Sunday, September 15, 2019

Big Town or Little City (contd)

  I took a photo of this defrocked mail truck when I saw a stranger doing the same thing.  Observing offhand as I was, thinking the vehicle a remarkable sight on an unremarkable street on Billings, Mt., north (i.e. less impressive, older) side. What's striking is the rainbow decor, of course, a statement of defiance perhaps.  It wasn't a coincidence that the empty truck was parked next to the grassy arena where a community celebration of gay pride and people was taking place. And what a scene there: all ages and costumes. Clever how the repurposed truck's rainbow colors parallel the staid red and white stripe of the estimable U.S. Postal Service. What would happen, I'm wondering, if any of the mail delivery men or women wore those same  multicolored ribbons on the job? How fully regulated are they? Imagine a rainbow printed bikini on really hot day  with the mail carrier's bag slung over his/her shoulder...
 Recent graffiti targeting gays on downtown streets brought out more people than usual to this Sunday afternoon parade and festival happening in the state's largest city (or its biggest small town).   Think what you might: times are a'changin in ways great and small, even in Trump country.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Noted In Passing on 8/19/19 and 8/31/19

What is a cosmopolite? A cosmopolitan person? Someone who looks outward perhaps (i.e. the cosmos...) in every sense of the word?

A word to play with, especially for those of us who tend to associate the adjective with an urban mentality. A city person is bound to look out and around just by virtue of being surrounded by other human beings on a regular basis. As in shoulder to shoulder in the public arena.

Anyone curious about how far to carry such matters should look to a new book by philosopher/professor Martha Nussbaum (University of Chicago) titled "The Cosmopolitan Tradition: A Noble But Flawed Ideal" who plays with the question "Is There Such a Thing as the Ethics of Cosmopolitanism?" (Harvard University Press). Count on some historic references and inferences. An excerpt can be found in today's BookMarks web, as noted in Lit Hub Daily today....

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The day a report was issued by a somewhat obscure agency (the Economist Intelligence Unit) naming Washington DC as 'one of the safest large cities of the world, ' the local paper (Washington Post) wrote of a 'rash of violence' in and around the District. Of course, such things are relative, but maybe the 110 people slain to date this year don't exactly tally as a crime wave. The city was the only U.S. city in the top 10 cited, and only one of two in North America along with Toronto.
The Economist's index publishes biannually, ranking 60 cities across six continents. Tokyo, Singapore and Amsterdam were rated higher on this somewhat obscene scale.
Hong Kong - no surprise these days - dropped from 9th to 20th. The District had risen from 23rd two years ago.
It all depends on how the data is compiled. Violent crime in the District 'has been steadily declining' while homicides have gone up 13 percent since last year. What helped bring DC up  in the ratings was said to be the city's concentration on "intense disaster preparedness.'
Relative, you have to say. One person being killed and six wounded in a 24-hour period doesn't amount to a hill of beans. It's just a 'rash.'

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Notes From Afar: An Editorial



           From the Economist magazine, August 3/19: This curiously named 'Charlemagne' column datelined Europe that plugs the rise of the electric scooter fad as perhaps less folly than welcome phenomenon. The anonymous writer reflects on how the trend might herald the eventual demise of the car in urban milieus - hence, an end to traffic jams,  pollution, all manner of inconveniences now menacing those of us who relish inner city living.
           Well, nice if you can get it as the saying goes.  Obviously, many cities have risen to the challenge by construction of bike lanes, increased parking and operating charges, encouragement of commuter routes and services. The writer sees a 'gradual retreat of the car from the European city,' indeed, across the entire continent. How far such moves extend on the American continent has yet to be tested, because local governments are what determine  the urban profile and so consistency is rare.
New York is doing an exceptional job up against formidable challenges. A full page in the Friday Aug. 9 New York Times print edition is headlined "Cars No Longer Welcome on Busiest Stretch of Manhattan's 14th Street."  The inspiration apparently came from our northern neighbor Canada's Toronto, which tackled its busiest thoroughfare with restrictions - i.e. blocking cars on a 1.6 mile street. Streetcars could then speed up and do the job they were intended for.  The average speed of buses on New York's 14th Street has been 4.5 mph, 'among the slowest of any American city,' according to The Times.
       There is only so much one can do to choose Metro service in the greater Washington, D.C. area when the three area jurisdictions in charge seem always to be feuding over who owes how much and why to make the system operate. Let your representative - whoever answers to the name - know how you feel about such matters. Put feeling into your message. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Update: The City in Summer

Some advantages to note:
Metro - Washington's subway - is less crowded. Tourists often are the crowd, especially Europeans whose August traditionally is their travel time. Locals can feel superior when they see strangers puzzling over iPhones, looking for directions that are not always clear. One very buttoned up man with briefcase took time from his stride to counsel such a group alighting recently at Pentagon City mall and looking stranded on the platform. He stopped voluntarily when he saw their dilemma and asked to help.
The huge glass Mall hub above them hummed with activity - an obvious place to hide from hot air and sun.
Festivals are everywhere, and free entertainment of a high and low sort flourishes. Author readings continue nonstop at bookstores are  since most authors these days must rely on personal appearances to spread the word. They offer the best antidote to warmed over TV shows, often still in repeat mode until September. Among the best of these lately was Ocean Vuong, a slender young man, sitting in conversation with poet Jenny Chang at Solid State on H St. NE. It was the last of these on his current schedule another standing room only audience drawn to his novel and its remarkable title: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous.  He was 'gorgeous' in manner and mind.
 First, by praising the audience before he had even said a word about his book, pointing out their attendance as solid value to the community, of which the store is a vital part. That produced a round of clapping from his admirers who, not surprisingly,  included a great variety of so-called minority faces. They rushed to hug him at the end, grateful to be acknowledged and impressed by his theme: survivorship may mean hardship but is at the same time "an incredibly creative act." Immigrants such as himself  - the son of an illiterate Vietnamese mother - often grow up in harrowing circumstances and still learn to fashion themselves in original ways. For him, language was the tool; his early  public school teachers  showing him how to use it. 

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Summer in the City and Beyond

Stay alert! The temperature is climbing! Nobody could be happier than the prognosticators calling forth the danger ahead. Who else gets full attention when records are apt to be broken? Who knows better how atmospheric pressure affects the human body and has the authority to offer advice?
Whatever the reason, Metro subway riders were hard to find at the near end of the morning rush hours. At 8:15 or so, the car I was in felt empty. It was opportunity to study fellow citizens morning attire, to sneak peeks at skin. A serious looking slim blonde woman carrying a Chanel bag on one shoulder and black work bag on the other was making do with gold flip-flops that could not hide a twisted baby toe. A shortened piggy curled upon the fourth digit. I wanted to give her immediate aid - perhaps a suggestion where she might remedy her plight.  But these days, perhaps, a little piggy is the least of a pretty woman's woes.
We weather things well in the city, to judge by the preponderance of festivals and songfests taking place in all sorts of venues. Free movies everywhere. A vegan feast for the masses. Not that Washington ranks high in quirky innovative celebrations of a kind. A photo of  Paris' Eiffel Tower shown in the free Wash Post handout called Express showed sheep being led past the giant edifice by shepherds from Seine-Saint-Denis. Blithely. More tourists than shepherds I'll wager. Animals are erupting in the strangest places this season. A brown bear went missing in Italy's Alpine forest and scaled a 13-foot barrier.  A 250-pound tortoise was found wandering  along a highway 100 miles north of its Long Angeles home. A human - a barefoot woman from Nebraska - reportedly scaled Mount Rushmore for fun, making it nearly to the top before being arrested.
My method of endurance is finding cultural attractions that don't require physical labor and are ultimately more distracting than the heat.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Monk's Merriment

DC'S National Museum of the American Indian
7/13/19
WHEN A PICTURE DOESN'T DO JUSTICE
The tiny woman standing up front in this tiny photo contains a very large store of energy and emotion, and she does most of it through sound coupled with minimal gestures. Meredith Monk is an innovator in the arts world, active since the 1960s, performing what she sometimes calls 'sound sculptures' and what erudite admirers call "extended vocal technique" coupled with "interdisciplinary performance." The sounds she and her small five-woman troupe make cannot be totally divorced from their motions, minimal as they are. The body is an instrument as much as the voice. The resulting original work  is very nearly indescribable since it is the compilation of so many sensations in what appears to be sacred space for an experience akin to churchgoing.
Not coincidentally, the Hirshhorn Museum  chose to present Monk and her vocal ensemble in a space often interpreted as sacred to Native Americans -  Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. It was a one time event, called "Cellular Songs: Concert Version." Solemn for the most part,  the mood was broken during an encore when the 'chieftain' of the tribe - the formidable 80-some yearly Ms. Monk - broke into a rollicking imitation of an elderly woman happily, joyfully, telling a story. The Hirshhorn  institution has been breaking ground in many ways of late. This time the program was under the direction of the curator of media and performance along with Monk's own House Foundation for the Arts. All the arts. She uses incorporates film as well as visual design.
Curious how merriment can be felt even when performers' tones are solemn, almost dirge-like. Their actions resonate with joy, empathy, compassion. Especially when all are huddled together (yes like a football team) at the end.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Civility, Please!



         A Need for Manners in the Modern Age    


It happens almost daily during morning rush hour. A bicyclist zooms past on the sidewalk, a missing me by inches. “Is there a bell on that bike?” I call out, thinking that he might apologize for failing to warn me. No go. I’m just an obstacle on his way to cross at the green light ahead.
Of course, he has his rights - just like any other citizen hurrying off to work. It’s public space, after all - the same one claimed by electric scooter fans charging along so insouciantly that I wonder if they ever look for any defenseless pedestrians in their path.  Such innocent names: Lime and Bird.  The Washington Post recently nailed the issue on its health page, saying worldwide calls grow for bans.
But  just where is this happening outside New York City, Paris and the United Kingdom, I would like to know. Nashville’s mayor at least gave scooter operators a month to “clean up their act,” the report says. What then?
Likewise, the compulsive smartphone user. Head down, oblivious to everything around and ahead. Never mind that green has turned red. The oft-proclaimed dangers of cell phone usage in public places is well documented, citing how presumably otherwise good citizens insist on their right to communicate no matter what. Has the rate of pedestrian deaths risen dramatically in part because drivers insist on their right to give and receive messages anywhere they please?
Speed is king these days in an urban milieu. Ambling is passe. The rules of the road are unspoken, even when they are - vaguely - written into law. Heaven help the denizens of Washington, DC, and other cities who face an invasion of even more wheeling wonders. The city has apparently given in to pressure from who-knows-where to allow several hundred more of these take-it-and-leave-it -where-you-will mobile devices. 
Yes, they cut down on automobile usage, save  on pollution, provide cheap and convenient transport. But what’s the limit, and why aren’t there more protests about the numbers and the dangers they invite both to themselves and others? Am I in a  minority - a hapless two-footer who prefers to walk even when I can drive or ride?
Don’t even mention how few bikers or scooter users bother with helmets. Maybe in the future it will be up to the pedestrian to arm him or herself with some protection. Grouches like me are caught up in the quaint notion that everyday manners are at stake here. We see a need for new rules of civility in the age of hyper technology that go beyond (or maybe alongside) the current fixation on what constitutes privacy in a digital world. 
Likewise, (a slight digression) consider what are ‘proper’ use of communication methods along the nearly unfathomable internet road. Who is to say what are the rules? To text or not to text versus overwhelm one another with emails that can pile up by the hundreds without blocking devices that may or may not be effective. Does the texting person expect an imminent response  and how should the person on the other end react? Doesn’t this put unreal pressure on people to be constantly monitoring their phone for messages? Surely, many misunderstandings occur with the expectations assumed in the exchange.
Machines can help maketh the man ( literally so for Crisper technology and DNA manipulation or for procreation via In Vitro Fertilization) but they seem equally capable of killing him off. Robots and other AI devices, it’s surmised, promise to make many  human activities (even some body parts) irrelevant.
If only that fast disappearing bicycle guy had thrown a ‘sorry’ in  my direction, I probably would not be writing these words. I might instead be  seeing fresh hope in the ability of a stranger to be sensitive to the needs of another and act accordingly.