Archive for the ‘History’ Category

All of us are 80 per cent water or maybe more

August 30, 2009


Here’s a quote from a recent interview with Yoko Ono in Arthur Magazine:

“this is what the problem is. All of us are 80 per cent water or maybe more. So when I say to you, “I hate you,”I might be saying it with a laugh, but   the water takes it seriously. So your water is saying, “Omigosh, she hates me.” I say, “I love you,” you get it. But at the same time I’m water too. So I’m saying to myself that two people may be in love, God they must be in love because they look beautiful. Well of course, because each time they see each other they say, “I love you, I love you.” But actually they are saying it to themselves, too.”

(Photo of water by Hiroshi Sugimoto, found here)


August 26, 2009

Today, 89 years ago, the 19th Amendment went into effect, and women won the right to vote.




Photos from the amazing, digitized LIFE magazine photo archive now on google images.

sister lovers / sister wives

July 22, 2009

If you really want to feel like it’s summertime, at least a certain kind of dark, anxious but still wonderful summertime, you should listen to some Big Star.


Alex Chilton is the adorable one on the right, the one that looks like your dorky friend who gets flushed and sappy when he drinks.  AND, this fantastic photo is by William Eggleston, who had a darkroom in Alex Chilton’s parents’ back yard in Memphis.

Have a sarcastic summer, everyone!

The Quadricentennial and going through the motions

July 15, 2009

So, Burlington has had its festival commemorating the Champlain Quadricentennial —- meaning that 400 years ago in July 1609, Samuel de Champlain traveled down Petonbowk (the waters that lie between), making him the first European to set eyes on it.  Then he named it after himself.

Now, it is my understanding, from the big biography of Champlain that came out this year, that he was a pretty good guy, for an early European colonizer.  He spoke native languages, and was interested in collaborations and partnerships.

And, despite how very suspect the motives and urges of the Europeans who greedily came here were, to be fair, nobody had any idea how destructive the diseases they were carrying were going to be.

That was 300-500 years ago, and we can’t go back.

lake between

Big anniversaries of ambivalent and destructive events are really tough to figure out.  How do you commemorate something like this?  With seriousness?  With regret?  With celebration?

The celebratory commemoration is really a Victorian specialty — 100 to 150 years ago, every little town in Vermont was having a massive pageant to celebrate something or other.  In 1909 in Burlington, there was a massive pageant with Kahnawake Mohawks hired to paddle down the lake, reenacting Champlain’s historic visit (I learned this from a talk given by Kevin Dann last year, correct me if I’m wrong).  This was much easier to do in 1909, because all white people in Vermont knew for sure that all the Indians were long gone from the state.

Thankfully, 2009 is a tougher time for people to do something like that.  So Burlington assembled sort of a mish-mash of artists and musicians, some of whom were from Quebec and some from France.  There were some Abenaki and Iroquois artists in there too, as well as an Abenaki encampment.  And a parade.

I really support paying artists and musicians.  Paying artists is an excellent way to stimulate the economy.  Paying artists is also important for it’s own sake.

But if I had been in charge of the Quadricentennial, I would have mustered whatever ceremoniousness might have still be available to me from those repeating 09s and used it to make some serious commitments on behalf of the state of Vermont to Abenakis and other Native Americans here.

It would include official proclamations about history and responsibility.  It would include addressing poverty in the present.  It would include letting people label their crafts.  It would include not expecting people to show up and perform their culture for tourists for 10 days.  It would include admitting that we screwed things up in the intervale.  It would involve listening and asking questions and not hoping for a single spokesman for the “native perspective.”  It would involve a real pledge to be an ally on the state level and a supporter on the national level.  It might even involve giving up some land.

I would take all the money devoted to drinking beer and listening to music on the waterfront (you don’t have to put a million dollars toward people doing that! people are already doing that on their own dime!) and put it towards research and conservation.  I would commit to a bold environmental goal for the Lake Champlain region.  I would get a bunch of scholars to rigorously do the busywork and collaborate with native scholars and communities, researching and recording stories until we actually know a lot more about Vermont’s real history.  Because we don’t actually know that much.

That would be, I think, a commemoration that connects the past to the future.  Maybe they will let me do it in 2059.

The Nerves

June 4, 2009

Listening to the Nerves today, and hopefully learning how to cover this song tonight!  They sound like the Zombies, I love it!

See what I mean?

And a very good point about this song, made by Mr. Jonathan Richman, which I read today on Now Voyager.


PS. Thank you, Jonathan Richman, for writing Roadrunner — I had a REALLY REALLY great time dancing to it on Sunday night.

The Exciters

May 26, 2009

and also, dee dee sharp, and some people doing the mashed potato and making it look kind of like a cool dance to do.  there are a lot of instructional videos on youtube if you want to learn.

and this one too, maybe the best song ever, by claudine clark.  I don’t know who these kids are, but they are awesome.

How to draw a bunny

May 5, 2009

I watched the documentary about Ray Johnson this week, How to Draw a Bunny.

It was great.  Ray Johnson was a pop artist, and he made beautiful collages.  I wish the movie had been How to Make Collages like Ray Johnson, but of course no one could ever learn.



The movie also talks about his close friend, Dorothy Podber, who of course is known for shooting a bullet through a stack of Andy Warhol’s Marilyns.  I am no big fan on Andy Warhol, and not into romanticizing that art scene…..Dorothy and I would NOT be friends, since I would be way too scared to be her friend…..but I love the gesture.  Andy Warhol was kind of an asshole, and she totally knew it, and didn’t care, because she was too busy LIVING ART.  Dorothy Podber and Ray Johnson also gave a friend a present which was a clock with no hands, and when you opened it, a gold-painted rat fell out.

Ray Johnson founded the New York Correspondance School, which was a bunch of people sending art through the mail to each other, adding pieces on as they went.



(one of) the longest covered bridges in the United States!

May 3, 2009

In the spirit of giving the people what they want, here’s another post about covered bridges.  Seriously, my one post about a covered bridge gets about 10 times as many reads as anything else on my random, personal bog.  Maybe the world is hungry for a covered bridge blog?  Or are kids writing reports using google?  Here you go, hungry mysterious internet!


This, of course, is the majestic Cornish-Windsor bridge, spanning the Connecticut River between Cornish, New Hampshire, and Windsor, Vermont.

It is a town lattice truss, and it is 460 feet long, making it one of the longest in the United States!  Of course, note that it is a two-span, while the North Blenheim bridge is a single-span. Which is more impressive?  I say North Blenheim, but you be the judge for yourself!

I took this picture from the train, after the conductor reminded us all to look.  Train sidenote: I also eavesdropped on a conversation where the assistant conductor explained how his lifelong dream had been to work on the trains, and now here he was…. the same sort of magic doesn’t happen on buses — take the train!

My dad worked on this bridge in 1987, and I still have a t-shirt from it’s re-opening after it was fixed.  For some reason, that “Chesterfield Associates” shirt is one of my most cherished possessions.

Want to learn more about historic trusses?  Why not read my dad’s book about Historic American Roof Trusses?


Train travel

May 2, 2009

What can I say to advocate for train travel to you?

I love trains, maybe more than most people.  I wrote my undergrad thesis about trains and American history, and I just LOVE them.  Train stations beautiful, and trains connected cities and encouraged growth in the right way, I believe.

That’s why I was so heartened to hear that Obama is investing $13 billion into high-speed rail development in the US.  If we don’t all die of the flu first, this will be a very good thing for our country.  I get worried when I see all those rail-to-trail conversions — a great thing for bikes in the short run, but I don’t want to see our rail infrastructure disappear.


I took the train to New York last weekend.  Let me tell you, even just the atmosphere at the station is so refreshing……I waited with an excited crowd, and when the train whistled and came rushing down towards us my heart started beating fast and the little kids around me jumped and shouted.  I got on and settled into my roomy, roomy seat, knowing that I could move around the train as I pleased during the 9.5 hours I would be on it.  Which I know is a long time, but if you bring lots of snacks and entertainment it’s really a pleasure.


Of course, the view is beautiful, especially the Vermont part of the ride.  It’s interesting to see all the towns I know really well from the train perspective, not a car perspective.  Here is Brattleboro:


If you look closely, you can also catch site of people’s secret little spots down by the train tracks — I saw a lot of little campsites, tents, hideaways, party spots, and many, many old 40 bottles.  The history of this sort of culture and train track landscape is best transferred through this excellent book, one of my favorites:


I highly recommend it!  I also saw train buffs, watching the trains — not the Amtrak, of course, but some obscure freights.

So take the train!  You won’t regret it.  I don’t even have to mention what a good thing it is to do, environmentally.  It’s also very quiet.  You might also meet people on the train.  And national train day is coming up; it’s May 9th!

The Writer’s Almanac

April 20, 2009

I just signed up for the Writer’s Almanac by newletter, since I can’t seem to listen to it on NPR in the morning at 8:30.  You can sign up for it online and today’s poem, by Tennessee Williams, is really, and sort of surprisingly, good.  Yesterday’s poem about blueberries was sort of underwhelming.  So here is today’s, you can read it with or without your best Garrison Keillor voice:

Life Story

by Tennessee Williams

<!– (from The Collected Poems of Tennessee Williams) –>

After you’ve been to bed together for the first time,
without the advantage or disadvantage of any prior acquaintance,
the other party very often says to you,
Tell me about yourself, I want to know all about you,
what’s your story? And you think maybe they really and truly do

sincerely want to know your life story, and so you light up
a cigarette and begin to tell it to them, the two of you
lying together in completely relaxed positions
like a pair of rag dolls a bored child dropped on a bed.

You tell them your story, or as much of your story
as time or a fair degree of prudence allows, and they say,
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh,
each time a little more faintly, until the oh
is just an audible breath, and then of course

there’s some interruption. Slow room service comes up
with a bowl of melting ice cubes, or one of you rises to pee
and gaze at himself with mild astonishment in the bathroom mirror.
And then, the first thing you know, before you’ve had time
to pick up where you left off with your enthralling life story,
they’re telling you their life story, exactly as they’d intended to all

and you’re saying, Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh,
each time a little more faintly, the vowel at last becoming
no more than an audible sigh,
as the elevator, halfway down the corridor and a turn to the left,
draws one last, long, deep breath of exhaustion
and stops breathing forever. Then?

Well, one of you falls asleep
and the other one does likewise with a lighted cigarette in his mouth,
and that’s how people burn to death in hotel rooms.

“Life Story” by Tennessee Williams, from The Collected Poems of Tennessee Williams. © New Directions, 2002. (Reprinted without permission, but nobody really reads my blog anyway).

I’m going to New York this weekend, and I think I’m going to go see the Henry Darger exhibit at the American Folk Art Museum.

afam_2318afam_2314-1I like him for so many reasons.  I love the Vivian Girls, I really like folk art, or course, and 1900s Chicago is one of my top historical time periods — mostly from reading Sister Carrie, William Cronin’s Nature’s Metropolis, and everything about the Columbian Exposition.  Darger’s story was really sad — he had a tough childhood and spent a lot of time in institutions, and as an adult, could never really get over it.  So in his own way, he devoted his life to protecting children, in part by writing the Vivian Girls, his super-fantasy heroines, into being.  All his famiyl was gone, but he did have a friend, one friend.