The weather was raw and wet a couple of weekends ago in Bethesda,Maryland, but the artists all showed up anyway with their tents for the annual art fair. The street was closed to cars, and I got to wondering about all the traffic arrows painted on the roadway: Did it cost extra for a booth with an arrow that directed traffic right to you, as opposed to one where the arrow on the road seemed to be steering people away from you?
I was also curious why the same lane on the street seemed to be painted with arrows pointing every which way.
In the end, I'm sure the arrows made no difference; the weather kept crowds thin all weekend long. The band kept playing on the makeshift stage at the corner, and the vendors kept hawking crab cakes and curry, but I hope the artists enjoy better days soon.
Since the 1950s, the city of Detroit has lost half its population, which now stands at about 900,000. Entire inner-city neighborhoods have been abandoned, often burned out, and eventually bulldozed; Google Earth shows the downtown ringed by hundreds of blocks of grass and trees.
The blight has spread now to neighborhoods far from the city center. First one family, then another, leaves town in hope of finding work. They cannot sell their homes, but they leave anyway. Soon, their neighbors are leaving also, because semi-abandoned neighborhoods are dangerous and unpleasant places to live. Here is a picture from last summer of a Detroit neighborhood with just a few homes still occupied. By next summer, there will be fewer still.
He's delivering milk to the Restaurant Louisiane on Iberville Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, circa 1903.
Just behind the milk wagon--look through the wheels--is a jumble of something spilled on the sidewalk at the curb. Another wagon must have recently stopped by there, delivering coal. Somebody from the restaurant will have to come out and scoop it up.
In 1900, Mulberry Street in lower Manhattan was the heart of Little Italy, where life was apparently lived out in the open, right in the street. Nowadays, cars instead of people dominate the street, and the people have retreated indoors, where apartments are much less crowded and much more likely to have indoor plumbing.
Click on this picture to see a much larger version, which you can mouse around in to appreciate the details of life in New York a century ago: the vegetable carts, the guy with a glass of beer in the middle of the street, the boy with his schoolbooks, the Banca Malzone, the aprons and wagons and fire escapes and . . .
Unlike yesterday's picture, which was also an artist's imagining of the neighborhood surrounding the Gowanus Canal superfund site in Brooklyn, today's picture just lays it out: this may not be such a great place to live. You can't even see the canal itself here--it's just beyond the dead end of the street--but you can almost smell it.
This photo, we might say, is much more realistic, or at least is truer to the ugliness associated with Gowanus that dominates the way the place is commonly experienced. One artist somehow found bright color and lively activity there; today's photographer captured the drab unpleasantness we expect to feel near the nation's newest superfund site.
Tomorrow we'll look at the work of artists who combine both impressions, sort of. It's a complicated canal.
For months after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, indoor fires were prohibited by law. The fire that devastated much of the city in the quake's immediate aftermath had been caused by sparks from a cookstove igniting gas from broken utility lines, and it spread horrifically because firefighting efforts had been foiled by broken water lines. So people moved their stoves out into the street, and life went on.
Although this block looks unscathed, it is actually right at the edge of the burnt-out district; on the map below, we're looking at the green spot next to the large red area. All the city in back of where the cameraman must have been standing was completely destroyed.
Note the hopscotch patterns chalked onto the street. I'm told this is the "snail" variation of the game, with the numbered squares arranged in a spiral. You start at the outside, hop around and in to the middle, then switch feet and hop back out.
Sculptor Gerry Lynas prefers working in sand, but last February in New York he had no choice but to make do with snow. His "Two Feet of Snow" on W. 83rd Street in Manhattan was actually five and a half feet tall. It lasted only a day and a night; the next morning, one of the legs was in the gutter, perhaps from non-natural causes.
Lynas liked the consistency of that February 10 snowfall; he said he hadn't seen such nice, sticky sculpting snow in New York since 1977, when he built a thirty-foot wooly mammoth in Central Park.
Here's to a Memorial Day weekend of seasonably lousy snow.
It would be understandable error if, assuming you had nothing to go on but this one pair of pictures, you came to the conclusion that not much of anything really happened in Europe during the twentieth century.
The top picture shows the marketplace in Ghent, Belgium, in 1900; the lower photo was taken from the same vantage point in 2010. Of course everything in this part of town--the Korenmarkt--had already survived very nearly intact from about the 11th century until photography was invented and the streetscape could be snapped at the start of the 20th century. Presumably, nothing much was happening back then in that neck of the woods.
Except for Paris, Ghent was the largest and wealthiest city in Europe until the late Middle Ages. In the United States, old parts of cities tend to survive intact if the city experiences prolonged poverty, during which time redevelopment is economically unattractive. I don't know if the same dynamic accounts for neighborhoods that last a thousand years in Flanders and the rest of Europe.
During the godawful heat wave of July 1901, nobody in New York was in a good mood, and everybody was mad at the ice companies. The reason was that hot summer weather was associated with both increased demand for ice and reduced supply of well water with which to make ice at the big ice plants in Brooklyn and the Bronx. So the ice companies started using city water to supplement well water, and on the hottest days, they used so much municipal water that taps literally ran dry all over town. New Yorkers complained loudly to their elected officials, but the ice industry also had ways of "communicating" with politicians.
Giving away a little free ice--bring your own dishpan--was a public relations gesture on the part of the ice-makers. But note that a police presence was necessary at the ice lines.
The heat wave of July 1901, with temperatures near 100 degrees, killed thousands of people. The misery was compounded by the deaths of thousands of animals, including horses pulling ambulances and fire engines, who dropped dead in their traces while responding to emergencies. Sanitation crews fell far behind in removing carcasses from the streets. Anybody who could afford to get out of town got out of town.
Used to be, the city of Portland would set aside a time in June when people could put big pieces of junk--such as unwanted furniture--out by the curb for city garbage trucks to collect. But there are no more Big Trash Days; the service was slashed as a budget-cutting measure. Although city residents are now expected to haul their own stuff to the dump, Jacob Powers found this resting spot a few weeks ago in a couch left out at the curb.
By now, many of you have heard that we are headed to Philadelphia. The heavy lifting of the move has begun, so it'll be at least a week or so before I'll have a chance to share more Good Mornings with y'all. Please be sweet in the meantime, and don't pick on your siblings; we are, after all, moving to the City of Brotherly of Love.
I cannot say what's with the horses. They're tied up to a pay phone in front of PMV Variety Store in our neighborhood-to-be, just south of center city Philadelphia. If you Google-earth this spot, you'll see that the pay phone is still there and the storefront still looks the same, though the PMV Variety may now be out of business. The horses have vamoosed.
This weekend, the mayor and his guys in suits cut the ribbon reopening the South Street Bridge across the Schuylkill River, after two years of demolition and reconstruction.
For the first few hours, the bridge was only open to foot traffic. So this group of students from the University of Pennsylvania set up card tables in the middle of the roadway and played bridge on the bridge.
Soon after the ribbon-cutting, a small parade marched past the card players, led by the West Powellton Steppers and drum team. Behind them was a ten-foot-tall papier mâché puppet bearing a sign that said "Share the Road." Bringing up the rear--and putting an end to the brief and glorious era of bridge on the bridge--was the first motor vehicle to cross the new span, a Philly CarShare hybrid Prius.
This being Philadelphia and all, we might have a winter this year, but then again we might not. So far, we've had about half an inch of snow and half a week or so of ridiculously cold weather. This is the evening rush hour Thursday on 21st Street.
Back in the mists of time, very shortly after construction of the first low bridge, they must have installed the first device warning boats or wagons or SUVs with roof racks about that low bridge. Over the centuries, some of these warnings have made it into song, as on the Erie Canal: "Low bridge, everybody down. . . ." Many warnings have made it into video; check out "Low Bridge" on YouTube, or for the less high-minded among you, check out "Low bridge crashes" on YouTube.
One high-tech warning device uses light sensors to detect vehicles too tall to clear an underpass. When the sensors are tripped, bright lights start flashing on a warning sign. In Durham, North Carolina, this sort of setup also includes two video cameras that start rolling whenever the lights start flashing, to record from multiple angles what drivers do in response to the warning. Many of them kept right on driving; on YouTube, you can join the 382,000 viewers who have "enjoyed" "Thirteen crashes in thirteen months" (11 feet 8 inches).
Keeping that bridge in good repair must have gotten expensive, so the railroad decided to armor the trestle with steel beams mounted at bridge-height a few feet in front of the actual bridge. It's much cheaper and quicker to put up a new beam than to fix a damaged trestle. As of 2009, the beam had been replaced once.
Why do people keep hitting the bridges? If you look at the crash videos, you'll notice that most of the vehicles involved are rental moving vans--in other words, fairly tall trucks being driven by people who are used to driving cars that can fit anywhere. I once drove 1,200 miles in a rented truck, and I definitely could have been a statistic--low bridges, gas station canopies, drive-thru bank tellers, etc., were just not on my regular radar.
Why do we have so many low bridges? Apparently, most are railroad trestles which cannot be raised without major track realignments to avoid steep grades. The alternative of lowering the auto road is also impractical in most cases, especially where it might threaten the foundation of the railroad bridge.
But in Griffin, Georgia, they seem to have come up with a low-tech solution that might grab the attention even of a typically distracted driver like me. If the words on the sign didn't stop me, I suspect that the thwack of hitting the sign might make my day.
Last Saturday, they closed off a block of South Street around the corner from our house so a crane could pull old equipment up through a hole in the roof of a long-abandoned building. Some people must know why this job required such a tall crane, but I'm not among them.
The rumor is that the building is being refurbished to house a restaurant called Honey Sit n Eat.
These men were up on the roof working with the crane last Saturday. The guy in the black hat really wanted his picture taken and kept posing dramatically, which the guy in the red hat thought was pretty funny.
Today is the last day of Milan's second annual LED Festival, a celebration of outdoor lighting in the city that a hundred years ago became the first in Europe to electrify its street lights and street cars. This year's festival featured sixty installations totaling more than 600,000 LED bulbs.
On Via della Spiga, artist Fabrio Novembre hung out laundry in lights, alluding to a Sophia Loren movie, Iori, Oggi, Domani--Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.
It just doesn't seem fair, somehow, that when they dole out the cinematic icons, Milan gets Sophia Loren while here in Philadelphia we have to make do with Sylvester Stallone....
The car was packed, the trailer was hitched, and in late December 1956 this family set off to begin a new life in West Palm Beach, Florida, with three little kids in the backseat and another on the way. The photo was taken just before they left home, on Lee Highway in Arlington, Virginia.
This is a perfect picture.
I don't know the family, and I don't remember ever visiting Arlington in the 1950s, but I was living about ten miles away back then in Maryland, and this is exactly what the world looked like. My immediate neighborhood was a quiet little subdivision, but once we got in the car and went to the grocery store or anywhere else we went, this is what I saw--these same cars, that Texaco sign, those commercial buildings, the plate glass windows at the dry cleaners. This was how the world looked . . . from where I sat in the backseat.
I see now that none of the cars had outside rear view mirrors. But that wasn't too important because back before carseats and seatbelts, a driver could ask the kids in the backseat to get up on their knees and look out the back window and see if it was clear. Unless you were hauling a trailer, of course.
The way I see it, there's not much point in digging out my car before the plow comes around, and it hasn't shown up yet. So the work Margaret White took care of today is still ahead of me, waiting for another day. I'm okay with that.
Our street, Kater Street, is what they call a "small street" in Philadelphia. It's plenty long--almost river-to-river, the entire length of Center City--but it's narrow, narrow, narrow. Regular-sized garbage trucks and snowplows can't fit through. The city operates special skinny garbage trucks for us small-street folks, and I once saw what looked like a lawn tractor from the parks department, chugging down the block with a plow fitted to its front. However, that was back in December.
Today, the kids on the block built a snowman in the middle of the street, with a carrot for a nose and almonds for eyes. He's not blocking any traffic. It's quiet here, with the cars all shrouded and still. If spring comes before the snowplow does, if the snowman has a chance to just shrivel up in the afternoon sun . . . well, it could save me a lot of shoveling.
The guidebooks say that Nepal is a "quirky" place, where people use thousand-year-old statues to hold up their clotheslines. The guidebooks are right.
As this photo suggests, Nepalis use a confection of spit and wistfulness to hold up their electrical grid. It works about as well as you'd guess. In the capital city of three million people there is not a single functioning traffic light.
After spending four days knocking about in Kathmandu and another week trudging very slowly through the Himalayan foothills, I filled up my camera with curiosities and have of course become an expert on all things Nepalese. I've got stuff to share in upcoming G'mornin's. But the world has gone on spinning, so Kathmandu cannot always take priority. Glad to be back, hope everybody's well, look forward to hearing everybody's news.
WWBD? (What would Buddha do, in his tattoo studio?)
Most Nepalis are Hindu, but we're told that their understanding of Hinduism is expansive enough to include the Buddha and his spiritual ways. Up and down the streets of Kathmandu are ornate, pagoda-style Hindu temples, little curbside chapels associated with one or several deities, modest "resting places" for the spirits of the departed, and big, bold Buddhist stupas like this one.
It is against the law to kill a cow, and cows do wander around town, especially out near the airport. But Nepalis have other cowlike animals--water buffalo and yak--that provide them with meat, milk, fiber, leather, and, um, horsepower, thus facilitating the religious exclusion of cows from these sorts of roles. Buffalo and yak look well-fed; the religiously venerated cows appear to be starving.
A substantial number of Nepali men, especially among the many who ride motorcycles, show a certain veneration for Western-style leather jackets, presumably made of cow leather. The tattoos, body piercings, and dreadlocks, however, are for tourists.
There's a lot going on up on the rooftops around Kathmandu–clotheslines and gardens and solar water heaters and stovepipes and a lot of other stuff beyond my understanding.
This scene was in Bhaktapur, capital city of one of the three ancient kingdoms of the Kathmandu valley, about half an hour's drive from Kathmandu proper. Americans might understand Bhaktapur as a sort of Nepalese Williamsburg, where old buildings and crafts and cultural traditions are consciously preserved and displayed for tourists. No cars are permitted in town. However, Bhaktapur is about a thousand years older than Williamsburg, and it was no colonial outpost; for hundreds of years, it was the political and religious center of a wealthy royal court, with palaces and temples on a grand scale.
In the late eighteenth century, Bhaktapur lost out to an even wealthier kingdom in Kathmandu, and today the 30,000 townspeople get by on tourism and pottery-making; the pottery specialty seems to be wide, low bowls designed for culturing yogurt. An art school in Bhaktapur teaches ancient Buddhist thenka painting, and a paper factory follows traditional paper-making technology utilizing the inner bark of the lokta bush.
Below, in one of Bakhtapur's central squares, a woman walks past a Hindu temple guarded by a god with a mustache.
From my sister's collection of Kathmandu signs and posters:The political poster reflects Nepal's very recent revolution, in which the king was overthrown for a parliamentary democracy. The leading party in parliament is the Maoists, but they didn't quite win a majority of seats; to govern, the Maoists had to form a coalition with the Marxist-Leninists. From what we heard, parliament wasn't doing much of anything and had repeatedly failed to write a constitution.
Nepal's official communism does not seem to stop Nepalis from operating clearly capitalistic businesses, and the country is currently experiencing a heated real estate boom.
This was the scene on Fifth Avenue in New York City during the 1904 Easter Parade.
Easter Parades are different from all other parades: no floats, no marching bands. They began spontaneously in the 1870s, according to what I read on the intertubes, as people got dressed up in their finest and went downtown to promenade. Easter parades still existed in Washington when I was a little girl, I believe along Connecticut Avenue. I never actually saw one in person, but I did get new clothes, new white gloves, and sometimes even a new hat with a ribbon.
If you click on this picture and study the enlarged version, there are plenty of details for your delectation: a horseless carriage amidst the horsey kind, a boy delivering flowers, men with tophats amongst the men with bowler hats. . . .
Old houses in Prague, as seen through a screen set up around a construction site across the street. The construction in progress is actually restoration work, so that the street can recover its bygone character.
Every fall and spring, civic organizations add new saplings to Philadelphia's complement of street trees. Here, our neighbor Carolyn Duffy points out proper technique last month with one of her tree-planting crews.
Carolyn is a volunteer "tree-tender" working under the auspices of Schuylkill River Park and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society; she and her volunteer crews plant about sixty trees a year in neighborhoods near Rittenhouse and Fitler squares. This tree is going in across the street from the public swimming pool near 26th and Lombard streets.
It's a big operation. Trees this size–with trunks about two inches in diameter–are expensive, often $200 each, if not more. Growing conditions on each particular block dictate different varieties of trees; for example, only short-growing trees can be planted under power lines, and only narrow, columnar varieties can be planted close to parking spaces. Some narrow old streets are so dark that many kinds of trees will not thrive; other spots are so open and windy that big, sturdy varieties are most appropriate.
Nearby homeowners are asked to supply mulch and to make sure the new trees are watered during their first two summers. The Pennsylvania Horitcultural Society supplies urban arborists who match trees to sites, check up on the trees' health, and see to any necessary pruning.
This spring, Carolyn and the neighbors planted gingkos, sycamore-like London plane trees, Bradford pears, ornamental cherries, and pretty little oak trees. In the upper right corner of this photo, behind the man in the red hat, you may be able to make out the green leaves and white flowers of a pear tree planted just last fall. In a few more years, all the real estate ads for houses on these city streets will boast of "lovely" tree-shaded blocks.
Pink stripes on his pants, orange flowers on his shirt, white shoes, a hint of a grin. His sense of style is perhaps not shared by many Parisians, but nonetheless, here he is, in Paris in the springtime.
One afternoon in Kathmandu, we saw the men and then the women and then the car, all dressed up with clearly some place special to go. A recent wedding we heard about had twelve hundred guests, but all we saw of this one was the procession on the street, complete with a marching band. The band looked and sounded just like a western marching band and is not pictured here.
Nepalis claim they have more official holidays than any other country on earth. They know how to party.
I've done my due diligence on this; "Richie's photo is 100% legit," says Michele, the photographer's wife. No Photoshop.
The signs were posted at the corner of Madison Avenue and 81st Street in Manhattan, one block east of the Met. "Only in New York," observes Richie, the photographer–but I beg to differ. Traffic is all screwed up everywhere nowadays, as is politics and the economy, and if you know which way to go, don't even bother trying to tell me because I can't believe anybody any more.
One evening in 1910, this man got off the train at the station in Ann Arbor, Michigan, picked up his coat and his briefcase, put on his hat, and headed up the hill toward home. It is possible, of course that what I referred to as the man's briefcase may actually be a salesman's sample case or a traveler's overnight case–but overall, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
Sadly, this is a "before" picture: the big American Elm tree in the courtyard of Shiloh Baptist Church in our neighborhood has been diagnosed with Dutch Elm Disease and is about to be cut down.
I'm told this tree made a cameo appearance in The Sixth Sense, a Bruce Willis movie shot in the neighborhood, but I can't confirm or deny. There's a pivotal scene near the end of the movie in which the boy and his mother sit talking in the car, which is stopped near the scene of an accident; there's a tree outside the car window on the boy's side, but all the camera shows of this tree is its lower trunk, which is not sufficient for a positive ID.
Anyway, the church building and probably also the tree date back to the 1860s, when the Church of the Holy Apostles was built to serve a neighborhood rapidly filling with immigrants from Ireland. Numerous annexes and additions were required, as the parish exceeded 10,000 by 1910. But by 1940, descendants of the Irish immigrants were leaving the neighborhood, and descendants of African slaves from the American South were pouring in. The church complex was sold to a Baptist congregation and renamed Shiloh.
Today, Shiloh's congregants have mostly left the neighborhood, replaced this time by newcomers who mostly grew up in middle-class suburbs; one long-time resident described the new neighbors to a newspaper reporter as "white people with big dogs." Churchgoers who've moved away return to Shiloh on Sunday mornings, causing traffic jams and parking conflicts. There is no church parking lot; for the church's first hundred-plus years, people got there by walking.
The congregation is shrinking fast and is already far too small to maintain the huge church complex. The elm will come down in the next few weeks; the building, designed by the iconic Philadelphia architect Frank Furness, may not be far behind.
Note to wedding planners: When choosing a date and venue, do take into account the possibility that the city's annual Naked Bicycle Ride will roll past your event just as guests are leaving the ceremony.
Actually, when this wedding let out late Sunday afternoon, the wedding party did have just enough time to hustle into the limo and peel away before hundreds of naked bikers swarmed the street in front of the church. The young man shown here who was dressed to join the bike ride was a few minutes early; he was waiting in Rittenhouse Square for his fellow riders to reach this part of the route.
By the time the main body of naked bikers showed up, the limo was gone, and the wedding guests in their finery were standing around in front of the church with cameras and cellphones trained on the dressed-down action in the street.
The two young women on bicycles near the left side of the picture were friends of the young man's who met up with him here by accident; like the wedding guests, they were not aware that the annual naked ride was about to descend on Rittenhouse Square. By the time the riders arrived, the women had made up their minds; they pulled off their shirts, stuffed them in their backpacks, and joined the parade.