Malcolm X Boulevard

Say what?

If the r.e. moguls have their way, Lutie Johnson would be living in SoHa. It’s outrageous. Calling the place “South Harlem” would have priced her out of the market, as I’m sure it’s doing to any number of long-time residents. 116th Street should secede from SoHa.

This blatant marketing ploy reminds me of the transformation of my West Philadelphia neighborhood into “University City,” same neighborhood, same mix of small and medium row houses, medium to largiish apartment buildings, and a couple of elderly stately mansions. The real estate prices escalated, and the area gentrified. The new arrivals learned to avoid the area a few blocks to the south and west, home to boarded up buildings and streets full of potholes and broken glass.

Ginia Bellafante’s excellent critique in this NYTimes article makes a cogent argument against “rebranding.” Her newspaper used the term SoHa as far back as 1999, so this recent push must mean that sales in the neighborhood were flagging. Good for the pols for responding to neighborhood residents to fight the moguls.

And I was hoping to learn that the restaurant Max Soha had an owner with that name, but it doesn’t. How about Max in the Heart of Harlem?

There is one area that should continue to use its “brand.” It should be applied to all other incursions into NYC neighborhoods by real estate people: Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, a/k/a DUMBO.

Home From Syracuse

The weather map showed lots of green, along with some yellow and orange. But the wind seemed to be blowing the storm eastward, so I hoped to drive behind it. All went well for the first hundred and fifty miles. Showers began just after I pulled away from the rest stop near Albany.

Conditions remained manageable even through the mountains, though I had to keep a grip on the wheel and could just barely wiggle my fingers. No serious exercises, which had kept things under control on the way out. Twice I got caught behind slow-moving behemoths spewing plumes of water. Odd that the downpour let up a bit to at the rest stop in Lee, Mass.

By the time I approached Springfield, the visibility had dropped to almost zero and the rain escalated. Putting the wipers on fast didn’t help.

On the plus side, the speed limit dropped to about forty, but that was mainly because construction had cut off a lane on I-91. That road stays in perpetual rush hour. Compounding the problem – almost no one puts on their headlights, which I thought was a law – maybe that’s just in Connecticut.

Anyway, five and half hours after I left, I pulled off the highway and made my way home to nurse my hand, especially the two fingers that had gone numb just outside Longmeadow.

Syracuse Day 3

Lake Onondaga

So I made serious progress on the project – working out a structure. I may have to tweak the whole business, but the foundation is laid and the building can begin. In the process I also finished reading John McPhee’s “The Forager,” about Euell Gibbons and their days of gathering wild stuff in the hills of Pennsylvania. It was actually more  engaging than “Encounters with the Archdruid” about David Brower because Gibbons has a more vivid and less abrasive personality. There’s also an almost musical rhythm to the flow of gathering food, preparing it, and eating.

Ran into the nice man who helped me with the luggage cart. He asked how my hand was. I said fine and thanked him again, said I’d had surgery – he took a look and said, “Oh, dupytrens, I have that.” His is on his dominant hand but not nearly as bad as mine was. He said he was waiting to have the surgery because of a problem with his left hand. I said, “Don’t wait. Do it as soon as you can.” His wife gave me a look of gratitude and said, “I’ve been telling him that.” I saw her a couple of minutes later and said, “Keep encouraging him. If he balks, remind him of the woman you met in Syracuse.”

It is utterly bizarre that from never having heard of this ailment, in six months I’ve met or learned of seven people who have it.

Only two birthdays at the hotel restaurant and the added bonus of Pinky, an older black man who sang or played sax and accompanied himself on an electronic music machine. He did the best rendition of “Margaritaville” I’ve ever heard. Dinner was a flavorless penne à la vodka with three miserable shrimp.

Syracuse Day Two

The day began with a walk through part of the same subdivision and then out onto a road that started as gentle but worked into a pretty serious incline. Along the way a tiny church hall appeared on the right. Betsy figured out it was a Polish National Catholic church. Not sure what connection it has to the R. C. church.

I muddled around for a good part of the day trying to get a handle on my current project, creating and rejecting ideas, scribbling, rearranging notecards, reading some McPhee on structure. When I hit a wall, I walked around the building and up and down the halls. The sight of the puny exercise room made  me resolve to venture outside unless it was pouring, which had been threatened for Sunday but of course was being postponed until Monday when it was time to drive home.

In the late afternoon we went to the most enormous Target either of us had ever seen. Dinner was at Yamasho Sushi Steakhouse. Not quite the pyrotechnics of the previous day but two shooting flames from the hibachi contributed some excitement. Nice touch with edamame offered when we sat down. My chirashi had all the usual fish, suitably fresh over sushi rice, plus fine-chopped pickled veggies. I recognized the daikon but never learned the names of the others because our waiter didn’t like pickles. The restaurant was in a shopping center with a Price Chopper and a Citizen’s Bank so I felt right at home.

The Syracuse suburbs are a study in contrasts – some obvious middle and upper-middle class and some clearly rundown and poor.

Syracuse, Day One

Blog went on a brief hiatus because my friend Betsy McMillan and I did our annual writers’ weekend away. It was a much better trip than last year’s slog to Ithaca. It featured a direct shot across I-90 with minimal construction, no accidents, and one cop who was letting everyone go by at 80 mph. The rest areas made it look as though the entire East Coast was on the move.

The hotel stood just up the road from the biggest fairgrounds I’ve ever seen. The thought of all those parking lots full of cars was terrifying.

I struggled with the luggage cart because a wheel stuck, and a nice man helped me. After dumping my stuff, I went directly to lunch. An energy bar between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. doesn’t cut it. The enormous salad came with mahi, no second mahi, the spiciest I’ve had north of the Mason Dixon line. The other half of the salad rested in the fridge for the weekend and then went in the trash.

Before getting down to work, I took a walk through a subdivision with the friendliest people ever, waving, smiling, saying “Hi.” Well-kept lawns and flower borders, a largish boat or two, cars either new or vintage muscle. Realized later that I never saw a “for sale” sign for the entire weekend.

I managed to start organizing my current project but was not sure whether of any real progress.

We both had haddock for dinner, mine well cooked and flavorsome but drowned in sauce, which soaked the mushroom risotto. There were FIVE birthday parties, each one accompanied by singing wait staff and a tower sparkler that eventually filled the restaurant with acrid fumes. Those beasts are not supposed to be used indoors. I began to wonder if the management had paid off the fire marshal.

Began reading The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith. Decided to read Isabel first then move to Precious. Maybe I’m more attuned, but there seems to be an actual connection between Isabel’s personal situation and the “mystery.”

In lieu of a blog post, I responded to the responses on Facebook about Pem’s story on the family and James’ Pharmacy.

Once I lost radio reception on the drive, I began listening to Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City. Did not realize that landscape architecture was the poor stepchild of the profession.  The book is filled with ideas big and small, an enormous sweep of history. I’m still not convinced about the organizing principle. Combining the stories of two men who never knew each other but who had a major impact on Chicago before and during the 1893 World’s Fair seems to be working, but I’ll reserve judgment. The Mudgett/Holmes sections are gruesome beyond belief.

Structure Update

The “archdruid” David Brower

The structure outline for the writing group continues with forays beyond The Pine Barrens into John McPhee’s Encounters with the Archdruid, another book-length three-parter in The New Yorker, which also became a book. McPhee showed its structure as ABC/D.

D was David Brower, the archdruid (i.e. head tree-hugger) of the title. B gave Brower that name because of his fierce leadership of the Sierra Club and later the John Muir Project. Brower appears throughout the essays. He climbs the Sierra Mountains, tours an island off Georgia, and rafts the Colorado. In each case, McP. covers the confrontation between Brower and A, B, and C, who seek in different ways to develop or exploit the natural world.

In each case two men with titanic egos clash and occasionally agree. Based on the finished product, McP. should have showed the structure as D vs. A, D vs. B, D vs. C. In D vs. A, Brower confronts Charles Park, a geologist on the hunt for copper and other minerals to mine in the Sierras.

D vs. B has the archdruid battling Charles Fraser, who has bought a major portion of pristine (well, except for some abandoned cars) Cumberland Island. He wants to install housing and water parks and lots of people where the ‘gators and mosquitoes roam.

The action-paced D vs. C pits Brower against the cigar smoking, whisky drinking Floyd Dominy, then Secretary of the Interior. He was building dams along the Colorado River. McP.’s account of their rafting voyage would make a terrific film.

There’s far more to Archdruid than the perfect form to suit to the subject matter. As confirmed by “A Roomful of Hovings,” each of McP.’s essays chronicles efforts at preservation in many different contexts and times, and in as many ways as his subjects can offer.

Austen Tribute

In honor of the two hundredth anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, here is a recap of some of my favorites:

Reading anything by Austen is rather like dashing under a cold shower, perfumed, but nevertheless chilly. Emma is particularly caustic in its descriptions of the grasping parson, the air-head older sister, the garrulous spinster, and the hapless, helpless father.

The 2012 Jane Austen Society newsletter implored (ordered?) visitors to stop leaving ashes of their loved ones at the museum:

… it is something we cannot allow. It is distressing for visitors to see these mounds of human ash and particularly so for our gardener. Also, it is of no benefit to the garden!

This is an update from a 2013 post: The Bank of England has put Jane Austen on its £10 note. I am thrilled that my second favorite author will reside in wallets and purses all over the British Isles. I was a bit dismayed, though, that she will be replacing Charles Darwin and that part of the motive for the change is tokenism. A woman is being removed from the £5 note to be replaced by Winston Churchill.

To end with my favorite quotes, one appearing in a letter to her nephew Edward about his “sketches”:

How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?

And from Emma:

It was a delightful visit – perfect, in being much too short.

What I’m Watching Now (Queen of Katwe)

Another in the series. Queen of Katwe is one of those movies that made such an impact I could hear the voices of the stars in my head for days afterward. Also my dreams were filled with the technicolors of the robes and head wraps. There was one scene in which a woman tied a tignon, though by another name. That will lead to a rewind.

Queen of Katwe is the true rags-to-riches story of Phiona who lives with her mother and younger brother and older sister in dire poverty the poorest section of Katwe. David Oyelowo, who plays the organizer of a chess club for children, and Lupita Nyogn’o, as Phiona’s mother, provide the solid and brilliant platform that launches Madina Nalwanga into the stratosphere. As Phiona, she is by turns terrified, hesitant, despairing, intense, joyful – all seemingly portrayed with utter ease.

The only questions: Why is chess included in the pantheon of ESPN sports? Why didn’t Disney allow for grittier details in the early scenes in Katwe?

Eloise Rises

Eloise with Weenie and Skipperdee (on the chair).

We learn via NPR that Eloise is making an appearance at the New York Historical Society. She is the far more intelligent and powerful version of Dens the Menace who comes with pets and a penthouse at the Plaza hotel in New York City.

Here’s what I wrote in 2009 after reading a review of a book describing Kay Thompson’s “long bossy, punishingly fabulous text.”

When I first discovered her, she had been on the scene for some years, but she will always be six and she will always live at the Plaza Hotel, except for side trips to Paris and Moscow. She has a nanny, but her parents lurk in the periphery. Her mother “sends for her.” Eloise is self-sufficient, and her aim in life is to avoid boredom. Boy, does she. She slides down the banisters at the Plaza and keeps the help and the guests on edge. Most of Hilary Knight’s drawings capture frazzled bellhops and doormen with dog Weenie in tow – or carrying pet turtle Skipperdee (as I recall he usually traveled via bird cage). My favorite episode: Eloise was in Paris, and Skipperdee became ill. (How did anyone know?) Anyway, Eloise shipped Skipperdee home by diplomatic pouch. Now that’s power.

NPR now adds tantalizing details about Eloise and her creator: Thompson hated children and may have stolen a Knight painting that had hung at the Plaza. How Eloise.

May her reign, er, residence at the historical society be without incident.