Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bethlehem, PA

I am in Bethlehem, Penn- sylvania for a couple of days to give an invited talk to a small conference on globalization at Lehigh University and to work on a book project with my former student John Jirik, who teaches here now.

Here is my host, John, framed against the Lehigh River, that cuts through town.

Bethlehem is a very traditional looking small town that has been around since 1741. It was started by the Moravian Brethren who arrived here as political or religious refugees from Germany, and originally what is now the Czech Republic.

This was one of their buildings, now part of Moravian College.

It is a beautiful town with a lot of well preserved historical homes. Here is a nice example, with a bit of autumn color in front of it.

During the industrial heyday of the USA, the town was known as the home of Bethlehem Steel, the firm that made the steel for the Golden Gate Bridge and other markers of the age.

For better, or I would say, for worse, after the steel mill finally failed completely and shut down, part of it was turned into a casino, someone's idea of a clever replacement for those jobs. Here you see the Sands Casino sign framed against a decaying and unredeveloped part of the steel mill.

One of the nice things about this trip is being back in the Eastern part of the USA in October, when the leaves of the hardwood trees and forests begin to turn red and gold, as you can see from this tree that stands in front of the Lehigh University building that houses the Journalism program.

Monday, September 7, 2009

My Brazilan Skin

I had not been back to Brazil in two years. Long time. But after I had been back a day or so, it felt like home again. Sort of like home feels when you have been gone for a while. You don't know the latest political scandal that people are talking about, but the air smells good, the language feels comfortable in your ear and mouth, the little details of a typical street scene make you smile in both recognition and pleasure. I slow down my feet and speed up my ear, so I can try to catch everything because every little detail is interesting: what has changed? What is still pretty much the same?

I had several levels of Brazilian home-coming this time. The first, the three days, was just being back in São Paulo. My hotel was quite close to where we lived in 1989-90, so it was a constant feel of pleasurable deja vu, to recognize that most things really had not changed that much in 20 years. The way that little service shops, like tailors, are still tucked into side streets. The way that people bustle into corner restaurants for a snack. The way people walk on the street and greet each other. The familiar buildings and streets. Things do cost more there relative to their dollar value. I decided I did not want to pay what it took to eat in several places that would have been quite affordable 20 years ago.

The second was specifically spending a couple of those days in São Paulo at the University of São Paulo (USP), meeting with people and using the library to catch up on Brazilian media books and magazines that I can't get at UT. The Benson Latin American Collection at UT actually has an astonishing amount of the things I do need, but they can't afford every academic journal on communication in the Lusophone countries or business monthlies on cable TV. USP is huge and nicely green, as you can see in the photo here of a path near the the communication school (shown in the next photo here) has quite a bit bigger footprint than the one at UT, which mostly means we at UT are way overcrowded. I taught at USP 1989-90, so the communications school has a pleasant familiarity to me, too, and there are some nice new touches like a nice restaurant for faculty and grad students a few blocks away. I was there mostly to get a research project on digital inclusion moving and to see if we can revive our exchange of faculty between the schools. I made progress on both, so we will see how things go.

The third nice level of being back was going to the annual meeting of the Brazilian academic communication research association INTERCOM. I have probably gone to at least ten of these since 1981, when I went the first time to discuss my new completely dissertation research on Brazilian television. So I saw people I have know literally since then or even before. Sandy says academic meetings are a lot like summer camp for grown ups. You get to see your friends, in this case for me a somewhat specialized but remarkably close set of friends that I had not seen for a couple of years. (The photo shows a couple of them, Anamaria Fadul and Sonia Virginia Morreira , as we had lunch in cafeteria at the Universidade Positiva in Curitiba at the meeting.)
You get to do interesting things like presenting your own research or listening to interesting new things being done by others. (This really is fun if you are a bit of a research and culture geek.) In my case, it was a great, quick way to catch up on a lot that is being done in Brazil right now. A great package of things to do for a couple days -- and you thought summer camp was gone forever.

The fourth thing was a bit of surprise at how some things are indeed changing in Brazil. Since the public universities cannot keep up with the demand, new private schools are springing up like crazy in Brazil, some good, some bad. The one hosting us in Curitiba was the Positive University, owned by the Grupo Positivo who are started doing private schools, like some of the private charter school chains in the US, with similarly positive results, then branched into curricular materials and school books, then computers and learning software, and now universities. It is funny how the main Positive School seems pretty normal for a charter school, but a bid odd for a major university to be the Positive University, whose symbol is a big thumbs up.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

One Afternoon at Habib's, or When Old Telenovelas Never Die

After a couple of meetings today, I went book and DVD shopping at one of my favorite bookstores in the world, Livraria Cultura, which has five different spaces -- one bigger than your average Borders-- in a small mall on Avenida Paulista. So many new books on Brazilian media that I got footsore standing and looking at them. So I took a break, going kitty corner across from the back corner of this mall on Rua Augusta, to another of my favorite places, one of the world's most interesting fast food joints, Habib's, which serves good, cheap Lebanese fast food: kibes and esfihas instead of burgers, although they will sell you a burger and fries, if you must. Not much to look at, as you see here, but a lot of good places aren't.

Sitting there happily munching a small snack, I noticed that everyone in their dining room was more than usually glued to the large TV hanging from the ceiling, so I glanced up, too. And what was showing but a rerun session (TV Globo calls mid-afternoon reruns the "Vale apena ver de novo" -- "worth seeing again"-- series) of Sandy's favorite telenovela, which features an Indian girl who is apparently the reincarnation of her boss' long lost (murdered it turns out) and beloved wife. Here you see her and a friend looking at the soon to be boss' house, to which she is curiously drawn. He breeds and creates roses, so she is further drawn to his greenhouse.

So then before long I was literally watching one of THE crucial scenes of the whole nine month telenovela, where the girl is strongly, inexplicably drawn to the one rose that he created for the lost wife. They are indeed destined for one another TahDah! (although it takes MONTHS for their seemingly pre-destined romance to work out--but that is indeed how this genre works).

Some things are just too overwhelmingly melodramatic to die! The whole restaurant clientele, except the ones actually working, was raptly watching this scene. So it is pretty clear that Sandy's tastes run close to the core of what rivets the Brazilian audience most. (I have to admit that I kinda like this one, too.) One of those moments where personal life and our lifelong, ongoing ethnography of media and Brazilian life completely merge. Cheesy but cool.

Back to São Paulo

When I woke up in the plane this morning over Brazil, I popped an eyelid open and looked out the window at the sunrise over the clouds. (Couldn't resist snapping a picture with my trusty iPhone -- the Brazilian guy in the seat ahead was doing the same thing.) I was already filled with anticipation. Brazil really feels like a second home country to me. I get excited thinking about the people I know, the fun of speaking Portuguese again, the fun of catching up on what is going on, even the food.

It is wonderful to get back to São Paulo for a couple of days. I have been here a lot off and on over the last 33 years, including living here 9 months in 1989-90, and teaching at the University of São Paulo. I get hungry for a taste of big city life now and then, even thought Austin is certainly easier to live in.

The city is much too large and sprawling, when you look at it from the air, as in this photo, flying in, it is overwhelming. It goes on forever before you even land. A number of people argue that huge Third World metropolises, surrounded by rapidly growing slums, are one of the main faces of the world's future. Planet Slum, one book by Mike Davis, calls it.

The surprising thing is how green small parts of it can be. People cultivate trees or at least a few shrubs between buildings. The green is almost more delightful, sandwiched into such a sprawling mass of concrete, as the view from my hotel window, at the very nice but trendily and oddly named -- Golden Tulip Interactive, shows. The breakfast room looks out onto the garden by the tree -- a nice oasis.

So time to go walking in the city, enjoying a little observational update a la de Certeau, as I walk to meetings and get re-acquainted with one of my favorite cities.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fine dining in Horseshoe Bend

Recently on vacation in Idaho, we drove up to visit my brother Jack and sister-in-law Shirley in McCall, where they (lucky them!) had rented a cabin on the lake for the summer. Here are Jack and Shirley on their deck at the cabin.

I have always really enjoyed talking to them, ever since I was 12 or so, and they did me the great kindness of talking to me seriously like I was on my way to being an interesting human being. I craved that more than I can express, as I suspect do many 12-year-olds out there.

Here is the view from their cabin deck. Nice. Sandy said it was like Finland, but with mountains, which is a real compliment, since she thinks Finland has gorgeous lakes and summers.

On the way back down to Boise, we stopped for dinner in a funky, former logging town named Horseshoe Bend. We had hear that Kit's Riverside Restaurant had great views, so we stopped in.

Here is the view from the backyard dining area, over the Payette River and up over the mountains beyond it.

Here is Kit's. It has great burgers, which I had -- a half pound burger loaded with sauteed mushrooms and remarkably good salads -- which Sandy had, with grilled Salmon. Not to mention steaks, which would have been a bit heavy since lunch had been meatloaf in a similar joint in McCall, called Lardo's -- I kid you not, that is its name. But then Lardo was the name of the town, before someone thought better of it.

It has a great sort of road house cafe ambience, which is the kind of word most of their clientele would probably not use.

In fact, you get a sense of most of Kit's regulars from this bumper sticker in the parking lot. Of course, Rolf tells me he has seen the very same bumper sticker in our neighborhood in Austin. Maybe we could import Kit's (and its view) to liven up the neighborhood a bit.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology

One of my favorite things about Mexico City is the Museo Nacional de Antropología, one of the world's most interesting museums. It has an incredible collection of statues, pottery, jewelry and large scale reproductions of pre-Colombian buildings from all over Mexico. It also takes a nicely serious but accessible stab at educating the museum-goer about the history of Mexico and its peoples. The pre-Colombian part is the most spectacular, but the whole second floor is devoted to the colonial and post-colonial cultures of the same peoples and places, showing both some considerable continuity of images and cultures, but mostly a great deal of hybridity between those older traditions and what the Spanish brought it. Fascinating stuff at both levels.

Here are some of my favorite items and images, from those I took there with my trusty iPhone camera. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my good camera, but the iPhone did pretty well. The first, above, is a very figurative statue of Mictlantecuhtli, the God of Death, from about 100 AD.

The second here is an image from a reproduction of an entire wall from the temple of Quetzalcóatl in Teotihuacan, just outside Mexico City, about 400 AD.

The third is a wall painting from Cacaxtla, about 800 AD.

The fourth, which made me think of my son, Christian, for some reason -- thinking that he would like its expression, is a Toltec statue of a jaguar, from Monte Alban, probably around 200 AD or so.

This doesn't even count all the Aztec and Mayan things that people are probably more familiar with.

Amazing times and places, but probably not ones I would want to live in. Very serious mixtures of warfare and religion that perpetuated warfare. Related to a very serious pre-occupation with death. But a lot of people also had time to create amazing art.

Adios México

I spent last week in Mexico City at a conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research. Of the various academic meetings (quite correctly seen by my wife Sandy as summer camps for grown up intellectuals--read David Lodge novels for very amusing takes on these) I go to, this is one of the more fun since it draws most heavily from Europe, then the US, then Asia, Latin America, and lots of other places. Very cosmopolitan. Found myself at the closing social dancing to mariachi music with Portuguese, Indians, Australians, Chileans, and a whole bunch of Mexican students who had been volunteers at the event.

Here is a representative picture from the opening social, at a former convent, turned mansion, turned art museum, built over a corner of the sacred central plaza of the Aztecs, which built over a lot of earlier folks. (The downtown of Mexico City near the Zocalo has more layers of history than anyplace in the Americas.)

Shown are two Portuguese professors I am doing research with, Cristina Ponte and José Azevedo, with a gigantic 20th century statue and party-goers below in the background.

One of the things I like about this particular organization is that they always pick interesting places to meet in and the organizers do their best to give you some flavor of the city and country. Sometimes one goes to meetings at the airport hotel in St. Louis. Not quite the same.

We were meeting in a building that was formerly the cultural center for the foreign ministry and now does the same for the National Autonomous University of Mexico, deliberately named to show its independence of both church and state. Nice building with nice rooms, but at a big meeting, you still end up sitting in auditoriums a lot, like the one shown here.

However, I was listening at the time to one of my favorite academic researchers in the world, a Mexican anthropologist named Nestor Garcia Canclini. He helped define a lot of how we think about how cultures met and hybridized together in Latin America, so hearing him is always interesting. I found it better to listen directly to him in Spanish because the English translation was awful-- reinforces my feeling that although many things eventually get into English, sort of, you get a much better understanding if you can read or listen to the originals.

It is always fun to be in a big city with a distinct local flair. Mexico City has modern cosmopolitan areas, our hotel was in one on Paseo de la Reforma. But what I like most about the city is its distinctive folklore. Here are two indicative images I saw. First the classic Mexican image of the fashionable lady as a skeleton, the calavera catrina, who reminds us that the glamorous and wealthy die. To reword a bumper sticker, I saw in Austin, the one who dies with the most toys, still dies.

Second is one that shows another of my favorite things about Mexico, its unbelievable ability, in high art, low graffiti and in between to borrow or take in things and hybridize them around. So here is the ubiquitous Bart Simpson as calavera Bart.

Que vive México!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Etruscans

We are in Chianciano Terme in Tuscany. I am giving several talks at a seminar on positioning the local (Chianciano) in the global world and (tourist) market. An old friend from the University of Florence, Professor Giovanni Bechelloni, is positioning or narrating the idea in an interesting way. He argues that this place builds on layers of the past, Etruscan, Roman, medieval and Renaissance that were in some ways already modern or which contribute major layers of the present modernity. (He doesn't really believe in the post-modern, although that would be another way of seeing how all these layers fit together, despite the likely insistence in each of them that they were more important than the preceding eras.

Frances Mayes, in Under the Tuscan Sun, says something similar. "In these stony old Tuscan towns, I get no sense of stepping back in time that I've had in Yugoslavia, Mexico or Peru. Tuscans are of this time; they simply have had the good instinct to bring the past along with them." (1996:153)

The Etruscan civilization lasted from around 800 B.C. to 200 B.C, increasingly chipped away and swallowed by Rome after about 300 B.C. They had a complex religious and cultural life, evident in their concern with burying their dead in careful ways. Their artistic life is visible in their tombs and burial urns, like this one with an interestingly stylized but recognizably modern face.

You can certainly see Etruscan faces literally walking on the street. Giovanni says a village named Murlo had had DNA comparisons done with Etruscan remains and found almost complete overlaps in DNA with some residents--in fact finding that the DNA also matched up with Lydia in Western Anatolia, indicating where the Etruscans themselves may have come from. (As have a few villages in England. An English schoolteacher was found to have pretty much the same DNA as a 9,000 year old stone age skeleton referred to as Cheddar Man.) This face from an Etruscan bust would not seem strange on the street.

This couple from the lid of an Etruscan funeral urn would not look that out of place at a dinner party, certainly not here, maybe not even in Texas, if you changed the hairstyles and clothes a bit.

The Etruscans seem to have had a very sophisticated nobility that in many cases fed straight into the noble houses of Roman or even later times. Here is a reconstruction of what a noble house dining room might have looked like, as reconstructed from archeological finds. They ate reclining, as did later Romans. They had long, leisurely dinners, which still seems to be the fashion, in Italy, home of the slow food movement.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Any Day Now

Sometimes music gets very intertwined with our memories of a certain time and place. And the friends you had then.

I wanted a nice quiet, tuneful album to grade essays to. So I came up with Any Day Now, a Joan Baez double LP from 1968, made up exclusively of Bob Dylan songs.

I have always loved her singing voice and Dylan's lyrics. And on the album, she has a low key but interesting back up band of Nashville session players, who went further into rock than she usually did, picking up the pace from some of Dylan's early songs, but slowing down some, like Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. That song brings up another interesting twist, that of listening to someone interpret songs that were sometimes about her. There have been lots of interpretations of Dylan, but some of these, like the versions of "Any Day Now," "Love is Just a Four Letter Word" and "One Too Many Mornings," are the best around, IMHO.

What surprised me, listening to these songs, for a very current purpose, grading graduate student papers, was how much they brought up a now distant seeming, but still curiously fresh past. I can close my eyes and see the dorm room where I first heard this album.

This was one of my favorite albums in the spring of 1971. I had just come back from two quarters of study abroad in Vienna, Austria. My girlfriend there, Debbie Maranville, had stayed on for another quarter. Some friends from there and from my freshman year were around, but it seemed like a very new time. After six months of trying to understand Austria in German and a startling three weeks of traveling in the USSR, it seemed odd to be back in California, doing all the normal student stuff, picking up a radio show at KZSU again, getting involved in the anti-war movement again as new demonstrations were picking up again against the Vietnam War, in what was beginning to seem like a regular seasonal riot against Vietnam policy.

I was living in a classy old dorm called Toyon. My room-mate was the wretchedly spoiled son of some elite landowner in Central America. (I have repressed his name.) So I went looking for friends elsewhere. One of the best was a woman from Washington, D.C. named Robin Spring. She introduced me to Any Day Now, which rapidly became the soundtrack for the whole quarter. It got me back into my quasi-idolatry of Dylan in a more ear-pleasing way.

Joan Baez herself appeared on campus several times that spring to sing and speak at rallies, appealing to people to burn their draft cards and resist the draft. I think I remember the scene in this photo, but I may be mistaken. This is pretty much what I remember it looking like, however.

I remember thinking that I liked her music a lot. David's Album had just come out, lionizing her then husband of that name, a former Standford student president, who had gone to jail for resisting the draft. However, I both admired and resented them, since I wasn't sure resisting the draft was worth the price to be paid, even though I opposed the war very deeply.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Prague 1970 and 2007

In one of those really curious parallel universe events, Sandy and I both studied abroad in Austria and visited Prague in 1970 and 2007. She was with a BYU group in Salzburg, I was with a Stanford group in Vienna. To add to the small world syndrome, our son Chris did a shorter summer study abroad in Vienna in 2007 with BYU, taught by an old friend of ours, Alan Keele.

Sandy just put the following up on Facebook, which is a bit less permanent than a blog, which is easy to archive. So let's start with her observations and then I will add some of my own.
In 1970 Prague was a grimy and dismal place. A wall around the corner from our hotel was splattered with what looked like fresh blood. Stand-up bars served something that resembled whipped Pepto-Bismol. A postal worker informed us that we couldn't buy stamps to send letters to West Germany because no such place existed. Students identified us as East Germans and couldn't be convinced otherwise. The West really didn't exist for them. It was two years after the Prague Spring.
I asked my friend Steve to take a picture of me by a city well in the old town. I had assumed a thoughtful and properly depressed expression. He told a joke and then snapped the picture. I was highly irritated. Picture #1.

Joe: I was wearing longish frizzy hair and a second hand Russian greatcoat from a pawnshop in Vienna when I visited Prague. So nobody thought either I or my Stanford in Austria buddies were East German. They quickly accepted that we were American. (It is a compliment to Sandy's group that their German was good enough to be taken for German -- ours was definitely not.) But they were delighted to tell us how much they liked rock music and hated Russia, at least the USSR politicians who had ordered the Soviet Army to invade them..
The town was clearly socialist in a way I almost miss parts of. There were cheap cafeterias, priced for working class people that were also great for poor students, who had already spent way too much abroad. The students we met were intensely interested in politics. They thought the attraction some of us had for Marx was naive. When they heard that some of us were going on to visit the USSR, they were appalled -- why visit people who had just invaded them to put down the political opening or liberalization of Prague Spring in 1968 -- but they also grinned wisely and said things like, "Just wait until you see what 'really existing socialism' looks like." And they were dead right.

Sandy: The Prague I visited in 2007 was a decadent party town full of revelers from everywhere in the world. The Karluv Most bridge was full of musicians and bright lights at night. The old buildings downtown were the same, only with clean windows and charming little ice-cream and tea shops in every block. The well was still there, in the old town. We took a picture. It was okay to smile, this time. Picture # 2.
Praha 2007

Joe: I was a little ambivalent about the change in Prague. People were no longer worried by being jailed over toxic politics. The city was much less drab and clearly very prosperous. But also much more globalized and westernized. They probably making a lot of money off the European and American partiers who had crowded to Prague for cheap, world famous beer. But the quaint little bookstores where we both (separately, obviously) bought classic books in German were long gone.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mothers' Day

My wife Sandy, my partner of almost 32 years and the mother of three quite wonderful adult children is very ambivalent about Mothers' Day. She thinks it is too commercialized and also tends too much to put women and mothers on a sort of revered, but ghettoized pedestal. She is probably quite right about all of that.

But it is a day when it is hard not to reflect at least a little bit about our own mothers and the dear but complicated roles they usually have in our lives. Let me start with a list of words prompted by my own mother's memory (she died at 91 in 1996 after a several year long bout of dementia that resembled Alzheimers). And add a few photos.

So I think of my mother as:

loving - I always knew that my parents were pretty fond of each other, it seems like that became more the case as they got older -- here is a picture of them in their 20s in the 1920s, farmer and flapper

And I don't think I ever doubted that both she and my father loved me, that is quite a gift, the kind you can never fully repay

encouraging (this is her with me at a Boy Scout court of honor in about 1963, mothers always got pins representing the ranks we earned, reflecting this encouragement)

smart (she started Teachers College but quit to marry my Dad)
quiet but strong
quiet but probably a little depressed (after they moved off the farm into town, she had lost a lot of the role and critical economic importance she had had as a farm wife and mother)
a good reader and someone who encouraged me to read a lot

loyal to her family
patient with children, grandchildren, husband, and all
(here is another picture of my mother and father, after a long life together, after they had retired from farming, by their car on the street where they lived in Nampa, Idaho

very good cook
unbelievably good and prolific gardener (these are the flowers that lined the lane leading to our house alongside an enormous vegetable garden, which was mostly her job to take care of)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Wildflowers and development

This is now the late prime time for wildflowers in my part of Texas. Which is a pretty big deal around here. Just think of the memory of Lady Bird Johnson, who became quite beloved for promoting them. Here is one of my personal favorites, Mexican Hats, shot on the road in front of our neighborhood.

Here is another personal favorite of the late season, Indian Blankets. (These are both names given by the Anglo settlers of Texas, as I understand, not very subtle or kindly toward the earlier inhabitants.)

This second photo is also part of the Travis Country Wildflower Preserve. This is a fairly new addition to the neighborhood, built over a tract which had roads in it, ready for further development, either residential or commercial.

You can see the old roadbed it straddles here.

Apparently the developer had a deal with the city to either develop this tract, which he owned, or another one, but not both. Since this whole area sits right over the Edwards Acquifer Recharge Zone, our neighborhood itself should probably not be here, let alone most of the subsequent growth.

I remember seeing a sign in front of the area offering the tract now devoted to wildflowers up for development. The developer ended up wanting to develop the other site into the current local headquarters for AMD computers, just up Southwest Parkway half a mile or so.

I guess we dodged a bullet. My neighborhood might have been right next to the latest big box retail extravaganza. But we seem to have been spared. And I hope that wildflowers will indeed fill in all the roadbeds originally laid out to bring cars in to shop.

If you want to see more about the Wildflower Preserve, check out

One page shows 18 types of flowers, but not ironically, the two Texas favorites above that are most visible. Of course they are visible all over the place, on roadsides, in vacant lots, everywhere, so maybe the site is just trying to show what is most rare.

The Strength (and Weakness) of Weak Ties

I was looking on the website of Travis Country (the neighborhood where I live) for some info about our relatively new wildflower preserve, when I ran across a special webpage for a walking buddy in the neighborhood who died a couple of years ago. She walked an enormous, over-sized Doberman around the neighborhood. As I walked my own dogs, I would often see her both on the several miles of sidewalk that circle the core of the neighborhood and in the woods. You can see her picture here.
One of the forms of very low key sociality in the the neighborhood is stopping to let dogs socialize and talk about them. Although my dog walking acquaintance was very friendly, it took months to get to know that her name was Bonny, and more months to know her last name, Grobar. We liked to talk dogs, politics, neighborhood info, etc. and seing her always brightened my day. But I did not know her well enough to know her family, where she lived, or how to get in touch.

I knew she was struggling with her health, with cancer, and I probably should have found out how to check up on her, but our casual dog-walking chats seemed to have their own logic of being light, supportive but casual. It was a classic example of what scholars call a weak tie. All the people we know like old classmates, casual acquaintances, and people who met a few times at meetings, who can actually be quite important to how we live our lives.

Months after I had last seen her, I finally ran into another local dog-walker I had seen with her, and I found that she had finally died. I felt like I had let a suprisingly important tie be a little too weak. I wished I had known more and somehow helped more. I know that running into her always seemed to cheer her up. This made me realize that what people call the strength of weak ties is not always enough, that maybe I need to push a little harder to get to know some of them quite a bit better.

I was really pleased to see that people put up a memorial to her in the neighborhood Blue Valley Park, right beside a duck, fish and turtle pond where I had often seen her. There is a memorial stone and a bench, along with some extra new plants. You can see the bench at the left of this picture of the pond. Her small memorial is right behind that. One could only hope that you touched enough lives in your time to make people want to do this for you.

And here are some interesting details from the memorial page for. It seems that she helped brighten the day of many people who knew. A very important weak and strong tie for many.

Bonnie's family and her many friends in Travis Country held a community "Celebration of Life" on May 19, 2007. To commemorate the many hours and and care that Bonnie gave to the community the family and neighborhood established a lasting tribute site near Bonnie's beloved Blue Valley Pond. A natural area surrounded by native plants, the site is along the creek side bank of the pond. Natural boulders and a bench provide a place where visitors can sit, view the pond that Bonnie worked so hard to save, enjoy the wildlife, and visit with the occasional neighbor walking their animals or hiking along the trail where Bonnie so enjoyed walking her Prince Caliph. Looking across the pond one can envision Bonnie driving along the street in her silver convertible with the Prince by her side.

At the 2007 homeowner's meeting the annually awarded "Volunteer of the Year Award" was renamed the "Bonnie Grobar Volunteer of the Year Award".

Words never seem to be enough, no matter how hard we try, but Bonnie's family, friends, and neighbors have attempted to record their sense of loss, love, and respect for Bonnie in these comments.


My mom loved Travis Country and her morning walks around the neighborhood. The Blue Valley area was special to her and she worked hard to ensure that the pond was attractive and healthy to benefit the community and wildlife. I can't think of a better way to honor her than to designate a special place in her name. I also know that Jim would appreciate knowing that so many people cared for her and that there will be a place in the neighborhood for her always.

Gary [Bonnie's son]

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Memories of the 1950s

Some of you might have read another version of this on Facebook. But that is deliberately transitory and I decided I wanted to hang on to this, so I decided to make a blogpost, which I can (and will) archive, since this is turning into a journal of sorts that I want to hang on to.

Here is a little exercise in memory, media and nostalgia. Take a decade that intrigues you, whether you were already born or not. If you were born already, name some of the things you remember firsthand. Then, whether you were born already in that decade or not, name some of the things you "remember" about it from media about it.

For me, starting with the 1950s, which by my definition run until 1964, when a huge amount of cultural change starts becoming apparent, even to rural white people in Idaho:

Things I sort of remember firsthand, which was on a rural farm in a rural state, Idaho, that was at least five years behind California in most trends:

1) Fear of being nuked from a classroom exercise where we really were told to bend over in our desks and cover our heads in case of nuclear blast.

2) Getting lost in a sea of identical looking adult kneecaps.

3) Hanging out with my Dad in farm fields, beginning to realize that farming was really hard work

4) Doing a lot of farm work, including with work horses at first, before we got a tractor (I am the short one in this photo with horses at haying in 1958)

5) Feeling really patriotic reading a comic book about WW II

6) Being afraid of water but finally getting over it via swimming classes

7) That TV was black and white and had two channels since there was no ABC station

8) Feeling a bit envious that people who did not live on farms got to travel more

9) Really enjoying my immediate and extended family, including a lot of nephews near my age

Nephews and me in 1959

The mediated things I remember are:

1) Being fascinated by historical novels that took place in exotic places

2) Thinking Disneyland looked pretty cool and wondering if I might ever get to someplace that far away

3) Thinking that Leave it to Beaver families looked a lot richer than we were

4) Getting intrigued with exotic items mentioned in Mad Magazine, like bagels

5) Wondering who Howard Johnson was and why Mad Magazine like to make such fun of him

6) Wondering what ad men did and why Mad Magazine like to make such fun of them

7) Being really shocked at the news over the radio, piped over the junior high loudspeaker system, that Kennedy had been shot, and being even more shocked that some kids cheered

7a) As a result beginning to realize that my Dad was maybe the only Democrat in town and thinking harder about what that meant

8) Tuning into Wolf Man Jack on a huge old tube AM radio because I was beginning to get very intrigued by pop music