The Blue Raccoon

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bees In The Mimosa Tree
Amie's back and I'm in 1909--except for the Financial Times

Image cadged via eBay...people'll buy anything.

This afternoon while slogging away with Ellen Glasgow and Adon Yoder in 1909, I watched from my office window as fuzzy yellow bees danced around the hairy pink blossoms of the mimosa tree in the back yard. Sometimes, I'll see a humming bird. Various winged friends flocked here today, pecking at the sweet goodness provided by the mimosa.

My Partner In Art For Life, Amie, has returned from abroad after a month-long artist residency in Germany. She brought back with her several heavy bags, laden with Kneitinger beer and books about the naughty Balthus and numerous other artists.

The Kneitlinger beer logo features a goat lapping at the vat (as above). Me being a Capricorn, and one that enjoys beer, this has a special meaning.

She also brought with her this weekend's Financial Times. Here I found a piece by novelist Irvine Walsh , "Talkin' 'bout our generation," that profiled a group of Miami residents arranged in a tableaux portrait Larry Salter. The subject matter is the chances of Barack Obama. One of those interviewed is John Hood, Miami's "bon vivant native son" who promotes clubs and writes there. He's wearing a suit and hat that I wish I had. He's quoted by Walsh, "Youth and inspiration are the key components of Obamamania. Of course, his youth is relative and his inspiration increasingly steeped in platitude, but America is youth-obsessed and has gone too long without anyone inspiring.”

Walsh writes in part:
"As Frank Rich wrote in The New York Times: “When Mr McCain jokingly invoked the Obama slogan ‘I am fired up and ready to go’, it was as cringe-inducing as the white covers of R&B songs in the 1950s. Trapped in an archaic black-and-white newsreel, the [Republican party] looks more like a nostalgic relic than a national political party in contemporary America; a cultural sea change has passed it by.” The vessel needs a paddle to navigate this creek, and race may just about be the only one to hand.

Setting out to undermine Obama’s status as the black man the suburban whites can trust (painting him as O.J. Simpson rather than Tiger Woods) is a fraught strategy. If it hits the wrong note, it might well result in electoral meltdown for the Republicans. If the gambit succeeds, it spells big trouble for American society. Many of the new Americans no longer see their nation as a promised land. Michelle Sanchez yearns to live in Singapore, Matthew Yeasted feels his future may lie in Canada. Barack Obama would seem to offer the country its best chance to modernise. If this opportunity isn’t grasped, given the enthusiasm he’s brought back to politics, disillusionment is on the horizon.

“A lot of white people will never vote for a black man, and they tend to be older voters,” says Christie Samoville. “Rage” sounds disturbingly like a hybrid of race and age, and there may be plenty of it to go around in the US before the fate of Barack Obama is known at the 2008 polls. As she deliberates whether a mineral water or a Bloody Mary might be the best choice, Samoville wonders: “Can the new generation beat the old one?” Read the rest, here.

This lovely mimosa tree, whose bountiful presence I enjoy, as do our wingéd friends, is, however, a problem. The roots are buckling the sidewalk and are surely digging under the foundation of our garage. The tree wasn't intended to grew there; it just has during the past several years, for certain prior to our arrival here. Life wants nothing but itself.

In this same issue of the Financial Times, columnist Tyler Brulé aggregates the world's most livable cities. Two North American metropolises make his list; Vancouver and Montreal. Note that they are way north of the Lower 48.

"What is still something of a shock is how many cities still get it so very, very wrong. London doesn’t make the grade for the simple reason that it has somehow managed to grant planning permission to a most uninspired shopping centre in Shepherd’s Bush, an area that is rapidly becoming a part of central London.

Toronto doesn’t qualify because it has allowed its suburbs to become unconnected, ugly sprawls of hideous houses (garages bolted on to the front of houses are far better suited to southern California than to southern Ontario) and has done little of merit to deal with its derelict railway lands. New York continues to grind to a halt under the weight of automobile traffic, has no coherent scheme to get more people on to bicycles and still no sign of a high-speed, non-stop rail link to any of its airports.

What urban dwellers tell me they want is pretty standard: a mix of shops and services within walking distance, a good transport interchange within close proximity, green space as part of their residence, a good park with a body of water for a refreshing plunge nearby, independent businesses as a key feature of the community, a sense of security (police on the beat or a Japanese-style police box in their neighbourhood), excellent coffee (Melbourne’s Fitzroy and St Kilda and Sydney’s Potts Point frequently came up as neighbourhoods that had the ideal mix of restaurants, cafés and street life) and finally a little bit of grit and surprise."

H' for our nearby Carytown and my beloved West of Boulevard South of Cary (WoBSoC) community
[image via Andrew Bain on flickr]
• A mix of shops and services within walking distance -- Check
• A good transport interchange within close proximity -- I can usually get a bus on Robinson Street and sometimes even before then.
• A good park with a body of water for a refreshing plunge nearby -- Well, we certainly have William Byrd Park, the Carillon and Dogwood Dell, but nobody is going to leap into Shield's Lake, and if they do, they'll be arrested. Maymont Park is also within walking distance, and its bosky respite is bolstered by a great nature center and specialized gardens, and Dooley Mansion.
The river is accessible via nearby Texas Beach, which, well. And I confess I've not been in quite some time. But I have that option, which is the point here.
• Independent businesses as a key feature of the community -- Carytown and its tributaries have entrepreneurial characteristics; however, the place has lately taken a beating. Some 21 storefronts are either empty or undergoing transition along the mile long stretch.
The reasons for this are complicated, but at bottom is brute force economics: high rents coupled to too much retail in the region and Outer Bourbian shoppers preferring the malls. Still, this could be turned around by an aggressive marketing campaign, the Carytown association hiring a clean-and-sweep team to tidy the place up, and maybe use one of these storefronts as an information and visitors center. And get some kind of awning that can be temporarily fixed in place to cover the street during events like the Watermelon Festival. Or blistering hot weekends.
• A sense of security (police on the beat or a Japanese-style police box in their neighbourhood) -- We do see more police on bike patrols--during the day. I like the idea of a police box.
• Excellent coffee -- I think we have that; and Starbucks too.
• A little bit of grit and surprise -- Oh, yes. From the Super Chess guy to random wandering addled to meeting friends by happenstance on the street corner to train hobos and their dogs to musicians standing in shop doors on weekends to Scientology protestors. Yeah, we got all that. And pot holes.

But I have the good fortune to live in a central city community (a place that, six years after we moved here, we couldn't afford now). Beyond the expressway, what you see is, in Mr. Brulé's apt description, "ugly sprawls of hideous houses (garages bolted on to the front of houses are far better suited to southern California...)" and awful clogged turnpikes. See the rest of the piece here.

This evening, though we could not jump into the Byrd Park lake, we took our inaugural plunge into the pool we belong to and the water was just right, the sky entertaining, and the music played by the poolistas good background.

Now, it's late, and I have to scuttle off.

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