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Photo: Jackson Hole News & Guide.
Tap dancer extraordinaire Savion Glover recently returned to live theater in New York, and a critic was there.

Because I used to be a theater reviewer, I was interested in comments by critic Peter Marks at the Washington Post about returning to live entertainment after being fully vaccinated. He was nervous, but it was all great.

It was early April when Marks decided to test the waters.

“Slowly, painstakingly, theatergoing is making its way back to three live dimensions,” he wrote, “and we’re all learning the rules of engagement. On Friday night, the process began for me outside the Kraine Theater on East Fourth Street, where I was about to attend a solo performance by Mike Daisey. And one unhappy couple who thought they were attending, too — couldn’t.

They hadn’t noted the warning in the marketing materials: that admission required proof of full vaccination and that it had to have been at least 14 days since the last shot.

“ ‘I spent $100 on tickets I can’t use,’ the man groused as he tried to argue with one of the theater’s representatives, and then, with his companion, walked disconsolately away. …

“Here’s a little secret: Everything is not about you. Especially now, at this sensitive juncture, when the overseers of public spaces are trying to build back trust and operate without risk of spreading this insidious, calamitous infection.

“I can report that once the rest of us were inside — 25 or so socially distanced in a black box theater that normally seats up to 99 — the evening unfolded exuberantly. It was the first of three live theatrical events I attended over the weekend, the first time in a year my schedule resembled something like the days before covid-19. I wore my mask throughout the shows, a feat that a year ago I had convinced myself would be too uncomfortable to tolerate. …

“A year of watching theater online had left me feeling as if I had been forever condemned to crave my favorite brand and had to settle for a knockoff. So being released from virtual captivity and newly free to breathe the fresh (read: ventilated) air of live performance was, well, a blessing. …

“The weekend amounted to a preview of the palette of measures being put in place to get theater safely up to speed, in spaces still with severe restrictions on capacity. If my experience is any indication, the process is going to be a challenge for culture vultures. Not impossible, but varied, patience-testing and even a bit stressful. Theaters seem to be evolving their own peculiar systems, with pre-attendance health questionnaires, idiosyncratic ticketing apps, entrance and exit protocols, document checks and seating arrangements. …

“My experience in the great indoors involved three wildly different productions: Daisey’s discourse on the past year, ”What the F— Just Happened?’; an NYPopsUp performance with Nathan Lane and Savion Glover at Broadway’s St. James Theatre; and the off-Broadway debut at the Daryl Roth Theatre of ‘Blindness,’ a dystopian drama experienced via headphones.

“The vaccine seemed to have immunized my English major’s brain from worry. In each of the environments, I felt perfectly safe. Although when ushers at the Daryl Roth told me that the bathrooms were shut and that patrons would have to use a nearby Starbucks, I did have a moment of anxiety that I would need to run for a, er, latte break. Other anxieties: waiting in line on Saturday outside the St. James for a worker to check my credentials — photo I.D., vaccination card, QR-coded ticket — and fumbling with my cellphone as the screen went dark. And, for that matter, trying to remember whether the tickets were in my email or on an app or had been texted to me. Or was that the covid-19 survey that arrived by text?

“Mercifully, that momentary panic subsided by the time the lights went down — reliably, in that hallowed tradition of starting six minutes later than the time on the ticket. Daisey’s one-night-only show was an account of a year of living pandemically, recounted entertainingly in his signature countenance of enlightened outrage. Saturday’s event at the St. James was a delightful demonstration of tap artistry by Glover and of flawless comic timing by Lane playing a theater-starved New Yorker as conjured by playwright Paul Rudnick. …

“Daisey’s ‘What the F— Just Happened?,’ [was] also live-streamed. Sitting for a spell a couple dozen feet from the stage, listening to a talented storyteller spin a version of a year not entirely unlike the one I had just spent, felt really, really good.”

More here.

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Photo: Rob Hitt.
A kitten is on duty in a New York shop.

New Yorkers seem to love the cats that hang out in little food shops and chase mice. More often than not, local culture overrules concerns about health regulations. And shoppers love to share photos of their favorite bodega cats on social media.

Hakim Bishara writes at Hyperallergic about one such enthusiast. “Who doesn’t like bodega cats? The feline sheriffs, tasked with warding off rodents and pests in New York’s convenience stores and delis, have long signified a unique and beloved local phenomenon.

“Since 2012, Rob Hitt, a Brooklyn-based web developer and music producer, has been taking and collecting photographs of domesticated cats in bodegas across the city and posting them on his social media. Since then, his Twitter and Instagram accounts have gained a massive following, with hundreds of contributions featuring adorable bodega cats patrolling stores, perching on shelves among products, climbing onto ATM machines, or examining customers with a suspicious eye. …

“While New York’s public health department codes prohibit bodega cats, they have been valuable assets to their owners, who prefer to pay the $200 to $350 fine for holding the cat than dealing with a rodent infestation, which can harm products while also incurring a penalty of $300.

“As Hitt’s social media clout grew, he started an online shop selling bodega cats-themed merchandise, from shirts and tote bags to baby onesies. A portion of the profits goes to NYC animal rescue and trap–neuter–return organizations including FlatbushcatsTrapKingPets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) NY, and others. Hitt also promotes the work of such organizations on his blog.”

By the way, when a bodega cat was kidnapped a couple years ago, the neighborhood was outraged. The New York Times had that story.

Azi Paybarah wrote, ” ‘The incident happened at 7:19 a.m. Friday,’ Anik Ahmed said. ‘She went outside at like 7:20, and the guy picked her up at like 7:23. And we noticed the cat was missing by 7:35.’

“Mr. Ahmed, 27, was referring to Lexi, the year-and-a-half-old tabby who has been a fixture at 71 Fresh Deli and Grocery, his store in Kips Bay, Manhattan. Surveillance video appears to show the cat vanishing when a man passes by. …

“She was ‘the neighborhood’s cat,’ one worker told NY1. The Daily News described how ‘bereft’ workers were searching for ‘the furry darling.’ …

“Fliers with Lexi’s picture are being distributed. Mr. Ahmed said he thought the catnapping was intentional, but added, ‘I’m not going to press charges.’

“Lexi came into Mr. Ahmed’s life when a friend’s cat had a litter. Soon, Mr. Ahmed said, he found himself with a curious kitten who befriended customers and workers alike.

“She even started helping around the store: Mr. Ahmed said the building’s superintendent noticed a reduction in the rodent population.

“Before opening the deli about five years ago, Mr. Ahmed was a software engineer tester, looking for potential breaches in new websites and apps. He acknowledges now that he could have kept Lexi more secure.”

More at the New York Times, here. I haven’t been able to discover if Lexi was ever returned to Ahmed. If you know, please comment below. And you can enjoy lots of pictures of other bodega cats at Hyperallergic, here.

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Art: Jacob Lawrence, via PEM.
Missing Panel 28 from the “American Struggle” series as shown at PEM, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. This panel and one other were recently found in New York City.

Have you been following the story of the missing panels of a major work by African American master Jacob Lawrence? It was exciting enough when one missing panel was discovered in New York in the past year, but two? In different homes?

Hilarie M. Sheets at the New York Times reported on the latest developments.

“When a nurse living on the Upper West Side checked an app for neighborhood bulletins last fall, she learned about the recent discovery of a Jacob Lawrence painting in an apartment a few blocks away. It had turned out to be one of five panels long missing from the artist’s groundbreaking 30-panel series “Struggle: From the History of the American People,” which was on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, right across Central Park.

“The name Jacob Lawrence rang a bell. She walked over to look more closely at a small figurative painting on her dining room wall, where it had hung for two decades, its signature barely legible. It was a gift from her mother-in-law, who had taped a 1996 New York Times profile on Lawrence to the back. The nurse, who had only glanced at the back while dusting, learned from the app that Lawrence was a leading modernist painter of the 20th century — and one of the few Black artists of his time to gain broad recognition in the art world.

“Could lightning strike twice in just two weeks’ time? The woman told the story to her 20-year-old son, who had studied art in college and quickly Googled the Met’s exhibition. He found a murky black-and-white photograph of their very painting being used as a place holder for Panel 28. It was titled ‘Immigrants admitted from all countries: 1820 to 1840—115,773,’ and the wall label read: ‘location unknown.’

“ ‘It didn’t look like anything special, honestly,’ said the owner. … ‘I didn’t know I had a masterpiece.’ …

“After she had connected the dots, she called the Met, but her messages went unreturned. By day three, her son suggested they just head over on his motorbike. His mother recalled:

‘I grabbed a young kid at the information desk in the lobby and said, “Listen, nobody calls me back. I have this painting. Who do I need to talk to?” ‘

“Eventually, an administrator from the modern and contemporary art department met them downstairs and asked the owner to email her photos of the work — which she did on the spot, from her phone.

“By that evening, Randall Griffey and Sylvia Yount, the co-curators of the Met’s Lawrence show, and Isabelle Duvernois, the Met’s paintings conservator, were making their second trip to an Upper West Side apartment in the space of two weeks to verify the authenticity of a Lawrence painting that had not been seen publicly since 1960.

“The nurse, who has agreed to lend her painting for the last two stops of the traveling exhibition, was granted anonymity because she said she was concerned for her family’s security living with a now-valuable artwork. The panel will debut March 5 at the Seattle Art Museum in ‘Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle’ and remain on view through May 23.

“Before the discovery of Panel 16, first reported by The New York Times on Oct. 21, the Met’s team had known only the work’s title and subject matter — Shays’ Rebellion — but had no image to help authenticate it. … With Panel 28, they had a low-quality photograph of the work, which had been exhibited in the late 1950s at the gallery of Lawrence’s dealer Charles Alan.

“The painting, in vivid red, gold and brown tempera on hardboard, shows two women draped in shawls flanking a man in a broad-brimmed hat, their heads bowed and oversized hands clasped toward the center of the image. The panel, evoking old-world travelers, was inspired by immigration statistics in Richard B. Morris’s 1953 ‘Encyclopedia of American History,’ part of Lawrence’s exhaustive research on the foundational contributions of immigrants, Blacks and Native Americans to the building of the nation. (He refers specifically in the title to the number of immigrants who came to the United States during the early years of the 19th century.) …

“The owner of Panel 28 doesn’t know how her mother-in-law — who was an immigrant herself and raised her family on the Upper West Side while amassing an eclectic array of inexpensive artworks — acquired the painting. ‘I have a feeling my mother-in-law didn’t pay much more than $100,’ she said.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Denis Y Suspitsyn/Anthony Barboza
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of the Kamoinge in 1973. The coalition of black photographers gave one another support and advice — and gave their subjects empathy.

A new exhibit at the Whitney in New York City highlights the art of some outstanding black photographers, a group that worked not just in New York but around the world.

Nadja Sayej reports at the Guardian, “In 1973, a group of 14 New York photographers huddled into a photo studio on West 18th Street in Manhattan, posing in front of a Hasselblad camera for a group shot authored by Anthony Barboza, who stands smiling in the picture.

“ ‘I remember arranging the lighting and then my assistant took the photo,’ said Barboza to the Guardian. ‘It’s a photo of a family. That’s what it is. A family photo.’

“It shows the members of the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of black photographers who formed in 1963 to document black culture in Harlem, and beyond, from live jazz concerts to portraits of Malcolm X, Miles Davis and Grace Jones, as well as the civil rights movement and anti-war protests.

“A selection of over 100 photos by the group are on view in a survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York called Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop, which runs until 28 March. …

“The Kamoinge (pronounced kom-wean-yeh) collective all started in 1963, when a group of 14 black New York photographers came together to form a group, to trade skills and offer critiques to one another. They chose ‘Kamoinge,’ as it means ‘a group of people acting together’ in Kenya’s Gikuyu language. They worked to tell black stories by depicting black communities, from local neighbors to superstars, and saw their rise around the same time as the Black Arts Movement. Kamoinge photographer Adger Cowans, who is 84, always believed the group could show the truth of black lives, more so than an outsider. …

“ ‘When I wasn’t shooting commercial work in the studio, I was shooting out in the streets,’ … said Barboza. ‘We all learned from each other. They were my greatest mentors.’ …

” ‘I did a lot of portraits of black artists and musicians in my spare time,’ said Barboza who photographed Michael Jackson at 21, as well as James Baldwin and Gordon Parks. Nine of the 14 original artists are alive today, working and living in New York, including Beuford Smith, Ming Smith and Herb Randall. …

“As one of the group’s members Ray Francis said in 1982: ‘We were a group that stars fell on,’ and credit observational photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gordon Parks and Dorothea Lange as influences. Another member, Ming Smith, calls it: ‘Making something out of nothing. I think that’s like jazz.’

“The Whitney exhibition is organized into five sections, including one community-focused section, which details the day to day life of people in the city, at work, play and travel. Another section is focused on music, as jazz has been a prime influence in the group. …

“There are also sections devoted to abstraction and surrealism, civil rights, depicting figures in the movement, and one global section, focusing on African diasporic communities, as the photographers traveled to Cuba, Senegal and Jamaica to shoot, as well as the South. …

“Harlem-born photographer, Shawn Walker, one of the group’s founding members, is showing a photo depicting two dapper men in white suits and hats on Easter Sunday in Harlem, dated 1972. ‘I would go to the churches and after everyone came out of mass, I’d go to 125th Street to lurk at everyone hawking off all their new wares,’ he said. …

“ ‘I would hang out around Hotel Theresa, even now if you’re not doing anything and you hang out in that area, you’re bound to come home with some photos. Even if I’m coming home from shopping and I have an extra 30 minutes, I’ll grab a seat and watch people come by and start shooting.’

“It has been a tough year for Walker. ‘I caught the virus and lost a leg, but I’m alive,’ he says. …

“Ming Smith was the group’s first female member. She recently said in an interview: ‘Being a black woman photographer was like being nobody,’ explaining that: ‘It was just my camera and me. I worked to capture black culture, the richness, the love. That was my incentive. It wasn’t like I was going to make money from it, or fame – not even love, because there were no shows.’ …

“As Barboza says, the key to a good portrait is not necessarily technical savviness, but to convey emotion, a feeling. It isn’t about over-thinking anything. .. ‘There’s a quiet, spiritual feeling from the photographs,’ said Barboza. ‘It’s beauty. I call it “the eye dreaming.” ‘ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: CNN “The Good Stuff”
Guy Stanley Philoche, seen here with his own work, has helped fellow artists survive the pandemic by buying their art.

No one can solve all the problems of the world, but if we each try to address a problem we see in our particular corner of the world, we can move civilization forward. In today’s story, an artist saw other artists struggling in lockdown and knew what he could do to help.

Alaa Elassar, writes at CNN’s “The Good Stuff,” “Painter Guy Stanley Philoche, a New Yorker known for his colorful textured abstract artworks, has spent more than $65,000 buying work from struggling artists affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Philoche, 43, has dedicated himself to seeking out artists from around the world who are unable to make ends meet and has so far purchased more than 150 artworks for up to $500 each. His own pieces sell for up to $120,000, according to Cavalier Galleries.

” ‘The art world is my community and I needed to help my community,’ Philoche told CNN. ‘People say New York is dead, but it’s far from that. There’s an artist somewhere writing the next greatest album. There’s a kid right now in his studio painting the next Mona Lisa. There’s probably a dancer right now choreographing the next epic ballet.’ …

“When the pandemic began to affect families across the country, many people found themselves unable to pay rent, afford WiFi for their kids’ distance learning, or even put food on the table.

“As the ability to afford the basic necessities slowly diminished, art became a luxury not many could splurge on. In turn, hundreds of thousands of artists and independent creators were left without an income stream in the midst of the chaos.

“One of these artists was Philoche’s own friend, who just had a baby and had lost his job because of the pandemic.

‘I told him, “Don’t worry, we’re New Yorkers. We’ve been through 9/11, the blackout, the market crash, we’ve got this,” ‘ Philoche said. ‘But he was scared, so I bought a painting from him to help him get through it.’

” ‘It was such a big deal for him at that moment, and that’s when I realized if he’s panicking like this, other artists are too.’ … So, Philoche took matters into his own hands.

“On March 20, he posted on Instagram a video asking artists who were feeling the effects of the pandemic to direct message him their work. Whenever he saw a piece he fell in love with, Philoche bought it and paid for it to be shipped to his East Harlem studio.

“Within months, artists from Los Angeles and Chicago to London and New Zealand — and even artists who were in prison — reached out to him with their stories and their creations. … ‘It meant a lot to me. I want to help as many artists as possible, to make sure they are able to buy groceries, or pay their rent, or get their kids diapers or formula.’

“For Tara Blackwell, an artist from Stamford, Connecticut, art is her sole source of income. The only way she can survive off her art is through showing her work to collectors at exhibits, galleries, and studio visits — all which stopped because of the pandemic. …

” ‘The struggle to make a living as an artist is something I’ve known from a young age. I’m used to the ups and downs, but this felt different. There were so many unknowns.’ …

“Philoche purchased ‘Free Speech’ for $500 from Blackwell’s ‘Corner Store’ series, in which she uses retro pop culture imagery from her childhood with graffiti influences and the incorporation of subtle social-political commentary. ‘His support meant the world to me at a time when things seemed really bleak.’ …

“When Philoche was 3 years old, his family immigrated to the US from Haiti with nothing to their name. ‘Leaving one country to come to another was difficult. I didn’t speak the language, I was awkward and weird and trying to find myself in a new country,’ Philoche said. ‘I learned the language by watching cartoons and reading comics, and found my voice by drawing Disney characters. It’s how it all started.’ …

“Philoche started off by sliding business cards under apartment doors and hopping from art gallery to art gallery in hopes of meeting interested collectors. ‘Fast forward twenty years, I’m in the game,’ he said. ‘But throughout those years, I had no one open a door for me. It was me going through the back door, the window, until I found a way in the room by myself. Now that I have a seat at the table and I actually have a voice, I vowed to myself to open that door for other artists.’

“After struggling for years to make a name for himself, the artist now has a philosophy: ‘Sell a painting, buy a painting.’ ”

More at CNN, here.

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Photo: Soul Fire Farm
Run by a collective of black, brown, and Jewish people, Soul Fire Farm works to end injustice within the food system and offers trainings for people of color to learn essential agricultural skills,

I’ve been reading a sad book by Sarah Smarsh called Heartland. It’s about generations of her family on a small Kansas farm, and the subtitle tells it all : “A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.” So far she hasn’t said anything about today’s young people returning to the land with enthusiasm, which blog followers know is one of my interests. I’m into the chapter about giant agribusiness taking everything over.

But I know there are more stories out there offering hope for small, sustainable farming. Today’s story is about an upstate New York farm that focuses on helping black and brown people learn agricultural skills and fight food injustice.

From the radio show Living on Earth: “Leah Penniman is the co-founder of Soul Fire Farm and joins host Steve Curwood to discuss her new book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, and her journey as a woman of color reclaiming her space in the agricultural world. …

“CURWOOD: Tell me a little bit about your journey falling in love with nature and farming, and how it has led you to create your book, Farming While Black.

“PENNIMAN: Well, nature was my only solace and friends growing up in a rural white town. … In absence of peer connection, I went to the forest and found a lot of support and love in nature. And so, when I became old enough to get a summer job, I [was] able to land a position at the Food Project in Boston, Massachusetts, where we grew vegetables to serve to folks without houses, to people experiencing domestic violence. And there was something so good about that elegant simplicity of planting, and harvesting, and providing for the community. That was the antidote I needed to all the confusion of the teenage years. …

“I feel connected to the whole ecosystem, but the plants are incredible. They have these secret lives that we can’t see, or even imagine. So take, for example, the trees of the forest, right? There’s a underground network of mycelium that connects their roots, and they’re able to pass messages and warnings. They pass sugars and minerals to each other through this underground network. And they collaborate across species, across family. And so, when we tune into that, I think we learn something about what it is to be a human being and how to live in community with each other in a way that if we’re not connected to nature, we sort of lose that deeper sense of who we are, who were meant to be.

“CURWOOD: Now, your book is not only a how-to guide for folks who are interested in pursuing a path similar to yours, but it also, well, it has some history, sociology, environmental lessons all wrapped up in this package. Why did you add those additional stories and information in with your guide, rather than it, well, having it be strictly a manual?

“PENNIMAN: Well, I wrote this book for my younger self. So, after a few years of farming, I would go to these organic farming conferences, and all the presenters were white. … In putting together this book, I was really thinking about myself as a 16-year-old and, all the other returning generation of black and brown farmers who need to see that we have a rightful place in the sustainable farming movement that isn’t circumscribed by slavery, sharecropping, and land-based oppression, that we have a many, many thousand-year noble history of innovation and dignity on the land. …

“The raised beds of the Ovambo and the terraces of Kenya, and the community-supported agriculture of Dr. Whatley, those are to remind us that, you know, we’ve been doing this all along, and we belong. …

“CURWOOD: You have a waiting list of people who want to come to Soul Fire Farm and learn how to do this? …

“PENNIMAN: This was something that just surprised me because I thought I was just a weirdo out here, I was going to start this farm with my family, grow food, provide it to those who need it most in the community. And that was going to be it. And I got a call our first year from this woman, Kafi Dixon in Boston who said, you know, through tears, I just needed to hear your voice to know that it was possible for a woman like me to farm, and that I wasn’t crazy, and that there’s hope. Right? And that was the first of thousands and thousands of phone calls and emails to come of folks saying, ‘I need to learn to farm, I want to do it in a culturally relevant, safe, space. I want to learn from people who look like me.’ …

“We’re living under a system that my mentor Karen Washington calls food apartheid. So, in contrast to a food desert as defined by the US Department of Agriculture, which is a high poverty zip code without supermarkets, right, a food apartheid is a human created system, not a natural system like a desert. … There are consequences to that. We see in black and brown communities a very high disproportionate incidence of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, even some learning disabilities, and poor eyesight. …

“CURWOOD: One of the most intriguing sections of your book Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land is this explanation of how you can clean up lead-contaminated soil, which you find in so many places in the urban environment. You have a very practical guide as to how you can use natural plants to chelate, that is, to remove lead from the soil, so that it’s safe to grow food there. I don’t think I’ve seen that anywhere else. …

“PENNIMAN: There’s an incredible plant, it’s an African origin plant called Pelargonium or scented geranium, and it’s a hyper accumulator. So, you can plant it, you acidify the soil, you plant it and it will suck the lead out and store the lead in its body. So, then you can dispose of that plant in a safe place. …

“CURWOOD: And what do you think people of color lost when we lost contact with the land?

“PENNIMAN: Certainly not all folks of color, right? Right now, about 85 percent of our food in this country is grown by brown skinned people who speak Spanish. And … it’s a belief in West African cosmology that our ancestors exist below the earth and below the waters, and by having contact with the earth we’ve received their wisdom and guidance. And with the layers of pavement, and steel, and glass, and the skyscrapers, it’s harder to feel that contact. … When folks come to Soul Fire and get their feet back on the earth, what I hear time and again is, I’m remembering things I didn’t know that I forgot.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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I haven’t shared photos for a while. Some of these are from my last sad visit to New York, others are closer to home.

The first one makes me think of how hopeful I was on September 24th, when I arrived in New York and stayed with my sister’s devoted friend. I learned that my sister was doing better than the day before although she was still in the hospital. She was talking again and saying she wanted to carry on with treatment. We allowed ourselves a flutter of hope.

The bed is a Murphy Bed, made famous in old, silent movies, where someone like Charlie Chaplin might accidentally get closed up in it. This one was comfortable and not at all recalcitrant.

My hosts’ balcony had a glorious view. I sat there and had a cup of tea. I also took an early walk around their neighborhood, which features a statue of the Dutch director-general of the colony of New Netherland (now New York), “Peg Leg” Peter Stuyvesant. I couldn’t help wondering what the descendants of the Lenape natives thought of the statue.

Alas, the next day my sister took a dramatic turn for the worse and died the day after that. Miraculously, our brothers arrived in time from Wisconsin and California.

On days that followed, my sister’s husband, her friend, Suzanne, and I wandered around the city trying to enjoy nature and art and focus on good memories.

Then I took a bus back to Rhode Island, where I had left my car in a hurry. The rooster is in Rhode Island.

The concluding set of photos embraces art and nature back home in Massachusetts, where a long-life sympathy plant from my niece and nephew holds pride of place in the living room.

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092619.-Geo-Washington-Bridge-from-NYP-windowJPGI have been standing at the hospital window, eating granola and looking west at the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River as the sun comes up. On the far shore is a town where my siblings and I grew up. I remember when my baby sister came home from the hospital years ago. I got off the school bus and saw this tiny creature with a very red mouth sleeping by the front door in a cradle.

Hello, New Day!

I am with my sister. For her, there will not be many new days. She is in hospice. That is where the brain cancer called glioblastoma lands its victims more often than not. I am feeling so angry at this disease. I told the physician assistant that when you go on the web, it says the cancer is rare. Huh! Everyone I mention it to knows someone who has it or had it. The PA admitted they are seeing a lot of cases now.

No one seems to know what causes glioblastoma. Radiation was mentioned. But from what? Worse, no one knows how to cure it. “Let’s try this, let’s try that.” Some of the treatments provide a little respite.

Yesterday my sister’s latest cancer-related episode was diagnosed as pneumonia, and the amount of poking and fiddling and blood taking from now-invisible veins was just too much. Her doctor explained the situation and helped my sister and her husband come to the conclusion that glioblastoma was going to win against my lovely little sister very soon and that she’d rather be comfortable than poked and prodded to no avail.

So here we are. Our brothers have flown in. John and others have called. Suzanne got my husband to babysit so she could come by train. We’ll all be saying good-bye.

The cancer diagnosis was only one year and two months ago. One year and two months.

Anyone concerned about the increase of this and other mysterious brain cancers might want to find a brain cancer research center to give to. There is actually a ton of research going on, and perhaps surprisingly, all the centers seem to be collaborating. Something is bound to break through one of these days.

 

 

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I wanted to share recent photos from New York and Massachusetts. I’m always on the lookout for scenes that are either quirky or beautiful. In New York, though, my usual delight in the city was overshadowed by my sister’s difficult fight with glioblastoma, and I took only two shots of Central Park. Fortunately, Paul’s garden in Massachusetts provided a bit of Central-Park wonder close to home.

The handsome pig in Boston’s Greenway was sculpted by Elliott Kayser. The gentleman from the movie Titanic is made of wax. Do you know him? Had me fooled for a minute there.

The giant mural of swallows is the latest for Dewey Square. Artist Stefan “Super A” Thelen calls it “Resonance.”

At Three Stones Gallery, I shot the beautiful tree for my quilting friends. The artist is Merill Comeau. The soapstone sculpture next to it is by Elisa Adams.

Next you have two of my obligatory shadow pics, plus a message from a rock. Those are followed by four shots of Paul’s amazing home garden and grounds. (His day job is as landscaper of Boston’s most beautifully landscaped building.)

The bunch of ripe grapes peeps out from the display recognizing Ephraim Bull, originator of the Concord Grape.

You may recognize the location of my two early morning photos: the North Bridge at Minuteman National Park.

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Recently, I took a couple trips to New York to see my sister, who’s been having ups and downs with the brain cancer. We had decided to have a sibling gathering when the Midwest and West Coast brothers were in town with wives and several kids.

I’m not going to show you the group photo from our delicious Maialino lunch because my poor sister, despite feeling much better, is still horrifically bruised from tripping and getting a black eye. Falling is one of the biggest worries these days.

Instead I’ll share other pictures from my trips and explain any that need explaining.

In July, I took Amtrak from Kingston, Rhode Island, where there is a cute historic train station and, across the track, some interesting graffiti.

In New York, my camera was drawn to verbal images: Biblical messages chalked on the sidewalks, a port-a-potty pun for my collection, and outreach to immigrants (I saw the electronic kiosk message in Spanish and Chinese, too).

I also shot a giant balloon version of the city mascot (just kidding, it’s not the mascot) and one of the ubiquitous mini gardens planted around street trees. I especially admired the gardens that managed to do without the “curb your dog” signs because they completely spoil the charm. But how do people protect the plantings otherwise? I wondered. Do the doormen rush out and chase away dogs? Is there a spray deterrent that dogs hate? Some successful mini gardens used higher fences.

A large and glorious volunteer-maintained series of gardens in Riverside Park proclaimed a different kind of success with its clouds of delirious, happy butterflies, like the butterfly below. Red Admiral? Not sure.

Olmstead’s tinkling waterfalls in Central Park make me delirious.

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For the princely sum of $10 a year, a New York senior — my sister, for example — can visit a serene rooftop flower garden any day in the week. And the public can come for free on Sundays.

We made a pilgrimage to the Lotus Garden last Thursday, and it was delightful. The only people who were there at the time were two nannies and two toddlers.

Here is some history from the website. “Once upon a time back in the 1960s, two grand old movie theaters (the Riverside and Riviera) stood on the west side of Broadway, north of 96th Street. Eventually the theaters closed, the building fell into disrepair and was demolished — leaving an empty lot. Would-be gardeners in the neighborhood took over, planting a riot of flowers in the ‘Broadway Gardens,’ while the local politicians, realtors and bankers squabbled over the future of the lot. (Would an Alexanders department store serve the community better than an apartment house?) In the face of fierce community opposition a number of development projects fizzled.

“Determined Upper West Siders organized; local block associations joined the gardeners, along with the City Planning Commission, Community Board 7, and the Trust for Public Land, among others. Out of this emerged a committee, spearheaded by community activists Carrie Maher, a horticulturist, and Mark Greenwald, an architect, which worked with would-be real estate developer William Zeckendorf Jr. on the project for more than a year, persuading him to translate this neighborhood green space into an amenity that would enhance his building’s charm and value.

“Zeckendorf built stairs to the roof from a gate on the street; a cherry picker lofted 3-1/2 feet of topsoil onto the garage roof. Then Carrie and Mark, who headed the garden, laid out winding paths, installed two fish ponds and planted fruit trees and flowering shrubs. At last in the spring of 1983, a group of local residents, including new residents of the Columbia, began to plant flowers and herbs beneath the north facing windows of the Columbia’s tower.  Today 28 families tend garden plots there.  Thus the Lotus Garden, a community garden, came to be built on the roof of the garage of the Columbia condominium, on West 97th Street in Manhattan.” See pictures of the development stages here.

The only drawback I can think of is that the space is not wheelchair accessible. But if you can climb stairs, you are in for a treat. Here are the pictures I took. The peaches on the tree had just started to ripen.

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When in New York, I like to walk from the Upper West Side to Central Park in the morning. I often walk east on the West 101 Street path that goes past the Frederick Douglass Houses. On the right is a playground and a popular little swimming pool (three feet deep, lifeguards provided), and on the left is a big field for sports and an empty lot converted to a garden.

When the garden fence was open recently, I stopped in and talked to Jae the gardener, whose passion for growing and feeding people is an inspiration.

Jae says she used to overthink food shopping, experiencing a kind of paralysis in the market as she asked herself, Where was this fruit grown? Who grew this vegetable? Were they paid a fair wage? Were pesticides used?

But she found her calling when she started growing her own food. First she helped gardeners by learning to compost, and she is still crazy about the whole idea of composting. “That’s where I come from as a gardener. I love worms!”

A full-time volunteer, Jae is eager to show visitors around the converted tennis-court farm. The garden has been built on top of the court, starting with piles of compost. Although her partner organization, Project EATS, notes the garden is not an official production farm this year, Jae sells some produce in hopes of saving up to hire a Haitian neighbor as a full-time gardener at some point. (“I don’t speak Haitian, he doesn’t speak English, but we both speak Farm.”) She gives half to the partner organization.

Jae has a completely organic approach (no pesticides or herbicides), and she expresses a feeling of awe at how nature works without such interventions. She shows how Mother Nature has let her plants flourish despite the views of “schooled farmers” that there was inadequate sun in that space.

When I told Jae I come to the city to visit my sister, who has cancer, she said my sister should come enjoy the garden’s healing aura and should bless the plants by breathing out carbon dioxide to help them grow.

I left Jae hand-removing squash borer eggs. (“Look how symmetrically they are laid! Isn’t it beautiful?) As beautifully as those eggs are laid, she knows she has to destroy them to protect the squash plants. Follow Jae on Instagram, @growwithjae .

Jae’s partner organization describes its own mission thus: “Social inequalities lead to health inequalities and ill-being in our communities. They affect our access to fresh food, life expectancy, physical and mental well-being, quality of education, employment opportunities. income, and share of public resources. They shape our behavior and expectations, and what we perceive and believe is possible for our communities, our society, and us.

“To achieve its mission of a fair society, Project EATS is a neighborhood-based project that uses art, urban agriculture, partnerships, and social enterprise to sustainably produce and equitably distribute essential resources within and between our communities. Especially those where people live on working class and low-incomes.

“To do this, we bring diverse neighbors together to take agency over the use of land in their neighborhood, provide the infrastructures and support for a community to develop their resources into productive spaces. We share knowledge and skills that support the ability of people to turn these relationships and resources into sustainable social enterprises employing community residents and stimulating local economies.”

Note the happy sunflower, one of several that Jae rejoices in, especially as she was told there was not enough sun to make gardening worthwhile in that space.

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I’m in New York for a few days to spend some time with my sister and brother-in-law. They indulged me in a trip to the Cloisters, an amazing castle that is part of the Metropolitan Museum. I hadn’t been there since childhood, when my family went to see the Medieval tapestries, especially the unicorn tapestries.

The Cloisters are way up north in the Washington Heights part of Manhattan, and it was a little challenging to get there. We decided not to take public transportation as my sister’s cancer has slowed her down somewhat. The taxi driver said that in his 35 years of driving a cab, he had never been to the Cloisters. But he seemed pleased to learn about it.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say. “The Cloisters museum in Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights, Manhattan, New York City, specializes in European medieval architecture, sculpture and decorative arts, with a focus on the Romanesque and Gothic periods. Governed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it contains a large collection of medieval artworks shown in the architectural settings of French monasteries and abbeys. Its buildings are centered around four cloisters—the Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem, Bonnefont and Trie—which were purchased by American sculptor and art dealer George Grey Barnard, dismantled in Europe between 1934 and 1939, and moved to New York. They were acquired for the museum by financier and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. …

“The museum’s building was designed by the architect Charles Collens, on a site on a steep hill, with upper and lower levels. It contains medieval gardens and a series of chapels and themed galleries. …

“It holds about 5,000 works of art and architecture, all European and mostly dating from the Byzantine to the early Renaissance periods, mainly during the 12th through 15th centuries. The varied objects include stone and wood sculptures, tapestries, illuminated manuscripts and panel paintings. … Rockefeller purchased the museum site in Washington Heights in 1930, and donated it and the Bayard collection to the Metropolitan in 1931.”

We had a beautiful day and enjoyed walking around indoors and outdoors, listening in on guided tours and taking pictures. More here.

Update: I just added my brother-in-law’s photo of a beautiful Madonna, carved in wood. He was drawn to her because she looked so contemporary and because the weight of the world seemed to be on her shoulders. (The carved Baby Jesus didn’t survive intact through the centuries.)

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Photo: Matthew Perlman
“Pamplona has the running of the bulls; the Upper West Side has the running of the goats,” says New York’s West Side Rag.

I’m in need of a silly story today. The kind of silly that just makes a person feel better about things. This story concerns a nature-friendly initiative to get the grass cut in Riverside Park while entertaining the locals.

The West Side Rag reports, “Twenty-four goats from the Hudson Valley were released into the not-so-wild [recently] and ran from their truck onto a weed-choked hill in Riverside Park that will be their home for the summer.

“There were more than 1,000 people there to greet them.

“It was like the Fresh Air Fund in reverse (maybe the dirty air fund?). The goats immediately started snacking on weeds. …

“Mildred Alpern sent photos and the following account: ‘Cheering and clapping crowds and luminaries were on hand to [welcome] the 24 goats into Riverside Park at Riverside Drive and 120th Street this morning. Riverside Park Conservancy employees guided the goats as they strutted and galloped along the path to the grassy and hilly enclave where they will reside until the end of August. Beribboned and numbered, the goats behaved like New Yorkers – confident, casual, and cool.’ ” More here.

The Riverside Park goats even eat the poison ivy. I wouldn’t mind having friends who do that! You can search this blog on “goats” to find other examples of four-footed weed control. I also posted here about the Basilica of St. Patrick on New York’s Prince Street, which used sheep as lawn mowers last year. If you know of similar examples, do share the details.

Hat tip: Gloria K.

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Today I wrapped up my latest visit to New York, where I spent time with my sister and her husband. The city was great in both rain and sunshine. I loved every minute spent in Central Park — amazing at all times of year, but especially in spring. I also enjoyed an exhibit of JRR Tolkien’s art and letters at the Morgan Library (available only until May 12) and my visits with a number of my sister’s friends.

The first picture is of dawn on the Upper West Side. Next are flowering trees near the West Side Community Garden, followed by photos of the garden itself. How terrific to see that much prime real estate being used in this way!

I photographed the Tolkien poster, but no picture-taking was allowed inside the actual exhibit, alas. Tolkien was a fascinating artist as well as a writer of fantasies like The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Among the works shown at the Morgan were the illustrated letters from Father Christmas to Tolkien’s children, which I showed you in 2018, here.

The concluding pictures are from Central Park. I can’t get over what an artist the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead was to create so many diverse vistas showcasing nature, never disrupting it. There are wonderful rock formations, hills and valleys, grottoes, woodland paths, waterfalls, streams …

It’s also impressive to observe how residents and city government alike use and cherish the park these days. I remember a time when I wasn’t supposed to go near it when walking my aunt’s corgi in the morning. Nowadays, the mornings are filled with bikers, walkers, runners, dogs — and the lucky people whose work commute is on foot through all that beauty.

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