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Monday, September 30, 2013

Running Hopi: Transcending time and getting schooled by Hoffman Shorty

I run. And I weep. My tears may come from the fact that it’s 6 a.m., or perhaps from the burning in legs and lungs as I try to hold the pace of the leaders. But I’m pretty sure my sobs come from a deep joy inspired by the way the rising sun lights up the ancient buildings of Old Oraibi on a mesa distant, and the way it does so at the very moment that gravel road gives way to a narrow rain-dampened trail. This trail, I imagine, has been trod for centuries by runners vying against one another, or heading off to distant farms to tend to the corn. My 97 fellow runners and I, it seems, have transcended time.

It’s early September, and this is the 40th annual Louis Tewanima 10 kilometer footrace, which takes place in and around the Hopi village of Shungopavi in northern Arizona. The race is named after a Hopi who was yanked as a young man from his home in Shungopavi in 1907 and shipped off to boarding school in Carlisle, Penn. There, the cross-country coach noticed the youngster’s talent, and Tewanima began running competitively. He finished 9th in the 1908 Olympic Marathon, and won the silver medal in the 1912 Olympic 10,000 meter run, setting an American record that held until Billy Mills, a Sioux, broke it in 1964.

Read the rest of the story here. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Goin' back to Winslow

Winslow, Ariz. has been described as sad, depressed, quiet, dead and creepy. Buildings once housing bustling businesses were abandoned and not even secured, left to the pigeons. A local gas station reportedly had spelled out “God Hates Winslow” on its sign. That’s probably not fair: The reservation border town of 10,000, once the economic and social center of northern Arizona that lies at the low point along the rails between Gallup and Flagstaff, is simply a victim of the vagaries of transport, just another old railroad town bludgeoned by the Interstate and bled dry by the automobile. Were it not for the prison, a community college, the power plant down in Joseph City and the hotel and fast food chains serving I-40 motorists, the place might just blow away.

At least, that’s how it looked 19 years ago, the last time I spent any time in Winslow, an accidental visit that was traumatic enough to cause me to avoid the place ever since. These days you’ll still encounter rundown gas stations, a high unemployment rate, decaying motels and the detritus that tends to pile up in the liminal spaces of the West. But you can also find vast hallways filled with giant, haunting contemporary paintings in the restored La Posada Inn – built in 1929 to serve a slower, more elegant society. In a few of those once-abandoned buildings, a type of art unfettered by market considerations has replaced the pigeons. Later this month, the Station-to-Station art on rails project is stopping in Winslow, featuring Cat Power, Jackson Browne and Ed Ruscha’s cactus omelette. And don’t be too shocked if you encounter an icon of contemporary art a la Ruscha in the restaurant at La Posada, where the food rivals any you might find in Santa Fe.

Read the rest of the story at 

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Stumbling Stones of Aldekerk

One of the reasons we moved to Germany in 2010 was because Wendy, my wife, and our daughters have German citizenship. They are citizens because Wendy's grandparents, Arthur and Margaret Mendel, fled the Nazis back in 1938, and German law says that those who lost their citizenship between 1933 and 1945, along with their descendants, can have it back.

The story of Wendy's grandparents and their families is heartbreaking and fascinating. It's a story I hope to write down someday. In the meantime, I made this short video about Wendy's grandfather's home town of Aldekerk, and the installation of Stolpersteine, or Stumbling Stones, in front of the family house there. The Stolpersteine, of which there are thousands throughout Germany and in some neighboring countries, are a project of the artist Gunther Demnig, who places the little brass sculptures in sidewalks in front of houses from which Jews and other victims of the Nazis were taken or where they were murdered. When we stumble upon them in Berlin, which is quite often, sadly, we always stop and read the inscriptions.

Up until June 2012, there were no Stolpersteine in Aldekerk. Now there are two groups of them, one for each of the two Jewish families who called the small town their home until the Nazis took their homes and many of their lives away from them.

Sometimes the number of memorials to the Holocaust in Berlin can be overwhelming. And sometimes we might ask, Isn't it enough yet? The answer is clear: It will never be enough.

Music: Requiem for Victims of East Japan Earthquake (sanmi) / CC BY 3.0
and Brendan Kinsella playing  Bach - Aria Variata, BVW. 989 - Variation No. 3 from under a public domain license. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Berlin's Bahns & Buses: Hauptbahnhof

Berlin's Hauptbahnhof, or central train station, is considered one of the most beautiful train stations in the world. I have to agree. Its grandeur, the way the light filters through the glass and steel and down through all the layers of the station make it an awe inspiring place. It is, I must admit, a bit weird to walk out of all that modern grandeur into the surrounding part of the city. Indeed, it doesn't feel like a city here at all, but rather like, well, a lot of space with some cool modern buildings off in the distance. I've come to cherish the space and the feeling of near-vertigo one gets while standing out in the grassy field across the river from the train station.

For a lot more video footage of the Haubtbahnhof, go to my Bahns & Buses video & essay. For views of other train stations in Berlin, check out Feuerbachstrasse, Olympia Stadion, Deutsch Oper, Westhafen, Gesundbrunnen.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Berlin's Bahns & Buses: Gesundbrunnen

Quite honestly, the biggest train station in northern Berlin is rather boring. In fact, there's not really even much of a station here, just lots of tracks and platforms and a big flat area where the station probably should be. Nevertheless, you can board long distance and regional trains here to just about anywhere, as well as the U-8 and the Ring-Bahn and the S1.

If the station itself isn't so great, the area around it is worth exploring. My favorite Berlin park, Humboldthain (along with its ghosts), is just across the way. The Berlin Wall ran very close to here, and the Bösebrücke is just up the tracks. A flood of people streamed across that bridge, which marked the division between East and West, when the wall came down. Leading right out of the station is Badstrasse, a wild street full of colors and smells and Turkish grocers singing their produce-selling songs. There's a great Lebanese restaurant a couple blocks down from the station, along with some great Turkish bakeries.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Berlin's Bahns & Buses: Olympia Stadion

It was a dark, cold, damp day in mid-January when I arrived at the Olympia Stadion S-Bahn station. The train was almost empty. The train platforms -- there are many of them, to accommodate the crowds during big soccer games or other events -- were absolutely empty. I suppose it's like this in the middle of a week day in winter, when nothing is happening at the stadium. Still, it was creepy.

Even more creepy were the stadium grounds themselves. They were overwhelming in scale, and overwhelming in their barrenness -- a blank slate on which my imagination could run wild, transposing Leni Riefenstahl images all over the place. The only thing that seemed alive, that escaped the blank rationality of it all was that gnarled tree growing up as if from stone and concrete, all crooked and mysterious. That tree made me feel better.

Even the U-Bahn station was deserted and dark, as if forgotten. I waited there and looked up at the security camera. It glared back at me. When the train came, it was empty, as if it were a ghost from another time.

For my other Berlin's Bahns & Buses posts and photos: Overview & video, Feuerbachstrasse, Deutsche Oper, Westhafen

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Berlin's Bahns & Buses: Westhafen

S- & U-Bahnhof Westhafen isn't exactly one of Berlin's iconic stations. It's perhaps best known as one of the stops you're likely to use when going to the Ausländerbehörde, an experience most folks would like to forget. Westhafen's on the border of Wedding and Moabit, and in the middle of a major industrial zone: It's in the shadow of a big coal power plant, and next to Berlin's big port, Westhafen, on the Spree River.

But it's got some things going for it, aside from the opportunity to go up on a neighboring bridge and watch big machines make mincemeat of scrap metal over at the port. For one thing, it's right next to one of the coolest Kleingartenkolonies in town, a narrow row of cottages and gardens surrounded on both sides by railroad tracks and utter industrialization. And then there's the art, mostly comprised of letters on tiles in the station. At first, the letters seem to be random. But then one realizes that they tell a story of Heinrich Heine and how he lost his name when he fled to France. The rest of the letters -- in a typeface rejected by the Nazis -- spell out the Declaration of Human Rights. The project was done by artists Françoise Schein and Barbara Reiter in 2000, and the story is nicely told in this video.

Westhafen's Kleingartenkolonie, sandwiched between tracks and tracks.