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Pandemic Jazz

Photo: Mark Lennihan.
Emmet Cohen (left), Nicholas Payton, Russell Hall, and Kyle Pool livestreaming one of the weekly jazz concerts Cohen launched from his small apartment when the pandemic struck.

I was listening to Christian McBride hosting “Jazz Night in America” (streaming weekly at WICN, here), and he made me want to learn more about the young musician Emmet Cohen.

Allen Morrison wrote at about Cohen’s pandemic venture at the Guardian: “It’s the most exclusive jazz concert in New York. Only about eight guests can attend the weekly shows, by invitation only, squeezing into the 32-year-old jazz pianist Emmet Cohen’s fifth-floor walk-up in Harlem. Meanwhile, thousands more around the world tune into livestreams of the event on Facebook and YouTube.

“Live From Emmet’s Place started as a near-desperate response to the disappearance of gigs for musicians when the Covid-19 pandemic began. Ninety-four shows later, the weekly concert featuring Cohen, his trio with bassist Russell Hall and drummer Kyle Poole, and a roster of guest musicians who represent some of the jazz world’s leading lights, has evolved into the most highly watched regular online jazz show in the world.

“Talking on a recent Monday afternoon four hours before showtime, Cohen, a one-time child prodigy who has become one of his generation’s most highly regarded jazz pianists, was chilling in a T-shirt and shorts. At this hour, his one-bedroom apartment seems relatively spacious by New York standards. But that’s only until the technicians – a piano tuner, a sound engineer, a videographer – start arriving and setting up equipment. …

After two and a half years, [it’s] been transformed from a ragtag live shoot using only an iPhone into a hi-tech, multi-camera production with pristine sound.

“The superior production values would count for little if they were not in the service of a charismatic, often dazzling, trio of performers. Partly it’s Cohen’s energy, exceptional musicianship, and likable personality. Partly it’s the appeal of his inclusive brand of jazz, incorporating the entire tradition of the genre from the 1920s to the present day. And partly it’s the joy and esprit de corps with which the trio perform, evident in Cohen’s frequent ear-to-ear grin and the trio’s telepathy.

“At first, the current music scene in Harlem was the central focus of the show. ‘There’s such a high concentration of great musicians living here, right down the block,’ he said, citing regular guests like saxophonists Patrick Bartley and Tivon Pennicott and trumpeter Bruce Harris, all rising jazz stars on the New York scene.

“ ‘There’s a rich history of great jazz musicians living in this area: Billie Holiday lived on the corner, Mary Lou Williams up the street, Thelonious Monk would hang out here … all the stride piano greats would play Harlem rent parties. Duke Ellington and his whole band lived here, Sonny Rollins … So, it just felt very natural to host a Harlem rent party, but an updated, digital, virtual version, where we could invite people in to try to make the rent and get the musicians paid at a time when people were really struggling.’

“These days, Live From Emmet’s Place has an audience that averages about 1,000 fans each Monday night on Facebook and YouTube, but videos of most of the shows, as well as dozens of individual songs, have logged tens of thousands more views on YouTube. One video, featuring the sparkling French-born jazz singer Cyrille Aimee, has racked up 4.6m views.

“ ‘I wanted to figure out how to create an online community where we could play and make money. When you play at [the New York City jazz club] Smalls there are 80 people, if you sell out; at Birdland, 250. When we did the first concert from the apartment on March 22, 2020, after one week the livestream had 40,000 views. For a jazz group to reach that many people requires months, if not years, of touring.’ …

“In its pre-pandemic infancy, the webcast’s unlikely success could scarcely have been imagined. In February 2020, Cohen and the trio were flying high. … ‘Suddenly we had no gigs and no idea when we would play again.

“[The show] quickly became an international ‘communal gathering,’ Cohen said. ‘And community, in a time of hardship, turned out to be the most important thing.’ …

“ ‘When I’m on the road,’ Poole said, ‘people say to me, “I’m part of the Emmet’s Place community.” ‘ …

“ ‘The pandemic caused incredible destruction and dismay, but there was a silver lining,’ Cohen reflected. … ‘The fact that we’re a family, Kyle, Russell and me, showed the brotherhood and what it means to be a band in a time of crisis.’ ”

Live From Emmet’s Place can be viewed most Monday nights at approximately 7:30 PM ET on Facebook and YouTube. More at the Guardian, here. And at NPR, here, you can click on links to several of the musical numbers.

French speakers, Rejoice.

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Altruistic Granola

Photo: Maliss Coletta.
Afghan refugees enjoy a meal with the team at the granola nonprofit Beautiful Day RI in Providence.

In around 2015, I was writing blog posts for Anne Dombrokski at what was first called the Providence Granola Project and later Beautiful Day, a granola company with a mission to help acclimate refugees to American workplace norms and launch them into jobs. Anne died in a freak biking accident (despite a helmet) in 2016, but Beautiful Day remembers and honors her with the Granola for Good award.

Since Anne’s time, Beautiful Day has expanded its mission a little every year, and you can follow it by signing up for newsletters.

Here’s a recent example: “Since last fall when Afghans started arriving in Rhode Island, Beautiful Day has been reaching out in many ways. We contributed granola bars, hummus and messages of welcome to food baskets delivered weekly by the local food bank. We collected wool rugs to give to Afghan families to help them feel more at home. And we began welcoming Afghans into both our youth and adult job training programs. It’s critical to our mission to support the Afghan community, and we were always looking for chances to connect.

“A new opportunity arose two weeks ago when we partnered with the Refugee Dream Center (RDC) to host a group of Afghan women and their families at our kitchen. The Afghan women’s group had been meeting at RDC for several months and done a number of things together. But without access to a kitchen, they weren’t able to cook. And that’s where we could help. With our beautiful, newly renovated kitchen, we could offer the group the perfect place to cook up a storm! So we invited them to come and prepare a typical Afghan meal and share it with us in our space.

“People began arriving mid-afternoon and soon we had a crowd of over forty people, which included Afghan women, men and children as well as volunteers and staff from both Beautiful Day and RDC. The menu consisted of goat meat with vegetables over rice along with homemade Afghan bread. There was also a salad of fresh greens, picked straight from the overflowing garden boxes on our patio.

“Our time together might best be described as organized chaos. While we entertained the kids with games and puzzles on rugs spread out on our classroom floor, the adults took over the kitchen. The goat meat had to be marinated and tenderized, the dough kneaded and baked, and the rice boiled and seasoned. People broke into spontaneous groups and set to work.

“It took about three hours to prepare the meal and our space bustled with happy talk and laughter.

It’s amazing how well you can communicate even if you don’t share a common language! 

“And when the food was ready, everyone settled down on the rugs to enjoy the meal together. Afghans typically eat with their fingers sitting on rugs on the floor and we had prepared the space ahead of time. All the cooking and preparation led to hearty appetites and it was a happy, hungry crowd that enjoyed a delicious meal together. …

“As people were leaving, one Afghan woman said, ‘This felt just like home.’ It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Also in the latest Beautiful Day newsletter, we learn some good news on college scholarships.

“In July, we received a grant through the Beneficent Congregational Church Scholarship Endowments (specifically, the Lucinda Maxfield and Andrew Ferko Endowments) to provide college scholarships to our refugee youth. Three of our young people have been able to take advantage of this generous gift.

“Marvens, originally from Haiti, has a full-year scholarship to study at URI. This summer, he lived on campus as part of the Talent Development Program, an enrichment program designed to prepare first-generation college students for success. He’s now enrolled there as a freshman and will be studying computer science.

“Rama, originally from Syria, has a scholarship to Johnson & Wales University. For the fall semester, she will be enrolled in an English immersion program and next semester, she’ll attend regular classes. She hopes to complete the prerequisites needed to study neuroscience at URI.

“Our third scholarship recipient is Dahaba, originally from Eritrea and a member of a previous Refugee Youth Program cohort. She attended Holy Cross University last year and thanks to this endowment award, has started her sophomore year there debt-free. She’s majoring in mathematics.”

Other Beautiful Day news, here.

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Photo: Trader Joe’s.
Each of the grocery chain’s 500-plus locations “has custom-made signage, created by staff artists,” says the Post.

They don’t get paid much, but it’s unusual for artists to have a steady gig with benefits. According to Kelsey Ables at the Washington Post, a lot depends on which of the independent Trader’s Joe’s markets you’re working at.

“Growing up,” Ables reports, “Zoe Terrell dreamed of becoming an artist — she sketched scenes from her local farmers market and even won drawing competitions in her native South Korea. But she eventually learned what many creative people know too well. ‘My dad was like, “Well, drawing is not going to feed you,” ‘ Terrell says.

“So she studied education in college and, after moving to the United States in 2008, taught Korean — that is, until a curious job listing caught her eye.

“An ocean away, Terrell called her dad with surprising news: ‘Hey, guess what, Dad? Now, drawing is going to feed me,’ she recalls with a laugh.

“Terrell is one of hundreds of sign artists employed by grocery store Trader Joe’s. You probably know the idiosyncratic chain for its eccentric snacks and peppy cashiers, but that festive atmosphere extends to the stores’ interior design, too: Each of the 500-plus outposts has custom, handmade signage, all created by staff artists. Your grocery store is their art gallery.

“As what Trader Joe’s calls a ‘crew member with sign making talent’ (we’ll just call them sign artists), Terrell, 40, spends much of her workday at the Athens, Ga., store wielding a paint pen in a backroom studio. She makes signs to promote products with puns like ‘Hot Grill Summer‘ and creative drawings such as the Powerpuff Girls reimagined as vegetables. She paints murals that represent the local area, University of Georgia sports teams or the surrounding rural landscape. Occasionally, she gets to incorporate Korean lettering into her work, such as when the store got a shipment of scallion pancakes known as ‘pajeon.’ That was a highlight for Terrell — Korean students told her that seeing the Hangul writing made them feel a little more at home.

“Terrell says that in her early days in the United States, she sorely missed Korean grocery stores, where employees knew her family and each store had its own character.

“ ‘Especially when I moved to the U.S., everything seemed like it had been kind of standardized. You go to Walmart in New York or you go to Walmart out in the boonies in Georgia, and they look exactly the same,’ she says. ‘Trader Joe’s is just throwing a totally different curveball.’ …

“Trader Joe’s calls itself a ‘national chain of neighborhood grocery stores.’ And everything seems to have a human touch: from sweeping murals of local landmarks, which can stay on view for years, all the way down to individual price tags telling you that clementines are $5.99 and ‘great for the road!’ But for the artists, the work isn’t just about selling produce or marketing the latest peppermint-coated, jalapeno-infused, almond-butter-filled whatever. It’s a way to channel their artistic energy in a world that doesn’t make being creative easy. While job postings list pay for sign artists starting as low as $14 an hour, for many, it’s the stable art job they never thought they’d have.

‘I always tell everybody, it’s probably the best entry-level artist position that has a steady paycheck, good benefits and everything,’ says Dan Kaufeldt, a 35-year-old sign artist in Sacramento, who has been with the company for 16 years.

“Kaufeldt’s store decor combines comic book energy with meticulous detailing. For Thanksgiving, he painted a smooth-looking Turkey named DJ Gravy Grav who mixes ‘All about that Baste’ on a turntable, while spring break this year inspired an image of a cartoon lemon, strawberry and potato going on a road trip in a bouncing, orange RV.

“For many Trader Joe’s sign artists, going all out is part of the fun. At one of the Philadelphia stores, McKinna Salinas, 25, is working on transforming the bathroom into a parody of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, inspired by works from the museum collection such as Severin Roesen’s ‘Flower Still Life With Bird’s Nest.’ In her version of Winslow Homer’s ‘The Life Line,’ a man is seen dangling above stormy seas — but instead of saving a woman, he’s saving a carrot. …

“Trader Joe’s rarely advertises. It doesn’t have coupons. It avoids the words ‘sale’ or ‘cheap.’ The atmosphere is deliberately friendly. …

“As for the signs, ‘the handcrafted quality emphasizes the personal relationship,’ says Mark Gardiner, a former marketing executive who worked at Trader Joe’s while researching his book Build a Brand Like Trader Joe’s, which unpacks how the chain attracted a cultlike following. ‘It’s the graphic equivalent of that cheerful conversation that you’ll have with a total stranger that’s working there, who sees you buying dog food and asks you what kind of dog you have.’

“While working at the downtown Minneapolis Trader Joe’s, Georgia Gump took that idea to its extreme: The 25-year-old artist made a window mural featuring the neighborhood’s dogs. It was a big hit.

“But for Gump, who left the store in May, the early excitement of working at Trader Joe’s faded fast. That particular Minneapolis store is now trying to unionize for better wages and benefits (a store in Hadley, Mass., became the first Trader Joe’s to unionize last month), and Gump says it has been plagued by bad management. Gump hit a breaking point after breezing through the installation of an elaborate, handcrafted Christmas village.

“ ‘At first I was really excited that I did it in less than two hours,’ Gump says. ‘Then, it hit me that installing this piece of art cost the company less than $30.’ …

“Some artists have used the job as a jumping-off point. Gump now does sign commissions and pet portraiture around town. Salinas recently made a piece for NASA that will be featured on a satellite. Terrell says, ‘Trader Joe’s became my self advertisement.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Carlin Stiehl for the Boston Globe.
Belarusian opera singer Ilya Silchukou rehearsing with pianist Pavel Nersessian. Silchukou and his wife, a mezzo-soprano, “fled their native Belarus after Silchukou publicly sided with protesters following the 2020 election,” reports the Globe.

If you live near Boston, check out a concert tonight at First Church. Not sure what is more impressive — the baritone’s voice or the backstory about defying the totalitarian regime of Belarus. To see what Ukraine would be like if Russia’s invasion succeeded, look no farther than the puppet government on Ukraine’s northern border.

Malcolm Gay reported at the Boston Globe, “By the time Ilya Silchukou performed upon the steps of the Bolshoi Theatre of Belarus in Minsk, more than 6,000 protesters had already been detained.

“It was August 2020, one tumultuous week after President Alexander Lukashenko, often described as ‘Europe’s last dictator,’ had claimed victory in a widely disputed election. His opponent had already fled the country. The government had briefly severed Internet service, as police fired rubber bullets and beat demonstrators who’d clogged the streets to protest.

“Silchukou, one of the country’s best-known opera stars, had already publicly renounced three awards he’d received from Lukashenko.

“And now he was prepared to use his most powerful tool to support the cause, channeling his rich baritone to sing ‘Kupalinka,’ a beloved song that had become an anthem of the protests.

‘Two years later, Silchukou, his wife, Tatsiana, and their three children live a quiet life in a rented house in [Wayland] west of Boston, where Silchukou tends the owner’s garden of eggplants. Their furniture is entirely donated, and Silchukou, once a star soloist at the Minsk Bolshoi who sang at opera houses across Europe, now teaches music at Star Academy, a private K-8 school, as he seeks to establish a stage career in the United States.

“ ‘It’s going to be hard,’ said Silchukou, who remains all but unknown to US audiences. ‘On the other hand, I’ve found so many new friends who support us and help us. I look forward with optimism.’

“Among those new friends is renowned Russian pianist Pavel Nersessian, who will perform a concert of songs and arias with Silchukou on Saturday at First Church Boston in Back Bay.

“Nersessian only recently met Silchukou, but during a recent rehearsal at Boston University, he described the singer’s voice as ‘multicolored,’ capable of subtly expressing the full spectrum of human emotion. …

“Silchukou joined the Bolshoi Theatre when he was just 23, making a name for himself as a soloist with leading roles for baritone, such as Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Marcello in Puccini’s La Bohème. He traveled abroad frequently for singing competitions, winning the 2011 Hans Gabor and Helicon prizes at the prestigious International Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition, among others. …

“He walked a fine line: He quietly disapproved of Lukashenko’s grip on power, but as an employee of the national opera, he was often called upon to perform at official functions. …

“In the months following the 2020 election, however, Silchukou felt compelled to take a stronger stance. He signed an open letter calling for an end to the violence and an election recount. He publicly supported other artists who’d been fired for speaking out, and he indicated his support from the stage, flashing the ‘victory’ sign as performers received red and white bouquets from the audience, a sign of resistance. …

“That October, Silchukou collaborated with other artists in a video calling for a national strike. He was fired within days, his working card stating he’d committed ‘an act of immorality.’

“Stuck at home with COVID-19, Silchukou decided to play his last card: a highly produced video he’d recorded of ‘Mahutny Bozha,’ a hymn that has become an anthem of the anti-Lukashenko movement.

“ ‘That video was in my pocket,’ Silchukou said of the searing indictment that would go on to rack up more than 500,000 views. ‘I’d been afraid to publish it because I was still working in the theater, but then I said, we have nothing to lose.’

“The family fled the following summer. …

“ ‘I dream to see Belarus free,’ he said. ‘I belong to that land.’ ”

When you think of asylum seekers, remember that most would give anything not to have had to leave their home.

Tickets at https://silchukou.eventbrite.com/ and at the door. More at the Globe, here.

This is courage.

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Habibi Bazaar

Photo: Bianca Velasquez.
A rug called “Evil Eye,” by Pamela El Gergi.

Today’s story about beautiful craft rugs is reminding me of a college friend who was really into interior decorating. As a hobby. She got so enthusiastic about Scandinavian rya rugs that she began designing and selling her own. Nowadays, when I’m supposed to be replacing rugs with floor coverings that older people won’t trip on, I’m wishing that I had bought one one of her ryas. I could at least hang it on the wall if I was afraid of tripping. Like other crafts, rugs can hold a lot of meaning.

Bianca Velasquez reports at Hyperallergic about Utah-based Lebanese American artist Pamela El Gergi who “modernizes traditional rug-making as a way to stay connected to her heritage.

“A sweeping reclamation of traditional craftsmanship is taking place around the world,” Velasquez says, “with artists forming communities around their uses of stained glass, jewelry, beading, and textiles. Seemingly unapproachable crafts (because of restricted access to supplies or apprenticeship), such as rug-making and stained glass, have benefited from modernized and simplified techniques and technologies that make practicing these trades more accessible, creating a surge of independent creators who work at their own pace and through their own lens. …

“Among the new voices is Lebanese rug maker Pamela El Gergi, who creates her works under her business name Habibi Bazaar.

“Having relocated to Salt Lake City, Utah, from Beirut, Lebanon, in 2018, El Gergi felt an urge to keep an open connection to her hometown, which she found through the traditional craft of rug-making. … ‘Habibi Bazaar uses my own personal style, which is Oriental rugs, evil eyes (Nazar), patterns that you would see in churches and mosques in Lebanon,’ she told Hyperallergic in an interview.

“And while she applies her voice and background to rug-making in the US, El Gergi creates a new dialogue within traditional rug-making in Lebanon. ‘I’ve taken these vintage, older styles of Oriental rugs, and now I’m trying to make them more centered around Lebanese culture,’ she said. ‘We don’t have much Lebanese representation within Oriental rugs.’ …

“After finalizing her design, El Gergi projects and traces the outline onto her canvas, then uses the tufting gun to apply the yarn accordingly. After applying the carpet glue and backing to the other side of the fabric, she moves on to the final step. ‘I spend hours on each rug, shaving it properly and carving out the designs (or “sculpting” the rug). I finish it all with vacuuming, lint rolling, and doing one last quality check,’ she said.

“El Gergi is currently working on a rug collection in collaboration with her peer Samantha Nader who has created seven Oriental designs based on El Gergi’s concepts. ‘What makes this collection significant to me is the specific flower that is included in the design. This flower is printed on Lebanese coffee cups, and when you drink Arabic coffee, the grounds are collected at the bottom,’ El Gergi said. ‘Then you flip the cup over, and you let the grounds fall along the sides. After letting it sit for five minutes, it reveals a pattern that tells your fortune.’ …

“El Gergi’s pieces tend to use this medium to shed light on her experience as a Lebanese woman, as well as pay homage to and honor the cultural symbolism that has been passed down through her family for generations. 

“Creating cultural ties between Lebanon and the US does not stop at rug-making for El Gergi. Habibi Bazaar also kicked off a pronoun shirt campaign in collaboration with Mexican artist Alethia Lunares, who designed the t-shirt graphic. … She produced three different shirts saying ‘She, Her, Habibi,’ ‘They, Them, Habibi,’ and ‘He, Him, Habibi.’ El Gergi’s decision to include the term ‘Habibi,’ which translates into a non-gendered way of saying ‘my love,’ allows her to incorporate a little bit of her culture into the campaign.

“This year, Habibi Bazaar has been accepted to the 14th Annual Craft Lake City DIY Festival Utah’s ‘largest local-centric art, music, science, and technology festival.’ Not only has she been accepted as a vendor, she was also chosen to be sponsored through the Craft Lake City Artisan Scholarship Mentor Program, allowing her to be mentored by a more tenured local business owner through the entire process of tabling at a large event. 

‘[Her booth] will include her rugs, pottery, stickers, wall hanging, mirrors, and more. … Most importantly, El Gergi hopes to continue finding contemporary ways to pass down traditional Lebanese crafts to future generations.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: Getty.
An illustration of the cat Behemoth from Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov’s anti-authoritarian The Master and Margarita.

Here’s a wonderful book I want to reread, partly because of the invasion of Ukraine, where citizens of occupied towns are expected to rejoice that they have been “liberated” by the Russians, and partly because some US towns are starting to ban books, just like the old Soviet Union did. Plus, I remember the book as fun to read.

Emily Zarevich writes at JSTOR Daily about the evergreen relevance of Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.

” ‘Manuscripts don’t burn.’

“This iconic line made Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita a staple of the Russian literary canon. It’s quoted constantly, in its original language and in all its translations. Uninitiated readers may be surprised to find out that these words are spoken by the Devil, who in the novel resurrects and returns the main character’s abandoned writing project after an attempt to destroy it in a fire. It’s an allegorical exchange between our world and the next, demonstrating that even supernatural entities don’t possess the [ability] to extinguish the power of human creativity.

“As Bulgakov’s Devil — disguised as a foreign professor and operating under the name of Woland — insists through his simple words, true masterpieces will endure and rise from attempted extinction like the mythical phoenix, as proven by The Master and Margarita itself, which emerged intact from the calamitous flame of Soviet censorship.

“The initial journey of The Master and Margarita to publication is somewhat cryptic. Following a morbid and natural cycle of life, its birth began on a deathbed. Bulgakov’s third wife, Elena, who was his inspiration for the avenging character of Margarita, swore at the suffering Bulgakov’s bedside — he passed away on March 10, 1940, at the age of 48 — that she would make his magnum opus her life’s mission; she would prevail against suppression. But unfortunately, unlike the fictitious Margarita, Elena didn’t have access to a sympathetic circle of demons who could offer her the power to reawaken her lover’s lost dream. She was a human woman, and she was given very human, cautionary advice by Bulgakov’s close friend Pavel Popov, as recorded in J. A. Curtis’s reader’s companion to the novel:

‘The less people know about the novel the better,’ wrote Popov to Elena, ‘The masterfulness of a genius will always remain masterfulness, but at the moment the novel would be unacceptable. 50–100 years will have to pass.’

“As Curtis points out, Popov’s prediction was around thirty years off the mark. It would take twenty years for the book to be published. …

“What made the novel so unacceptable to Soviet censors was not only its depiction of unregulated female power and sexuality, but its portrayal of a USSR that existed parallel to the celestial realms of the afterlife. One of the Soviet Union’s main principles was staunch secularity; citizens were expected to be loyal to their communist superpower country first and their faith second, if they believed in the institution of religion at all.

“What The Master and Margarita dares to present is a 1930s Moscow subjected to both paranormal mischief and an overarching Christian-biblical presence, helpless to stop or ignore either. The state is never at any point in the book positioned as the higher power — a major threat to the supremacist government agenda — and so Elena found herself unable to fulfill her vow to publish the book in a timely manner. …

“During the years between its completion and its publication, the existence of The Master and Margarita became something of an open secret among Russian literary circles. The journal Moskva made the daring decision to finally publish The Master and Margarita in 1966, but this version was censored to the point of butchery, and many of Bulgakov’s canny messages vanished in the process. Gone was Margarita’s sexual liberty, for instance, and Bulgakov’s mockery of the USSR’s corruption and incompetence as a communist nation.

“For the book to be published in its full, unabbreviated glory, it had to be smuggled abroad. The publisher Eesti Raamat in Estonia can take credit for bringing out the first unedited rendition in 1967, but it should be noted that this was only a translation. Published in Estonian, not Russian, it, unfortunately, couldn’t be interpreted as Bulgakov’s own voice. The Italian publisher Einaudi brought it out in Russian later that same year, but in the Soviet Union, it wouldn’t be published properly until 1973, three years after Elena’s death, though she would have enjoyed the satisfaction of knowing that rebellious Russian readers were enjoying copies of the book being secretly passed around under the government’s radar.

“Naturally, the novel caused controversy and mass bewilderment when Bulgakov’s fellow citizens were able to get their hands on publicly available copies that hadn’t been filtered by the censors or lost in translation. Admittedly, it is a strange book, and as Stephan Lovell explains, ‘Readers accustomed to a diet of Soviet classics were ill-equipped to interpret the novel’s complex network of symbols and plot levels, its unusual treatment of time, its use of irony and the fantastic, and its references to Christianity and myth.’ …

“Today, it’s accepted as one of the finest novels to come out of the political disquietude of the twentieth century, with a modern readership better prepared to recognize its merits.”

More on this classic skewering of authoritarianism at JSTOR, here.

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Photo: Yurgen Vega/Selva/ProCAT.
The rediscovered Santa Marta sabrewing. It is only the third time the species has been documented: the first was in 1946 and the second in 2010. 

As exciting as space exploration is, there are also exciting discoveries being made on Planet Earth — from ancient civilizations revealed by drought to rare birds showing up after many years.

Graeme Green writes at the Guardian, “A rare hummingbird has been rediscovered by a birdwatcher in Colombia after going missing for more than a decade.

“The Santa Marta sabrewing, a large hummingbird only found in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, was last seen in 2010 and scientists feared the species might be extinct as the tropical forests it inhabited have largely been cleared for agriculture.

“But ornithologists are celebrating the rediscovery of Campylopterus phainopeplus after an experienced local birdwatcher captured one on camera. It is only the third time the species has been documented: the first was in 1946 and the second in 2010, when researchers captured the first photos of the species in the wild.

“Yurgen Vega, who spotted the hummingbird while working with the conservation organizations SelvaProCAT Colombia and World Parrot Trust to survey endemic birds in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, said he felt ‘overcome with emotion’ when he saw the bird.

“ ‘The sighting was a complete surprise,’ he said. ‘When I first saw the hummingbird I immediately thought of the Santa Marta sabrewing. I couldn’t believe it was waiting there for me to take out my camera and start shooting. I was almost convinced it was the species, but because I felt so overcome by emotion, I preferred to be cautious; it could’ve been the Lazuline sabrewing, which is often confused with Santa Marta sabrewing. But once we saw the pictures, we knew it was true.’

“The Santa Marta sabrewing is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list of threatened species and features in the Top 10 ‘most wanted’ list in the conservation organization Re:wild’s Search for Lost Birds, a worldwide effort to find species that have not been seen for more than 10 years. The bird is so rare and elusive that John C Mittermeier, the director of threatened species outreach at American Bird Conservancy, likened the sighting to ‘seeing a phantom.’

“The hummingbird Vega saw was a male, identified by its emerald green feathers, bright blue throat and curved black bill. It was perched on a branch, vocalising and singing, behaviour scientists think is associated with courtship and defending territory.

“The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia is home to a wealth of wildlife, including 24 bird species not found anywhere else. But scientists estimate that only 15% of the mountains’ forest is intact. It is hoped the surprise sighting of the Santa Marta sabrewing will help to protect their remaining habitat, benefiting many different species found there.

“ ‘This finding confirms that we still know very little about many of the most vulnerable and rare species out there, and it is imperative to invest more in understanding them better,’ said Esteban Botero-Delgadillo, the director of conservation science with Selva: Research for Conservation in the Neotropics. ‘It is knowledge that drives action and change – it is not possible to conserve what we do not understand.

“ ‘The next step is [to] involve people from local communities and local and regional environmental authorities, so we can begin a research and conservation program together that can have real impact.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

By the way, the Guardian routinely covers encouraging environmental stories, including a recent one on the strengthening numbers of protected hen harriers in England. Nadeem Badshah reported here that, according to England’s conservation agency Natural England, “nearly 120 rare hen harrier chicks have fledged in England this year, the highest number for more than a century. … But conservation experts have warned that work needs to continue to tackle the illegal persecution of England’s most threatened bird of prey, which hunt red grouse chicks to feed their young, bringing them into conflict with commercial shooting estates.”

Now, there’s a riddle for you!

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Photo: Amr Nabil/AP.
A man buys food at a popular restaurant in Cairo, March 22, 2022. The app Tekeya is working to counter food waste.

In restaurants around the world, especially in the fanciest ones, a lot of perfectly good food goes to waste because of some perceived defect. Can we find a better solution than throwing it out?

Eman Mounir reports at the Christian Science Monitor about a new app in Egypt to deal with food waste.

“Early one morning, servers at the Al-Aseel Al-Dimishqi restaurant began their usual preparations for the day. They laid out rows of baklava, kunafa, and other syrup-drenched, nut-stuffed delectables. But the offerings weren’t for customers who flock to the upscale New Cairo suburb. 

“Instead, within an hour, staff from an organization called Tekeya had arrived to whisk away 135 portions of perfectly edible dishes.

“The reason? The desserts – made a day earlier – weren’t considered fresh enough to dish up. 

“Throughout Egypt, which boasts a rich culinary history, such views aren’t uncommon. … Now, though, amid a global reckoning over the food chain and its role in the climate crisis, attitudes in Egypt are slowly changing. 

“The Al-Aseel restaurant is one of around a dozen across the Egyptian capital that Tekeya staff visits each day in a quest to stop fit-for-consumption food from being dumped. Restaurants pay a small annual fee that allows them to alert Tekeya whenever they have unsold food. Personal users of the app can then buy that food at half-price, or either the restaurant or the user can request Tekeya  deliver the food to a food bank or charity of their choosing. In total, up to 40 plates are saved from going to the trash each day. …

“Tekeya, which was inspired in part by the rituals around Ramadan, is the first such app in Egypt, where poor nutrition and undernourishment account for up to 55% of annual child deaths.  

“ ‘I’ve seen several platforms helping fight food waste across Europe. It’s uplifting to find one that does the same here in Egypt,’ says Al-Aseel’s manager, Ramez Abo Abed, who has been using the app for three years.

“In 2019, Menna Shahin had an idea particularly inspired by Ramadan, the Muslim holiday when the devout give to poor people and fast throughout the day. That prompts both celebration and waste. Since fasts are eventually broken with lavish meals at dusk, demand for food commodities soars by up to a third, and waste, in turn, also multiplies. 

“ ‘I would put so much thought into how to dispose of [food] responsibly without harming the environment, and how to minimize my excess usage,’ Ms. Shahin says. ‘I thought to myself, why not assist everyone to dispose of their excess food wisely?’

“Ms. Shahin ended up co-founding Tekeya along with her husband, Max Hartzen. By Tekeya’s second Ramadan, some 10,000 discounted meals were ordered during the holy month, with users choosing to donate roughly a quarter of those to charities.

“Now a 15-member team, Tekeya continues to face the stigma associated with ‘leftover food,’ says Aya Magdy, the startup’s account manager. ‘People presume that it’s food that has gone bad, making it difficult to convince them to buy or donate it.’

“Traditional Egyptian fare includes delicately spiced falafel served piping hot, while koshary, a staple street food, provides a hearty kick through mixing rice and pasta with fresh onions, tomatoes, garlic, chili, lentils, chickpeas, and a dazzling array of spices – these and other classic dishes almost all require freshly chopped ingredients. 

“But there’s a growing awareness of the impact of food waste on the environment. When food is thrown out, it rots and creates methane, a greenhouse gas that is almost 30 times as potent as carbon dioxide. To date, Tekeya counts at least 45,000 meals it has saved from ending up in landfills – preventing the equivalent of 133,000 kilograms (about 293,000 pounds) of carbon dioxide from being released into the environment, Ms. Shahin says.

“The team also works hard to guarantee the quality of the food it passes on, carrying out regular checkups amid stringent requirements. And because trust is such a big factor, if clients complain that the food from a restaurant is too stale or otherwise unsatisfactory, collaboration is immediately terminated.   

“The number of users has climbed steadily. The app now has more than 50,000 subscribers and 120 food suppliers in Cairo. And users tend to be conscientious themselves. Sara Harfoush, a teaching assistant in Cairo University’s Faculty of Economics and Political Science, was initially skeptical, so she conducted her own trials to gauge quality. After ordering off the app several times – and finding it satisfactory each time – she began buying food cheaply to donate to those in need. …

“The idea is catching on with well-known brands. Alban Khalifa, a dairy shop with multiple branches across Cairo, has been reducing food waste and financial losses through Tekeya for nearly two years. Regulars know they can snap up half-price puddings through the app at the close of day.

“That food would otherwise join the tens of thousands of tons of ingredients overflowing from trash cans on many streets of Cairo. In rural areas, heaps of discarded vegetables and harvests rot in the sun, attracting stray animals.

“There are other draws beyond environmental and sanitation concerns. Soaring inflation and another round of currency devaluation in March have further squeezed citizens in a country where a third of the population is classified as low-income earners. 

“Mohamed Refaat, a pharmacist in Cairo, says he quickly became a regular user after learning about Tekeya. The combination of contributing to saving the environment and getting good food at a discount is, he says, ‘very attractive to any user given the soaring prices and rising inflation rates.’ ”

More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Vitor Fontes/Unsplash.
Abandoned amusement park in Berlin, Germany.

In June, I read an amusing mystery in which an abandoned theme park on an island off the Delaware coast played a major role. The silent structures made a nice, creepy setting for a complicated story. Abandoned parks are inherently mysterious.

Brigit Benestante at National Public Radio recently shared some thoughts on theme parks of yesteryear.

“There’s something romantic, a bit sad, and strangely enthralling about the failure of a theme park,” she says. “Growing up in Houston, the memory of the AstroWorld amusement park loomed like a ghost. The park officially shut its doors a day before my 10th birthday in 2005, and it was soon demolished to make way for a parking lot.

“Something about the sight of abandoned and dilapidated theme parks was fascinating — and apparently I wasn’t alone.

“As it turns out, there’s an entire community of people captivated with defunct, abandoned or retired theme parks and attractions around the world. This community is inextricably linked with the broader abandoned community — enthusiasts of deserted structures of all kinds, including closed malls, shuttered Blockbusters, and crumbling Gilded Age theaters.

“My first encounter with this community was in 2014 when I discovered the YouTube channel Bright Sun Films, run by Ontario documentarian Jake Williams. Williams’ content largely centers around abandoned or canceled businesses, concepts and, yes, theme parks. It was here that I first watched a video about Disney’s infamous abandoned water park, River Country.

“River Country opened at Disney World in the 1970s as the world’s first fully themed water park. After closing in 2001, the park sat abandoned for years.

Dried-up pools, slides to nowhere and themed attractions overtaken by the elements allured urban explorers.

“Although Disney tried its best to keep people out, explorers and photographers found creative ways to break in, sharing photos that looked post-apocalyptic. I was hooked.

“I started watching other YouTube channels dedicated to amusement park failures, most notably, Defunctland. Defunctland, created and hosted by Kevin Perjurer, has videos covering all aspects of defunct amusement: former rides, hotels, parks, concepts and ticketing systems.

“One of Perjurer’s most recent videos, Disney’s FastPass: A Complicated History, is more than 90 minutes long and is truthfully one of the most well-rounded and comprehensive investigations I’ve ever seen. …

“So what makes this content about abandoned structures so fascinating to so many people?

” ‘For some, it can represent the conclusion of their childhood, but for me, I think it’s the unprecedented and truly surreal sight of seeing something that had been enjoyed by so many people just decay away,’ said Williams of Bright Sun Films. ‘People will always have fond memories of these places, and the idea that in some tangible way they still exist — well, that’s a really powerful and poignant concept I love exploring.’ …

“The pedestrian bridge I remember crossing each time I visited AstroWorld is one of the few original structures that remains. I have vivid memories of crossing over the bridge that connected AstroWorld’s parking lot, situated on one side of Houston’s South Loop freeway, to the main attractions on the other side. I remember seeing the roller coasters and flags in the distance as my heart raced with anticipation.

“There’s something so fascinating about exploring the life and demise of theme parks — the familiar taste of nostalgia, the fact that everything has an end, the unforgiving churn of capitalism and the loss of beloved structures.

“I can’t say what draws me to these videos and discussions. I suspect that it’s a way to properly say goodbye to something that so many people once loved, as Williams said; a way to honor the things that once brought crowds joy in the form of delighted screams and deep-fried treats.”

More at NPR, here. Please share any special memories you have of theme parks, defunct or ongoing. I have always been afraid of the rides so my visits to such parks is more along the line of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, where I once bought a whisk broom I still use.

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Photo: Henri Caudevelle (1861–1936)
Zamenhof and Michaux families at the first Esperanto Congress, Boulogne 1905 (Familioj Zamenhof kaj Michaux ĉe la 1-a Universala Kongreso de Esperanto en Bulonjo-ĉe-maro en Aŭgusto 1905).

As some readers know, I used to be quite involved in spreading the word about the “bridge” language called Esperanto. So although I don’t use it these days, I am always interested in stories about it that pop up on the internet. Joshua Holzer, assistant professor of political science at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, wrote about Esperanto for the Conversation recently.

“In the late 1800s, the city of Białystok – which was once Polish, then Prussian, then Russian, and is today again part of Poland – was a hub of diversity, with large numbers of Poles, Germans, Russians and Yiddish-speaking Ashkanazi Jews. Each group spoke a different language and viewed members of the other communities with suspicion.

“For years, L.L. Zamenhof – a Jewish man from Białystok who had trained as a doctor in Moscow – had dreamed of a way for diverse groups of people to communicate easily and peacefully.

“On July 26, 1887, he published what is now referred to as Unua Libro, or First Book, which introduced and described Esperanto, a language he had spent years designing in hopes of promoting peace among the people of the world.

“Esperanto’s vocabulary is mostly drawn from English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, Polish, Russian and Yiddish, as these were the languages that Zamenhof was most familiar with. Grammatically, Esperanto was primarily influenced by European languages, but interestingly, some of Esperanto’s innovations bear a striking resemblance to features found in some Asian languages, such as Chinese. …

“The promise of peace through a shared language has not yet caught on widely, but there are perhaps as many as 2 million Esperanto speakers worldwide. And it’s still spreading, if slowly.

“Having grown up in the multicultural but distrusting environment of Białystok, Zamenhof dedicated his life to constructing a language that he hoped could help foster harmony between groups.

The goal wasn’t to replace anyone’s first language. Rather, Esperanto would serve as a universal second language that would help promote international understanding – and hopefully peace.

“Esperanto is easy to learn. Nouns do not have grammatical gender, so you never have to wonder whether a table is masculine or feminine. There are no irregular verbs, so you don’t have to memorize complex conjugation tables. Also, the spelling is entirely phonetic, so you’ll never be confused by silent letters or letters that make different sounds in different contexts.

“In Unua Libro, Zamenhof outlined Esperanto’s 16 basic rules and provided a dictionary. This book was translated into more than a dozen languages, and at the beginning of each edition, Zamenhof permanently renounced all personal rights to his creation and declared Esperanto to be ‘the property of society.’ …

“Between 1907 and his death in 1917, Zamenhof received 14 nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize, though he never won the award. …

“After World War I, the League of Nations – the predecessor to the United Nations – was founded in hopes of preventing future conflict. Shortly thereafter, the Iranian delegate to the League of Nations proposed that Esperanto be adopted as the language of international relations.

“However, this proposal was vetoed by the French delegate, who feared that the French language would lose its position of prestige in diplomacy. In 1922, the French government went a step further and banned the teaching of Esperanto at all French universities for supposedly being a tool to spread communistic propaganda.

“Ironically, life behind the Iron Curtain wasn’t much easier for Esperanto speakers. In the Soviet Union, Esperantists were alleged to be part of an ‘international espionage organization.’ Many were persecuted and later perished during Stalin’s Great Purge. … During the Third Reich, the Gestapo received specific orders to search for the descendants of Zamenhof. All three of his children died in the Holocaust – as did many Esperanto speakers.

Despite such events, in 1954 the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, passed a resolution recognizing – and entering into a relationship with – the Universal Esperanto Association, which opened the door for the Esperanto movement to be represented at UNESCO events pertaining to language.

“In 1985, UNESCO passed a resolution encouraging countries to add Esperanto to their school curricula. For yearsChina has offered Esperanto as a foreign language option at several of its universities, one of which houses an Esperanto museum. There is now a program in interlinguistics offered at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poland that’s taught in Esperanto.”

More at the Conversation, here. No firewall.

Just for fun, listen to a guy sing the Dolly Parton song “Jolene” in Esperanto.

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Photo: Tadek Kurpaski.
A sauropod at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Who doesn’t love a dinosaur — at least, now that dinosaurs are extinct? Wouldn’t it be fun to discover evidence of one like the people in today’s story? At the Washington Post, Dave Kindy reports that In recent years, a number of major dinosaur finds have occurred by happenstance.

“A diner sitting in the outdoor courtyard of a small restaurant in China’s Sichuan province happened to look down at the ground and spot something unusual. It appeared to be a dinosaur footprint.

“[In July], Chinese paleontologists confirmed that the diner was right. The depressions had in fact been left by two dinosaurs. …

“Using a 3D scanner, scientists determined that the tracks were made by sauropods — large herbivorous dinosaurs with long necks and four legs. According to Lida Xing, a paleontologist at China University of Geosciences who led the team investigating the site, these footprints were probably made by the species Titanosauriformes. The footprints are about 22 inches long on average, and the dinosaurs probably measured about 26 feet long and weighed more than 2,000 pounds, Xing told the Washington Post.

“While not an everyday occurrence, the discovery of dinosaur footprints happens on occasion in China — just not in urban environments.

“ ‘Sauropod tracks are not rare in Sichuan Basin … but they are very [rarely] found in restaurants in downtown,’ Xing said in an email. …

“But this wasn’t the first accidental discovery of dinosaur remnants in recent years. Take, for example, the case of Mark McMenamin, who was walking across the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst last year. He and his wife collected stones at a construction site, then later noticed one of them appeared to be a fossil. It was, in fact, the elbow bone of a 30-foot-long predatory dinosaur known as a neotheropod. …

“Then there was the discovery of a well-preserved dinosaur ‘corpse,’ unearthed by miners in Canada. While excavating at the Suncor Millennium Mine in Alberta in 2011, they stumbled upon the fossilized remains of a Nodosaurus, a heavily armored creature. … Displayed for the first time in 2017, it is considered one of the best-preserved dinosaur fossils ever found.

So complete are the remains that scientists at the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta were able to examine the contents of its stomach, including twigs, leaves, mosses, pollen and spores.

“Last year, archaeologist Marie Woods was looking for clams on the beach in Yorkshire, England, when she spotted something unusual: the [footprint] of a species of theropod. A dinosaur similar to a Tyrannosaurus rex, this ancient reptile also stood on two legs and was carnivorous. It was the largest footprint of its kind ever found in that part of England, reported the Good News Network. …

“In 2011, paleontologists in China encountered a big rock with a fish fossil on the surface. They hauled it back to the lab, where it sat for about a year, according to New Scientist. Then the researchers decided to crack it open.

“To their amazement, they discovered inside the remains of a mother ichthyosaur [giving] birth to three babies. One was already out of the womb, another was halfway out, and the third was waiting for its chance.

“This fossil find altered the view of when dinosaurs began having live births. … Ichthyosaurs, which evolved from land-based creatures, proved that dinosaurs had moved on from egg-laying much earlier than previously believed.

“ ‘This land-style of giving birth is only possible if they inherited it from their land ancestors,’ one of the researchers told Live Science. ‘They wouldn’t do it if live birth evolved in water.’

“Back at the restaurant in Sichuan province, [the] owner was anxious that news of the primordial find would impact her business serving homestyle meals based on local cuisine. However, she has since embraced the media hype.

“ ‘She was initially concerned that she would attract a lot of curious people and affect the restaurant’s traditional customers,’ Xing wrote. ‘But now she understands the change and is ready to roll out some dinosaur track-themed treats.’ ”

I love the names of dinosaurs and how children can recite many of them at a very young age — their first introduction to ancient Greek. When John was five, he would chant dinosaur names to baby Suzanne to make her laugh. She thought they sounded funny.

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Honolulu Civil Beat.
The inside of the Hale Lanipolua Assessment Center, which is run by Hale Kipa and serves as an alternative to the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility. 

Hawaii has a different approach to helping kids who get in trouble. There’s an understanding that girls in particular often get started in crime after serious childhood abuse — and that locking them up doesn’t solve anything. (See my 2012 post about a Boston theatrical production by former inmates that spelled out just how females can get trapped in an endless cycle of crime and punishment.)

Claire Healy writes at the Washington Post, “When Mark Patterson took over as administrator of the Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility in 2014, he inherited 500 acres of farm ranch — and the care of 26 boys and seven girls between 13 and 19 years old.

“By 2016, his facility, in Kailua, Oahu, was only holding between five and six girls at a time. And in June, the last girl left the facility. For the first time, there are no girls incarcerated in the state of Hawaii.

“Patterson said this moment is ’20 years in the making,’ and the result of a systemwide effort to divert girls from the judicial system and into trauma-based care programs. The number of incarcerated boys has also lowered significantly in the past decade, he added.

“Patterson said HYCF is a last resort — the kids there ‘have run away from programs 10 to 11 times’ and are the most vulnerable of the high-risk youth. But various state officials have agreed that ‘we no longer want to keep sending our kids to prison,’ Patterson said.

‘What I’m trying to do is end the punitive model that we have so long used for our kids, and we replace it with a therapeutic model.’

“He added, ‘Do we really have to put a child in prison because she ran away? What kind of other environment is more conducive for her to heal and be successful in the community?’

“Hawaii isn’t the only state to reach zero girls in long-term placement facilities. According to Lindsay Rosenthal, director of the Vera Institute’s Initiative to End Girls’ Incarceration, Vermont has zero long-term placement facilities for girls, and for nine months in 2020, Maine had zero incarcerated girls statewide. Since February 2021, New York City hasn’t had more than two girls in the state’s juvenile placement facility at any given time.

“This is part of a larger trend in juvenile justice reform: Since 2000, more than 1,000 juvenile facilities have closed, including two-thirds of the largest facilities. And between 2000 and 2018, youth incarceration rates dropped by more than half, according to the Square One Project, a justice reform initiative.

“But just as women are the fastest-growing prison population, the proportion of girls in juvenile detention has increased even as overall numbers have gone down. … As advocates point out, the majority of incarcerated girls are in prison for low-level offenses, often influenced by a history of abuse — as noted in various research — or systemic challenges, such as poverty.

“Rosenthal [emphasized] that a state reaching zero doesn’t necessarily reflect progress — Vermont has sent some girls to facilities in New Hampshire, and placed at least one girl into an adult prison, for example — without the presence of community-based alternative programming. HYCF is an example of a facility that has seen such an investment pay off, she said.

“Gender-focused programming is essential, Rosethal added, because of ‘the criminalization of sexual abuse.’ This legacy, she said, reaches back to colonization and slavery in the United States and has resulted in the disproportionately high incarceration rates of Black and Indigenous women and girls. …

“Patterson said the movement to replace punitive systems with trauma-informed care in Hawaii’s juvenile justice system reaches back to 2004, when Judge Karen Radius, a now-retired First Circuit Family Court judge, founded Girls Court. One of the first in the nation, the program aimed to address the specific crimes and trauma history of girls. …

“Many influential programs in the state followed the formation of Girls Court. In 2009, Project Kealahou launched as a six-year, federally funded program aimed at improving services for Hawaii’s at-risk female youth. And in 2013, Hawaii created the Juvenile Justice Reform Task Force to analyze the juvenile justice system in Hawaii and provide policy recommendations aimed at reducing the HYCF population.

“Then, in 2018, Patterson partnered with the Initiative to End Girls’ Incarceration and drafted a ’10-year strategy to get to zero.’ The overarching goal was to focus on the underlying trauma the youth were suffering from, instead of the crimes they were charged with, Patterson said.

“Before working with youths, Patterson was the warden of Hawaii’s only women’s prison, the Women’s Community Correctional Center (WCCC), across the street. He said his time there showed him how many of the women there could trace their trauma back to their home life as a child.

“That same year, he set out transitioning HYCF into the Kawailoa Youth and Family Wellness Center, remodeling the program around trauma-informed care — a framework for care providers to understand and consider the impact an individual’s trauma history has on their life and health. Today’s campus has a homeless shelter, an assessment center, a vocational program serving youths ages 15 to 24, a farm managed by a nonprofit and a high school for high-risk youths.

“Guiding this transformation was Patterson’s goal of creating a pu’uhonua — a place created within a traditional Hawaiian village for conflict resolution and forgiveness — for Hawaii’s most vulnerable youths.

“As Patterson described it, a pu’uhonua acknowledges and identifies a wrong that has been committed in the village. But unlike a punitive system, ‘we’re going to teach you how to live with the village and manage the wrong,’ he said. ‘So that you’re no longer an outcast, but you’re still welcome back.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Photo: Barry Weatherall/Unsplash.
That moment before the show starts.

When I was 10, I was the understudy for Alice in Alice in Wonderland, a big deal in my life. Television director Binny Rabinowitz adapted the book and directed the show for the Antrim Players.

I never miss a chance to tell people that future star of stage, screen, and television René Auberjonois was the Gryphon. The girl who played Alice grew up to be an architect. She actually follows this blog.

Years later, John was also in a production of Alice, not to mention a variety of cool shows after that. He’s still a natural.

Theater stayed a big part of my life after that first Antrim Players show and included a few years with the Teenage Play in Ocean Beach, Fire Island, creating with other theater-loving kids, some of whom went on to fame and fortune (e.g., Tony Roberts, Michael Pressman, Lynn Lavner).

So of course I got a kick out of last night’s living-room production orchestrated by my youngest grandchild, a 7-1/2-year old writer/director. Having commandeered her older brother plus Suzanne, Erik, and me, she rehearsed each of us individually.

I was the Announcer and received a script featuring red marker and curious spellings. I was instructed to pause after each line introducing a performer and to press a button for that person’s specially composed and recorded song.

The show was called The Fantastic Tribes. It went without a hitch until the last minute, when we would have taken our bows together (in the hand-holding, swing-your-arms-up prescribed style) if I could have figured out how to continue recording while also getting myself in the frame. The dismayed director at first wanted a retake, but her brother convinced her that the look on her face when she realized the show was over was actually a perfect ending.

The iPad video evidence has been preserved for posterity and is sure to get someone in big trouble if they ever run for public office.

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Photo: Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.
Stop signs in Cree and Dénesųłiné installed in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, Canada.

Language and culture are important in so many ways, including helping individuals define for themselves and others exactly who they are. I am reminded of the made-up languages my friends and I used in childhood, especially Goose Latin. We were the only ones who understood it, and we liked being special that way.

In Canada, where residential schools once tried to strip indigenous children from their own special language, an effort is being made to give it back.

Chico Harlan and Amanda Coletta wrote about restitution of the Cree language at the Washington Post in July. I got the story via MSN.

“Lucy Johnson never spoke the Cree language when she was growing up. Her father wouldn’t allow it. He called it ‘jungle talk.’ He didn’t elaborate much until he was weeks away from dying of alcoholism. Then he told his children that he associated the language with his experience at Ermineskin residential school. …

“ ‘The more he spoke, the more punishment he received,’ Johnson said.

“It’s a legacy of Ermineskin that Johnson, now 55 and a paralegal, can’t speak the language of her people. Nor can her six siblings. Across Canada, the often brutal residential school system, designed to assimilate Indigenous people into White, European culture, succeeded in breaking the tradition of passing on languages from generation to generation — and put the survival of some in jeopardy.

“But now, 25 years after the last residential school was shuttered, some Indigenous communities [are] reviving and relearning their native languages. It’s a movement fueled by a desire to recover what has been lost, and by a sense that progress is possible. The youngest Cree didn’t attend residential schools. Unlike their parents or grandparents, they didn’t internalize the idea that speaking their language might be wrong.

“Isaiah Swampy Omeasoo, 20, studied and made himself fluent in Cree. His wife is expecting a child in February, he said, and he’ll speak to his son or daughter in the language. …

“In Maskwacîs — an area with four First Nations reserves on the Alberta prairie between Edmonton and Calgary — Cree, the most widely spoken Indigenous language in Canada, can be found written on stop signs, municipal buildings and emergency vehicles. A local radio station has Cree-speaking DJs. The school district says its mission is about ’embedding’ Cree culture and language into education — a direct response to the damage wrought by residential schools.

“But restoring a language isn’t easy. Steve Wood, the vice principal at the high school, said only six of 54 staff members can speak Cree fluently. Many in the community aren’t conversational. Robert Ward Jr., the radio station manager, says he sometimes runs into ideas on air that he can’t express because he lacks the vocabulary. He’ll admit as much on live radio, he says, with the hope that an elder will call in and help him.

“ ‘This is a language that’s been taken from us,’ he said. …

“The United States also ran what were called Indian boarding schools through much of the 19th and 20th centuries. The Interior Department is now investigating abuses in that system. …

“In 2018, the four First Nations in Maskwacîs signed an agreement with the federal government that gave them far greater control over education, allowing them to offer and design a curriculum infused with the Cree language, culture and traditions.

“Brian Wildcat, the superintendent of the Maskwacîs Education Schools Commission, said educators are planning to pilot a new curriculum in the fall with a heavy focus on the Cree language, identity and way of life. He hopes it eventually will replace the district’s current curriculum, which was written by the province. …

“Wood, the vice principal, called restoring the language a ‘monumental effort’ — and one that requires immersion. So he tries to use Cree as much as he can: when ordering a sandwich at the local Subway or filling his car up at the gas station. ‘The language has to be heard for people to pick it up,’ he said.

“It’s with the young people, he said, where he sees progress.

“ ‘We have kids that come home from our kindergarten schools who know more Cree than their parents,’ Wood said. ‘It’s a product of what transpired.’ ”

More at MSN, here.

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Photo: Chris Linder.
“Though most of [volcanic Surtsey] island is barren,” writes Hugh Powell at Living Bird, “a heart-shaped patch of green in the southwest corner supports lush growth and hundreds of bird nests.”

Anyone who has tried to combat weeds by putting black plastic under paving stones knows how futile that is. The life force has a mind of its own. Weed seeds will blow onto the plastic and colonize it within weeks.

Similarly, a brand-new island of volcanic rock that formed in the North Atlantic is in the process of creating a complex world of its own.

Hugh Powell reports at Living Bird. “Now just shy of 60 years old, the new island of Surtsey, off Iceland, holds clues to a fundamental mystery: What did the Earth look like when it was just born? How does life colonize bare rock?

“In 1963, a volcano erupted underneath the cold waters of the North Atlantic, 10 miles off Iceland’s southwest coast. The eruption lasted for four years. Eventually, the lava and ash cooled into a black-and-tan island named Surtsey, and the first fragile seeds of life started to wash ashore.

“Every year since the island came into being, scientists have visited Surtsey to track its ecological development. Visits to Surtsey require a permit — casual sightseeing stops are strictly prohibited — in order to preserve the island’s ecological integrity. Even today, a researchers’ red-roofed hut and an abandoned lighthouse foundation are the only buildings on Surtsey. …

“The scientists’ annual visits have generated a fascinating timeline of the pace of colonization by plant, bird, and even insect species.

“The first plant to arrive, a sea rocket (Cakile maritima), washed ashore in 1965, while the island was still erupting. By 1970, Black Guillemots had begun to nest, using the black volcanic cliffs as a foothold while getting their food from the sea.

“Over the next two decades, about 20 other plant species arrived, some by wind and some on the feet or in the stomachs of seabirds. A few additional birds set up nests as well, including Northern Fulmars and Black-legged Kittiwakes. But it wasn’t until 1985 that both plant and animal diversity started to shift into a higher gear, thanks to the arrival of an unexpected hero: the humble seagull. …

“Plant diversity had plateaued by the 1970s with fewer than 20 species established, and it didn’t take off again until a gull colony developed in 1986. The gulls — mostly Lesser Black-backed along with Great Black-backed, Herring, and Glaucous — carried with them not just new kinds of seeds, but also fertilizer in the form of nitrogen-rich guano.

“At first the gulls nested on bare black rock, but soon a lush green meadow encircled the colony, fed by gull droppings. By 2013 the meadow spread across 12 hectares (about 30 acres), supporting twice as much plant diversity and five times more biomass than the rest of the island. The number of plant species soared to 64 by 2007. …

“A more complex food web started to develop. Graylag Geese first arrived in 2001 and fed on the thick grasses. As insects like springtails, moths, and beetles began to thrive among the plant growth, insect-eating birds began to appear as well, such as Snow Buntings, White Wagtails, and Meadow Pipits. In 2008 the first ravens arrived, feeding in part on stolen seabird eggs.

“At almost 60 years old, Surtsey is still a geologic infant — its sister islands in Iceland’s Westman archipelago are about 40,000 years old. Researchers think much of the island will erode away. …

“The hard crater walls will become steep-sided seacliffs where murres and Razorbills will nest alongside the fulmars and kittiwakes already present. Atop the island, a thick turf will develop, dominated by just a few grass species. In perhaps a century or two, Atlantic Puffins will nest in the deep soil that develops.

“For now, researchers describe Surtsey as living in something of a golden age. Plant diversity has peaked at 64 species, but it’s beginning to decline as ecological competition starts to squeeze out some of the initial colonists. As the plant community develops, birds continue to find footholds. Some 17 species have nested here so far, with nearly 100 species recorded overall — including tired or off-course migrants for which jagged Surtsey is a welcome piece of terra firma in the North Atlantic.”

More at Living Bird, here. No firewall.

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