Art of Citizenship

Civic:  relating to the duties or activities of people in relation to their town, city, or local area.

It’s like history:  people think of history as these broad narratives usually of, by, and for white men.  Digression.  Back in March 2018, the Hoover Institution (on War, Revolution, and Peace) sponsored a conference on “Applied History.”  Thirty male historians, one female historian, ALL white, ALL associated with American institutions.  Not having been there, I couldn’t tell you what “Applied History” actually means; my knee-jerk reaction is to wonder whether anyone talked about the use and misuse of history by policymakers, or whether this was just a bunch of white Americans telling policymakers what they should be doing on a national and international basis.

What do people mean by civic?

Yesterday, a very young and lost boxer followed me for a mile.  I went back to my Airbnb and not knowing what to do, asked my host to help me.  She cut me off:  “The dog needs to go back on the street, he can’t be here, and I can’t help you.”  After the initial panic, I realized that I can in fact take care of the problem.  I called the local no-kill shelter, they referred me to Animal Control, and I sat with the dog until the officer showed up thirty  minutes later.  He assured me the dog would be scanned for microchip information, held for 24 hours to wait for owner, then taken to the no-kill shelter.  Today, I have a “civic” survey in my inbox, asking me what I think civic means.  Based on the choices on page one, civic would seem to mean citizen action of the obvious sort recognizable by the general public:  voting, demonstrating, petitioning.  Yesterday, DH and some neighbors sent out postcards to registered voters encouraging them to vote in the upcoming midterm elections.  Yesterday, I rescued a friendly young dog with no common sense.  Yesterday, I found out my Airbnb host, who has a full life as a feminist/Democrat/community activist, did not see my action as a civic one.

I must admit that I was tempted to ignore the dog . . .  but he was so obviously lost and clueless.  A couple of local neighbors helped figure out that the dog belongs to a family not far from where I am staying, his name is Bruno, and he is quite young (about 5 months old).  I am hopeful his family picked him up from Animal Control last night.

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On my last morning in Santa Fe, I found this heart hanging on a fence outside a Canyon Road art gallery.  I am indeed grateful that I am lucky enough to live in a country where civic action — or inaction — is (still) a choice and a right.

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Mysterious Salt Lake City

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This was the reunion weekend, but I had other things I wanted to do.

Decades ago, DH and I heard about the Gilgal Sculptural Garden, a place of visionary bizarreness conceived and built by a devout Mormon by the name of Thomas Battersby Child, Jr.

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Thomas Battersby Child, Jr., 1888-1963

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Back then the garden was still private property, though the owners were not sure what to do with it.  People knew about the garden: if they were polite, they visited on the one day a week the garden was officially open.  Perhaps more often they trespassed, on the theory that they “weren’t doing any harm.”  The garden is now an official city park, but mostly taken care of by volunteers gardeners and the non-profit Friends of Gilgal Garden.  People still trespass, some still vandalize, and a fair number of visitors still think they “do no harm” by climbing on the sculptures for their fun snapshots.

Perhaps the most famous sculpture is the Joseph Smith sphinx:

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Speculations?

Well, at the center of Mormon belief is a connection to ancient Egypt civilization and its writing system (Joseph Smith claimed to have translated the Book of Abraham from a papyrus scroll he obtained in 1835).  Joseph Smith was also a Freemason, and according to scholars, the “Old Charges” (Freemason origin documents) claim lineage from Egypt as the birthplace of the art of masonry (or mystery).

So . . . .  Was Mr. Child a Freemason as well as a mason?  It was a moment of idle curiosity on my part as I made my way around the garden and saw the carved quotation:  “After me cometh a Builder.  Tell him I too have known.”  The line is from The Palace, a poem by Rudyard Kipling published in 1902.  And Rudyard Kipling was a Freemason.  In the poem, he used the language and imagery of Freemasonry — and masonry — to explore his feelings about his place in the community of artists past and present.  As I said, a moment of idle curiosity . . . .  It is enough that Thomas Battersby Child had his visions, and was brave enough to set those visions in stone for posterity.

Bucket List: Going-to-the-Sun Road

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Going-to-the-Sun Road, Glacier National Park

Many years ago I worked for the National Park Service as a summer historian on a HABS/HAER project in New York City.  When we were finished, the project leader gave me a signed copy of  America’s National Park Roads and Parkways:  Drawings from the Historic American Engineering Record  (Timothy Davis, Todd A. Croteau, Christopher H. Marston, and Eric DeLony).  It is a beautiful book, full of detailed drawings and plans for some of the most amazing engineering projects anywhere in America.  Over the years, DH would lift the book out every now and then and peruse the drawings.  Someday, we would visit Glacier National Park, and in particular, go on the Going-to-the-Sun Road (his bucket list).  I always assumed it would be in a car.

A week ago, on the last day of our seven-day Tandem Bicycle Tour of Glacier National Park, we rode 43 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road.  Bucket list indeed!  We were on the road by 7:30 AM on a cool clear morning, and 2.5 hours later (it was uphill and we are slow!) we made it to Logan Pass.  The parking lot was packed, and a very friendly motorcyclist took us under his wings and offered to let us park the tandem by his motorcycle, on the theory that the only difference between our two wheels and his two wheels was the engine :-))  But then we spotted the bike racks, so we didn’t need him to keep an eye on the Chipmunkmobile after all.  After the requisite Logan Pass/Continental Divide photographs, we began the spectacular 45-minute descent.  I do not have a head for heights at the best of times, and I was gripping the handlebars so tightly my fingers were cramping.  But the scenery!!  A couple of drivers ignored the 25 MPH speed limit on a very narrow and twisty road and passed us; one did it so that he could zip over to the very next lookout point, a couple of hundred yards down the road, to take that Special Picture . . . .

I don’t think I can tour the Going-to-the-Sun Road in a car, ever.  I saw it from a bike, the ride was a challenge, and it was perfect.

And now, I have bike jersey envy:

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Going-to-the-Sun bike jersey, from Glacier Cyclery.

Santa Fe 2018

“I don’t go to Santa Fe anymore; it just isn’t what it used to be.” She was New Mexico born and bred, still lives in Albuquerque, and goes to Taos for what Santa Fe used to be.  I have been visiting Santa Fe for almost 20 years, and I have my own ideas of what Santa Fe is, and was: It is a city with many identities, and I don’t think it was ever what it used to be.

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In Santa Fe, I am Opie: I am open, I am kind, I listen.  It is an interesting persona for me, and for a few minutes out of their day, people can unload some part of their identities on a stranger who listens, who they will not see again.  On a whim I went to a Creative Mornings Santa Fe event.  The speaker was a physicist, and while he was interesting, it was the mixer before the talk that was stimulating.  I talked to Sharon for about half an hour: she  had seen someone fill in the name badge blank under “I’m curious to know about your . . . .” with “first love,” and she told me not about her first love, but about her last love.  A white woman who grew up in a tiny Hispanic village thinking she “fit in,” only realizing as she really grew up that she fit in only because of the kindness of her neighbors, and that then as now, she was never going to fit into her Hispanic lover’s world.

I think I fit in, until something happens that tells me I do not:  A look from someone who wonders what an Asian woman could possibly know about small town architecture, or multiple histories of settlement of the American West, or distorted symbolism(s) of the Alamo . . .  I think racism doesn’t apply to me, until it applies.

But then, on my last day in Santa Fe, a random act of joy:

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A small act of inclusion and acceptance from a stranger.

In between, a thought-provoking interactive/immersive installation at the New Mexico Museum of Art: Pollination, by the art collective Postcommodity:

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Enter a stall, insert token:

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The shade goes up, and the show begins:

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Nature, managed and controlled, not quite real, the object of desire in a land of little rain.

The Train to Somewhere

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One year on . . . .

When the Human Stain took office, I decided to unplug from “current events.”  There are enough things to worry about without also worrying about things I have ZERO control over.  My resistance:  for a year I have avoided anything to do with the Stain.  No pictures, no news, no tweets . . . .  It is amazing, really, how easy it is to delete one particular person from MY human-electronic interface.

Which brings me to The Train — the California Zephyr, to be precise.  If you read the reviews, a major complaint from passengers is that Amtrak does not provide WiFi on this train.  How to stay connected?!?  Perhaps if more people were willing to disconnect, we can stop feeding the troll in the White House.  Sheesh.

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Union Station, Denver

I arrived (via bus, no less) at dawn, and rather liked the Christmas green and red illumination.  The train station was completely restored a few years ago, and the vast hall is one fabulous waiting room.  The interesting (or stupid, depending on one’s viewpoint) thing about Amtrak at Denver is that they do not announce the arrival of the California Zephyr, nor do they tell you when you can board.  So, I eventually wander out to the platform, hoping that the train had in fact arrived on time.  And it was there!!  I saw the line for Coach passengers, but did not see a line for Sleeper Car passengers.  As it turned out, there was indeed a sign for Sleeper passengers at the head of the Coach line, but you couldn’t see it because of the line of waiting people.  Anyway, one perk of being a Sleeper passenger is that you do not have to wait in line, and I got my ticket scanned immediately.

My roomette was not ready, so the sleeping car attendant sent me off to breakfast in the dining car.  People complain about the food, but really, what were they expecting?  I thought the food was fine, the company of strangers interesting, and the scenery spectacular.

Gross Reservoir and Dam:  Impressive, but how much water can Denver suck out of the poor Colorado River?  I guess we will all find out if and when the expansion goes through.

27 tunnels in 30 minutes, and all before the Moffat Tunnel!  And what do you know, the water in the creeks really do flow in the opposite direction after the Continental Divide!

Climate change?  What climate change?  Well, it has been a warm late fall-early winter thus far, and while the ski resorts had snow, Winter Park was making snow when we trundled by.

Ruby Canyon, accessible by rafting, otherwise fantastic views by rail.  By dumb luck my roomette was river-side, so I had beautiful sunset views.  In my book, definitely a “E” ticket ride.

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Ruby Canyon, Colorado River
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Ruby Canyon

And on to Salt Lake City, where the Church knows how to put on a show:

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Temple Square, Salt Lake City

And so I keep going, ready to keep resisting, year two.

Road Trip: Golden, Colorado

DH has been preparing for this bucket list ride for months (or arguably, for years).  This was his year for the 2017 Triple Bypass cycling event . . . and it was cancelled.  But for the ride, we would not have been in Golden — not that we would NEVER have gone there, but we have lived in Colorado 24 years and never even driven through the city.

We loved our short visit:

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Not named after gold, but after early prospector Thomas Golden.
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On the campus of Colorado School of Mines. No donkeys, no mining …
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The one-room Guy Hill schoolhouse at Clear Creek History Park, with the mountainside “M” (for Colorado School of Mines).

DH still went for a 64-mile ride:

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The city, from Lookout Mountain.
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A denizen of Lookout Mountain.
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Juniper Pass

Other fun things:

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A much-modified late-19th century house . . . .
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. . . . with a modern shed-roofed addition around the corner to the rear . . . .

and, wait for it:

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. . . . a set of row houses attached to the other side of the original house.

Sigh.   But what fun would it have been if I couldn’t laugh at some atrocious renovations?

Travel Diary: Amsterdam

August 4 Sunday

Took a carriage and drove about the city and about the locks.  Went through the royal palace.  The large [] hall is 1 hundred feet high and very handsome.  Then went to the [Rijks]museum and saw some of the pictures.  Saw one by [Rembrandt] which is very fine called the Night Watch.  Then went to a very nice cafe and took dinner.  Then went to the Zoological Gardens which one of the finest we have seen.  The houses here are all built in blocks and have hooks in the attic to haul things up by.  They are very homely and some of them old.  We saw one marked 167-.  They bend over on back and all most all are out of the perpendicular.

August 5 Monday

Took a drive to the Zuider Zee and saw them building sluice ways.  The water of the Zuider Zee is 30 feet higher than Amsterdam  The carriage left us at the diamond cutting establishment and we went through it.  First they split the diamond and then cut it and then polish it and there is a great deal of work in it.  There are over 10,000 people in the diamond work in Amsterdam.

Then we went to the old silver shops and I wanted to buy some thing but everything is very expensive.  Passed by the Beurs where there were a great children playing.  They allow the children to play there a few days in August and September because in the 17th century some boys that were playing there found out a conspiricy against Amsterdam by some Spanish.

Some of the women here wear very queer head dresses and wodden shoes.  Some of the headdresses have a metal piece behind and a white [muslin] cap over it and gold ornaments on the side of their face.

Miss Mary’s diary ends here.  According to a local notice in May,  Dr. J. B. Andrews had taken a three-months leave for an European vacation, so I am assuming Mary had a second booklet to continue her travel diary.  The last few pages consist of items she bought (and their prices!) as well as a list of gift recipients.  Dr. Matzinger made the list, although at the time she finished this diary she had not found a present for him.  

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It has been an interesting journey for me:  I have been digging around in the attic, so to speak.  The diary is not historically important or personally revelatory — Mary was only 14 years old, after all.  But I appreciate her naiveté and the assumption of American exceptionalism that peeked through even in her mind-numbing recounting of destinations.  I would love to know what she looked like.   I hope a family portrait exists.  Mary and her mother were both prominent members of the Buffalo Historical Society (at some point they presented the organization with a portrait of Dr. Andrews), so I think somewhere in the archives is a picture of her.  The Racist Salon Owner accused me specifically (and historians in general) of being a snoop.  Perhaps.  But I do in fact know where the line is, and I do know when to stop.   I stopped digging around the time I figured out who left the diary at the bookstore.  The diary is now making its way to one of Mary’s other descendents.  I already miss her young voice.