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Posts Tagged ‘preservation’

Photo: Samuel Derbyshire
Kenyan tribesman Ewar Kulany making a Turkana ekichielong stool/headrest.

Whether we know it or not, we’re always passing down family customs, sayings, songs, crafts, and more to the next generation. Sometimes I’m a bit sad that I stopped singing songs in the car as an adult, because there are a ton of old nursery rhymes and folk songs from my childhood that my kids never learned. One time my youngest brother said to them, “Does your mother still sing in the car?” and they had no idea what he meant.

I’ve blogged before about efforts to preserve marginalized languages, and any similar initiative gets my attention. Consider this story on preserving artisan techniques in danger of dying out.

Gareth Harris writes at the Arts Newspaper, “Centuries-old practices and traditions across communities worldwide that might be lost forever — from beekeeping in Kenya to creating the Dalai Lama’s clothes — are being quietly supported and documented online through the British Museum’s Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP).

“The scheme, launched in 2018, has been boosted by an [$11.7 million] grant awarded by Arcadia, a charitable fund founded by the philanthropists Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing; the cash injection means the project has been extended for seven years (2021-28). …

“ ‘Locally informed knowledge is in danger of being lost — knowledge that has helped communities thrive in unique environmental, social and cultural contexts,’ says a statement from the British Museum. …

” ‘We are offering communities the resources to record themselves; that is so powerful. It’s a form of auto ethnography as such,’ says Ceri Ashley, the head of EMKP.

“ ‘Once this material has been collated, it is uploaded onto an open access digital database hosted by the British Museum, and a digital copy is also shared with a partner in the country of work so that it remains close to the community whose cultural heritage it represents,’ say museum officials. …

“This year’s supported schemes include a survey of the skills of Venerable Phuntsok Tsering, the Dalai Lama’s personal tailor. ‘Since 1959, he has been responsible for (re)constructing the tailoring requirements of the Dalai Lama in exile. He rebuilt the ceremonial wardrobe left behind in Tibet and developed new garments for use in the unfamiliar environmental and cultural conditions of India. Despite this singularity his practice has never been documented,’ says an online statement.

“Ashley points out that the EMKP team, working primarily online, has worked throughout lockdown, collaborating with an international advisory panel to review and select the next round of grants. …

“Another 2020 project focuses on the manufacture of Ostrich eggshell beads among the El Molo Community in Kenya, capturing their making and use through audio files, video clips and field notes.

“Last year, the EMKP recorded the dwindling practice of beekeeping amongst the Sengwer communities living in the Embobut Forest in western Kenya. ‘Some projects celebrate the everyday, which is so important,’ says Ashley, referring to a 2019 analysis of the traditional natural broom and fibre rope crafts of the Urhobo people of Nigeria.

“Applications are now open for the 2021 round of funding (deadline for applications is 31 January 2021). Instructions online stress that prospective candidates should ‘consider the viability and ethics of conducting this work within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.’ ” Read more at the Art Newspaper, here.

The Kenya beekeeping reference makes me think of a wonderful documentary, Honeyland, about an isolated beekeeper in rural Macedonia. Do watch it if you get a chance. I hope her techniques are being preserved, too.

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Photo: Murdo MacLeod/ Guardian
Scottish village buys a large part of Langholm Moor from the Duke of Buccleuch
, planning to create a nature reserve and a regeneration project.

Buccleuch, Buccleuch. It has a familiar ring to it. Didn’t we stay at the Buccleuch Arms on our honeymoon trip through Scotland? I think so, but it’s been 50 years, so …

I do clearly remember the beautiful rolling hills of the Scottish Lowlands and the black-faced sheep wandering over the roads like they owned them, which of course, they did. So whether or not I was ever in the Buccleuch environs, I love today’s story about a Scottish village’s determination to preserve 8 square miles of beauty.

Severin Carrell writes at the Guardian, “A village in southern Scotland has succeeded in buying a large part of Langholm Moor, a famous grouse moor held for centuries by the dukes of Buccleuch, among the UK’s most powerful hereditary peers.

“Buccleuch Estates said on Monday it would be selling just over 2,000 hectares (about 5,000 acres) of Langholm Moor [to] the local community, which plans to create a leading new nature reserve and community regeneration project.

“The deal, the largest ever community buyout in the south of Scotland, follows months of fundraising by the Langholm Initiative, which only succeeded with hours to spare before the deadline of 31 October.

“Kevin Cumming, the initiative’s project leader, said he was thrilled with the deal. ‘Community ownership can be a catalyst for regeneration, which we want to show can be done with the environment at its heart,’ he said. …

“Buccleuch Estates told the campaigners it would continue talking about the possibility of buying the remaining 2,100 hectares that covers much of the former grouse moor, which would involve the Langholm Initiative raising [almost $3 million more]. …

“The Langholm buyout is one of three community land sales involving Buccleuch in south-west Scotland, all part-funded with taxpayers’ money.

“Earlier this year, Buccleuch Estates sold 300 hectares of land around the village of Newcastleton and has offered to sell 1,560 hectares of moorland, pasture and brownfield land to a community trust at Wanlockhead in the Leadhills for nearly [$2 million].

The Langholm Initiative hopes the moorland regeneration, ecotourism and rural industries it plans to fund will bring enough money to plough back into community regeneration and bring in new residents.

“The scheme will focus on creating a new nature reserve called Tarras Valley, including restoring Langholm’s ancient peatlands and protecting the area’s threatened populations of hen harrier. The initiative hopes its reforestation and peatland restoration projects will attract subsidies from programmes funding measures to combat global heating.”

People who inherit vast lands they cannot afford to keep up either have to sell them or get creative. They can end up being owned by the land — a status I do not envy. I’m thinking of people I knew who inherited Rokeby on the Hudson River and rented it out for weddings and such, including the shooting of a pretty wild art film. I’m glad the Buccleuch Estates are trying to help others preserve what is sold off.

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre
Two French photographers spent years capturing the new uses of old movie theaters, like this one. Now a gym, the building was once famed as the Alhambra Theater of San Francisco.

Sometimes spectacular old buildings simply cannot be returned to their original purpose. Times change. But as I learned from pictures by two French photographers, many people value the old movie theaters and are giving them new life.

Michael Hardy writes at Wired, “Between the 1920s and the 1950s, Hollywood studios built thousands of ornate movie palaces in cities across the United States. Warner Bros., Paramount, RKO, MGM, and others competed to build the biggest and gaudiest cinematic cathedrals to showcase their big-budget blockbusters. In this vertically integrated era of filmmaking, when the major studios tightly controlled the production, distribution, and exhibition of movies, these palaces served as the showrooms in which they displayed their wares. Seating thousands of spectators, the theaters were decorated in a fanciful array of styles, including art deco, art nouveau, and ancient Egyptian.

“In 1948 the US Supreme Court found that such vertical integration violated the Sherman Antitrust Act and ordered the biggest movie studios to divest themselves of their theater chains. The decision spelled the end for the era of the movie palace, as the studios were forced to sell or close their theater holdings. Television and suburbanization — the grand old theaters were mostly located in downtown areas — provided the coup de grâce.

“One of the grandest of the old palaces was Detroit’s United Artists Theatre, a 2,000-seat, Spanish Gothic–style venue that showed movies from 1928 until the 1970s. French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre stumbled across the abandoned theater in 2005 while working on a series about the effects of deindustrialization on the city.

“Stunned by the building’s fading grandeur, Marchand and Meffre began traveling the country, seeking out other abandoned theaters to photograph.

‘The amount of fantasy and detail are amazing in some of the theaters,’ Meffre says. ‘I don’t think we have anything comparable in Europe except for our cathedrals.’ …

“After discovering some tastefully repurposed palaces, such as Brooklyn’s cavernous Paramount Theater—now used as a gymnasium by Long Island University—they expanded the scope of their project. Not all renovations were so sensitive. Marchand and Meffre shot palaces that have been transformed into grocery stores, office buildings, even school bus depots. …

“Because the palaces are so expensive to tear down, many have survived more or less intact, a process the photographer calls ‘preservation by neglect.’ ”

Funny. Here’s to life-saving neglect!

More at Wired, here.

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Photos: Sai Sanctuary
In part to preserve the planet’s source of rainwater, this couple bought a sanctuary in India. As it expands, it protects more and more species.

A childhood friend on Facebook often posts interesting links. Her presence on that platform is a major reason I can’t bring myself to get off Facebook even though I feel extremely wary of what the company is doing with my data. But how many people from your nursery school do you connect with on a regular basis?

My friend recently alerted her followers to an animal sanctuary in India that sounded cool, and after a look at the website, I checked around for more information on the two wealthy nature lovers who saved the preserve from neglect.

Panna Munyal wrote this 2016 report at an Abu Dhabi publication called The National, “On most days, Pamela Gale ­Malhotra, co-owner of the Sai Sanctuary private forest in ­India, is fast asleep at 1.30am, after her typically full programme of organising walking safaris and animal feeds, and checking camera traps for signs of poaching.

“But a few years ago, Pamela and her husband, Anil Malhotra, woke up to the sound of trumpeting ­elephants. They assumed – rightly – that a baby elephant must have strayed too close to a partially covered pit and fallen in. As her husband switched on the rarely used floodlights and prepared to call on their neighbours for aid, Pamela stepped out to a magnificent sight.

Dozens of elephants from the Sai ­Sanctuary’s herds, as well as the neighbouring Bandipur, ­Brahmagiri and Nagarhole national parks, had gathered around the pit and were bellowing their assurances to the calf. Pamela describes the next hour as magical, as the enormously graceful creatures banded as one to lift the half-broken lid of the pit with their trunks, enabling the little one to clamber out.

“This show of concerned unity is typical of the environment the Malhotras have cultivated in Sai Sanctuary, which is nestled within southern India’s ­Western Ghats in the Coorg district. ‘Protecting what is left of the world’s forests is the only thing that will ensure our own survival,’ Pamela says. ‘Forests are directly responsible for rainfall, our primary source of water. Water, in turn, is the lifeline for plants, flowers, animals, birds and humans. We have nothing if not for our forests.’ …

” ‘When we bought our first parcel of land in India, it was just the two of us and 55 acres [22 hectares] of forest beside the Poddani River. We learnt from experience that if you want to protect a piece of land, you need to secure both sides of its water source. And here we both are 25 years later, managing 300 acres [121 hectares] on both sides of the river.’

“Pamela, who is part Native American, and her husband, a former banker, … follow a two-pronged approach to safeguard the forest, river and wildlife: purchase-to-protect and payment for environmental services. The first step is to buy private forested lands that border national parks or other reserve forests, and preserve them in their natural state. Next, the Malhotras offer compensation to members of the surrounding communities to, in turn, not harm the trees and animals around them. Compensation may be in the form of money, but it can also be a solution that works for both parties.

“ ‘We gifted all our cattle to some of our neighbours. The milk and dung give them an extra source of income, while for us it means less staff and more food for other grass-eaters,’ says Pamela. ‘Another time, some villagers approached my husband to help relocate a temple from the top of the mountain to the edge of the sanctuary. He agreed, on the condition that they would stop hunting.’ …

“Ingenious solutions and noble intentions aside, it’s undeniable that money – and large sums at that – is needed for a project of this magnitude. … ‘We now have four rooms in two eco-tourism cottages on the property alongside the main house in which we live.’ These cottages are open to visitors, and cost from [$42] per person, per night, which includes the stay, three nutritious vegetarian meals and daily treks. …

” ‘We outsource not only our housekeeping and laundry facilities, but also hire willing neighbours to cook the meals, some of which can be eaten in a local house or with the village priest. This ensures the money spreads through the community, and even our guests can get a feel for the culture,’ Pamela says. …

“Despite its size, Sai Sanctuary doesn’t have any safari vehicles. ‘You are always on foot here. It helps people to slow down and observe the flowers, birds and trees around them. … Guests are never taken to the same area twice during the course of their stay because ‘we want the wildlife to move freely even in the day. This is the purpose of a sanctuary.’

The National article is here. And if you explore the Sai website, here, you will find some beautiful pictures of the species that the sanctuary protects.

Thanks, Carole, for putting this on FB.

Photo: Sai Sanctuary
Anil Malhotra and Pamela Gale Malhotra put their money behind saving an animal sanctuary in India.

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Photo: Diego Ibarra Sanchez for The New York Times.
Ali Shehadeh, a plant conservationist from Syria who fled the war in his country, at work in Terbol, Lebanon.

The harm that wars do seems endless. Every aspect of life is affected. And yet, against all odds, good people rise up to save or try to reconstruct what might be lost. In this post, everyday heroes protect a seed bank from the war in Syria.

Somini Sengupta has the story at the New York Times. “Ali Shehadeh, a seed hunter, opened the folders with the greatest of care. Inside each was a carefully dried and pressed seed pod: a sweet clover from Egypt, a wild wheat found only in northern Syria, an ancient variety of bread wheat.

“He had thousands of these folders stacked neatly in a windowless office, a precious herbarium, containing seeds foraged from across the hot, arid and increasingly inhospitable region known as the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of farming.

“Shehadeh is a plant conservationist from Syria. He hunts for the genes contained in the seeds we plant today and what he calls their ‘wild relatives’ from long ago. His goal is to safeguard those seeds that may be hardy enough to feed us in the future, when many more parts of the world could become as hot, arid and inhospitable as it is here.

“But searching for seeds that can endure the perils of a hotter planet has not been easy. It has thrown Shehadeh and his organization, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, squarely at a messy intersection of food, weather, and war.

“The center, though it received no state funding, was once known as a darling of the Syrian government. Based in Aleppo, its research had helped to make Syria enviably self-sufficient in wheat production. …

“By 2014, the fighting drew closer to its headquarters in Aleppo and its sprawling field station in nearby Tal Hadya.

“Trucks were stolen. Generators vanished. Most of the fat-tailed Awassi sheep, bred to produce more milk and require less water, were stolen and killed for food. … And the center’s most vital project — a seed bank containing 155,000 varieties of the region’s main crops, a sort of agricultural archive of the Fertile Crescent — faced extinction.

“But researchers there had a backup copy. Beginning in 2008, long before the war, the center had begun to send seed samples — ‘accessions’ as they are called — to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the ‘doomsday vault,’ burrowed into the side of a mountain on a Norwegian island above the Arctic Circle. It was standard procedure, in case anything happened.

“War happened. In 2015, as Aleppo disintegrated, center scientists borrowed some of the seeds they had stored in Svalbard and began building anew. This time, they spread out, setting up one seed bank in Morocco and another just across Syria’s border with Lebanon in this vast valley of cypress and grapes known as the Bekaa. …

“Mr. Shehadeh … is obsessed with the wild relatives of the seeds that most farmers plant today. He eschews genetically modified seeds. He wants instead to tap the riches of those wild ancestors, which are often hardy and better adapted to harsh climates. ‘They’re the good stock,’ he said.

“He hunts for the genetic traits that he says will be most useful in the future: resistance to pests or blistering winds, or the ability to endure in intensely hot summers. He tries to select for those traits and breeds them into the next generation of seeds — in the very soil and air where they have always been grown.”

The experts believe that the seeds from plants that thrive in this arid part of the world will be needed for feeding the planet as it warms.

Read the whole article here.

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Photo: Luke Spencer
Inside the main concourse of the abandoned art deco Buffalo, New York, train station. 

It seems everyone loves old art deco buildings, but no one knows how to preserve them. At least that is the feeling I get listening to the endless discussions of the future of Providence’s Superman Building, so-called because it looks like the Daily Planet building from the 1950s television series.

Meanwhile, as Luke Spencer writes at Atlas Obscura, preservationists in Buffalo, New York, are holding out hope for an art deco “train station, lying forlorn and mostly forgotten … the old Buffalo Central Terminal.

“Opened in 1929 for the New York Central Railroad, the Buffalo Central Terminal was every bit as grand and opulent as Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal, Philadelphia’s 30th Street station and Washington DC’s Union Station.

“These were the days when Buffalo was known as the Queen City, built on the strength of automobiles, livestock, steel, and other heavy industries prospering along the seam of the Erie Canal, connecting New York to the Great Lakes. Buffalo thrived to such an extent it was chosen to host the prestigious 1901 Pan American World’s Fair. At this point, Buffalo was the eighth-largest city in the United States. … In its heyday, Buffalo Central Terminal was servicing 200 trains a day.

“But the decline in Buffalo’s economic fortunes, and the rise of domestic airlines and automobiles, spelled the end of the grand Terminal. In the early hours of the morning of October 28, 1979, the last Lake Shore Limited train service heading west left Buffalo. The grand old Terminal was never used again.

“For decades, the building was left abandoned, silently falling apart, while the surrounding neighborhood similarly declined. But the spirit of the Nickel City is strong. No more so than in the recent efforts of the non-profit, Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC), which has been fighting to not only preserve the Terminal, but restore it to its original magnificence. …

“The building itself would need extensive repairs. Forty years of neglect have seen much of the original fixtures either stolen or stripped, particularly in the mid 1980s, when the Terminal was sold off in a foreclosure sale. …

“Perhaps the best chance for the Terminal’s rejuvenation lies with Canadian property developer Harry Stinson, who was named as the designated developer of the site by the City of Buffalo and the CTRC in 2016.” More at Atlas Obscura, here.

It’s a treat to see historic buildings saved and turned to new and profitable uses. Let’s keep tabs on this one.

Photo: Luke Spencer
Is this the prison staircase in the opening scene of Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens? Oh, guess not.

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Art: Albrecht Dürer
“Virgin and Child With Pear,” at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  Heritage fruit archaeologist Isabella Dalla Ragione says it’s not a pear.

I loved reading about this side effect of an Italian woman’s work to preserve heritage fruits: she discovered that a fruit in a famous painting was mislabeled.

Elisabetta Povoledo writes at the NY Times, “On her farm, Isabella Dalla Ragione pursues a personal mission — saving ancient fruit trees from extinction — with a strong sense of urgency. Rescuing vanishing varieties is a race, she says, ‘and lots of times we arrived late.’ …

“To find and collect their forgotten varieties, for decades she and her father chatted up farmers and motley locals in the Umbrian and Tuscan countryside. They gathered branches, and with them the traditions and chronicles tied to the fruits. …

“But because fruit was not always described in detail in written records, she also began to examine the works of Renaissance and Baroque painters working in Umbria and Tuscany at a time when ‘artists had close relations to agriculture’ and were sensitive to the seasons and local varieties, she said. …

“A closer look at Albrecht Dürer’s ‘Virgin and Child With Pear,’ at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, for example, reveals a clear misnomer, Ms. Dalla Ragione said.

“ ‘If it were a pear, it would show a stalk on top,’ she said. ‘Mary is clearly holding a muso di bue apple.’ …

“Ms. Dalla Ragione created a nonprofit foundation, the Arboreal Archaeology Foundation, in 2014 ‘because it made it easier to give a future to all this,’ she said.”

Read more about her quixotic but intriguing work here.

Photo: Francesco Lastrucci for The New York Times
Isabella Dalla Ragione picking apples on her farmstead in San Lorenzo di Lerchi, Italy.

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Photo: Lancaster Farming

Wish I could remember where I first saw that this Ephrata-based magazine had a story on a farm that I have been driving past for 30-plus years without knowing much about it.

Sarah L. Hamby writes at Lancaster Farming, “Since 1999, the Farrell family has lived and worked at Sunset Farm, transforming nearly 150 acres into a well-known destination for freshly baked pies, heirloom tomatoes, and quality, all-natural meats not just for sale to the public, but also served at dozens of beach-front restaurants.

“Located on a four-lane highway in the south end of Narragansett, a small beach town in Rhode Island with a population that doubles during the summer months, Sunset Farm is one of a kind.

“In 1986, the Narragansett Land Trust was established to preserve open land in the largely developed Rhode Island town. …

“In 1991, historic Sunset Farm, established in 1864, along with Kinney Bungalow, a turn-of-the-century landmark and picturesque spot for weddings, was acquired by the town. … Since 2013, both the farm and bungalow have been on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The farm has been so successful that in 2014 the family signed a 25-year lease with the town of Narragansett. In return for taking care of the farm, the Farrells live rent free, though they do pay utilities. Maintenance and restoration work is part of the job, too, and must be up to historical standards.

“If you ask farmer and landscaper Jeff Farrell why he and his family applied to be caretakers of Sunset Farm, the last working farm in Narragansett, he will answer you with the candor and humor of most who work the land for a living.

“ ‘I lost my mind.’

“Ethan Farrell, who is now 25, has put a marketing degree from Johnson and Wales University to work at Sunset Farm. His phone constantly rings with calls from local restaurants and delivery trucks. … Last July, he started a food truck designed for local festivals and events, bringing his own flare to the farm-to-table movement. …

“The family donates to the local food pantry, supports area events for veterans and charities, and recently introduced gift certificates to increase activity from the local community.”

Read about the challenges of being the only farm in a tourist town at Lancaster Farming, here. And do check out Sunset Farm on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/SunsetFarm505 — or  at http://www.sunsetfarm1864.com.

Photo: Seth Jacobson
Kinney Bungalow is available for events.

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A while back, I showed a photo of a very skinny building near my workplace. Now I have some professional photos from the Providence Revolving Fund, and I think they convey the uniqueness of this building better than my photograph.

I love how Providence works so hard to repurpose old and interesting buildings. This one is only a piece of an old building. Once condemned, it is now lovely and functional.

Here’s what the Providence Revolving Fund had to say before the dedication in May. “The partnership of David Stem, Lori Quinn and the Providence Revolving Fund announce the completion of the formerly-condemned George C. Arnold Building (built 1923).  The Providence Redevelopment Agency (PRA) also played a pivotal role in the revitalization of this unique building.

“The mixed-use building houses two commercial units (Momo and a soon-to-be-opened [Asian] market) and three residential units.  Two of the units are rented at affordable prices.  The historic building rehabilitation was self-financed by the partnership and utilized Federal and State Historic Tax Credits and City of Providence Home Funds.”

I’ve noticed that most Providence buildings have names and people use the names, as if the buildings were pets. When you call something by its name, it strengthens your bond to it.

I’ve had the teriyaki chicken crêpe at Momo a couple times. Messy but delicious. I’m eager for the Asian market to open.

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Jeremy Hance has an article at the Guardian on the quest to save from human encroachment a huge — and largely unknown — raptor: Blakiston’s fish owl.

“It’s not easy studying an endangered species few people have ever heard of,” says Hance. “It’s difficult to raise money, build awareness, or quite simply get people to care. But still, Jonathan Slaght – one of the world’s only experts on the massive, salmon-eating, frog-devouring Blakiston’s fish owl – insisted there are upsides. …

“Blakiston’s fish owl is the world’s largest [owl], and in the Russian forests, where Slaght conducts his research, it cohabits with a lot of big names: the Ussuri brown bear, the Amur leopard, the Asiatic black bear and, of course, the grand-daddy of them all, the ever-popular Amur Tiger. …

“Slaght is a project manager with the Wildlife Conservation Society and a co-founder of the Blakiston’s Fish Owl Project along with Russian ornithologist, Sergei Surmach. But his first run-in with a Blakiston’s came in 2001 when he was a Peace Corps volunteer in Russia. At the time, all he knew about the species was from a tattered bird book more than 40 years old, including an ‘inaccurate, terrible illustration of Blakiston’s fish owl. …

“Although an avid birder, Slaght never expected to actually see one of these things. He was told the owl was so rare that even seasoned ornithologists rarely saw it. Yet one day, hiking in the forest with a friend, he had an encounter that changed the course of his life.

“ ‘Something enormous flies away from us and lands close by and it’s just this big owl.’

“He assumed it was a Eurasian eagle owl – which can be found across the entirety of Eurasia, from the coast of Spain to that of Primorye – but took a few photos just in case.

“ ‘My brain wouldn’t believe it was this mythical thing.’ …

“A few weeks later, though, Slaght gets his pictures developed and takes them to a local ornithologist.

“ ‘He says: “don’t show anyone this picture; this is a Blakiston’s fish owl.” ‘

“Slaght … has become one of the foremost experts on the great owls and continues to find them where people thought them vanished.”

Read about other places this rare bird is found (including Hokkaido, where it was once considered a god), here.

Photo: Jonathan C. Slaght/WCS Russia  
Jonathan Slaght holds a Blakiston’s fish owl in his arms. He is one of a handful of researchers studying this massive raptor, which is threatened by human activity.

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Three cheers for quirky causes that, at a minimum, don’t do any harm and, at best, make a contribution to the world.

Simon Romero recently covered one such cause in the New York Times: “Shigeru Nakayama, the guardian of this ghost city in the Amazon rain forest, gazes at the Rio Negro, a vast blackwater tributary. From some angles, it looks less like a river than a sea, spurring him to remember Japan.

“ ‘Fukuoka got kind of cold during winter,’ said Mr. Nakayama, 66, who left the island of Kyushu in southern Japan with his parents and three brothers in the mid-1960s for a new life in Brazil. ‘We were farming people, trying to get ahead. Japan was reduced to ashes after the war. Life was still tough.’

“ ‘But Brazil was the land of our dreams,’ said Mr. Nakayama, squinting under the punishing midday sun as he leaned his wiry frame against one of the crumbling stone buildings of Airão Velho — a town so overgrown and forlorn it is now held in a labyrinthine embrace of tree roots and vines.”

He has made it his life’s work to “to care for the abandoned outpost. …

“ ‘I’m glad there’s someone taking care of Airão Velho,’ said Victor Leonardi, a historian of Amazonia at the University of Brasília who explored the ruins here in the 1990s. “It smelled of jaguar urine back then, but it was obviously a place of riches at one point, where people dined on porcelain from England and consumed Cognac from France.’ …

“ ‘Japan has turned into a new kind of prosperous country, and I guess that’s good for the people there,’ Mr. Nakayama said. ‘But that kind of life was never in the cards for me.’

“Mr. Nakayama acknowledged that shielding Airão Velho from the encroachment of the jungle was an uphill struggle. A glance around suggests that the strangler figs have the scales tipped in their favor. Amid the ruins, wasps hover; fire ants march; cicadas sing. …

“Nakayama feels the need to clean the graveyard, hacking away at the growth that threatens to devour the site once and for all. ‘For centuries, people lived and died in Airão Velho,’ he said. ‘They were the true pioneers, and I have to honor their memory by preserving this place. It is a matter of respect.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Mauricio Lima for The New York Times
Shigeru Nakayama has made it his life’s work to care for an abandoned outpost in the Amazon jungle.

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Good news for Letterbox Farm Collective in New York State! The environmental nonprofit Scenic Hudson’s interest in protecting a Hudson River tributary has enabled the young farmers to purchase land.

Scenic Hudson’s Jay Burgess writes, “Scenic Hudson has acquired a conservation easement protecting 62 acres of productive farm fields and watershed lands in Greenport, just south of the City of Hudson. The easement’s purchase enabled a group of young farmers who had been leasing the property to purchase it, securing the future of their farm operations.

“Known as the Letterbox Farm Collective, the farm partners supply specialty vegetables, herbs, pork, poultry, rabbits and eggs to a variety of regional and New York City markets — local bakeries and food trucks, many restaurants (including New York City’s renowned Momofuku restaurants) and two farmers’ markets. In the spring the farmers will launch a diversified Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation. …

“ ‘Achieving the goal of Scenic Hudson’s Foodshed Conservation Plan — meeting the growing demand for fresh, local food in the Hudson Valley and New York City — depends on successful partnerships like this, which provides a stable base of operations for the dedicated young farmers in the Letterbox Farm Collective. We also thank these farmers for enabling a future public access point to our protected lands along South Bay Creek, which present exciting opportunities for Hudson residents and visitors to enjoy the outdoors,’ said Steve Rosenberg, executive director of The Scenic Hudson Land Trust. …

“ ‘We were lucky to have Scenic Hudson with us while we gathered our financing and at the closing table when the moment came and we were able to buy our land,” said Letterbox’s Faith Gilbert.” More here.

Thanks to Sandy and Pat for letting me know and congrats to their niece for being successfully launched in farming.

Photo: Nathaniel Nardi-Cyrus

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Asakiyume put me on to this offer from the nautical museum in Mystic, Connecticut. They have just finished restoring a whaling ship, and the public is invited to apply for the role of stowaway on its first trip.

Now, as we all know, stowaways stow themselves away in secret, against the wishes of the boat’s owners, but the museum has decided to put a new spin on an old concept.

Here’s what the Providence Journal reports: “Mystic Seaport is looking for a stowaway for its restored 19th century whaling ship. Whoever is hired will sail with the Charles W. Morgan ship next summer on visits to ports across New England. The stowaway will receive a stipend and will share the experience through videos and blog posts.

“The museum in Mystic has spent four years restoring the ship that was built in 1841. The Morgan’s last voyage ended in 1921 and is the world’s only surviving wooden whaling ship.

“The ship … will sail with a mission to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the oceans and its species.” More here.

Kind of counterintuitive to use a whaling ship to promote preserving the ocean and its creatures, but I guess no one is going to hunt any whales. Good thing, too. I read Moby You-Know-Who finally in 2010, and I wouldn’t recommend the life aboard ship.

Stowaway entries must be submitted via e-mail to stowaway@mysticseaport.org by 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on February 18, 2014. I like the idea that the stowaway is expected to blog about the trip. S/he just better not be prone to seasickness.

Update 5/11/14: Read here how the whaling ship restoration benefited from special timber stored upright in saltwater at Charlestown Navy Yard in Mass. and rediscovered during the construction of Spaulding Rehab.

Photo: Bob Breidenbach/The Providence Journal
Matthew Barnes of Mystic Seaport examines the billet head on the bow of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan.

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When I got my current job, I went through the human resources “onboarding” with a young man from Mali. Even though he went back to Africa a couple years ago, we keep in touch. Naturally, I was worried when radicals took over Timbuktu, Mali, for a while. Fortunately, Mamoudou wasn’t living in Mali at the time, although he says Guinea is not that much safer.

Because of Mamoudou, I continue to follow the Mali news, and was especially interested in a link at the Arts Journal blog today: “Mali’s Underground Railroad: How Timbuktu’s Ancient Manuscripts Were Smuggled To Safety.”

Writes Sudarsan Raghavan of the Washington Post, “It was 7 o’clock on a hot night in August, and Hassine Traore was nervous. Behind him were 10 donkeys, each strapped with two large rice bags filled with ancient manuscripts. The bags were covered in plastic to shield them from a light rain.”

Radicals had taken over Timbuktu four months earlier and “had demolished the tombs of Sufi saints. They had beaten up women for not covering their faces and flogged men for smoking or drinking. They most certainly would have burned the manuscripts — nearly 300,000 pages on a variety of subjects, including the teachings of Islam, law, medicine, mathematics and astronomy — housed in public and private libraries across the city.”The scholarly documents depicted Islam as a historically moderate and intellectual religion and were considered cultural treasures  …

“A secret operation had been set in motion … It included donkeys, safe houses and smugglers, all deployed to protect the manuscripts by sneaking them out of town.

“This is the story of how nearly all the documents were saved, based on interviews with an unlikely cast of characters who detailed their roles for the first time. They included Traore, a 30-year-old part-time janitor, and his grandfather, a guard. …

“The New York-based Ford Foundation, the German and Dutch governments, and an Islamic center in Dubai provided most of the funds for the operation, which cost about $1 million.

“ ‘We took a big risk to save our heritage,’ said Abdel Kader Haidara, a prominent preservationist who once loaned 16th- and 18th-century manuscripts from his family’s private collection to the Library of Congress. ‘This is not only the city’s heritage, it is the heritage of all humanity.’ ”

There are heroes everywhere, keeping a low profile. And I am also pretty impressed with the funders, springing into action like that.

More here.
Map: National Geographic

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I keep a folder of things I want to check out in walking distance of the office. Today I pulled out a Boston Globe article from 2-1/2 years ago, “Depression-era mural gets a second chance to shine,” and set out.

A Stephen Etnier mural of Boston Harbor that had been rolled up and stored away in 1981 was back on display.

Etnier, as Brian Ballou wrote in the Globe, was “one of hundreds of artists across the country picked by the federal government in the late 1930s to early ’40s to depict characteristic scenes of their region in post offices. …

“In early 2005, postal employee Brian Houlihan came across the painting and alerted Dallan Wordekemper, the federal preservation officer for the United States Postal Service. The mural was sent to Parma Conservation in Chicago, which began to restore the artwork in late 2008.”

The restored painting, “Mail for New England,” was unveiled in April 2010, but it took me until today to get to the post office branch at Stuart and Clarendon.

I got an extra bonus, too, because on the way I saw a completely unexpected bit of street art by the famed Gemeos twins, whose work at the ICA and Dewey Square was described in an earlier post.

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