#6 Thing to do in Hyattsville

Listen to Rock Continuum

Long-time music hunter John Paige explores the continuum of rock music, from old to new. His two-hour show runs every second Monday from 4-6 PM on WOWD 94.3 in Takoma Park. You can fire up an actual FM radio – or put your browser to work. I live inside the station’s narrow broadcast range, and in the shed out back I have an old battery-powered portable radio – the kind with crank to manually charge it in emergencies  – but the fidelity is only slightly better than that of the nearby weed whacker. I use the https.

John and I were for two years matriculated at the same small, liberal-arts college in central Pennsylvania, which, I think has gone out of business. Not sure about that. I got to know John through The Glimpse, a quixotic geyser of cartoonery, prose, bespoke crossword puzzles, an advice column and what-have-you, manifested through the magic of mimeograph. He inherited the project from his brother.

The Glimpse survived John’s transfer after sophomore year and continued to be published for four more semesters. Now, it has a seldom-visited Facebook page. Remarkably, the Glimpse Alumni Association continues to have annual seminars (invitation only). For well over a year during COVID, the trustees met weekly via zoom.

As the saying goes, John has forgotten more about rock music than I ever knew. In any two-hour session, I might recognize a song or two. This week, I thought I’d landed in familiar terrain when John introduced music by The Left Banke. Of course, not Renee or the Pretty Ballerina. Something about things going better with Coke.

There’s not so much curated radio anymore, and John generally explores the paths less-traveled. A refreshing change from the echo chamber of familiar music where I spend most of my listening life.

The Continuum is an easy two hours. You can drift with the current or pretend you’re working on your blog. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land

Anthony Doerr

An ancient, partially intact story changes the lives of those who try to preserve it.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is a wonderfully written and constructed novel that carries the reader across centuries. The ticket to ride is a threadbare ancient Greek story, passed along by a captivating cast: a young uneducated woman facing historic gender imprisonment. A deformed Muslim boy cast out from society. A young American man who meets his true love in a British army officer. A boy on the neurodiverse spectrum who only feels comfortable in nature. A girl trapped in a dystopian experiment.

For me, the creation of this cast and the account of their struggles against systemic prejudice is the strongest part of this masterpiece. It’s the kind of book that you’re reluctant to let go because the characters are so affecting and credible, in addition to its far-flung and exotic settings.

The three major story lines fit; they depend on one another to make the novel whole. It takes a little while to see how the thing is constructed, which is part of the mystery this book poses. From then on, it’s a joyride to find out how the lines are tied off.

Two of the three parts are told chronologically, but the big “middle” of the novel bobs back and forth in its timeline. One of the most significant plot turns is revealed up front. The second shoe doesn’t drop for hundreds of pages, but you won’t forget where you were left hanging. Simply delicious storytelling technique.

And all along there is a wonderful scrap of papyrus that tells bits of a story about an ancient farmer who dreamed of something bigger in his life that quickly becomes a comic fable. The transformed farmer basically gets beaten and humiliated by everyone he meets in his supernatural journey.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is a book-lover’s book. Reverential to libraries, to the preservation of the written word and its translation and reinterpretation over the centuries.

This quickly became the #1 novel I’ve read this year, passing ahead of some strong competition.

Research Notes: Solheimer Ecovillage

You can spend a few years spinning out the first draft of your latest forthcoming blockbuster novel, reading a several dozen books, reports, blogs and PhD theses. You take trips to far corners to walk the land and sprain your clicking finger in pursuit of possibly factual minutiae — fruitful and otherwise. And still find yourself, nearing the end of the first major revision of your masterpiece only to a discover a scene missing, one that absolutely, positively has to be there near the end, pulling together all four acts and a text rumbling toward 150,000 words.

You know who is going to be in this missing scene: your protagonist and the adversary who changed the arc of his story. You don’t have a place.

It’s somewhere in Iceland, where the fourth act is staged. You think the adversary has had a difficult life since the fateful encounter more than 30 years before. You remember a punch-drunk boxer you met a long time ago and it occurs to you that your adversary suffered multiple concussions as a soccer player and retired, late in life, to a facility for disabled people.

Which leads you to discover Solheimar Ecovillage, a self-sustaining home to about 100 people in southwest Iceland. A mix of abled and disabled. Organic farming. An emphasis on the arts.

You learn the place was founded in 1930 by a visionary, a woman who started with five challenged children living in tents on land leased from a church. They farmed organically from the beginning, 90-some years ago. The national government funded construction of their first building in 1932. In 2000, the government ponied up funds to build Sesseljuhús, a turf-roofed case study in sustainable design.

You know that this is the place for your crucial scene when you learn the founder, Sesselja Sigmundsdotttir, was a follower of anthroposophist Rudolph Steiner. The father of the Waldorf School movement, where your kids went to school and your wife has been teaching for … well, for a long time. The Solheimar website even uses the same anthroposophical fonts used by Waldorf schools everywhere. The architectural similarities are inescapable.

For many years, one of the most controversial aspects of Solheimar (Sunworlds) is the integration of abled and disabled children. This what Wikipedia says:

“The heart of the Sólheimar ideology is to give all individuals a fair chance and to maximise their potential. By focusing on individuals’ possibility instead of their limitations, Sólheimar aims to create the space for each resident to take every opportunity that arises for each person to grow and develop. Versatility is the strength of Sólheimar, so people with special needs that reside here will always be the centre of the community. This works through the idea of reverse integration: those without special needs adapt to the abilities of those who do thus they can work together to make their community one of an equal and sustainable one.”

Reverse integration.

Glimpse: Leaving Tomas for dead

Knut and his shipmate Anne revisit the place where his life changed.

He led her to the high school. Two more shots of vodka. For each of them. “I was student here, in what we call high school.” He was quiet, remembering. “I lived with Johanna down that street,” and he pointed toward Helgugata, where his aunt still lived with his mother.

Knut led Anne around the edge of the building, into the teeth of the wind. A patch of beaten turf between the back of the school and a precipice overlooking a soccer pitch below, tucked against the fjord that wrapped around the town. Their hair blew wildly. He drank again.

“No different.” he said. “I warned him not to say those things about Kali.” Knut was talking to himself more than to Anne. “Someone put a shaming pole in front of my aunt’s house. I knew it was Tomas, and he didn’t deny it. I have no choice. So, I challenge him to fight and we came here after school.”

A brief splatter of subarctic rain in their faces. “There was no fields down there, just the sea,” he said, nodding toward the water several fathoms below where they stood. “I did nothing wrong. It was a fair fight, and I was stronger.”

Knut had told himself for thirty years that he didn’t mean to hit Tomas so hard that he could not get up. But standing on that ground again, he wasn’t sure.  He remembered it more viscerally, the taste of his blood from a split lip. The concentration of thought. His hand on the boy’s throat, driving him as forcefully as he could to the ground, pinning him there, slamming his fist into Tomas’s head, the sense that the enemy was giving up, had no more resistance. It had been just the two of them and the falling night. Something stopped him. Knut stood over the boy a moment, picked him and carried him around the front of the school. There was no one around.

“What happened?” Anne asked.

“I took him to my aunt’s house. Johanna called a nurse. She took me in her car on the road beside the fjord and over the single-lane bridge.” In her car, the first leg of his journey into exile, he asked his aunt if she thought Tomas was alive, if he was going to be okay. Johanna said, bleakly, that she didn’t know.

“When we reached the farm, my father was furious. Cakle was very scared and Hekla too. My father said I would go to America, to my uncle Oskar. My aunt would take me to the air field.”

“This is how you ended up in Newport.” Anne said.

“My father ordered me to go. For my own good, he said, but also Tomas was from an important family that could make problems for us.”

“What happened to the boy?”

“I thought he was dead, that I’d killed him.” Knut turned to her, reached for the vodka. “Now Hekla says Tomas is still alive. He lives in Akranes, where we docked Vindmylla.”

The northwest wind stopped blowing, as it sometimes does. “Sheesh,” Anne said. Pointing in the dark to a brightly illuminated building off to the right, she asked: “What are those lights?”

“It was the town pool,” Knut said. “Looks bigger now.”

“I should get a bathing suit,” she said.

#5 Thing to do in Hyattsville

Petrichord @ My Dead Aunt’s Books

A couple years ago, Robert Harper moved his used-book store from Riverdale into a downtown Hyattsville space shared with the SoHy Co-op. On March 15, My Dead Aunt’s Books launched what Harper intends to be weekly Tuesday-night musical event.

The series opened with Petrichord, a three-piece band specializing in contra-dance music. A blend of traditional and new compositions, several from violinist Colleen Holroyd. In the first set, she was joined by celloist Sophie Chang. Bobby LaRosa brought a mandolin to make a trio in the second set.

It was a blast just to be with live music only a few feet away. Prince George still recommends masking indoors, but who even notices these days. It was clear from the outset that the band enjoyed performing in front of real people. Copious toe-tapping to various reels, jigs and waltzes from Scotland, Ireland, Cape Breton and the DMV. Through the window behind the band, everyday life on Route 1 as the sunset set aglow the brew pub across the street, a full moon emerging from the deepening blue sky.

Most of the pieces were at a gallop, a lively carousel in an old barn. I especially enjoyed it when the pace slowed. A waltz in the first set was transcendental: the vibrations from the strings in My Dead Aunt’s wood floor brought me to a walk along a country road with two old friends. A reel in the second set was contemplative, like listening to a well-educated, three-handed clock that felt good about itself.

During a break, Sophie mentions that she has at times counted wrong and stopped a tune before Colleen did. Had I known this was possible, the dramatic tension would have been great, waiting, unsure, whether they might not all end at the same time. It didn’t happen at the Dead Aunt’s show, but you never know. Bobby mentioned “counting without counting,” which sounded like a subconscious awareness of when the planned number of cycles has taken place. With a caller and live contra dancers, he said, it’s easier to know when to keep track.

Harper has several shows set for coming weeks. And Petrichord is enthusiastic about an April 7 gig at a live contra dance at Glen Echo Park. That’s beyond the realm of Prince George, so get your passports and visa in order. Or just sneak over the border, as The Drift does.

Book Review: The Unseen

Roy Jacobsen

The deeper you go in this, the better it gets. Translated from Norwegian, The Unseen was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017. The story is set on Barroy, an isolated island off the coast of Norway populated by one small family early in the 20th century.

It’s a remarkable portrait of a small group of people living close to the land and sea. The family scrapes every useful resource they can from their rocky home. With one eye on the future, they make incremental improvements, sometimes creating infrastructure with no immediate use.

When Hans rediscovers an old telescope, he sets it up to look at the larger island, barely visible to the naked eye across the open sea. He finds features of the town that he’s familiar with but cannot see its harbor, which lies below the horizon. The curtains in houses make him uncomfortable. He backs away. Hans and his father agree they don’t need the telescope, which is likely why he never played with it as a boy.

Jacobsen rolls you along in the story, even if it takes a while to get the hang of how the pieces fit together, at least for me. Sentences end unexpectedly with an image or idea you didn’t see coming. Hans has been clearing a nearby empty islet to expand the family’s farming, but he realizes he is a fisherman at heart. Jacobsen writes: “What was once intended to be no more than a slightly extravagant extra piece of land is in the process of becoming an existential abscess.”

And one of the strongest style points is the peculiar dialect the islanders speak. The translated narratorial voice is straight-forward, albeit with many artful constructions. But the dialog – there’s not a lot of it – is something else, almost a secret language.

“Hvur lovely tha hair is,” Maria says of her daughter, Ingrid, who will gradually become the family’s leader. Even with context, I wasn’t always sure whether “hvafor” meant “however for” or “why.” Wait. Is that how contemporary Norwegians speak English? Kudos go to the translation team, Don Bartlett and Don Shaw.

The Unseen is a great read, not an easy one, but worthwhile. And it’s not too long.

Research Notes: Henry Rupert

Henry Rupert was a Washoe kid born in 1885, when there were still echos of the old life, when hunter-gatherers lived in harmony with the planet – and for the most part, among themselves. The Washoe had a specialized niche, wintering on the lower-elevation near Genoa, Nevada. They moved to the higher elevations of Lake Tahoe in the summer. Unfortunately for them, their summer territory was overwhelmed by White people and effectively ruined for Washoe purposes. Same deal with the winter grounds.

As a boy, Rupert was sent to the Indian school in Carson City. He ran away the next day. And again. He eventually absorbed enough modernity to become a typesetter for the Reno newspaper.

But Rupert also learned the old ways, became a shaman. He had dreams. Experienced dizziness and fainting when the lean-to and the ground whirled around him. You may have had such experiences yourself. He watched an elder shaman, Welewkushkush, healing people. Welewkushkush walked under the waters of Lake Tahoe without drowning. You have probably not done that.

Welewkushkush told him: “All kinds of sickness will look pretty tough, but it will melt.” He did his first cure, of a man with alcohol poisoning, in 1907.

Rupert learned hypnotic techniques in Reno. He trained with Monkey Peter, a well-regarded shaman. He acquired a second healer helper, a Hindu spirit, who taught him new techniques. Later in life, he would find third spiritual helper, a Hawaiian. Never stop learning. Eventually, Rupert divined that spirit and mind were both composed of ethereal spirits, and that the spirit world has three planes. (It still does.)

Rupert’s reputation as a healer spread. He successfully treated Northern Paiute and Western Shoshone patients, as well as Hawaiian, Filipino, Mexican and White people. Many were psychosomatic cases, including a World War II vet with visual hallucinations. His annual visits to a sacred Washoe site on the east shore of Lake Tahoe, eventually established the cultural significance of Cave Rock and became the legal basis for preserving the site from further development. It already had two holes blown through it for U.S. 50.

Rupert was buried at Carson Indian School, the place he’d first run away from. The cemetery is off from the campus in the sagebrush scrub and has about 170 grave markers, though time and climate have eroded much of the information that was inscribed upon them. The U.S. government recently launched a project to investigate unnamed graves – there could be 200 of them at Carson – and more fully document what generations of Nevada Indians experienced there.

Glimpse: from Claudine vs. the Ants

The pilgrims toured the still, shuttered school, but David the whole time was thinking about the secluded burial ground. He had not been back there since the debacle with Hendrik and the hitchhikers. He was drawn to it, even though he knew the others would follow him. He paused at the historical marker outside the cemetery, aware of the pilgrims behind him. Finn started to open the cemetery gate.

“We don’t want to go in there,” David said, holding it shut. He would not make the same mistake twice.

“It doesn’t say we can’t go in,” Roslyn pointed out.

“This is close enough.” David stood guard at the gate. “Some of these people were born before the intruders arrived and lived to see a way of life vanish. They didn’t have a word for wilderness.”

“Now I remember,” Hendrik said. “You had some kind of out-of-body experience here when you were a kid.”

David was surprised Hendrik remembered that much. “An old man was being buried. His astral body was still here, and I was aware of his spirit friends as he journeyed toward them.” He turned, noticing ant mounds scattered among the tombstones, grasses, sagebrush, greasewood. “I never met him while he was alive.”

David handed the car keys to Hendrik and pointed down the access road to the prison.

“We should go see if their dad is still there,” he said.

Glimpse: This still doesn’t have a title

from Chapter 2: His best is yet to come.

Marie stood in the walk-in closet of the master bedroom, looking at Oskar’s clothes. Shirts pressed and all in order, more suits and sport coats than he needed. Not a pair of jeans, blue or otherwise. Few casual shoes. In life, he was vain and bought new every season, giving away things no longer in fashion. He bought clothes for her according to his taste, not hers. On her side of the closet were dresses she’d never worn.

Marie pulled an elegant dark gray suit, fingering the Dormeuil. He’d worn it to some affair at the club that winter, she couldn’t remember which. He drank heavily at dinner and ridiculed her, telling a story about her losing the car keys while shopping, how they were later found in the organic vegetable section after he’d sent a spare key to her with a taxi driver. That much was true, but to embellish the story, he told their dinner companions that Marie rode home with the groceries and the cab driver, leaving the car at the market. She laughed along with the others when Oskar acknowledged that the last bit was fictional.

She removed the hanger, dropped it and the trousers to the floor. She carried the jacket into the bedroom, laid it on the king-size bed. Marie got a pair of scissors from her dresser and returned to sit on the edge of the bed. She considered the suit jacket for a moment and then began snipping off its buttons one by one, including the useless, decorative ones on the cuffs of the sleeves. She held the coat up for a moment, returned it to her lap and snipped out the lining. Humming softly, she continued the dismemberment by lopping off circles from the right sleeve. A long spiral in the left sleeve, all the way to the shoulder. Marie held the butchered jacket up to consider her handwork. She cut away most of the breast pocket so it hung limp.

She nodded, dropped the jacket on the floor and returned to look from more in the closet.

Two hours later, when Naomi came upstairs to ask what Marie wanted for supper, there was an impressive pile of Oskar’s re-tailored clothes on the floor. The widow was intently scissoring the crotch out of a pair of dress slacks.

“What are we doing now, Missus?” Naomi asked.

Without looking up, Marie said: “A woman’s work is never done.”

Naomi approached, holding out her hand for the scissors. “You can give me those now, Missus. Enough work for one day.”

Marie looked up, nodded and slowly offered the scissors. “It will go a lot faster with the hedge clippers.”

#4 Thing to do in Hyattsville

Visit the Loneliest Little Free Library in Town

Centennial Park is arguably the most visible and least visited park in Hyattsville. A patch of grass too small for anything else, squeezed between US 1, the bridge curving over the railroad tracks, and a more commercially viable lot. My guess is it was designated somewhere around the city’s 100-year anniversary, roughly 1986.

It has Little Free Library #457, although the LFL database thinks #457 is about 370 feet away and on the other side of the Rhode Island Ave. So maybe it was moved at some point. Given its charter number, it’s one of the oldest Little Free Libraries around.

Upon my first inspection a few weeks ago, I was bothered by the makeshift latch – worn twine stretched across two bare screws – that keeps the library door closed and protects its contents from the weather. Friday morning, I rummaged around in my shed for an awl and found a hook-and-eye latch still in its wrapping. When I got to the park I realized I had forgotten to bring a tool to remove the two screws sticking out of #457. Fortunately, the friendly man who manages the Hyattsville Vacuum Service next to the park loaned me borrow a pair of pliers.

The best that can be said of my handiwork is that it’s an improvement. I took the opportunity to contribute a copy of AutoFLICK to the library, one with the fancy cover designed by my wife.

There is a lively mural on the wall of the vacuum cleaner repair shop next to the park. And a tree with a fence around it dedicated to a civil servant who worked for the city for 25 years. There is also a Birds-I-View exhibit entitled “Vainglorious.”

In 2003, Prince George launched the Birds-I-View public art competition in which artists were given 5-foot-tall fiberglass bluebirds to decorate. Some 75 creations were installed around the county and 14 were chosen to be auctioned off. My wife and children made two bluebirds: one was placed outside the county seat and the other inside a library.