Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hull House

I was saddened to read that Hull House, founded in Chicago by Jane Addams over a hundred years ago, is closed. I had first read about her in a social work class many years ago  at Kent State. It was one  of the first settlement houses, established  at that time to help immigrants acclimate to the new world. Since many of then were poor when they arrived, settlement houses were located in those sections of cities where people lived in poverty. These places became centers where people could gain the skills needed to get out of poverty, offering all sorts of tools need to accomplish that: literacy training, English, cooking, sewing, typing, advice on nutrition and generally what Albert 'iggns called "middle class morality," and he didn't mean that as a compliment. Middle and upper class white women would descend on impoverished communities, armed with what they saw as weapons against the conditions in which people lived in hopes of making things better. And it worked, first for immigrants from abroad and then for migrants to big cities from agrarian parts of the country. Hull House and Jane Addams were the pioneers. I guess as the culture changed, and educated women moved into the work place, with the kinds of careers that could not have been possible in Addams' time, even though social work became a respected profession and bureaucratized, the army diminished and the problems of the poor became more overwhelming, those settlement houses began to disappear.
Cleveland has Karamu House, founded about a hundred years ago,which took as its mission the arts: painting, sculpture, and its world class theater,  along with the usual services. It is honing on by a thread, however, constantly struggling with funding. I  knew two guys in college who had been Karamu House beneficiaries growing up in Cleveland, One was a painter and a dancer - Karamu House had a wonderful modern dance program back in the 30s and 40w when he was growing up. One was a gifted sculptor.
There is another settlement house in the Tremont area, which has gone form Jewish to Latino over the last fifty years or so. Besides the settlement house, this area also has a magnificent socially conscious church, which built a gymnasium annexed to the church for the use of the local residents.
The last two years I was working, I was asked to consult in the poorest community in the county to see what kinds of needs out agency might be able to address in the area of drug/alcohol prevention and education. I attended a series of community meetings over a period of months. This community is very old, one of the Western Reserve towns in this part of Ohio. However during WWII, throngs of folks moved in to work in the arsenal, which was producing ammunition, including some pretty evil bombs and incendiary weaponry. To accommodate the influx and series of wooden barrack like apartments were thrown together and rented to the newcomers, many of whom were from Appalachia, After the war, people stayed on, since jobs were plentiful, but not very well paying. Over time, some of the barracks burned down, some were deserted and some were  lived in by transients. About forty years ago, they were bought up and rehabbed - a bit - and became low cost and Section 8 housing for the marginally employed. One of the reasons I was asked to consult there is that an acquaintance of mine had bought a group of them. He is a community organizer of sorts and his goal was to change the tenants from renters to buyers, and he wanted to prepare them for home ownership and middle class morality, you see.  I spent several months at gatherings where he was trying to help them take ownership of the idea of owning and maintaining property.
They were fine people but as far as I was concerned, drugs and alcohol were the least of their problems; in fact probably one of the ways to cope with their sense of helplessness about their powers to take charge of their lives. It's a largely white community, many single mothers on ADC, poor or no transportation. The town is located at the fat north edge of the county, with all the resources  (hospital and doctors, dentists, inexpensive  grocery stores, county services like food stamps, domestic violence shelter) 20 miles to the south. Looking around at the people at the meetings, I saw obesity, missing teeth, swollen legs, inadequate clothing, all the hallmarks of people in need who didn't seem to know that they deserved better. One woman talked about the bad water in her apartment and that she didn't want to call the water department because she didn't want to get the owner (the guy who was trying to get them to become owners themselves) in trouble.
When I got back to the office the next day after hearing this, I told my boos that what they needed there was a settlement house, a place where they could learn about nutrition, get job skill, child care, literacy training, have a satellite county service center, and them maybe we could look into what kinds of info they might need about alcohol and drug problems and what to do about that. Organizing a settlement house was not part of out mission statement, nor was there any other agency prepared to do that.
A few years ago, there was a new elementary school built in that community. and the old school has been turned into - a community center, offering almost all of the services I imagined all those years ago. I don't know whose idea is was, but it is a very active and busy place, in which everyone takes great pride. The library shares the building and from what I see in the local newspaper, it seems to be the sort of library that goes beyond providing books and CDs and draws all ages with fun activities.
This is the best kind of "settlement house," which sprang form the community on its own, with people seeing a need and bringing it to life without being told what they need. I haven't been in touch with the acquaintance who got me involved all those years ago, so I don't know how his rant to own strategy worked, but I'll bet he's happy with what the community has done for itself with his help at the beginning.

And Hull House in Chicago is  no more.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Movies, Movies, Movies

The end of this past year has  provided some really fine flicks. Today, John and I went to see "The Artist." What a clever, funny, sweet  film this is. I can't pronounce the lead actors' names, but they are both adorable. It should win the Oscar for originality, of nothing else: a silent film about silent films.  Beautiful black and white. Great sound track music with a variety of music genres. It's the kind of movie that sticks with you.
The Golden Globe Awards show is on tonight, with Ricky Gervais as Emcee. I shall be watching "Downton Abbey," of course, but I'll tape it just to see whose inflated egos get punctured by Gervais.
If I were awarding tacky objects for the best films I saw this year I would choose the following:
Best movie: "Hugo"
Best actor: Ryan Goseling for "The Ides of March"
Best Actress: Michele Williams for "My Week With Marilyn"
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis or Octavia Spencer  in "The Help"
Best Supporting Actor: Jonah Hill for "Moneyball"
Best Director: Martin Scorsese for "Hugo"
Best Musical Score: "Midnight in Paris"
Best Script: George Clooney for "Ides of March"
I doubt that this list will match the actual awards. I hated to skip George Cleooney for acting in "The Descendants" and Woody Allen for directing "Midnight in Paris," and aso that movie for best film.
Who knows who or what may the voted "the best," but the above performers and films are the ones I loved the most.
And I'd see "Hugo" again in a New York minute. (What the hell IS a New York minte?)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A Winter Ramble

John knows that I have missed my old car rambles now that I am a pedestrian/passenger. The snow melted and the weather turned sunny and pleasant, so we took off the other morning to visit old haunts. We headed for Carrollton, some fifty miles or so south of here. Carrollton has became a fracking center, a regular boom town, according to the papers, and I wanted to see it before it disappeared into the void, perhaps literally. We went the back way, which takes you over the hills and far away, with plenty of long views over lovely hills. We encountered no fracking sites, although we did see a lot of dump trucks all the same make, trundling down the roads south of Carrollton.

One of our goals was to eat lunch at the airport diner, a place of mom's home cookin' and pilot types. The only other people there this time, however, were a quartet of traveling salespeople who were discussing mileage points at hotels and airlines rather than wind vectors and narrow escapes in thunderstorms. Since we had some mince pie at home, we passed up the home made pie for which this diner is famous. The room is decorated with model planes, airplane wall paper, and there used to be a propeller clock which seems to be gone now.

After lunch we went into Carrollton because I wanted to see the last honest to goodness dime store anywhere in this part of Ohio. It's a Ben Franklin. It has wooden floors and the clerks wear smocks. It has a candy counter. It has a huge fabric section, along with patterns, spools of thread, notions, and embroidery floss. It has rows of kitchen gadgets (probably all made in China, and one whole section of tea towels and dish cloths.  It has toys, books, crayons and paste pots. One of the clerks told me that there are a lot of quilters in town.
After that, we headed down to Harrison County (where there's a monument to Clark Gable who lived there as a boy) to get to the Moravian Trail, which climbs up the ridge over Tappan Lake. This area is where we saw whole convoys of dumptrucks. This used to be a coal mining area, so the roads are built for heavy traffic, but those strip mines have long been played out. This oil company from Oklahoma has been all over this part of the state, buying leases for drilling into the Utica Shale 2000 feet below. The area is also very poor, so  the money is tempting . There's a huge controversy brewing because of the consequences of careless drilling, the most worrisome of which is the pollution of the aquifers, to say nothing of creating instability underground. There have been 11 or so earthquakes over near Youngstown, one of which we felt here in Kent.
However, up in the hills it's just as beautiful in winter as it is in the spring, even though everything is brown and tan with bare trees. You can see for miles. The general store in Deersville is closed for renovation, whatever that means for a place that sells ice cream, beef jerky waders, bullets and bait. I hope they don't fancy it up too much.
We stopped in New Philadelphia, a really nice little city with a very fine non-Starbucks coffee shop for cappuccino, tea and scones. It was a very nice trip and I appreciated the chance to go back to some of my favorite places again. I think we'll go back in the spring, if they haven't fracked the whole place to bits.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Well, the Mozart balls and the Lebkuchen are gone, along with some other tasty treats from Germany. What we have left is some very fine fruity tea, perfect for a late and snowy afternoon refresher. We have several different flavors to  keep things interesting. These are special winter teas, so I have to imagine that the folks in Deutschland are also enjoying the same things five hours earlier than I am. By the time I am sipping this delightful tea, most of them are already in bed, or should be. I don't mean my relatives over there, a couple of whom are probably out and about  with friends or on Facebook all night.
We took the tree down on Monday, along with the manger and now we are just back to an Amish plainness, without the glitter of Christmas to brighten up the place. I am getting ready for the long haul,  preparing for the gloom of the season.
 There will be some bright spots: Cleveland Orchestra concerts, the HD Met operas and, most of all, the annual Robbie Burns Night coming up on the 21st of January. The KSU theater department is putting on "Ragtime," which is a very fine musical. I saw it a couple of years ago at the Weathervane Theater in Akron and they did a splendid job of it. Given the quality of the the university theater department, it should be equally good.
I do feel hemmed in by snow now, though, since I have developed a fear of falling. I don't fall a lot, of course, in solid ground, but snow and ice are treacherous for geezers. We don't bounce like younger folks, tending to lie  there with broken body parts. I do have my ski pole walking sticks but they seem rather excessive when everyone else is just striding along. What ever!
So I'll be drinking lots of that fruity winter tea while the snow swirls about and enjoy the rare sunny, dry days that come along.
In this picture is a lovely tea cozy, knitted for me by JayBell . It is much admired by all who see it.      

Monday, January 2, 2012

L'heure Bleu Sacre Bleu!

This time of year there's a certain time of day when the world outside my window turns blue, especially when there is snows  on   the  ground. It's a lovely shade of blue and I'm sure there's a word for it  - not so dark as cobalt but of the same hue. We've had snow showers off and on all day, but there's only a powdery coating on the lawn, a harbinger of things to come for the next four months or so. So I'll be seeing that blue for some time. Sacre bleu!
Polly left on New Year's eve. Her time here went so fast. As we did last year when she was home for Christmas, we went to a lot of movies, since this is the time when the producers pour out their Oscar contenders. While she was here we saw:  "Ides of March", "War Horse," and "My Week With Marilyn". She and John went to see "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." I was disappointed in the beginning of "War Horse," since Steven Spielberg couldn't resist cuteness, having a goddam goose chasing a landlord for laughs, making the father, who in the book was a mean, violent farmer into a pitiable drunk, involving the whole village in watching the young man plow up a stony field with the star, who was part thoroughbred (illustrating a sort of "Rocky" moment). It was a dumbing down of the book, since Hollywood directors  underestimate the intelligence of children----except for Scorsese who did such a beautiful job with "Hugo." For those who haven't seen "Hugo," it has come and gone so fast you might have to wait for the DVD, which is a shame because it is a celebration of movies, the kind that are most enjoyable in a theater. (Sally gave me a copy of the book for Christmas and it's a wonderful addition to my illustrated book collection). I've never been much of a fan of Marilyn Monroe, except for "Some Like It Hot." I always felt sorry for her as an exploited person. Michelle Williams, who plays her in the above movie, is just terrific and I am sure will be nominated for an Oscar and any other film awards going this year. "Ides of March" is a very good film about how a political idealist becomes a political cynic. Ryan Gosling is mighty fine; I had not seen him before and I hope to see him again in a film worthy of his talent.
We did the usual Boar's Head ritual at the magnificent cathedral in Cleveland. This year there were TWO donkeys, one a miniature. This year the donkey wasn't forced to climb the steps, since last year it had balked and caused Joseph a deal of trouble. I heard that the miniature donkey was there to keep the large on company. There were two pygmy goats with the shepherds, one of which kept bleating all the way to the end of the sanctuary where the holy infant was trying to sleep and all. After the pageant they serve ham, mince pie and plum pudding with rum sauce (it's an Episcopalian venue). We partook , even though we were going to No.l Pho for the usual post Boar's Head meal. Came home, watched a little TV and went to bed while it was still 2011.