My grandparents Rose and Charlie–my father's parents–posed for this picture on their wedding day in Baltimore in 1905. They were Jewish immigrants from villages just down the road from one another in Lithuania, who had made their way to America as teenagers.
For their wedding attire, Rose wore a shirtwaist she had sewn herself. Charlie wore a celluloid collar that according to my father was stiff enough to shore up a house. And like many men in 1905, he wore an elaborate mustache. Unlike most men, however, Charlie kept that mustache all his life, and by the 1950s, when I got to know my grandparents, I thought he was the only man on earth who had a mustache.
Charlie never had a job in his life; he thought it would be stupid to work for a boss in a free country. So he started out in Baltimore working for himself, as a peddlar with a sack on his back; eventually, he got a horse and wagon, and then he and Rose went into business together, as equal partners, in a soda water store in a Jewish and Italian neighborhood near the Shot Tower, Baltimore's old cannon-ball works. My father recounted his mother's description of the business:
I used to make the soda; I had to work a hand pump to pump the gas into the water. Then we would serve the seltzer, supply a table and chairs, pay the rent and the light bill, and then I had to wash the glass. For that, I took in exactly one cent. When I did that a hundred times, when I washed a hundred glasses, I took in a dollar.
They learned to speak English, though not really to read or write it, but they spoke Yiddish at home and in the neighborhood. All their lives in America, they got their news from the Daily Forward, a Socialist Yiddish-language newspaper published in New York. They were not Socialists, however; my grandmother's politics were rooted entirely in neighborhood organizations, primarily women's clubs and loan circles, through which poor immigrants helped take care of each other; my grandfather, as a small businessman, understood government basically as a mob at City Hall extorting protection money in the form of taxes. For example, long after he had traded in his horse and wagon for a Chevrolet delivery van, he continued to pay his horse tax every year; he figured he was down in somebody's books for that amount.
They had five children who all grew up in Baltimore and lived there or nearby as adults. Then came sixteen grandchildren, who scattered across the country, from Maine to California. And then dozens of great-grandchildren.
This picture is the oldest family document we have; we have nothing from the old country, no names or stories or objects, with the possible exception of one battered copper pot. I remember thinking to myself when I was growing up that my family just didn't go back very far in time, just didn't have a history at all; in other families, there were ancestors back in the olden days, but the most ancient people I was related to were still alive, still in Baltimore, where that side of my family history seemed to have sprung to life.
Now, however, this is a really old photo, from a wedding more than a century ago. Rose and Charlie are gone, as are all five of their children, my father's generation. We in the cousins' generation are getting on in years now, and most of us don't keep in close touch with one another. But it's undeniable that the family goes way, way back before us.
And there's yet another generation now, Rose and Charlie's great-great grandchildren. Crazy, isn't it, how that keeps happening.
The harsh, moody climate and mysterious, treeless landscapes that define the western Nordic islands–Iceland, Greenland, the Faroe Islands–are swept up somehow and transformed by imagination into a fashion sensibility, the focus of the Third Nordic Fashion Biennale.
Curators Sarah Cooper and Nina Gorfer–American and Austrian by birth, Stockholm-based photographers by choice–have produced an exhibition, book, and film they call The Weather Diaries, which explore fashion as a wind-blown wonder.
We examined the lint with a scanning electron microscope, which magnified it about 927 times by shooting electrons at it and noting how they bounced back. If we'd had a regular old optical microscope, we might have been able to reach this same level of magnification, though we'd be approaching the upper limits of that technology.
Electron microscopes can detect details hundreds of times smaller than optical scopes because electrons travel in more or less straight paths while visible light undulates in waves. The downside is that electrons can't see in color and can't travel much beneath the surface of things, no matter how transparent or translucent that surface might be.
All in all, however, if lint is what you're wanting to look at, then a scanning electron microscope might be just the tool for the job.
With its help, we calculated the width of this strand of whatever it is at about 20 microns–about one fiftieth of a millimeter. The hairs on our heads are usually more like 50 microns in diameter, so this probably isn't that.
This strand of whatever it is has obviously been through the wringer, even though our current washing machine doesn't have a wringer. The strand has been stressed, and were it not for a couple of microns of badly fraying inner strength at its core, it would have snapped completely.
Which does lead to speculation that what we're looking at here is My Last Nerve. . . .
But there are some other possibilities. Such as dog hair: dog hairs average about 25 microns in diameter, more or less in the same ballpark as this strand. Dog hairs often show a scaly pattern on their outer cuticles that looks kinda like the faint pattern we can sorta make out on what's left of the outer surface of this thing. And of course, finding a dog hair in the lint trap at our house, or pretty much anywhere else in our house, isn't completely freakish.
But really: could a dog hair get this mangled and shredded just from normal laundry processes? We want to beg off from a definitive answer; although we've worn many different hats over the years, we have never, ever presented ourselves as expert in the forensic analysis of dog hairs.
We've not yet, however, run out of options. Couldn't this thing be a fabric fiber from some item of clothing?
That electron microscope sure did come in handy.
Although troll-themed masks were common articles of Norwegian folk art, these were different. Werner was a professional musician, an instructor at the University of Washington, and longtime conductor of the Norwegian Male Chorus of Seattle. He was also a painter and sculptor, and it is believed that he made these masks for operatic performances.
The post in the foreground marks the border between the Canadian province of Manitoba and the state of North Dakota; the farm fields in the background are in North Dakota. Last weekend, 22 refugees, mostly from Somalia, walked for miles through these fields in below-zero cold and waist-deep snow, attempting to escape the United States and find freedom in Canada.
In 2016, more than 400 refugees crossed the border here, in hopes of being granted asylum in Canada. Thousands more attempted the crossing elsewhere along the northern edge of the United States.
A common story behind this journey involves fleeing a war zone or other hellish homescape and eventually making it into the U.S., usually by way of Mexico. The refugees plead for asylum and are taken into custody; they are imprisoned for a year or more, during which time contact with their families back home is extremely limited. In fact, communication with the outside world is so limited that they find it impossible to properly prepare their asylum paperwork.
Eventually, they may be released under restrictive orders, pending an asylum decision. Their petitions are judged inadequate, their claims rejected, and they are ordered to report for deportation back to Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti, or whatever land they had fled.
Instead, they head north. Canada and the U.S. have had a treaty since 2004 called the Safe Third Country Agreement, which basically says that refugees just get one shot at filing for asylum, either in Canada or the U.S., whichever they come to first. But the refugees argue that the U.S. isn't really a safe haven and keeps refugees locked up and unable to obtain documentation needed for their claims; Canada, they say, has a fairer system.
As long as the treaty is in effect, Canadian border agents have to turn over would-be asylum-seekers from the U.S. to U.S. agents. So the refugees can't enter Canada by road. They walk through woods or fields, or in some cases swim, across the border in between offical crossing points, and then they turn themselves in to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The police call in organizations to help find housing and other support for the border-crossers. Immigrants from their homelands are contacted, to help with employment and translation. Advocate groups help with the asylum paperwork. Border towns, such as Emerson, Manitoba, the settlement closest to the fields shown here, are sometimes called on to provide emergency food and shelter.
On Christmas Eve, two men facing deportation back to Ghana, where one of them said he would be killed because he was a homosexual, paid a cab driver $400 in Grand Forks, North Dakota, to drive them to the border. The driver let them out near this field in a snowstorm, with wind chill far below zero.
For seven hours, they struggled through snowdrifts to cross the field. Only one of them had a hat; neither had gloves. When they finally crossed the border and came to a road, they spent three hours trying to flag down a passing vehicle. Finally, a truck driver stopped for them and called 911.
Both men are still in the hospital in Winnipeg, where they face amputations from severe frostbite. One has been told he will lose all his fingers and at least one toe. Still, they say, their situation is far better than it would be back in Ghana.
This refugee railroad, headed north to freedom, predates the election of Donald Trump. But there is now much greater interest in sneaking into Canada even by asylum-seekers who have not yet had their claims rejected; they fear that even if somehow they can manage to stay in the U.S., their families will never be allowed to join them.
There is also increased interest among Canadians in ending the Safe Third Country Agreement, in light of recent evidence that the U.S. can no longer be considered a safe destination for many refugees.
In 1986, the stairwell in this parking garage that connected the rooftop parking deck with the shopping streets alongside the garage was permanently locked. The problem, according to the St. Helens Reporter, the local newspaper, was "continued vandalism and anti-social behaviour."
Twenty years later, in 2006, the new staircase shown above was opened, spiraling around a polished steel "millennium needle" standing 20 meters high. The Reporter called it a "pole." The project, according to the Reporter, added an expensive "feature" of questionable value to the downtown area.
Downtown St. Helens, in the north of England east of Liverpool, hadn't had much in the way of expensive features for many years. A bustling mining and manufacturing center in the nineteenth century, it was rusting away of late, with only one factory remaining and a population of about 100,000. The whole region was depressed.
Google "St. Helens needle" and you come up with lots of stories about drug use and street crime, including one about a four-year-old child who had to go to the hospital after stepping on a hypodermic needle on her way home from the park.
Nevertheless, St. Helens city fathers put money into sprucing up the central shopping district, and some gentrification did in fact ensue. Several high-end restaurants moved into empty storefronts near the train station.
And eventually, there was pressure to reconnect the old parking garage more conveniently to the new "George Street Quarter." The needle was the result.
Like any good needle, it has a hole–many piercings, in fact, for lighting up near the point. But a real needle has its hole near the blunt end. This one is what it is.
For whatever it's worth, we note that this is actually the second Good Morning post about parking garages and European urban renewal. It happened in Skopje. And now in St. Helens.
One of the first professional assignments undertaken by Gordon Parks was a 1942 photo essay featuring Mrs. Ella Watson, a "government charwoman" who cleaned federal office buildings at night, after the clerks went home, and supported her family, including an adopted daughter and three grandchildren, on her annual salary of $1,080.
Parks's other photos of Mrs. Watson and her family, along with explanatory captions, can be viewed online, via the Library of Congress Farm Security Administration archive.