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Photo: TripAdvisor
Debra’s Natural Gourmet helps customers cut back on plastic like liquid-soap bottles. They don’t have an answer yet to takeout containers, though.

Every day I’m trying to think of ways to cut back on plastic like the good people at Plastic Free Hackney in England. How am I doing so far? Not great. Plastic is so ubiquitous. But “one and two and 50 make a million,” and there is help from like-minded businesses.

I found a dish-soap concentrate that lets me reuse bottles (etee dish soap), and now a local organic store is letting folks reuse bottles from home over and over by filling up from the store’s large dispensers.

According to Emily Holden at the Guardian, we need to cut back because recycling of plastics is not really working. No one wants them. Holden offers tips on reducing our plastics dependency.

“As plastics corporations ramp up production,” she writes, “they are also promoting a failing recycling system.

Just 9% of plastics get recycled. Traditional plastics are made from extracted oil and gas, and they contribute to the rising temperatures behind the climate crisis.

“Environment experts are increasingly calling for a reduction in plastic use, as the waste accumulates in the oceans, poor countries and even human bodies. Plastics are also burned, as China – which once accepted the bulk of America’s waste – has begun to refuse it. And more than a million Americans lived next to polluting incinerators.

“Significant reductions will require systemic change, researchers say. But there are also some easy tips for individuals who want to cut back on plastics. (If this list is overwhelming and you’re not sure where to start, collect your plastic waste for a month and conduct an audit. Cut back on what you find the most of.)

“1. Carry a reusable bottle, fork/spoon and bag …

“2. Refuse the lid on your coffee cup. … (Some coffee shops will say they are required to give you a lid, citing possible liability for burns.)

“3. Choose products in glass or cans if they are an option. Recycle those materials. … Glass and aluminum cans are much more likely to be recycled. Glass is most efficient when reused (ie. with returnable milk bottles).

“4. When possible, eat in the restaurant instead of taking it to go. Unless you have a physical disability, let your server know in advance that you won’t need a straw.

“5. If you order takeout or delivery, tell the restaurant you don’t want plastic utensils or straws. …

“6. Opt for products with less packaging. Say no to bagged lemons, apples, onions and garlic, and tea that comes in plastic packets. Choose more fresh produce for snacks to avoid individual plastic wrappers.

“7. Shop from the bulk section and use your own containers. …

“8. Use bars of soap (also available for shampoo and shaving) instead of bottles. … For an extra environmental benefit, avoid palm oil.

“9. Use a razor that requires replacing only the individual blades. … You will save money over time. Note that TSA does not allow passengers to fly with individual blades.

“10. Use a bamboo toothbrush or one with a replaceable head.

“11. Buy concentrated cleaners that can be mixed with water in a reusable container. …

“12. Choose frozen, concentrated juice that comes in cardboard tubes instead of the plastic jugs. …

“13. Don’t buy bottled water. …

“14. Buy fewer clothes, or shop secondhand. Wash your clothes less so they last longer. Hang them to dry. …

“15. When shopping online, group as many items together as possible, so you can receive fewer plastic envelopes.”

More here.

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Photo: Ryan Jenq for the New York Times
Robby Kraft created two origami, left,
“using his own custom code for developing new crease patterns.” He also folded “Hyperbolic Cube,” right, which was designed by Thomas Hull of Western New England University.

Origami is an ancient paper-folding technique that is turning out to have some very modern applications.

Kathleen Massara at the New York Times interviewed a few folks who know a lot about it.

” ‘I would say the biggest rule is no cutting,’ said Wendy Zeichner, the president and chief executive of OrigamiUSA. It’s ‘one piece of paper and no glue.’

“OrigamiUSA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about the art form. The group traces its roots to the 1950s, when Lillian Oppenheimer, one of its eventual founders, began to communicate with paper folders around the world, including Akira Yoshizawa in Japan, who is often credited as the father of modern origami — they would send each other diagrams explaining how to fold different shapes from a single square sheet of paper. …

” ‘Origami is really almost as old as paper,’ Ms. Zeichner explained — it means ‘to fold paper’ in Japanese — and paper in sheet form is thought to have been invented in China around 105 A.D. To start making shapes like cranes and frogs, it boils down to two basic techniques: mountain folds and valley folds, which are different ways to make the edges meet. After that, you can get creative….

A few years ago, NASA engineers were able to create foldable telescopes and a flower-shaped shade to block out light from distant stars by using paper-folding techniques.

” ‘If you want to send something in a rocket, it has to be packed small,’ Ms. Zeichner said. ‘The same algorithms you would use in origami would be used in this.’ The same goes for folding an airbag into a car, or creating pop-up homeless shelters.

“Precision is key, whether someone is folding a humble crane or a complex modular structure with interlocking parts. So is enthusiasm. ‘The majority of people are either enthusiasts on the simple end or on the complex end,’ said Jason Ku, a lecturer at M.I.T. and a faculty adviser to the origami club there. …

“The goal is to arrive at the most efficient and elegant means of achieving a particular effect. ‘I want the result to be complex, but I want to simplify the process it takes to get there,’ Dr. Ku said. …

“As in math, it’s important to show your work. … ‘Showing your technique is one of the biggest aspects of origami,’ said Taro Yaguchi, the founder of Taro’s Origami Studio in Brooklyn.

“Before the 1950s, certain origami objects were more difficult to create, partly because diagrams weren’t standardized. Some guide books simply presented the results, without the necessary steps to get there. Yoshizawa, in Japan, and Samuel Randlett, in the United States, helped develop a set of international diagram conventions that is now referred to as the Yoshizawa-Randlett system.

“ ‘Before it got codified, it could be very confusing,’ said Jeannine Mosely, a software engineer in Cambridge, Mass. Ms. Mosely is known for large-scale projects such as an origami Menger sponge, a series of cubes adding up to a giant cube, made out of business cards. At the time, the fact that she didn’t use square paper caused ripples throughout the origami community. ‘There were people who didn’t want anything to do with my work because I started with rectangles,’ she said. …

“Diagrams and algorithms won’t be much help if you’re not using the right materials. ‘It’s a mistake a lot of beginner’s make: they go online and find the most beautiful kind of paper,’ said Jewel Kawataki, a New York-based jewelry maker who creates different designs with chiyogami, a sleek fabric-like paper. “You can see their frustration in YouTube tutorials. They’ve used the wrong paper.’ …

“Toshiko Kobayashi, an art therapist in Manhattan who grew up folding as a child in Tokyo after World War II, believes in the art’s ability to heal. ‘Just after the war, there was nothing. Paper was one of the readily available toys for me,’ she said. In New York, she has been busy introducing the art to different communities through the Origami Therapy Association in Manhattan, which she founded in 2002. …

“For many, the practice is embraced for its calming aspects. ‘It’s lessened my anxiety a lot,’ Ms. Kawataki said.

“Regardless of techniques, the community, whether in person or online, keeps people excited about the art form. ‘Origamists from around the world will meet and fold together,’ Ms. Mosely said. ‘They might not be able to talk to each other, but they can fold.’ ”

For some breathtaking photos, check out the New York Times article, here.  And be sure to watch the origami documentary Between the Folds by Vanessa Gould.

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Photo: Bryan Anselm for the New York Times
Co-managers Maureen Disimile and John D. Ynsua at the employee-owned Montclair Book Center in New Jersey innovate to keep the magic going.

Who doesn’t find a bookstore magical — especially an independent bookstore? It takes a certain amount of flexibility and creativity to keep one going and not get plowed under by a certain online billionaire. If we all look for books first at our local indy, we can help keep the magic alive.

In New Jersey, Montclair Book Center has found that employee ownership, ability to improvise, and independent-minded customers are critical.

Dana Jennings writes at the New York Times, “Montclair Book Center is 35 years old, going on eternity. A ramshackle throwback to a funkier, more literary time, the store has shelves handmade from raw lumber. And its customers and clerks are often just as eccentric as the shelves.

“I’ve been shopping and snooping there since 1995 and still haven’t exhausted all of this biblioscape’s labyrinths and warrens — some of which, I suspect, lead to C.S. Lewis’s Narnia or Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. …

“I’ve stumbled across Italo Calvino limited editions, a hardcover of William Burroughs’s ‘Naked Lunch,’ and a stash of musty, black-and-white comics magazines from the 1960s and ’70s that included ‘Eerie, Creepy and Savage Tales.’ …

“The place is suffused with the sweet reek of ink, decaying pulp and vintage book dust — seductive scents that are like pheromones to book lovers.

“ ‘Unless you work at a bakery, you don’t get many customers talking about how good your store smells,’ said Pete Ryby, who has worked there since it opened in 1984 and is now the store’s primary owner. (Other employees own smaller stakes.)

“The pre-World War I building itself is so cockeyed that it looks set to pratfall down the street, as in some silent Buster Keaton two-reeler. … Still, the store is orderly if not antiseptic. Signs are hand-lettered; there are plenty of chairs for contemplation and ladders for climbing; and, whether by accident or puckish design, the crime section stops short at a fittingly dead end. …

“When I tell people about Montclair Book Center, I almost always mention Ynsua, a friendly 56-year-old filigreed with tattoos and earrings who started there in 1999 and who embodies its eclectic vibe. He owns five kilts and hundreds of vintage T-shirts — Count Chocula, the Emma Peel and John Steed ‘Avengers’ — and his passions as a bibliophile include comics, science fiction and pre-Renaissance European history. He’s also the store’s resident carpenter and a talented cartoonist who once studied at Joe Kubert’s cartooning school in Dover, N.J.

‘I’ve tried not to work for corporations,’ Ynsua said. ‘I like bosses who own their businesses. I like jobs where I can improvise.’

“There’s plenty of that at the Book Center. Indeed, improvisation has helped the store stay in business. Since it started selling used vinyl in 2014, for example, the records ‘have brought in a lot of new customers and increased foot traffic,’ said the co-owner Maureen Disimile, who manages the music side of the business. …

“A quick look at the records revealed a healthy infestation of Beatles; ‘Together,’ by Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells; the musical ‘Hair,’ in the ‘version originale française”’; and even the 1960s British blues rockers Blodwyn Pig. There was also a strong dose of 45s.

“Still, the store comes down to what employees call ‘book people.’ ‘I like being around literature, art and music, and the people who like that stuff,’ said Ynsua, who doesn’t own a computer or subscribe to cable TV. ‘My brain isn’t calcifying here.’

“Lucas McGuffie, a clerk since 2014, added:

‘The attraction is the books, and the book people. They aren’t stupid. They’re more open-minded. They’re smart enough to know that they don’t know all there is to know.’ “

More at the New York Times, here. By the way, if you love vintage vinyl records like the ones at the Montclair Book Center, check out a great R&B collection on my nephew’s site, here. For listening only.

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Photo: Taiwan News
There’s an edgy vibe among artists in and around Moscow. The Associated Press
describes one painter:  “Hailing from southern Russia, self-taught painter Pasmur Rachuiko [right] offers an extreme outsider’s view of Moscow reality.”

Speaking of authoritarian governments that label art and architecture they don’t understand “degenerate,” we turn now to a free-spirited movement that is rising up in Moscow, mostly in the suburbs.

Kate de Pury of the Associated Press says that one self-taught artist’s “paintings sparked disapproval from Moscow’s culture department.” Sounds good to me.

“As sleet falls on a cold November day, communist-era apartment blocks dominating Moscow’s suburban skyline look bleak and forbidding,” writes de Pury. “But it’s precisely these sprawling city outskirts that are the focus of a major international art exhibition.

“ ‘Beyond the Center’ is staging art events across Moscow’s vast urban space [culminating] in March 2020. With the participation of the Museum of Vienna and the Austrian Cultural Forum, the exhibit uses contemporary art to explore the many hidden facets of life outside the Russian capital’s nucleus.

“Simon Mraz, Austria’s cultural attache to Russia and director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in Russia, says the ‘real’ Moscow, where most of the city’s 12.6 million people live, is outside the center.

“ ‘They all come to Moscow with some dreams, facing struggles, hoping for a better future. They won’t find it in Red Square and definitely not in the Kremlin,’ Mraz, curator of the exhibition, told The Associated Press. …

“Hailing from southern Russia, self-taught painter Pasmur Rachuiko offers an extreme outsider’s view of Moscow reality. Burka-clad figures, policemen and wolves pose in the suburbs, gangsters have angels’ wings and young women carrying AK-47 rifles stare out of his canvases. Rachuiko depicts himself as ‘everyman’ among this cast of new Russian archetypes. …

“The paintings sparked disapproval from Moscow’s culture department, but Rachuiko found support from the arts establishment, including theater director Kirill Serebrennikov, himself still under threat from the authorities after a long term of house arrest. …

“The urban renewal project aimed at impressing World Cup visitors to Moscow in 2018 didn’t reach Liublino, a working-class suburb. In this dilapidated industrial zone, the ‘Museum of Industrial Culture’ houses a private collection of discarded objects, amassed by former auto engineer Lev Zheleznyov. It’s a social history of more than 70 years of communism, told through ordinary things people recognize from a shared past.

“ ‘It’s a museum of memory. We are not so interested in how a lamp works, more that it was in someone’s home,’ Zheleznyov said. …

“In ‘Polly wants a cracker,’ Austrian artist Michele Pagel sees a darker side of Moscow – domestic abuse. Her visceral sculptures, on show in Mraz’s apartment, located opposite the Kremlin, seek to bring violence against women back from the peripheral vision of Russian society to its central focus.

“Attending the opening, lawyer Alyona Popova campaigns to reverse a 2017 law decriminalizing certain types of domestic abuse in Russia. According to the advocacy group ‘You Are Not Alone,’ an estimated 16 million Russian women suffer domestic violence each year.

“A residential complex called Novo-Molokovo, just outside Moscow and still under construction, houses the newest generation of Muscovites. A studio apartment here costs $95,500. Curator Elena Ishchenko set art installations inside [one].

“ ‘We got used to viewing the suburbs as strange, remote areas we don’t want to visit,’ she said. ‘But when you get out here, thanks to the artist, you see something you wouldn’t expect.’…

“[Sociologist Natalia Zubarevich] hopes a grassroots civil society will grow in Moscow’s residential districts, but it’s a social trend the Kremlin watches carefully and any political activism brings repression. ‘This city shows what Russia could be,’ she said. ‘It’s our hope of modernization.’ ”

More at AP via the Seattle Times, here.

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I wanted to do another photo post but didn’t have very many photos. That’s mainly because I have been doing my daily walk indoors when it’s not nice out. ‘Round and ’round indoors. Kind of dull.

So I went to a couple free art exhibits, and now I have more pictures.

In Providence, Racine Holly was showing some dramatic skies at a church. When I went in, I didn’t see anyone around. Very trusting. I could hear construction workers talking behind a screen at least. I’m sharing the two oils I liked best. They both had “sold” stickers. The second one was tiny.

Then I went to the Bell Gallery at Brown University, where there was a show of work by Brown art professor Wendy Edwards that had been recommended by critic Cate McQuaid at the Boston Globe. I find I like art that McQuaid likes.

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This artist had a lot of works related to reproduction. The giant peach looks great in the Globe article but up close was “too buch for be,” to quote the Elephant’s Child. Below are a few paintings I liked better.

While at the Bell Gallery, I also took a picture of a Brown University Design Workshop pedestal that I didn’t quite understand. It looks like a range of stamping techniques carved in different styles. But if you used one as a stamp, the words would be backwards. It’s probably just to show potential clients what can be done.

The final six photos reflect recent travels in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Note the path of rose petals a clever florist scattered to her door for Valentine’s Day shoppers to follow.

If anything needs more explanation, please let me know in Comments. (Did you get where I’m trying to imitate Magritte?)

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Photo: Yagazie Emezi for the New York Times
“The neighborhood of the Médina in Dakar has welcomed street artists from all over the world to practice their craft in what the founder of the project calls an open sky museum,” writes the
New York Times.

You can’t keep a good artist down. Art will out. It’s a reassuring thought. In the course of history, we’ve seen governments that think they know best, branding cutting-edge art and architecture as “degenerate.” Fortunately, such governments don’t last.

In Senegal, Anemona Hartocollis of the New York Times discovered a vibrant street art community that has grown up almost spontaneously.

She writes, “On one wall, the painting of a marabout, a Muslim holy man, peers out from behind a line hung with laundry. Nearby, a poster of an African woman in a bustle has been pasted to a house. …

“These are the painted houses of the Médina, a poor and working-class neighborhood near downtown Dakar. The neighborhood has welcomed street artists from all over the world to practice their craft in what the founder of the project calls the open sky museum. …

“Artists from not just Senegal but Burkina Faso, Algeria, Morocco, Congo, France and Italy have come to paint on these walls. They in turn have brought art lovers and tourists into a neighborhood where they otherwise might not go, to mingle with people they otherwise might not meet. …

“Street art seems to come naturally to Senegal, where many small shops are adorned with images of what they sell. Paintings of scissors signify tailors; heads with fancy hairstyles advertise barbers; images of cows and bowls of milk herald the ubiquitous sweet milk shops; a drawing of a sheep broadcasts the presence of a vendor serving grilled meat.

“Shop art is commissioned by the shop owners, and sometimes painted by them too. But to paint on a house in the Médina neighborhood, it helps to go through Mamadou Boye Diallo, known as Modboye.

“Mr. Diallo, 31, was born and raised in the Médina, the son of an elevator operator. He dropped out of school at 15 to become a break dancer and rollerblader. He got to know the art scene by working as a messenger, delivering fliers on roller blades for art galleries.

In 2010, he created Yataal Art, a nonprofit arts collective, and painted the first wall in the Médina with friends. The beauty of it is that ‘you don’t have to take a nice shower and wear perfume’ to see the art, Mr. Diallo said. …

“ ‘You have to pass by him in order to work in the Médina,’ one of the street artists, Doline Legrand Diop, said. ‘He functions a bit like a curator.’ …

“In the beginning, it was not always easy to convince homeowners to let people paint on their walls.

“ ‘They wanted money,’ Mr. Diallo said. But as the project caught on, they wanted to keep up with their neighbors. …

“The painted-houses project has gotten so big that this year, Delphine Buysse, a Belgian curator, has arranged for artists in residence to live at a luxury hotel in Dakar, the Pullman, for a week, while painting in the Médina.

“One of the most recent wall paintings was a collaboration between Kouka Ntadi, a Congolese-French artist, and Barkinado Bocoum, a Senegalese artist. Mr. Ntadi painted abstract portraits in black-and-white, and Mr. Bocoum added folksier portraits in bright colors.

” Mr. Ntadi loved sharing the neighborhood with the commercial artists of the barbershops and the milk stores.

“ ‘I would say there is not really a border between the two in Africa,’ he said. ‘It’s not like in France or the U.S. where there is a snobbism about art, and you can’t be in marketing. So for sure, we can still be an artist and make a design for a bottle of milk or a side of beef.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Robert Sansom
Employees at a small bookshop in England were inundated with orders last week after a day with no sales was reported on Twitter. Pictured here is John Westwood, one of the shop’s owners.

For better or worse, the thing about Twitter is it can reach a lot of people very fast. Some people reached by tweets are not so nice. In this story, though, kindly Twitter users decided to give strangers a helping hand. Of course, it helped that one person with millions of followers took an interest.

“After more than 100 years in business,” writes Cathy Free, “the Petersfield Bookshop in Hampshire County, England, had perhaps never seen a day quite like Jan. 14.

“For the first time that anyone could remember, the independent shop on Petersfield’s Chapel Street did not have a single sale, saddening bookseller Robert Sansom so deeply he decided to tweet about his ‘tumbleweed’ day.
‘Not a single book sold today. . . £0.00,’ he wrote. …

After closing up shop that day, Sansom, 48, went home, thinking the 102-year-old secondhand shop specializing in antique and collectible books might have to close permanently, he said.

“But overnight, something unexpected happened. Sansom’s tweet went viral and was retweeted by author Neil Gaiman to his 2.8 million followers, prompting thousands of people to inundate the shop’s website with orders.

“The worst day ever quickly turned into the best day ever, said Sansom, who works at the bookstore with owners Ann Westwood, her son, John Westwood, and sales clerk Barbara Kelsey.

‘‘ ‘Just reading the messages we have received has brought tears,’ he said. ‘This was a lightning strike. …

‘’We’re now actively looking for ways to pay it forward.’’

“For the past two weeks, Sansom, his co-workers and a small band of volunteers in Petersfield — population 14,372 — have spent 14 hours a day frantically filling hundreds of orders and mailing them to customers around the world. …

‘‘ ‘One lady, recently back home in the States after a UK holiday, sent us her leftover UK currency,’ he said. ‘One couple drove 460 miles, round trip, to visit us, and many drove at least an hour or two.’ …

“On the afternoon he tweeted about his lonely day, he said, a storm had swept into town, bringing steady rain and putting a damper on customers.

‘‘ ‘There wasn’t a single penny in the till — not a book was sold to a flesh-and-blood customer,’ he said. ‘Of course we have slow days — everyone does. But that particular week, the shop was facing one of its worse crises ever. Even on a slow day, we would expect to sell 20, 30, or 50 books. We were wondering if we would have to announce the closure of the shop by the end of the week.’ …

“Now that the shop has 21,000 Twitter followers, ‘We have a voice we didn’t have before,’’ Sansom added. ‘Please, go and find your local indie bookshops, new and secondhand, and buy real books from them. If you don’t, they will just close and disappear. … You won’t even notice to start with,’ he said, ‘and then you will. And it will be too late.’ ”

How lovely that the shop is looking for ways to “pay it forward”! I wonder what they will decide to do. Encouraging followers to shop at indie bookstores is a good place to start. Personally, I avoid Amazon for books, food (Whole Foods), and other items unless I have tried and failed to get the thing somewhere else. Too much power in one pair of hands.

Although I read this story in Boston’s Sunday Globe, the article originally appeared in the Washington Post. More here.

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