ALCStudies Journal

Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies Web Site & Blog

Category Archives: Food and drink

Entertainment for the Journey

I’m preparing for an upcoming trip to Ecuador in December. I tend to overthink, and am learning there are some serious snakes and spiders in the jungle there, including the Fer-de-lance and black widow. But if we can’t entertain ourselves during the journey, never mind others, what’s the point?

Image: Fer-de-lance

Hola, Señor Fer-de-lance! (Courtesy BBC Nature)

 

Interview With an Ecuadoran Snake

Hola, Señor Snake.

Hola, Gringo .

Como estas ?

Muy bien. Y tú ?

Okay. Thanks for asking .

Are you on a holiday. ?

Yes. A friend invited me to accompany her.

Be careful where you step.

Gracias. You are a courteous snake .

De nada . We try to make guests feel welcome in the jungle . Did you get all your vaccines? I could administer any you’re missing with my built-needles.

Thanks. I’m good. Some people are afraid of snakes.

Some people are afraid of their own shadow.

Yes, there seem so many things to be afraid of these days. My friend says she hates snakes.

Strong words. But that’s nothing to me. I just exist here, doing snake-like things.

Do you bite?

Only a little,  if someone steps on my head.

But you are very venomous.

Lo siento. It is my nature. I use my venom to catch and eat small rodents like agouti — preferably accompanied by a glass of Syrah.

Not fava beans and a nice chianti ?

No! What do you think I am? I generally don’t much like people either .

I hope you’ll make an exception for me.

We’ll see.

My friend said some folks here call her a witch .

Then she should be okay. She can cast a spell to keep me away. Is she a good witch or a bad witch?

She says she can be very bad: muy malo.

Make sure she does not cast a spell on you and turn you into an agouti .

Too late. The spell is cast. Here I am thousands of miles away in the jungle bringing medical care to local people. At least it’s for a good cause.

Did your friend bewitch you to lure you into her lair ? Like a spider.

No, I think she likes me. I call her querida bruja* for fun .

She is like a lady witch doctor , perhaps.

Kind of . Though she is a very interesting witch — she leads eco tours and runs a farm.  She goes rafting .

Sounds like she has a real pair of ovaries. Does she intimidate you?

Not too much. And who wants boring?  And If she turned me into an agouti, we couldn’t have interesting conversations.

Yes. Conversation is important.

You have some some serious spiders here by the way, including black widows, tarántulas and very unhygienic spitting spiders. But no. I came because I wanted to.

You are from the States ?

Si. Pennsylvania .

The keystone state . Two main cities: Philadelphia , city of brotherly love , and Pittsburgh , city of three rivers .

You are an educated snake.

Gracias. I have my degree in herpetology.

I know other snakes where I come from, like timber rattlesnakes.  I come across them when I hike.

I know a nice family of timber rattlesnakes el Norte, in the central part of  Pennsylvania. We stay in touch by Facebook and WhatsApp.

Being a snake, you have no opposable thumbs. How do you dial your phone?

Google voice activation works well enough . So when are you leaving Ecuador?

A few weeks.

What a pity . Back to all that cold . Away from your friend .

That’s the way the world works now: everyone is connected but apart.

Yes. Strange. If I may be personal, you seem not always positive.

It’s my nature sometimes. And it’s based on experience.

But you entertain me. Will you visit again?

I’m here to show up and enjoy the journey now.  I’m not thinking about the future . Sure. Maybe.

If you visit again please look me up. I’ll keep the light on for you.

Will you put a mint on my pillow?

No. An agouti .

Gracias .

Just watch where you step and lay your head. You never know what you might encounter in in the jungle. See you later.

Not if I see you first. Ha ha.

Hasta la proxima.

Chao.

# # #

*Dear Witch

Image: Agouti & Syrah Wine

Better Together (Photo credits: Agouti: brian.gratwicke, Syrah: Ricardo Bernardo | ricardobernardo.net)

 

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It’s a Wonderful Lonely Life

The search for community and love with our fellow human beings (at least the ones who are not trying to kill us) is a hallmark1 of the season. This accounts for the popularity of films such as It’s A Wonderful Life. Nevertheless, the effort to pathologize normal human emotion and behavior marches on. On December 1st the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported a 3-million dollar CMU study funded by the NIH on ways to help older adults feel less lonely. In the same issue it reported a federal suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services for improper incarceration of mentally-ill prisoners; including the use of solitary confinement. There is some connection here — or perhaps disconnection.

It is part of life to lose friends and loved ones through death, time and alienation. But apparently the way to address the problem in this age of connected isolation2 is no longer to have people who know and accept us to talk to us, pat us on the back, share a cup of coffee, kiss us on the cheek, or more (if we are romantically inclined). It’s to learn to meditate the loneliness away. Quoting David Creswell, the expert overseeing the CMU study, the Post Gazette states:

… the number of lonely older adults may be increasing, putting their overall health at greater risk, but the way to help them isn’t necessarily to connect them to more people.

The Carnegie Mellon University associate professor of psychology, funded with a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health announced Monday, hopes that training people in better relaxation and coping techniques will reduce their perception of being lonely.

Each of us is wired with a different need and capacity for being alone. The solitude of Thoreau and Muir and eastern religious mystics is not for everyone. Indeed, in this hyperconnected age of crowdsourcing, solitude itself has become suspect. Therefore, it’s enlightening to know that a problem that philosophers like Buddha and artists from Nietzsche and Kafka to Van Gogh have struggled with for thousands of years is simply one of perception. 

You’d think the widespread adoption of social networking applications like Facebook and Twitter over the Internet would help. But, as Olivia Laing writes in The Future of Loneliness in the Guardian:

 … the contact this produces is not the same thing as intimacy. Curating a perfected self might win followers or Facebook friends, but it will not necessarily cure loneliness, since the cure for loneliness is not being looked at, but being seen and accepted as a whole person – ugly, unhappy and awkward, as well as radiant and selfie-ready

It can be difficult enough to endure or learn to accept loneliness if we are mentally whole and emotionally intact (a relative proposition). How much worse if we are imprisoned and isolated with schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder. Yet in the absence of community resources and adequate policy, the mentally ill are generally shunned by society3. Mentally prisoners who have completed their sentence in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania often remain in jail. Some have been placed in solitary confinement.  

The Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania announced the suit Monday on behalf of Stephen Kline, 25, a onetime Allegheny County resident who now is an inmate at Mifflin County Jail; Gabriel Gamble, 30, a patient at Torrance State Hospital in Westmoreland County; and Matthew Christy, 26, a patient at Warren State Hospital in Warren County… 

The suit claims the state does not have enough beds in community-care programs for all of those needing autism and mental health services — more than 1,000 are waiting — and that people in jails and state hospitals face special obstacles to community care.

In 2013, the Disability Rights Network sued the Department of Corrections, alleging that the state misused solitary confinement for mentally ill prisoners. The state took corrective action..

Literature and popular culture abound with references to the plight of loneliness: 

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, Alan Sillitoe
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
Alone Again, Naturally, Gilbert o’ Sullivan
Only the Lonely, Roy Orbison

Have we forgotten Robin Williams and his death only last year? As his character The World’s Greatest Dad states:

“I used to think the worst thing in life is to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.”

We conveniently overlook the fact that gathering to celebrate the season of light and fellowship around the winter solstice originated in the need to to prepare for the long dark night together. Our hopes and fears is not just a phrase from a Christmas song. Can you identify the following excerpt from another holiday favorite?

When you’re alone, alone in the world…when you’re alone in the world.
Blown away leaves get blown in the world…swirled away leaves get swirled.
Listening to your heels as you walk, making a lonely clack.
You don’t know how it feels when you talk and nobody’s voice talks back
.4

I challenge you to read or listen to this without feeling a tear coming on.

All Is Forgiven

In It’s A Wonderful Life George Bailey’s penury, loneliness and imminent arrest bring him to the brink of suicide. At the end of the film when hope is restored (along with the missing eight thousand dollars), George’s brother, Harry, toasts him as ‘the richest man in town’. Harry does not toast George’s mastery of meditation and relaxation techniques to cope with loneliness. He toasts the fact that George’s friends and neighbors gathered around him in his time of need. They didn’t update their Facebook page, send tweets and begin Kickstarter campaigns. They showed up. — DA

1With a small h.

3Often due to policies designed to protect their rights. Listen to the enlightening WESA 12/10 interview with PA Congressman Tim Murphy , himself trained as a mental health professional.

4Click the link to read and hear this song with lyrics by Jules Styne and Bob Merrill (who went on to write music for Funny Girl).

Woody & Marjorie: Hard Traveling

On Labor Day weekend 2015, the Omni William Penn hotel in Pittsburgh presents a celebration of Woody Guthrie’s songs and stories to honor Southwestern Pennsylvania workers past and present. ‘Woody & Marjorie: Hard Traveling’, combines live music and readings centered around the lives of Woody Guthrie and his wife Marjorie Mazia.Woody Guthrie was an iconic musician of the 1930s and 40s. Marjorie Mazia danced with the Martha Graham Company in the 1940s. Guthrie and Mazia had a passionate relationship marked by creativity and true devotion, despite his restless wanderings and the losses and struggles they faced together. The show pays tribute to the uniqueness and continued relevance of his work in helping us find the individual and collective stories that connect more than divide us.
Woody Marjorie  HT Image Contrast
‘Woody & Marjorie: Hard Traveling’ is presented in partnership with Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies as part of a special Omni Labor Day package that includes Saturday dinner or Sunday brunch in the hotel’s Terrace Room. Recommended for ages 16 and up. For more information about the show please call 412-353-3756. For event information and reservations, please contact the Omni William Penn at 412-553-5235.

‘Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh’ 2014 LR Performance Photos

Please see a slideshow from our 11/22/2014 and 11/23/2014 live radio performances of The Thin Man Comes to  Pittsburgh at the Omni William Penn. Photo credits: Jessica, with cast photo by Randall Quesnelle
 

11/22/2014 ‘Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh’ Package Sold Out ; Show Tickets Available

The Omni William Penn sold out dinner packages for our upcoming 2014 performance of The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh for Saturday 11/22 and Sunday 11/23. Show tickets are still available. Please call 412-553-5000 or e-mail jkaiser@omnnihotels.com. Also, the show was featured on 10/24 in the Post Gazette’s Radio Notes.

'The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh' 2014 Poster

‘The Thin Man Comes to Pittsburgh’ 2014 Poster

Two Events Booked in Late 2014

‘The Thin Man’ Comes to Pittsburgh live radio returns to the Omni William Penn November 22nd and 23rd after a sold-out performance in 2013.  As with last year’s show, this year’s event coincides with Pittsburgh’s kickoff to the holiday season.  It includes dinner in the hotel’s Terrace Room, a drink in the Speakeasy and live performance. The show is an adaptation of the original Thin Man film, and features a local cast and live music.

Preceding Thin Man, Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies will present a new play August 2nd at the Cabaret Theater in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.  The show, with a title TBD, is inspired by one of the first and best screwball comedies of the 1930s, with a story updated for the New Millennium. An entitled heiress runs away from her wealthy CEO  father and member of the one-percent to reunite with her fiancé, a media celebrity and reality show star.  On the way she meets a newspaper reporter who has quit his job to become a blogger and aspiring social media guru. As the two travel together, the reporter is determined to exploit the celebrity couple’s story for his own ends. Hijinks ensue when he and the heiress fall in love.

The show will appeal to Gen Y, Gen X, Baby Boomers and anyone else navigating fifteen minutes of fame on the way to romance and relationships in the 21st Century.  Can true love prevail amidst unmitigated wealth, blocked roads and daily tweets?

Advanced Labor receives fiscal sponsorship through Fractured Atlas a non-profit arts service organization. For more information on these events,  please e-mail outreach@alctudies or call (412) 353-3756.

 

What’s Old Is New: ‘The Thin Man’ in the ‘Burgh Dec. 15th & 16th

In 1934 the fiscal cliff wasn’t just looming. The country had fallen off the edge five years before. Oklahoma was suffering through dust storms of Biblical proportion.  John Steinbeck was taking notes on Okies fleeing to the promised land of California, only to be turned away. Woody Guthrie was singing for hobos and migrant workers (the lowest of the ninety-nine percent then) and starting to wonder whose land it was.

That year a film called The Thin Man appeared, based on a story by Dashiell Hammett. Cinema-goers suffering through the Depression were treated to glamour and glitter mixed in with the seamier side life — all leavened with a healthy dose of  humor.  Nick Charles  is a ‘retired’ and restless former gumshoe married to Nora, a rich heiress. Nick and Nora engage in playful  repartee that any married couple might envy today, as Nora tries to persuade her husband to return to sleuthing and ‘detecting’; things he enjoyed doing and did well (and which presumably attracted her to him).

For the live radio adaptation Advanced Labor & Cultural Studies is sponsoring December 15th and 16th at the Carnegie Library of Homestead, we have brought Nick and Nora to the Smokey City (as it was before Renaissance I and II), where actor William Powell, who played Nick in the film, was born. Rather than the Normandie in New York City, we put them up in a suite at the William Penn in downtown Pittsburgh during the week between Christmas and New Year. If Nora had taken a different path in life, she might have mingled with the Mellons, Scaifes and other members of Pittsburgh’s one percent. With Nick, however, she is introduced to sandwiches with French fries ‘that truck drivers eat’ and pierogies. She meets the lowlifes and high-fliers he  worked with as a detective in the Rocks and on the Hill, or sent up the river (or perhaps rivers, since there are three in Pittsburgh). Nora adores her Nicky and the ‘lovely people’ he knows, hoodlums and society dames with rough edges and false charm. A surprising equality exists between Nick & Nora. She is at least his equal in wit and repartee – if not in her ability to put away martinis.

The original story is a good bit grittier than the film it inspired, and presents a stew of murder, intrigue and archetypes which Hammett (along with Raymond Chandler) originated. These have become staples to the present day in detective novels, film noir and television shows such CSI.  They include an eccentric scientist, a gold digger, an egghead/nerd and hard-boiled cops. ‘You got types?’ Nora asks Nick. ‘Only pretty brunettes with wicked jaws,’ he wisely replies. To these we’ve taken the liberty of  adding a few yinzers, jagoffs, n’ ‘at.

'Waiter, please serve the jagoffs.'‘Waiter, please serve the jagoffs.’ (L-R John Seibel, Chuck Lanigan, Mark Tierno, Jon Rohlf from the TMP cast)

Characters imbibe alcohol prodigiously in both the movie and the novella. The latter, which Hammett first serialized in (of all places) Redbook Magazine contains an undertone of dissipation and boredom, if not desperation, befitting the times. Ingénues take their first precipitous step toward ruin (speaking of cliffs). Relationships have soured. Bodies rot beneath the concrete floor. The film plays it all for laughs and adventure. Most of the lowlifes and jagoffs have hearts of gold, and we go along. Except for a single line from Dorothy in the beginning about her concern for people losing their jobs, you would hardly know there was a Depression.

In 1934 Pittsburgh was suffering the economic ravages with the rest of the country. People on their way to the Fulton (now the Byham) to attend the film passed their neighbors selling apples and standing in line at soup kitchens (and perhaps did so themselves). There were a few bright notes:  Prohibition had just been lifted. Duquesne Gardens in the East End was scene of sporting events such as Hornets ice hockey and prize fights. ‘Winter Wonderland’ appeared on the charts that year. By that date populist preacher Father Coughlin was broadcasting to 30-million people  and the first live radio orchestra broadcast had debuted from the William Penn. Wylie Avenue in the Hill hosted jazz luminaries such as Erroll Garner, Mary Lou Williams, Earl Hines and Billy Strayhorn

Our goal in adapting the script is to pay homage to the original film, retaining its flavor, dialogue and humor updated with a taste of the ‘burgh. Staging the event as a radio show for a live audience seems appropriate in the town where commercial radio originated. We hope you enjoy the experience virtually or in person.  Please contact us with questions. See the following for information on scheduling and tickets. — CDL

‘The Thin Man’ Comes to Pittsburgh
Carnegie Library of Homestead Music Hall
Saturday December 15th 7:30 PM, Sunday December 16th 2:00 PM
Tickets $10 credit card online at Artful.ly or cash at the door

You will also find information at ALCStudies Current and Upcoming Events.

We are grateful to the following for their support :

H.J. Heinz and the End of ‘Starving Time’

We are finally at the end of a long winter. Spring arrived Saturday. Coincidentally, the Post Gazette published a March 14th article on the buy local movement in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. My wife Jeannine and I subscribe to a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box each spring through the East End Food Coop. We look forward to fresh fruits and vegetables from surrounding farms. It’s an interesting exercise trying to decide what to do with some more esoteric items. (How much kohlrabi can you eat?) But we love cooking with fresh produce and experimenting. Beer is the liquid bread of life, according to Tom Standage. I occasionally bicycle over to East End Brewing Company on Susquehanna Street to put a growler in my pannier and sample their seasonal ale when I’m out on the town.

People forget there was a time when you couldn’t get fruits or vegetables in certain seasons. I recall from my history classes that early spring was among the worst. After the long winter, provisions were exhausted and it was too early for planting. People literally starved waiting to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Pittsburgh was part of changing that. H.J. Heinz got his start before the Civil War peddling homemade horseradish through the streets of Sharpsburg. His business grew to an international conglomerate in the 1880s that employed thousands in Southwest Pennsylvania and raised the region’s standard of living. The growth of railroads allowed Heinz to sell its products across the country, giving settlers and immigrants access to healthy food whatever the season. By the 1890s it brought 57 varieties (any easy-to-remember number; there were plenty more) around the world. According to Nancy Koehn, Heinz pioneered the use of market research and used early customer-relationship management (CRM) to maintain relationships with grocers and know what was selling through its far-flung salesmen.

Go ahead and buy designer arugula from a local farmer to assuage your conscience. But remember that a German immigrant and businessman from Southwestern PA let you afford to do so.

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