Monday, January 27, 2020

Incidental Notes to Note

On urban life and all its permutations....culled from print sources  (often thought too expensive to make reading them a habit).

Two books as references. "City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age," from Bloomsbury Publishers.
Relatively more recent, for Big Apple (NYC) fans: "Nonstop Metropolis: A New York City Atlas" edited by Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro. (The latter surname is fascinating to contemplate.) A treasure in handsome vertical binding, enclosing essays by writers of note (Solnit for one), published by the University of California in 2016. Almost defying a category this combination of graphics, maps, essays. Something to learn on every page and wonder at.

A common sense study out of Brandeis University based on 72,000 census tracts telling "how a child's neighborhood influences his/her opportunities over time."  As reported in the Washington Post on Saturday 1/25/20.  The focus was on 100 of  America's  largest Metro areas, said to be home to 67 percent of the country's children.

The New York Times' Business section on 1/27/20 tallying numbers to prove a rising number of older city dwellers - those people 'of a certain age'  moving into urban settings. The implications are vast when demands for housing and services are taken into consideration since more of us are growing older in greater numbers than ever.

Ever onward with the Samaritan spirit, New York style, as caught by CBS-TV when a woman who got dragged under an SUV on a busy Broadway street recently was rescued at once by dozens of strangers coming together to lift the car high enough to free her. She was pictured immediately afterward, on her back using a cell phone. Calling an ambulance maybe?
A day or so later another woman  sitting alone late morning in a subway car at a lower Manhattan station was assaulted by a man who grabbed the cellphone in her hand. and ran off. She followed, yelling , but to no avail. A passerby saw her and called 911 at once, without having to bother asking what had happened.

In Case You Missed It Department:
Though the subject applies to anyone driving any kind of vehicle on any road in these United States...from Smithsonian magazine for March 2020. How it happened that we Americans drive on the right side of the road  with the steering wheel on the left when, in yesteryear before automobiles became a necessity and not an extravagance, the wheel was on the right-hand side (and drivers stayed on the right side of the road).
According to a curator of road transportation at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (who would have thought such a title existed), the Ford Model T was responsible in 1909. The idea was to allow passengers better exit at the curb and give drivers better views of oncoming traffic. The history of what and why, says Roger White in the magazine's blurb upfront answering reader questions, goes back to pre-automobile era year 1792 when the new Pennsylvania turnpike required buggy or wagon drivers to keep right. Presumably for orderly behavior on public land. New York City only in the early 1900s is said to have instituted the world's (!) first traffic code. Kudos to historians who keep us duly informed!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

What Is DC Culture

                    That was the question the 21-year-old graduating student at San Diego State had to find out for herself. Born in Colorado, A. (to allow her some privacy) never had much reason to visit, much less live, in an East Coast city. The U.S. capital was likely to provide more than the usual  urban challenge. She knew that, and she also knew that - in her words - "I could afford to try anything for one year." The problem for the young AmericaCorps teaching assistant was to stick the course, once she knew exactly what the challenge was.
                      DC public schools are enormously complex, based in large part on the city's geography. The majority (African American) of its citizens reside across the Anacostia River, a strict divide both in income  levels and topography - factors of history and economics (a way not to mention racial prejudice through the years). The neighborhoods east of the river have tribes of their own - often, she found out, based simply on  where a person lived. Boundaries can be staked out in defensive mode, strictly because 'being different' is dangerous. Being different in skin color and different ivy a street number. Taking refuge as cover for slights elsewhere.
                        She never had thought of becoming an education professional (her mother is  an elementary school teacher in Colorado). She was an international business major with thoughts of somehow eventually getting a job in the non profit sector. Striving daily up front and personal with  a small team of other paid assistants like her to help middle school students would teach her lessons she hadn't anticipated - such as how to react when fights break out on school grounds. The worst one she witnessed was between the mother of a student and her daughter's classmate. The daughter had lost a fight a day earlier with another student so the mother got friends to come with her to beat up the 'winner.'
                    She'll work hard by whatever means possible just to get a young student to apply his talent - 'and they are really bright talented kids" - so he can move on to the next level. To get him up to C level, to keep him interested in subject matter - in anything. "So many parents are young and disadvantaged themselves. There are children having children." Sure, support staff is impressive at the school but A's job - which includes free Metro pass and food stamps  - isn't one that can be described except within context of particular classes and children. She and her cohorts, who include young people of color, receive several weeks' training in advance of the school year. But how to prepare for the ten-hour days full of stress and frustration over what can't be readily controlled.

                      The usual explanation for the term DC Culture is Go Go - hip hop and rap combined. Joyous upbeat vocal and physical manifestations of  energy. But there is a dark (often held to be derogatory ) side too often overlooked where problems exist that can take months, even years, to solve.

Monday, January 20, 2020


        Yes, I know, escapery is not an everyday word. Webster explains it as as "a garden plant or pet animal that has gone wild and (especially in plantsbecome naturalized."  Dare we apply it elsewhere, in other forms? 

. Its sound has a slight derogatory relation to the more established 'frippery' - as in a frivolous motion or action of little or no consequence. Let the imagination ponder possibilities - that this word could have real bearing, and need, given today's ponderous momentous political chicanery taking place in our midst. And no more so than in Washington, D.C. where actions of consequence hang heavy upon a largely frustrated populace. More than ever, citizens here - and far - attuned to daily miseries of the world order require diligent escape modes. I.E. escapery, which is lightening the load on your conscience by practicing pure enjoyment as either active or passive participant.

         Films of late have been (Fred Rogers the exception) somewhat down, however sanctified by raising consciousness of viewers, or outright insulting with their concentration on violence.
It's time to revolt and seek out pleasures such as one being offered this month and next (until March 1) at Folger Theatre and its sublime presentation of one of Shakespeare's shallow comedies - The Merry Wives of Windsor. It's not the shallow side that is so compelling - in fact, one can make the case for the play as a moral lesson in how not to treat your fellow man and woman, especially women - but the thrilling adaptation of a 15th century play into a 1970s romp.  There are familiar costumes, original music, top flight actors - a total delight. Live theater at its best, complete with last minute substitution one recent evening by an understudy for one of the production's main characters. (His first time actually playing the role.)

         Ah the show must go on and the world is a better place for it.But if theater isn't your thing, consider more participatory actions of escape. Try roller skating at one of the city's indoor rinks. Or curling during public hours at The Wharf. Immerse yourself into offbeat corners of the Smithsonian and who knows what surprises may await you.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Urbanist As a Title

Just thinking, how often the word urbanist gets tossed around and how vague is the reference.  Doubtless it applies to someone able to make a living writing about or directing studies of city life. But also a city planner,  trained in bureaucracy? Even a dim association with the concept/character of the flaneur ?(yes, I know, odd French word and not used often in everyday discourse....the person who loves walking around, suggesting a superficial somebody  who lives for him or herself alone).
To know an 'urbanist' ,  someone who refers to him/herself that way is rare, and unfortunately one of these souls recently passed away  at age 87 in Washington, D.C. He was Neal R. Peirce, an 'urban affairs columnist," as the New York Times obit calls him. He was a full fledged fully qualified reporter on metropolitan affairs, state and local, committed to the notion that cities can reinvent themselves, that politics is not always dirty. Especially if the nonprofit sector is involved. Wisely, he made sure to get experience early on as legislative aide to a Congressman so to learn firsthand about government from the top down.
Reading a short report on his life I reflected how the so-called urbanist also could refer to people who love walking city streets, often with no particular goal. The opportunity to observe what isn't readily seen from car windows. Purple pansies blooming  in winter. The layout of bricks on a sidewalk - how and why a certain design applied, and how much better the idea of a design can be.  Taking in whatever is on view through windows of buildings. Reflecting on the existence and variety of finials. What ever they are...
Of course to do this requires fortitude:  putting away the phone, forgetting your own and other people's existence - at least for a while.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

'Coming of Age...'

I'm 84 and so what. So why the sense of embarrassment. At this stage of life by many people's measure (and possible misfortune)  I should be researching nursing homes, if not actually residing in one. As defiant as I might feel, the actuarial tables are against me.  How can I explain why I own the number but most days want to disown it because I feel only half that age.? The world does not want me or expect me to be alive.
"You're 84? Impossible," said a young woman at a party recently, "You look 70." She thought she was giving me a compliment.
I could have protested, argued, insisted I really did not feel 70 although I suppose I looked all of 70 and more in her eyes.
What does 70 look like? In her eyes and in others?
What does 84 mean - really?
It's time, finally,  to grow up is how I feel most days.
How can people survive to what is described as 'a ripe old age'? Don't ask anyone who fills the bill. Was it not ever having had (please, lord, don't listen)  to spend time in a hospital for some organ failure or bone break? Was/is it all a lucky break in the gene pool? I tripped yesterday on an upturned brick and my ankle wiggled..oh so worryingly that I thought at once (before going upright again) of the pair of    in the gazebo. Would that be my fate? And end a planned vacation in Hawaii?
The luck of the draw. Someone (and plenty others have done it) has to challenge the charts.
Keeping enemy bugs (viruses, etc.) at bay is  beyond most people's control. We're always being reminded that the enemy is all around us, especially on door and toilet handles, the sneeze in the subway, the over-extended shelf life.
That's me - over-extended, not quite sure of my place.Possibly expendable in the modern world.  Because I cannot  really function as a 42 year old, given some inevitable decline - whether environmental or self-inflicted. I must remind myself of daily failings - names of people and places coming and going in an out of instant recall; the eyes resisting driving a car alone at night in unfamiliar terrain; the thinning skin that can't be easily repaired.
Ah, please, end such foolish meandering with a few boring snoring rules. Tell some tales out of school. Admit that I didn't plan much in my life, got caught up in too many good moments, had no role models to speak of. But I caught on to Pilates before it was too late to care - in my 70s - building on earlier efforts at strenuous exercise, divining that such habits are good. I only drink good coffee and refuse foul tasting spirits (but not expensive ones). Read at length without guilt. Try to do one favor for somebody  a day. Look left and right on street corners. Watch out for loose bricks.

 Found myself entangled with wire fencing that had blown across the brick walk right outside my front gate. recently. What could have ensued would have been  disaster but I somehow managed to steady myself, not to fall,  breathe deep and thank the gods watching over.
Age is just a number - famously said by Joe Biden on his endless trail to claim another title.  So what DOES make 84 seem more ominous than any other?  Shades of George Orwell ("1984")? The harsh sound of 'four' ? A belated need to update one's personal slightly imperfect and probably distorted image of oneself? The older you are the more personalities you have no doubt acquired or played with.