Feeds:
Posts
Comments
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.

Theatrics

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.

Everyday Cree Language

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.

Birds of a New Island

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.

Global Rewilding

Photo: Philip Brown/Unsplash.
Bison are being brought back in the US West.

Recently on Twitter, @LakotaMan1 shared a photo of a rare white buffalo, sacred to some indigenous tribes. Its location was being kept secret from the modern version of those hunters who nearly wiped out bison in the West. I was excited to see Lakota Man’s picture as I remember the white buffalo in the old television show Rin Tin Tin — and even the words to the song about it.

Janet Marinelli writes at YaleEnvironment360 that large mammals like the bison are being deliberately brought back around the world to create healthier ecosystems.

“For thousands of years, bison herds thundered freely throughout the Chihuahuan Desert on both sides of what is now the U.S.-Mexico border. In November 2009, after three frantic months of chasing down the required permits, Rurik List and Nélida Barajas watched as 23 bison from Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota arrived by tractor-trailer at the Santa Teresa international cattle crossing in southeastern New Mexico.

“The animals, 20 females and three males, galloped through the dusty stockyards, across the border, and into the state of Chihuahua. A permanent herd of wild bison had been missing from Mexico for more than 150 years. ‘It’s hard to describe the feeling,’ says Barajas. ‘We were bringing the bison back home.’

“Two weeks later, 140 miles southwest of the border crossing, the bison were released from a quarantine corral at El Uno ranch, a 46,000-acre oasis of recovering grasslands in a Chihuahuan Desert landscape severely degraded by the overgrazing of domestic livestock.

“List, a conservation biologist at Mexico’s National University who had drafted the bison restoration plan for northern Mexico, and Barajas, a Nature Conservancy scientist and the ranch manager at the time, were joined by 700 government officials and local ranchers and farmers and their families to witness the event. When the gates opened, a bull led the herd into an iconic Western tableau of big sky and luminous sweeps of golden desert grasses backed by the rugged peaks of the Sierra Madre Occidental.

“Bison, which can reach six and a half feet at the shoulder and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds, are critical to the continued recovery of the desert grasslands. Unlike cattle, which graze grasses to the root, bison roam while they graze, leaving enough of each plant to enable it to continue to grow. They also wallow, sculpting depressions in the ground where water can accumulate and sustain healthy stands of grass.

In the past two or three decades, research has underscored the importance of large mammals like bison as ecosystem engineers, shaping and maintaining natural processes and sequestering large amounts of carbon.

“But the world’s large herbivores and predators continue to suffer alarming losses. Researchers estimate that almost two-thirds of the world’s large carnivores are threatened with extinction. Fewer than 6 percent of 730 ecoregions worldwide studied by scientists still have the extensive, intact large-mammal communities that were dominant 500 years ago.

“After several decades of research refining the understanding of the importance of large mammals to healthy ecosystems, scientists are now proposing a concrete plan about which herbivores and predators to reintroduce and where, and how this might best be done, given the challenges.

“In a paper published earlier this year, a global team of researchers led by the U.N. Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the U.S. nonprofit organization RESOLVE proposed a detailed strategy to reverse the global decline of large mammals and the ecoregions they once inhabited. …

“According to the study, published in the journal Ecography, reintroducing just 20 large mammals — 13 herbivore and seven predator species — can help biodiversity bounce back around the world and tackle climate change in the process. Among these candidates for rewilding are brown bears, bison, wild horses, jaguars, reindeer, Eurasian beavers, elk, moose, wolverines, tigers, and hippopotamuses.

“The researchers also identify 30 priority ecoregions on five continents that meet key criteria: They lack no more than one to three of the large herbivores and predators historically present, provide extensive habitat, and can feasibly be restored in the coming decade. These areas range from the flooded grasslands of South Sudan and the dry puna of the Central Andes to the xeric grasslands and shrublands of the Chihuahuan Desert, where intact communities of large mammals could be restored in the next five to 10 years, the scientists say. …

“Restoring intact communities of large mammals such as these won’t be easy. Throughout history people have feared large animals, particularly predators, justifying politically expedient measures to minimize their numbers — or even eliminate them altogether. Oregon State University researchers Christopher Wolf and William J. Ripple calculate that 64 percent of the world’s remaining large carnivores are at risk of extinction and 80 percent are declining. According to Jens-Christian Svenning, a professor of ecology at Denmark’s Aarhus University and co-author of the Ecography paper, the state of the world’s large herbivore species is almost as dire, with 59 percent of the 74 species of large herbivore species weighing 220 pounds or more threatened with extinction.

“The body of scientific literature documenting the importance of top predators and herbivores has revealed how their loss destabilizes and even unravels ecosystems. In the absence of predators, for example, populations of herbivores often explode. In the eastern U.S., deer were once kept in check by wolves and mountain lions. Today, booming deer populations are preventing keystone species such as oaks from reproducing and have literally devoured the understory habitat of hooded warblers and other birds.

“Research has also demonstrated that healthy animal populations play an important role in sequestering carbon. Yale School of the Environment ecologist Oswald J. Schmitz notes that even if we could completely stop all our emissions, switch to renewables, and stop deforestation, it wouldn’t keep global temperature rise under the tipping point of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

” ‘We have to draw out a significant amount of CO2 and store it on the planet to stabilize the temperature,’ he says. ‘Animals can help us get to this goal a lot faster.’ Schmitz and colleagues in the Global Rewilding Alliance calculate that rewilding, restoring, and conserving endangered and threatened animals could increase carbon uptake by 1.5 to 3 times or more around the world.”

More at E360, here.

Unions Resurgent

Photo: CNN.
Starbucks Workers United partners celebrate a victory after watching the union vote count in Mesa, Arizona.

On Labor Day weekend, I’m thinking about traditional labor unions and how they benefited not only members but nonunion workers, too. I know there were abuses once the leaders got too powerful, but power has swung back too much in favor of corporations, I think.

So today I’m taking a look at recent actions on the fringes of the movement and pondering what it might mean for the future.

In April, Chris Isidore and Sara O’Brien of CNN reported on the relatively small but meaningful wins at Starbucks and Amazon.

“Labor unions haven’t had this much success in decades. After years of failed organizing efforts and a long, steady decline in the number of private sector workers represented by unions, two grassroots upstart groups have scored recent victories at two of the nation’s largest employers: Amazon and Starbucks. …

” ‘I think it’s very significant, even though it’s a small percentage of the workforces so far,’ said Alexander Colvin, dean of Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations School. …

“The National Labor Relations Board reports that from October 2021 through last [March], 1,174 petitions were filed at the agency seeking union representation. That’s up 57% from the same period a year earlier — and the highest level of union organizing in 10 years.

“The Amazon and Starbucks victories are important to union organizing efforts, Colvin said.

“That sentiment is echoed by Chris Smalls, who went from fired Amazon employee to the the leader of the Amazon Labor Union, which recently became the first union to win a representation vote at one of Amazon’s facilities. …

” ‘I think what we did … is a catalyst for a revolution with Amazon workers, just like the Starbucks unionizing effort,’ he said on an interview on CNN+. …

“Over at Starbucks, since December workers at 17 stores from Boston to its hometown of Seattle have voted to be represented by Starbucks Workers United — a separate grassroots union effort that has filed to hold votes at more than 100 additional stores.

“Starbucks has about 235,000 workers spread across 9,000 company-operated US stores. Fewer than 1,000 workers at the 17 stores have voted for the union. It’s similar at Amazon, where some 8,300 hourly workers were eligible to vote at the Staten Island facility. That’s not even 1% of the company’s US workforce of 1.1 million employees, including both warehouse and office workers. …

“Still, the efforts seem to be having an effect. Starbucks recently announced it suspended repurchases of its stock, a move that would benefit primarily its shareholders, in order to invest more in its employees. The company also instituted two wage increases in the last 18 months, and in October said it would raise wages. …

“Many of the unions’ demands stem from the difficulties of working during the pandemic during the last two years, said John Logan, professor of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University.

” ‘Part of what’s changed is we’re just in a different moment, [with] frontline workers feeling they were not rewarded or treated with respect during the pandemic,’ said Logan. …

“It’s an uphill battle for unions to win new members, but that doesn’t mean they can’t succeed, said Erik Loomis, a labor historian and associate professor at the University of Rhode Island.

” ‘Amazon is the GM or the US Steel of our time — and it took decades to organize those places,’ he said last month, before the vote results at Amazon were known. ‘It took many different forms of campaigns led by different ideologies, different modes of organizing … before these kind of companies were finally successfully organized.’ “

Lauren Kaori Gurley at the Washington Post had more to add in August: “Workers have voted to unionize for the first time in recent weeks at Trader Joe’s and Chipotle. Unions have also made significant inroads at AmazonStarbucksApple and REI, employers that have long resisted unionization.

“Behind these small, but notable, victories is renewed popular support among Americans for the labor movement: Seventy-one percent of Americans approve of unions, matching a 53-year high, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday. …

“According to a monthly report released Tuesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people who quit their jobs remained elevated although below its peak, at 2.7 percent, as record numbers of Americans continue to reconsider their employment options. The report offered signs that workers will remain emboldened to engage in workplace activism. …

“The July jobs report shocked many economists: Employers added 528,000 jobs, shattering expectations. … Economists say tight labor markets tend to give workers more leverage to form unions and to demand higher wages and better working conditions, while downturns leave workers less willing to make collective demands of their employers.

“ ‘Unless the labor market cools off a lot, there’s going to continue to be a lot of workers demanding collective bargaining power,’ [Guy Berger, principal economist at LinkedIn] said.

“Still, even a cooling-off economy would not necessarily undo cultural shifts that have resulted in the rising popularity of unions, particularly among young, college-educated workers. …

“Despite a 56 percent uptick in filings for union elections nationwide in the first three quarters of the 2022 fiscal year, labor experts say that many of these victories at major employers such as Amazon and Starbucks are mostly symbolic, covering a mere sliver of these companies’ enormous workforces. Meanwhile, although support for unions has been steadily increasing since the pandemic, union membership in the United States declined last year; only 1 in 10 workers are union members. …

“ ‘There’s still a huge disconnect between this recent organizing wave and long-term national membership trends,’ said [Logan]. ‘The real significance of these campaigns is not in the number of new members, which is pretty meaningless, but the excitement, optimism and inspiration they generate in some sections of the labor force — especially among young, politicized, educated workers in the low-wage service sector.’ ” More at CNN, here, and the Post, here.

Underground Mosques

Photo: Tunisia Guru.
An underground mosque on the island of Djerba in Tunisia.

I got interested in finding out more about underground mosques after seeing a photo of one on the island of Djerba in Tunisia — an island thought to be the same that Homer had in mind when writing about the Lotus Eaters in the Odyssey.

An entry at Wikipedia says that underground mosques are “either erected beneath other buildings or lay freely in the ground with an inconspicuous appearance. The prayer rooms in underground mosques are usually very small, and they also have no minarets. Underground mosques are very rare. [The Djerba mosque] served as a hidden place of prayer for the Ibadis.”

From a different Wikipedia page, we learn that the mosque is near Sedouikech, Tunisia, and dates from the 12th or 13th century. “Surrounded by an olive grove, it opens to the outside by a very steep staircase that leads to the main room; next to it is a large underground tank fed by a well. Another of these underground mosques is located on the Ajim road. Not being used for worship, these mosques can be freely visited.”

An underground mosque in Turkey was built only recently, not because worshippers needed to hide like the Ibadis but because underground worship can feel peaceful.

Menekse Tokyay writes at Alarabiya, “The uniqueness of the Sancaklar mosque is that it departs from standard mosque design in a bid to break architectural taboos and encourage worshippers to focus on the essence of the religious space and on the Islamic faith. …

“Strolling around the mosque’s outdoor area, you will notice a long canopy running along one side where two olive trees and one linden tree are located. From this point, you have to descend natural stone stairs to reach the building.

“The cavernous prayer hall of the mosque is large enough to host more than 650 worshippers, while it aims to isolate believers from the outside world and invite them to delve deeper into their inner world.

“What strikes one about the Sancaklar mosque is that its design is humble and simple, perhaps to deepen worshippers’ relationship with their faith, and with this underground concept, visitors can leave behind all the challenges of the outside world. …

“Sancaklar mosque stands in Istanbul’s suburban Buyukcekmece district and is spread over an area of 1,200 square meters. The architecture combines Islamic and Ottoman designs with a modern touch, seemingly free from mainstream architectural typology.

“In 2013, out of 704 projects from 50 countries, the building won first prize in the World Architecture Festival competition for religious places. In 2015, the project was selected for the Design of the Year award, organized by the London Design Museum and it was also shortlisted among the 40 nominees for the Mies Van der Rohe Award.

“The mosque was designed by Turkish architect Emre Arolat for the Sancaklar Foundation. …

“The only decoration on the walls is the Arabic letter ‘waw’ and verse 41 of Surat al-Ahzab, a chapter in the Quran: ‘O you who have believed, remember Allah with much remembrance.’

“The main space is free of any decorative ornaments unlike many modern mosques built recently in Turkey. Daylight penetrates the prayer hall along the Qibla, or Mecca-facing, wall. …

“ Every time I come here for worship I feel an enormous [sense of] inner peace. It is also a place of meditation for me when praying under daylight infiltrating into the hall,’ Asli Karacan, a youngster living nearby, told Alarabiya.”

More at Wikipedia, here and here — also at Alarabiya, here.

Photo: Musicians In Exile.
The Glasgow Barons.

When musicians bring their music to a new country, they influence and enrich the local music scene while healing themselves from the trauma of uprooted lives. Consider Musicians in Exile, a refugee orchestra in Scotland. Malcolm Jack wrote about it for Time Out.

“When Angaddeep Singh Vig arrived in Glasgow from India as an 18-year-old asylum seeker in January 2020, without any of his beloved musical instruments, he remembers feeling like ‘a guy without a soul.’ …

” ‘Music is part and parcel of my life,’ he says, and it has been ever since his father bought him a set of tabla hand drums aged just four. By his mid-teens Singh Vig had mastered not only that instrument but also the harmonium and flute, as well as singing. He had even begun teaching music. But when he and his parents were forced to flee India due to violent persecution by criminal gangs, they left with next to nothing, arriving in a strange and faraway land unable to work, study or begin rebuilding their lives.

“More than two years later, Singh Vig lives with his mother and father in temporary accommodation in Govan, as they continue their long and agonizing wait for leave to remain in the UK. But thanks to Musicians In Exile – Glasgow’s asylum seeker and refugee orchestra – he has got his soul back, and then some.

“Started in 2019, the project is the brainchild of Paul MacAlindin, a freelance conductor who has worked with orchestras and ensembles all over the world, from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra to the Armenian Philharmonic and the Düsseldorf Symphoniker. From 2009 to 2014, MacAlindin was music director of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq – a maverick mission to help young musicians in the country pull themselves out of the horrors of war. ‘And it worked,’ he says, ‘until the invasion of Islamic State.’

“The orchestra collapsed, and so did MacAlindin, ‘mentally and physically,’ he says, ‘because after investing all the energy of keeping that thing alive and then having it stopped in such a dramatic fashion, I was just left completely floored.’ He moved back to his native Scotland to heal, choosing Govan purely as a cheap place to put a roof over his head. There, quite by luck, he suddenly found himself among the diverse and in many cases displaced communities of the former shipbuilding district on the south bank of the River Clyde – which is also the location of a branch of the Home Office, and thus is home to a lot of asylum seekers and refugees.

“MacAlindin founded The Glasgow Barons – an award-winning ‘regeneration orchestra’ set up to help revitalize Govan through performances in local venues by musicians of all backgrounds. Musicians in Exile grew out of that, as a way of helping to give musician asylum seekers and refugees in the area a chance to gather every Tuesday evening to sing, play and share their talents, experiences, stories and songs. …

“If members don’t have instruments, then MacAlindin – who receives funding from the People’s Postcode Trust, the Robertson Trust, and Creative Scotland Lottery – sources and buys them one, however rare it may be (he’s currently in the market for an Albanian two-string plucked instrument called a çifteli).

During lockdowns, when sessions had to be moved online, he also helped his members to buy digital devices and access to the internet so they could keep communicating and playing together.

“Through Musicians in Exile, as well as the generosity of others in his local community, Singh Vig now not only has a tabla again, but also a harmonium, a violin, a mandolin and an electric guitar (which he quickly learned to play, despite never having touched one before). ‘Now I’ve got many souls,’ he laughs. His father and mother, who are also musicians, come along to sessions too – Singh Vig credits it with helping to pull them both out of a deep malaise and, in his father’s case, even clinical depression.

“Singh Vig and Musicians In Exile have played several high-profile concerts. They included … a pre-recorded video performance for the opening of the new parliamentary session in October 2021. It was broadcast in the chamber to an audience of dignitaries including, among others, The Queen. Singh Vig was impossible to miss, sat at the centre of the ensemble in a bright red turban and denim jacket. ‘The Queen is watching me,’ he remembers thinking. ‘I cannae believe it.’ “

More at Time Out, here.

Photo: El País.
A Corinthian capital and fluted drum with a shaft located in a city discovered at the foot of the Pyrenees in 2018.

Do you ever wonder what sort of report archaeologists of a future civilization would write about your town? What if they had only the location and a few crumbled buildings to go on, no contemporary testimony? That was the plight of a group of archaeologists in Spain who investigated a “new” ancient city.

Vicente G. Olaya says at El País that archaeologists were surprised that they didn’t know the name of a recently unearthed city, but there were simply no historical documents mentioning it.

“In 2018,” he says, “the City Council of Artieda — located in northeastern Spain in the province of Zaragoza, and part of the country’s Aragon region — asked the University of Zaragoza’s Archaeology Department for help in studying some ruins located around the San Pedro hermitage, known variously as El Forau de la Tuta, Campo de la Virgen, or Campo del Royo.

“Three years later, the experts have confirmed that these sites formed a large single archaeological complex, and they detected two phases of occupation on the surface of the site: one during the imperial Roman period (the 1st to 5th centuries) and another during the early-medieval Christian era (the 9th to 13th centuries). Now, the research team has published the results in a reportEl Forau de la Tuta: A Hitherto Unknown Roman Imperial City on the Southern Slopes of the Pyrenees. …

“The report notes that based on important evidence from the ruins preserved in the hermitage, as well as artifacts held in various public and private collections and the findings at the site, the settlement was ‘of urban character — the city’s name is currently unknown — and it developed during the [Roman] imperial period. Later, the same site took on another iteration as a rural habitat during the Visigoth and early Andalusian periods.’

“The specialists have also found that, between the 9th and 13th centuries, another peasant habitat-type town or village was superimposed on top of the Roman settlement. They have identified the village as Artede, Arteda, Artieda or Arteda Ciuitate. The medieval enclave’s ruins include the apse area of the church, which was part of the San Pedro hermitage; numerous silos with circular openings, which were excavated from the subsoil and only perceptible by geo-radar; and an extensive cemetery consistent with Christian burial rites. …

“The El Forau de la Tuta site is located 1.5 kilometers from Artieda’s city center, on the fertile plain of the Aragón River. … It is possible that the site’s dimensions are even larger and that it extends to other — still unexplored — agricultural lands.

“The Roman settlement stood next to the road connecting three northern cities. … Currently known as Camino Real de Ruesta a Mianos (the High Road from Ruesta to Mianos), the road lasted through the Middle Ages as a stretch of the French Route, the Arles Way or the Via Tolosana (Tolouse Route), as part of the Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago). …

“Inside the hermitage, the study’s authors have identified two Corinthian capitals, three Italic Attic bases, a classical Attic base, several flat-edged fluted shaft drums, and a fragment of cornice. The huge dimensions and typology of the artifacts indicate that they came from several early [Roman Empire] public buildings. … 

“The study confirms that these pieces come from at least two different monuments. Their typologies indicate that they were sculpted more than half a century apart, ‘which demonstrates a prolonged period in the process of monumentalizing the city.’

“To the west of El Forau de la Tuta, next to the San Pedro ravine, ‘an impressive set of public works made of opus caementicium (the Romans’ early version of concrete) including at least four sewer outlets, a powerful massive abutment, a foundation, and a series of quadrangular structures,’ possibly supply cisterns, is also preserved. … The presence of these works is typical of urban settlements, where water drainage was a problem that had to be addressed, especially in relation to buildings, such as bath houses, that produced a large amount of water waste. …

“Archaeologists are also currently studying a sculptural fragment that is preserved in an Artieda private collection. The artifact — which was collected near the hermitage — is an incomplete, nearly life-sized left hand that holds a patera umbilicata [an offering bowl], which would have been part of a statue representing an offering figure. …

“In the first round of excavations in 2021, the archaeologists confirmed the existence of an intersection of two roads. ‘On one of the roads, possibly one of the settlement’s main streets, we documented the ruins of a sidewalk and a surface channel for draining water, which pedestrians could circumvent by means of three steppingstones.’ …

“In one of the excavations they performed, the archaeologists found ample remains of black and white mosaics made with tesserae (small cubes of stone or glass) and fragments of rudus (a layer of material placed under the tesserae). …

“Inside this structure, under a large number of slabs that fell in the building’s collapse, archaeologists found a practically complete black-and-white tessellated pavement (with some isolated red and yellow tesserae); it was extraordinarily preserved. Decorated with iconographic motifs in white on a black background, it has shells or scallops in the four corners, while the central emblem features seahorses, ridden by little Cupids, facing each other next to three representations of marine animals, a fish in the upper part and possibly two dolphins in the lower part.

“Thus, the archaeologists are certain that everything they’ve found so far ‘corresponds to a single urban complex from between the first and second centuries, and that the city had infrastructure and public monuments, including baths, a water supply system, regular urban planning, sewers, and possibly a temple.’ ” 

I can’t help thinking about the way early archaeologists (Schliemann, say, at Troy) barged in and dug at random, destroying historical records. Imagine how carefully and boringly the archaeologists in today’s story had to sift every little thing to discover the town built on top of the Roman city — and date both!

More at El País, here.

Photo: Hyper Voisins.
A 705-foot banquet table meant to seat 648 people in a Paris neighborhood that’s seeking a more neighborly lifestyle.

It’s that time of year again — time for our valiant but hopeless block party, when we smile and reintroduce ourselves to neighbors that we will look right through when we bump into them in the market in January. If New England can’t make mutual support and cooperation work, how in the world can Paris?

Peter Yeung at the Guardian describes an experiment in France.

“It was a distinctly un-Parisian revolution although it began on an inner city street. No barricades were assembled to block the nearby boulevards and no radical students hurled cobblestones ripped from the pavement. …

“Instead, a 215-meter-long [about 705 feet] banquet table, lined with 648 chairs and laden with a home cooked produce, was set up along the Rue de l’Aude and those in attendance were urged to openly utter the most subversive of words: bonjour.

“For some, that greeting led to the first meaningful exchange between neighbors. ‘I’d never seen anything like it before,’ says Benjamin Zhong who runs a cafe in the area. ‘It felt like the street belonged to me, to all of us.’

“The revolutionaries pledged their allegiance that September day in 2017 to the self-styled République des Hyper Voisins, or Republic of Super Neighbors, a stretch of the 14th arrondissement on the Left Bank, encompassing roughly 50 streets and 15,000 residents. In the five years since, the republic – a ‘laboratory for social experimentation’ – has attempted to address the shortcomings of modern city living, which can be transactional, fast-paced, and lonely.

“The experiment encourages people not just to salute each other more in the street but to interact daily through mutual aid schemes, voluntary skills-sharing and organized meet ups.

“ ‘The stereotype of a Parisian is brusque and unfriendly,’ says Patrick Bernard, the former journalist and local resident who launched the project. ‘But city living doesn’t have to be unpleasant and anonymous. We want to create the atmosphere of a village in an urban space. [Conviviality] can become a powerful asset, an essential economic and social agent in the construction of tomorrow’s cities.’

“Nearly 2,000 people now attend weekly brunches and apéritifs in local restaurants, cultural outings, memory exchanges, children’s activities and more. During the pandemic, residents mobilized to make masks, deliver shopping to vulnerable neighbors and bake cakes to support a local charity. Crucial, too, is the digital aspect: dozens of WhatsApp groups include those dedicated to repairing broken devices, selling second-hand goods, and sharing healthcare resources. …

“Mireille Roberdeau, an 86-year-old widow who moved to the area in 2000, says the scheme has given her a reason to get up in the morning. ‘I was quite timid before,’ she adds. ‘I wouldn’t speak to anyone. I would scowl at people. But now I look forward to going out. It’s good because my doctor says I need to get out.’

“Roberdeau, now a keen user of the WhatsApp groups was hospitalized in March but says neighbors delivered her groceries when she got home. …

“Beyond the ‘eating, drinking and celebrating as social engineering,’ in the words of Bernard, that defined the initial stages of Hyper Voisins, the long-term targets – aimed at transforming the very nature and functioning of an urban neighborhood – come under four pillars: environment, healthcare, public spaces and mobility.

“It has, for example, collaborated with non-profit Les Alchimistes to install organic waste disposal points in former parking spaces and to turn the matter into compost. Perhaps more radically at a time of strained healthcare provision in France, it is launching a health clinic geared towards local needs. [It] will have a staff of 10 and offer extended opening hours, consultations without appointment and home visits. …

“To reduce local car use by residents and traders, Hyper Voisins plans to buy electric bikes with trailers and install a communal electric bike charger. It is also in talks with the mayor to potentially levy a local tax on unwanted businesses such as estate agents, banks and delivery hubs and give residents a vote on whether they can even move in. ‘We want to promote stores that improve our daily life,’ adds Bernard. ‘If not, like a polluter, they should pay.’ …

“A study by sociologist Camille Arnodin found that Hyper Voisins – and two other community volunteer projects in Paris – had reinforced pandemic resilience, transformed weak neighbourly links into strong bonds, improved social mixing and reduced social isolation. …

“[But it] noted issues over inclusion: the scheme could risk leaving out either those who don’t wish to participate in activities or those who ‘don’t feel included or informed.’ ”

What do you think? Several readers are more intimate with Paris than I am, having been there only once, decades ago. So I would love to hear what you think of the experiment. Good idea? Can’t possibly survive?

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: Everybody Dance.
Summer dance participant in Los Angeles.

There are certain kinds of opportunities that are taken for granted in higher-income families. Being able to participate in sports that require equipment, tutors, summer camp, music and dance and art classes, college. Mary McNamara writes at the Los Angeles Times about a dance class that gets lower-income children and families thinking that opportunity might be possible for them, too.

“We could all use some good news these days, and that’s what Natasha Kaneda offered when she said [‘You can’t be scared when you’re dancing’] to her Jazz I class of 8- and 9-year-olds. …

“She was reminding them to stay focused even if something went wrong during a routine — to resume their dance without fear. She said it quickly, almost as an afterthought, but it should be on a T-shirt, like the Everybody Dance LA! T-shirts these kids were wearing.

“Practicing for their upcoming spring recital, these boys and girls could be part of any dance program. Well, maybe not any — their execution of steps exhibit grace, precision and energy, and their teachers, though unfailingly patient, are not about to let an imperfectly pointed toe or lethargic arm movement pass uncorrected.

“Whatever the skill level, the courses at Burlington studios, part of the building that also holds Camino Nuevo Charter Academy, are so instantly familiar they could be anywhere.

“Except that … for kids living below a certain income bracket, dance class is too often an impossibility. Clothing and lessons cost money; access to those mirrored rooms, even the ones at the local Y, is often out of reach.

“The dancers and the parents at the Burlington studios … wouldn’t ordinarily be taking pride in last summer’s performance with the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Dance Project, or preparing to send all of their graduating seniors off to college.

“Yet here they all are, part of the Everybody Dance LA!, an almost-too-good-to-be-true program founded more than 20 years ago by a grieving mother who believed that things should not remain unequal — and that you can’t be scared when you’re dancing.

“In 1999, 13-year old Gabriella Axelrad was hit by a car while biking in the Grand Tetons National Park. After Gabriella died, her mother, Liza Bercovici, found herself unable to simply return to her life as a family law specialist. Instead, she decided to commemorate her daughter, who loved to dance, by creating a program for low-income children. She would employ top dance teachers at professional wages and emphasize excellence and life skills along with creativity and collaboration.

“Bercovici’s biggest fear when she opened the doors to those first classes a year later, in the ballroom of the renovated Sheraton Town House hotel near Lafayette Park, was that no one would come.

“ ‘I looked out the window and saw this huge crowd,’ she says now. ‘I thought it was people wanting to rent apartments in the [low-cost] building. But it was people who had come for the dance classes.’

“What started as 35 children in 12 extra-curricular classes grew to more than 5,000 served by in-school, after-school and summer camp classes; in 2014, Everybody Dance won a 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.

“Many students enter the program when they are 4 or 5 and stay until they graduate high school; a few, like Zuleny Ordonez and Kimberly Gomez, returned to work for EDLA!

“ ‘When you’re a low-income family, there’s a stigma about asking for help,’ says Gomez, now a teaching artist with the program, who joined the staff as a dance site coordinator after graduating from UC Irvine. ‘The teachers here gave us someone to talk to, someone to listen to us. I would be here from right after school until 9. Change in the car, do homework here, it was my second home.’

“Ordonez works here as teacher’s assistant while taking classes at Santa Monica College. ‘I was very hyper as a child and my mom found this,’ she says. ‘I grew up with the other students here.’ …

“Bercovici realized she could do even more good if she ‘had the kids for eight hours instead of two.’ So she founded the Gabriella Charter Schools; in 2015, she stepped down as Everybody Dance’s director, turning it over to Tina Banchero, a former dancer and artistic director of Dance Mission Theater’s Youth Program in San Francisco. Banchero has run it ever since. …

“EDLA! lost about 1,100 students during the peak of the pandemic. For those who stayed, dance class, like everything else, went virtual. ‘We pivoted to online in less than two weeks,’ Banchero says. ‘I was so proud of everyone.’

“Children across the country were trapped at home for more than a year, struggling with online learning and isolation. But Banchero’s students, Banchero’s families, have had a harder time than most. For low-income, urban families, COVID-19 has been particularly devastating. Many parents lost their jobs and many of those who didn’t continued to work in person. Cramped housing, which often included multiple generations, left little space for kids to study, much less dance.

“ ‘We had kids dancing between two bunk beds,’ Banchero said. ‘But it was so important for them to turn their cameras on, see our teachers and other students, and dance. We had a number of kids who were struggling with depression. So many of our families lost a loved one. …

“ ‘I realized how much l love my job during that time,’ Kaneda says. ‘Because when I ended my Zoom class, I would feel happy for the first time that day.’ “

More at the LA Times, here.

They Stayed in Kyiv

Photos: Iryna Dobryakova.
Young creatives who stayed behind in war-torn Ukraine.

Blog readers know that Asakiyume and I spent a few months helping media people in Ukraine with their English social-media outreach. (See this post.)

It’s not the same, but the native English speakers and Ukrainians on the team do keep in touch via Facebook. And we donate to former colleague Vitali’s work to help children traumatized by war in Rivne. Vitali has not seen his little daughter since the war started, which makes me sad. At least he knows she’s safe outside the country. And while he stays behind, he volunteers to help other children.

Shelby Wilder writes at Mic about some others who stayed behind.

“Russia’s war on Ukraine has disrupted the lives of millions. Many people fled their homes when mounting evidence of the impending ‘special military operation’ surfaced. As the country’s economy nosedived and the possibilities of work and earning a living wage evaporated, Ukrainians have pivoted their careers and reinvented themselves for the sake of survival. … It’s young people — the future of the country — who are leading the charge. History has shown that wars are not just fought with guns; they are fought with art and stories by creatives with the capability to fortify hearts and minds.”

MICHAEL FOSTIK | МИХАЙЛО ФОСТИК Profession: Director, Cinematographer, age 32

“Michael Fostik, a director and cinematographer by trade, resides in London but returned to Ukraine during the COVID pandemic to be closer to family. He was shooting commercial and creative projects while in his home country, but just as the pandemic began to wind down, news of a potential war with Russia started to spread. At the beginning of February, Michael relocated his mother and grandmother from Kyiv’s northern suburbs to his hometown in Transcarpathia, a remote region in western Ukraine. His family initially resisted immediate evacuation, but in time, Michael’s insistence would prove vital. Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022, and within a matter of days the Russian military was within reach of the family’s by-then-vacant home.

“Once Michael moved his family to safety, he had planned to return to the U.K. ‘My life was in London,’ he tells Mic. ‘I have an apartment there, I had jobs lined up, everything was waiting for me, and then overnight it suddenly stopped.’ Less than 24 hours after Russia invaded, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree of martial law that banned male citizens ages 18 to 60 from leaving the country, in case they were needed to defend their homeland. So Michael stayed in Kyiv. …

“Beyond being physically constrained within his country’s borders, Michael’s creativity was restricted by the conflict too. ‘The digital and creative content being produced in the country is centered around war,’ he says. ‘There isn’t capacity to create in other genres or to cover anything else; it’s not relevant. As a result, there’s currently an undeniable heaviness in our culture.’

“So, Michael pivoted to journalism, covering the unfolding conflict in order to make ends meet. He visited the front lines as Russia’s army made advances on the capital. Ukraine’s Armed Forces required that individuals reporting to the war zone have their own body armor, but Michael knew that it would be nearly impossible to acquire a bulletproof vest during the chaos. He tried to be resourceful and ordered a flak jacket on Amazon. But when it arrived, the vest was empty; the essential Kevlar was not included.

“In true Ukrainian spirit, Michael filled the lining of the vest with books instead and headed towards combat. Michael says he deliberately selected the books that would serve as makeshift armor: ‘I chose carefully. I couldn’t just fill it with any random book! I chose books that meant something to me.’ The literature ended up coming in handy when he was forced to retreat to a bunker for several days. He passed the time by removing and reading the books one by one. When he emerged from the bunker, he says, someone remarked that his vest looked different.

“ ‘I’d finished all the books by that time and left them behind,’ Michael says.”

VIKTORIIA PETROVA | ПЕТРОВА ВІКТОРІЯ, choreographer, age 23, and OLEKSII STEPANKOV | СТЕПАНКОВ ОЛЕКСІЙ, artist, age 30

“Viktoriia Petrova and Oleksii Stepankov are a husband and wife who have been separated by the war. A trained dancer, Viktoriia has worked as a choreographer in independent theater productions, specializing in modern dance with a focus on free form. ‘Improvisation is imagination,’ she says. Oleksii is an artist and director of photography who works in theater, cinema, and sculpture. He works with materials in their natural surroundings to combine textures and light, allowing the imaginations of viewers to interpret their own stories. Oleksii comes from a legendary family of artists: His grandmother is the famous theater and cinema figure Ada Rogovtseva.

“Since Feb. 24, the lives of Oleksii and Viktoriia have completely changed. On the second day of Russia’s invasion, Oleksii joined the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps for the defense of Kyiv. After Russia’s military retreated, he joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine and was deployed to the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, while Viktoriia has remained in the capital city.

“Viktoriia describes how their priorities shifted: ‘Men fight, and the volunteer movement rests on the women left behind. The theater that our family is involved in has become a volunteer center. Instead of rehearsals, we’re coordinating humanitarian aid.’ On March 27, the International Day of Theatre, Viktoriia, along with others from her theater troupe, helped organize an evening of poetry for Ukraine’s military. ‘We continue to hold theatre performances and film screenings whenever possible to support the Armed Forces,’ Viktoriia shared. She has held dance workshops since Russia’s invasion, and she sends all the proceeds to her husband’s unit in the military.

“Facing long periods of separation, the couple is never sure exactly when they’ll be able to see each other. So they communicate through art. Viktoriia sends videos of her improvisational dances, and Oleksii sends back photo collages from the front lines. Viktoriia insists that the ‘four days of vacation with him once every few months is still a gift.’ Of course, even when Oleksii is on ‘vacation,’ he continues to check in with his unit and deal with internal military affairs, ‘We know what we are sacrificing and fighting for,’ he says. ‘We dream of a free Ukraine and of love. This is our salvation.’ “

Also at Mic, here, you can read about BOGDAN ZHDANOV | БОГДАН ЖДАНОВ, actor, age 28 —  “We all cry these days. It’s okay. We cry and then we carry on” — and VLADYSLAVA SHLIAMINA | ВЛАДИСЛАВА ШЛЯМІНА, line producer, age 31 — “We are united as a nation, and we are not giving up.”

At the New York Times, here, you can find out more about the publication Mic, which was new to me.

UK Museum of the Year

Photo: Emli Bendixen/Arts Fund/PA.
The venue in London’s Forest Hill, says the
Guardian,”is the capital’s only museum where environment, ecology and human cultures can be seen side by side.”

What special features are people looking for in museums these days? The traditional recorders of art and history keep changing. A look at a museum award in the UK may provide an insight into what is currently valued.

Nadia Khomami writes at the Guardian, “The Horniman museum in London has been crowned the Art Fund museum of the year 2022 for its work to inspire the next generation. …

“Its director, Nick Merriman, was presented with the £100,000 [about $117,000] prize – the world’s largest museum prize – by the DJ and broadcaster Huw Stephens at a ceremony at the Design Museum. … The Horniman was commended for completely reconfiguring its program in 2021 after the pandemic, Black Lives Matter and the increasing urgency of the climate crisis.

“It set up its ‘Reset Agenda,’ which focused on reorienting activity to reach diverse audiences more representative of London. This included embedding a Climate and Ecology Manifesto – from an online club of Environment Champions to the creation of a microforest to combat local air pollution.

“ ‘From a takeover of the galleries by children to its youth panel of 14-19-year-olds, work experience opportunities and Kickstart apprenticeships, the museum is inspiring the next generation,’ Art Fund, the UK’s national art charity, said.

“A further focus of the Reset Agenda was the 696 Program, an interrogation of the power and responsibility that public organizations have in supporting local music.

“The museum was said to showcase Black British creativity through a sold-out festival that reached 8,000 visitors, while nearly 20,000 experienced the related exhibition.

“Jenny Waldman, Art Fund director and chair of the judges, said: ‘The Horniman museum and gardens has now blossomed into a truly holistic museum bringing together art, nature and its myriad collections.’ …

“Dame Diane Lees, director-general of the Imperial War Museums and fellow judge, said the museum was championing the natural environment and commissioning artists and music festivals ‘to bring the eclectic collections of Frederick Horniman new relevance with diverse communities.’ …

“The 2022 edition of the annual award championed organizations whose achievements told the story of museums’ creativity and resilience, and particularly focused on those engaging the next generation of audiences in innovative ways.

“The other four shortlisted museums – the Story Museum in Oxford, the People’s History Museum in Manchester, Ty Pawb in Wrexham [Wales], and the Museum of Making in Derby – each received a £15,000 [about $18,000] prize in recognition of their achievements.”

I’m looking at an example form the Horniman website. An upcoming show, “We Breathe, Together: A Day of Community Air Action and Exploration” invites all who “dream of a clean air future – and want the tools to take action.

“From building (and racing!) your own hydrogen car, learning the skills to create a 2D stop motion clean air animation, to co-designing immersive climate adventures and ink breath painting. Meet incredible local campaigners in our Clean Air Village and listen to expert talks.

” ‘We Breathe, Together’ extends the conversation around ‘Breathe:2022‘ by artist Dryden Goodwin, the ambitious multi-site artwork exploring air pollution produced by Invisible Dust. ‘Breathe:2022’ combines over 1,000 new drawings, appearing as large-scale still and moving images on sites close to the heavily polluted South Circular Road and beyond, from May to December 2022.

“As part of the day, you can also immerse yourself in ‘Airborne,’ artist Sarah Stirk’s audio-visual installation that seeks to make the invisible threat of pollution visible.”

More at the Guardian, here. I know I have friends in the UK. If you go, will you share your reactions?

Princess Mononoke.

In July, Princess Mononoke, the animated film for grown-ups of all ages, turned 25. I have thought about it often since Asakiyume first pointed me toward the work of the brilliant Hayao Miyazaki. So many things in life remind me of the movie’s wisdom.

The BBC highlighted the Princess Mononoke birthday with a deep think.

Stephen Kelly reports, “In 1997, the British fantasy author Neil Gaiman received a call out of the blue from then-head of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein. ‘This animated film, Princess Mononoke,’ Gaiman recalls him saying, ‘it’s the biggest thing in Japan right now. So I thought I’ve got to get the best to do it. I called Quentin Tarantino and said, “Quentin, will you do the English language script?” And he said, “You don’t want me, you want Gaiman.” So, I’m calling you.’ Miramax, a then-subsidiary of Disney, had acquired the rights to distribute Princess Mononoke, the newest film from Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli, in the United States, and Weinstein wanted to fly Gaiman to Los Angeles to watch a cut of the movie.

” ‘I had zero plans to do it,’ Gaiman tells BBC Culture. ‘But the moment that changed everything for me was the scene where you’re looking at this large pebble. And then a raindrop hits it. And then another raindrop hits it. And then another raindrop hits it. And now it’s raining and the surface is slippery and wet. And I’m like, “I have never seen anything like this.” ‘ …

“When Princess Mononoke was first released … it represented something of a departure for master animator and director Hayao Miyazaki. During the late 80s, Miyazaki had built his reputation (along with the success of Studio Ghibli, which he founded with fellow director Isao Takahata) on films like Kiki’s Delivery Service and My Neighbor Totoro; formally ambitious, thematically rich works, but generally affirming in tone and family-friendly in nature.

“But something changed during the 90s. Firstly, he began to bristle at the popular idea that Studio Ghibli only makes gentle movies about how great nature is. … Even more significant was his growing despair at a world which he had increasingly come to believe was cursed.

” ‘He used to be what he called leftist in sympathy, a believer in people power,’ explains Shiro Yoshioka, lecturer in Japanese Studies at Newcastle University. ‘But for obvious reasons [the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the escalation in ethnic conflicts across Europe], his political beliefs were totally shaken in the early 1990s.’

“Japan itself was also going through something of an existential crisis. The country’s bubble period, an economic boom during the late 80s, burst in 1992, stranding Japan in a seemingly endless recession. Three years later, in 1995, the country was hit by the Kobe earthquake, the worst earthquake to hit Japan since 1922. It killed 6,000 people, and destroyed the homes of tens of thousands more. Only two months after that, a terrorist cult by the name of Aum Shinrikyo launched a sarin gas attack on the Tokyo Metro, killing 13 and injuring thousands. Miyazaki, who was sickened by the materialism of the bubble period, was now living in a country traumatized and confused – both by its relationship with nature, and a creeping sense of spiritual emptiness.

” ‘He began to think,’ says Yoshioka, ‘maybe I should not make this entertaining, light-hearted stuff for children. Maybe I should make something substantial.’

“Set during the 14th Century, the Muromachi period of Japan, Princess Mononoke tells the story of Ashitaka, a young prince cursed by the hatred of a dying boar god, who has been corrupted by an iron ball lodged in his body. … To seek a cure for his curse, Ashitaka travels across the land, hoping to find the Shishigami, a deer-like forest spirit with the power to bring life and death.

“Along the way, Ashitaka discovers a world out of balance. The ironworks community of Tatara, run by the enigmatic Lady Eboshi, is ravaging the nearby forest for resources, provoking the wrath of ferocious wolf god Moro and her feral human daughter San (the titular Mononoke, which roughly translates to spectre or wraith). Caught in the middle is Ashitaka, who must figure out how to navigate this difficult world with ‘eyes unclouded.’ …

” ‘I believe that violence and aggression are essential parts of us as human beings,’ Miyazaki once told journalist Roger Ebert. ‘The issue that we confront as human beings is how to control that impulse.’ …

“Hayao Miyazaki is a self-confessed bundle of contradictions. Read his writings, listen to his interviews, watch him speak, and he paints a portrait of an artist caught between idealism and nihilism, optimism and despair. …

“This idea of a man at war with himself is obvious to see in the characters and world of Princess Mononoke: a film that, as Miyazaki told a press conference at the Berlin Film Festival in 1998, ‘was not made to judge good and evil.’ Take Lady Eboshi, whose mining colony is manufacturing an arsenal of guns to use against the forest gods. In most animated movies, she would be cast as the greedy, villainous scourge of nature. But Eboshi is also a generous leader, someone who has liberated women (implied to be former sex workers) from feudalistic oppression, who has provided a safe haven for leprosy sufferers and outcasts, and whose industrialization work is raising the standards of human life.

” ‘It would have been so easy to have a “technology is bad versus the good beasts of the forest” story,’ says Susan Napier, professor of the Japanese Program at Tufts University, Massachusetts, and author of Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art. ‘But the foundry helps these marginalized people live. It gives them jobs, a source of community, pride.’ Speaking in 1997 to Cine Furontosha magazine, Miyazaki himself once rationalized Lady Eboshi with ‘often, those who are destroying nature are in reality people of good character. People who are not evil diligently take actions thinking they are for the best, but the results can lead to terrible problems.’ “

It’s a long and thoughtful article. Read more at the BBC, here. No firewall.

Let an Oyster Do It

Photo: Katherine Rapin.
Camden Mayor Vic Carstarphen hands a flat of wild celery to an EPA diver for transplant. Local grasses and oysters are bringing hope to rivers.

We can rescue our environment if we try. Even the infamous city Camden is getting into the act.

Katherine Rapin writes at YaleEnvironment360, “On a recent summer morning near Camden, New Jersey, two divers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hovered over a patch of sediment 10 feet below the surface of the Delaware River. With less than two feet of visibility in the churning estuary, they were transplanting a species crucial to the ecosystem: Vallisneria americana, or wild celery grass. One diver held a GoPro camera and a flashlight, capturing a shaky clip of the thin, ribbon-like blades bending with the current.

“Watching the divers’ bubbles surface from the EPA’s boat was Anthony Lara, experiential programs supervisor at the Center for Aquatic Sciences at Adventure Aquarium in Camden, who had nurtured these plants for months in tanks, from winter buds to mature grasses some 24 inches long. …

“This was the first planting of a new restoration project led by Upstream Alliance, a nonprofit focused on public access, clean water, and coastal resilience in the Delaware, Hudson, and Chesapeake watersheds. In collaboration with the Center for Aquatic Sciences, and with support from the EPA’s Mid-Atlantic team and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the alliance is working to repopulate areas of the estuary with wild celery grass, a plant vital to freshwater ecosystems. It’s among the new, natural restoration projects focused on bolstering plants and wildlife to improve water quality in the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for some 15 million people.

“Such initiatives are taking place across the United States, where, 50 years after passage of the Clean Water Act, urban waterways are continuing their comeback, showing increasing signs of life. And yet ecosystems still struggle, and waters are often inaccessible to the communities that live around them. Increasingly, scientists, nonprofits, academic institutions, and state agencies are focusing on organisms like bivalves (such as oysters and mussels) and aquatic plants to help nature restore fragile ecosystems, improve water quality, and increase resilience.

Bivalves and aquatic vegetation improve water clarity by grounding suspended particles, allowing more light to penetrate deeper

“They also have exceptional capacity to cycle nutrients — both by absorbing them as food and by making them more available to other organisms. Thriving underwater plant meadows act as carbon sinks and provide food and habitat for scores of small fish, crabs, and other bottom-dwellers. Healthy bivalve beds create structure that acts as a foundation for benthic habitat and holds sediment in place.

“ ‘Why not take the functional advantage of plants and animals that are naturally resilient and rebuild them?’ says Danielle Kreeger, science director at the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, which is spearheading a freshwater mussel hatchery in southwest Philadelphia. …

“One hundred miles north of Philadelphia, the Billion Oyster Project has been restoring the bivalves in New York Harbor since 2010, engaging more than 10,000 volunteers and 6,000 students in the project. [See my post on that here and search on ‘oyster’ for related posts.] Oyster nurseries are being installed in Belfast Lough in Northern Ireland, where until recently they were believed to have been extinct for a century. And a hatchery 30 miles west of Chicago has dispersed 25,000 mussels into area waterways, boosting the populations of common freshwater mussel species.

“Underwater vegetation restoration projects have been underway in the Chesapeake Bay and Tampa Bay for years, and more recently in California where seagrass species are in sharp decline. (Morro Bay, for example, has lost more than 90 percent of its eelgrass beds in the last 15 years.) The California Ocean Protection Council’s 2020 Strategic Plan to Protect California’s Coast and Ocean aims to preserve the mere 15,000 acres of known seagrass beds and cultivate 1,000 more acres by 2025.

“Scientists stress that these projects must be implemented alongside strategies to continue curbing contaminants, mainly excess nutrients from sewage and fertilizers, flowing into our waterways — still the most critical step in improving water quality. After several decades of aquatic vegetation plantings in the Chesapeake Bay, for example, scientists say that the modest increase of plants is largely due to nature restoring itself following a reduction in nutrient pollution.

“And any human intervention in a complex ecosystem raises a host of compelling concerns, such as how to ensure sufficient genetic diversity and monitor competition for food and resources. Scientists say that, in many cases, they’re learning as they go.

“Still, in areas where the natural environment is improving, bringing back bivalves and aquatic plants can create a lasting foundation for entire ecosystems. And restoration initiatives are an active form of stewardship that connects people to their waterways, helping them understand the ecosystems we depend on for our survival.”

More at YaleEnvironment360, here. No firewall.

It’s surprising what can happen when people who didn’t care in the past start to care.

%d bloggers like this: