Graffiti Marathon: The Mother Load

There is probably no area in Kansas City with a more varied mix of graffiti than the blocks extending from Oak to Cherry and from 19th Street to 16th.  IMG_3662

I suggest you get your walking shoes as you explore the neighborhood.  Some walls are in your face.

IMG_3641But there is graffiti everywhere.  It is in alleys, behind fences and almost completely hidden by automobiles and dumpsters.

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Every time I explore the area I find new treasurers I have missed in prior visits.

Where In The World Is Sophia? The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Observing life through Sophia’s 3-year-old perspective is quite an experience.  This is one of my favorite pictures of her, because she seems so “in the moment” even though you can only see her feet.  For those unfamiliar with the Nelson, the last photo of her clearly reveals her location!

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Sophia loves to dance.  Constantly in motion, she seemed inspired by the  Rozelle Court fountain, as she did the fountains throughout the area.

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Lovers of art themselves, mom and dad ensured that Sophia actually toured at least the Nelson’s main gallery area.

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Here is Sophia standing beside–instead of hiding behind–the Nelson’s famous shuttlecock.

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Our visit was soon over, but we hop Sophia treasures her memories of Kansas City and family as we treasure her.

The First Day Of The Rest of My Life

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Yesterday I retired.  In 1972 I graduated from UMKC Law School and passed the Bar. 41 years later, I am retiring from the Bench.  It has been great.  Not always easy, but rich with memories and friendships.

Today, I continued my life with no orders to write, no trials and no probationers.  I had no need to get ready to work or to do–well–anything.  It felt strange, but in the way that you like to feel at the beginning of any adventure.

I can tell you my priorities for the next two weeks: visits with friends and family, work in the yard, non-profit commitments.  But for the first time in four decades, I cannot tell you my long-term plan for the future.  It is thrilling, really.  Do I want to write, or take photographs?  Do I want to travel, or save the world? How do I decide, after all these years, what will most give my life meaning?  It is a gift I give myself to figure it out.

I can compile my own bucket list!  I have all the time left to me to figure it out.

Are the Beaches the Solution to Cuba’s Poverty?

Is Cuba’s beauty the solution to bettering the lives of its citizens?

Just look at the water and the sand and the sun.  The island is long, and narrow.  The Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean flank Cuba, offering up some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

This is good, right?

Today, the Cuban people share this beauty with only a small number of sail boats and a few tourists in space nearly undisturbed by commerce.

Cuba is, in some respects, comparable to the Cancun of 40 years ago.  Having traveled there several times, I have watched the seashore change from open land with a scattering of 2 and 3 story hotels, (as pictured below adjacent to a Cuban beach) to high rise hotels that are packed one on top of another until only the tourists share the beauty.  Today, Cuba’s resort hotels are still lovely, small and in harmony with the sea.

The walkways to the sea draw you to the water and the sand.

As we were ending our trip to Cuba, we encountered a member of another tour that had just arrived.  This gentleman explained his theory that what Cuba needs is to open itself up to investors who could bring in casinos and “a Trump Tower like Panama” to provide jobs for poor workers.  Seriously?  Cubans should be excited to have its beauty snapped up by rich “Americans” [1] so that they can earn minimum wage.  Again, seriously?

I am no fan of Cuban’s economic or political system.  I would never wear a Che t-shirt or hat.  I remember the brutality of revolution.  But surely there is more to solving the challenges of the Cuban people than to provide tourists with luxury vacations.

I am grateful for the couple of hours we spent by the water because it was such a compelling visual statement to the true beauty of Cuba’s beaches and was a reminder of the role of the beaches in the challenges facing the island nation in the inevitable post-Castro era.

Swim anyone?

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[1]  I asked our guide why the Cubans speak of the United States as “America”.  He indicated that they have accepted the reality that the United States as the dominant nation in the Americas has essentially assumed the term America as its own.

Forty Eight Hours in Rural Cuba

Forty-eight hours isn’t much time to get a sense of a nation and its rural challenges.  The poverty is overwhelming.  If there is relief from the poverty it is the fact that Cubans have little opportunity to experience the frustration that results from observing others who do not live in poverty.  But there is no question that Cuba has seemed to work tirelessly to prevent the development of a middle class.

One of the questions raised with regard to rural Cuba was why there are no tractors.  The answer was that by sharing the land among the rural families, individual plots were small enough to be worked relying solely on horses and oxen.  As a result, there is no need for tractors.  So there are none.  Wow.

Not only is the land tilled by animals, they are a primary means of transportation.  Riders on horses, wagons used for transporting people and materials.

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Visiting a country in which we were surrounded by horses and oxen is an exciting, beautiful and exotic and experience. But it is no less a step back into history for most visitors.

The housing is both humble and primitive.  Many homes had only three walls, with the open end of the house facing against the roads, giving families some element of privacy.

We never saw any evidence of affluence in rural Cuba.

And everywhere along the road we saw laborers, walking with their hats, their bags of unknown purpose, following paths through the countryside, symbolic of the lifestyle that has been chosen for them.

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Where old cars and young horses collide

Terry and I are home.  We had a wonderful week.  Terry wanted me to ask you to guess where we went, based on that which has long identified this island nation: old U.S. made cars.  More particularly, cars from the 50’s and into 1960 just a smidge.  Visiting this nation is truly like taking a step–well several steps–back in time!

You will find Chevrolets, Buick’s and Fords serving as taxis standing in front of tourist hotels and in the yards of farmers who have inherited them from their parents.

These ageless automobiles are generally filled with passengers.  No seat is left vacant.  Gasoline is far too precious to assume that anyone would drive alone for long.

But U.S. made automobiles aren’t the only means of transportation–there are horse and oxen drawn carts; as well as Chinese, Korean and Soviet Block cars.

Years ago the Chinese apparently provided a bicycle for nearly every resident of the island.  They are rarely seen in the cities.  They are everywhere in the countryside.  At least as important, these bicycles, old motorcycles and wagons have been altered into shapes and combinations never anticipated by their manufacturers.

Somehow, the horses, oxen, antiques automobiles all seem to share the road in harmony.  Can you guess the country where we visited?  Of course you can.  But I will share more about our experiences in my next post.

Oneida Community–Where Giants Walked

“Where giants walked”.  Those are the words our tour guide, the curator of the Mansion House in Oneida, New York, used to describe the Oneida Community.  Disbanded more than 120 years ago, the community grounds still emit a feeling both vibrant and tranquil.

I didn’t know what to expect when the “cousins trip” arrived in Oneida.  What we found far exceeded even my enthusiastic expectations.  We spent a night in the Mansion House where our rooms were simple but lovely.  The environment was so much more.

The Oneida Community was founded in the belief that individuals can become free from sin while still here on earth.  Beyond their religious aspirations, their practical reality involved a focus on hard community labor, culture, music, art and literature.  These values resonated throughout the community.  Beautification of the grounds of the Mansion House and of the surrounding community are evident today.

While much of the Mansion House is plain, befitting a society based on de-emphasizing private property, there was an emphasis on beauty of the common areas.  The great hall that was a central meeting area demonstrates the community’s commitment to perfection in its culture and art.

The grounds are lovely, incorporating gardens, simple fountains and open areas surrounded by trees.


Artistic endeavors were encouraged.  The museum displays beautiful art such as this unique braided rug that are  wonderful works of craftsmanship.

The library was a focal point of daily life, filled with books that were identified as incorporating all of the knowledge important to a learned community.  It remains a great place to visit and study.

While long disbanded as a religious community, descendants of community members continue to live in the shadow of the Mansion House.  While their homes are not elegant, they are as graceful, well-groomed and inviting as the people who live there.

Welcome to “Utopia”.

The “Dragon Boats are coming”–and friendship comes with them

From X’ian, China, to its sister city, Kansas City, Missouri, come the Dragon Boat races, a wonderful cultural tradition.

The races are held under the  “Sister Cities International Bridge”, where life-sized Chinese warriors guard the foot bridge as it crosses Brush Creek.  The imposing bronze warriors are symbolic of the rich culture of China’s ancient civilization as well as the friendship between our cities.

Festive red ornaments crossing the bridge announce the 12th annual Dragon Boat races held Saturday, June 9, 2012.  The races are part of an annual celebration of the friendship between the people of these two cities.

The celebration includes races involving local university students and corporate teams as well as representatives of China. The event  includes a wonderful display of pageantry, speeches and a colorful dose of Chinese culture.

While the celebrations include a ceremony called “waking the dragon”, the dragons of most importance are the decorative dragons that embellish the front of each boat.  These dragons are whimsical and colorfully painted.

At this year’s event, Mayor Sly James not only greeted visitors, he spoke to the crowd, encouraged the celebrants, and also agreed to be  the drummer for Kansas City’s home town team.  Way to go, Sly!

Here, a drummer beats the rhythm for the crew in the first race.  The crew paddles as quickly, or as slowly, as the cadence of the drummer.

On this happy day there were no worries about the politics of our two countries, of the balance of trade, or of jobs lost and found.  It was a celebration and a time of friendship.  A good time was had by all.

Kansas City Remembers: The World War I Museum

Memorial Day weekend is a fitting time to remember the sacrifices of our nation’s military forces.  There are few places that symbolize this sacrifice as powerfully as the National World War I Museum, located here in Kansas City. It includes over 55,000 artifacts from the war years, a time line of events during the war years, photographs, armaments, and far more treasures than a visitor can absorb in one visit.  Even the setting is a powerful visual experiences, sitting as it does with one of the most beautiful views of downtown Kansas City.  

No visitor can reach the museum without first confronting the Liberty Memorial Tower, which sits immediately above the museum, and which is dedicated to the the “Honor of those who served in the World War in Defense of Liberty and our country”.

On either side of the tower are two giant sphinxes with wing like coverings concealing their faces, as though they are, themselves, traumatized by the reality of war.  Two concrete buildings sit behind the sphinxes, themselves housing exhibits for the museum.

The banners on the doors that mark the entry to the museum are unassuming.  Once inside, visitors face a vast, but well-organized exhibit.  The various rooms, includes a timeline of the war years, uniforms, posters, banners, video histories and other documentation of the war years.

Knowledgeable volunteers are available throughout the building, eager to share their knowledge of the war and of the museum contents.

The munitions they describe are primitive by today’s standards, but were sufficient to cause, in combination with factors such as disease and starvation, horrible destruction to the military forces, civilian populations and the landscape of Europe.  The combined death toll of the military forces exceed 8,528,800.  While World War I was often called the “Great War”, or the war to end all wars, it was neither.  The destruction it caused contributed to events culminating in World War II and influence world affairs even today.

While statistics cannot adequately convey the depth of human misery, they are telling.  The casualty rates for the mobilized forces of the major powers are (approximately) as follows:

Country         Total Forces              Killed  Wounded/Prisoners/Missing        Total Casualties    Percent Casualties

Russia                        12,000,000                   1,700,000            7,450,000         9,150,000              76.3  

Germany                    11,000,000                   1,774,000             6,400,000         7,142,600              64.9  

British Empire           8,904,500                       908,370             2,280,000          3,190,250              35.8    

France                         8,410,000                     1,357,800            4,800,000         6,160,800              73.3  

Austria-Hungary      7,800,000                    1,200,000            5,820,000         7,020,000             90.0      

Italy                              5,615,000                        650,000             1,550,000          2,197,000              39.1  

United States             4,355,000                         116,516                  208,000             323,000                7.1

Because the museum is focused on the war itself, the reality of death surrounds us.  The ancient weapons of various sizes and shapes are on display.  

A restored 1918 Ford Model T ambulance is almost humorous in its quaintness.

But there is also significant information about the culture of the era as evidenced by murals, photographs, clothing and everyday mementos of the times.

There are life-sized murals which can only be described as glorifying, if not war, than the strength and power of those who are successful in war.

It is easier for the eye to turn to the powerful and positive symbols of hope and accomplishment.  But nothing, in a place dedicated to war, can escape the reality of death.  It is everywhere. In the midst of the exhibits are reminders of the humanness of the suffering.  An example of the power of those posters is one quoting the leader of German mutineers, sentenced to death for his role in the mutiny of members of the German fleet, struggling to end the war:  “I have been sentenced to death today.  Only myself and another comrade; the  others have been let off with fifteen years’ imprisonment.  You have heard why this is happening to me.  I am a sacrifice for the longing for peace; others are going to follow”.

When the United States entered the war in 1917, it mobilized forces for war on the ground, on the seas and in the air.  It was a welcome relief to its allies and helped tip the scales for the war’s outcome.  Because it entered the war more than two years after the war commenced, our casualties were comparatively small.  But each casualty, our own, and those of our enemies, is real.

Throughout the museum are portraits, sketches and photographs of those who fought and those who died.  Each had his or her own personal and tragic story.  Each had a family who mourned the lost of their loved one. This portrait is of Lieutenant John F. Richards II, 1st Aero Squadron, killed in action September 26, 1918 over Argonne Forest, (France) part of the final Allied offensive in World War I.  I will not easily forget his face.

The World War I Museum is a place memorializing one of many tragic wars.  It is a place of sadness.  It is also a place of remembrance.  I would like to believe it is a place of hop.  I am not so sure.  But each of us benefits by being reminded of the devastation that is the inevitable result of human conflict.

When to go to war, whether to go to war and why to go to war are issues that have no easy solutions and I will offer none.  But it is important to be reminded of the tragedy of war and of the sacrifices made by our men and women of the military who make great personal and family sacrifices to protect their nation in times of peace and times of war.  We should never forget them.

 

Writing on the wall–The “people’s art”.

Kansas City’s art is found indoors and outdoors.  It is found in museums, galleries and outdoor parks.  These works of art can be found hidden in plain sight, on the walls of abandoned buildings and warehouses, sometimes in back alleys where only the most adventurous will find them. These street murals are generally skillfully done, and are, while sometimes unwanted, a celebration of life and creativity. While the artists are generally unknown to the general community, the initials of the artists are often included, announcing their skills to those who are part of the inner circle of these artists.

Some of my favorite graffiti is what I like to call “writing on the wall” because that is exactly what it is.  If the writings are actually words, I haven’t deciphered them.  But that does not diminish the skill of the artists, whose creativity never ceases to amaze me.  Here are some of my favorites, found within blocks of downtown, Kansas City.

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I often wonder, when I find one of these writings, whether the creators are totally unschooled, have been to art classes or are just patient.

Sometimes I wonder where they buy the paint??  Is there a graffiti union?