Cities Are Not Empty Pages

“Cities are not empty pages,” writes German sociologist Rolf Lindner. He continues, “There are cities which are like a penny dreadful, a dime novel, stained and well-thumbed and with a garish, torn cover, while others are more like an expensive edition of a classic author, leather bound, with thread-stitching and a bookmark. “– Rolf Lindner, “The Cultural Texture of the City,” Linköping University Electronic Press, 2006.

Growing Old in East Harlem: a video about the East Harlem Aging Improvement District from The New York Academy of Medicine on Vimeo.

Dear Readers,

For me, urban life is more memory than presence. Since 1977, I’ve migrated from big-city Chicago to small-town Henniker, NH, to suburban Boston. I visit cities mostly for refreshment, these days, instead of daily needs.

Yet a film set in East Harlem, New York City, has brought me back to the jam-packed, extravagant, messy, compelling pages of the urban life I knew as a teenager and young adult in Chicago. Watch “Growing Old in East Harlem.” You’ll see the pages fill up with stories.

Thanks for being here,

Mary Ann

PS: Below is a description of the film from the New York Academy of Medicine. You can read more about East Harlem’s status as an Age-Friendly City at the Silberman School of Social Work.

“On August 31, 2010, NYAM previewed a new film, “Growing Old in East Harlem” in which seniors were interviewed about the joys and challenges of aging in this diverse, dynamic neighborhood in New York. Growing Old in East Harlem was filmed and directed by Dorian Block, policy associate at NYAM. It was produced and edited by Jonathan Mena and Jessie Daniels, both of Hunter College.

“More than 200 older adults, community leaders, and business representatives from East Harlem gathered at NYAM to view the film and to discuss the findings of a recent study of older adults in East Harlem who expressed concerns and improvements they would like to see in their community. The assessment and resulting event are part of Age-Friendly NYC, a collaboration between NYAM, the Mayor’s Office, and the New York City Council.” — NYAM, 2010

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Winter Chestnuts and Other Literary Comforts

Mary Ann Barton:

Editor’s note: I found this essay about food by literary scholar Sara Davis utterly irresistible, partly because it’s so deftly written, and partly because I’ve been struggling with an essay on caregiving and eating for my book Rest: Finding Rest and Renewal as We Care for Others. Food as comfort, comfort as food: such a theme in my life! And all those questions! How to take pleasure in food without tipping into over-consumption and craving? How to recover from deep dives into old habits? How to love flavors and then let them go? I don’t have any answers, dear friends, except to keep on reading, writing, and renewing.

 

 

Originally posted on Scenes of Eating:

I’ve been reading Lolly Willowes, a 1926 novel by Sylvia Townsend Warner set at the turn of the 20th century. The story reminds me a lot of the pastoral 19th century novels I’ve been reading: country life radically contrasted with the city, the smallness of family dramas, the quiet resistance of women in their domestic spheres.

When she moves to London with her brother and sister-in-law, main character Laura (called Lolly by her nieces) is seized by a restlessness every autumn. She finds herself roving and anxious until winter fully arrives and she bleakly resigns to it, and:

She fortified herself against the dismalness of this reaction by various small self-indulgences. Out of these she had contrived for herself a sort of mental fur coat. Roasted chestnuts could be bought and taken home for bedroom eating. Second-hand book-shops were never so enticing; and the combination of east winds and London water…

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Jesse and the Typewriter Shop

Editor’s note: I took typing one summer at Schurz High School in Chicago and still remember the class fondly. Mary Maldonado and I used to walk home from class together in the suffocating heat of a Midwestern city. Sometimes I’d walk her all the way to her house, hoping to catch a glimpse of her older brother, Paul, who played bassoon in my high school band. I still have my mother’s pale green Olivetti typewriter that she lugged around in her post-retirement travels from Chicago to Kentucky to Montana to New Jersey to New Hampshire to Massachusetts.  Here, reblogged from The Casual Optimist, is a touching film about father-and-son typewriter repairmen in Los Angeles. Do you have an old typewriter somewhere in the house? Do you still use it? — MAB

Related to yesterday’s post on Gramercy Typewriter Co. in New York, here’s a short film about U.S. Office Machines, one of the last remaining typewriter repair shops in Los Angeles:

(Thanks Sam!)

Hot Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day. Things are heating up in our house.

1. Hot kisses.

Loving Couple (Mithuna)

Loving Couple (Mithuna), stone sculpture from 13th century India (Orissa), via Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Florance Waterbury Bequest, 1970.

2. Hot food.

Inside of a Cottage from A History of Madeira, 1821

Inside of a Cottage [detail] from A History of Madeira by “a resident of the island” (published by R. Ackermann, London), unknown artist, Madeira Islands, 1821, via Wikimedia Commons.

3. Warm cat.

Cold Nose, Warm Touch, Thermography of a Cat by yellowcloud

Cold Nose, Warm Touch, Thermography of a Cat by yellowcloud from Germany, 2011, via Wikimedia Commons.

4. Hot you, man.

Academic Study of a Male Torso by Ingres

Academic Study of a Male Torso by Jean August Dominique Ingres, French, 1801, via Wikimedia Commons.

5. The body, beautiful at any age.

Nude Old Man in the Sun by Mariano Fortuny

Nude Old Man in the Sun by Mariano Fortuny, Spanish, 1862-1863, via Wikimedia Commons.

6. Hot me, woman.

Venus with a Mirror by Titian

Venus with a Mirror by Titian, Italian, circa 1550, via Wikimedia Commons.

7. The body, beautiful at any age.

Old Woman at the Mirror by Bernardo Strozzi

Old Woman at the Mirror by Bernardo Strozzi, Italian, circa 1615, via Wikimedia Commons.

8. Hot dog! Hot Dog by Jkrane2, via Wikimedia Commons.

Dr. Atul Gawande in Being Mortal, a Frontline documentary on PBS

“Being Mortal” Airs Tonight

“The two big unfixables are aging and dying…you can’t fix those.” — Atul Gawande

Editor’s note: PBS airs a documentary tonight based on Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal. It promises to be a candid and intimate look at doctors and families coming to terms with the end of life. This article by Stephanie E. Rogers, MD, appears in the blog Geripal. — MAB, 2/10/2015

The True Art of Medicine: Atul Gawande and The Being Mortal Documentary

by Stephanie E. Rogers, MD @SERogersMD

“The two big unfixables are aging and dying…you can’t fix those,” notes physician-writer Dr. Atul Gawande, in a new documentary based on his recent book Being Mortal. The Frontline documentary airs Tuesday, February 10 on PBS, and explores Gawande’s frustration of not being able to “fix” all of his patients.

The Being Mortal documentary examines how Gawande and other physicians struggle to talk with patients and families about death and dying. He explores his own humble journey with the realization that “medicine fails the people it’s supposed to help” at the end of life. It also provides a powerful, intimate look at families struggling with conversations about the realities of aging and death, and the uncomfortable and difficult time even well-trained physicians have at leading these discussions.

One of the most startling aspects of the documentary is watching physicians participate in these conversations with patients and the behind the scenes look at what their thoughts are regarding these discussions. Even with cancer physicians who have these conversations all the time, it is apparent that they too are struggling to be forthright and eloquent. In fact, this is what makes Gawande a skillful storyteller — he exposes his own vulnerabilities both as a physician trying not to be the bearer of bad news and as a patient’s family member during his father’s inevitable death from a spinal cord tumor.

“Hope is not a plan,” Dr. Gawande argues. “We find from our trials that we are literally inflicting therapies on people that shorten their lives and increase their suffering, due to an inability to come to good decisions.” He notes that people may have other priorities besides living longer and that we should not be waiting until the last week of life to have these discussions with our patients.

As a Geriatrics fellow, I have learned that speaking to patients frankly about aging, dying, and their priorities for the time they have left has been the toughest challenge I’ve encountered yet in my decade of medical training. We physicians tend to be overly optimistic and timid about the truth, partly because it is difficult to tell a patient something they don’t want to hear. We want to instill confidence in our patients and hope with them for a cure or more time.

I now realize that the most worthy challenge– one likely to last my entire career – is to improve my ability to have these conversations. Our decisive goal as physicians is not only to know the most up-to-date scientific studies or treatments, but to be comfortable and capable of communicating truthfully and empathetically to our patients about the realities of life — that we will all age and we will all die. The true challenge is combining all our medical knowledge and skills with the art of communication, to allow our patients to choose how they want to live—all the way to the end. Being Mortal, the Frontline documentary from writer/producer/director Tom Jennings, airs Tuesday, February 10 on PBS and will stream in full online at pbs.org/frontlinehttp://pbs.org/frontline.

Source: Stephanie E. Rogers, MD, “The True Art of Medicine: Atul Gawande and The Being Mortal Documentary,” GeriPal: A  Geriatrics and Palliative Care Blog (blog), February 9, 2015, http://www.geripal.org/2015/02/atul-gawande-being-mortal-documentary.html.
The Snowy Winter of 1918, New York, by Childe Hassam

Winter Caregiver Prayer

Dear Winter Caregiver, my Northern Hemisphere sleet-and-snow companion, you sliding on tiny, bouncing, translucent balls of ice in the Stop ‘N Shop parking lot, on your way to collect loaves and fishes for my dinner and yours, may you steer your way through the grocery aisles with my blessing.

In times past, I ran this errand for myself and my loved ones — able to run freely, then, though not during ice storms, remembering their preferences for golden raisins or pumpernickel bread, wheeling my cart past the lettuces (now a swallowing hazard), stopping in the frozen treats department to scan for sugar-free ice cream.

Once I gave. Now I receive. All I have left to give you is gratitude, that and clear direction, a shopping list printed with my wavering pen in hand, and forgiveness for any lapses in concentration.

Pace yourself, dear Winter Caregiver. Whatever the results of tomorrow’s biopsy, I’m stuck with the durable truths of life: that sleet falls in every New England winter; that daybreak rises from the bed of night; that night will fold me in her arms, one night, forever; that we all sleep, sometime, folding our bodies into the good earth with one last act of generosity.

— Mary Ann Barton

Editor’s note: I wrote this prayer from the point of view of someone who receives care, so it’s not about me. I’m still able to run freely, for which I’m grateful. But I can imagine a time when the roles will be reversed. The piece was first published in the newsletter of First Parish in Concord, MA (Unitarian Universalist) . — MAB

Image credit:  The Snowy Winter of 1918, New York, by Childe Hassam, American, 1918, via Wikimedia Commons.

Paintings for a Snowy Day

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Editor’s Note: I’m at home today, watching the snow fall and looking at paintings of snow scenes in Wikimedia Commons. Why not share these with someone you love? You could use them as prompts for writing, telling stories, or making art with the children in your life. — MAB 

A family watches as snow begins to fallA family watches as snow begins to fall: The First Snow by Adrian Ludwig Richter, German, 19th century, via Wikimedia Commons.

Now snow fills the streetNow snow fills the street: Fiskaregränd (Fishermen Alley) in Stockholm by Axel Axelson, Swedish (1854-1892), no date, via Wikimedia Commons.

Bundle up, my friends!Bundle up, my friends! Artillery Street in Winter by Alf Wallander, Swedish, 1892, via Wikimedia Commons.

Dressing warmly helpsDressing warmly helps: Girl in the Snow by József Rippl-Rónai, Hungarian, 1906, via Wikimedia Commons.

Snow is also for playingSnow is also for playing: Snow Balls by Bertha Boynton Lum, American, ca. 1913, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the woods, foxes step softlyIn the woods, foxes step softly: Common Foxes in the Snow by Friedrich Wilhelm Kuhnert, German, 1893, via Wikimedia Commons.

At the end of the day, let's warm up with hot drinks and a game of cardsAt the end of the day, let’s warm up with hot drinks and a game of cards: Getting Ready for a Game by Carl Larsson, Swedish, 1901, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Swedish National Museum gives us Larsson’s description of Getting Ready for a Game:

“It’s really terrible outdoors. The wind is whistling through the joints of the house and the snow is not snow but sharp needles that get into the corners of one’s eyes… Just the right time for a game of ‘vira’. Here is the tray full of comforting drinks and all the necessaries and Karin is still not finished with the final decorations which include the monastery liqueur which she is taking off the shelf. In the background is the altar itself, the card table that I have arranged myself.”

[This is] Carl Larsson’s own description of his painting, Getting Ready for a Game, in the book entitled Larssons which was published by Bonniers in 1902. The “vira” that Carl Larsson mentioned was an enormously popular card game invented in Sweden sometime in the 19th century.