Archive for March, 2009

A Trail by Any Name

March 31, 2009

Yesterday got away from me. This should have been posted on 3/30.

I had to make a quick trip to my second favorite store (see “Shopping Opportunities”) over the weekend to pick up cat litter and paper towels, two items that never seem to be cheap at the grocery store. Coming and going I passed the parking lot where hikers can enter the Mattabesett Trail.

Before I started writing about this glorious hike, I had to check the spelling. It seems that this Indian word, which means “place of portage,” has untold variations. It’s Mattabesett for the trail. Mattabasett with an extra “a” and one “s” for the river and the sewer district. Mattabassett with a double “s” for the gun club in Berlin, Connecticut, (which is pronounced “BER-lin”). Mattabeseck for the Audubon society. Other variations

include Mattabesic, Matabesec, Matabezeke, Matabeseck, Matowepesack, Mattabeeset, Mattabesek, Mattabesick, Mattabesicke, Mattapeaset, according to the Mashantucket Pequot Research Library. Another variation, Massa-sepues-et seems to mean “at a great rivulet or brook.”

However it’s spelled, this hike on a clear day offers views of Long Island Sound to the south, to New York to the west, and Massachusetts to the north. It’s part of a 190-mile trail called the MMM for Metacomet Monadnock Mattabesett system. (Funny how the colonizers wiped out most of the Native names for the towns but left the rivers and mountains – Connecticut, Quinnipiac, Housatonic, Naugatuck, Coginchaug, Quinnebaug, and so forth).

The first two sections of the MMM trail are located in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, while the Mattabasett trail ends at Long Island Sound. Early spring is a terrific time of year to walk the section that starts in Middlefield, Connecticut. No leaves block the view after the path winds out from under the tree canopy. The other optimal time is fall, when the maples in the valleys put on their show. Part of the trail is steep but not overly challenging. Loose rocks and fallen branches may require a bit of scrambling. Maybe some of the stimulus money can go toward repairs. The lower reaches can be squishy after rains. But all in all, the Mattabesett Trail rewards the effort..

A plus point after the hike: New Guida’s Restaurant is just a few yards away. It offers ice cream, burgers and hot dogs, as well as a cross section of every type of humanity: bikers on Harleys and hikers with back packs, families with little kids, elderly folks out for a Sunday drive. Not sure why it’s call “new.” It’s been there since forever.


Picturing Obama

March 28, 2009

The New Haven Museum and Yale University created a beautiful town-gown moment last night. “Picturing Obama: New Haven Reflects on the Inaugural” was billed as “an evening of commentary, reflection and pictures from the largest public gathering in American history.” The evening was all that it was billed to be and more, despite some technical problems.

Professor of American Studies Matthew Davidson led off with a colorful description of his day photographing faces in the crowd and his sense of deep reverence for the occasion.

James Bowers, an attorney and veteran of the civil rights movement, remarked that he saw President Obama’s seating as the first African American president as one of two bookends in the movement. The other was the decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. As a resident of South Carolina, Bowers had endured the sting of Jim Crow and has watched the country evolve in the 55 years between the two events. Bowers helped integrate South Carolina’s university system and was thus one of the people who benefitted from the work of John Hope Franklin.

A man who was half of my reason for attending was the next speaker. I met the brilliant David Blight about seven years ago when I was working on a special issue of the Hartford Courant’s now-defunct Northeast Magazine, Complicity: How Connecticut Chained Itself to Slavery.” He directs the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance & Abolition. Despite its unwieldy title, its work as added untold and offered support and outreach for the Courant’s effort. The two institutions spread the word about how Connecticut’s ships and mills and farms supported chattel slavery up to the Civil War.

Here’s a taste of David Blight’s scholarship and historical insight from the Boston Globe.

He is as brilliant a speaker as he is a writer. He captured his passion for the subject at hand in a single incident that occurred about a year ago. He couldn’t connect to the internet at his hotel when Obama delivered the speech on race, so Blight went to the reception desk where he commandeered a computer and stood for an hour and a half, handwriting the text of the speech. I know most of us would have said, “Well, I’ll wait till I get home.” Not David Blight.

Graduate student Myra Jones-Taylor demonstrated her own passion (and her absolute residence in the digital age) with her description of updating her Facebook page moment to moment, sending endless tweets, and taking some 750 photos, a task she shared with a friend. Her talk suffered from the fact that none of those photos were visible because of lack of communication among various pieces of equipment. Nevertheless, she had everyone laughing about three grown women running around Washington with a blowup Obama doll, whose photo adorned a wall of the museum. She and her friends took Obama Doll with them because she wants her infant nephew, for whom the doll is intended, to know that the doll was present at the inauguration. The travels of Obama Doll made me think of Flat Stanley. He’s a great teaching vehicle, and at this point better traveled than all of the adults gathered in the room last night. Myra should consider sending Obama Doll on similar adventures until her nephew is old enough to appreciate her gift.

Then came the other half of my reason for venturing out on a foggy, rainy night into a city where finding parking is like finding a typewriter at a tech convention. Poet, essayist, professor, and playwright Elizabeth Alexander, (see “In Praise of Elizabeth Alexander,” December 22, 2008) who wrote and delivered the “occasional” poem at the inaugural, said she does not take photographs. Instead she creates word pictures, and the images she shared with us last night were as graphic and as immediate as any last night’s the photos. Elizaberh painted a word portrait about waking up at 4:30 a.m. to the sound of people walking with almost military precision to the Mall. She spoke of the incredible silence that pervaded the same space during the ceremonies. She said she would have taken a picture of all the African American women present: Myrlie Evers, who started to keen when the president was sworn in; the self-contained Aretha Franklin; even the young poised Secret Service agent who was guarding the former presidents in attendance. I know another black woman may not have been visible to those of us on this plane but who was very much present that day and singing hosannas as Elizabeth delivered her poem and as Barack took the oath. That woman was Ann Petry, who loved Elizabeth and was awed and uplifted by her brilliance.

Thank you, Yale, and thank you, New Haven, for letting me relive one of the seminal days of my life. May town and gown celebrate many more such events.

Heroin? Here? Never! Well, Maybe

March 27, 2009

The headline in today’s Hartford Courant reads, “Glastonbury May Be ‘Waking Up’ To Its Heroin Problem.”  The arraignment of one more person in connection with an overdose death follows other stories documenting the arrest of several people for possessing heroin. In Hartford none of this would be news. In Glastonbury, median income $97,000, people are beginning to worry about what’s happening to their young folk. The police have been aware for some time of problems with heroin and prescription drugs, and with burglaries. But no one wants to know nuttin when it might hurt property values or cause a stir.

Here’s a little something I wrote back in the 1970s when another wealthy suburban town refused to acknowledge a drug problem.


The moon hangs stilly over the pure white spire

Of the pure white Congregational Church.

Here, everyone belongs to the Congregational Church

And the Republican Party.

The elegantly-maintained town green

And the multi-million dollar high school

Sit neatly, each in its corner.

All is ordered here, quite two a.m. small town.

But a month ago, a girl died

In one of the white clapboard houses,

With the proper green shutters

And the proper white picket fence.

The papers called it suicide.

Now, in another white house,

Another girl celebrates her thirteenth birthday.

The papers will again call it suicide.

Will an overdose always be suicide in this sanitized world?

Remember, it’s always other people’s children.

End of an Era

March 26, 2009

Some of the information for this entry came from mync.

Every American, black or white, owes a debt of gratitude to John Hope Franklin, who died today at age 94. He first came to prominence in 1947 with the publication of From Slavery to Freedom, which remains in print and is now in its eighth edition.

Franklin contributed historical research for Brown vs. Board of Education and continued breaking ground when in 1956 he became the first black to chair a history department at a predominantly white college. He marched with Dr. King and went on to teach at a number of prestigious schools, including the University of Chicago and Duke University, where he was professor emeritus of history at the time of his death. He won the Presidential Medal of Freedom among other national honors.

Despite his exalted position, Franklin encountered blatant racism throughout his life, beginning at age six when he and his mother were thrown off a Jim Crow car on a train in Oklahoma. His father lost a home in the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots. When Franklin tried to buy a house in New York, real estate agents and banks turned him down again and again. As recently as the 1990s, white people mistook Franklin for a valet parking attendant and a coat-check clerk. Instead of responding with anger or hostility, Franklin used the incidents as an opportunity to instruct white people in an open letter: “Your race and your consequent position of power and privilege have doubtless immunized you from the experiences that a black person confronts daily, regardless of his age, education, position or station in life.”

Franklin was named for John Hope who became the first black president of what is now Morehouse College and presided over Atlanta University. A biographer portrayed Hope as bridging the gap between W.E.B. Du Bois’s insistence on equal treatment for blacks and Washington’s seeming acceptance of second-class status.

Franklin added new spans to the bridge that Hope built by revealing to blacks undiscovered aspects of their own history and showing whites that there was more to black history than slavery. His elegant diction and courtly manners supported his mission, which he stated far more eloquently than I can.

More than 60 years ago, I began the task of trying to write a new kind of Southern History. It would be broad in its reach, tolerant in its judgments of Southerners, and comprehensive in its inclusion of everyone who lived in the region. … the long, tragic history of the continuing black-white conflict compelled me to focus on the struggle that has affected the lives of the vast majority of people in the United States. … Looking back, I can plead guilty of having provided only a sketch of the work I laid out for myself.

RIP, John Hope Franklin.

No Tour de Lance This Year?

March 25, 2009

The man looked like a most unhappy camper yesterday after he crashed and broke his collar bone. He’s certainly endured pain before. Anyone who has been on a bike for more than an hour knows that leg and thigh muscles burn. Plus those narrow seats are not exactly comfy like your living room sofa. As a seven time Tour de France winner Armstrong put in grueling hours in all kinds of conditions. Plus, he’s a cancer survivor and must have suffered side effects from the medicine, if not from the disease itself.

But he’s never looked more miserable than he did yesterday, holding his arm at an uncomfortable angle. Having done a header myself when I was riding at a leisurely 12 mph I know just the shock of landing brings on awe inspiring pain if the fall doesn’t knock you out.

Until the doping scandals multiplied a couple of years ago, I was an avid fan of cycle racing and made it a point to follow every stage of the Tour. It used to appear more ore less uninterrupted on the Outdoor Life Network (now called Versus). Part of the appeal was the scenery: gorgeous views of the pretty little towns in France or Spain or Switzerland, and the fans waving flags and tossing water on the overheated cyclists along the way. The Tour is their Super Bowl, multiplied across the countryside and over a month with people camping, picnicking, waving flags. It was always a treat to watch the strategy as the team maneuvered to give the leader maximum advantage. The group would draft, that is block the onrushing air, and then at a predetermined time, fall back and let their star rider zoom ahead. It was most fun when a breakaway group of five or six riders put a good distance between themselves and the peleton, only to have Armstrong or Jan Ullrich or close the gap, seemingly without any effort. And I loved watching the hill climbing specialists like Raul Alcala, passing rider after rider to win the “king of the hill” jersey. Never could figure would why they were so good on the verticals but couldn’t maintain their time on the straight-aways. Except for Armstrong, the hill folk almost never claimed the yellow jersey at the end of the race.

Even better was watching some of the competitors in person at what used to be called the CoreStates Bike Race in Philadelphia. It was a 160 mile race, ridden in a 16 mile loop, which meant you could plant yourself in one spot and see the riders 10 times. The best part was “The Wall” in Manyunk, a nasty half-mile uphill, paved with cobblestones. I pedaled it once, just to say I did.

I quit watching in disgust when it became clear that a most of the riders were doping. Each time the race organizers found a test, the riders and trainers would move on to something more undetectable.

So I hope Lance recovers completely in time to train for the Tour, but I won’t be watching to see how he does.


March 24, 2009

Distracted by my scanner all day. It doesn’t play well with others. In other words, it crashes if any other programs are running, so I couldn’t write the blog, answer email, or do any of the other chores I normally do. Did try to figure out why Amazon never posted my review of Joseph Hopkins Twichell. This is not the first time I’ve encountered the black hole that is Amazon reviews. Oh, and the computer gremlins managed to block for a while, though at last check it was back up.

Should be back on track tomorrow.

Noted With Curiosity II

March 20, 2009

Yesterday’s blog drew more response than usual.

On why the stop signs are facing the wrong way, from a library employee: “because it’s assumed that the cross-walkers, us Wesleyan folks, are the REAL readers; the folks driving wouldn’t read it anyway!!  (…they who use no signal lights, pass on the right if they can’t pass on the left, and think “speed limits” are a wimpy suggestion!) “Actually, I considered turning it 90 degrees a couple times, but I figured I’d be knocked down, maybe hit & killed…and it would be back like that before the day was through, anyway.  (But I appreciate your commentary!  Keep it up!)” The sign was turned facing traffic this afternoon, but who knows how long that will last.

On why people include obvious nicknames in obituaries, from my friend Betsy: “because people don’t know that Bob is short for Robert.” She speaks from personal experience because people don’t know Betsy is short for Elizabeth. They do seem to get Liz as a nickname, and I use it because no one spells “Elisabeth” correctly.

On Chris Dodd: My friend Nancy thinks he should resign now. At the very least he ought to decline another term. He’s about to turn 65 and has been in the Senate since before God was born. This election would be a perfect time for him to anoint a successor so he doesn’t serve as bait for the GOP.

New noted with curiosity:

Why will the cat eat certain flavors (“with salmon,” turkey and giblets, chicken dinner) three nights in a row but turn her nose up at other flavors (beef and chicken, beef and liver) after the first day?

How does my water bottle manage to leak even after I’ve given the top an extra three or four turns?

Why are little dogs more aggressive than big ones? Napoleon complex?

Why are the random posts at Notcouture so much more interesting than paging through the orderly posts?

The tax man cometh tomorrow – actually we goeth to the tax man tomorrow. Time to finish the paper work!

Noted With Curiosity

March 20, 2009

Deep into spread sheets and other forms of mind-bending minutiae today, so here are a few questions to ponder:

Why is the “Stop for Pedestrians in Crosswalk” sign by Wesleyan’s Olin library turned so the pedestrians can see it but motorists can’t?

Why did the UConn Huskies game start an hour late today?

Why do so many women, especially young ones, think Rihanna deserved the beating?

Why do people include obvious nicknames in obituaries? I can understand Harold “Spaz” Johnson or Letitia “Fudge” Nolan. But why Margaret “Peggy” Smith or Robert “Bob” Harrison?

Why does say it’s cloudy when the map has a huge blob of rain over most of southern New England?

Why does Chris Dodd wait to be outed – on Countrywide, on his condo purchase and now on the AIG bonus rip-off?

Poetry, Carnaval and Saffron

March 19, 2009

Spain and all things Spanish (except for the bull fights) have always fascinated me. I’ve tried to figure out why off and on over the years, but the reasons have proved elusive. This love affair seems to have started in college when I was assistant stage manager and wardrobe mistress for a production of Garcia Lorca’s Blood Wedding. I reveled in the alien culture, watching the rigid code of honor in Andalusian society lead inexorably to the downfall of the major characters. Lorca weaves into his tale (based on a true story of a bride who elopes with a married man on her wedding day) with the stylistic twists of flamenco dancing and gives full rein to the poetry for which he became more famous. Elements of surrealism lend an other-worldly quality to this otherwise pretty bleak and gruesome tale.

A few years later I encountered the warm notes of the Maja line of toiletries. Body wash, lotion, and eau de toilette exude a combination of cinnamon and earth tones. Maja appeals to me because it is not the least bit sweet. I see fall colors – reds, yellow, gold when I smell it. I like the scent of the Magno line, too, but black soap is a bit creepy.

As for the food, tapas seem the perfect way to eat. Lots of little plates of shrimp or other seafood, marinated olives or onions, mushrooms, almonds, eggs in various forms, potatoes, cheese – and for those who eat such things, ham and little slices of sausage. Of course one must accompany tapas with a glass of sherry, or sangria in the hot weather. My friend Maria made the best white sangria last summer. I’ll see if I can get the recipe from her for the spring.

Paella is my favorite Spanish dish, though I prefer the Americanized version of jambalaya with its flavors from Africa, France, and Louisiana.

All of this wonderful stuff comes together at La Tienda. It’s set up to sell products, but each month Tienda owner Don Harris writes a marvelous essay about some aspect of Spanish life and culture in which he captures the old Spain and lards it with a bit about the new. This month he featured the celebration of Carnavál in Cádiz  where the men spoof current events, sort of New Orleans crewes without the bare chests and bead-tossing along the parade route. February’s essay, “Supporting Local Artisans,” showcased Andalusia where Harris finds olives, almonds, cookies and saffron, which sells for $15 for 0.035 ounces!

Now if I could just teach myself Spanish without having French come out of my mouth every time I try to speak!

203? 860? Add 475 and 959

March 18, 2009

The state of Connecticut has run out of phone numbers again, or we will next year. We kept 203 for the first 100 plus years of phone service. Then in 1996 we got 860. Less than two decades later, the utility regulators are complicating our lives. Beginning in December we’ll have to dial an area code to call next door. I remember encountering this problem a couple of years ago in the D.C. area and never being able to figure out what was a toll call and what wasn’t. There didn’t seem to be any logic to the system, and looking at the maps in the phone book didn’t help because I wasn’t that familiar with the area.

At least this time people and businesses with existing numbers won’t go through the nightmare of changing area codes. I think it took my parents a year to figure out what was going on, and even after that Daddy got calls for people calling Stamford and was trying to dial Hartford with the old area code. Back then, the rich part of the state got to keep 203, and the rest of us had to change business cards, stationery and so forth. This time any new numbers will receive new area codes. Regulators blame cell phones, ATMs, and alarm systems gobbling up the numbers in the two area codes.

I have a different suggestion. Why don’t they just go back to the old party line system? Every four or five households gets to share to number, with a distinctive ring for each household. The old movies show the fun of listening in on other people’s calls. Taking it further, why not make everyone in the same household share one cell number. That should allow the area codes to survive as is for the next few years and save the aggravation of dialing 10 numbers to order a pizza.