Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Down to Baltimore

 

DUKES FANS:   

“I would never want to live anywhere but Baltimore. You can look far and wide, but you'll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style. It's as if every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay.”  John Waters, Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste 

A few weeks ago I wrote about being ready to do some more traveling and to visit some of my favorite cities. Yes, I m a birdwatcher and I love camping and hiking and nature. But I am also the consummate urbanite; I love cities and what they offer. I especially love downtowns, museums, the diversity of city life and the varieties of neighborhoods and foodstuffs. Last week I got out of Philadelphia for a few days and spent some time in one of my favorite cities. 

I had been familiar with Baltimore in an historic sense for most of my life. It was the setting during the War of 1812 for Francis Scott Key, Fort McHenry and the Star-Spangled Banner. It was a major port in colonial American trade, including the slave trade, and it was the port in whose shipyards Frederick Douglass worked and from which he escaped to freedom in 1838. It, along with New York City, was also one of Philadelphia’s main rivals for shipping traffic, both nationally and internationally, for much of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. But none of that got me going to that city. I started going to Baltimore in the mid-1990's, spurred by my favorite regular network series, Homicide: Life on the Street. The series was filmed in Baltimore, and my wife, son and I watched that show regularly and loved it. One day, after having watched the show for several seasons, my wife suggested a trip down to Baltimore to do a “Homicide tour” and visit the places featured in the show! We did that for a day and loved it. We went to the Fells Point Market, The Daily Grind Coffee Shop, the fire station that served as the police headquarters on the harbor, and some of the seafood restaurants where the characters ate. That became part of our regular yearly trips, even after the show was cancelled. We explored new ares in the city and we discovered several museums that we loved. We visited that city at least once a year from 1995 until 2018, and we never had a bad time 

 The most exciting museum we discovered was The American Visionary Arts Museum on Francis Key Highway. We first visited it in 1997, two years after it opened, and it immediately grabbed us. Originally one building, it has since expanded to three buildings with exciting architecture, mosaics on the outer walls, 2 sculpture plazas, a wildflower garden and classroom space for its intensive works with Baltimore schools. It has an incredibly large permanent collection of outsider art, and it is never boring to see some of it again. it also features special thematic exhibits take over the mina building such as The Science and Importance of Play; YUMMM’-the History, Fantasy and Future of Food; Storytelling; All Faiths Beautiful, and many, many more incredible special delights. The exhibits are always colorful, multi-media, amazingly arranged, and thought provoking. This is one of my favorite places I have ever been, and it has always surprised, challenged and engaged me and helped/led me see the world in different, more complex ways. 

The special exhibit that is there until Sunday, September 4 is titled, Healing and the Art of Compassion (and the Lack Thereof!) It is an unbelievably moving and powerful exhibit that examine the power, science, spiritual and poetic, culturally specific and nuanced ways that this simple word has resonated and been a force throughout human history. It is mutli, multi-media. There is a series of designed plaques and quotes from religious, artistic, political, literary and other people on what compassion can do and the hope it can hold. There are medical charts showing the effects and health benefits research has shown that living a life filled with compassion can bring to human beings. There are photographs of children, the Dalai Lama, parents, and war-torn places. There are sculptures of essential workers, animals, paintings of mystical places, and postcards. And there are looks at what a lack of compassion can do as well. There is an video of former members of Neo-Nazi groups talking about why they initially were drawn to such beliefs and why they felt they needed to be in those groups. There are quotes, displays, and articles showing how medical and psychological professions in earlier times exhibited, and can still exhibit, cruel, insensitive, and inhumane behavior. There is an incredible mural-mosaic about the sufferings of Job from the Bible and the power of faith and hope. And there is a moving video of a TED Talk by Kevin Briggs, a former Golden Gate Bridge police officer who has had 92 encounters with people attempting suicide from that bridge. The talk examines how he has tried to help them find their way to a little bit of hope, and what he has learned about the power of simply listening to another human being. It is a four-story examination of much of the human condition, shown and arranged in ways that caused me to stop in my tracks, think, pause, cry, sit in exhaustion, nod and speak quietly to other museum goers, and feel that combination of hope, love, disappointment and joy the keeps us as humans going and striving in spite of some of the things we do to each other. Healing and Compassion; we are both capable of and need plenty of both. 

There were two other exhibits in the main building that I did not get to see. The Healing and Compassion exhibit left me too thoughtful and exhausted. I left the museum, had a good meal at one of my favorite seafood lunch spots, then had a great, though sweaty, walk around the Inner Harbor and the Fells Point neighborhood. It felt good to be back. I need to visit places that engage and challenge me, and make me feel fully alive. I am so glad that that TV show hooked us and got us to visit Baltimore. No, it is not home to me as Philadelphia is. But it is a place that always brings me joy and satisfies me in deep ways. I will visit again soon. I do not want to stay away. 

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The American Visionary Art Museum 

https://www.avam.org 

Past exhibits at AVAM: 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Fairy Tales

 

 

 

DUKES FANS:   

‘ As for fairy tales, he understood that they were reflections of the people who had spun them, and were flecked with little truths - intrusions of reality into fantasy, like toast crumbs on a wizard's beard.” - Laini Taylor, Strange the Dreamer 

    Like most little kids, I loved hearing and reading fairy tales growing up. Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and more were all staples of my young life. We read them in school, parents and teachers read them to us, and after I learned to read, I read countless versions of them in library books and children’s magazines. Of course, the clearest and most steadfast ideas about those tales came from the many Walt Disney cartoons and movies I saw that were based on them. Those of us of a certain age have clear images of Rapunzel and her hair, of Little Red Riding Hood and that wolf, and of Cinderella and the faces of those evil twin sisters. I was told that these were all fairy tales by some people called, “Grimm”, and for a long while that meant nothing to me.”  It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I decided to look into who these brothers really were, what these tales were about, and where they came from. And when I read more about them and read translations of some of the original stories, I was shocked and amazed. This was not Disney; this was not Disney at all.  

   The Grimms collected their stories from oral interviews and from old books in Germany. Many of these tales were hundreds of years old, and the violence in them was very notable. In some of the stories eyeballs are pecked out by birds, children are cooked and fed to a parent, people cut off toes, and more. Being punished in many of these stories meant truly horrible things, and it did not seem that they were for children at all. As they were originally intended they actually were for kids, but most them were not just “entertainment.” Many were what we would now call “morality tales”: They were designed to teach lessons about the real and scary world of The Middle Ages and the dangers of a world beyond what most people could see and visit. Not listening to your parents or your feudal lord, being lost in the woods or away from home-in such a world those things could have real consequences. This was not Disney at all 

   I am thinking about this because I just finished reading the June issue of the Smithsonian Magazine, and in it is an article entitled, “The Real Pinocchio.” The article takes us to a place in Italy, and it looks at the truth behind the original stories of the piece of wood that comes to life. Again, most of us know the story via Disney, and it is hugely popular. It is one of the most popular stories inb the world. In fact, Netflix and Disney are each planning new versions of it to be released soon. It has had incredible staying power and an incredible effect on our culture-just look at how many political ads these days feature politicians whose noses grow longer as their opponents paint them as liars. But there was much more going on behind the story than just a puppet whose nose grew every time it lied. The story had was written with important social intent, and it provides a view of what Italy was like at that time. 

   Pinocchio was written in the late 19th century by Carlo Lorenzini, nee Collodi, and it was constructed against the backdrop of what was happening and might be possible in this newly unified country called “Italy”. Lorenzini had been a political satirist and columnist for a while, and he had strong ideas about universal education and how children had to apply themselves as the country had moved from medieval-like separate kingdoms into a unified nation in 1860. He saw a need for a unity of purpose for the new nation, and he wanted all children and their parents involved in making that happen. The stories were in part about the role education could play in facilitating that transition, the behaviors that could support it, and the possibilities that could be seized. The stories were originally serialized in a magazine called-Gironale per I bambinie-A Journal for Children. This was the first publication intended for children in the nation, and in many ways these were morality tales for the new nation. And as they were written in an informal Italian language, they were intended to also be a unifying force. 

   Across geographic and class lines the stories were an instant hit, and they were about more than lying and more than just entertainment. The plots and characters in the stories related to the poverty of much of the Italian people, the pettiness and/or corruption that could be found in some institutions, and the hope for better times ahead. Reading about this was an incredible revelation for me.  

   There is a new English translation of Pinocchio co-authored by Anna Kraczyna and John Hooper, two of the people who are our travel guides in the article. I look forward to reading it, and I assume it will please me much as reading the translations of the Grimm’s tales did. I still love the Disney versions of both the fairy tales and Pinocchio, of course. They are incredibly well done, and they are a big part of my childhood. Reading this book will probably add some things to that and deepen my understanding of how this, and indeed many beloved stories work on so many different levels. Always something new to uncover...(smile)__________________________________

Here are a few links should you wish to follow up on The Brothers Grimm and Pinocchio: 


  

Thursday, July 14, 2022

The Joys of Museums

 

DUKES FANS:  

People who regularly read these missives know that I am a museum person. Art museums, history museums, cultural museums, special interest museums-I simply love museums. They are a big part of my life and have been since I was first exposed to them on school trips in elementary school. I love Philadelphia’s collection of museums, and I thoroughly enjoy them. I am a member of The Philadelphia Art Museum, The Woodmere, The Afro-American Museum, The Barnes, The Colored Girls Museum in Philadelphia’s Germantown section, and The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. I also occasionally visit the Museum of the American Revolution, The Insectarium, and other Philly museums. Museums are among the great attractions of cities to me, and Philly has plenty of them.  

Whenever I travel, I also go to museums. Sometimes it is to see a special exhibit, as when I went to the New Museum in NYC a few weeks ago to see the Faith Ringgold retrospective. But I often go just to see what may be there. I am in the area for a while, I have time, there is a museum or two, so I go. I have been to “grand’ museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim in New York City, and I have been to “little” museums such as The Frontenac County School Museum in Kingston, Ontario and The Civilian Conservation Corps Museum in New York State’s Gilbert Lake State Park. I have been to wonderful conceptual museums such as The Museum of American Visionary Art in Baltimore, MD., and I have been to many of the Smithsonian Museums in Washington, DC. and MD. These have always been particularly joyous and mind-expanding happenings. I am thinking about these places now because I think it is time for me to do one of my favorite museum journeys again. It is time for me to head due South. 

One of the rituals my late wife and I had was our Baltimore and DC weekend jaunts. At least twice a year for about 20 years we would head south on a Friday morning and spend that day in Baltimore, visiting at least one of the many museums that call Baltimore home. We have visited the Reginald Lewis Museum that examines Black history and culture in MD, the Great Blacks in Wax Museum that is a wax museum dedicated to black history, The Walters Art Museum, one of the nation's biggest and most varied free admission art museums, and especially The Museum of American Visionary Art, an amazing museum dedicated to outsider art and conceptual installations. We would then eat at one of our favorite Baltimore restaurants and stay at a hotel in the BWI airport complex. We would rise early Saturday, have a good breakfast, and then head on to DC where we would regularly visit one of the many Smithsonian museums and maybe go to Kenilworth Gardens. Then we would have a great dinner at one of the amazing restaurants on Connecticut Street in Adams Morgan, and then head back to the hotel at BWI. Sunday was breakfast and back to Philly after a joyous and  wonderful weekend. 

I am ready to do that again, or at least some of it, and I think I will do it in August. It may just be a day trip to Baltimore or DC; I don’t know if I am up for whole weekend just yet. But it will be good to be in those cities again and visiting those museums. They have always provided surprising and amazing times. Yes, I will take appropriate pandemic precautions-masking, washing hands, and distance wherever possible. Most importantly, I will once again enjoy that magical sense of transport to another place that these museums so often provide. I have visited some of them online during the pandemic shutdown, and it has been OK. Now it is time to see them in person. To be there and be surrounded by that sense of wonder and surprise. Ahhhh...It is time. Cities and museums; perfect together. 

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Some of the lesser-known places mentioned above: 

The Colored Girls Museum 

Kenilworth Gardens 

Frontenac County School Museum 

The American Visionary Arts Museum https://www.avam.org  

The Woodmere Museum


 

Saturday, July 2, 2022

SILENCE AND LISTENING

 DUKES FANS:  

   “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom" Francis Bacon  

       “The color of the mountains is Buddha's body; the sound of running water is his great speech".  Dogen  

I cannot remember exactly how long I have been sending out these newsletters and missives to Dukes Fans. Something tells me that I started this around 2008, but that could well be just my faulty memory. I like doing them; I like the sense of connection with Dukes fans, and I like looking at how and where my thoughts and sense of connections to the world around are at certain times. Usually writing these is fairly straightforward, if not always easy. I get an idea, think about it, string a couple of sentences together, and then I am off, tracking my thoughts and sharing them with you. There are times, however, when nothing seems to be working. The brain is too tired, too overloaded or too crazed to allow me to develop a solid t rain of thought which I can ride somewhere. I get stuck.  

At those times I often go back to the trove of things I have written before, looking for ideas and inspiration. I generally look for something around similar dates from years ago, as many of my missives deal with things that are calendar related, celestial, or theme related. That is what happened today, and I looked back at things written at the end of June or early in July. I am so glad I did that. I came across a newsletter I had sent out in 2013 that had to do with connections and links that turned me on to something I had not known about, got connected to, and then in the craziness of the last few years, unfortunately fell away from. I am happy to be aware of it again. And It all started with connections; connections ignited by a conversation with my late wife, Penny:   

    “This all came to me after a conversation with my wife, Penny. She mentioned a piece she had heard on Natural Public Radio about the wildlife sounds at a National Park-I think it was Olympia National Park. I love things that talk about sounds and silence-I am a musician, after all, and I love walking in the woods and listening to nature. So I attempted to find the story. I couldn't find it, but I stumbled onto something called "Eavesdropping On America's National Parks"-an entire project by the National Park Service devoted to collecting sounds from the parks. I spent time listening to and reading about that, which led me to the National Park's "Natural Sound and Night Skies" Program, which led me to a whole page and video on the sound project, which led to teacher resources on working with kids and sounds, which led to reading about the crisis faced by bats, which led to the discovery of something called, "World Listening Day." That is correct-a day in which people all over the world are asked to pause and to spend serious time listening to what is around them. That sounded great and blew me away. It is a profoundly simple but wonderful idea. July 18 is World Listening Day, and I think I will find a way to get involved.   

 
  So those connections- that way the mind can work on its own to find patterns and forge links-is still a part of how I try to approach life. And it takes me to new places, new thoughts, new discoveries, and new awareness’s that I had only scarcely imagined. Sometimes the most amazing trips we take are the ones we take internally, without even going anywhere.  They can truly be both fascinating and enlightening!”  

  
 (The web links for the pages on Sounds in the National Parks and World Listening Day-  
       http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4810692  
     https://www.nps.gov/subjects/sound/index.htm   
  https://nationaltoday.com/world-listening-day/