Saturday, November 24, 2007

For sale: an elegant, pink German

My friend Lisa Lieberman, who knows about my passion for old manual typewriters, gave me this ‘60s period-piece model to sell for her on Craig’s List. It belonged to her late mother, Pearl, who collected more stuff than a museum curator. And much of it was indeed museum quality, but that’s another story.

Royal portables of the Fifties and Sixties were known to come in pink, but until Lisa unveiled her mom's machine, I had never seen an Olympia, a sensible Teutonic creation, decked out in nail-polish hue. Even the emblem in the middle of its frontispiece is faceted to make it look like rhinestone. Alas, the moniker is plastic, was weakened by San Diego heat and crumbled at my touch. I’ve managed to glue it together piece by plastic piece — a labor of love.

(I informed my typewriter-collecting buddy, Steve Brannon of Richmond, Va., of Pearl’s machine the day after Lisa gave it to me. Steve, who is as curious about stuff as Pearl was acquisitive, immediately found a photo of an identical pink Olympia on the web. So they aren’t all that unusual, if you know where to look — and care enough.)

The font on Pearl's is script, so she probably used the portable (an SM7 to be exact) to write letters of condolence and thank you notes. Typing on the pink Oly lands you on the set of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" or "An Affair to Remember" or "Aida." Not far away some diva is gushing "daaaah-ling" to an understudy, manicurist or make-up artist.

The Olympia was the high-heeled model in Pearl’s two-typewriter collection. (I'm surprised she didn't have more.) Her other typewriter was a no-nonsense aqua-marine Underwood Universal, circa early ‘60s. She probably used it to make shopping lists. It goes on the block when I can figure out how to make its ribbon advance without fraying. Another labor of love.

I’m asking $75 for the elegant but sturdy pink Olympia and its carrying case. All metal, the typewriter weighs at least 30 pounds. The price could be either (a) highway robbery or (b) a steal, depending on your point of view. Taken together, it could be both.

Or it could be priced just right. In any case, I’m about to find out, which is half the fun.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

In defense of books

So Amazon’s Kindle and its unborn kin are going to replace books, eh?

I don’t think so.

A Kindle is a text machine.

Books are a different medium altogether.

Here are just a few differences. (Feel free to add to the list)

You can give books away. You know, physically hand them over. Here, take this book.

You can lend books. As in “lending library” or just plan lend to a friend. Return it whenever you’ve finished.

You can sign books. Write an inscription so that years, decades from now, someone will know that you gave the book to someone, or that it simply passed through your hands.

Insert a decorative Ex Libris bookplate in your book. Bookplates are themselves art.

Authors can sign books. As in “signed edition,” which adds value and interest. Try “signing” a Kindle edition. It doesn’t compute.

You can display books. Our libraries are reflections of our interests. Visit a stranger’s house and check out his or her personal library. The stranger is a stranger no more.

You can arrange books — by topic, by author by size, by your liking.

Books are art. They are artistically designed and bound. A Kindle, as far as I can tell, is a piece of leatherette-bound plastic.

Books have unique fonts that are themselves a medium. They are important enough to be described in colophons at the end of a book.

As art, books have varying value as they are sold used to others. Rare books, of course, appreciate in value. They are the mother lode of many a garage sale.

Books have cover art. Can’t tell a book by the cover? Yes and no. Recently I was sorting through books donated for our Dec. 9 Hillsdale community book sale and came across an old, frayed paperback edition of “Catcher in the Rye.” The cover art immediately transported me back 50 years when I first read this early edition. Cover art, regardless of quality, reaches out to us and involves us in ways beyond the book’s words.

Books come in editions, which, of course, adds to their value and interest.

Resellers determine n the price of a used book. If we had only Kindles, Amazon would set the price. The books we sell at our book sale produce value that we use to support out community. Books just keep on giving.

Finally, in so many ways, books are lasting, beloved artifacts. They are part of us and of our time as well as other times.

They are permanent, they are history.

They are irreplaceable.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Making Room Walk

The view north to Healy Heights and its tower from the Raz Pasture.

For 14 years. by our estimate, a grab-bag group of us have taken a neighborhood hike on Thanksgiving morning. Sometimes the weather is miserable, wet or biting cold — or both.

Today it was clear and crisp. A glorious morning for a hike.

We were led by Don Baack, the driving force behind the construction of walking trails in southwest Portland. We always start at the big tree at the entry to Wilson High School before striking out for some destination that Don has conjured up and shared in advance with Karen Bridger.

Karen’s involvement is essential because she cooks up scones and delivers them, along with coffee, to the halfway point along the route. They always appear when we seem to need them most.

As we meander along the trails, we occasionally stop to recount history for newcomers (everyone is welcome to join us.)

Here’s Stephens Creek Nature Park which local activists saved from a housing development 10 years ago. Here’s the site of new trail to be built next month for school kids to use. Over there’s the new senior housing project, site of the Dec. 9 open house and community book sale. This is the signalized crosswalk it took nine years’ lobbying to get the city to install.

There are more than enough stories to fill the two hours it takes to make the walk.

Along the way, we chat in twos and threes about how we ended up in Hillsdale. Today I met a family that has just moved from Australia. I greeted an old friend I hadn’t seen in three or four years. I met Jennifer Brownell, the new pastor of the Hillsdale Community Church. She’s eager to get involved in our community work.

The walk is called the Thanksgiving Walk and it always makes me thankful for this place we call home.

But I also think of it as the Making Room Walk — making room for the Thanksgiving feast to come. It has become an important, no essential, part of the day.

Hope yours was festive and that you had room….

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Peace and War in Hillsdale

As I've reported here before, each Friday evening I am one of the six or so peace activists who cluster on the four corners of Sunset Boulevard and Capitol Highway.

We’ve been waving our signs at commuters since last January. We get more than a few honks and the rare extended middle finger.

Of course it is much darker and wetter now at our vigil. At some level it is miserable, but all I have to do is think of the misery of our soldiers and the Iraqis to make my own small discomfort disappear.

Last week one of our number was confronted by an angry Iraqi vet. He wasn’t exactly angry with us. In fact he said he appreciated what we were doing.

Then came his “but.”

“But you just don’t understand. You can’t understand,” He seemed angry at the world for not understanding, for not helping him with the war that still raged in his head.

I tell you this because it happened in Hillsdale on a rainy Friday night.

During the exchange, in which we listened and tried to console the vet, perhaps 200 commuters drove by, unaware that a part of the Iraq War had come to the very intersection they passed through on their way home for a weekend of football or parties or shopping or parenting.

I’ve often wondered why more people haven’t joined us at the vigils. Some no doubt say, “What’s the point? It won’t do any good.”

That’s an easy dismissal. For me, standing with others, urging an end to the war, listening to an angry vet, connects me to my own responsibility for what this nation’s government does, and doesn’t do.

We gather at 5:30 p.m. every Friday evening. Please consider joining us.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Early morning with E.B. White

The other day both newspapers, The Oregonian and The New York Times, were late arriving on our driveway.

Or maybe I was early coming downstairs.

It doesn’t matter who or what was to blame; the result was the same. Sitting in my study, a cup of coffee warming my paws, I suddenly found myself without news.

Savor this moment, I thought. And I did.

Then I reached out to grab the first book that fell to hand from the bookshelf that crowds my maroon recliner.

I found myself clutching “Essays” by E.B. White and suddenly my day took on a decidedly different hue.

No Iraq, no George W. Bush, no Iowa campaigning, no teenage fatalities on rural highways, no stock market slides or Blazer losses.

Instead, I found myself back in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies with the transparent and congenial prose of the author of “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little.”

I nosed around among the essays reading unassuming yet beguiling leads.

“The Winter of the Great Snows” began: “Somebody told me the other day that a seagull won’t eat a smelt.”

“The Sea and the Wind that Blows” started: “Waking or sleeping, I dream of boats — usually of rather small boat under a slight press of sail.”

And “Riposte” began: “To come upon an article in the Times called ‘The Meaning of Brown Eggs” was an unexpected pleasure.”

Which takes me back to where I began — with White’s essays themselves presenting a pleasure and relief from what I expected to find in The Oregonian and The Times.

How far he took me from what we consider “news.” So much so that his offerings became the real news of the day. How could I have stayed informed without it?

How do I manage on all those days when the newspapers arrive “on time”?

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Perceptions: Where we are as who we are

My friend and neighbor Frances Cook has written a response to yesterday’s post about the Interstate/Chavez flare-up.

She raises the question of whether those who use Fourth Avenue, which is likely to get the Cesar Chavez name, will not also feel a name has been taken from them.

It’s a good question. We are about to find out the answer.

My sense is that numbered streets carry less meaning than those that have word names. Then again, 5th Avenue in New York has its own cache. Saks might have something to say about changing the street’s name.

And certainly the legend surrounding Rte 66 dictates that its name be preserved. (Here a tip of the hat is in order to Nate Cole.)

Since last night’s post I’ve found myself chewing on this question: To what extent is our identity defined by where we are?

Note that this is not limited to ownership. Where we live becomes part of our identity.

A couple of years ago in Hillsdale we felt threatened when our identity with our place and its name faced a challenge in a boundary dispute. Two neighborhoods (Hillsdale and the Southwest Hills Residential League) shared the same territory. As the neighborhoods grew in importance, we began to identify with one or the other of them. Finally, a headstrong local leader attempted to tell us to “where” we lived. We didn’t take kindly the coercion and things turned messy and litigious (conveniently for her, her husband was an attorney).

After considerable angst, we resolved the conflict by asking people literally to decide where they lived. Nine out of ten had no trouble doing so in a way that made sense, so we redrew the boundary eliminating the overlaps.

Everyone is happier and more “at one,” except the renegade leader, who resolved her own conflict by moving to another state.

It isn’t hard to see how war results from threats to our sense of oneness with our place. We defend a place because the loss of it to someone else represents the loss of our very identifies — our memories, our present lives, our hopes for the future.

Seen in this way, the effort to change the name of Interstate Avenue was no small matter.

The key to resolution of the conflict was to find a place where people were more than willing to adopt and, yes, share a new, meaningful identity. Clearly the abandonment of Interstate didn’t satisfy that requirement for the people who lived and worked on the North Portland avenue. Their identities were bound up with the name of the place.

Fourth Avenue may work as a Cesar Chavez Avenue. For me it does. The new name is a proud one that celebrates an inspirational life. Then again, as Frances suggests, it may not work if Fourth and the people who use it are one.

From the reaction so far, I think Fourth has a lot better chance than Interstate did.

I hope I’m right.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory

Like many others, I’ve been baffled by the angry reaction of the Latino group that failed to get Interstate Avenue named for Cesar Chavez.

In all likelihood, they will end up with a renaming of the more prominent Fourth Avenue for Chavez instead. The result will be much better than what they had fought for.

How can that be a defeat — or an affront or an insult, as they have called it?

The problem is that the group became so vested in the strategic way they had chosen to achieve their goal of honoring Chavez that the strategy's success became more important than the goal.

In the same way, many soldiers fall in love with war.

As several observers have noted, Cesar Chavez would have been the first to see the folly of his supporters’ divisive position.

Neither the Latino group, nor the Mayor who blindly and inexplicably backed them, saw the presumptuousness and effrontery of simply stepping in and replacing “Interstate” with “Chavez.” Never mind what people who lived along the avenue thought.

The Latino group and the mayor felt they had taken the higher moral ground, and, in one way, they had. The name “Interstate Avenue,” unlike “Cesar Chavez Avenue” had no moral force to it. It stood for nothing except itself and its obvious, historic commercial function.

The people who live and work along Interstate, on the other hand, could invoke their own morality. Try "Thou Shalt Not Steal."

The name of their stretch of the world was not something that could be taken from them by interest groups, ethnic or otherwise, and by politicians possibly stuck with IOUs and definitely feeling political heat.

As it turned out, the “Interstaters” could generate their own political heat.

And so the struggle became more important than the goal of honoring the memory of Cesar Chavez.

Of course, the substitution of 4th Avenue for Interstate as a compromise addressed the goal magnificently, but it also created “winners” and “losers” in the Interstate struggle.

The hope is that all the parties one day will be wiser for the experience. They may even end up congratulating each other on their shared victory.

For the City of Portland, that day can't come too soon.

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