The Icon Walk

Merchant's Arch, Temple Bar

Merchant’s Arch, Temple Bar

Temple Bar is an area with narrow, cobbled streets on the south bank of the Liffey in central Dublin. It’s famous the world over for its lively nightlife, but that’s not high on my list of reasons to visit it. There are better places in Dublin to experience Irish food and music, ones where you’re more likely to encounter people who actually live in Ireland. However, the area does offer much that’s special, such as the Irish Film Institute.

One that we just discovered is The Icon Walk, a project of The Icon Factory. It’s located just off Fleet Street, along Aston Place, Bedford Lane, and Price’s Lane. Local artists have transformed the lanes into an open air gallery of Irish culture. It’s recently been awarded approval as a UNESCO City of Literature site.

Someone described the Walk as a twenty minute activity, but it deserves more than that. There’s a great collection of photographs, drawings, paintings accompanying sayings of famous writers and artists, descriptions of moments in the history of sports, movies, fashion, and more.

Arriving at the Playwrights section, we read,

Around 1610, Shakespeare wrote the “The Tempest” and retired to Stratford on Avon where he died in 1613. Queen Elizabeth I having completed the conquest of Ireland was dead. The last of the great leaders, O’Neill and O’Donnell were gone to Spain and Ulster planted with Crown subjects.

Between 1613 and the War Of independence in 1922, which won back self rule for most of Ireland, no play of real merit was written in the English language by anyone other than by an Irish-born writer.

The selected icons–Samuel Beckett, Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, and Oscar Wilde–won’t be enough to convince everyone of that claim, but their collective oeuvre is amazing.

Along the walk, you can see many great images produced by a wide variety of artists. A few of those are on the website, but the majority are visible only on the walk itself. They’re best seen that way, in any case, in the context of the other artworks and Temple Bar itself.

One of the best parts for me was the individual quotes, both from writer’s works and from their lives. For example, we read,

Beckett went on to live with an older woman who was not exactly a barrel of laughs. She took the phonecall that informed them of Samuel’s Nobel Prize. “This is a disaster, our lives are ruined” she responded.

In the eighties, Beckett was invited to Germany to direct “Waiting For Godot”. When presented with the script which he had not read in many years he exclaimed; “This thing needs a good edit”.

John Hume, third from left

John Hume, third from left

(Again, however, most of these texts exist only on the walls. I hope there will be an exhibition book at some point.)

One thing I learned was that in 2010 John Hume was chosen in an RTÉ survey as Ireland’s Greatest. He was also the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (1998), the Gandhi Peace Prize, and the Martin Luther King award. He had modeled his own work for equality in citizenship on that of Gandhi and King. Unfortunately, his peaceful work was disrupted by violence and the “troubles” began. Hume became a leading figure in the civil rights movement in the late 1960s. Through speeches, marches, hunger strikes, dialogues, and long-term negotiations, Hume was behind many of the developments and agreements toward peace in Ireland, and later for European unity.

You can get a sense of the walk from the video below (only part of which is in English):

Las Misiones Pedagógicas


Traveling libraries

As we’re about to set off on a trip both to explore and to discuss progressive education, I’m thinking about the example of the Misiones Pedagógicas in Spain in the early 1930’s.

My colleague, Iván M. Jorrín Abellán, just sent a link to a digital copy of the 1934 report: Patronato de Misiones Pedagógicas : septiembre de 1931-diciembre de 1933, in the collection of the Bibliotecas de Castilla y León. It tells the story of the Misiones  through text, photos, and a map. Even if your Spanish is as poor as mine you can enjoy the many photos and get enough of the text to appreciate the project.

Some of the photos of uplifted, smiling faces are a bit much for today’s cynical eyes. Still, it’s hard to deny that something important was happening for both the villagers and the missionaries.


Watching theater

The Misiones Pedagógicas were a project of cultural solidarity sponsored by the government of the Second Spanish Republic, created in 1931 and dismantled by Franco at the end of the civil war. Led by Manuel Bartolomé Cossio, the Misiones included over five hundred volunteers from diverse backgrounds: teachers, artists, students, and intellectuals. A former educational missionary, Carmen Caamaño, said in an interview in 2007:

We were so far removed from their world that it was as if we came from another galaxy, from places that they could not even imagine existed, not to mention how we dressed or what we ate, or how we talked. We were different. –quoted in Roith (2011)


Listening to music, outdoors

The Misiones eventually reached about 7,000 towns and villages. They established 5,522 libraries comprising more than 600,000 books. There were hundreds of performances of theatre and choir and exhibitions of painting through the traveling village museum.

We are a traveling school that wants to go from town to town. But a school where there are no books of registry, where you do not learn in tears, where there will be no one on his knees as formerly. Because the government of the Republic sent to us, we have been told we come first and foremost to the villages, the poorest, the most hidden and abandoned, and we come to show you something, something you do not know for always being so alone and so far from where others learn, and because no one has yet come to show it to you, but we come also, and first, to have fun. –Manuel Bartolomé Cossio, December 1931

There’s an excellent documentary on the Misiones, with English subtitles. It conveys simultaneously the grand vision and the naïveté, the successes and the failures. As Caamaño says, “something unbelievable arrived” [but] “it lasted for such a short time.”

Watching a film

Watching a film

In her study of Spanish visual culture from 1929 to 1939, Jordana Mendelson (2005) examines documentary films and other re-mediations of materials from the Misiones experience. Her archival research offers a fascinating contemporary perspective on the cultural politics of that turbulent decade, including the intersections between avant-garde artists and government institutions, rural and urban, fine art and mass culture, politics and art.

I’m struck by several thoughts as I view the documentation on the Misiones. Today’s Spain is more literate, more urban, more “modern”. But although the economic stresses are different, they have not disappeared.  There are still challenges, in some ways greater, for achieving economic and educational justice.

Iván and other educators are asking how the spirit of the Misiones might influence community-based pedagogy in current times. Their experiences have lessons for those outside of Spain as well.


Mendelson, Jordana (2005). Documenting Spain: Artists, exhibition culture, and the modern nation, 1929–1939. State College: Penn State University Press.

Roith, Christian (2011).High culture for the underprivileged: The educational missions in the Spanish Second Republic 1931 – 1936. In Claudia Gerdenitsch & Johanna Hopfner,  (eds.), Erziehung und bildung in ländlichen regionen–Rural education (pp. 179-200). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Persian night in Göteborg

We just had an amazing evening in an Iranian restaurant.

Vida La Vida (formerly Coffee Dance) at Fjärde Långgatan 48 Linnaeus, Göteborg, is a small, but imaginatively decorated place that plays an important role in the local art scene. The eponymous Vida is the multitalented owner and for us this evening, a very charming host.

We were invited to enjoy music and dinner at Vida La Vida by Bernardo Borgeson, an Ecuadorian/Swedish filmmaker, who has directed many critically acclaimed documentaries and short films. He’s also worked with marginalized youth to tell their own stories through film. These are often quite powerful and disturbing films.

We shared a small table with Bernardo’s friend. The only other table was a large one with Vida’s Iranian family and their friends, several of whom were visiting from the U.S.

Various individuals performed on the tar, daf, and other instruments, and sang songs such as Dele Divane and Soltane Ghalbha. The singing was beautiful, almost hypnotic. Many of the songs convey a sadness and sense of longing or loss, even if one doesn’t undertand the words.

There was also a lot of group singing, which we were invited to join, with song sheets showing the Farsi words in a Latin alphabet. All of this occurred as we enjoyed an excellent dinner of salmon, fresh vegetables, and good Persian bread.

The large group included a young couple about to be married. There was also a woman celebrating her birthday, so we sang happy birthday in Farsi (Tavalodet Mobarak), Swedish (Ja, må du leva), and English. They brought us into all parts of the evening, which went on for several hours, and included an excellent dinner plus birthday cake.

Need I add that this was not what we had expected in Göteborg? The evening was topped off by a walk home in which we saw ladybugs, witches, and skeletons. The intensity of the evening at Vida La Vida made us forget that it was Halloween here!

Coming attractions!

Patrick W. Berry’s course website Writing Technologies is designed to “explore historical and theoretical accounts of how writing technologies have shaped and continue to shape what and how we compose” and to write “using a variety of new and sometimes old technologies in order to explore the affordances and limitations of each.” It’s wonderful to see how the medium of the course illustrates the very principles it’s teaching.

In addition to excellent standard course resources, there’s a blog, with many interesting posts. One, of special interest to me, is “The Disappearance of Technology”: The Movie. Patrick writes:

After reading Chip Bruce and Maureen Hogan’s “The Disappearance of Technology: Toward an Ecological Model of Literacy,” our class created movie posters using Photoshop that attempted to capture a central theme of the reading.

The result of this effort is available here:

The idea to do the posters and the subsequent realizations are excellent (be sure to try the slideshow option). I was impressed by the variety of responses and the creative use of photos, colors, graphics, fonts, and other visual elements. The posters show how re-mediating an idea can both bring out the meaning and add new meaning as well, with different posters bringing out different aspects of our relations with new technologies.

Luise Rainer’s 100th birthday

Yesterday, my mother and I watched The Great Waltz, starring Luise Rainer. It was part of a Turner Classic movie festival commemorating her 100th birthday.

She was very good in that, and still appears to be going strong. I wonder what she thinks of the younger generation with folks like Olivia de Havilland?

Rainer was the first two-time Oscar winner (for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937). She was also the first back-to-back Oscar winner, and is now the oldest living Oscar winner.

Scott Feinberg’s blog has more on Rainer, including some wonderful audio clips of his interview with her. I hope it’s OK to repost the photo here from his blog, showing the two of them, but recommend that you read and listen from his original post.

Olivia De Havilland

We just watched the DVD version of Captain Blood, the 1935 adventure movie based on Rafael Sabatini’s novel.

Except for the numerous comments from the female members of the audience about Errol Flynn (“Oh! He is rather dashing, isn’t he?” “He has such a wonderful smile!” “Well, I have to admit, he is handsome!”), it was very entertaining. Captain Blood is a great movie, the forerunner of the eight films co-starring Olivia De Havilland and Flynn, as well as a major shaper of the whole adventure genre.

For our family, any movie starring Olivia De Havilland is special. In case you don’t know, we go way back.

In grammar school, Olivia was just a year ahead of Susan’s mother, Rhoda, who was in the same grade as Jane Eyre (I mean, Olivia’s sister, Joan Fontaine). They’ve maintained a connection ever since. On the other side, my mother feels a special connection, because she went to college in Milledgeville, Georgia, the home of Margaret Mitchell, who wrote Gone with the Wind, starring Olivia as Melanie.

Throughout her career, Olivia has always exemplified both excellent acting and the highest moral standards. She sought roles that expanded artistic limits, but  also promoted social good. She was successful in a lawsuit to secure greater creative freedom for performers. This led to the De Havilland law, which imposes a seven-year limit on contracts for service. She was the lead in The Snake Pit, one of the earliest films to attempt a realistic portrayal of mental illness. In 2008, she was awarded the US National Medal of Arts.

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The Irony of Fate

When Stephen lived in St. Petersburg, he learned about the Russian classic movie, Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром! (Ironiya sudby, ili S lyogkim parom!; The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy your Bath!) and bought us a dvd of it.

I watched that and also the sequel, Ирония судьбы: Продолжение (Ironiya sudby 2; The Irony of Fate 2). In the sequel, the original actors continue the story, now 30 years later. Can you think of any other movies in which the story line continues that long, with the actors aging naturally?

The movie is a sad love story, but also a farce, with slapstick, rampant misunderstandings, demonstrations of the limits of logic, and still, strikingly honest and insightful comments on the human condition. It shows some of the best and worst of Russia.

It’s easy to understand why watching Ironiya sudby has become a New Year’s Eve tradition in Russia. We followed that tradition here in two parts, the first on New Year’s Day and the second last night. In between, Emily and Stephen prepared a special Russian dinner, including borscht, salade Olivier, and blinis with herring, salmon, onions, and creamed butter.

Zhenya and Nadya were the same as always. He’s 36, a talented surgeon, but nerdy and shy. It’s not clear where his life is going next or what he wants to commit to doing. Nadya is a literature teacher, beautiful, but also somewhat shy and unsure of herself. Together with Galya and Ippolit they stumble through a bizarre, yet oddly-believable, sequence of events in which they learn what matters most.

If you were to hear the plot ahead of time, you’d not only lose some of the fun, but you might wrongly conclude that it’s contrived and silly. Instead, that plot becomes a muted background, which the viewer quickly catches onto. It then serves like the click-clack of a train (here, the faceless architecture of the Brezhnev era), with the real action going on inside the railroad cars.

I especially like the guitar-accompanied songs, which are based on poems by Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Bella Akhmadulina, and others. They fit with the story, and they’re sung in full.

See additional posts of mine on movies.

The Soloist (2009)

The Soloist (2009) is an excellent film based on the true-life book, The Soloist by Steve Lopez. Lopez is a Los Angeles Times columnist who discovers Nathaniel Ayers, a Juilliard School dropout, who becomes schizophrenic and homeless, living on the streets of LA.

Ayers is a classically-trained cellist, who now has only a two string violin to play and instead of a concert stage, an urban tunnel or street corner. Lopez wonders how Ayers can stand to play in those conditions, but Ayers tells him that “the only thing that I hear is the music and the applause of the doves and the pigeons.” Ayers is hooked and decides to write a series of feature articles in the Times.

Robert Downey Jr. portrays  Lopez in the movie, and Jamie Foxx portrays Ayers. The two main characters give terrific performances, as do the actual homeless extras from the Lamp Community.

Ayers’s story makes us wonder about the many other homeless people in LA and elsewhere. As Lamp says,

Close to 74,000 people are homeless in Los Angeles–more than in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco combined. Los Angeles’ Skid Row, a 52-block area east of the downtown business district, has the highest concentration of homelessness in the United States. More than half of the homeless men and women in this area are chronically homeless, meaning they struggle with a mental or physical disability and have been living on the street for years.

That relatively greater challenge in LA doesn’t of course diminish the shameful job we do across the US in dealing with homelessness. The book, Ayers’s music, and the movie all reinforce Jane Addams’s view that art and cultural activities can reduce our isolation form one another, and reinforce essential human: “Social Life and art have always seemed to go best at Hull-House.”

The DVD includes features with the real Steve Lopez and Nathaniel Ayers, and also, Beth’s Story, an animated short telling another story of homelessness:


Addams, Jane (1930). The second twenty years at Hull-House: September 1909 to September 1929. New York, Macmillan.

The birth of computer networking

I had arrived at Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) in the summer of 1971, knowing of the important work there in artificial intelligence, computer simulations in psychology, and natural language understanding. But I understood only vaguely the explosive potential of the work on computer networking.

Computer Networks – The Heralds of Resource Sharing was a movie made to accompany the public demo of the ARPANET at the 1st International Conference on Computer Communications in Washington DC in October, 1972, about a year after my arrival. Unfortunately, the movie wasn’t finished in time for the demo, but it was released before the end of that year. I didn’t have anything to do directly with the movie or the work described, but knew many of the people and projects that are featured.

The movie represents both a thoughtful account and a primary source itself for the general history of computing and communication. It also tells us about successful collaboration–how participants at the time themselves described it. I think it also gives a good account of the motivations behind the ARPANET, forerunner of the Internet, and a good basic description of how it works.

Faubourg Tremé

Just to the Northwest of the French Quarter lies a neighborhood that few tourists visit, and many have never heard of, called Faubourg Tremé. Much of the area now appears bleak with Interstate Highway 10 bisecting it, industrial yards, and boarded up buildings. But it’s one of the most important neighborhoods in American history, and still has meaning for today. There are efforts to restore Faubourg Tremé and to learn what it has to tell us.

faubourg_tremeA recent, award-winning documentary tells the fascinating story, made all the more compelling by relating it to the life of a young reporter for the Times-Picauyune. The film is Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans. Reporter Lolis Eric Elie leads us in his discoveries about his own city. He and director Dawn Logsdon show the relation between the city’s present and its rich past, enlivened throughout by music, including Derrick Hodge’s original jazz score, the Tremé Song by John Boutté, and a century of New Orleans music.

Viewers also meet Irving Trevigne, Elie’s seventy-five year old Creole carpenter, who descends from over two hundred years of skilled craftsmen, as well as Paul Trevigne, editor of L’Union, the first black newspaper in the US. L’Union and later, the Tribune, were strong advocates for the abolition of slavery, but beyond that, for full citizenship and social equality for all blacks, something most northern abolitionists shied away from. They hear from Louisiana Poet Laureate Brenda Marie Osbey, musician Glen David Andrews, and historians John Hope Franklin and Eric Foner as well.

armstrong_park_Congo Squre cFaubourg Tremé was home to the largest community of free black people in the Deep South during slavery, where they published poetry and wrote and conducted symphonies. It was a racially-integrated community, a model for our own future. It as also possibly the oldest black neighborhood in America, the home of the Civil Rights movement and the birthplace of jazz. (See Congo Square to the right.)

Long before Rosa Parks, Tremé residents organized sit-ins on streetcars leading to their eventual desegregation. But on June 7, 1892, Homer Plessy from Tremé deliberately challenged the Louisiana 1890 Separate Car Act, by insisting on sitting in a whites-only car on a commuter train. He was arrested, tried, and convicted and eventually lost in the infamous Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson. The resulting “separate-but-equal” decision legitimized segregation throughout the US for the next 62 years, and was a major blow to Tremé.

Following later assaults from urban renewal, Interstate Highway 10, and then Hurricane Katrina, it’s surprising that anything remains in Tremé. But one thing that has survived is a sense of history, embedded deep in the music, dance, architecture, social relations, and stories of the community. It is this history which holds a promise for the renewal of Tremé and perhaps of the larger US Society.

The film is a must-see, telling a story that is simultaneously informative, uplifting, and disturbing.