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081718-turn-face-to-the-sun

Turn your face to the sun.

These beauties in the Concord community garden have been rejoicing in our hot humid, summer. Good to remember.

Here is a collection of my latest photos. Most of them are self-explanatory. The first three are from my latest trip to New York to be with my sister as she started treatment for brain cancer. They include the George Washington Bridge (makes me break into that silly song, which just repeats the name of the bridge over and over), the mural on the school near my sister and brother-in-law’s apartment, and a typical rooftop water tower in early morning light.

Next, I wanted to be sure to show you what the lotus whose progress I documented in a recent post looks like after the petals fall off. It looks like a shower head. I think I’ve seen these giant pods in exotic flower arrangements. Have you?

The next five are from Rhode Island. The little girl on the boat seemed curious about everything she saw. I think she may have been Amish.

The last four pictures are from Concord, Massachusetts. The corn in the garden of the Old Manse is now “as high as an elephant’s eye.” And I love seeing artists painting the town.

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Photo: Jean Couch
A man in Rajasthan, India, sits at his loom, weaving for hours each day with exemplary posture. He untucks his pelvis and elongates his spine. Check out the gif showing how people elsewhere sit differently from Americans.

I have had back pain off and on for decades. I do physical therapy exercises every day to keep it in check, and in recent years I have focused on not sitting too much. Sitting is bad, doctors say. “Get up and walk around at least every 20 minutes.”

But come to find out, it isn’t sitting that is bad, it’s the way Americans sit. Other countries have very little back pain.

Michaeleen Doucleff writes at National Public Radio, “My back hurts when I sit down. It’s been going on for 10 years. It really doesn’t matter where I am — at work, at a restaurant, even on our couch at home. My lower back screams, ‘Stop sitting!’

“To try to reduce the pain, I bought a kneeling chair at work. Then I got a standing desk. Then I went back to a regular chair because standing became painful. I’ve seen physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons and pain specialists. I’ve mastered Pilates, increased flexibility and strengthened muscles. …

“Then back in November, I walked into the studio of Jenn Sherer in Palo Alto, Calif. She is part of a growing movement on the West Coast to teach people to move and sit and stand as they did in the past — and as they still do in other parts of the world. For the past 8 years, Sherer has been helping people reduce their back pain.

“I was interviewing Sherer for a story about bending. But she could tell I was in pain. So I told her my story.

“Her response left me speechless: ‘Sitting is a place where you can find heaven in your joints and in your back,’ she says. ‘It’s not sitting that’s causing the pain, it’s how you’re sitting. …

“Anthropologist David Raichlen at the University of Arizona says [of the Hazda in Tanzania], ‘They do a lot of upper body work, [and] they spend quite a bit of time walking — at a pretty high rate of speed.’ ,,,

“But do the Hadza actually sit less than we do? A few years ago, Raichlen and colleagues decided to find out. They strapped heart-rate monitors onto nearly 50 Hadza adults for eight weeks and measured how often each day, they were just, well … sitting around. The results shocked Raichlen. ‘ The Hadza are in resting postures about as much as we Americans are,’ he says. …

“But here’s the thing: The Hadza don’t seem to have the back issues that we Americans have, even as they age. …

“Over the past century or so, many Americans have lost the art of sitting, [Orthopedic surgeon Nomi Khan] says. Most people in the U.S. — even children — are sitting in one particular way that’s stressing their backs. You might not realize you’re doing it. But it’s super easy to see in other people.

“Here’s how: Take a look at people who are sitting down – not face-on but rather from the side, in profile, so you can see the shape of their spine. There’s a high probability their back is curving like the letter C — or some version of C. …

“Sitting in a C-shape, over time, can cause disk degeneration. Or one side of a disk can start to bulge. …

“At Sherer’s studio, she pulls a up a photo of gray-haired man sitting at a loom. He must be at least in his 60s.

” ‘This is taken in Rajasthan, India,’ Sherer says. ‘The man sits at the loom weaving, for hours and hours every day, just like we do at a computer,’ she says. ‘And yet his spine is still elongated.’

“Elongated is an understatement. This man’s spine is straight as an exclamation point. His shoulders are rolled back. His muscles looked relaxed and flexible. …

“One of the problems, Sherer says, is our culture focuses on trying to fix the upper body. ‘Sit up straight,’ parents and teachers say, and most of us immediately stick our chests out. …

“Instead of focusing on the chest or shoulders, Sherer says, we need to turn our attention to a body part that is lower down, below the waist: the pelvis. ‘It’s like a stack of toy blocks. If the blocks at the bottom aren’t sturdy, then the top has no chance.’ …

“To figure out how to shift your pelvis into a healthier position, Sherer says to imagine for a minute you have a tail. If we were designed like dogs, the tail would be right at the base of your spine. … In other words, we need to untuck our tails. To do that, Sherer says, you need to bend over properly when you go to sit down. …

“If you bend at the waist, which many Americans do, then you will likely sit with a C or cashew shape. If you bend at the hips … you’re more likely to sit correctly with your tail untucked. …

‘” ‘Stand up and spread your heels about 12 inches apart,’ she says. Now, put your hand on your pubic bone — like a fig leaf covering up Adam in the Bible, she explains.

” ‘When you bend over, you want to let this fig leaf — your pubic bone — move through your legs,’ she says. ‘This creates a crease between your pelvis and legs.’

“This action also pretty much pokes your butt out, behind your spine. “Now go ahead, sit down,” Sherer says. …

“The next step is to relax the muscles in your back and chest. ‘Stop sticking out your chest,’ Sherer says. Then the rest of the spinal vertebrae can stack up in one straight line, like an I instead of a C.” More at NPR, here.

I’m really going to work on this.

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Photo: Marc Royce/Los Angeles Times
Conductor Eric Whitacre (above), the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and a 2,200-person audience at Walt Disney Concert Hall participated in “the largest free group singing event in California history” on July 21.

Kudos to creative thinkers who keep coming up with new ideas to engage people in the arts! In July, the conductor of the Los Angeles Master Chorale led an exceptionally large audience of interested Californians in a free singing event that must have warmed the cockles of a lot of hearts. This went well beyond the annual singing of the “Hallelujah Chorus,” which many other choral groups invite the public to join.

Jessica Gelt of the Los Angeles Times reports, “Eric Whitacre, the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s Swan family artist-in-residence, says he’s like that old cola commercial — he wants to teach the world to sing. The whole world. And he’s not joking. But he’ll start with a statewide singing event, ‘Big Sing California.’ …

“The massive project, years in the making, [featured] the 100-voice Master Chorale onstage singing along with 2,200 audience members to a program of songs selected and conducted by Whitacre and Master Chorale Artistic Director Grant Gershon, along with guest conductors Moira Smiley and Rollo Dilworth.

“Those proceedings [were] simulcast to five venues all over the state packed with additional audience members [also] singing along. Each venue [rehearsed] with its audience for a few hours before the event. …

“ ‘If you’ve never experienced a couple thousand people singing together, it just brings chills. … It’s the best of human experience … the best of who we are distilled together.’

“Whitacre began singing when he was 18, and it changed his life. He has been singing and composing since then, traveling the world in the process, establishing a massive social media following and creating a series of online ‘virtual choirs,’ which are edited together after participants upload videos of themselves all singing the same song. …

“Gershon adds that Whitacre has ‘single-handedly gotten more people excited about singing together than anyone else on the planet. He confirms that the choral experience is transcendent and transformative.’ ”

More at the Los Angeles Times, here. The list of songs are here.

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Photo: Canwood Gallery
An art lover in Herefordshire, England, has turned a cow shed and an old tractor barn into an elegant gallery and event locale.

I love reading about something old getting a new lease on life and serving a completely different purpose. On this farm, workaday buildings were creatively adapted for an art gallery.

Vanessa Thrope writes at the Guardian, “A cow shed and an old tractor barn in rural Herefordshire are not where most people would go in search of the avant garde or the latest in abstract painting. But retired farmer Stephen Dale is challenging the assumption that modern art is best appreciated by city dwellers.

“A run of exhibitions staged by the 74-year-old at the free public art gallery he set up two years ago in Checkley, near Hereford, have now drawn big names from the art world and proved the scale of an appetite for the unexpected in the countryside.

“Canwood Gallery and Sculpture Park, built by Dale on arable land he once farmed, is opening a show of previously unseen paintings by the veteran Royal Academician Anthony Whishaw. The exhibition, Experiences of Nature, also features the work of Whishaw’s late wife, the artist Jean Gibson, as well as a sculpture by her famous former pupil, Nicole Farhi.

“Dale’s unusual, charitable plan to create a gallery in an area of outstanding natural beauty was financed by the sale of much of his land. The farmer’s strong feeling for unconventional art emerged more than 40 years ago, while he was undergoing a difficult and long round of experimental treatments for leukaemia in the 1970s.

“Travelling down to London to take part in a series of drug trials at St Bartholomew’s hospital, Dale entertained himself in his free time with visits to art galleries. An early trip to see Carl Andre’s notorious arrangement of bricks, Equivalent VIII, at the Tate changed his life. A passion for modern art was born. ‘It may sound strange, but the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I guess I fell in love with the bricks,’ Dale said. …

“In Canwood’s first major exhibition last summer, Bricks in the Sticks – A Farmer’s Inspiration, Dale featured a piece made by Carl Andre himself. The American artist’s Isoclast 07 graphite bricks installation, bought by Dale at auction, stood alongside the work of other international artists. A show of Matisse prints followed, and visitors rolled in.

“ ‘Running a farm and running a gallery turn out to be equally stressful,’ said Dale. ‘I did not expect the numbers of people we have coming, nor the standard of artists.’

“While Dale aims at the sort of regional significance enjoyed by the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield, he also likes the idea of the example set by former farmer and Glastonbury Festival host Michael Eavis at Worthy Farm in Somerset: ‘A festival like that for visual arts would be something.’ ” Dale gives profits from the gallery to the hospital that saved him.

Read more about the artists here.

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I once read a mystery called Tip on a Dead Crab about a gambler. The title refers to the gambler’s decision to place a bet on a crab race after someone gave him a tip that one of the crabs was dead.

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a crab race, and an annual one has been organized for children in New Shoreham. It is the cutest thing ever.

Here you see people catching the crabs from a dock, a little boy wearing his yellow crab-race hat, crabs marked with different colors (pick your own to cheer, win an ice cream), the wooden. blue race track, and the crabs scattering as fast as they can.

I always wondered whether crabs were somehow supposed to race in a straight line like a horse — crabs being what they are. But no. Here’s how it works. The master of ceremonies dumps a bucket full of crabs on a racing board, and when the starting signal is given, he sweeps the bucket off the crabs, and away they go.

The winning crab in Sunday’s race made a beeline sideways and fell off the edge as everyone urged their own crab to go, go go.

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Photo: J. Urban/Smithsonian
Arev Armenian Dance Ensemble

Because I live in the Greater Boston area, where there is a large Armenian population, I was interested to read how how Armenian dance is helping to preserve the culture in the diaspora.

Roger Catlin writes at Smithsonian that Armenian dance has adapted in intriguing ways over time and place.

“Can dancing preserve culture?” he asks. “Those who circle up, link pinkies and swirl to the traditional village dances of Armenia believe they can.

“And as part of the 52nd annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival this summer, scores of dancers from Armenia and across North America will perform, present master classes and share technique. [Note: This took pace in July.] …

“One of the oldest centers of civilization, Armenia once stretched from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea and between the Mediterranean Sea and Lake Urmia in present-day Iran. Its key location in the South Caucaus region of Eurasia made it a central place for commerce with other cultures, but also a site for constant invasion from neighboring empires, the Ottomans to the west and Iran to the south and Russia to the east.

“Already the dance traditions of individual villages, separated by mountainous topography had been unique to each town. But with the Armenian diaspora, the dancing, which continued as a way to keep connected to the old country, became even more individualistic, [says Carolyn Rapkievian, who is serving as an Armenian dance advisor for this year’s Folklife Festival], noting that the dances were further influenced by the host countries. …

“Gary and Susan Lind-Sinanian, dance historians at the Armenian Museum of America in Watertown, Massachusetts, say traditional western Armenian music and dance remained an important cultural touchstone for the immigrating community.

“ ‘As the Armenian language fell into disuse among many American-born Armenians, the music and dance gained even more importance, as one of the remaining avenues of cultural identity maintenance,’ they have written. ‘Today, this music and dance have developed into a characteristic form unique to the United States, and one of the principal means that today’s Armenian-American youth assert their Armenian identity.’

“ ‘The two means of expression, outside of being a member of the church, to mark you as an Armenian are dance and food,’ Gary Lind-Sinanian says. ‘Those are the two every Armenian family practices to some degree.’ Still, every village seemed to have its own style, he said. ‘When people make their pilgrimages to some monastery for a festival, they could see, when various groups danced to a melody, by the way they danced, you could tell where they came from.’

More at the Smithsonian, here. If you are ever in Watertown, try to get some Armenian food. It’s delicious — a little bit like Middle Eastern cuisines you already know, a little bit not. And you can get an interesting angle on the Ottoman Empire’s relationship with the Armenians from this wonderful book, Destiny Disrupted, by Tamin Ansary.

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Photo: Martin Lemke
The city of Bassania in Albania is no longer a legend.

There is always more to be discovered. Maybe just under our feet.

That is what some archaeologists found not long ago in Albania.

As Christina Ayele Djossa writes at Atlas Obscura, “Sometimes, rocks are more than crumbled pieces of the earth. Sometimes, they unveil clues about our planet’s ancient past or future. For archaeologists from the Antiquity of Southeastern Europe Research Centre at the University of Warsaw, the rocks in Shkodër, Albania, turned out to be the ruins of the 2,000-year-old lost city of Bassania.

“Back then, Bassania was an economic and military stronghold, part of the Illyrian kingdom, which existed from 400 to 100 B.C. The ancient city contained numerous settlements and fortresses, one of which the archaeologists unearthed.

“What they found were ancient stones of a fortress guarded with large bastions and roughly 10-foot-wide stonewalls and gates. These defensive buildings, according to University of Warsaw professor Piotr Dyczek, are common in Hellenistic architecture. The team confirmed the age of the ruins by analyzing nearby coins and ceramic vessel fragments, which dated back to the time of the Illyrian kingdom. …

“But this city, and the Illyrian kingdom, ultimately fell to a Roman invasion in the beginning of the first century. This may be why it took so long for archaeologists to find Bassania. … The Polish and Albanian archaeologists also speculate that the location’s geological infrastructure has something to do with it. The ruins are found on a ‘hill locally called “lips of viper” in [the village of] Bushat, a few miles from Shkodër,’ wrote Dyczek. After years of erosion, the stone remnants look like a part of the sandstones and conglomerates that make up the hill. So to a passerby, it might look like a bunch of stones, not a structure made by humans.”

Now I want to know why any hill would be called “lips of viper.” Always more discoveries to be made.

More at Atlas Obscura, here.

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