Everyone's a Critic
The Observer's culture blogThursday, July 2, 2020
DANGER AT THE DOG PARK: What Every Visitor Needs to Know.
Posted by John Hilton at 9:55 a.m. | 1 comment
Wednesday, June 10, 2020
A DAY IN A MASK, by Erin Fedeson
What is it like
A day in a mask
At a coffee
Shop in this crisis?
We fill our day
With daily tasks and
Waiting out time
From clock in to out.
We smile behind
Our masks, hoping it
Reaches our eyes.
Music fills silence
But not the void,
Missing our friends,
And our regulars.
We miss seeing
New faces coming
In with wonder
Shining in their eyes.
So we stay strong.
We put on our masks.
We brew coffee.
We await the day
The masks come off,
So we smile once more
With whole faces.
Posted by John Hilton at 11:56 p.m. | 0 comments
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
PANDEMIC PONDERING, by Erin Fedeson
What do people ponder in this pandemic?
We are sharing in this status of social distancing.
Yet what is our story?
How is yours different from mine?
I was here in Ann Arbor before the pandemic.
Ann Arbor's streets bustled with student life.
Tourists strolled, taking in the sights and sound.
The homeless' small voices whispered, "Spare some change," from the city's nooks and crannies.
I am here in Ann Arbor during the pandemic.
The streets are silent.
Students and tourists ghosted from the streets.
The homeless' words, "Spare some change," speak louder as humanity is absent from Ann Arbor's streets.
As a barista, people are my work's life line.
COVID-19 dried out the waters that sustained the business.
My boss valiantly struggled to balance safety and business.
She partnered with initiatives to help her employees out.
She regretted she couldn't give more.
In these times, her drive and dedication to her staff is worth more than a check's weight.
One fine day, I took to the streets as a runner.
All my activity is taken from me.
It leaves me seeking structure to my day.
On Palmer Field, runners like me jog.
A mother pushes her stroller.
A handful of people play tennis on the courts.
A few days later, signs appear, saying there's a fine for those using the field and courts.
But does it mean that the runners have no place to go?
Businesses along the streets advertise carryout.
Businesses etch love out to the city on their windows.
Anxiousness of unemployment, did I get the paperwork done?
Unable to talk to a human being makes worry gnaw my insides.
Co-workers struggle to get unemployment.
I have so many blessings.
At this time, I seek peace through the written word.
It is here I share a glimpse of my pandemic ponderings.
Posted by John Hilton at 9:55 p.m. | 0 comments
Tuesday, October 29, 2019
ANN ARBOR, a poem by Meaghan Prindle
Mid-morning dawns slow over arbored lawns,
Where collegiate airs mix with quirky town affairs.
Now traverse Washington & State, downtown cosmopolitan and quaint;
Breath stilled at the view long west ‘cross avenues,
Sun’s sleepy rays slant through Midwestern haze
To glaciated hills, painted leaves, fertile till.
Lo, I confess! Rooted deep in my breast
There’s a fervent, enduring love that I harbor,
My city, my home, my beloved Ann Arbor.
Posted by John Hilton at 3:00 p.m. | 1 comment
Friday, June 28, 2019
WELCOME TO THE ANN ARBOR SKATEPARK, by David Swain
When my family moved to the new Westaire Terrace subdivision near Haisley School in 1958, Vet's (Veteran's Memorial) Park was still known as the fairgrounds (it had replaced Burns Park in the 1920s as the site for the county fair). A few old buildings still stood on the high ground near Jackson Road where where the fire station, pool and ice rink are now.
There weren't any softball or baseball diamonds yet on the northern, lower area. In their place stood an old harness-racing oval track, though it hadn't been used for a few years. My older sister (who was quite the horse-fancier) was rather disappointed that there had been plenty of equestrian activity in the area, but we got there too late (we had moved from the Burns Park neighborhood, but we didn't know at the time about the relationship between Burns Park and Vet's (you can still see the outline of the track from the way the trees were planted at Burns Park).
I was never any good at most sports, but while still at Haisley School, I decided to try playing golf. My father also took up the game and for many years, we enjoyed playing together about once a week. After my father died in 2014 at age 90 (he scored his last birdie at age 89), I couldn't afford to keep up the membership at Radrick Farms, so I needed to find an alternative sport/activity.
My dad had been living at Hillside Terrace on Jackson Road for a few years and I was nearby in the Hollywood Park subdivision near Abbot School, so I would drive by Vet's Park quite often. The Ann Arbor Skate Park was under construction and would open on the first day of summer in 2014. My first contact with skateboarding (or "sidewalk surfing" as it was then known) was in 1963 when our family took a trip out west in our 1959 2-cycle, 3-cylinder SAAB.
I got a skateboard two years later from Beaver's Bike and Hobby on Church Street (where the Brown Jug back room is now). When M-14 (then called "Northbelt") was first built, a friend and I rode from by the Newport bridge down to the river before it was open to traffic. Coming home, we skated down Wines Drive where my erstwhile sixth-grade teacher, Bill Browning (Mr. B) saw me and remarked on how graceful I was on the skateboard, in contrast to any other physical activities that I had ever engaged in.
I continued to skate through the years. There is a brief film clip of me skateboarding in the legendary Ozone Parade (probably the second one [1973?]) streaming a big American flag behind me. I broke my elbow in 1992 rolling around during a break at my band's gig.
I had never even seen a skate park before one was built right in my neighborhood.
On opening day, I was down there with my bike helmet, garden kneepads, thick-soled Reeboks and my 20 year old skateboard (my "new" one). One of the many great things about the AASP is that no matter what your ability level, there are things you can do there. After going down a few of the gentler ramps, I got the courage to try one of the swimming-pool shaped bowls. I figured (incorrectly) that the more westerly pool (the "kidney bowl") was better for beginners because it had steps going down into it.
I descended the steps and got on my board and gingerly pushed off. The board (and I) accelerated down into the depths and when I got going as fast as was comfortable, I stepped off by kicking the board backwards out of the way. I stood and thought to myself "This is great! So far so good."
Skateboarding isn't rocket science. But it does share some characteristics with NASA including ballistics, and Newtonian physics. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Also, what goes up, must come down. Unbeknownst to me, my board had rolled up the concrete surface, paused ever so briefly, and then reversed its direction. Like the movie shark bent on revenge, the board silently and with ever increasing speed homed in on its target.
In Homer's "The Illiad," Achillles was the very personification of youthful strength, beauty, and valor. He was killed by Paris's arrow that struck him in the heel of his foot, his only vulnerable part. The tendon connecting the calf muscle to the heel bone is called Achiles tendon. The term "Achilles heel" refers to a person's weak spot.
So, I'm standing in the bowl, savoring my modest success, when suddenly I collapse in a heap with a searing pain in my ankle. The board ricocheted off me, rolled up and back again, then nuzzled up against my prostrate form, like a beloved pet trying to console me.
In an example of hope over experience, I look forward to having that pain go away sometime in the future.
Posted by John Hilton at 12:37 p.m. | 0 comments
Monday, April 22, 2019
LOUISE BROOKS RETURNS TO ANN ARBOR, by Thomas Gladysz
The Chaperone, a new historical drama from the creators of Downton Abbey, opens Friday in Ann Arbor. The film, the first ever theatrical release from PBS Masterpiece, marks the return to Michigan of its key character, the silent film star Louise Brooks.
The Chaperone was produced by Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey's Lady Crawley. The film was penned by Downton Abbey creator and writer Julian Fellowes, and directed by series director Michael Engler, who also directs the forthcoming Downton Abbey feature film set for release in September. McGovern also stars in the new film, playing a corseted, unhappily married woman from Kansas who accompanies the rebellious Brooks to New York City in the summer of 1922.
The Chaperone is a glossy excursion into the morals and manners of the Jazz Age. The film is based on Laura Moriarty's 2012 novel of the same name, which in turn is based on real incidents in the life of Brooks, then a teenager and four years away from movie stardom.
Despite its intention to tell the story of its title character, the matronly chaperone, the film's cinematic focus is drawn to Brooks, played by rising star Haley Lu Richardson. The young actress steals the show.
In real life, Brooks travelled to New York in 1922 to study at Denishawn. As the film suggests, the precocious teen was a star pupil; despite the fact she was only 15 years old, she was offered a role in Denishawn's touring company. It is this dance troupe which first brought Brooks to Ann Arbor and other cities in Michigan.
In the 1920s, Denishawn was considered the leading dance company in America. Its widespread touring introduced modern dance to hundreds of cities and towns across America. The company also proved to be a training ground for a number of significant figures. During Brooks' two seasons with Denishawn, its touring company included not only founders Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn (both historic figures in American dance), but also future great Martha Graham and acclaimed figures such as Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey.
During its 1922-1923 and 1923-1924 tours, Denishawn performed at Detroit's Orchestra Hall as well as the larger venues in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, Adrian, Port Huron, Jackson, and Battle Creek. They performed before largely sold out crowds and received considerable press, including many glowing reviews.
The company's two Ann Arbor stops were especially well received. With Brooks an emerging presence in the company, Denishawn performed at Hill Auditorium on October 26, 1922 and November 26, 1923. About the first performance, the Ann Arbor News wrote, "Over 3,500 in the audience and there never has been an audience so appreciative or so enthusiastic about a performance before. On all sides came exclamations of surprise, wonderment, commendation and satisfaction. Round after round of applause broke from the crowd as the dancers left the stage."
The Michigan Daily was just as effusive in its coverage. The second stop was also well received, with the Ann Arbor Times News headlining its review "Denishawns Troupe Scores Triumph."
The Hill Auditorium performances loom large in Denishawn history. In his autobiography, One Thousand and One Night Stands, Shawn devotes more than half a page to the time he landed on the brass handle of a trap door on the Hill Auditorium stage. That injury pained Shawn for the rest of his illustrious career, which included the founding of Jacob's Pillow.
For reasons suggested in The Chaperone – namely her failure to live up to the moral and spiritual code of Denishawn - the 17 year old Brooks was kicked out of the company at the end of her second season. She went on the dance in two Broadway revues – the George White Scandals and Ziegfeld Follies -before landing in the movies. By 1926, her name was on theater marquees across America – including Ann Arbor's now closed Wuerth Theater, where many of her silent films were shown in the late 1920s.
The Chaperone plays Friday, April 26, 2019, at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor.
Thomas Gladysz is the Director of the Louise Brooks Society, and the author of Louise Brooks the Persistent Star and other books.
Posted by John Hilton at 1:39 p.m. | 2 comments
Monday, March 4, 2019
HEAR US! AND THE CHALLENGE OF BEING HEARD, by Mary Eldridge
For unintended reasons, the visual exhibition "Hear Us!" at the Off-Center Gallery next to Riverside Arts Center in Ypsilanti offers a perfect example for Women's History Month. Among the many excellent works there can be seen a piece entitled New World, which has been hung above a doorway in the gallery. The placement is odd, at best. But there's a terribly familiar, unspoken message there. By hanging it above the doorway it has effectively lost its power – it's been domesticated like interior decoration. It's not only that the viewer can't see the details in the piece – the PERSIST index card perched on The Thinker's foot, and the particulars of each individual representation – but this remove has reduced it to its colors and the frilly frame. It's become simply pretty. It's eye candy. But useful – see how it bridges the space between the two walls? Yes, it 'made sense' visually, superficially, to place it there. Just as women's usefulness has made complete sense to the patriarchy. The reason the piece was made has been taken from it. The power it was meant to have has been diverted. There is no "hearing us" in the choice to hang it there – there is only confirmation that stealing our power can be a sneaky, subtle thing at times. It can happen even within a women's empowerment exhibition.
The Arts As Healing Foundation Inc. show Hear Us! runs through March 2019, Thurs.-Sat. 3-8:00 p.m., 64 N. Huron, Ypsilanti
Posted by John Hilton at 3:08 p.m. | 0 comments
Tuesday, May 22, 2018
HENRY THOREAU, TRAIN-WINDOW BOTANIST, by Tim Athan
One May 21, 1861, Henry David Thoreau passed through Ann Arbor on the Michigan Central Railroad. The poet and naturalist didn't disembark (he was en route to Minnesota), but in his journal, he jotted down a few observations:
Detroit to Chicago. Very level to [Ypsilanti], then hilly to Ann Arbor, then less hilly to Lake Michigan. All hard wood or no evergreen except some white pine, when we struck Lake Michigan, on the sands from the lake partly & some larch before. Phlox varying from white to bluish & painted cup: deep scarlet & also yellow ? or was this wall flower? All very very common thru' Michigan & the former, at least, earlier.
Posted by John Hilton at 11:40 a.m. | 1 comment
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