Southern Namibia, as seen from the Landsat 7 satellite orbiting 700 kilometers above the earth's surface.
The machine that's demolishing Mt. Olive AME Church in the neighborhood is something you can rent in New Jersey. The jaws at the business end of the thing are heavy-duty grapples; you rent a regular excavating machine on caterpillar treads, remove its digging bucket, and pin on the grapple. The two-tined jaw opens and closes against the stationary three-tined jaw, which is reinforced, as seen here, with a rod called, appropriately enough, a stiff arm.
The cultural and economic forces that are demolishing Mt. Olive AME Church and a whole host of other churches in the neighborhood are something else again. These church buildings, many of them built from stone like this one, have sat here for a hundred years or so, sometimes changing denominations as the nearby population changed. The latest wave of immigrants to the neighborhood doesn't seem very churched at all, and so the old buildings get put on the market. Developers snatch them up and tear them down for a chance to build several new houses at once, in a part of the city that's already densely built. New houses--row houses--sell readily here to people who want to walk to work and/or to stores and restaurants. The new residents evidently are not interested in walking to church.
Soon, the excavator and its grapple will be loaded on a truck to go back to the heavy equipment lot in New Jersey, and we'll see five three-story row houses rise up on this lot, with squared-off bay windows and ten-year tax exemptions.
Felt like I was doing research for a tourist guidebook this weekend, hanging around the Italian Market. Shopped at Anastasi's, Fante's, Isgro's, and then it was time for a roast pork sandwich from George's with broccoli rabe and provolone.
But truth be told, the real significance of this kind of a weekend here in twenty-first-century America has nothing to do with research or tourist guidebooks or even with Philadelphia. It's all about blogging, of course. Bloggers can go outside and do a little grocery shopping and then eat lunch somewhere and then go home and sit down at the computer and type it all up. I apologize, I really do, y'all deserve better, and I'll try to do better by you from now on out.
There was a lot going on this weekend in Philadelphia. The new Barnes Museum opened with $5,000 a plate gala festivities, but I dunno, I went to the 2012 Kinetic Sculpture Derby instead, in the Kensington neighborhood of north Philly.
There are lots of rules for the Derby: vehicles must be people-powered, "pilots" must wear helmets (under those beehives, no doubt), everybody must be in costume, and also: "Sculptures must be decorated in a recognizable theme, or unrecognizable, as long as it is glorious."
No electricity is allowed, "unless it’s human generated for spectacularness."
And finally, after hours of parading through miles of Philadelphia streets and attempting to cross a mud pit near the finish line, winners are selected from among the derby entrants. There is an award for nerdiness, another for artwork, another for most spectacular breakdown, and so on. But in every case, the judges are to choose "based on glory and glory alone."
First prize Saturday had to go to the weather, which was about as glorious as May sunshine can get. Beyond that, at this writing, I have been unable to find out who won but it is certain that there was more than enough glory to go around.
When I lived in North Carolina in the 1970s, downtown Durham was dead, dying, decrepit, and pretty much a mess. They were still making Lucky Strikes in town, but the old tobacco mills were already mostly abandoned, and by 1987 every last one of them was shuttered.
When I visited Durham last week, I don't think I saw a single empty mill. They are all restaurants now, or condos, or shops and galleries and studios and offices. In back of the Lucky Strike chimney is a baseball stadium for the minor-league Durham Bulls. A couple blocks away is a new theater complex, where Wicked was playing.
There are umpteen hundred old mill towns in America that died and stayed dead. And then there are a few that did this sort of thing. As for the cigarettes, I'm told that Lucky Strike is one of the major clients of the 1960s-era ad agency in Mad Men on TV, and that Luckies are still being sold today, filtered and unfiltered both. I don't know where the cigarettes are made, though–maybe Malaysia?
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Of the various dogs who've come to live with us over the years, only one–this one–was named Professor Brophy. We called her Professor for short. Professor was a dumpy-looking brown dog from the pound with big jaws and an unfortunate personality, to put it mildly; she snarled at people when they tried to come in the house and then snapped at their heels when they tried to leave.
You may ask why we invited such a beast into the family. Well, obviously, Professor was smart enough not to treat us as rudely as she treated outsiders. Maybe she did what she did because she cared for us and felt she had to protect us from dangerous intruders. Or maybe she really despised us right along with everybody else but realized she'd better suck up to us.
Whatever was going on in that professorial little dog brain, it kept us hopeful for a while. And mixed in with the trying times were some very, very nice days with Professor–such as this perfect summer afternoon up above treeline on Mount Washington. That's Professor Stein following along behind as Professor Brophy breaks trail; a good time was had by both.