Rocky II

12 Apr 2014
Posted by Ellen

Looks like yesterday's g'mornin was one silly mess: wrong boy, and even wrong uncle.

This picture shows the real Hank Stein atop the twisted chimney at Ancient Art near Moab, Utah. Yesterday's picture was of some other somebody.

And the uncle who gave him a sort of shout out on Facebook–"Get down from there this instant!" That was his Uncle Rich. Yesterday's posting attributed those immortal words to some other uncle.

Apologies all around.


11 Apr 2014
Posted by Ellen

This spring-break picture of Hank at the summit of the Stolen Chimney, a corkscrew spire atop the Ancient Art rockwall near Moab, Utah, has already been on Facebook, where it attracted a few comments. The award for Best Comment goes to Hank's Uncle Bob: "Get down from there this instant!"

That Time of Year

10 Apr 2014
Posted by Ellen

By eleven o'clock on a Friday night, the streets of downtown Bessemer, Alabama, are empty, and the town looks dead. Even the Bright Star Restaurant is closed for the night.

The only thing open, it seems, at least on this block of 19th Street in Bessemer, is the office of Liberty Tax preparers. Wonder why the folks in there are burning the midnight oil?

Posted by Ellen

You may be surprised to realize just how few degrees of separation there are between you, sitting wherever you are sitting, squinting at these words on your screen, and a live chicken riding quietly in an overcrowded minibus along the bad, rutted roads of north central Zambia.

Not only that, there’s a lot more to the connection between you and that chicken than dinner on a plate.

We could say the relationship weaves across oceans, connecting family, work, school, friendship, culture, hospitality, and a whole lot else.

It goes like this: a young Zambian man named Chungu Mwila left his home and family to come to America, where he is now a student at the University of Southern Maine in Portland. A friend of his in Maine, Alain Nkulu, is also a friend and colleague of Sue Stein, who works at Portland’s Waynflete School with foreign-born students, immigrants and refugees from many countries in Africa and other distant lands.

Now it just so happens that Sue Stein is a friend of these Good Mornings, as well as, um, a Stein and a Mainer, so there you are. And as of this writing, she is in Africa herself, visiting the homelands, friends, and families of many of her students and former students.

Before Sue left Maine for her travels, after Alain Nkulu had put her in touch with Chungu Mwila, Chungu provided her with contact information for his sister  Yvonne, who still lived in Zambia, in the Matero district of Lusaka, the capital city.

In Lusaka last month, Sue looked up Yvonne, and the two of them decided to become traveling buddies for a bus trip into Zambia’s Copperbelt region, some 370 kilometers north of the capital, near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. They planned two stops in the Copperbelt: first, to visit Yvonne and Chungu’s Uncle Charles and Aunt Bana Mpundu, who live in the bush outside the town of Kalulushi, and then to drop in on Yvonne’s 18-year-old daughter, Loveness, who attends Chikola Secondary School in Chingola, another 50 kilometers down the road.

Uncle Charles and Aunt Bana grow their own lemons and mangoes and, of course, raise their own chickens. They make their own rope, from the fibers of tree bark.  For the last twenty years, ever since Charles was laid off from the mines with just enough severance pay to pay off their hut, they’ve had to scrape by with no money at all, except from occasional sales of fruit and vegetables.

Nonetheless, when it came time for Yvonne and Sue to press onward with preparations for the continuation of their journey, Sue noticed that Aunt Bana had caught one of her chickens. Communication was limited, but she was pretty sure that Bana referred to it as “your chicken.”

Even so, it was not until Yvonne and Sue were waiting at the bus stop–a store in Kalulushi–that Sue first realized Yvonne was carrying the chicken, which had plastic bags tied around its rear end.

“Just you wait, Sue,” her students had told her back in Maine. “Wait till you are on those buses with people bringing all those animals.”

And there she was, in Kalulushi, Zambia, getting on a bus­–a minivan, actually, the usual kind of vehicle–way overcrowded with people and luggage and a single chicken. Just one chicken, and it was hers and Yvonne’s; she had herself become exactly the person her students had told her she’d find in Africa.

The chicken was very well-behaved, Sue reports, quiet and still through two bus rides. The plastic “diaper” served its purpose.

They eventually handed the chicken over to a woman named Sharon, in whose house Yvonne’s daughter Loveness was living while at school. Sharon set the bird down on the floor in a corner, where it rested quietly, its feet tied together.

They spent the afternoon at Loveness’s school, then returned to Sharon’s house, where the chicken was still there on the floor, not doing much of anything. “At times I thought it was dead,” says Sue. “Nobody was paying it any attention at all.”

They ate dinner.  Loveness and her friends danced for the guests. Finally, around 9 o’clock at night, Sharon picked up a knife and the chicken. Sue caught her eye and gestured with a finger across her throat. Is that what’s about to happen? Sharon smiled.

She came back inside with a headless chicken.

“She had been at work all day, and then taking care of her baby,” Sue says. “And she was still wearing what even my daughters would call stylish clothes.” There was water boiling on the charcoal brazier; her 18-month-old son Junior was toddling in and out, between her legs and the coals and the boiling water.

Sharon dipped the chicken in the pot, pulled it out, and spent the next hour plucking its feathers.

And Sue got back on the bus, headed back to Lusaka and then on to Rwanda and Burundi. In Burundi, she reports, they have zumba classes.


08 Apr 2014
Posted by Ellen

Lots of weather delays Sunday at the Birmingham airport.

Posted by Ellen

Washington, DC, travel agent and blogger Jean Newman Glock had an hour to kill the other day and a brand new cellphone camera with which to kill it. So, perhaps to model good behavior for her tourist-clients, she headed straight for the National Gallery of Art and pointed her new Nokia at some four-hundred-year-old paintings.

The photos she snapped and published in her blog include this snuffed-out candle, a detail from a 1635 still life, "Banquet With Mince Pie," by the Dutch painter Willem Claesz Heda. "So many theories can be created," notes Glock, "about this hastily ended feast at an obviously wealthy household." 

The trip to the museum apparently left Glock with some long thoughts, as illustrated by the candle gone dark: musings about the brevity of life and the irrelevance of earthly possessions (with the possible exception of that new Nokia Lumia Icon camera with its 22-megapixel sensor and easy upload to WordPress via tablet).

Glock didn't come to her philosophical insights all by herself; she experienced the art that afternoon as part of a National Gallery tour on the theme of "Glimpses of Seventeenth Century Life." Leading the tour was someone Glock describes as "the amazing scholar and docent Sandra Horowitz."

That amazing scholar and docent, Sandra Horowitz, is my mom. I'm busting my buttons here.

On His Knees

02 Apr 2014
Posted by Ellen

On his knees all day long, making the city a better place.

La Famille

29 Mar 2014
Posted by Ellen

Photographer Alain Laboile and his partner have six children. Those of us familiar with life in large families have seen some version of this scene before. Some of us have seen versions of this scene more than a few times and might feel we will live longer if we don't have to relive them.

Laboile, of Bordeaux, France, is actually a sculptor by trade, who first picked up a camera about ten years ago to catalog his sculpting. He turned the lens on his growing family around the house, and the rest, as they say, is documentary.

Bigger Bird

28 Mar 2014
Posted by Ellen

The Dreamlifter, world's largest cargo plane, stops off regularly in Anchorage, Alaska, en route from parts suppliers in Japan to a Boeing aircraft assembly plant in Everett, Washington.

Some of the parts that travel by Dreamlifter are large modular sections of Boeing 787 jetliners, known as Dreamliners. The sub-assemblies, much too large for other cargo planes, used to be transported by ship, which could take thirty days or more and sometimes led to delays in final assembly.

In 2005, four 747 passenger planes were remodeled to fly as cargo planes carrying the sub-assemblies, which are loaded through a wide hatch at the stern. Other cargo planes can carry more weight, but none can match the four puffed-up Dreamlifters for sheer volume of storage space.