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Photo: Francesca Magnani.
Film- and hat-maker Richard Faison on the G train in Brooklyn. A photographer’s chance encounter on the subway led to this story.

Do you notice how very creative people are good in almost any field calling for creativity? I have a friend like that who takes classes in many kinds of art and always does a nice job even if she is never going to make that particular skill her main thing.

Photographer Francesca Magnani wrote recently at the art newspaper Hyperallergic about a filmmaker who became a creative haberdasher.

“One December morning, among the sparse riders waiting for the G train in Brooklyn, New York, I saw a tall Black man with a colorful jacket and a cowboy hat. I took some photos as I introduced myself to Richard Faison. ‘I am also an artist and I actually made this hat,’ he told me. 

“A few weeks later, a friend who was visiting from Florence casually mentioned she wanted to buy a hat while here, and I arranged to see Faison in his lab, which turned out to also be his apartment. The one-bedroom apartment was filled with dozens of hats at various stages of existence and along with my friend Michèle’s green hat, two more were being ‘blocked’ and were drying by the window. On the wall was hanging a shtreimel, the first one that Faison made: these hats, traditionally worn by Orthodox Jewish men, were in fact his specialty.

“Sitting down with Faison on his sofa on that day, and once again more recently, I asked him some questions. Our conversations have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Francesca Magnani: You used to be a filmmaker. How did you become a milliner?

Richard Faison: I went to a small program at NY Film Academy for eight months. I started doing film by carrying around my mom’s video camera and shooting all my friends and my adventures, editing cool videos and creating a series that got pretty popular on Facebook. That led me to make music videos. I went to Toronto after meeting a few artists out there, and I became an editor and cinematographer for short films and documentaries.

“I started making hats legit by coincidence. I was friends with a Hasidic gentleman, Lov, and he came by my place for some drinks with friends. He said, ‘You always wear cool hats, you should work with a guy I sell fur to.’ That’s how I met my mentor and this entire adventure started.

FM: How do the two worlds, film and millinery, work in synergy?

RF: They are similar. You have to have an eye and a certain aesthetic that you want your pieces to have. The vision I see of a hat is like how I used to envision how I wanted certain shots to look like before going out to shoot, and just creating something with a story that people can either relate to or admire.

FM: You started your own business just a few months ago, last September. How did you build your own company, Oliver Lewis Hats?

RF: My mentor helped me: I worked for him in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for about three years. The day I asked for a second raise, he took me on a long car ride and looked me directly in the eyes. He said, ‘You are a true artist with your hands, but I’ll never pay you what you deserve.’ Those words were the most beautiful and hurtful I’ve heard in one sentence. After that, he got me my first hat body and told me where to get more, and I took off running.

FM: Coming from a background in filmmaking, are there artists and directors you look to for inspiration?

RF: My number one influence would have to be Jimi Hendrix. His style, his grace, the chances he took, how groovy he was, everything! I used to watch his old concerts and get lost in his rhythm and clothing choices. The second is André 3000 of Outkast. I moved to Atlanta in 2003 for high school. I remember getting bullied for wearing tight jeans back then but then I would look at the shirts, pants, and hats André 3000 would wear, and it gave me the confidence to be myself no matter what others thought. …

RF: I reach my customers best through Instagram, where I can show my skills through video reels and also communicate directly with my audience. I have an even number of male and female clients — the age range is usually 30 to 40. …

FM: You said you devised your own gluing technique for shtreimels; you use as ornament some Swiss figurines usually found in ‘Swiss cowboy’ belts, and the name of your business comes from Oliver Lewis, the first Black jockey to win the Kentucky Derby. How do influences from different cultures inform your creations? 

RF: Influences are how I came to be. They’re the essence behind my entire being and work. Growing up in Brooklyn, I had so many cultures surrounding me that would impact me. My dad being from Trinidad and being a huge cowboy lover was one of the biggest for me. I watched Clint Eastwood movies with him and thought cowboys were the coolest people on earth. Then I found out that most cowboys were actually Mexican and Black and that piqued my interest. … I get a lot of inspiration from the Italians in NYC (such smooth style!), Jamaicans, and Hispanic communities. The melting pot in Flatbush helped me create my unique style.”

Need a hat? Or do you “already have all” your hats, as they used to say of the ladies in Boston? Check out Oliver Lewis Hats on Instagram.

More at Hyperallergic, here. No firewall. Lots of cool photos.

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Photo: Crispian Chan.
Margaret Leng Tan performing Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep on a toy piano. 

There is just no end to the variety of jobs people work at — or create for themselves — and no end to the variety of tools they use. Today’s story is about a toy-piano virtuoso called Margaret Leng Tan and the unusual career she built.

Sian Cain writes at the Guardian, “At her last count, Margaret Leng Tan owned 18 toy pianos – but these days she just settles for ‘lots and lots.’ The 76-year-old musician, once labelled ‘the world’s first toy piano virtuoso’ by the New York Times and ‘the formidable doyenne of the avant-garde’ by the Washington Post, finds her pianos everywhere from garage sales to garbage cans. ‘I picked up a beautiful one from the garbage – the legs were missing but it was vintage and had a beautiful sound,’ she says. Last year, a complete stranger even left a red one for her on her Brooklyn doorstep:

‘I have become a foundling hospital for orphan pianos.’

“Her personal favorite in her collection is a vintage Schoenhut, which she deems ‘the Steinway of the toy piano world.’

” ‘That one has been everywhere from Carnegie Hall to Beethoven’s house in Bonn. I played Beethoven in Beethoven’s house! Can you imagine? Eat that, Schroeder!’ she laughs. …

“Tan exudes a light playfulness that complements her chosen instrument: ‘I’ve always had aspirations to be a sit-down comic – not a stand-up one!’ she says. ‘The toy piano gives me that golden opportunity.’ She is not limited to the piano either: in one arrangement titled Old MacDonald’s Yellow Submarine, written for her by the composer Erik Griswold, she simultaneously plays toy piano, bicycle horn, bicycle bell and train whistle. ‘It was incredibly difficult,’ she says.

“In her latest show, Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep, she plays a simpler version involving a toy piano, a Fisher Price plastic phone and a toy mobile. …

“Have her audiences always understood what she’s doing? ‘They’ve come along for the ride. They’ve often been very enthusiastic and willing to go with me down that rabbit hole. I mean, the toy piano. [But] because I take it seriously, they take it seriously. And the toy piano is so seductive. How can you resist a toy piano? It is a marvelous way to introduce avant-garde music to audiences, who would never go to such a concert – they’ll go to a toy piano concert out of curiosity.’

Dragon Ladies is a step away from her usual concerts: it is a one-woman biographical theatre show in which Tan tells the story of her life through significant moments. ‘It started because I intended to sit down and write my memoir but I never could find the uninterrupted time to do that,’ she says. ‘I thought it’d be easier to make a sonic memoir than a written one. And I had the title – I read somewhere that if you have a good title, you must deliver.’

“A significant part of the show explores Tan’s lifelong struggle to manage her obsessive compulsive disorder. … Music and rhythm became outlets for her impulse to count everything. ‘Music is all about counting. OCD is all about counting. It is a marriage made in heaven,’ she says. “But I wouldn’t wish OCD on my worst enemy. It’s not fun.’ …

“Tan began playing piano when she was six. Her father was a famed lawyer and politician in Singapore, and her mother was a piano teacher – ‘though she had the good sense never to try to teach me,’ Tan says. When she was 16, Tan left Singapore to study at Juilliard; she became the first woman to graduate with a doctorate from the prestigious New York school. …

“At first, she was strictly a classical pianist. … ‘It was only after I met John Cage that I knew what I wanted to do,’ she says.

“Cage was arguably the world’s most influential avant-garde composer; his 1952 piece 4’33 is famously performed by musicians doing nothing, embodying his belief that any auditory experience, including silence, could be music. …

“Cage was her close friend and mentor until his death in 1992. ‘He believed, and I agree with him, that you can make music with essentially anything. Whether it is a tin can or a bucket, that is music,’ Tan says. ‘He was a genius. There won’t be anyone else like him for a very long time, if ever.’ “

More at the Guardian, here. No firewall.

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Photo: Cool Hunting.
Brooklyn bar owner Henry Rich, pictured in 2019 with co-owner Halley Chambers, says, “You start with the commitment to remove the trash. That creates quite a bit of clarity in terms of what we can and can’t, should and shouldn’t do.”

One of the challenges of blogging since the pandemic started has been trying to figure out if the stories I was saving are still relevant. For example, was the New York wine bar that was aiming to create zero waste in January 2020 even still in business and was there any point in reporting on its laudable goal?

Well, hooray! Google informs me that Rhodora is still in business, and I think you’ll appreciate the banner at the top of its home page that may be a reason it has remained in business. It reads, “Hello! Due to the rise in Delta variant Covid cases we are requiring proof of vaccination for guests dining indoors. Thank you for helping keep our doors open + our community safe!”

As Matthew Sedacca wrote in the New York Times in a time of innocence, New Year’s Day 2020, “Garbage is inevitable in the restaurant and bar business. Kitchen employees toss onion skins and meat fat into the wastebasket almost instinctively. Once-used plastic wrap and slips guarding the linens find their way into black bags for trash-day pickup. Plastic bags are ordered by the bundle and then often discarded after customers use them to take leftovers home.

“At the Brooklyn natural wine bar and restaurant Rhodora, however, taking out the trash works a little differently.

“The new eatery is one of a handful of establishments in various cities that have begun to operate under a zero-waste ethos, meaning they do not send any trash or food waste that enters their business to a landfill. There is not even a traditional trash can on the premises. …

“Such radical idealism comes with challenges, including finding producers and distributors who can accommodate requests like compostable packaging and figuring out how to recycle broken appliances. …

A recent report from ReFED, a nonprofit organization focused on food waste reduction, found that restaurants in the United States generate about 11.4 million tons of food waste annually, or $25.1 billion in costs. The Environmental Protection Agency has reported that food waste and packaging account for nearly 45 percent of the materials sent to landfills in the United States. …

“Mr. Rich and Halley Chambers, the deputy director of his Oberon restaurant group and co-owner of Rhodora, spent almost 10 months and $50,000 researching and transforming their Fort Greene space into a neighborhood joint that could operate without any trash pickup.

“Out went many of their regular vendors who wrapped deliveries in single-use plastic. In came tools to aid their waste-reduction efforts: a cardboard shredder to turn wine boxes into composting material, a dishwashing setup that converts salt into soap, beeswax wrap in lieu of plastic wrap.

“ ‘It’s not arcane secret knowledge,’ Mr. Rich said. ‘It’s just a couple things that are very specific, and you need to kind of re-engineer how you think about’ operating a restaurant or bar.

“Much of the planning time was spent searching for distributors and producers who could adhere to Rhodora’s mission. … A handful of companies were able to accommodate the unorthodox restrictions, including She Wolf Bakery and its sister butcher shop, Marlow & Daughters, which deliver reusable plastic bins full of fresh-baked breads and jars of pickled vegetables and eggs via Cargo Bike Collective riders. Another company, A Priori Distribution, switched to using compostable packaging and paper tape when dropping off aluminum tins of fish. …

“The paper menus, which feature a mini-essay on the restaurant’s green mission, are fed to the compost pile when they become outdated or tattered. Anything left on customers’ plates is dumped into collection bins in the kitchen, which are fed into the commercial-grade composter tucked inside hutches adjacent to the bar. (Rhodora does not serve meat, which is more difficult to compost, although its composter does process any fish that is left over.)

“Natural wine bottles and most other non-compostable containers are removed for recycling via Royal Waste Services, which the restaurant said also accepted broken glass. Corks are donated to ReCork, a recycling program that repurposes the material for shoe soles and yoga blocks.” More at the New York Times, here.

I wonder if not being able to compost meat is another reason to give it up. Our extended family composts, but there are always discussions (arguments?) about what to do with leftover meat before the trash man cometh. My husband and I double-bag ours and freeze it, but others think it’s gross to keep any garbage in the freezer.

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Photo: Dana Cronin/NPR
As part of the “Sonic Succulents” exhibit at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, visitors are encouraged to touch plants and listen to what that contact sounds like.

Although inevitably preoccupied today, I always find that writing a little or even editing a little is comfortable for me. So I scrolled through the list of possible topics that I store for the blog and found one that fits my mood. It’s about listening to the sounds of plants as they grow and as we touch them.

Dana Cronin reports at National Public Radio (NPR), “There’s an old belief among farmers that on a quiet night, if you listen closely, you can hear the sound of corn growing.

“A new exhibit at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden proves that theory to be true.

“The exhibit, ‘Sonic Succulents: Plant Sounds and Vibrations,’ is the artist Adrienne Adar’s vision come to life.

“Adar is a sound artist based in Los Angeles. She’s passionate about the natural world and says her goal is to show people that plants aren’t that different from us: They grow, breathe and even communicate in their own ways.

“And so, back in May, she planted a patch of corn within the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and has surrounded it with large yellow megaphones that visitors can stick their heads inside to listen to what a growing stalk sounds like.

It turns out the sound is almost extraterrestrial.

” ‘It can be a little bit meditational … children were sitting on the ground and putting their heads in the lower horns and just hanging out,’ she said. …

“Adar says she’s inspired by the work of scientists like Monica Gagliano, an ecologist at the University of Western Australia, whose research focuses in part on how plants, like animals, are sentient beings with cognitive abilities. They can learn, remember and have their own methods of communication. Gagliano has done experiments showing that plants are able to detect specific vibrational frequencies, like the sound of water, and grow toward that sound.

“Adar was fascinated with the idea that plants are sentient. In conceptualizing the exhibit, she says audio was the most effective way to get that idea across. …

” ‘If you hear something in your apartment moving, you kind of assume it’s an animal. You always think there’s an alive quality,’ she said.

“Inside the exhibit there’s a long line of potted plants, including cacti, palm plants and succulents, paired with headphones. Visitors are encouraged to touch the plants, at which point tiny microphones embedded in the planters pick up the vibrations of the touch and make it audible.

“Adar says she wants visitors to hear those sounds and realize the impact we have on plants … ‘Listen to what it feels when you touch it,’ she said. ‘So when you step on a plant … maybe next time it changes the behavior.’

“The exhibit runs through Oct. 27.”

More at NPR, here, where, for example, you can listen to the sound of corn growing.

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Photos: Giada Randaccio Skouras Sweeny
“There is an incredible amount of value of welcoming in refugees, and it benefits us from an economic perspective, it benefits us in terms of flavors and cuisines.” says the founder of Emma’s Torch restaurant, Kerry Brodie.

What are ordinary people supposed to do against the horrors of the headlines? Another violent person who has brainwashed himself with misinformation about immigrants has acted out. He did it in New Zealand, but his online buddies are everywhere.

I am an ordinary person, and here’s all I can do, little as it is. I can donate to causes that work to prevent ignorance and violence. I can remind myself that there are an awful lot of people whose views on immigration are completely different from the evil doer’s. And I can share another story about how one of those people took positive action, to the delight of many.

Amanda Holpuch reports at the Guardian, “Culinary adventures are woven into the fabric of New York City. But in Brooklyn one December night, only one restaurant could offer a five-course meal that began with salmon cake and couscous from Mali and ended with an Iraqi dessert, including in between dishes from Honduras and China.

“The restaurant is Emma’s Torch, a non-profit that teaches refugees, asylum seekers and survivors of trafficking the culinary and communication skills needed for a career in the kitchen. Six days a week, diners are offered a menu described as: ‘New American cuisine – prepared by our new American students.’

“The restaurant began as a pop-up [in 2017] before expanding this summer into a bright, airy restaurant known for its earthy black-eyed pea hummus garnished with dried chillies. The New Yorker food critic, Hannah Goldfield, touted their ‘perfect shakshuka’ served during weekend brunch service in her August review of the restaurant. In 2019, they will open a second space at Brooklyn Public Library.

“Emma’s Torch is named for Emma Lazarus, the poet whose words are inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’

“On one night each month, Emma’s Torch is also the site of a graduation dinner that showcases the flavors of students’ homes, such as the lotus root dyed pink with dragon fruit sauce that was prepared by a Chinese student for the second course of the December dinner.

“Before the first course was served, as the clock ticked down, the restaurant’s founder, Kerry Brodie, spoke over the sounds of sizzling pans.

“There is an incredible amount of value of welcoming in refugees,’ she said, ‘and it benefits us from an economic perspective, it benefits us in terms of flavors and cuisines.’

“In an eight-week, paid apprenticeship, trainees learn how to properly use knives to slice, dice and chop. They also take English classes and participate in mock job interviews. They receive 400 hours of culinary training and are paid $15 an hour for their work at the restaurant and on catered events. In 2017, every graduate was placed in a culinary job. …

“Aya fled Iraq two years ago, fearing persecution because her husband was a professor. Violence against academics became common after the US-led invasion in 2003; the couple were being threatened for her husband’s refusal to obey militias. …

“She studied computer programming for two years but that gave way to cooking, as her efforts were praised by teachers and friends. …

“In Iraq, she could buy their favorite foods cheaply and easily. In the US, she had to craft meals from start to finish, scouring markets for Arab ingredients. … But as Aya kept friends, family and teachers happy with her meals from home, it was clear her future lay in cooking, not computers. The refugee agency Hias connected her with Emma’s Torch.”

Read more about Aya and the work of Emma’s Torch at the Guardian, here.

Emma’s Torch in Brooklyn, NY, is a restaurant that values the contributions of refugees. The name refers to the poem by Emma Lazarus quoted on the Statue of Liberty.

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Photo: Cole Wilson
Chad Cooper gave up his Wall Street career to run a music school.

There’s nothing like a story of a guy turning from the big bucks to pursue service to others. One such story was recently reported by Martin J. Smith in Fast Company. It’s about a managing director at Deutsche Bank in New York who left the Wall Street life behind to save a community-oriented music school.

Fortunately, his wife was totally on board.

Smith writes that Chad Cooper’s banking job “came with a substantial salary, bonuses, a generous expense account, and business-class travel. [But] two years ago, after a 16-year Wall Street career [he] walked away from all that to take the executive director’s job at the nearly insolvent Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. …

“Since Cooper took the reins in August 2016, the 121-year-old nonprofit institution in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood has seen a 71% increase in individual donors over fiscal 2016 and a fivefold increase in attendance after shifting its development model from a single annual gala to a handful of special events. Assets have shown a net increase of $400,000 over fiscal 2016. Attendance at its flagship Community Music School is up 19%.”

Fast Company (FC): ” ‘After 16 years as an investment banker, you opted out. Why?’

Chad Cooper (CC): ” ‘Even as a Stanford GSB student, my intention was to work in the private sector, then ultimately return to the social sector. But once you start down a private-sector path, it can be daunting to pivot. For me, the stars aligned when the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, this incredible organization whose board I’d joined, was in dire need of management skills I’d spent my career developing. …

” ‘Before I went to business school, I worked for four years for the city of St. Louis doing inner-city economic development. I also launched a grassroots nonprofit organization that helped mobilize younger people to take an active role in city revitalization efforts. That was a really big part of my life, so when I came to Stanford, I had a strong sense of what I wanted out of business school, and I wanted to bring that back in some way to the nonprofit sector. I had planned for that and tried to save up a little money to have enough security to take myself out of moneymaking for a while. …

” ‘I’d been serving on the board of directors at the conservatory for two years, and just after the business school reunion, the conservatory’s executive director resigned. Having served as the conservatory’s treasurer, I knew it was in dire financial shape. …

” ‘I worked for a guy named Charles Kindleberger in St. Louis for four years — he ran the urban planning department — and I always marveled at how extraordinarily intelligent and thoughtful and effective he was as a senior manager for the city. He could have been a great professor, or a lawyer, or businessperson.

” ‘He would have been successful at whatever path he chose in life. But he had committed himself to public service, and I have great respect for people like Chuck. A lot of capable people commit themselves to service and do it their whole life.’

FC: ” ‘You agreed to work the first two years at the conservatory for no pay. How were you able to afford to do that?

CC: ” ‘I send my kids to public school. My wife works full time. We don’t live an extravagant life. I didn’t walk away from my banking career with a huge amount of wealth, but there are a lot of people who get by with a lot less than I do in New York City and give of themselves in profound ways. …

” ‘I really love what I do. I’m totally energized going into the office every day. … I inherited an organization that really needed fundamental change, and it’s enormously motivating and exciting to come to work and to have that intense focus and energy for turning a place around and building something for the future. We provide music therapy to 1,500 people, including those with autism, and kids whose parents are incarcerated, and seniors with dementia, and I see how transformative their experiences are. It’s gratifying to see the work we do with 6,000-plus New Yorkers every year who otherwise would have no access to music education. That’s enormously motivating to me.’ ”

More at Fast Company, here.

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It’s so interesting to see all the different ways people are taking to farming. We’ve already covered a number of angles. Now Adele Peters at FastCoexist writes about how would-be farmers in Brooklyn are testing out “vertical farming.”

“When it opens this fall in Brooklyn, a new urban farm will grow a new crop: farmers. The Square Roots campus, co-founded by entrepreneurs Kimbal Musk and Tobias Peggs, will train new vertical farmers in a year-long accelerator program. …

“The campus will use technology from Freight Farms, a company that repurposes used shipping containers for indoor farming, and ZipGrow, which produces indoor towers for plants. Inside a space smaller than some studio apartments—320 square feet—each module can yield the same amount of food as two acres of outdoor farmland in a year. Like other indoor farming technology, it also saves water and gives city-dwellers immediate access to local food. …

“It’s intended for early-stage entrepreneurs. ‘We’re here to help them become future leaders in food,’ says Musk, who also runs a network of school gardens and a chain of restaurants that aim to source as much local food as possible.

“After building out the Brooklyn campus, they plan to expand to other cities, likely starting with cities where Musk also runs his other projects—Memphis, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh.”

More here.

Photo: SquareRoots

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The poet Marianne Moore once helped to save a special tree by writing a poem about it, proving that art is more powerful than apathy.

Maria Popova writes at Brain Pickings, “In 1867, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, once an American Revolution battlefield, opened its gates to a community hungry for a peaceful respite of wilderness amid the urban bustle. So intense was public enthusiasm that local residents began donating a variety of wildlife to fill the 585-acre green expanse, from ducks to deer. But the most unusual and enduring gift turned out to be a tree, donated by a man named A.G. Burgess and planted in 1872.

“This was no ordinary tree. Ulmus glabra ‘Camperdownii,’ better-known as Camperdown Elm, is a species unlike regular trees in that it cannot reproduce from a seed. The rare elm carries its irregularity on the outside — its majestic, knobby branches grow almost parallel to the ground, ‘weeping’ down. To ameliorate its reproductive helplessness, the Camperdown Elm requires outside help — a sort of assisted grafting, be it by accident of nature or intentional human hand. …

“As excitement over the novelty of Prospect Park began dying down, the Camperdown Elm came to suffer years of neglect. …

“But then, in the 1960s, it was saved by a force even more miraculous than that by which its Scottish great-great-grandfather had been born — not by a botanist or a park commissioner or a policymaker, but by a poet fifteen years the tree’s junior.

“The poet was Marianne Moore (November 15, 1887–February 5, 1972), who had been elected president of New York’s Greensward Foundation — an advocacy group for public parks — in 1965. This brilliant and eccentric woman … created a citizen group called Friends of Prospect Park, aimed at protecting the Camperdown Elm and other endangered trees in the park.

“In 1967, eighty at the time and with a Pulitzer Prize under her belt, Moore penned ‘The Camperdown Elm’ — a beautiful ode to this unusual, dignified, yet surprisingly fragile life-form of which humans are the only bastions. …

“Moore’s poem mobilized the Friends of Prospect Park to envelop the Camperdown Elm in attentive and nurturing care, which ultimately saved it.”

Read the poem and the rest of the story here.

Come to think of it, the Camperdown Elm’s reliance on humans to do the right thing make it very little different from the rest of the natural world.

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Artists love a challenge. Tell them it’s impossible and they’ll find a way to do it.

As Ralph Gardner Jr. writes for the Wall Street Journal, a good example may be found at one to the most polluted waterways in America, Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal.

“What is it about the Gowanus Canal,” Gardner asks, “that attracts art and artists? I visited a bit more than a year ago and spotted some sort of homemade art project floating in the middle of the canal. It was as if the anonymous artist was saying, ‘Take that, Superfund site!’

“A far more ambitious project alighted [in late September], when Diana Balmori, a celebrated landscape architect and urban designer, oversaw the launch of a floating landscape at the foot of the Whole Foods parking lot that overlooks the canal.

“ ‘The reason we picked the Gowanus Canal is the attempt to show that plant material can clean water,’ Ms. Balmori explained. At the same time, she acknowledged, ‘We picked the hardest.’ …

“The floating island was to be filled with multiple tubes. In a poetic twist, the tubes were to be made of the same culvert pipe used to dump pollution and sewage into the canal.

“Perhaps even more poetically, the goal of the experiment was to test the viability of creating large-scale ‘edible’ islands in polluted urban rivers to serve as a food source. Some plants were to be irrigated with distilled water, others with captured rainwater, and a hearty few even with water directly from the canal. …

“I was told that a duck had laid an egg on some earlier iteration of the project. And indeed, we stood there admiring the island’s three monarch butterflies, a beleaguered species in recent years, flitting about the plants.”

More at the Wall Street Journal, here, but there may be a firewall. The author is highly skeptical about anyone ever eating plants from this island, but you can tell he has a grudging admiration for an optimistic artistic vision that insists on a better future.

Photo: Cassandra Giraldo for The Wall Street Journal

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On the other hand, your living room could be a perfectly good performance venue. In fact, the Guardian calls your living room the “hottest new arts venue.”

The newspaper’s Darryn King writes, “On a recent Friday night in Manhattan, around 20 people and one terrier gathered in the living room of an Upper East Side apartment to listen to a string quartet perform Beethoven, Ravel and Tchaikovsky.

“The guests sampled cheese and wine – several had brought bottles to share – and asked strangers: ‘Is this your first time?’ …

“There are similar events to this performance, organised by Boston-based chamber music concert community Groupmuse, happening in New York, San Francisco and four other cities every week: intimate shows taking place in living rooms of all shapes, sizes and levels of cleanliness, a paradoxically homely and exciting alternative to traditional theatres, concert venues and comedy clubs.

“And it isn’t limited to classical music. Thanks to a range of organisations putting on events in the home, there’s a good chance that, if you were so inclined, you could enjoy standup comedy, live theatre and rock gigs in the comfort of someone else’s residence tonight. Welcome to the latest and greatest nontraditional venue invigorating the city’s live performance scene: the humble living room.

“A lot of folks seek out live music to feel like they are actively contributing to and sharing in something larger than themselves – not just standing by, observing the experience,” says Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin. “Living rooms are just the best way to do that.”…

“The New Place Players, a troupe of Shakespearean performers-for-hire, have also been busy immersing audiences. The group has staged their productions of Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night’s Dream in homes all over the city, while also putting on regular supper-and-show performances in the sumptuous living room of the historic Casa Duse residence in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

“The productions are a harmonious blend of music, lighting, theatre, food and drink, amounting to a communal atmosphere that harks back to the experience of catching a theatre performance in Elizabethan times.” More here.

Photo: Groupmuse
A Groupmuse gig.

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I love listening to Worcester-based WICN (jazz radio). Bonnie Johnson had an especially good show yesterday, opening with Cynthia Scott and 3rd, 4th & 5th graders of PS32 in Brooklyn, NY, singing “Dream for One Bright World.”

“There is a new day dawning
“The time is now
“The world is ready for a change …

“Let’s teach out children to care
“To help one another
“And mend broken hearts
“So many children in the world
“Have never had a chance
“Their time has come …

(More lyrics here.)

You can listen to WICN online at wicn.org. Bonnie Johnson’s program is described at Colors of Jazz. “Bonnie Johnson is host of Colors of Jazz on Sunday afternoon from noon-4 pm. If you asked the Worcester native how she found jazz, she would tell you that jazz found her. As an undergraduate student at Howard University in Washington, DC, Ms. Johnson became a fan of the Quiet Storm featured on the college station WHUR-FM. …

“Ms. Johnson appreciates the diversity and the evolution of music. As a self-taught electric bassist, she has enjoyed many years of playing various types of music with her daughter and close friends in a family band. Growing up, she sang in the St. Cecilia Girl Choir at All Saints Worcester. …

“Ms. Johnson holds B.A. in Liberal Studies and M.S. in Communications and Information Management degrees from Bay Path College. She believes the future of jazz is in our children, stating, ‘Music and the arts is one area that gives young people an outlet and release of creative energy. While there are many children exposed to music through lessons and attending live performances, there are too many more that are not.’ One of Johnson’s primary goals as host at WICN is to reach youth in creative ways through community engagement.”

That’s something to think about on Martin Luther King’s birthday — and maybe to act on, too.

Bonnie Johnson, host of WICN radio’s Colors of Jazz 

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Having heard one too many panel discussions and lectures lately about the downsides of the “ageing population,” I was delighted that a few upsides were mentioned at today’s Harvard conference on “Ageing + Place” — a refreshing and intriguing event presenting the latest research and design ideas related to ageing.

Meanwhile, John was on my wavelength again, sending me a link to a story about someone who seems to be ageing remarkably well and making a contribution to society while she’s at it.

Katie Honan of DNAInfo.com writes at BusinessInsider about a 100-year-old woman who is still teaching children in a Brooklyn elementary school.

“Three days a week, Madeline Scotto walks across the street from her home to St. Ephrem’s elementary school, where she was part of the first graduating class.

“She climbs the stairs to her classroom, where she works to prepare students for the math bee. She pores over photocopied worksheets with complicated problems, coaching kids on how to stay calm on stage while multiplying and dividing in their head.

“She’s just like any other teacher at the school — except for one thing: She’s 100 years old.

” ‘I think it just happens, you know. You don’t even realize it,’ said Scotto, who marked her birthday on Thursday.

” ‘Last year I thought, “This can’t be, that I’m going to be 100.” I sat down and did the math actually. I thought, I could not trust my mind. This I had to put paper to pencil — I couldn’t believe it myself. It just kind of happened. I guess I’m very lucky.’ ” More here.

Is there a person of any age who isn’t astonished when they think of how old they are? I think if you are 21 or 40 or 65, you are still going to say to yourself, “How did that happen?”

Photo: DNAInfo
Madeline Scotto is 100-years-old and still teaches students in Dyker Heights.

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Claire swims in Walden Pond before work. I take a lazy walk. Other people run or go to the gym. But in Brooklyn, you have the option of a dance party at a club.

Stacey Anderson has the story at the NY Times: “It was a typically raucous scene in Williamsburg, Brooklyn … . However, not all was familiar at this rave called Daybreaker, held at the club Verboten. For a start, the 400 young participants wore athletic clothing and pressed office wear rather than skimpy dresses and droll T-shirts. Some were bright-eyed, but just as many yawned and clutched cups of coffee. …

“The Daybreaker dance party, which runs from 7 to 9 a.m. three times a month, is one of two new early electronic diversions finding audiences in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Branded as both a morning workout option and a wholesome inversion of dance culture, the events are novel beyond their sunrise start times: They are alcohol-free, with coffee and fruit-infused water distributed at the bar instead of the customary club libations. The event, which had its debut in December and moves from place to place, darkens its spaces to mimic the typical rave experience, quite convincingly.

“ ‘It’s like a casino in here; there’s no idea of time,’ said Malcolm Ring, 24, a financial analyst. He woke at 5:30 a.m. to attend this Daybreaker party, his first. ‘I would normally go for a run right now, but this is more enjoyable.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Willie Davis for The New York Times
The rap artist Salomon Faye at a Daybreaker party at Verboten, a club in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 

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I remember going with Nicky Perls up a steep and very narrow stairway near Times Square years ago so my brother could buy bootlegged blues 78s. Later Nicky traveled the South buying up old 78s and rediscovering blues singers like Mississippi John Hurt.

Record collecting can become an obsession, as seen in a Brooklyn Magazine excerpt from Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, by Amanda Petrusi.

Petrusi says, “In the 1940s, 78 collecting meant jazz collecting, and specifically Dixieland or hot jazz, which developed in New Orleans around the turn of the 20th century and was defined by its warm, deeply playful polyphony …

“Because of its origins, collecting rare Dixieland records in 1942 was not entirely unlike collecting Robert Johnson records in 1968, or, incidentally, now: deifying indigent, local music was a political act, a passive protest against its sudden co-optation by popular white artists. …

“In January 1944 [collector James] McKune took a routine trip to [the Jazz Record Center operated by Big Joe Clauberg] and began pawing through a crate labeled ‘Miscellany,’ where he found a record with ‘a sleeve so tattered he almost flicked past it.’ It was a … nearly unplayable copy of Paramount 13110, Charley Patton’s ‘Some These Days I’ll Be Gone.’

“Patton … was almost entirely unknown to modern listeners; certainly McKune had never heard him before. He tossed a buck at a snoozing Clauberg and carted the record back to Brooklyn. As [scholar Marybeth] Hamilton wrote, ‘even before he replaced the tone arm and turned up the volume and his neighbor began to pound on the walls, he realized that he had found it, the voice he’d been searching for all along.’ ”

More here on the world of the impassioned music collector.

Photo: Nathan Salsburg

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No reason a recycling facility can’t have an attractive design, right? As long as it isn’t expensive.

Michael Kimmelman wrote for the NY Times last month about a municipal facility that must make the recycling staff there feel good about going to work.

“Recycling in New York is a scrappy business,” Kimmelman writes. “Billions have gone toward building water tunnels, power plants, subways and sewage treatment facilities, but little toward an infrastructure of recycling. …

“But a Sims Municipal Recycling Facility will open shortly at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal in Sunset Park. The city’s first big, state-of-the-art plant for processing discarded plastic, metals and glass, it promises jobs to nearby residents and, as the cost of exporting garbage out of state rises, some savings for the city. …

“The facility is understated, well proportioned and well planned — elegant, actually, and not just for a garbage site. It is an ensemble of modernist boxes squeezing art, and even a little drama, from a relatively meager design budget. …

“Instead of letting engineers design the plant, as often happens at an industrial site, Sims hired Selldorf Architects, a glamorous New York firm known for doing Chelsea art galleries and cultural institutions. …

“The idea? Partly to game the public review process, but also to build a well-designed plant — welcoming to the public, beckoning from the waterfront.” More here.

Photo: Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
A look inside the new Sims Municipal Recycling Facility in Brooklyn.

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