HistoryJournal.org

Manhattan first impressions

Posted in Cities, Just for Fun by Alex L. on January 11, 2012

Image courtesy of Ed Yourdon and accessed on WikipediaFAIRWAY MARKET on the Upper West Side is like an open-air market trapped under a roof. Located on a busy commercial street, the entrance to the store is flanked by open fruit and vegetable stands over a large faded awning which reminded me of street vendors in Thailand.

Inside, there is a scramble of activity. A general checkout line stretches from the cashier stands far back into the dairy products aisle. Lines are everywhere—to the seafood stand, the deli, the aisle with the cooking oils—but they are all rapidly moving forward.

Men in suits coming back from work squeeze through the narrow space between shelves to get around other shoppers: young women with strollers, older ladies in puffy black coats with fur collars, hipsters sampling different flavors of olive oil, a gray-browed man pounding an air piano with one hand as he listens to an iPod.

Two employees hidden in a nook are busy servicing a separate line of customers wanting to get coffee. They take orders, scoop pungent black beans from barrels, sprinkle them into grinding machines, pack the resulting powder into paper packets, and give it to the customers. The nook is heavy with the sweaty scent of crushed beans. Ahead of them is an even larger nook whose three walls are resplendent with fine cheeses.

Two men—one on a ladder—empty a wooden cart onto an unreachably tall pyramid of oranges. It has a sculpted shape formed by perfect layers—like bricks—of fruit, but I notice that the men aren’t forming the newly-plumped oranges into the pyramid themselves. Does this mass of fruit just take on its own shape? (more…)

Advertisements

History off the press (August ’11 edition)

Posted in American, Books, Christianity, Literature, Politics, Psychology, Reading by Alex L. on September 18, 2011

New history books, August 2011

Have your relatives ever told you stories about your ancestors that made you reevaluate your own identity? My grandmother once told me that her father (my great-grandfather) possessed a mellifluous voice and staged concerts for his fellow Allied soldiers imprisoned in a German POW camp during World War I. Hearing this story, it made me question how genetic quality could dissipate so quickly, for my vocal chords can’t produce a single melodic note if my family’s honor depended on it.

Like talking to our grandparents about departed relatives, reading history can change our perspective about our own selves or our community. I selected the books for August (remember, these are previews, not reviews: I have not read these books yet) that drew me in either because they addressed a need for self-knowledge or promised to inform me about the world around me. As a result, almost of them, I noticed later, have to do with U.S. history. But I think our subjectivity is what lights our interest afire. Our bias is our personality, and without it history narratives wither before us like dehydrated fruit.

New York City roots

For several months, I’ve had an itch to discover “literary” neighborhoods in Chicago. Seeking counsel, I asked fellow Chicagoans (full disclosure: I live in the suburbs, not the city proper) where writers live or congregate in the Windy City. No one had an answer, which made me despair that the only destination for writers in the United States was prohibitively-expensive Manhattan. (more…)

Two-year anniversary

Posted in Blogs, Music, Poetry, Stories, Storytelling by Alex L. on March 10, 2011

History, slightly skewedOne way to measure the success of a blog is by how much spam its WordPress filters catch. Somehow, I think the bots that troll the blogosphere know which blogs get more traffic and target their “marketing” strategy at them. The blog that I keep at work, where keywords and headings are meticulously crafted to optimize hits from the search engines, is visited as often as Don Corleone on “this, the day of his daughter’s wedding” in comparison to this, my personal blog. Each day nets dozens of spam comments in my work blog’s filter. HistoryJournal.org, on the other hand, is lucky if the errant male-enhancement ad washes up on shore once or twice a week. I don’t care. Not search-engine-optimizing my <h2> tags on HistoryJournal.org is my rebellion against marketing, my current profession.

(Yes, folks. This is the one day of the year, my blog’s anniversary – it was technically on March 8 – where I blog about blogging. Feel free to turn away. There is not so much a sign of a blog’s decay, writer’s block, or an author’s sickness of the writing craft as when he or she begins to write about what it feels like to be writing. Like a historian writing about what good history should be written like instead of showing you by writing good history himself. Nevertheless, the historiography demons need to be exorcised at least once a year, so I’ll try to keep it as short and sweet as possible.)

An opportunity presented itself to me a year ago after I wrote the post, “History, the History Channel, and Dairy Queen”. I had been looking for a way to a way to write about history that would be fresh, interesting, and relevant to the living world. With that post, I hit upon a style or genre which I could develop upon in the future. I desperately wanted to avoid writing history in the dusty forms everyone is so used to, either ringing grandiose notes that always fall flat (“Since the dawn of man…”  or, “Our world would not be the same if it were not for…”) or delving into minutiae that interests nobody but the collector of such informational tidbits (“On this day in history…”). The style that I have tried to work on this past year (in between peddling my marketing skills, chasing various pet hobbies, and staving off spirit-sapping ennui which has been waging war against me since 2007) has been to present history in an extremely personal narrative. (more…)