Archive for July, 2011

You Look Just Like (other)

July 31st, 2011

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The tactlessness of our fellows is a massive force. I have experienced it in the you-look-just-like trope since childhood. If you do it, stop immediately.

The routine goes like this. You are in a social or work/social setting with anywhere from four to 50 people. You exclaim at high volume to someone, “You look just like…” and insert a name of someone either unknown to others or famous.

Cross-post note: This kind of rant seems to belong both here and on Marry in Massachusetts.

Let me make it plain. Regardless of lack of sobriety or imagined perceptiveness, you are wrong, very wrong. The object of your exclamation and other will know you’re an ill-mannered ass, whose mother had trailer trash pretensions of sociability. Whomever you are comparing to whomever looks at best only vaguely like each other. Moreover, it’s almost certain that you are a different ethnic background that the alleged twins, with the added flavor of racism.

I’ve been hearing that from elementary school. It took me quite awhile to realize that the folk who said it invariably were of different ethnic or racial backgrounds…that all of the other looked alike to them. So, I have always been blond and kind of Nordic looking. Yet whether I was trim or chubby, had lots or little hair, or whatever gross anatomical status and age I was, I heard it.

If you do that, think and stop.

For the object of your attention, the proper answer is along the lines of, “Horse feathers!” or some other contradiction. Without the other person handy corporeally or photographically, you’ve put the just-like person in the flight-or-fight situation. You are also really revealing:

  • You’re a poor visualizer
  • You have intrusive, poor and self-centered behavior
  • You are indifferent to whether you are insulting someone or putting someone on the spot
  • If you look little like the two people compared, you likely are revealing your stereotypes, racial and otherwise
  • You expect everyone to shift his or her attention to you
  • You are so arrogant that you don’t consider the near certainty that you are very wrong

When this shtick gets amusing is when you can check on the spot. This is easier with smart-phones, iPads and such. Honest to God, if you get called on this even once, and proven to be way off base, take the lesson.

For me, it was finally realizing it was the swarthy Mediterranean types, Ashkenazim, Asians and others who had none of my physical characteristics that pronounced my twins.  Boy or girl, man or woman, young or old, it was invariably someone who looked nothing like anyone in my family who’d say, “I know this guy you look exactly like,” or “You know that actor (name); you could be his twin.”

At last, I heard the real message. That was, “All you blond, WASP types look just alike to me.”

How dumb is that?

The times there was a picture of the alleged twin or the rarer occasions when we could be together with the proclaimer, without a single exception, the consensus was either, “You look nothing alike,” or “Gee, I guess you are not that much alike.” Never once was the follow-up, “Oh, sorry. I’m a jerk.”

With my many experiences like this, I’ve never done it. In fact, I felt for our middle son, who did, truly and unmistakably, look like Daniel Radcliffe in the Harry Potter movies, particularly the first several. People would stop him on the street, either to inform him of that or to ask if he was the actor. I am pretty sure if Radcliffe had met Eli or saw pictures of him then, he would have agreed there was a similarity. There too I see the humor in that among our three sons, he looks the least like my side of the family and the most like my wife’s. He’d never be seen as twin of a Norseman or blond WASP.

I should have been more racially savvy about this by high school and figured out the cultural component. I got a flavor of it then with a Chinese friend. She was born in Canton, came to America at 8, and was the only Chinese student in our three-year high school of over 2,000 students. She grew up with white folk, black folk and no Asians outside her family.

One day she and I were in NYC, playing around in the West Village, Little Italy and Chinatown. As we walked around the latter, suddenly she turned to me and said with surprise, “All these Chinese people look alike to me.”

The First Lowell (Rather 25th)

July 31st, 2011

There’s one last day at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival. As usual, we were there and recruited a pair of first-timers for this one.

Also, as usual, we heard a long-time favorite and found a new-to-us gem. This is really the best, biggest free music around. Channeling Mr. T again…I pity the fool who misses this.

Some highlights follow.

Pix Trix: All images are Creative Commons Attribution 3.0, use ‘em with credit. Click on a thumbnail for a larger view.

A new treasure was Greenville, MS’ Eden Brent. She’s powerful, raw, funny and romantic simultaneously. She does serious boogie-woogie. eden1
eden Brent’s mentor, Boogaloo Ames, nicknamed her Little Boogaloo. He’s dead, but boy does she carry on.
We’ve heard Shemekia Copeland from her first visit here. It’s fabulous that she still comes by even when she’s well established. She alone is worth a trip to the LFF whenever she appears. She gives loud, passionate and believable blues. copeland
clevelandfiddle I’m not huge on bluegrass, unless it’s great. Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper is. These guys are highly skilled, blazing fast on most tunes, and present the best of the genre from way back. They seemed to have more fun than any other act.
Most years, the LFF includes at least one a cappella gospel master group. This year’s Birmingham Sunlights were high energy and alternated sweet and rocking. sunlights

Where Is Thankful?

July 27th, 2011

preacherwifeSurely I have read and seen too many horror entertainments. A massive double tombstone in Hyde Park’s Fairview Cemetery stopped me.

On the left side of the marble book, Rev. Elisha B. Bradford was noted to live from 1811 to 1895. On the right, his wife, Thankful T. Faunce, was born in 1818…

He was a Methodist minister known for his powerful preaching on the circuit. However, we have no reason to believe there was an on-the-third-day miracle here. We can be sure we would have gotten the word if she were still walking around at nearly 200.

Where is Thankful?

If you pardon, I am thankful for the internet and its trove of obscure data. We can learn:

  • There is a biography in an old Methodist Conference book that Google digitized.
  • Elisha was a seventh-generation direct descendant of MA Gov. William Bradford.
  • Smart and ambitious, he started in manufacturing with the aim of wealth.
  • He heard his God ask him, “Are you willing to become poor for Jesus sake?” and he resolved that he was. He chose the demanding life of a Methodist, riding among churches.
  • On May 30, 1838, he and Thankful wed and remained so until his death.
  • They had a happy life, with one major exception. Their first-born and only son died at six months. That was “Brother Bradfords great grief, and on that really shadowed his whole life.” Two daughters grew to adulthood and outlived the parents.
  • Thankful lived with one daughter after Elisha’s death. She died at 93 in 1912 (date from the Mormon genealogy site).

That daughter remained local. I found no record of Thankful’s interment. Yet, I surmise that she almost certainly is there by her page of the marble book. Discarding the notion that she walks among us, I wonder then did New England frugality win out and no carver was contracted to fill in the right side of the hyphen?

Pre-Safety Net Marker

July 26th, 2011

Evidence of a true atavism appears on a flat marker in Dorchestrer. In the Cedar Grove cemetery is one reading HOME FOR AGED COLORED WOMEN. Nearby are rows of small stones marking the graves of those residents.

home4agedThis institution operated just before and decades after the Civil War. While Boston was in a state that long before given up slave ownership, by custom and law, it was not an area where many African American residents flourished. Think of the north slope of Beacon Hill, where many of them lived, and went to their work as servants.  While better than slavery, that offered little chance for saving or advancement, and certainly not for retirement.

In an era before Social Security or any government safety net beyond debtors’ prisons and orphanages, churches, do-gooders and private groups stepped up as best they could. As listed in the 1910 U.S. Census for example, the number and dispersion of homes caring for small numbers of inmates is eye-opening.

In an era before Social Security or any government safety net beyond debtors’ prisons and orphanages, churches, do-gooders and private groups stepped up as best they could. As listed in the 1910 U.S. Census for example, the number and dispersion of homes caring for small numbers of inmates is eye-opening. It was catch as catch can for the poor, old or feeble.

The Home for Aged Colored Women was by then in its longest term location, down the street from the State House at 22 Hancock Street. That’s now a super-priced double home abutting Suffolk University on the back. Having lived across the street when I first moved to Boston, I know that this strip had become low-rent boarding houses after the black residents began to decamp. Back in the 19th and into the early 20th Centuries, it surely was an affordable place for charities to rent or buy.

fullerstoneIn 1910, this Home accepted three new residents and had a total of 18 women. Other documents said it could accommodate up to 20. They had six paid employees, and as the Census notes in one of its then-necessary columns, “Colored persons received.”

The Home was organized in 1860 “at the suggestion of Mrs. K. P. Clarke, and incorporated in 1864, for aged colored women of good character, who are unable to take care of themselves. If able, or if they have friends able to assist them, the beneficiaries are obliged to pay a small amount toward their maintenance.” The original location was also in the area with many black servants, at 27 Myrtle Street.

The MA Historical Society mentions it too, writing “an interracial group of concerned citizens opened the Home for Aged Colored Women on Beacon Hill to care for elderly African and African American women. Many of these women were ex-slaves.”

A different form of charity was in African American women helping in the Civil War effort, particularly in support of black soldiers such as the 54th Regiment Company A. Look up a floor on River Street in Hyde Park’s Cleary Square to see the office of The Colored Ladies Christian Relief Association. The 54th website describes them as, “The Colored ladies present the ‘hidden half’ of the story 
of the 54th, the contributions of African American women in the 
Civil War.”

The Bostonians weren’t the only groups. In an online encyclopedia on women in the  Civil War, the drive of Elizabeth Keckley led to numerous such Contraband Relief Associations. Contraband of course referred to freed or escaped slaves. Keckley a dressmaker to Mary Todd Lincoln ran a successful business and encouraged other free blacks to contribute to society.

Lincoln contributed a sizable $200 to the new effort. When Keckley accompanied her on a trip through New England and New York City, she “encouraged Octavia Grimes to establish the Colored Ladies’ Relief Association and Sarah Martin the Fugitive Aid Society of Boston. Both organizations were attached to all-black Boston churches and became auxilliaries of the CRA.”

She solicited contributions from black and white abolitionists here and abroad. She expanded the effort and even broadened the name to Ladies’ Freedmen and Soldiers’ Relief Association. In what would today strike chords left and right, “she was concerned that white philanthropists and charity workers who underestimated the abilities and the potential of the formerly enslaved would undermine their efforts to elevate themselves.”

Two Neighborhoods, Two Soldiers

July 25th, 2011

In Boston, Dorchester has a personalized Civil War memorial and Hyde Park a more generic one. A clean shaven, stalwart, strong chinned bronze soldier in HP’s Fairview cemetery stands for all. Benjamin Stone is the personification of local hero in Dot’s Cedar Grove. He appears with ragged hair and drooping mustache.

bstonechumIn fact, the late Capt. Stone’s name appears on the town’s Soldiers Memorial and a Grand Army of the Republic post. He was a bit of a pied piper though, recruiting and leading the men of the town South to their death in support of the Union. Looking at the long rows of headstones behind his statue, I am not sure I would have been so fond of him had I been a parent, sibling, fiancee or spouse who lost a man.

In his early 40s, Stone earned a living engraving (printing) music. Married, with kids, he was highly patriotic. At the start of the war, he apparently had no doubt that someone had to organize the local effort. He did, recruiting many of his peers, highly disproportionate to other towns.

DotStone3That became the Massachusetts 11th Regiment, Company K. As was OK at the time, it elected him as leader, suddenly Capt. Stone. They trained at Fort Warren and headed to where the bulk of the war was fought, Virginia.

There at Manassas (a.k.a. Bull Run for the local creek), he was one of 113 of the company to be fatally wounded. He died a couple of weeks later in a hospital after a leg amputation. In the end, only 12 of the company returned to Dorchester.

Incongruously it seems, Stone’s remains are in Dorchester North cemetery, in his mother’s plot and not where the townsfolk erected  his statue. It makes sense in that many of his fellow soldiers from Company K are in Cedar Grove.

Plus, Cedar Grove did not organize until 1867. Boston annexed Dorchester three years later, that cemetery became a government one, until it returned to a private one in 1887.

An opposite process happened at Fairview in Hyde Park. Formerly part of Dedham, HP became its own town with its own cemetery. Fairview opened in 1893 on the banks of Mother Brook. After HP agreed to become the last neighborhood of Boston in 1912, the city took over the grounds.

fairviewsoldier1Previously, the HP prominent families had large, open plots. Those parts still have the bucolic appearance of a garden cemetery, like Forest Hills’ older parts. Like that one too, economics rule now and much of Fairview is also a necropolis of close stones in neat rows.

Not far from the entrance there is a very different Civil War monument to local soldiers. Idealized in the classic tradition, this soldier has a recognizable US belt buckle of the Union troops, but no rank or personality and of course, no name attached. He is soldier.

It’s probably silly to make to much of the differences. The Fairview soldier has a semicircle of a few local corpses representing both army and navy members. He stands in for them all.

Fairview is a city cemetery and as such more egalitarian and impersonal. The Stone statue in Dorchester was privately funded and used a known local figure to represent all the town’s soldiers in that war.

On the statues and in articles, I don’t see mentions of the sculptors. That’s not terribly unusual for works for hire, except with famous funereal ones, like Daniel Chester French’s at Forest Hills. I’ll update this if I run across the artists.

Lizard Man in the Hot

July 21st, 2011

turtles1Yankees, grits and thermometers bring the oddest weather prides and tolerances. Today was maybe 96° in Boston, allegedly feeling 10° warmer with humidity. That’s not so bad, even though the better-safe-than-sorry sorts had their klaxons blaring.

Yankees, as in folk in New England, often display their masochism or stupidity by not wearing hats in bitter cold winds, and claiming to love snow and ice. Grits, as in folk in the deep South, slow down but claim to thrive in 100° air. A reasonable cliché is that Northerners turn on the air conditioner when it’s 73° and Southerners put on a cardigan when it’s below 68°.

While I’ve lived in Boston for most of my life, much of my childhood and youth was where heat’s the norm. Today in Boston was fine. I’m not unhappy or uncomfortable. I biked for a couple of hours this morning, getting out before the air hit 80° and returning, wet but OK before it got to 90°.

Truth be told, when I was out in the hottest part of the day later for chores, I was a happy as a basking lizard. I know I’m not cold blooded, but in real heat, I can relate to basking.

Of course, even, or maybe particularly, New Englanders go to a lot of distance, expense and other trouble to bask. They’ll hit the Cape or Esplanade or backyard to crisp up in the sun. That’s desirable. Somehow feeling the heat when you don’t seek it is not. Meh.

Maybe for me it was also the years in the lifeguard chair and all the associations. As a blond, I started summers too damned pale. I’d bake in the chair, getting blonder and brown or at least brownish at the same time. I got paid for goofing off, rolled with visions of pulchritude, and enjoyed the heat.

The mildly crushing embrace of the hot sun evokes those halcyon, long days with a whistle on a lanyard around my neck. I truly enjoy my cross-country skiing in the eenies or at zero with a wind chill way down, but in my heart and under my skin, basking is just fine.

Holy Zombie, Mother of God!

July 21st, 2011

zmaryScary Mary appears in an old section of Hyde Park’s Fairview Cemetery. The life-(bwah ha ha)-size statue truly looks like a prop in a horror movie. The darkened stone couples horrifically with lichen and fungal growth to suggest the bad side of an afterlife.

While I joined numerous Boston Tours de Graves cemetery rides, I had not spent time in either Fairview or Dorchester’s Cedar Grove. I changed that yesterday and today.

Expect statuary and stones images.

Where Robots Arise

July 19th, 2011

With the power of POTS and the net, and the grace of human users, I found out about the new mural on the bike/ped path next to the Mattapan trolley. It’s not my style, but for this case, I’m running the bulk of an earlier post with the new info.

I tracked down the woman who is apparently the sole source of mural information in DCR parks (Janice Tenzin). She put me in touch with a couple of people at Boston Natural Area Network, who in turn directed me to the sole expert there (Candice Cook).

The answer to my who, who funded and where’s the plaque questions are:

  • The mural was a project of teachers and students at the Milton Academy (and who’s saying Miltonians all hate and fear hoi polloi on the bike path?)
  • The city and state did not have to chip in for funding
  • The project completed as the school term ended, so the signage will come at some unspecified day (I hope it credits the students and advisers by name)

The original, still ignorant and curious post included:

I suspect I’ve cycled by a few times without noticing the robot and cellphones. When I roll on the DCR path beside the Mattapan trolley, I’m watching for unattended toddlers, unleashed dogs, and adult humanoids blissed out with earbuds. Today I noticed.

robotmuralNext to the grand mural depicting Native Americans, corn, canoes and such is a new and delightfully garish one. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s bold, and I bet it was done by high-school students.

I called the DCR when I got home. Allegedly the flack in charge of that area is at an event and no one else has any idea of the provenance. I’ve left a message and shall follow through if she does not get back with me. As soon as I learn, I’ll update this.

Pic Click Trick: Click on any image for a larger view. If your browser brings it up in the same window, use the back button or key to return.

This new one is contemporary, with modern electronics, retro tug of war, skater and even the Apple logo.  It makes an amusing visual counterpoint to the historic neighbor.

This stretch between the Milton and Butler trolley stops is vying for mural overlord. Up the line into Dorchester are a series of DCR and city supported wall pieces. They tend to be pretty crude and not too visually exciting.

Already just beyond the robot to history pair is a series of stylized nature pieces — ladybird, fireflies, cricket and day lilies. I’m figuring there’s more to come. I and likely hundreds of daily strollers and runners likely are eager for more secret gems in this hidden gallery.

The robot a little closer, replete with cellphone eyes. robottug
lilies Whole day lily mural.
Adjacent fireflies. firefly
ladyclover Ladybird detail.
Cricket detail. cricket

Honor Partially Paid at Camp Meigs

July 19th, 2011

Sterling rhetoric, but tin foil action has been the sporadic focus on Boston’s Camp Meigs. I trotted down this afternoon and confirmed that there is little local glory for the Glory Brigade.

meigsTwo months ago, two Globe contributors, Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki, raised a weak huzzah to the sub-sub-neighborhood historical site. They called, meekly, for a second Freedom Trail, which would include this 2.8 acre neglected locale in the Southernmost part of the Southernmost part of Boston.

That’s pretty much been the norm since 1866. The eruption of honor appeared in 1897 across from the MA state house, in the form of the Robert Gould Shaw memorial. While the gigantic relief piece shows the African American soldiers, the monument in art and name is of course for the white commanding officer. The all-black 54th, 55th and 5th are fairly extras in their drama, typical of the time.

Maybe 10 miles South, they drilled and prepared for war, the first fighting forces of black men in this country. In what was Dedham and became Readville/Hyde Park, the camp was the focus of the training…not that you’d know it now.

A visit just below the Neponset Valley Parkway doesn’t make you hum patriotic tunes. Sharing a large rectangular block park, the Camp Meigs site is the smallest portion of a basketball court, softball field, kid’s playground and tennis courts. Where you see the green circle I overlaid on the Google map above, is the evidence. There’s kind of an open ground where the small group of reenactors and educators occasionally sets up. They also take their depiction on the road, including in Boston.

There is a cemetery size and style stone and and an embarrassing fake cannon. The miniature, concrete cannon has graffiti. The stone is OK, with basic-facts on front and a Frederick Douglass quote from 1863 on the back. The latter reads that once the black soldier is outfitted for war “…there is no power on earth or under the earth which can deny that he has earned thie right to citizenship in the United States.”

That’s a start.

Warning or Promise: I had a good time reviewing the ancient HP publications that included Meigs coverage. I’ll do more later this summer on conditions during the Civil War, food, gear and such.

For a wider view on Camp Meigs, I prefer the tone on an address by a D. Eldredge given in 1906 to the Meigs Memorial Association and the Hyde Park Historical Society. (Search for Meigs in the linked text to read it all.)

Let me say that Hyde Park may well be proud of its delightful suburb, proud that so historic a spot is an integral part of the town. Proud may the dwellers at Readville be, for here, beneath our very feet, nearly fifty years ago, thousands marched up and down and upon this plain. The rattle of musketry, the bugle’s blast, the rat-a-tat-tat of the drum, the clanking of the sabre, the neighing steed and the roar of cannon became familiar sounds.

meigsmonumentHere the very flower of the youth of this good old Commonwealth of ours gathered themselves together as a mighty phalanx. Here they learned the art of war, bade fond mother and father, or wife, the sad good bye and marched away. Thousands never came back; other thousands perished upon the battle-field, or in the hospital or the dreadful southern prison. Yet other thousands of the wounded and the sick were sent here to the hospital that they might be near to those they loved and that they might be tenderly nursed.

May these memories, these facts, be kept green, and may the Meigs Memorial Association slack not its hand, but see to it that this and coming generations who make their homes here shall know that this is historic ground, that here was the largest military camp in New England, that soldiers went forth from here to a war such as no man had ever seen.

The land itself turns out to link to the artifact Paul’s Bridge. That farmer, Ebenezer Paul, was surprised by men from the MA governor’s office squatting on is land and, “It is related that the first that Ebenezer Paul knew of any designs upon his land as a camping ground, was his sudden discovery one morn of two or three men sitting under one of the long rows of elms, a few of which are now standing, and his cows gazing upon them with interest.” Supposedly he got $300 a year rental for it.

After the war, he sold his whole farm for $20,000. The local Dedham Gazette editorialized, “”We had hoped,” said the editor, ” that the ground would have been consecrated to some public purpose.”

It was, in a weak way, on July 4th, 1903. There was a splash first. The ceremony had speeches, a commissioned poem, drum rolls and such. A former soldier from the period, Augustus S. Lovett, Esq. also spoke. His rambling and personal address included near the end:

To all these 25,000 or more martial spirits we dedicate this scene of their first soldier days. Long may the cannon preserve their present peaceful positions! Never may the time come when the Star Spangled Banner shall cease to float over this consecrated ground, and may children’s children to the latest generation swell the chorus of the Union saved, now and forever, one and inseparable!

Over a century later, the wee park dominated by playgrounds and a portable toilet may not fulfill that hope.

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Hey, Foodie, Let’s Get Special

July 16th, 2011

snootyAs it has for centuries, the same answer fits both questions of what to give someone who has everything and what do the privileged need emotionally. That would be obvious and public confirmation that they are special and superior.

A sort, brilliant Simon Kuper piece in today’s FT comes at it from the food-and-status angle, leaving no snot without disdain. He notes how the high-disposable income types have lately been out-peasanting the peasants for ego thrills.

While the richest don’t bother, the social strivers and educated middle-class see peasant food as a status marker. As he writes:

By the 1970s, (Verlinvest’ direcyor Eric) Melloul said, food-processing had liberated the working woman. “Now the same working woman is finding time to go to the farmers’ market, and do the cooking herself – what her grandmother used to do. I go to dinners where probably 50 per cent of conversation centres around food.”

However, Kuper knows this is just another expression of the need to feel special, in control and trendy by choice. He adds, “But eventually strivers must abandon it too. When missionaries like Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama succeed in spreading peasant food to the masses, it will lose its status.”

For us boomers, this comes and comes and comes like weak lake tides forever lapping societal shores. It has ranged from lower middle to upper middle classes, with each group seeking alimentary, culinary distinction and pride. In my childhood, the women’s service magazines had the new recipe and new food item, which erupted like pimples before the prom everywhere. It seemed the entire nation ate the same damn thing as soon as Redbook or Ladies Home Journal published it.

As human  foibles go, this food-as-status one is largely harmless. No matter how unthinking the herd behavior, at least it broadens the tastes, smells and colors served up on our tables. When you notice, don’t snort, you likely have your own food pretensions you assume are merely more signs of your superiority.