injured turtles named for cheeses, and swam some more, not knowing that outside, pandemic-related shutdowns were delaying its return to the Atlantic waters now before it.

“Soon, Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R), jeans rolled up to his knees, placed the turtle into breaking waves as beachgoers cheered this glint of hope at a time of tumult on land. And without a look back, Muenster became the first of 10 Kemp’s ridley and green sea turtles to paddle forth on this late June morning into an ocean. …

“Six of seven sea turtle species are threatened or endangered, their populations driven down by development of the beaches where they nest, pollution of the waters where they forage, fishing nets and lines that accidentally catch them, and hunting and trade. But even against that dim backdrop, the trends for those that swim U.S. waters look fairly positive, according to one recent study: Endangered species protections have helped six of eight populations rise.” More.

Lt. Gov. Rutherford of Maryland cares about turtles? That can only be a good thing.

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Photo: eBay
Vintage Singer sewing machine. More people are turning to sewing — or returning to sewing — during the pandemic.

Did you have home ec in high school? Did you ever finish your sewing project? I’m afraid I never did. My project was a puffy cotton skirt in a beautiful shade of blue. I still have the thread on its wooden spool.

I wonder if my wooden spool collection will ever be valuable. After all, as Jura Koncius reports at the Washington Post, sewing and other such homely skills are back in style. Maybe wooden spools, too.

“When the pandemic shut down businesses in mid-March,” says Koncius, “people who ran sewing stores, sold sewing machines and did workshops were in a panic about how they would stay afloat.

‘Then the mask thing happened,’ says Heather Grant, executive director of the Strategic Sewing & Quilting Summit.

“ ‘The mask thing’ began in early April after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people wear face coverings when going out in public to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. They were not suggesting the hospital-grade variety (which were in short supply and were needed for health-care workers) but basic cloth masks that could be sewn at home.

“ ‘People dragged machines out of their closets or went online to buy new ones,’ Grant says, and stores started selling out of sewing machines, dark fabrics and elastic.

“Bryan Morris, co-owner of the four Washington-area Brothers Sew & Vac stores, says each of his stores was getting 10 or 20 calls a day from people looking to buy or repair sewing machines.

” ‘I was also getting calls from some medical facilities looking for people to sew masks,’ he says. Even now, he says, demand hasn’t slowed down.

“As the stay-at-home weeks wore on, novice and expert sewers alike found themselves with more time to work on projects. ‘People were finishing quilts they had in a drawer for years,’ Grant says.

“Mathew Boudreaux, who lives outside of Portland, Ore., (instagram.com/ misterdomestic) designs fabrics and gives classes all over the country. He has started finishing projects, such as crocheting afghans, that he had never had time to get to.

“ ‘It was a way not to have to think,’ he says. …

“Singer, which sells 56 models of sewing machines ranging from $99 to $400, saw an immediate spike. ‘Our business grew quickly during the pandemic, resulting in almost every model being out of stock in early April,’ says Dean Brindle, chief marketing officer of SVP Worldwide, Singer’s parent company. …

“The company has attracted younger customers and more male customers since the pandemic began, including boys who have taken up sewing to make masks. ‘Roughly 20 percent of our consumers have been men,’ Brindle says. …

“At Bernina, the entry-level Bernette machine (about $199) sold out in a few weeks, says Paul Ashworth, chief executive and president of Bernina of America. …

‘By the end of April, you really could not find a single sewing machine below $500 in the United States,’ he says. …

“Joe Cunningham of San Francisco, who has been quilting for 40 years, lost all of his teaching gigs and seminars for the rest of the year. … He did a lecture and studio tour on Zoom, and then he hosted his first online class. He was skeptical as to how many people would pay $35 for it, but he was thrilled that 268 people signed up for the webinar. ..

” ‘This pandemic could sure change my business,’ he says. ‘This forced me to learn online teaching, and now I actually have more time to quilt.’ …

Latifah Saafir, 44, who has been sewing since she was 10, designs fabrics and patterns for children. ‘There’s not too much out there in product lines for kids, so parents are happy to find these,’ says Saafir, who is co-founder of the Modern Quilt Guild.

“She says stores have increased their orders of her designs, hearing from parents that they needed ways to keep kids occupied. ‘I have one customer who ordered three patterns directly from me so she could teach sewing to her grandkids on Zoom,’ she says. …

“Industry executives are betting people are not going to pack away their machines anytime soon. ‘People are not returning to life as normal for a while,’ Brindle says. ‘We are already in month four, and a lot of people who did come back to sewing will continue.’ ” More at the Washington Post, here.

I got my lovely mask from a talented woman I know on Etsy, here.

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Photo: Getty Images
Between August 21 and 26, in Karlskrona, Sweden, the Carl International Film Festival will have 30 boat-in screenings.

You already know that drive-in movies are back in style. (Remember this March post?) Today I have a Forbes article describing how the idea of using vehicles for social distancing has expanded in Europe.

Sarah Turner writes, “While many of Europe’s arts festivals have been cancelled this year, including Edinburgh, Bayreuth and Glastonbury, others have turned to 1950s America for inspiration with drive-in performances.

Nowhere more so than Germany, which is, appropriately enough, still the heartland of Europe’s car industry which got on board the trend early with festivals in Leipzig and Dusseldorf, partnering art films with innovative venues.

“The Kunstfest Weimar festival, founded in 1990, encompasses  music, theatre and dance to fine arts and film. One of the three strands to this year’s festival is coronavirus and its impact on both society and individuals. To reflect this, six specifically created productions will be staged at a new venue, the Alte Feuerwache drive-in cinema. …

“In the U.K., various drive-in concepts are also taking shape. In early July the unabashedly feel-good Nightflix festival is part music concert, part film screening with cover bands and classic movies. There are two venues, Colchester in Essex and Newark in Nottinghamshire; options include Abba tribute bands and screenings of Grease, Moulin Rouge and Joker. Around 350 cars will be able to attend each performance, with the modern festival essentials of sourdough pizza and halloumi fries also being on hand.

“The Henley Festival, usually a bastion of black ties and crowd-pleasing performances, is putting on an Alternate Festival between July 9-12 with car-based comedy, theatre and karaoke. After Henley the Car Park Festival will be going on the road, venues include Dudley, Manchester, Northampton and Newbury while film and comedy-based The Drive-In Club will take place at London’s Alexandra Palace.

Live Nation will be putting on drive-in concerts with — among others — Dizzee Rascal and Kaiser Chiefs and the cult musical Six, based on the wives of Henry VIII. …

“In Cornwall, Wavelength magazine will have clifftop drive-in cinema experience at Watergate Bay from late July through to the end of August 2020 alongside a host of on-site socially-distant options including street food, live music, tombola popcorn stands and craft beer bars.

“Held at Trebelsue Farm, with space for over 200 cars and vans, The Wavelength Drive-In Cinema Series will start on Friday 24th, the Cornish-set surf film Blue Juice and continues into late August.

“But it’s Scandinavia that is taking the most innovative approach to the notion of the drive-in festival. Between August 21 and 26, in the Swedish town of Karlskrona, the Carl International Film Festival will have 30 boat-in screenings. Taking place in the Salto Fish Harbour with two LED screens, up to 100 boats will be allowed in, drawing attendees from around 1,600 nearby islands, with food delivered to boats from harbourside restaurants.” More at Forbes, here.

Speaking of social distancing by boat or car, I recently suggested to a friend who can’t go farther than her yard or her car that in winter we should park our cars somewhere six feet apart, open a window, keep the heat running — and continue our weekly visits.

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Murakami photo: Elena Seibert
Oe photo:
Paris Review
Haruki Murakami, left, and Kenzaburo Oe are Japanese novelists who write first in a different language and later translate into Japanese.

Today’s topic is a little esoteric, but for some reason it fascinates me. It’s about two Japanese novelists who write their books first in a foreign language, not in their own.

In the case of Haruki Murakami, it was apparently because when he tried writing a novel in Japanese, his saturation with the traditional Japanese writing style weighed him down. By writing first in English and later translating, he felt freer and came up with a style that was more his own. Critics are calling this process translationese.

Masatsugu Ono, a novelist, too, writes at the Paris Review, “I clearly remember the vivid colors of the two books — one red, the other green — that a high school classmate of mine was reading. … I was from a small fishing village that didn’t even have a bookstore, and having come from a junior high school with fewer than forty students, I was intimidated by how he already had clear taste in music and literature. …

“The next time I encountered those books was after I moved to Tokyo for university. I came across a large stack of them right by the entrance of one of the city’s largest bookstores. They were the two parts of Haruki Murakami’s novel Noruwei no mori (Norwegian Wood). …

“I immediately felt that his style was different from other contemporary Japanese writers I had read. Probably because one of my professors (who was from Belgium) had translated it into French, A Wild Sheep Chase was the first of Murakami’s novels I read. And I soon found myself reading through them all.

“In 1978, Murakami went to Jingu Baseball Stadium, located near the jazz bar he ran, to watch the opening game of the season. The moment the lead-off hitter slammed the first pitch cleanly into left field, a thought struck him: I think I can write a novel. … ‘It was like a revelation. Or maybe “epiphany” is a better word.’

“Murakami describes this event — even in Japanese — using the English word epiphany. Late that night, he sat down at the kitchen table and began to write. Several months later, he finished a first draft. But it disappointed him. Murakami placed his Olivetti typewriter on the table and began to write again, this time in English.

The resulting English prose was, unsurprisingly, simple and unadorned. However, as he wrote, Murakami felt a distinctive rhythm begin to take shape:

” ‘Since I was born and raised in Japan, the vocabulary and patterns of the Japanese language had filled the system that was me to bursting, like a barn crammed with livestock. When I sought to put my thoughts and feelings into words, those animals began to mill about, and the system crashed. Writing in a foreign language, with all the limitations that entailed, removed this obstacle.’ …

“Writing in a foreign language liberated him, and he finished the beginning of his novel in English before translating it into Japanese: … ‘I wanted to deploy a type of Japanese as far removed as possible from so-called literary language in order to write in my own natural voice.’ The style Murakami describes as ‘neutral’ was deemed by some critics ‘translationese.’ …

“[When I read him], the writing did not feel like translationese to me at all. Rather, I had a strong feeling that his Japanese was our Japanese, one that I also lived and breathed. I was struck by the fact that one could write a novel in that kind of language. When reading Murakami, I never experienced the difficulty or resistance I felt each time I read Kenzaburo Oe’s later novels, which were written in a highly elaborate style that I considered ‘literary.’ …

“I’ve always been encouraged and inspired by the fact that Oe has continued throughout his career to write stories set in his hometown. And I’m strongly drawn to the original and imaginative way in which he develops local myths and small histories (in both senses of the French word histoire: history and story).

“I’ve heard that Oe didn’t much appreciate Murakami’s early books, but when Oe made his debut in the late fifties, his writing style was also considered translationese. … Oe’s early works were so spontaneous and vivid that he quickly gained a huge audience, especially among young people. But the sensual nature of his first few books was gradually replaced by an intellectually elaborated style, one that also has been described by critics as translationese.

“So while Murakami’s translationese makes him clearer and more natural, Oe’s translationese makes him more difficult and more artificial. However, according to [Kojin Karatani, one of the most influential Japanese critics], Oe’s clearer and more natural early work was already translationese, too.”

There’s a lot more here about similarities and differences among Japanese writers, but for me, the most interesting aspect of the article is learning how reading and thinking in a foreign language affects a writer’s style.

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Photo: Kolya Kuprich
Outlawed Belarus Free Theatre has been successfully performing
A School for Fools and other plays despite the pandemic. It took some ingenuity, but they have plenty of that.

What kind of theater could handle a pandemic better than one that is of necessity always underground? If you’re fighting an authoritarian regime, you will continually find ways it doesn’t know about for getting your work out into the world — or you’ll go to prison.

Verity Healey writes at HowlRound,* “If any theatre company is going to feel at home during COVID-19 and the challenges the pandemic has brought to theatres worldwide, it is going to be Belarus Free Theatre (BFT), an outlawed company based in Belarus and the UK (its artistic directors Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, in fear of their lives, had to seek asylum in Britain in 2011).

In Belarus, where dictator President Lukashenko faces national elections in August — and is busy arresting citizens attending opposition rallies — the BFT ensemble is banned from performing and from registering as a theatre company because it produces democracy-promoting plays and global campaigns advancing human rights.

“Working out of a small garage in a secret location in Minsk, the country’s capital city, BFT is ineligible to apply for national funding, and ensemble members, continuing to perform illegally and underground, face the very real and constant threat of being arrested by the KGB. …

“On top of this, Lukashenko is a COVID-19 denier and has advised his citizens to drive tractors, go to the sauna, and drink vodka to prevent infection. Whilst he has not imposed a lockdown, he is using the virus as an excuse to ban protests of any kind (prescient in the run-up to the elections) and arrest anyone who raises a voice in opposition. This means that, in Minsk, BFT, in tandem with their colleagues in the UK, have voluntarily gone into self-isolation to protect themselves and their families whilst creating work from their living quarters — turning their homes, quite literally, into performance spaces.

“ ‘I get to spend twenty-four hours a day with the people I love, otherwise the lockdown is no different for me,’ says Khalezin.

“It will not come as a surprise then that, since late February, the company has premiered two full-length plays, facilitated and broadcast several online fairy tales with renowned artists such as Stephen Fry, Juliet Stevenson, Will Attenborough, and Sam West for their campaign #LoveOverVirus, and made all of their previous shows accessible for free on YouTube. …

“It’s their latest show, though, A School for Fools (ASFF), which is streaming live online, that has recently made the headlines. Adapted from Sasha Sokolov’s 1960s phantasmagoric modernist novel of the same name … the story charts the experiences of a young boy living with a dual personality disorder attending an oppressive school, a kind of place that used to exist in Eastern Europe (and still does in Kazakhstan). …

“Starring twelve of BFT’s ensemble members, all living in Minsk, in twelve locations (the actors’ mostly small Soviet-style [flats]), and with sixteen different camera setups hosted by Zoom, it is a feat of technical wizardry imagined by [director Pavel] Haradnitski’s artistic vision and Sveta Sugako’s broadcasting direction. …

“Haradnitski calls the need to do ASFF ‘a desire to act, because even in two months, actors can lose their skills.’ Previous conversations had with Haradnitski, Sugako, and Nadia Brodskaya, the producer for ASFF, have also revealed to me that for everyone in the ensemble BFT is a way of life, 24/7. …

“ASFF is not just an ideological road map out of the pandemic — i.e., using technology and social media platforms in new ways to bring live drama to people at home via laptops and devices. It is also a way of doing theatre that, as Khalezin says, we may have to return to more and more if the world faces other pandemics. …

“Zoom is not custom-made to handle large-scale live performances—it was invented purely for business meetings and conferences and it lacks the interfaces custom-made platforms might have (there are ones being developed especially for BFT, but they were not ready in time for the pandemic). ..

“One of Sugako’s and Haradnitski’s main difficulties, for example, was working out how to let the actors know what marks to hit, especially when it was required for actors to make it look like they were physically interacting with each other. In the end, Sugako had to use a webcam, pointed at her Zoom host interface, which allowed her to share her screen with the actors so they could see they were in the right place to make it look like they were connecting across frames.

“The other issue is Zoom’s propensity to kick people off the platform if their internet connection drops — which anyone who has ever been to Belarus will know is a common occurrence. And to make things more complicated, Sugako had to line up the sixteen devices — laptops, phones — in a particular order for actors to hit their cues. If they get out of sync, the whole show is scrambled.” Read how they handled that difficulty and others at Howlround,* here.

By the way, John has been to Belarus. Maybe he will confirm that the internet connections often get dropped.

* The staff of HowlRound Theatre Commons at Emerson College wish to respectfully acknowledge that our offices are situated on land stolen from its original holders, the Massachuset and Wampanoag people. We wish to pay our respects to their people past, present, and future.

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Photo: Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune
Rosario Del Real, 70, a paletero at ice cream shop Las Tres Abejas, gets emotional after meeting with Michaelangelo Mosqueda and girlfriend Karen Gonzalez, who posted a TikTok video about buying up his ice pops so he could go home for Father’s Day.

Struggling a bit with what to say about the 4th of July in a time of both upheaval and promise, I decided to share a story that highlights the best side of the American spirit. In this report, a couple bought up a vendor’s ice pops so he could spend Father’s Day with his family. And they didn’t stop there.

Cathy Free shared the story at the Washington Post. “People in Chicago’s Southeast Side are accustomed to the sight of 70-year-old Rosario Del Real pushing his bright yellow cart along the streets, offering up frozen treats on summer days.

“The former carpenter makes a living selling $2 Mexican-style ice pops, or paletas, in a variety of flavors, including pineapple, strawberry, watermelon and cinnamon.

“On Father’s Day, Cynthia Gonzalez was enjoying an alley cookout with her family in the 83-degree heat when Del Real came by and asked if anyone would care to buy a paleta, she said. Gonzalez, along with Michaelangelo Mosqueda and several other family members, decided they could do better than buy just one pop apiece.

“They opened their wallets and bought every paleta in Del Real’s cart — 65 of them, at a cost of $130. Then they recorded a video of Del Real’s joyful reaction and posted it on TikTok.

“Mosqueda’s post quickly racked up more than 5 million views, he said, prompting him and the Gonzalez family to set up a GoFundMe for Del Real in the hope of helping him retire. In about a week, the effort has raised more than $62,000, and comments have poured in from tens of thousands of people:

“ ‘The paleta man was KING to us kids in Chicago!!!!’ wrote one woman. ‘Miss those days. Bless you guys!’ …

“ ‘I cried tears of joy to see his humble reaction,’ added a woman in her 20s. ‘So proud of you for doing this.’ …

” ‘Our local paletero is the sweetest, most polite person ever,’ Gonzalez said. ‘We didn’t want him to be working on such a hot day anymore.’

“As she and the others bought all of the ice pops in his cart, Del Real started crying, she said.

“ ‘You could see the relief in his face,’ Gonzalez said. … ‘He even got on his knees. We offered him some food and something to drink, and he left with the biggest smile on his face.’ ”

For a bit more background, read the article by Laura Rodríguez Presa at the Chicago Tribune: “Don Rosario was born in a rural town in Zacatecas, Mexico. He immigrated to the United States in 1969, crossing the southern border a handful of times before becoming a citizen in 1979, he said.

“ ‘When I first decided to immigrate to the U.S., my only wish was that my family and I could eat once a day, at least,’ Don Rosario said. ‘We were very poor.’ …

“ ‘I’ve had countless jobs,’ Don Rosario said. When he moved to Chicago, he established his family on the Southeast Side, where he was able to buy a home to raise his three children with the help of his wife. In 2015, Don Rosario was able to slow down when he finally finished paying off his house, he said.

“Don Rosario said he has made mistakes in his life, including run-ins with the law, but having to deal with them helped him to become a better person.

“ ‘I was diligent to do everything right to pay for the mistakes that I made,’ he said Thursday. … The first thing Don Rosario plans to do once he returns to Mexico is to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe to thank God for the blessings he has received, he said. …

” ‘He refuses to stop working,’ said Lucero Del Real, one of Don Rosario’s daughters. ‘I’m still in shock and extremely grateful for the family, and all the people that have changed my father’s life from one day to another.’ ”

More at the Washington Post, here, and at the Chicago Tribune, here.

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Image: India Marshall; iStock; Lily illustration
She woke up from a surgery with her hair perfectly braided. Her black male doctor braids his daughters’ hair; the surprise he gave his patient touched her heart.

The Washington Post has a newsletter called the Optimist that I’m really enjoying. This story about a surgeon who understood what a patient’s hair might mean to her is something the newsletter shared recently. Some folks might find the doctor’s act uncomfortably personal, but the point is his patient didn’t.

Soo Youn writes at the Lily, “For the past couple of years, India Marshall has been contemplating getting another surgery to have bone growths in her head removed. She had already undergone one operation when she was about 20 years old.

“Now 29, and working as a manager in a primary care clinic, Marshall was experiencing more growth from her osteomas. While not dangerous, they can be painful. Several had started to grow on her forehead and between her eyes, making it uncomfortable and annoying when she wore her glasses. She met with a few surgeons about getting them removed. …

“Jewel Greywoode, an ear, nose and throat physician who specializes in cosmetic and functional facial plastic surgery [was] the only surgeon who mentioned going though Marshall’s nose so she wouldn’t be left with scars on her face. The other doctors told her she would need an ear-to-ear incision on her head, and hair might not grow back over the scar. Marshall underwent a successful surgery on June 9. …

“For the first couple days after the surgery, she went in and out of consciousness, her head wrapped. But when her mother and husband took off the bandages to clean the incisions, Marshall noticed that she had more braids in her hair. She went in with two loose braids, but woke up with four or five smaller ones.

‘I remember waking up and there were two black nurses helping me get myself together, helping me get my clothes on to go and I just assumed they did it. I was like, “Who else would have known how to braid?” …

” ‘I loved that whoever did it had thought of it because it was very easy to get to the incisions and clean. My hair wasn’t matted or in the way, and it was just easier for the recovery process,’ Marshall said. …

“On Wednesday, she went in for her last post-op appointment. As Greywoode removed her staples, Marshall says he noticed that she had redone her hair with smaller braids and commented, ‘Oh your braids are better than mine. I hope I didn’t do too bad,’ she recounted. …

“Greywoode told her he has two little girls and he braids and twists their hair. That he participates in the maintenance required for his daughters’ natural hair really moved Marshall.

“ ‘Natural hair is a lot of work,’ she said. … ‘To be honest there are not a lot of dads that [can] help with hair. … It was a very nice gesture and it just spoke to my bigger point of having black doctors and them being able to identify with patients.’

“Greywoode also told Marshall that he chose to staple the opening over suturing, because when you remove stitches, you often have to cut the surrounding hair. … ‘That was another part that showed me that he gets it.’ ”

What Marshall wrote on Twitter @IndiaDionna: “thinking about this black man braiding my hair to prepare to cut my head open is hilarious and endearing at the same time. also the fact that he’s that active in helping his wife with their girls, I love it. moral of the story: find black doctors.”

More here.

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Photo: Marta Grossi at My Modern Met

I love recent stories in which the discomfort of quarantine has spurred the isolated to adapt in interesting ways. Today’s article features an artist who found herself looking at her sink much more than usual.

Darcy Schild writes at Insider, “Marta Grossi is an artist and creative director who was quarantined in Milan, Italy, when she found an innovative way to make handwashing a magical experience. Grossi was running low on her traditional painting paper, so she started applying watercolors directly to the sink in her bathroom. …

“Grossi recalled the day she first picked up her watercolor brush at the bathroom sink …  after returning home from the grocery store, the one place (aside from pharmacies or to seek medical care) where citygoers in Milan were allowed to go at the beginning of lockdown orders. …

” ‘Everything felt apocalyptic in the city. I was hearing helicopters 24/7,’ said Grossi. ‘The alarm was extreme. I was a bit upset coming back from my errand, and I just wanted to wash everything off,’ she said.

“As she was washing her hands, she noticed her small watercolor tray sitting on the sink ledge, which she had used earlier in the day.

‘Suddenly, I don’t know what happened, but I started to paint,’ she said. ‘I started with branches and then filled in colors of a cherry blossoms. In that moment, I lost all track of time, and all my thoughts about what was going on washed away.’ …

“Grossi’s on-a-whim painting made her smile each time she returned to the sink to wash her hands, she said, so the concept stuck.

” ‘I started leaving the designs in the sink overnight and not washing [my hands] in that sink until the next day,’ Grossi said.

“The sink also became a canvas of sorts for Grossi. [She] began to run low on her supply of traditional drawing and painting paper, which she said she was saving to use for client projects and for pieces that were donated to a hospital. That’s when the apartment’s bathroom sink came into play.

” ‘It was about being able to use my hands to create something that was familiar, but also new to me,’ Grossi said of the sink watercolor method. …

“Grossi said it’s important to start with a dry surface or else the watercolor paints get hard to control, but that the challenge of a unique canvas made her artwork even more enjoyable.

” ‘It became my way to be present,’ she said. ‘These are the instruments I knew how to use to stay in the moment and to not let things that are out of my control affect me.’

“After admiring her designs for a day, Grossi turns on the faucet and rinses out the sink, then starts fresh with a new creation. Grossi said the act of filming her designs wash away has been soothing for her, as well as her growing fanbase.

” ‘The comments I got, even from strangers, were about what my next design would be, or telling me how the art was helping them,’ said Grossi. ‘This started as a necessity in a very bad moment and came therapeutic, not only for me, but for many others.’

Grossi says her sink designs are an example of temporary art, which, to her, reflects the importance of cherishing life in the moment. … By washing the designs away, it marks a new day, Grossi said, and ‘mirrors what’s going on in the real world — that there are beautiful moments even in the scary and unknown.’

“At the very least, the unexpected designs have been one way to make constant handwashing more enjoyable, Grossi said. ‘I translated this into something beautiful. If I wash my hands, I see flowers, I see the sea, I see animals. This changed my perspective on what was becoming so routine.’ …

“Grossi said she hopes to someday create an exhibit full of painted sinks inspired by her quarantine ritual because, in her opinion, sinks and the monotony of handwashing will ‘always be a symbol of what we all went through collectively’ during the pandemic.”

You really have to see these watercolors. Click here. And there’s more at the site My Modern Met, here.

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I learned recently that years before Thoreau built his famous little cabin at Walden Pond in Concord, Mass., a former slave called Brister Freeman and his family made their home in Walden Woods.

Robbins House reports, “Brister Freeman was enslaved in Concord for the first 30 or so years of his life. After taking his freedom in the late 1770s, he purchased an acre of ‘old field’ in Walden Woods. Other formerly enslaved people followed and Walden Woods became one of three black enclaves that sprung up in Concord following gradual emancipation in Massachusetts.”

I happened upon Freeman’s house site this morning when I took my walk, and because my photo is hard to read, I copied down what the marker says.

“Near here lived Brister Freeman (d. 1822)
formerly enslaved in Concord
Fenda Freeman (d. 1811) and their family

” ‘Down the road on the right hand on Brister Hill lived Brister Freeman, there where grow still the apple trees which Brister planted and tended.’ Thoreau, Walden, 1854.”

When I got home, I looked up more information. I felt woefully ignorant considering that I have lived in the town for many years.

The National Endowment for the Humanities posted about Black Walden back in 2010. It’s painful to read some of these details though we already know slavery is repellent.

“In Black Walden: Slavery and Its Aftermath in Concord, Massachusetts, published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, Elise Lemire (rhymes with sheer), a literature professor at Purchase College of the State University of New York, describes an aspect of Concord’s history that most accounts have overlooked. …

“[One] former slave, Brister Freeman, is the hero of Black Walden. He was named with a diminutive form of Bristol, after the English slave-trading port, whose ships plied routes to both Africa and the West Indies. Black Walden’s other main protagonist is Colonel John Cuming, a wealthy landholder and doctor in Concord who was Brister Freeman’s master for twenty-five years, having received the nine-year-old slave boy as a wedding present from his father-in-law. …

“Ironically, history has reversed the two men’s positions. ‘Unlike Brister Freeman, whose name survives in Walden the book and at Walden the place, where a hill [Brister’s Hill] bears his name,’ Lemire writes, ‘John Cuming has been largely forgotten.’ His large estate was broken up long ago and is now the site of a state prison; Cuming’s mansion house is a prison office building. The Cuming name survives only on a local medical building. …

“Freeman, who served alongside Cuming in the Revolutionary War, had acquired a wide range of farming and survival skills while managing the Cuming estate during his master’s numerous absences, and likely learned a good deal about local politics by watching Cuming rule the town of Concord. Though many liberated slaves continued to live on their masters’ estates as paid servants (their options being few), Freeman, who took his telling surname after gaining his liberty during the Revolution, instead managed to buy and farm an acre of ‘lousy, sandy soil’ near Walden so that he could marry and have children. ‘He was harassed all the time,’ Lemire says, ‘but he never gave up. I see why Thoreau saw him as heroic.’”

Then there’s this from the Walden Woods Project: “Brister’s Hill is a few hundred feet from Walden Pond, and was one of Henry David Thoreau’s study sites later in his life. In the late 1980s, a large commercial development was proposed on Brister’s Hill that was such a significant threat to the Walden ecosystem that the National Trust for Historic Preservation twice listed Walden Woods as one of America’s Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places. This threat, as well as another proposed development at Bear Garden Hill, spurred the foundation of the Walden Woods Project. …

“In 2013, we installed a Toni Morrison Society Bench by the Road at Thoreau’s Path on Brister’s Hill. The Bench by the Road Project seeks to recognize the contributions of enslaved people to the building of this nation. For much more about the program, we encourage you to visit the official Toni Morrison website.

Find more information at the historic Robbins House website, at the National Endowment for the Humanities, and at the Walden Woods Project. Enjoy!

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Photo: Ocean Voyages Institute
So-called “ghost nets” are fishing nets that have broken loose and now float freely, entangling wildlife.

There are so many things going on right now that sometimes it’s hard to remember that crises like global warming and plastic pollution are no less urgent just because illness and job losses are center stage.

Fortunately, all this time we’ve been counting Covid-19 deaths, a few people have been working on the problems that will still be around when the pandemic has ended.

On June 19, Doug Struck reported at the Christian Science Monitor about one woman working to clean up the ocean.

“Nothing pleases Mary Crowley more than to see a huge, dripping, bedraggled fishing net, ensnarled with plastic garbage, being lifted from the sea. That is progress, she says.

“Ms. Crowley, a sailor since childhood days spent in her grandfather’s wooden sailboat on Lake Michigan, has been working for more than a decade to clean up the world’s oceans. She started by urging fishermen to pick up floating plastic. Now her million-dollar effort employs drones, satellites, floating GPS buoys, sophisticated oceanographic models, a corps of yachtsmen, and an oceangoing cargo ship.

“The Kwai, a 140-foot, two-masted cargo sailing vessel that normally shuttles supplies among Pacific islands, has been plucking nets and trash from the Pacific for the past six weeks. It is expected to return to Hawaii around June 23 with 100 tons of debris, the first of what Ms. Crowley hopes will be two such voyages this summer; she is hoping to dispatch the ship for a second voyage in July.

Much of that trash will be ‘ghost nets,’ fishing nets abandoned or lost that float freely, ensnarling fish, marine life, trash, and passing vessels.

“The Kwai’s crew of 11, sailors accustomed to unloading anything from cars to concrete on isolated islands, uses winches and sweat to hoist the heavy nets from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where swirling currents gather floating debris.

“The term is misleading; the area is huge and the debris is spread out. But the Kwai is led to wayward nets in part by GPS buoys that yachtsmen and other sailors, volunteers for Ms. Crowley, have stopped mid-ocean to attach to trash.

“ ‘This work feels great,’ Capt. Brad Ives replies mid-voyage from the Kwai by email. ‘When the weather is good and the nets are flowing, there is no better work for a fine old sailing ship. Crew spirits are high and we are cleaning our Mother Ocean.’ …

“Ms. Crowley began her project as a labor of love for the sea. She runs a yacht chartering business from Sausalito, California. But her clients consistently confirmed her own observations that the ocean seems increasingly cluttered with plastic debris. …

“Every year, an estimated 8 million tons of plastic is washed from the lands and is threatening to choke the seas. The United Nations has warned that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the sea. Marine mammals are routinely found dead, their bodies clogged with plastics. Microplastics – the result of deteriorating larger pieces or small manufactured beads – are now thoroughly infused in the marine food chain. …

“There are many creative ideas to clean the ocean, and Ms. Crowley supports them all. She formed Ocean Voyages Institute in 1979 to educate audiences about the sea. Over time she gathered a ‘think tank’ of sailors, naval architects, marine engineers, and fishermen. ‘We decided that one of the most harmful things going on in the ocean is the huge proliferation of large plastics,’ she says. ‘This includes derelict fishing gear, and boats and piers and car fenders.’ …

“ ‘There is debris practically every day inside the gyre,’ Captain Ives writes from the ship. … ‘The most difficult are always the big nets. … These require divers in the water to get cargo slings around them and often several lifts to get them wrestled aboard. A large net can take several hours to wrestle aboard.’ …

“Ms. Crowley has recruited a cadre of volunteers with a gentle inexhaustibility.

“ ‘As someone who loves the ocean and has had the pleasure and honor of spending lots of time in the ocean,’ she says, ‘it’s my responsibility to not have the health of our ocean held hostage by plastic garbage.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

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Photo: CNN
A winter storm coated buildings along the shores of Lake Erie with ice as thick as three feet back in February. Something to ponder if you’re in the middle of a heat wave now.

Blogger Deb at A Bear’s Thimble once suggested saving a winter photo for blogging on a hot day in summer, which was exactly what I did that year. So now, during our current heat wave, I’m pulling up an extreme cold-weather story saved from early March. Enjoy. Keep cool.

Alicia Lee and Hollie Silverman wrote at CNN about homes along Lake Erie that were “covered in ice following two days of gale-force winds. …

“Instead of a winter wonderland, residents living along the shore of Lake Erie in New York woke up this weekend to a winter nightmare when they found their homes completely encased in thick ice.

“Ed Mis has lived in his home in Hamburg, New York, for the past eight years, and while the neighborhood has seen ice coatings before, he said this is the first time it’s been this bad.

‘It looks fake, it looks unreal,’ [the homeowner] told CNN. ‘It’s dark on the inside of my house. It can be a little eerie, a little frightening.’

“His home on South Shore Drive in the Hoover Beach neighborhood of Hamburg, about 9 miles south of Buffalo, is covered in several feet of ice and his backyard has about 12 feet of ice, Mis told CNN by phone. …

“The ice makes the houses appear as if they’re ice sculptures or something out of the movie Frozen. …

“To blame? No, not Elsa, but 48 straight hours of gale force winds. The winds created huge waves, driving lake water up on the shore, according to the Weather Channel.

” ‘When you are down in the low to mid-20s, all of that spray that comes up and hits the buildings is going to freeze and make it a giant icicle,’ winter weather expert Tom Niziol told the Weather Channel.

“The ice has started to melt a bit since Friday, Mis said, but he hopes the governor will approve an emergency declaration to help the neighborhood recover.

‘It’s a beautiful sight, but I don’t want to live through it again,’ Mis said.

More.

It sounds like one of those “what-am-I-seeing?” phenomena. Do you know of others? Have you ever been to a place where it took your eyes a while to understand what you were looking at?

Photo: CC/Wikimedia Commons
Town of Hamburg in Erie County, New York. (If you went to public school for 7th grade in New York State, I bet you can draw that New York map with your eyes closed.)

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Photo: Tanecni Aktuality
Dance master Curtis Foley left Canada for a gig in the Czech Republic. Then Covid-19 struck.

Lockdown in the pandemic has kept a lot of people from going home, sometimes stranding them in surprising places. Today’s story is about camping out for four months in the Czech Republic’s ornate national theater.

Jennifer Stahl writes at Dance Magazine, “When Canadian ballet master Curtis Foley arrived in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in early March, he planned to spend five weeks with the National Moravian-Silesian Ballet, serving as a part-time ballet master. The former Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Les Ballet Grandiva dancer had spent the previous four years as a ballet master at the Polish National Ballet, and had recently gone mostly freelance.

“But five days after he landed in the Czech Republic, COVID-19 sent that country into a state of emergency, with one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. Most of the foreign artists working with the company swiftly left before the borders closed. But Foley felt a sense of duty to stay. ‘I was supposed to be here to help these dancers for five weeks, and if I were to leave, coming back could be difficult since I don’t have Czech residency and I’m not an EU national,’ he says. So he remained, hunkering down alone inside an apartment on the third floor of the theater.

“With travel remaining complicated, his original five-week stay has ended up lasting for four months.

‘The joke I started with my friends is that I’m the phantom of the opera,’ says Foley. ‘There’s no one else here but me in this massive labyrinth.’

“Although a skeleton crew of administrative and janitorial staff have come in to work during the weekdays, Foley says that starting at 4 pm every Friday, he knows he’ll be on his own until Monday morning.

” ‘It was a novelty at first,’ he says. … ‘Now it just feels like home.’

“Being the only person in the building most of the time has raised logistical questions. ‘During the first few weeks, the company and I were having discussions like, Is it okay to turn off the heat to save money?’ (He said it was.)

“But there’s been more to do than wander the hallways. The dancers took just one week off after the lockdown, then Foley started teaching company class on Zoom. Soon, as the Czech Republic got the virus under control, five people at a time were allowed in the studio (including Foley and an accompanist). Throughout all of June, he’s been able to teach the entire company at once in person again. …

“It’s now been 16 weeks, and with the European Union opening its internal borders, Foley is finally returning to Warsaw, where his boyfriend lives. He admits that he’s a bit anxious to leave.

” ‘This has become my new normal,’ he says. ‘Being there for the dancers has given me the motivation to get through the pandemic, to get out of bed every day and think this isn’t weird.’

“He’s grateful for the intimate relationship he’s built with the dancers while going through this crisis. ‘It typically takes years to create this kind of relationship, but we got to do it really fast,’ he says. Soon enough, he’ll be back — though hopefully not haunting the theater at night all on his own again.” More here.

Did you ever stay overnight in an unlikely place? I did once. I was working for a newspaper chain and there was a blizzard that everyone knew was going to be bad. The other staff left early, but I had decided to bring my sleeping bag and stay over as I had to work in the morning and really dreaded the drive home and back again. It was a little weird, with machines making noises all night, but it was way better than driving.

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Hello, summer clouds — so beautiful! I was discussing them with my friend Nancy yesterday, and she told me she had signed up some years ago with the UK-based Cloud Appreciation Society, which sends her a daily cloud picture and a few words on cloud science or cloud mythology. Consider joining if you need a daily pick-me-up in quarantine.

The next two pictures reference my growing appreciation of fungus. Then comes a bright red intruder in the forest, reminding me of the lamppost that Lucy found in the wintry Narnia woodland after emerging from the wardrobe.

The doorknob in the tree made Suzanne think of a handy panic button (I think she is tired of lockdown), but I’m pretty sure it leads into a home. Probably not a hobbit home, since they prefer burrows underground. Maybe it belongs to Owl.

I love the little red squirrels that have started to appear in our region. John thinks global warming may be bringing them up from the south. Clue me in if you know.

The decidedly unscenic bug repellent had been abandoned along the bike trail. I didn’t touch it as I am a Covid germaphobe, but I got a laugh: I’d been slapping mosquitoes for the whole walk.

In the town of Lincoln, yarn stretched between trees caught my eye. A bit further along the conservation trail, there was a helpful explanation.

The tippy old wooden building is next to Orchard House, a childhood home of author Louisa May Alcott. The building was named the School of Philosophy by Louisa’s hippy father Bronson and continues to offer presentations and lectures in normal times. (I put up my photo of Louisa in her coronavirus face mask for yesterday’s post.)

Speaking of adapting to the times, you will note that the Colonial Inn (founded in 1716) has marked off six-foot segments on its brick walk for safe distancing.

The Art Deco frieze on the old Emerson school building welcomes visitors to what is now the Umbrella Center for the Arts.

I don’t think I need to explain the last three. Sometimes readers give me their reactions to one or two pics. I do get a kick out of that — should you feel moved to comment.

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Photo: Rik Pierce/Concord Players
The 2002 cast of Little Women at the Concord Players. Katie Lynch, standing, played Jo (the author’s alter ego). Jan Turnquist, front left, is in real life the director of Louisa May Alcott’s home, Orchard House, in Concord, Massachusetts.

In the town where I have lived nearly four decades, we get a lot of tourists. One of the main attractions is the home of the Little Women author, Louisa May Alcott. Her book remains popular worldwide. Many movie adaptations have been made. I have friends from Japan who were beyond thrilled to see Alcott’s home because of a popular Japanese television series. And at the theater that Alcott helped to set up, Little Women productions have been staged every ten years for generations. I even helped to cast one production.

Needless to say, I couldn’t resist Hillel Italie’s recent story for the Associated Press about an unfinished bit of Alcott juvenalia.

The current issue of Strand Magazine will give readers the chance to discover an obscure and unfinished Louisa May Alcott work of fiction, and to provide a conclusion themselves.

“Alcott’s ‘Aunt Nellie’s Diary’ has rarely been seen since she drafted what may have been a novel or novella, and set it aside, as a teenager in the late 1840s. The 9,000 word fragment is narrated by the 40-year-old title character, and follows her observations as a romantic triangle appears to unfold among her orphaned, fair-haired niece Annie Ellerton, Annie’s dark-haired friend Isabel Loving and the visiting Edward Clifford, ‘a tall, noble-looking’ young man with a complicated past.

Strand managing editor Andrew Gulli found a reference to the manuscript during an online search of Alcott’s archives, stored at Harvard University’s Houghton Library. ‘Aunt Nellie’s Diary’ appears in the Strand’s spring issue, delayed until now because of the coronavirus. …

“ ‘What struck me was the maturity of the work,’ says Gulli … ‘Here was Alcott, who was on the cusp of adulthood, creating a complex work, where her main character is a single woman in her 40s, who defies many of the stereotypes of how women were portrayed in mid-19th century America.

“Because ‘Aunt Nellie’s Diary’ ends with various storylines unresolved, Gulli is inviting readers to complete the narrative. ‘…

“Alcott scholar Daniel Shealy says that ‘Aunt Nellie’s Diary’ reflects what the author called her sentimental phase, her early immersion in such British authors as Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott.

“ ‘You can see her picking up on some of the romanticized, even sensationalized material from those books. It’s a tough time for her, because the family was short of money, but it’s also a creative time. She’s beginning to develop and mature as a writer,’ says Shealy, a professor of English at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

“ ‘If I had to compare this to Little Women, I’d say that you can see her ability to create characters that you can take an interest in. And you see her ability to have several strands of the story going off in different directions, and you’re wondering how she going to tie this all together. Clearly, this story is building to a big reveal, and we’re going to learn new things about the characters’ pasts.’ ”

That is, we are going to learn things from Strand readers who send in the best endings. Maybe you.

More at Yahoo, here.

How Louisa has been adapting.

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