Black History Month is just around the corner, so I decided to revisit my own history. Until the age of 12, I grew up on the not-so-mean streets of Harlem (that’s NY, not the Netherlands) . Harlem then (and I won’t say when) was an exciting, noise-filled experience for a child. Just walking from one end of the legendary 125th Street to the other gave you a cultural thrill that could not be experienced anywhere else outside the marketplaces of Africa or the Caribbean. Visits to the Apollo Theater, walks along the Hudson River and Riverside Drive, field trips to Grant’s Tomb, the Cloisters and the Schomburg Library all made for powerful memories.
Yes, the negatives were there; friends I couldn’t visit because they lived in the reportedly unsafe “projects;” sad men sitting on stoops or standing on corners, whose lives seemed to be directionless and empty. But if you opened your window on a sultry summer night, on those same corners you might hear the most glorious harmony from impromptu accapella groups; groups that could but never would, make it big on stage. During the day you could listen for the arrival of the ice cream truck or the traveling merry-go-round. Although my forward thinking parents insisted we become acquainted with “downtown” and the Museum of Natural History, New York Public Library, the Empire State Building, skating at Rockefeller Center and a larger world in general, it was those brief times spent on “the block” which taught me how to jump double dutch, perform hand clapping games and play handball. The move to the suburbs may have been a step up in some ways, but there was something missing which could not be found while playing in my own backyard.
With regentrification, much of the Harlem of my childhood is gone and Starbucks has arrived. However for those who have never been and will probably never go to Harlem, there are numerous books and other materials which will allow you to see this still remarkable place, as it was .
This was Harlem – A cultural portrait
Harlem – Walter D. Myers celebrates the people, sights & sounds of Harlem
When Harlem was in Vogue– An illustrated history
Showtime at the Apollo – A view of the city’s most famous theater
Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Like My Sister Kate – Harlem Renaissance poets
Against the Odds – Rich, archival footage… recalls the influential force & vibrancy of Harlem
Harlem Nights– A fictional account of the excitement and drama of Harlem night life starring Eddie Murphy
New York Songs – Includes classics “Take the A Train” & “Harlem Shuffle”
An Afternoon in Harlem – Jazz musician Hugh Ragin
Despite this post’s title, I’ve never been a maker of New Year’s resolutions, but this year I have decided to rededicate myself to a regular yoga practice. I have practiced yoga on and off for years now and I truly love it and its wonderful effects. Are you interested? Classes are great, but not always practical for many of us. Luckily, DCPL has plenty of resources to help you start, or resurrect, a home practice.
When I was first starting out, I learned from books. Here are just a few of the useful titles that you’ll find on the shelves of DCPL.
For a solid guide to basic yoga practice, check out Yoga Journal’s Yoga Basics: the essential beginner’s guide to yoga for a lifetime of health and fitness by Mara Carrico and the editors of Yoga Journal. This well-illustrated book provides instructions for the basic postures, breathing tips, and sample routines. I particularly like the photos that illustrate correct and incorrect methods of performing each posture. Yoga Journal (carried at DCPL!) is itself a great resource for anyone interested in yoga and this book would be a good complement to both formal instruction and/or home practice.
I actually own a copy of Yoga the Iyengar Way by Silva, Mira, and Shyam Mehta and consult it often as a reference. The emphasis in Iyengar style yoga is on correct alignment and often employees props such as belts and blocks and modifications of the poses to prevent injury. It’s a terrific approach to yoga for beginners and makes a great discipline as an ongoing practice or as a launching point for exploring other forms. The Mehta’s book is both thorough and precise and I highly recommend it.
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I recently treated myself to a CD of Big River. It’s a musical based on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written by the ever amusing Mark Twain. All the songs are great but my favorite is Muddy Water, a hymn to the mighty, muddy Mississippi. It’s not a surprise to me that a song about a river is my top pick. I love rivers. They are givers of life (think of the Nile flooding in ancient times) and takers of life (think of the Johnstown Flood) and they represent raw, unimaginable power that can’t be completely controlled. It can’t be an accident that in Chinese folklore rivers are represented by dragons, creatures of potent and auspicious power. Rivers are boundaries and goals. They tell me not just where I am but more importantly who I am, keeping me rooted to the land. They are the life blood of the lands through which they flow and their names speak to me of travel, adventure and mystery. There’s the Cuyahoga, which was so badly treated that it burned in 1969. The Allegheny and Monongahela, which supported steel and glass manufacturing combine, as any good Steelers fan will tell you, to create the green Ohio, which runs so much faster than Big Muddy that when they merge the river flows two colors just south of Cairo, Illinois. This marvelous sight is near the top of my Road Trip List. Crossing the Mississippi? Well, that’s a different experience depending on which location you choose—the effort to cross in Minnesota is substantially less than what it will take to cross in New Orleans but believe me, both experiences are worth it. The Platte, Niagara, Kiskimentis, Las Vacas, Cathead, Tennessee, Cumberland, Scioto, Liffey, Danube, Lehigh, Hudson, Boyne, Patuxent, Missouri and Little Pigeon rivers each have a special place in my life—I’ve fished and traveled on them, waded in them, skipped stones over them and fallen asleep to the sound of their voices. I’m looking forward to getting to know the Snake, Fraser, Colorado, Po, Rattle, Thames and Shimanto. I hope it will be a pleasure.
This love for, and fascination with, a body of flowing water may seem odd, but I’m in pretty good company. Langston Hughes understood perfectly what I feel when he wrote The Negro Speaks of Rivers.
Here’s a few titles in case you’ve got the river bug too.
If you just read that title and thought, “Who?!,” I’m happy to tell you. Samuel Barber was an American composer, born on March 9, 1910. I happened to hear about his special 2010 milestone on the radio, tuning in on the very day itself that he would have been 100. He died in 1981, and unfortunately he didn’t live long enough to see a resurgence of interest in music written in his neo-Romantic style.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Platoon and watched the credits, you’ve heard Barber’s most famous piece. Adagio for Strings was premiered by none other than Arturo Toscanini, and it was played at many prominent funerals, including those of FDR, Albert Einstein, and Princess Grace of Monaco.
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So how about that weather?
Bad enough that DCPL was forced to stay closed an unprecedented three consecutive days, and open with limited hours on the fourth day. We appreciate your understanding and patience during this time, and hope you made it through the inclement weather without too much hardship.
For those of you who had items to return during the days we were closed, don’t worry, we will be making adjustments for those days. Also, if you had an item waiting for pick-up on the holds shelf, we have extended those dates.
While snowed in, many Atlantans spent their time indulging their creative sides. The AJC has a gallery of reader submitted photos, including some very impressive snow art.
And Creative Loafing has a feature on “Hothlanta“:
Sci-fi enthusiasts know Hoth was the snow-covered planet featured in The Empire Strikes Back. Atlantans know “Hotlanta” is a worn-out, cringeworthy nickname for our fair city. “Hothlanta” is a clever hashtag on Twitter some people prefer to “snowpocalypse.”
Embracing the spirit of the concept, Luke Thornton has constructed an impressive recreation of the battle of Hoth, remarking on Twitter, “This is what geeks do on a snowday”.
How did you spend the past few snow days?
Take a guess as to what this is.
Its components are described as: “…falling chocolate trunk filled with frozen chocolate powder, on a forest floor of lime-and mint yogurt, with almond praline, puffed quinoa, and green-pistachio streusel.
…or how about this…
Some of its (many) ingredients include frozen green pine cone powder, green pine cone “infusion”, and liquid nitrogen.
Give up? Both of these are desserts from Spain’s famed El Bulli restaurant. Set to close in 2011, the restaurant is considered by many to have led the way in innovating the most advanced of avant garde techniques in cooking today, and El Bulli’s pastry chef , Albert Adria, is one of a handful of chefs whose work is profiled by by Adam Gopnik in the article “Sweet Revolution: the power of the pastry chef” in the January 3rd issue of The New Yorker.
Having given up sweets, both at homes and at restaurants, Gopnik begins to puzzle over the purpose of dessert. Certainly, humans seem to be hard-wired, for the most part, to gravitate toward the sweet in food. At its most basic level, sweetness indicates ripeness and serves as a marker for what food is good to eat. However, up until fairly recently, substances that make food sweet were scarce and were used sparingly and mostly by the rich. All of that changed during the seventeenth century with the advent of what Gopnik calls a “hideous invention” (an assessment with which I agree) of the West Indies sugar plantation. Cheap sugar led to a revolution in dessert cuisine in France with, as Gopnik describes it, “the pastry chef as hero.” At New York’s WD-50, Gopnik speaks with pastry chef Alex Stupak who says: “I happen to not like sweets. It’s an idiosyncrasy of mine. I decided to become a pastry chef because it gave me autonomy. Whether you think your desserts are manipulated or not, they are!…Pastry is the closet that a human being can get to creating a new food.” It’s clear that for this chef creating dessert is creating art.
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Today is National Bird Day, as established by Born Free USA/Animal Protection Institute and the Avian Welfare Coalition. Although not technically a “National” holiday, as that designation requires an act of congress, National Bird Day is now in its 9th year of spreading awareness about the ecological importance of birds, their physical and behavioral needs, and the impact of the pet industry on bird populations worldwide. Ways to celebrate the day include birdwatching, bird adoption, educating future bird owners about the special issues involved with taking care of birds, and other avian-related activities. Click on the banner for more information.
You can get in on the fun and learn more about our feathered friends at your local library. You might also be interested in perusing this recent post about backyard birds by one of my DCPLive colleagues.
The Three Stooges. I couldn’t believe he was laughing uproariously at grown men bopping each other over the head. All I could do was shake my head and walk away. It was the same reaction he had to my very vocal enjoyment of Andy Rooney and The New Yorker magazine’s cartoons. Even when we agreed on a good comedy to watch, we laughed at totally different parts.
To state the already overstated obvious, people are different; their taste in clothes, food, literature, friends…and hee hees is often unlike anyone else’s. Remember when, as a child, you discovered knock knock jokes? “Knock knock.”/ ” Who’s there?” /”Boo.”/ “Boo who?” /”Why are you crying?” You almost fell on the floor laughing, while the adults in your life smiled painfully. How many of your friends and family give that same smile when you attempt to tell a joke or recount something you (and only you) think is hilarious?
Laughter is suppose to be a great stress reliever and in these anxious times, we need to indulge in it whenever we can. The library has an enormous collection of humorous books and movies to suit every taste; definitely too many to name. Here is a sampling but please browse in the 808s, 814s, 818s and the extensive audio/visual collection if you want more of a selection or these don’t strike your funny bone – wherever that may be anatomically. In addition, there’s a lot of really funny fiction out there, juvenile and adult.
MOVIES ( Well, they made me laugh!)
What makes you laugh? Is it dry wit, subtle humor or slapstick? Perhaps you secretly enjoy knock knock jokes. When is the last time you laughed until it hurt? (Ok, me first. It was when Candid Camera was popular. I loved the show.) In the New Year, let’s resolve to find amusement wherever we can. If it’s been a while, let’s see if my friend below at least makes you chuckle.
The first page of the 1789-1792 charging ledger
The New York Society Library was founded in 1754, giving it the distinction of being the oldest library in the city. It began as a subscription library which anyone could join, and remains so today, with nearly three hundred thousand volumes reflecting the interests of its various members over the past two and a half centuries.
Despite being looted by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War, the library rebuilt its collection and by 1789-1790, when New York was the nation’s capital and Congress occupied the building, it served as the first Library of Congress. During this time it was utilized by many prominent figures easily recognizable to students of American history, including George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and Aaron Burr. We know this due to information contained in the Library’s oldest surviving charging ledger, which recorded borrowing activity during the period between July 1789 and April 1792. Lost for many years, the extremely fragile ledger was recovered in 1934 in a trash pile in the basement of the Library’s former location at 109 University Place and has since been digitized in order to preserve the information contained therein for future generations.
You can explore the ledger here, just click on the name of the person whose checkouts you would like to view.