On porches

Lynn Freehill-Maye writes:

The roots of the North American porch go back centuries, inspired by design features all over the world. In his book “The American Porch: An Informal History of an informal Place,” historian Michael Dolan asserts that slaves combined the precolonial African housefront with the native Arawak “bohio” in the Caribbean. West Africans had used an area in front of their home during the hot daytime hours, shading it with a roof supported by poles and elevating it a few feet to keep away biting insects. That kind of indoor-outdoor living, folklorists believe, was echoed in the Arawak bohio, the shaded, partially open dwellings built by one of the Caribbean’s dominant tribes. Planters then willingly mimicked the shaded housefronts on little shotgun houses, which spread north on the American mainland.

There were other cultural influences on the porch, too: Dutch settlers introduced the stoop. Spanish colonials built portals. The English brought the idea for elegant loggias like the ones they’d admired in Italy. “As [the] loggia was becoming fashionable in England, the less classical structure known variously as the piazza, the gallerie, and the veranda was insinuating itself into the vernacular architecture of the Caribbean and North America,” Dolan writes. “All these elements blended into what we know as the porch through a process folklorists call creolization.”

In the young United States, the porch became a signature of the proud new Federal architectural style. It developed a folk-mythic history from Mount Vernon and Monticello onward. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson set the trend with grand-entrance platforms to their estate houses. James Garfield, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley were all elected president after successful front-porch campaigns, a tactic popular in the late 1800s in which candidates stayed home and asked voters to come to their homes if they wanted to hear a campaign speech. For everyone else, the porch worked as a spot to do homely chores like shuck beans, or just to catch a breeze when it got broiler-hot in the house.

But then the middle of the 20th century beckoned. Cooling porches were less needed because of A/C, and less wanted because of TV. The more secluded back deck came into favor, too. No longer strictly necessary, the country’s front-porch-building fell off.

After being considered outdated and rural, the porch has recently re-emerged as urbanized and in demand. …

The foundation for the porch-building boomlet may have been laid three decades before, when a contingent of Baby Boomers trying to fix sprawl started the New Urbanism movement. In 1990 they built a walkable model community, Seaside, Florida, and stacked it with front porches. New Urbanism drew in part on the ideas of urban theorist Jane Jacobs. She’d argued that “eyes on the street”—the ability for people to actually see the street from inside their rooms, storefronts, and front stoops—kept neighborhoods safer. Porches could enable watchful eyes, new architectural thinkers believed, and build community as well.

Other fresh-designed developments have followed the New Urbanism template, but with mixed results. They beg the question: Do people truly use porches these days, or just like the idea of them?

I grew up with a small porch. Pop, my grandfather, used to sit on the porch in summer evenings and smoke his pipe tobacco. I still remember, and in some sense can still hear, the June bugs buzzing toward the porchlight, and the cicadas calling in the nearby woods. The porch for me, as a child, was a place of encounter with the world around the home—even in a home that wasn’t yet so divorced from the natural world, since its windows were opened to let in cool air in the evenings and overnight, since it had no artificial climate controls. The porch was a place of safety, but also encounter.

Ave Maria pit stop

I arrived in Washington earlier this morning, but not before a short visit to Ave Maria last night, where I got to catch up with Ben Novak along with two students and a townie. I also got to see Hollow, and the great illustration of Ben and Hollow that his niece Alston drew. After sleeping a few hours, I hopped in the rental car and drove to Fort Myers for my 6:55am flight.

I’ll be in Washington until Friday morning for Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network purposes, then will head to New York for Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture’s Vita Institute seminar. Keeping an eye on the snowstorm that approaches.

Windy Fort Lauderdale

Woke up in 2312 of the W Fort Lauderdale to pretty heavy winds and choppy waters, with rain-like (and eventually true rain) conditions on the street level when we went looking for a nearby Starbucks. The photo below of the palm fronds blowing hard in the wind gives a good sense of how heavy the winds were on the street:

This evening I’ll head to Ave Maria for a short visit before flying to Washington from Fort Myers early tomorrow.

Full Moon Party

We’re in the Florida Keys for New Year’s Eve, specifically staying on a houseboat at Mangrove Marina in Tavernier near Key Largo, and later in Islamorada for a New Year’s Eve “Full Moon Party” at Pierre’s on the beach. I’ll post scenes from throughout the day.

First from Lazy Day’s in Islamorada, where we had a late lunch. then from Mangrove Marina on our “Starfish” houseboat, where we spent the last daylight hours of 2017 and watched the sun set over the water and the full moon grow increasingly bright in the darkening sky, and finally from Pierre’s on the beach in Islamorada, where we spent the final six hours of the year:

A parade weaved its way through the beachfront crowds probably a dozen or so times throughout the evening and night, past midnight. I captured this scene from our table-on-the-beach:

And the midnight fireworks were a fitting way to finish the year, especially in the Keys which suffered a fair amount of devastation from Hurricane Irma earlier this year:

Happy New Year.

Nearly New Years

We’re heading to Fort Lauderdale today to meet friends for New Years, and stayed at the Sheraton in Center City, Philadelphia last night before this morning’s flight—in part due to the forecast of snow that would have slowed the roads. Here’s the scene from the Sheraton at night, before the snow, and in the morning, after the snow:

Our flight ended up being delayed out of Philadelphia by about an hour, but the flight itself was smooth and I slept through most of it.

It’s my first time to Fort Lauderdale By-The-Sea, which seems lovely and retains perhaps a bit more of 1950s-era Florida than does Fort Lauderdale proper. Scenes from a walk to Assumption church for mass:

We’re heading to the Keys for New Years Eve, specifically Islamorada and Tavernier, near Key Largo.

The Last Jedi

On the spur of the moment last night I decided to see Star Wars XIII: The Last Jedi, booked a ticket, and headed over.

I saw The Last Jedi at “Frank Theatres Montgomeryville” but when I first visited roughly 20 years ago it was called “United Artists Montgomeryville.” I remember that, because this theatre was where an older cousin Phil took me to see the original Star Wars trilogy when it was re-airing in a remastered edition in theaters in the 1990s. It was a great experience to binge on those movies in a single day, especially for a young boy, and I’ve been a fan of Star Wars since.

In many ways, The Last Jedi seems to have finished the stories begun with Luke Skywalker in 1977 with the first Star Wars, and opened up new territory for Star Wars to grow into the future. Somewhat bittersweet, but time. And reassuring to see that Disney’s ownership of Lucasfilm won’t mean that every Star Wars to come will be nostalgia-heavy and sentimentalist.

new-star-wars-the-last-jedi-poster-1036376

Jacob Hall’s review/reaction largely mirrors mine, but it speaks explicitly about the plot. I’ve avoided most spoilers in the excerpt below, but read with caution if you haven’t seen the movie yet and want to maintain your ignorance of it:

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, director J.J. Abrams sought to prop up and revitalize the most popular film franchise in movie history, to preserve its qualities in amber for a new generation. The Force Awakens was very concerned about what you, the moviegoer and fan, thinks about Star Wars. It wants to please you. It wants to be comfort food. And it’s very, very good at that.

But with Star Wars: The Last Jedi, director Rian Johnson wants to burn Star Wars to the ground. Not because he harbors ill will toward it, but because he loves it. He loves it so much that he wants to cleanse the garden and allow something fresh and new to grow.

Luke knows that the Jedi must end, that they do not monopolize the Force, and that evil has flourished on their watch. But where Luke saw despair, Yoda sees a chance for renewal. Where J.J. Abrams saw a warm and comforting blanket that makes you feel really good, Rian Johnson sees that stagnation is the death of all things. Stagnation leads to Empires and First Orders. Hitting the reset button, breaking the machine, leads to revolutions. And after 40 years of circling similar ideas, Star Wars could use a revolution. …

The beauty of Star Wars, since its earliest days, has been the depiction of heroes coming from every corner and every walk of life. A farm boy. A princess. A smuggler. They have no business saving the galaxy, but damn it, they have to! Who else will?

And now we have an orphaned scavenger abandoned by her completely un-noteworthy parents, a conflicted deserter from a vicious military regime, and a skilled pilot with a lot to learn about leadership. The next generation of Star Warsheroes are born from disappointment, the disappointment of having to live in the shadow of heroes and the disappointment of having to fight the war that those heroes failed to actually win all those years ago. No one should have to do this. No young person should have to go to war. … They shouldn’t, but this is the hand that was dealt to them. And they’re going to fight because that’s what heroes do, no matter where they come from. …

The Last Jedi feels like a movie young George Lucas, passionate and bold, would have made. It feels like a proper Star Wars movie by refusing to feel like a Star Wars movie.

IMG_2127

Considering dimensions

Reading Fr. Edwin Abbot’s “Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions” earlier this month led me to re-watch Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, which led me to Michael Arbeiter’s writing on the concept of the fourth and fifth dimensions. I’m excerpting his explanation of just the fourth dimension:

Time, essentially. Picture yourself at this very moment. Now, imagine yourself five minutes ago — or five days, or five years, or (if you want to really blow your own mind) five centuries. To grasp a world observed from the Fourth Dimension (as ours is from the Third), picture each of these variations of yourself as physically connected along the line of time. Though it’s tougher to picture, the jump from D3 to D4 exists in the same fashion that the previous jumps (D1 to D2 and D2 to D3) do.

Think of it as such: If you view the abstract concept of a line from another angle, you’ll see a plane — a revelation that the unfeasibly thin collection of points you once saw was only one facet of the physical object you had been observing: a measure of its length.

Do this again when you shift from looking at a plane to looking at a standard object or person. The plane was a motionless vantage point of said thing, a representation of one side of it (that containing its first two dimensions) without perspective of its depth. Turning physically to look beyond this single face brings you to Dimension 3.

Perform that same song and dance once more and you’re in Dimension 4, no longer looking at an object from the single face of its three special dimensions. Just as you saw a line, retroactively, as one face of a plane, and a plane as one face of an object, any object as we know it is really just one face of a timeline. If you were to stand outside of time and shift rapidly across a given line, you’d see all the conceivable iterations of that object — its past, present, and future incarnations, like a flipbook. Imagine those singular frames strung together endlessly (meaning, for us in both directions. Picturing an object as such gives you a view from the Fourth Dimension.

We say that God is being itself, the basis for all contingent existence. God, then, would both transcend every dimension, as much as he would be the basis for each. We contingent, finite creatures are “actors on a stage” whose limits we strain to reach and understand through scientific inquiry.

Someday, maybe, our contingency may be better understood if we can somehow reach beyond our three-dimensionality—beyond time, which is one of the characteristics we believe characterizes God. But it also seems that if were to achieve that, we would no longer be human in the sense we are now. We would have to die, in fact, because one of the characteristics of human beings is their finite, three dimensional nature. Christian theology suggests that perfected and resurrected man retains the body, but true implications of relationship with God are unknowable beyond that.

Christopher Nolan’s hopeful film depicts a scenario were we might transcend our humanity without losing it.

Toward things that last

I wrote last year on Adrienne LaFrance’s observation that the internet is, on the whole, a messaging system—not a library. Today, the pseudonymous Paradox Project’s piece “Print Your Blog” caught my eye for its riff on ephemerality and permanence:

I’ve been in the industry of software for about 10 years and I’ve met some wonderful people, discovered some amazing technologies, and watched the hard work, the passion, the blood, sweat, and tears of a new and incredible project evaporate into the air. Billion-dollar technologies have disappeared into the ether, leaving anyone who bought the illusion of digital permanency clutching the past as if they were trying to hold water in their hands.

The truth is that anything digital requires upkeep. Five years ago, Scott Hanselman made a plea to bloggers to own their own content, to host their own words. He wasn’t wrong, but hosting our own words costs money. We can’t just write and expect it to live on the internet forever. We either have to pay for the ability to extend the life of our words or we are at the mercy of some third party. …

The same goes for my old technology writings, my old online communities, everything I’ve built, recorded, written or shared. I have a nightmare that I die in a car accident, my hosting bill goes unpaid and everything I’ve ever done will go offline as I instantly vanish from the earth. …

If it’s something you want for a long time, don’t buy digital. Don’t let someone else control your media or memories. Print your blog. Buy paper books. Find your 50 best pictures from the past year and print them out. Gravitate toward things that last.

I think this is 100 percent correct, and many good examples of ephemerality are included that I didn’t excerpt here. The hundreds of pages of my grandfather’s memoirs that he wrote and assembled from old letters for our family not only give me a window into his life in the 1950s, but also help me concretely remember the man I grew up with but who died nearly twenty years ago.

My attempt to write in public, even when I don’t have much to say other than share a photo or excerpt something interesting I’ve read, is as vulnerable as WordPress is, ultimately. I believe in Matt Mullenweg and his vision for WordPress as a resilient and sustainable platform—but what happens to everything here after Matt and I are gone? If there’s any lasting value in the things I’m writing and sharing, past experience points to a physical version of at least the images and words (if not the video/audio) being as important as whatever survives on the internet. Ideally, everything survives. It would be a joy to me if my grandchildren or great grandchildren would be able to see and hear the same sights and sounds that I’m sharing from time to time here—but worst case, the words are enough to tell at least part of the story. How do we ensure something tangible might last for the future?

“Don’t let someone else control your media or memories. Print your blog. Buy paper books. Find your 50 best pictures from the past year and print them out.” Et cetera.

One short sleep past…

Apropos of nothing, other than a reality we all face:

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

—John Donne