Friday, April 24, 2009

In praise of Tourists

May Day is coming soon, and I'm sure the good people of Padstow, Cornwall are working frantically to prepare their village for the coming festivities. And for the throng of tourists who come to watch the procession of the 'Obby 'Orses.

Tourists get a bad rap virtually everywhere. They've spoiled countless places. The satirical paper, The Onion, once carried a headline, "Santa Fe Resident Pretty Kokopellied Out." referring to the ubiquitous flute-playing figure of Pueblo culture. And while Santa Fe residents may be sick of tourists, a lot of Santa Fe residents would be out of work without them.

And I wonder whether the wonderful May Day celebration in Padstow would have continued without the tourists. Countless villages had similar celebrations, but only Padstow, Helston, and a few other communities still observe them. I have a feeling the tourists have a lot to do with it. I mentioned this to Kathleen, and she said that it only takes one generation to dismiss such traditions as stupid, and they're gone. But Padstow, on the north coast of Cornwall, was a tourist attraction because of its location. The tourists went back to London, or Edinburgh, or Cardiff, and told others about the incredible May Day celebration, and pretty soon, tourists from around the world descended on Padstow each year. With the money they brought in, even those who thought the May festival was stupid would oppose it.

Of course, it didn't hurt that Padstow had a truly beautiful song. Steeleye Span, though substituting "King George" for "St. George," is true to the spirit of the song:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Facebook: Assaulting the English Language Five Picks at a Time

I usually don't get upset at the singular "they." English has no singular non-gendered personal pronoun. "He" sounds sexist, "he or she" is awkward, and "it" isn't personal. In casual speech and writing, using "they" as a non-gendered singular pronoun seems acceptable. I've heard Harry Truman use it (well, I heard a recording of Harry Truman using it). Take the title of Tea N. Crumpet's recent post, " Clean up, clean up, everybody does their share. . . " No problem. But Facebook has taken the singular "they" to a new, and to my mind, unacceptable level.

I was wasting my time on Facebook last night, and took one of its "Pick Five" applications: "Pick 5 Cars You've Had." Once it came up with a picture of a 1972 Volkswagen Fastback (mine was blue, and not orange, though), I was hooked. But then my picks were posted on my Facebook page, with this legend:

"Stephen picked their (5) for '5 cars you've had...'"

"Stephen picked THEIR???" Have I become plural? And the sad thing is, there are so many ways to get around the pronoun. For instance, "Stephen picked 5 for '5 cars you've had.'" Or, "The 5 cars Stephen picked are..." I'm sure I could come up with a dozen more perfectly grammatical ways to express it.

Facebook is the preferred social networking site for Americans, and probably for the the planet. When Facebook (and as far as I can tell, "Pick 5" is an application designed by Facebook) says something outright barbarous, to use Orwell's phrase, a lot of people are going to assume it's grammatical. I have no idea how to complain to Facebook, so I'll just send this out into cyberspace.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Everybody's Polish: Dyngus Day at the West Side Democratic Club

In old Poland, the day after Easter was a sort of secular continuation of the Easter festivities, with more feasting and drinking. At a time when the Lenten fast was a lot more strict than it is now, two consecutive days of feasting wasn't excessive. And what must have been a pre-Christian spring ritual was incorporated into the celebration. On Dyngus Day, young men would get up early and awaken young women by dousing them with water and spanking them on the legs with willow switches.

When Poles came to the United States, they brought the tradition with them, but as Polish-Americans became more American than Polish, Dyngus Day might have gone the way of many ethnic customs. There isn't much water-throwing and leg-switching anymore in the States, but the feasting and drinking have continued in Polish-American communities, such as Buffalo, New York, and South Bend, Indiana.

Since 1930 the West Side Democratic Club of South Bend has held a Dyngus Day celebration. If you want to be elected as a Democrat in Indiana, you've got to be there, or at least have a representative to speak for you. This year there weren't any big names at the club, as there were last year, when former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea came to campaign for Hillary. But it was a lot of fun.

Kathleen and I got there at eleven o'clock Monday morning. We paid $8.00 each for admissopn plus a platr of food--kielbasa, Polish cabbage (like sauerkraut but sweeter and less acid), and Kluski--thick noodles in a chicken broth sauce. The food was excellent--the kielbasa was neither overseasoned nor bland, and wasn't overcooked, and the side dishes went well with it. Kathleen bought a Leinenkugel, while I stuck with Diet Dr. Pepper. (I've never cared for beer--I don't know what's wrong with me.)

We talked briefly with Dick Moore, the mayor of Elkhart, who later gave a brief speech. We sang Happy Birthday to him before he had to get back to work. He was planning to be at the evening Dyngus Day celebration at the Elkhart Knights of Columbus.

At noon the official program began with a blessing from a local priest, who transformed the pagan custom into a Christian rite by sprinkling the audience with holy water with an old-fashioned switch broom. We said the Pledge of Allegiance, and then we heard from the speakers. Jonathan Weinzapfel, the mayor of Evansville, had come all the way from the southwestern tip of the state to address the crowd. The rumor is that he's considering a run for governor in 2012, and wants to get his name in circulation.

The highlight of the day was the visit of the South Bend Washington High School girls' basketball team, which has gone to the state tournament for four consecutive years. Congressman Joe Donnelly presented them with an award, and read the remarks he had put in the Congressional Record about them. It's heartening that this all-black team was so warmly received by this mostly-white audience. Skylar Diggins, one of the nation's top players, got a special round of applause, as she'll be at Notre Dame next year.

Everybody's Polish.

Dyngus Day is here.

It's nine o'clock in the morning.

Let's have another beer.

begins the local anthem to Dyngus Day. I couldn't find any videos of this year's celebration, so here's a clip of last year's, starring Bill and Chelsea Clinton, courtesy of the South Bend Tribune:

Friday, April 10, 2009

Back to The City With a Heart

Tuesday night I couldn't sleep. It was a combination of the stress of moving, the long drive to Bloomington from Elkhart the night before, and the Pace Triple Pepper salsa I put on the tortilla I had eaten as a bedtime snack. Probably the last, most of all. So I go to the computer and check out the Amtrak job listings. Here's the essence of what I saw:

Job Posting #90102781
Ticket Clerk South Bend, IN
Passenger Services Dept.
Salary: Per Labor Agreement

It took me even longer to get to sleep after that. I was supposed to be notified if a job became available in South Bend. There's some uncertainty about what this job is--it appears it will be a guaranteed extra board job covering South Bend and Indianapolis. I talked to a woman in Human Resources Wednesday afternoon, and she confirmed I should have been offered the position, took the job down from Internet posting, and sent me a letter offering the job.

But, assuming I don't get another surprise, Kathleen and I won't have to move, though we'll have to move some stuff back. We can keep paying down the mortgage and line of credit on the big yellow house in Elkhart (credit Vainateya Deshpande for photo).

I've changed my Facebook hometown to Elkhart, and even joined the Northern Indiana network. Maybe I can write about some of the amazing Elkhartans, such as poet Kenneth Rexroth, cartoonist Ding Darling, and columnist and naturalist Maurice Frink. Maybe I can write an article about the 1969 Special General Convention of the Episcopal Church in South Bend, which displayed both the best and the worst of the 1960s.

I like the job in Normal, and the Bloomington-Normal area. It seems like it's an exciting place to be. But Elkhart has been home for almost twenty years, even though I've worked in other places for more than half of those years. I'm looking forward to living full time in the City With a Heart.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Tales from the Three I States

Kathleen and I are in the process of moving at least some of our stuff from our house in Elkhart, Indiana to our two-bedroom apartment in Bloomington, Illinois. On Tuesday, we rented a cargo van from Enterprise, loaded it up, and drove to Bloomingon. After unloading it, we stayed the night, drove to Davenport, Iowa, where we loaded up an antique bed (1920s) along with a lot of books, papers, and VHS tapes. The next day we drove to Bloomington, nearly exhausted ourselves moving the extremely heavy mattress and box spring, and then drove back to Elkhart.

We're still in the process of getting the Elkhart house ready to sell. Right now, it's a moot point. We paid $68,000 for it in 1989, and owe about $60,000 now. Given the fact that there's a house with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a swimming pool listed for $59,000 in this town, we'll likely be stuck with mortgage plus rent for some time. Who knows, maybe a ticket clerk position will open up in South Bend in the meantime.

Elkhart, as Ground Zero of the Recession, is getting nationwide recognition. An Elkhartan was recently called by a charity asking for money. She said, "I'm from Elkhart." That was enough for the fundraiser to cease and desist. Our daughter Sarah, who is an instructor at the University of Maryland, asked a a prospective student where she was from.

"I'm from Portland, Maine," said the student. "Where are you from?"

"I'm from Elkhart, Indiana."

"THE Elkhart?" asked the student.

Iowa has been in the news lately because the state Supreme Court declared the state's marriage law unconstitutional, opening Iowa to same-sex marriage. In Iowa, a constitutional amendment has to be passed by two consecutive legislatures and then submitted to a popular vote. That means the Court ruling will probably stand until at least 2013. And it seems likely that the people of Iowa won't amend the constitution.

Once upon a time, Iowa was one of the most conservative states in the nation. But starting in the 1960s, it's become more and more liberal. My theory is that those right-wing Iowegians who used to vote for the likes of H.R. Gross moved off to places like Orange County, California. Yes, Gross's successor in the House, Charles Grassely, beat incumbent Senator John Culver in the 1980 campaign and has won re-election ever since then. But Grassley faces strong oppostion from Bob Krause next year.

Since the Iowa Hawkeyes didn't even make it into the NCAA this year, I'm happy to see that there will be a Big Ten team in the NCAA championship. I won't be watching the game on Monday, which is a good thing for the Spartans. Whenever I watch a game, the team I'm rooting for almost always loses.