Monthly Archives: February 2010

Bringing a Little Green into Your Life

Money? Nope. This green will introduce a color other than white into your life. With seemingly no end in sight to the winter wonderland outside your window, March 20, the official start of spring, feels much too far away. Terrariums! They’re an easy and fun way to get your spring fix in the dead of winter, not to mention an ideal situation for the forgetful gardener who can’t seem to remember to water.

photo credit, ex.libris. from http://www.flickr.com

With no more than a glass jar, gravel, soil, plants, and some cute vintage woodland inspired trinkets, you can create your very own indoor ecosystem from the comforts of home. Between thrift stores and nurseries, all the low-cost supplies you’ll need can easily be acquired. Tons of online tutorials are available. Some places to get started can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here. And as always, the Library has a collection of resources to help you fashion your own personal forest.

Happy planting!

– Lisa

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Researching Race Relations in Pittsburgh Music

For his quartet of the 1930s, clarinetist Benny Goodman hired Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton, “the first black musicians to perform regularly in public with a white band.”¹

What was the situation in the Pittsburgh jazz scene?

If you explore the Oral History of Music in Pittsburgh (OHMP) collection housed in the Music Department, you’ll find race relations touched upon by a number of interviewees such as journalist Frank Bolden, drummer H. B. Bennett, union member Philip Slaugh, and organist Charles H. Heaton.

Another great resource would be the almost 100 interviews conducted by the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh (AAJPSP) that are housed by the University of Pittsburgh’s Archives Service Center.   The AAJPSP has also done tremendous research and archiving of the African American branch of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 471, which remained separate from the rest of the union until the mid 1960s.

Carlos Peña’s research into Pittsburgh jazz recordings interestingly revealed that “aside from African-Americans, Italian-Americans seem to be the most highly-represented ethnic group.”   In an interview by Peña, keyboardist Frank Cunimondo “indicates that ethnic backgrounds never figured into the dynamics of the scene on a conscious level, and that the musicians, Black, Italian, or otherwise, generally had good relations.”

One might expect or, at least, hope for a fair amount of integration and respect when white musicians were playing and enjoying a musical genre created by African Americans (that itself was an adaptation of European musical forms).  And this was the case, albeit temporarily, in the Hill District in the 1950s, the black cultural center where whites partook of the nightlife.  Or in East Liberty, Italian American jazz musicians lived in close proximity to African Americans before the 1960s.  Then such things as urban renewal projects and an economic shift away from manufacturing drastically changed these neighborhoods’ demographics and certainly affected Pittsburgh’s music history.

It’s a complicated story and worthy of further research, not just during Black History Month, but year round.  The above-mentioned resources and many others are available at your library.

— Tim

¹ Teachout, Terry. “Swinging with Benny Goodman.” Commentary 105.5 (1998).

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Serendipity and a Park Bench

Last week’s snowstorms affected the Carnegie Library’s users and staff alike.  In today’s guest post, Richard reflects upon his brush with what many are calling The Blizzard of 2010.

Given the week we’ve just had, after spending several hours out in the snow you could be excused if you thought I was going to bring up Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”.  I’m not; I’m more in mind of Neil Diamond.

"What a beautiful noise comin' up from the street."

I happen to be fortunate in that I live across from one of Pittsburgh’s gems: Highland Park.  The park, which opened in 1893, is a natural wonder overlooking the Allegheny River (as well as my house), and certainly makes it hard to believe that my corner of the Highland Park neighborhood is really within city limits.  On Tuesday I was able to get out and try some less-than-serious cross-country skiing on both the unplowed streets and in the park itself.  By not plowing down to the asphalt, Pittsburgh Public Works provided me with the perfect skiing surface– not roadway, and not two feet of powder more appropriate for snowshoes.

I spent about two hours early Tuesday evening in and around the park, almost alone, but not quite.  It wasn’t bucolic; I wasn’t making the first tracks on virgin snow, and to tell you the truth, I didn’t need to:  I’ve done that before.

This was an urban experience — hence the reference to Neil Diamond.  I was thinking of his 1976 song Beautiful Noise.  I was skiing above Bunker Hill Road, which is not normally a quiet country lane.  For three days, though, there had been no buses and few plows, and only the foolish or eternally optimistic had taken their chances going up or down.

"What a beautiful noise comin' up from the park."

During my sojourn there were just enough buses and cars off to the side to remind me where I was without disturbing me…and in a way, the interruptions were reassuring.  In the park itself there were two or three other people and the falling snow.  As I was trying to stay on relatively packed areas — trails imply a deliberate “from here to there,” and that wasn’t the case — I came across two snow-covered park benches placed under a copse of two or three pine trees.  They were arranged in such a way that the trees afforded some protection from the falling snow, and the panorama of the restored fountain was open before them.

They were perfectly alluring, and we owe a modest amount of gratitude to

"It's a beautiful noise made of joy and of strife."

whoever placed them there, whether deliberately or just because it seemed like a good place.  I’ll make sure to go back and check them out in the spring and summer, when the sounds of the street are a little clearer.

–Richard

"Like a symphony played by the passing parade, it's the music of life."

All photos copyright 2010, RK.  Used with permission.

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Hermann Hesse: The Fairytales

Hermann Hesse has all the earmarks of a neglected master.  His books, with the occasional exception of Demian and Siddhartha, are rarely assigned.  Steppenwolf and Siddhartha are read outside the well-manicured groves of academe by the errant, bleary-eyed follower of Kerouac or the clear-eyed seeker of esoteric knowledge, often the same person at different places on the never-ending path.

Yet, master he is, evinced by this simple test: when you meet a follower of Hesse, ask which is her/his favorite book.  Invariably, you will get a broad spectrum of replies: Narcissus and Goldmund, Steppenwolf, The Glass Bead Game, Strange News from Another Star and Other Tales, Demian, Wandering.

Mine is The Journey to the East.

As part of my New Year’s resolution from last year, I was going to dip into some of the lesser-known works of Hesse.  As all but one of those reading resolutions went unrealized, I decided this year I would do some catching up, at least in this case.

Which brings us to The Fairytales of Hermann Hesse, translated by Jack Zipes and published in 1995. And what a wonderful, as in full of wonder, collection it is.  Zipes is one of the most famous authorities on fairy tales alive today and has collected, translated, and annotated some of the classic fairy tales from many cultures, including the complete Brothers Grimm, the unexpurgated Arabian Nights, Aesop’s Fables, as well as French, German, feminist, and Victorian fairytales.  He has also penned a number of groundbreaking non-fiction studies on the subject.

“Märchen” is the German word for fairytale (and roughly translates as “tales of wonder”); this particular type of tale has a romantic tinge,  and it is in this genre that Hesse was experimenting with these stories. In fact, the original German publication of many of these stories were collected together in a volume entitled Märchen.  They contain many fantastical, wondrous elements which at once give them a universal, slightly surreal quality when filtered through Hesse’s consciousness.   The spellbinding influence of 19th century German fantasy writer E. T. A. Hoffmann, the author of The Mouse King and the Nutcracker from which the famous Nutcracker ballet was adapted, may be felt at different times throughout the volume.

For Hesse, Zipes provides a unifying voice and a context into which the tales have been collected.  Previously, 16 of the 22 tales in this book have been translated into English by 3 different translators in 4 different volumes: Strange News from Another Star and Other TalesStories of Five Decades, Pictor’s Metamorphoses and Other Fantasies, and If The War Goes On.  By extracting the stories with fairytale elements and collecting them together, Zipes has given Hesse fans a whole new way of looking at him, an extra dimension that adds depth and understanding not only to these particular stories, but to the whole of Hesse’s output.

The tales themselves are quite marvelous, ranging from traditional style folk/fairytales to fantasy, with varying elements of fable, science fiction, dream, proverb, and allegory.  Among my favorites is the Kafkaesque story, “A Man Named Ziegler,” about a young man who comes to a new town and decides to spend his off day at a museum and zoo; without thinking, he swallows a “tiny globule” from a medieval exhibit, heads off to the zoo and is suddenly able to understand and communicate with the animals.  As one might expect, they are naturally none too happy with human beings.  The brief fable, “A City,” is the tale of the rise, fall, and imminent rise again of a town, told from an omnipotent, god-like perspective and is quite well-done.  Hesse has a bit of fun at the expense of “militant” vegetarians, a  group similar to which he himself had joined briefly in 1907, in the story “Dr. Knoegle’s End.” “Augustus” is a tale stylistically reminiscent of Hans Christian Anderson and yet a perfect example of how Hesse made the form his own.   “The Poet,” too, is also in the style of folklore yet focussed on such familiar Hesse themes as creativity and the quest for self-knowledge.

Dreams, nature, and the consequences of war are recurrent themes, sometimes treated from an apocalyptic perspective and at other times allegorically: “If the War Continues” and “Empire” are prime examples. Like “The Poet,” “The Fairy Tale of the Wicker Chair,” and “The Painter,” the stories examine various aspects of the artistic life.  The volume concludes with perhaps the best story of all, entitled “Iris,” about the secret life of a very young boy in his garden, how he grows up and away from what was most important to him, eventually attempting to recapture the lost magic of his childhood dreams.

David Frampton woodcut

And as if all this was not enough, the book is charmingly illustrated with 13 woodcuts, including the cover, by David Frampton, which somehow exhibit a classic tone yet have a strangely contemporary feel.

These insightful little tales make for perfect reading during snowbound mid-winter days.  Whether you are a lifelong Hesse fan, interested in fairytales, or looking for something at once meatier yet engaging in a volume of short fiction, this book might be just the ticket.  Who knows, perhaps you too might recapture some of the forgotten magic of an earlier time when a story meant more than a quick read and its resonance might last a lifetime, and beyond.

–Don

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My heart is flying to Brazil right now…

… just in time for Carnaval!  While this time of year is celebrated all around the world in various ways, I want to be in Rio de Janeiro so badly that I can taste the feijoada and feel the beat of the samba drum vibrating in my bones.

Beginning tomorrow night and continuing through Tuesday night, a wild, joyful combination of parades, Carnival balls, street parties, and general merrymaking will overtake Rio in the annual celebration that takes place just before Lent, known as Carnival.  According to The Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival & Lent, the country-wide party started with the arrival of the Portuguese in Brazil during the 16th century, when the colonists brought the tradition with them.  Over the centuries, the customs changed, particularly with the addition of African cultural influences following the abolition of slavery in Brazil in 1888, and the development of the samba schools in the 1930s.  Things got seriously organized when they built the Sambadromo in 1984, a half-mile long samba stadium that seats about 70,000 spectators.  There, the elaborate floats, flag bearers, samba dancers, drummers and singers process down the runway, past the judges and the crowd, representing their community and neighborhood through music, dance and prodigiously-costumed spectacle.

A Carnival float - photo by flickr user Marcus Correa

Clearly, I’m not going to make it there in body, but I will get there in spirit, via the library, with these DVDs and CDs from our collection:

  • The Black Music of Brazil:  A documentary that observes the samba schools as they prepare for Carnival, while also looking at other styles of Afro-Brazilian music.
  • Black Orpheus:  This 1959 feature film tells the story of Eurydice and Orpheus, set during Carnival in Rio.
  • Black Rio Vol. 2, Original Samba Soul 1968-1981:  Dance music from the Brazilian soul scene.
  • Dance Today!  Samba and The Samba Reggae Workout:  Learn  to dance two different styles of Brazilian samba from Quenia Ribeiro.  The first is a Rio-style samba – check out the awesomely ridiculous high heels in the performance segments of the DVD.  The second features samba-reggae dance moves.  Samba-reggae is a style not from Rio, but from next year’s destination of my heart:  Bahia.  It’s a combination of Samba and Jamaican Reggae that developed in the 1970s in the city of Salvador.  Don’t be confused by the titles, both are a workout!
  • Brazil, Bahia:  Dance along to more samba-reggae, along with tropicalia and axé, two other styles of Brazilian pop music.
  • Grandes Sambistas:  featuring Velha Guarda da Portela performing sambas by Wilson Moreira, Nelson Sargento, and others.
  • Pure Brazil: Caipirinha: 14 Tracks for Drinking and Dancing:  No post featuring Brazilian music would be complete without some bossa novas, whether or not samba rules the day during Carnival.  Brazilian music has been heavily influenced by jazz, and this CD features many top performers like Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso.

-Kaarin

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American Life Stories

READ ABOUT IT! American Life Stories is the title of a new book discussion series coming this spring to the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh-Main. Funded by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, this 4-part series will be held on Tuesday evenings  from 6:30-8:00 pm in the Director’s Conference Room . Titles and dates are:

March 9: The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride

March 30: When I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

April 20: Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Faroozeh Dumas

Mary 18: Ojibwa Warrior: Dennis Banks and the Rise of the American Indian Movement by Dennis Banks

We are happy to announce that Dr. Liane Norman Ellison, a local author and poet, will be leading the discussion.

–Jane

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Top Ten Lies About the Film & Audio Department

It’s time to clear up a few misconceptions about our department.

 1. We don’t buy new movies.

Untrue! We purchase new movies months before they’re commercially released, just like book stores and department stores. Why, earlier this month we purchased 2012 (release date 03/02/10) and Pirate Radio (release date 04/13/10) and there are already hundreds of people waiting for them. That’s the real reason why you never see brand new movies on our shelves – they’re already checked out. 

2. We hide the good stuff from you. 

Robot Chicken

Now that's good stuff.

Nope. We want you to check things out. We really really do! Did you know that our funding is partially based on how many people use the library? Please, take our movies! Take five DVDs and five VHS tapes! And you can have ten CDs while you’re at it. Then add thirty books, and you’ll finally hit the fifty item limit

 

3. Sasquatch rearranges our shelves so nothing’s ever in order.

When the shelves are out of order, it’s usually because people like to leave things in odd places. So if you don’t want that documentary about whistling, please leave it on a book truck and we’ll reshelve it. It’s cool, we pay people to do this stuff. But we’d still rather you check things out (see #2). 

4. We swipe your requests when they come in so we can watch the new stuff first.

Did you know that most library employees suffer from an overdeveloped sense of justice? If your request isn’t here when you come to pick it up, it’s far more likely to be a computer error or human error than it is a library thief. We just don’t do that. We wait our turn, too. 

5. We only buy the things we like.

Angels & Demons

Eh....

Of course we buy things we like, but we really want to make sure that there’s something for everyone. For instance, some of us can’t stand Tom Hanks, but a quick search of our catalog will pull up 30+ Tom Hanks films here in the Main library. If you find a hole in our collection or an underrepresented point of view, please let us know.

6. Everything we have is downloadable.

Oh, how we wish this were true. Unfortunately, we can’t afford to make everything available online, though we do have thousands of lovely downloadable audiobooks for you to choose from. 

7. You must be at least six feet tall to work in our department.

While most of our staff is tall and gangly, there is one librarian of average height. We would be delighted to hire shorter staffers, if only they were qualified and we had any openings. 

8. We only keep our VHS collection because we don’t want to spend more money on DVDs.

It's a Gift

We should buy this on DVD.

No way! We absolutely love DVDs. They take up less space on the shelves and they never get tangled up in VCRs. We keep our VHS collection because many old movies have not been released on DVD, and because some of our customers don’t own DVD players. And if you desperately need to watch that movie for school, a VHS copy is better than nothing, right? 

 

9. We only buy DVDs because we don’t want to spend more money on Blu-Ray discs.

Well, that’s partially true, because movies on Blu-Ray cost a lot more than movies on DVD. But the main reasons are a) DVDs are more durable (library DVDs take a lot of abuse) and b) most of our customers don’t own Blu-Ray players. For now, it makes more sense for us to stick to DVDs. 

10. Librarians think that books are more important than movies.

Untrue! For instance, the movie versions of War and Peace are just as much a part of our cultural record as the book (and they’re a lot handier for the student who has to write a book report this weekend).* And if you had to choose, wouldn’t you rather keep Cosmos than the complete works of Danielle Steel?** We sure would. 

And there you have it; mysteries of the Film & Audio Department revealed. 

*Note: The Film & Audio does not condone or support watching the movie instead of reading the book.

**Note: Yes, Danielle Steel is also a part of our cultural record.

– Amy

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