Month: January 2010

remembering howard zinn is a political act

My hero died this week.  I didn’t really realize that’s what he was until I felt a hole in the pit of my stomach when he died.  Howard Zinn, 87, radical, anti-war activist and beloved Bostonian, is the reason why I do what I do.  In The Politics of History, he asked: “Are we historians not humans first, and scholars because of that?”  He taught me that history can and must be alive, that by telling stories we can effect political change.  He taught me that history was important.  And I’ve never stopped thanking him. I first read The People’s History of the United States in high school, when my American history teacher told us that even though there was no textbook for his class, if we wanted to we should read Zinn’s book.  My teacher, with his bushy white mustache and always-disturbed combover, his chalkdusted tweed jacket, corduroys worn between the wales, and fading New Balance sneakers, was a Wobblie when he was younger.  His belief that American history is fundamentally important to the …

ghettotainment: problematizing cultural tourism

I just heard a great story about “LA Gang Tours” on All Things Considered.  Run by former gang members, the company takes tourists on a journey through South Central in an air-conditioned bus that stops at sites important to thug culture such as the local jail, a graffiti lab, and the LA river.  The idea behind the company is nothing new: a community’s attempt to harness the power of tourism (the hope of lots of money and a little increased awareness) to promote economic development in a place that is struggling.  From LA Gang Tour’s website: “The mission of LA GANG TOURS is to provide an unforgettable historical experience for our customers with a customized high-end specialty tour. We will provide customers with a true first-hand encounter of the history and origin of high profile gang areas and the top crime scene locations in South Central, Los Angeles. Each tour bus for LA GANG TOURS will have a guide from the South Central areas who has gained hands-on knowledge and experience of the inner city …

from the archives: history is alive in philly.

Last March I took a weekend solo trip to Philadelphia.  I’d never been there before, it’s a great trip on the train (I have a rule to take the train everywhere closer than DC — no weather delays, security checks, leg cramps or ear popping!), and I felt like having a little time to myself.  So off I went to Philly, with the John Adams miniseries from HBO downloaded to my laptop, and spent my weekend wandering. What a great city!  I could write a whole post abot the Reading Terminal Market and its incredible Amish pickles and pancake counters (and the joys of scrapple!), but today I am going to try — try — to focus on historic preservation. So we all know that Philadelphia was where the Declaration of Independence was signed, was the nation’s capital before Washington DC, and is the home of the Liberty Bell.  When I went to the city, I was so focused on culinary travel that I didn’t really plan to visit the Independence National Historical Area.   But, …

welcome to berkeley.

I am spending the week with my family in the Bay Area, California.  It always feels like a hedonistic paradise when I visit, kindof like going to Italy…the sun is warm and the air mild, citrus are dripping from trees everywhere, and people sit outside and share coffee and locally grown vegetables in the most unlikely of places. If you want to get a nice flavor of the epicurean daily life of a Bay Arean, check out Heidi Swanson’s gorgeous food blog 101cookbooks. Now that I’m a committed New Englander it always feels a little decadent and a little nostalgic to spend time here, and the place that says Berkeley more than anything to me is the Berkeley Bowl.  I remember going to the Bowl as a little girl, on Saturdays with my dad.  The original location was in a former bowling alley, and we would park in a back lot and enter through a creaky old door into the bulk foods section.  In my memory it was a little labyrinthine, dark, and dingy, and …

public art sunday.

Thought I’d do a little roundup of some cool public art stuff I’ve seen recently. – For those of you in Cambridge, have you ever noticed the granite slab in the park outside Peet’s Coffee at Harvard Square?  It looks like a piece of ruins from an old building, and has a fragment of the word “Newtowne Market” on its facade.  I recently read a profile of this piece, “Quiet Cornerstone, “ which was created in 1986.  It’s a really cool idea — as is the “Tour the Art” section of the Cambridge Public Art Commission’s website. The piece definitely accomplishes what I think is the most important function of public art in urban space: to encourage extended thought about the environment and its development over time. – How cool are these cellophane installations in France?  I wish I’d seen them when I was in Paris! – I was recently given a link to Boston’s Societies of Spontaneity, a public art/flashmob group that organizes “guerilla theater and outright silliness”.  Today they did a pants-off T …

paris 2.

Before we left for Paris I read Leonard Pitt’s Walk through Lost Paris, a great, albeit opinionated, primer on the planning history of Paris.  Beginning with Napoleon III and Baron von Hausmann’s transformation of the city from a Medieval cesspool to a dynamic 19th century metropolis, the book provides good background for the changes in the city fabric over time.  The real power of the book, though, is in the loving research that Pitt conducted of the small sites that have remained throughout the many phases of demolition and reimagining in the city.  He pored through photo archives and painstakingly wandered the city trying to find exact matches and clues to the past of a building, square, or corner.  He will juxtapose historic and present-day images to show you how things have changed; the most valuable resource is a historic map of the city that shows how whole streets and districts moved over time. While I never walked the city with it open in front of me, I did love returning back to our apartment …

paris 1.

So I have finally recovered from our at times blissful, at times horribly stressful holiday vacation to Paris.  What an incredible city!  I’ll do my photos in a couple of batches. These are shots of the Marche aux Puces in Clingancourt, which was formerly at the edge of the city wall fortifications.  It’s a fascinating environment: when you get off the train you enter a sea of people, most of whom are of African origin.  It feels like a completely different world from the tourist center of Paris.  You walk through a street market and suddenly find yourself in an entire neighborhood filled with antique stores.  It’s not a “flea market,” as it is usually called — it is really more of an antiques district where sellers have shops and stalls that cater to interior decorators, antique dealers, and individual high-end shoppers.  After discovering that a mirror frame we liked was actually $1000, we decided that what we took home with us would be an excellent collection of photos that we can turn into an …