a parade and complexities

On Sunday morning, I went to early mass at St. Elizabeth of Hungary, just across from MASS MoCA. It’s the building I knew as St. Anthony’s – and the church where we held the funerals of my mom’s parents. At that time, it was mostly people who, like my grandparents, were ethnically Italian. At the time, North Adams had five Catholic churches; over the years, they have combined into a single parish, which took a new name. Vestiges of the original churches are represented by statues and such taken from the other churches, but it always strikes me, when I look at the dedications of the windows and the pews as I walk to communion, that the building is still centered in Italian heritage.

I exited through one of the back doors and was surprised to find a new memorial tucked into a small lawn between the driveway in the parking lot and the entrance to the parish hall. It’s a replica of the top of the steeple of St. Francis church, the mostly Irish-heritage church that had to be demolished when its structure deteriorated to a dangerous degree. Built into glassed-in alcoves on its sides is a memorial to the church with various memorabilia are twenty pieces of slate that had been salvaged from the wreckage and given to twenty local artists to create remembrances. Some are painted with scenes or designs, but some have text.
St. Francis memorial - North Adams
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This is probably how the nostalgia/memorial spiral that I had feared started.

I had decided to attend the Fall Foliage Parade in the afternoon. I grabbed my box lunch from the museum cafe and found a spot on Hadley Overpass near City Hall, the last stretch before the turn onto Main Street and the reviewing stand. I had written poetry about the parades of my youth and the one I had attended a couple of years ago, but I wanted to see how people interpreted this year’s theme, “There’s no place like home in the Berkshires.” As I ate my sandwich and waited for the parade to reach us, I watched the vendors going by and, because I was near some families with young children, stopping to sell their wares. Most of the things were expected – various inflated toys, stuffed animals, plastic horns – but a few were jarring. The most puzzling combination was the vendor selling Trump 2020 flags alongside a green marijuana flag. I can’t say that I remember either political or drug-oriented flags at Fall Foliage parades before.

I was happy to see that, while there were only a few high school bands, they were larger than the last parade I had seen. I could have done with a lot fewer emergency vehicles in the opening section. I might not have minded so much if they hadn’t all felt compelled to blare their sirens all the time. I also could have done with fewer Oz-themed floats and costumes. You know your grand marshal is a good sport when she is waving from the back of an open convertible dressed as Glinda.

My favorite floats and signs had more pertinent interpretations of home. The young baseball and softball players doing variations on there’s no place like home plate. The signs which read, “There’s No Place Like a Safe Home” and “There’s No Place Like the Headstart.” Even though it was partially advertisement, the Grand Marshal’s Award went to Mountain One Bank with the theme “There’s No Place Like Your Hometown Bank.” The float that was closest to my heart, though, was the Hayden Award winner from Greylock Elementary School, “North Adams Is Our Emerald City.” Beyond being incredibly sweet, I was also touched that Greylock is continuing to be very active in the city. My father-in-law was principal there for decades, long enough to have been principal for three generations in some families, and I was moved to see that his spirit is still alive there.

Later in the afternoon, I workshopped one of my North Adams poems with the Boiler House Poets before heading to a high school friend’s home for dinner. Her husband made us a delicious dinner as I knew he would; he was a chef for many years and we ate at his restaurants many times. After dinner, my friend and I talked for hours, sometimes about current events, but mostly about our families with the array of illnesses and losses and moves and growth and letting go and plans and sorrows and disappointments. We hadn’t been able to see each other for a year, so there was a lot to catch up with, but all of Sunday put me in a vulnerable place for Monday, the last full day of our residency.

I had been workshopping North Adams-oriented poems, but decided to edit a poem which may end a revision of a chapbook I am working on about my mother’s experiences with congestive heart failure. She passed away in May and I thought I was ready to work on this poem, but I probably was not. I managed to do the edits, but it was stressful enough that I slipped back into my brain-full-of-holes, unmoored state that has been affecting me more often than not these last months.

I went back to my room in the apartment to rest for a while, but headed back to the museum for our usual 1:00 lunch. We had to make some plans for the rest of our time, but I was feeling indecisive and scattered. I knew I couldn’t write. One of the poets had told us at lunch that she had read one of her poems at the artwork about which it was written. I decided that I would follow her lead and read a poem in the place it belonged. In my case, though, it wasn’t about an artwork, but about a building.

Building 6 is the largest in the museum complex. It is located where the two branches of the Hoosic meet, so it is shaped somewhat like a wedge. The renovation created a shape in the narrow end of the building called “The Prow.” It is one of my favorite spaces in the museum and the subject of a poem I wrote about looking out its windows. I found a copy of it and went to read it there, except that I forgot to put it into my pocketbook to bring with me. I managed to find it on my phone, though, so I was able to read it there as I looked out at the river and the street and the hills. No one was there to hear it, but that was better. I might not have been able to gather the gumption needed to recite with an unsuspecting audience.

Despite my misgivings, I was able to workshop my poem when we met in the late afternoon. I have some more edits to make and some more things to mull. I’m not sure when, but maybe in a few weeks.

I know this month is going to be incredibly complicated.

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Birthday and more

As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I celebrated my birthday at my Boiler House Poets reunion residency at MASS MoCA.

Actually, I started celebrating with my family before I left for North Adams with early birthday cards and gifts. ABC had chosen a card for me with a dinosaur (or maybe a dragon or alligator?) on it, so after I opened it, she, in her own cute way, took possession of it as a plaything. She and my daughters gave me a framed quilled floral piece from a local artists’ shop. My spouse B gave me a copy of Blowout by Rachel Maddow, which had just become available. It deals with the fossil fuel industry and its political ramifications, I’ve dealt with these issues frequently over these last years in the anti-fracking, climate action, and environmental justice movements and look forward to reading the book. Rachel Maddow does meticulous research, so I’m sure I will gain valuable insights.

I had planned to keep my birthday low-key this year, but was grateful for all the greetings on Facebook, text, in person, and by mail. I was especially grateful to have dinner with cousins that evening. They are the only family B and I have left living here and I always enjoy seeing them when I am back.

Saturday was a very busy day at MASS MoCA and with the Fall Foliage Festival in North Adams. The skies were very clear, which made the early morning very chilly, but I went to the farmer’s market as soon as it opened. I visited familiar vendors, buying maple syrup from B’s hometown and jams, relishes, and pickled beets from nearby Adams. I picked up an extra jar of cranberry-apple relish for E to take on her move to London. They plan to celebrate American Thanksgiving in November and cranberries, being a North American fruit, aren’t easy to come by in the UK – and who knows what the trade situation will be like in November?

I did a bit of writing in the very cold studio. Apparently, the building hasn’t swapped over to heating yet, but I called on my hearty New England roots to make it through! At noon, I visited the craft fair on Main Street, which had been blocked of from traffic. This year, there was also a dance party going on, but I don’t dance – except with ABC in my arms.

At our group lunch, we chose by random drawing the work we would each write about for this year’s Boiler House Poets’ project, Orange Country by ERRE. Marilyn McCabe, our recording and video guru, will put all of our poems together and I’ll post the link here at ToJCM when it becomes available. For a taste of Marilyn’s work, check out this amazing video chapbook. With eight poems to be included, each needs to be short, so I turned to tanka for my contribution. I find that only having 31 syllables to work with helps me distill my thoughts in what I hope will be a meaningful way. It also allows me to do multiple drafts in a relatively contained timeframe. I whittled away words from my original thoughts to create the tanka. The sixth draft will be the final one for the recording, I think.

As it happened, MoCA was having a day of special events to coincide with the city festival. I saw a performance piece by the artist MPA which took place in the midst of her art installation. There was an excellent talk by author Akiko Busch on the current exhibit of works by Rafa Esparza. These works are made of adobe, using water from the Hoosic River which runs through the museum complex and other local and natural materials, and much of Busch’s talk centered around our place in the world and our relationship to it, which is totally in my wheelhouse with my collection in progress. Later in the afternoon, I heard Jimena Canales, a science and technology historian, speak. Unfortunately, she only got through a fraction of her presentation, so we never really got to the intended conclusion on what makes us human and the relationship of humans to art. The bonus, though, was that a wonderful harpist played for us in that same gallery space immediately after. This hadn’t been on the schedule, so we would have missed it otherwise.

Because of all the special events, the poets had decided to do our workshopping after supper. I decided to strike out on my own to eat at Boston Seafoods. I still have trouble calling it that; it’s been around for a long time and I still think of it as what we grew up calling it, the Fish Market. I had fish and chips and then a mocha sundae! I had been upset that the place I used to get mochas had closed, so I was happy to see it on the menu. The mocha sauce is not a fluffy as what we used to get at Apothecary Hall when I was a kid – and they put whipped cream on it, which was not traditional – but it was still delicious and relieved my longing for a North Adams mocha. It occurs to me that people are likely to find this whole mocha business odd, but mocha sundaes were important here. There will probably be two mocha poems in my collection whenever I finish it…

We workshopped poems until after 11:00 PM. I’m hoping the other poets got more sleep than I did, although, with a bar that dates back to 1933 down on the first floor of our building on the Saturday of Fall Foliage Festival weekend, maybe not.

I’m sure we will power through our Sunday, though.

I wonder how many of us will attend the parade today?

SoCS: counting

Like most two-year-olds, ABC loves counting. She most often wants to count to ten. The way she tends to do it is, “One, two, eight, nine, ten!” This is especially true if she is counting while someone is hiding spiders for her. When her daddy was here in August, he did crafts with her – and some crafts that he did himself for her. One of her favorite things that he made were pipe cleaner spiders with googly eyes. ABC loves to have us hide them and then go looking for them, thus the attempts at counting to ten – as quickly as possible!

You may be asking, “Why spiders?” We tend to have spiders that build webs on the outdoor side of our kitchen window frames. Not wanting to have her be afraid of the spiders, we would point them out to her and she would often stand on a stool or have someone hold her so she could watch them. She would say, “Hello, spider!” a bit of the fear of spiders seeped through, though, so that evolved into “Hello, spider! Yuck!” although she still isn’t afraid of them. (Note for those of you who live in places with poisonous spiders. We don’t have any in the immediate area, especially living outdoors.)

So, for now, we’re having hunts for googly eyed spiders, who, when they aren’t being hunted, live in her bedroom on webs that her dad made.
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And every once in a while, ABC counts to ten with all the digits…
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The prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “ent/net/ten.” Join us! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/09/27/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-28-19/

SoCS badge by Pamela, at https://achronicalofhope.com/

Climate Strike!

The day after I wrote this post lamenting the lack of a local climate strike action, I got an email from a local climate champion saying that there would be an event in Binghamton on Friday, the day that millions of people took part in thousands of actions around the world.

We met in front of the building that houses Senator Schumer’s office. As Senate minority leader, he is our most influential representative in Washington. In keeping with the youth leadership of climate strikes, this was organized by local university students, with lots of energy coming from the students who gathered. There were also a number of allies, many of whom were veterans of the fight against fracking in New York State.

I was pleased to be able to attend and lend support and happy to be part of three generations in my family there. Daughters E and T were both there; granddaughter ABC, at two years old, was the youngest attendee. Several people commented that we were gathered there for climate action for her and her generation, so that they will have a livable planet.

Our climate strike event on Friday was very grassroots, with the co-organizers speaking and then offering the mike to anyone that wanted to speak. Next Friday, September 27th, will be a larger and more formal event with several local organizations as sponsors, featuring speakers, music, tabling, and food. I hope to be able to attend that, too.

There is a lot of work to do in order to keep global temperature rise in check, so much that it often seems impossible, but I am more hopeful than I have been for a while. With young people around the world rallying and demanding action, maybe national leaders will finally find the political will to make a rapid and just transition to a sustainable, though still damaged, world.

SoCS: Cookie Monster

When her daddy was here in August, ABC started doing crafts with him – or, at least, she was crafting-adjacent.

One of the things they made was Cookie Monster’s head, made from a white paper plate painted blue with big eyes and mouth made of construction paper and glued on.

It’s pretty adorable!

Before he went back to London, E, L, and ABC went on a trip to Sesame Place. There, ABC got to see the characters perform, as well as go on rides and to the water park. She loved it! It was nice for them to get to go on a little family vacation, something that will get much easier once E’s visa comes and they finally get together permanently in the UK.

We will have to figure out what to pack for ABC for London. I think one thing that will get to go with her will be the (incredibly soft) Cookie Monster that they brought home as a souvenir from Sesame Place. It is a special edition for the 50th anniversary of Sesame Street this year. Of course, there will be Sesame Street in the UK, too, but Cookie Monster will be a wonderful reminder of her US home where Sesame Street began.
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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is to write about the first blue object we see when we sit down to write. Join us! You can find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2019/09/13/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-14-19/

Sixth Blogiversary!

(I enjoy the way spellcheck corrects my spelling of blogiversary, as though it were a real word.)

WordPress helpfully reminded me that I started Top of JC’s Mind six years ago today.

Six years ago feels like a different world, in ways both small- and large-scale.

Six years ago, B and I both still had our moms.

L and daughter E were in Hawai’i, still in their first year of marriage, never dreaming that the first two years of their daughter’s life would be spent at our home in upstate New York while L worked in London toward getting a spousal visa for E. The visa should be arriving soon. B and I will have an eerily quiet home when E and ABC leave at whatever point in the coming weeks…

During the last six years, daughter T has completed a master’s in conservation biology of plants – and has faced an administration that has ignored her field of study at a time when it is most needed.

Six years ago, Barack Obama was president of the United States. Even though the Republicans in Congress blocked a lot of things that would have been helpful for the country, we, at least, had a sense of pride in our nation on the world stage and an absence of scandal. With Donald Trump as president, there is a general sense of fear and apprehension and the United States has lost its leadership position; there seem to be multiple scandals every week.

Six years ago, we were fighting in New York for a ban on shale fracking. Amazingly enough, New York instituted a regulatory ban, which is still holding. Given that New York has just recently enacted the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, it would fly in the face of our climate goals to begin fracking, even under a future governor.

Meanwhile, the global climate situation is becoming more and more dire. While I was encouraged by the Paris climate accord, the time since has been difficult, with DT ready to pull the US out of the accord in November, 2020. Many states, cities, companies, and individuals have stepped up to continue working toward net zero carbon goals. Our family is doing its part by changing to LED lighting, increasing our insulation, buying panels in a community solar installation, and driving a fully electric Chevy Bolt and a plug-in hybrid Chrysler Pacifica.

Some things have stayed constant over these six years, though. I am grateful for my loving family and safe home, for a faith that remains despite challenges, for music and poetry, and for the opportunity to share my thoughts here.

My hope is that I will be able to continue writing – and that, at least, a few of you will continue to visit me here at Top of JC’s Mind.

a royal rescue?

As many of you know, my daughter E and granddaughter ABC will soon be relocating from our home in the US to the UK, when E’s spousal visa comes through. Unfortunately, the UK government, like the US, is mired in dysfunction.

It is difficult to project what will be happening regarding Brexit, the prime minister, Parliament, and the EU. Even seasoned political analysts can’t guess what will happen. There are fears of shortages of fresh foods and medications if/when the UK leaves the EU. With so much uncertainty, this is not an optimal time for E and ABC to move, but there is only a small travel window once the visa arrives.

Lately, I have been fantasizing that the queen will come to the rescue! Britain’s monarch has little power, but, can still dissolve Parliament and call for new elections. She can also accept or reject the choice of prime minister. The prime minister is supposed to “command the confidence of the House of Commons.” [source:  https://www.royal.uk/queen-and-government] Given that PM Johnson has been pretty spectacular in his inability to get bills he favors passed, and that a number of members of his party have left, giving him less than majority support, one could reasonably argue that he does not command confidence.

The monarch is not supposed to be political but she has a duty to “encourage and warn” the government ministers. She is supposed to be a source of national unity. I realize it would be unprecedented, but I think she should point out that leaving the EU will likely cause Scotland, and perhaps Northern Ireland, to leave the United Kingdom. She could also point out that in a constitutional monarchy, issues are decided by her government, not by popular vote. The vote itself may not even represent the true will of the people, given that it was subject to Russian influence and much fear-mongering and lying from the domestic proponents of leaving the European Union. If she made these remarks publicly, perhaps in an address to Parliament, it would cause a stir, but it seems that she would be protecting her subjects and seeking to keep the United Kingdom intact.

Of course, none of this is likely to happen. I am dreaming, though, of a stable place for my daughter and her family to live and thrive.

A place less contentious and divided than the United States would be nice.