Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

Our Ever-Shrinking World

This past month, my family had the wonderful privilege of hosting an exchange student in our house for two weeks. In that all-too-brief stay with us, it became very clear through our interactions with this German teenager at how small our world is getting. Whether it was his very excellent English, choice in cologne or his one site-seeing request of visiting a Wal-Mart, the overwhelming evidence was there that we are indeed living in a global society and thus a shrinking world. But as enjoyable as his visit was, I didn’t need it as vindication for me. As someone who works throughout the city of Pittsburgh, I see this on almost a daily basis.

Pittsburgh has been a magnet for visitors, whether long term or short, for centuries now, and thanks in part to a great mix of travellers who have landed on the shores of our three rivers, we now can boast to be one of the “most…(pick your favorite top-ten list Pittsburgh has made it on recently)…cities” in the world. And as usual, the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is right there to help the recent traveler, and those who love them, meld into this ever-present global society.

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers a variety of language classes and conversation salons throughout the city, including our newest program Let’s Speak English for those whose native language isn’t English and would like to learn through conversation. The conversation salons allow native English speakers to converse with experts of various foreign languages. Just click here to search our events page for language-related programming going on at a neighborhood branch near you.

In addition to these fantastic events happening, there’s also our Mango Languages online learning program. Mango Languages allows you to practice a language of your choice (there are dozens available) in the privacy of your own home, office or wherever you choose to access this resource remotely, not to mention that it’s available on the computers in the libraries throughout the city. And don’t forget about Little Pim, which is a language program specifically geared toward children. The whole family can get in on the action!

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“Language Laboratory” – A language laboratory at one of Pittsburgh’s public schools, date unknown. Courtesy of the Western PA Historical Society collection.

Whether you want to brush up on your English, German, French or any number of other languages, your local Library is a great place to start your own personal journey through our global society.

-Maria J. (who failed miserably at Latin in high school, but is getting her Pittsburghese dahn pretty well.)

 

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Surprise! This Book Just Transformed Into My Worst Fear

I love Halloween because it’s the one time of year wearing a costume is socially acceptable. It’s the time you can be someone or something you’re not. You can taste what it’s like to be a monster, or your favorite fictional character, or a concept.

zombinatorLots of people in Pittsburgh, pretty much everyone apparently, wants to “taste” what it’s like to be a zombie—there are zombie walks, massive humans vs. zombies games on college campuses, zombie literature, a zombie store, and new zombie movies all the time.

Before I go any further, let me say this: I don’t scare easily.

Spiders? I put them outside so they can eat annoying bugs. Snakes? I had a pet snake when I was a kid, and the only reason I don’t have one now is because my dogs would probably try to eat it. Bats? I squeal with delight when I see one because I think they are super adorable (and they eat half their body weight in insects per night!). Insects? As long as they aren’t trying to bite me, dive bomb me, or fly into my mouth or ear, I don’t bother with them. And I love the ones that help my garden, like bees and lady bugs.

I do have one mortal fear, though: Zombies.

That’s right. I think bats are the cutest things ever, snakes make great pets, and spiders are my friendly household helpers, and yet I’m Terrified—with a capital T—of zombies.

It’s the idea that a monster could scratch you ever-so-slightly and yet still infect you with a disease that turns you into a mindless husk of a body with cannibalistic leanings. It’s the slow and relentless onslaught. The overwhelming numbers. That once they start coming, you can fight, but humanity’s demise is inevitable.

Walking Dead Book OneOnce, I tried reading The Walking Dead, and got ten pages in before I slammed the book shut. “Nope. No way. Not going to happen,” I told the book.

Miniature WifeLately, I’ve been stumbling onto zombie stories everywhere. This past weekend, I was reading The Miniature Wife and Other Stories by Manuel Gonzales, and BAM, surprise zombie story! I had to read it, because I have this compulsion about finishing books, and aside from the surprise zombies, I really enjoyed the delightful weirdness of the collection.

That night, I made my husband hold my hand after we turned out the lights, because I couldn’t stop thinking about the zombies and their gray teeth and slurping sounds.

bprdhellonearthoneLast month, I was reading B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth, and BAM, zombies! I’ve encountered the traditional slow-moving raised-from-the-dead zombies in Hellboy before (and those don’t really scare me), but these were mindless mutated half-animal creatures that got turned into zombies from breathing a gas released from a gigantic monster. UBER CREEPY.

weliveinwaterEven Jess Walter’s seemingly normal collection about class and race issues, We Live in Water, contains a surprise zombie story. It’s not a typical zombie story—people are turned by taking a recreational drug that changes their brain chemistry—but it’s still a zombie story.

stitchedIf you look at the cover of Stitched by Garth Ennis, a writer I greatly enjoy, it looks like a war comic with some scary reaper dudes. NOPE. It’s about voodoo zombies who can’t be killed. I read this one anyway, but man did it freak me out.

All these zombie stories act kind of like zombies themselves. You think you’re safe and comfortable and then all of a sudden your best friend has become a flesh-eating monster, and you have to fight for your life. I think I’m safe and comfortable reading fun quirky short stories about miniaturized wives or class issues in a decaying city, and then all of a sudden I’m reading a story about zombies and I’m terrified.

I guess this is one of the risks of being a science fiction and fantasy reader in the zombie-obsessed 21st century. It makes a kind of sense—lots of people believe we’re all turning into zombies because of too much work, because we listen to the same talking heads and don’t think for ourselves, because there is always a new virus that does scary, scary things to the human body.

So I’m not going to stop reading these types of stories, even though they make me want to hide under the covers like a five-year-old afraid of the monster in the closet.

How about you? Do you love zombies? Hate them? What’s your favorite zombie story?

-Kelly

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Toi Derricotte & Vanessa German: Saturday Poets-In-Person

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Come join us on Saturday, September 20th, at the Main Library in Oakland, for the inaugural reading in our brand new series, Saturday Poets-In-Person. The series will focus on well-known Pittsburgh poets, with the featured poets for the first reading being Toi Derricotte and Vanessa German. Readings will take place from 3 to 4 pm on Saturday afternoons. Sign language interpretation will be provided for our Deaf community.

Toi Derricotte is an important American poet whose work resonates deeply with the sorrows and the joys of being human, utilizing elements of her own life to inform us all what it is to be alive in the late 20th and early 21st century. An award winning poet who is the co-founder of Cave Canem, an organization “committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets,” she was elected Chancellor of  the Academy of American Poets in 2012.

Vanessa German is a multidisciplinary artist based in Pittsburgh’s historic Homewood neighborhood. Her performances have been described by Creative Mornings  as being in a “style called Spoken Word Opera; a dynamic hybrid of spoken word poetry infused with the theatrical elements of Opera, Hip Hop, and African Storytelling.” Her love of Homewood, her personal courage in the face of adversity, and her performance work, the stuff of Pittsburgh legend, are well-known both nationally and internationally.

All readings will take place in the International Poetry Room on the second floor of Main Library. The poetry collection housed there contains over 4,500 books and is one of the largest standalone poetry collections in a public library in the US. The collection was begun by the Carnegie Library in collaboration with Dr. Samuel Hazo, the founder and Executive Director of the International Poetry Forum, with a few dozen books back in 1976 and has grown into a destination point for poetry lovers in Pittsburgh and throughout Allegheny County.

For lovers of the written word, performance art, or poetry, this is a program not to be missed. I hope to see you there. FYI, here is a flyer for the complete series. Just click to enlarge:

page0001~ Don

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Me and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me And Earl and the Dying GirlWhen I first heard that Jesse Andrews‘ debut novel Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was being made into a movie, and was being filmed here in Pittsburgh, no less, I immediately snatched the book up from our teen section at CLP – Mt. Washington.

Then it sat on a chair in my apartment for three weeks.

What can I say? It’s summertime.  There are trails to be biked and girls in sundresses to be ogled.  So after those three weeks lapsed, I renewed it.  Again, it sat while I found other activities to do rather than diving into those meager two hundred and ninety-five pages.  Suddenly, I saw that the holds list for the book was growing, so I got to reading.

I’m so glad that I finally did.

Narrator Greg Gaines is a high school senior who blends in with each social circle he encounters without ever fully becoming a member of them.  His only friend is Earl and together they make weird no-budget home movies inspired by the likes of Werner Herzog.  Greg’s only plan for his last year of school is to fly as low under the radar as he can.  His plan is foiled when his mother decrees that he must revive his childhood friendship with leukemia-stricken Rachel—the dying girl of the book’s title.  In the end, events transpire that cast off Greg’s carefully crafted cloak of invisibility that he has taken so long to cultivate.

I simply loved Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. I was literally laughing out loud several times while I read it. The last book that made me laugh out loud as much was Mac Lethal’s hilarious and surprisingly heartwarming Texts from Bennet, a spin-off of the popular Tumblr of the same name.  Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is no less hilarious and no less heartwarming.

Since the book is based in Pittsburgh, I found it very believable and found myself easily relating to Greg. By now I’m sure you can tell that I love movies, not unlike Greg, so I saw a bit of myself there.  But there’s more.  I strongly related to Greg’s navigation of the cliques of high school.  When I was his age, I would often imagine what high school would look like if the social scales were suddenly inverted.  I always believed—and still do to this day—that if ever such a cosmic shift had occurred, I would have remained firmly in the center of the spectrum; my popularity would have been unchanged.  I believed this because while I may not have been friends with everyone, I was certainly friendly toward everyone.  However, my math might be a bit off since there were just over eighty kids in my graduating class whereas Greg goes to Benson High School, an almost certain stand-in for the recently sold Schenley High School.

Regarding the upcoming film version, news of it has been scant. As of writing this, the most recent piece of info was pictures of Olivia Cooke, the titular dying girl, surfacing from Comic-Con, sans hair.  According to Thomas Mann’s Instagram account (because that’s a place we go to for news these days), filming wrapped on July 20. Mann will be bringing Greg’s awkwardness to life in the film.

Photo by thomas_mann

Sightseeing at Mind Cure Records and The Copacetic Comics Company after getting a drink from Lili Café in Polish Hill…or is this part of the movie? We’ll find out whenever it’s released! Photo by thomas_mann on Instagram

I know I’m potentially setting myself up for disappointment, but based on how much I loved the book, I feel like I already love the movie.  I know, I know.  There are inherent dangers when adapting a book to a movie, but I have faith because Andrews himself wrote the screenplay.  If Andrews loves films as much as Greg does, I have hope.  There are several times in the novel when the layout switches from a normal book to the layout of a script. That was just one of the many things that endeared the book to me. I also loved how self-aware the book is. Greg is hilariously self-deprecating and directly addresses the reader several times. I kept thinking of movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day OffFight Club and Amélie while I was reading it. If the movie can capture even a fraction of the fourth-wall-breaking fun in those movies, I’ll be very pleased.  This movie could very well—potentially—be added to the pantheon of my favorite Pittsburgh-filmed movies.

Andrews has crafted a story that is realistic in both its humor and its treatment of how I’d imagine a socially awkward kid would react to a friend dying of cancer. I certainly enjoyed the book more than a certain other book about a girl with cancer whose movie counterpart also recently filmed here.  Is the trope “girls with cancer” approaching the territory of a cliché? I don’t know, but however you like your books about girls with cancer, either unrealistically saccharine or realistically humorous, you should definitely check out “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” while we wait for the movie. I’ll undoubtedly review it here whenever it comes out.

Have you read the book? Do you want to yell at me and tell me how wrong I am for not liking The Fault in Our Stars? Sound off in the comments below!

–Ross

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Us vs Them: or, a Rust Belt Sibling Rivalry

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My regular late summer visit home to Cleveland was this past weekend with its requisite must do’s of each visit – family, friends, food, and cultural or sporting event. I’ve been living in Southwest PA nearly as long as I lived in Northeast Ohio, and the one constant over those many years has been the comments (some positive, but most not) from family, friends, co-workers, neighbors regarding the “other” city. If they only knew that each is more alike than not, and both cities have such great assets that citizens of each city should be eager to explore, and easy to do with such a relatively short drive down the respective turnpikes. And so I thought it high time that I point out some of the greatness of each city:

FOOD

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Who doesn’t need to eat, and make that part of any trip? Both cities have wonderful ethnic neighborhoods highlighting the melting pot aspects of each of these Rust Belt cities. Cleveland’s Little Italy  neighborhood near the cultural center of  University Circle, which hosted its annual “Feast” celebration this past weekend, is not to be outdone by Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood, nor is Polish Hill and the pierogies produced throughout Pittsburgh to be outdone by Cleveland’s Slavic Village and those specialty foods produced by the hearts and hands of Northeastern Ohioans. And while Clevelanders have the historic West Side Market to make their purchases of specialty meats, cheeses, produce and more, Pittsburghers are able to stroll the streets of their historic Strip District and stop in to make purchases at the likes of Salem’s, Wholey’s, and Penn Mac.

Hot Sauce Williams is a must stop in Cleveland for lovers or ribs, and soul food specialties, but in Pittsburgh you have to do a little bit more digging to fill your craving for mac and cheese or greens and other soul food favorites. Cleveland, and more specifically my childhood neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, boasts famous chefs in residence (Michael Symon, Michael Ruhlman and James Beard award winning Douglas Katz). Pittsburgh has many of its own top chefs in the local restaurant world… including James Beard contenders and winners Justin Severino, Kevin Sousa and Trevett Hooper to name only a few… where it will just be a matter of time before many of these become nationally known food stars.

SPORTS

pncpark

Now, be honest, we must all agree that Pittsburgh has a bit of a leg up on this topic with the many championships achieved by the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins throughout the decades (brought to light in the very excellent Heinz History Center’s Sports Museum), but Clevelanders have something Pittsburghers don’t – a professional basketball team.With the return of basketball’s prodigal son whose name shall still remain nameless among many of my Cleveland family and friends, it may be soon that Cleveland will be able to crow about a being a city of champions.

WATER

clevelandlake

Pittsburgh has three rivers, which come together at “The Point”,  and the spectacular bridge architecture and terrain that goes along with those geographic features. Cleveland, on the other hand has a river (which no longer burns!) and a Great Lake, complete with beaches, marinas and fresh walleye. A trip along the Mon or Allegheny is just as enjoyable as a boat ride along “north coast” beaches and down the Cuyahoga River, famous for having caught on fire back in 1969, as well as having a beer and festival named after it.

CULTURE

Cleveland_Museum_of_Art_-_lagoon_with_statue

Two rust belt cities only 2.5 hours from each other are so fortunate to have world class orchestras, not to mention museums of art housing some of the greatest works of art from world renowned artists (one of which is free to get in!) Pittsburgh has a wonderful children’s museum, both cities have fun science centers, Pittsburgh can claim the wildly eclectic Warhol Museum and Mattress Factory, while Cleveland is home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Pittsburgh’s contribution to the jazz world might be a surprise to outsiders, but with names like Eckstine and Strayhorn as part of the musical fabric of this town, this particular musical genre puts a plus in Pittsburgh’s column.  And neither city lacks multiple options for live theater venues for fans of Broadway, off Broadway, and home grown productions.

And of course…LIBRARIES

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What kind of librarian would I be if I didn’t mention the plethora of FREE resources available to residents of both cities and their surrounding suburbs through their local public library system!? For those of you here in Pittsburgh, the city has 19 neighborhood branches for you to visit via the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and if that’s not enough the entire county of Allegheny boasts a total of 70 library locations! Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are equally rich in their public library offerings –from the downtown branch on Superior Avenue to the outlying community libraries in Euclid, Beechwood, Berea and more.

Beyond the spectacular architecture of many of the original Carnegie libraries, many branches in both cities boast special collections worth the trip out of your own neighborhood. The A.C. Free Library in Carnegie, PA has a special collection of Civil War memorabilia for all you history buffs, and speaking of history, the Braddock Carnegie Library in Braddock, PA was the first Carnegie Library in the United States! The Main Library of the Cleveland Public Library system’s historic Walker & Weeks building is home to a large circulation collection, special collections and the Eastman Reading Garden, which is home to a fantastic collection of public art. And CPL’s Main branch even has a drive up window!

Now, before you start commenting below, I know that I left out A LOT of other assets both cities have to offer (alternative music scene, green space, urban agriculture, educational institutions, public transit, brew pubs, and more), but I’m going to leave those for you to discover and share with your favorite naysayer when you make your trip up to Cleveland or down to Pittsburgh, because I know you will after reading this, AND I know that you will be pleasantly surprised at the fact that these siblings are more alike than not!

-Maria J. (proud to claim both cities as “home”)

(all images courtesy of Google Image search)

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Home Again, Home Again.

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I have lived in Pittsburgh my entire life. I didn’t go away to college, I didn’t leave after I graduated, I stayed here for graduate school and I’ve spent my whole library career (so far) at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

I have zero complaints about this.

Yet twice recently I’ve found myself defending my choice to stay in Pittsburgh. I’m sure some of you have had someone say, “Sooooo, you just never left” in a particularly arch voice, implying a provincialism and xenophobia that I’m sure to be chock full of.

Yinz can kiss my dupa ‘naht. 

Garbella

Garbella loves us!

Let me tell you some amazing things about where I live. But promise not to tell anyone because we have enough people here already. We get lots of prestigious awards here in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was listed as one of the best trips in the WORLD by National Geographic Traveler in 2012. This is a list that includes New Zealand, Croatia, Mongolia and Thailand!

We were voted the 4th Most Literate City in the US (because our public library rocks!) and voted Most Romantic by Amazon. Everyone knows that literate people are good at doing it. We are also regularly voted most affordable (6th), safest, most livable (29th world wide), and we have the NUMBER ONE ballpark (PNC Park) as voted on by Fox Sports. We have internationally known museums, theater venues and a bunch of other great art stuff.

According to to Economist Intelligence Unit “It’s official: Pittsburgh is best place live in U.S.”

Also: Cookie Tables.

In an admittedly piqued mood, I went to social media. Of course it turned into a Steel City love fest.

Here’s a snippet what other people had to say:

DO IT FOR SCIENCE!
If you were born and raised in Pittsburgh and never moved away, please explain why in the comments. Thank you!

  • I like it here. It’s the perfect balance of urban and natural landscapes. It’s inexpensive enough that I can afford to travel. The literary and arts scenes are solid. People are friendly.
  • I seriously feel like an outcast in other cities. I love cities like New Orleans, San Diego, Boston, etc… But no city but Pittsburgh understands that quirky, high strung, angry but funny, serious but carefree attitude people here have.
  • It’s home, it’s roots. I love other places too, but I fit Pittsburgh and it fits me.
  • Carton tea. Also, strangers are nice to each other, I can find at least one person that knows my gram, or uncles, or cousins pretty much anywhere I go and I want my kids to say “dahn” properly.
  • It’s home. I make sense here. Is that scientific enough?

There were another 30 comments. People love this place. (Though we nearly unanimously hate the weather.)

c3d6c6da8da0052fb44b1110.LMy favorite Pittsburgh book recommendation is Out of this Furnace by Thomas Bell

Out of this Furnace is one of my favorite books and my favorite Pittsburgh book of all time. Also, while I was working on this post, I discovered Thomas Bell and I share the same birthday! That kind of made my day. Anyways, Out of this Furnace follows three generations of an immigrant Slovak family- the Dobrejaks. Patriarch Djuro Kracha arrives in the mid-1880s and makes his way to Braddock, Pennsylvania. Working in the steel mills, Kracha’s bad decisions (money and personal) contribute to his downfall. Part two follows his daughter, Mary and her marriage to political idealist Mike. It is an amazing portrait of the immigrant experience in Pittsburgh, a fascinating look at the inhumane conditions in the steel industry, and documents the rise of unions and the people who fought and died for workers rights. I’ll say up front that it’s a heavy read, but it’s worth it. And you’ll love Pittsburgh even more for its history.

My response to why I never left? Everything and everyone I love is here. Why have you stayed? Or left?

Trzymaj się,

suzy

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I Learned How To Spell ‘Gyllenhaal’ Without Looking While Writing This

The last time Jake Gyllenhaal was in Pittsburgh was when he was filming 2009’s Love & Other Drugs.  Now, he’s back in town filming Southpaw. Directed by Hill District-native Antoine Fuqua—who led Denzel Washington to his Oscar win in 2001’s Training Day—the currently-filming drama follows the rising boxing career of Billy “The Great” Hope as his personal life declines. Sadly, this entry has no juicy behind-the-scenes anecdotes.  Sorry about that.

If Southpaw is anything like last year’s Pittsburgh-filmed boxing movie Grudge Match, I don’t have very high hopes.  Have any good sports movies even been made since Space Jam in 1996?

I didn’t think so.

Anyway, I’ll probably still see it because, as I’ve mentioned, I like seeing Pittsburgh on film.  And I like Gyllenhaal as an actor, even if I’ve always seen him as a teenager.  This is probably due to his roles in Donnie Darko, The Good Girl and the 2001 remake of Bubble Boy.  Even seeing him in the spectacular Zodiac and the wonderful Brokeback Mountain, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching a kid playing an adult.

Pictured: me in college enjoying Jake Gyllenhaal. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Collins

Pictured: me in college enjoying Jake Gyllenhaal.
Photo courtesy of Caitlin Collins

That all changed when I saw the two films that Gyllenhaal put out last year:  Oscar-nominated Prisoners and Enemy, both helmed by Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve.

I’ll talk about those two films on the next page.

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