Thursday, March 26, 2015

Midnight at the Oasis

This photograph put two songs in my head at once: Midnight at the Oasis and Hotel California.
From The Daily Mail comes a nice photo essay about Huacachina, a genuine oasis in southern Peru. It is a reminder that if the name of a place or person seems unpronounceable, it probably just requires a careful second look. Sound out the name of this little town, and you will hear that it is actually a beautiful name -- it reminds me of the week my favorite librarian and I spent in Huaracondo, Peru last May. I must admit I never thought I would really learn that name, but now it rolls off the tongue (wok-a-CHEE-nah).

The photographs from Huacachina are fascinating, though one of them caused me to question just how isolated it is. The truth is more incredible than the false impression given by the story. It is hardly isolated at all, being located just on the outskirts of Ica, a city of 200,000 souls in a very dry part of Peru.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Unwelcome Irish

As I prepare the traditional (for Casa Hayes-Boh) mashed potato casserole, I think of two stories that highlight how much has changed in the 170 or so years since the Irish landed in the U.S. in great numbers.

The first comes from one of my favorite history writers, Kenneth C. Davis, who describes the Bible Riots of 1844, in which xenophobia and religious intolerance led to violence against Irish immigrants. He had also written more extensively about this in a 2010 Smithsonian article.
Of course the Irish eventually went on to be considered mainstream, but that required generations. It should not be surprising that in a war taking place in the same decade as the greatest Irish migration, more than a few Irish-American soldiers defected to the side of their Catholic brethren to the south. The result: the San Patricios soldiers are celebrated to this day in Mexico, though as individuals many ended in U.S. Army gallows.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Food Oasis

For several years, my students and I have been among those discussing food deserts. I mentioned it in my 2011 post Dignity Desert, about a KFC ad campaign that seemed at first to be a parody and in 2013 in Vertical Katrina. Some of my students and I have used the USDA Food Access Research Atlas to understand the spatial patterns of the problem, and more recently I have found that Feeding America is helping people not only to find information about food, but to find food itself.

Chef Ismael Samad
It is in this context that I read about Chef Ismael Samad, who is among a growing number of people taking creative, direct action to address the problem of a food availability in urban areas. I learned about his work while visiting rural Vermont, where I found a copy of vermont's LOCAL BANQUET in our room. Being interested in both food and food geography, I was glad to find it.

I was especially interested to see that Chef Samad -- trained as a chef and as an environmental biologist -- is helping to bring the energy of the gleaning movement to the problem of urban food availability.

The result is a restaurant set to open on Codman Square in Dorchester that will offer better food at a lower price than competing fast-food outlets. The Daily Table article emphasizes the fact that the gleaning movement is not about substandard food: it is about putting good food to good use, when it would otherwise be wasted. By using such food for about 60 to 70 percent of its ingredients, this new restaurant will offer casual meals or ingredients that facilitate healthy home cooking, at an attractive price.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ultimate Map Collector

If a ten-minute video about a map collection can bring a tear to your eye, it is this one. And if that happens, you might just be a geographer at heart. Please enjoy this video, and then read the rest of the story. Then learn much more about cities of the future from CITYLAB.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Slow-moving Disaster

Eastern Massachusetts has seen a succession of blizzards over the past month, resulting in many lost days of school and work, the ruination of regional public transportation (which had been operating with seriously deferred maintenance for decades), many traffic accidents, battles over already limited parking, and roof collapses, all with the added bonus of complaining and political finger-pointing.
Over 35,000 truckloads of snow have been removed from Boston, and it is still everywhere.
Image: WGBH
So it has been seriously inconvenient and even dangerous, and periodically over the past several weeks formal emergencies have been declared.

I had been wondering, however, whether the term "disaster" might apply, slow-moving though it may be in comparison to a wildfire, earthquake, or tornado event. Northeastern University engineering professor Ozlem Ergun recently moved to Boston (quite a welcome, Dr. Ergun!) and has been wondering the same thing. Specifically, she is an expert on debris, and made useful comparisons to post-earthquake Haiti during a discussion of our "Debris Event" on WGBH. Like me, she is also worried about what will happen when all of this snow melts. Specifically, she advocates planning for the debris that is likely to be liberated when all of this snow starts flowing.