The March of Intellect – London March for Science

At the dawn of the Victorian age, change on the horizon, a time of “faith and doubt” (as Elizabeth Jay writes) emerged from one of disease, classism, and scientific guesswork — marked progress in some ways and many great detriments in others. This birth, and those to follow from generations to come, stirred imaginable controversy among citizens of Victorian Britain, who, afraid of change, were not always welcoming of its risks and benefits.


The March of Intellect, as it was referred, saw a divisive culture emerge from a climate of educational and scientific progress, with much of the British populous either fearing or embracing change in social standards, scientific progress, and educational reform. That same age saw revolutionary riots surge in England (the Spa Field and Peterloo Riots killing and injuring many) in the wake of the end of the Napoleonic wars which left the country bereft of sufficient resources. With the industrial revolution in full effect, a need for educational change fueled the division, and debate ensued, peaking the public’s interest through satire and bitter division around 1820.


In 2017, some two hundred years later, echoes of the past repeat themselves as though we have learned nothing from the fear they harbour still but this: that humanity will repeat its sins again and again until the lesson is learned, and even then, human nature will be of consistent trouble to ‘rein in’.
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I have watched the United Kingdom react to Trump’s election, inauguration, and subsequent executive orders and politico-social faux pas. There is a consensus among the people of the United Kingdom’s educational centres (Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, etc) that Trump and his elected appointees are doing no good for the march of intellect.


Digitally, I watched as citisens of the digital age posted their preparatory motivation to march (this is to say, to heed the call to political action) to the “March for Science” Facebook group and event — ‘I march because I need a cure for cancer‘, ‘I march for my daughter‘, ‘I march for my students‘ — all reasons deserving of applause, all encouraging of a feeling of emotional and intellectual solidarity in a time of great need of such for the scientific and academic communities facing detriments to funding, acceptance, and educational value to their work as propaganda circulates the web and their physical mailboxes.


I watched London march with boots on the ground, photographing the English protesting in the most English way possible — politely, often quietly, and with pun-laden signs contingent on the dialect of the region (one sign of particular interest: “data scientist, don’t hate a scientist“) — wondering whether the climate was a bit more raucous back in Scotland. And so, with the introverted masses yearning to secure funding and a healthier future for our environment, debating verbal annotations to the popular chants including “what do we want?”“climate change!”“when do we want it?”“on an appropriate geological timescale!” and “what do we want?”“science!” — “when do we want it?” — “after peer review!” in murmurs, we marched on Parliament: children of all ages, men, women, and everyone who finds themselves in between left their beakers and books at home and took to the streets.

My personal ties to the scientific community are no secret, but as a researcher in English Literature (specifically, Victorian) and a student journalist, my own reasons were more general, as I again hear the academic call to arms of some two centuries ago sounding sickening, clearly:

I march for intellect.

I will march for the freedom of progress, for the ability to remain faithful to whatever faith I choose, and for law that will dictate that that faith shall not intercept the progress for which I advocate. I will march for art, for education, for women, for men, and for every pivotal point of intellectual intersectionality which harkens the need for more research, more thought, and more accessibility to both.
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And yes, I march because I, too, need a cure for cancer. Because while you are free to place your faith in the fact that God guides the hands of the Doctors, researchers, and chemists who treat your loved one’s ailments, God also ‘helps he who helps himself’ — and no God, should you choose to believe in one, will not do the work for you — because magic is not found at the crux of faith. I march because I, too, would like to feel safe bringing a daughter into the world if and when the occasion ever strikes me, and because I, too, should like to say to her when she asks me ‘why‘ I marched: “I will show you a thousand reasons why“, and so explain to her in any tiny piece of the world she points to (perhaps I hope, her reflection) why science matters. I, too, march for my students — so that they may enter a world in which they fear no truth.

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Love Still Lives in London – Photoessay

In the wake of the eighty-two second terror attack last week which devastated the city, London reacted the English way — by keeping calm, and carrying on. I was in London at the time of the attack, but as little as four miles away in Kensington, the city was still as alive as ever.

Shows of solidarity were poignant and well-timed in the days to follow the attack, and throughout, the city rebounded quickly: marching forth with daily life in the traditional, no-nonsense London style.

Weekends are taken very seriously in London, and given the slower pace of the requisite two-day-window of relative respite at the close of what had been a trying and painful week, I half expected the city to be a little more morose, taking the time to lick its wounds. But by the weekend, the pleasant Spring-like weather had drawn all of London out into the city to enjoy — specifically, Kensington Gardens, where I focused my lens this week. I wanted the photos to prove that life had not stopped here, had not dulled, and most critically — that hate had not won in London, with photos of the park’s patrons enjoying their weekend unafraid and in love with the changing seasons.

As one of the most pristine neighbourhoods of the city, Kensington is, of course, an idealised portrait of life here — and with so much going for it, it draws a varied crowd representative precisely of the multiculturalism which fuels the economy and culture here. Kensington Palace and Gardens are ever a hub of different faces.

This weekend, love was alive here, never stopping, ceasing, or fearing. Couples of every orientation strolled through the park, unashamedly holding hands and without fear, children flew kites and fed ducks the bread they really shouldn’t be eating, women in burkas and saris strolled alongside Korean, Chinese, and Japanese tourists. Businessmen cut loose to jog through the park, students read, and young boys and girls played football (one, hitting me once by “mistake”, and subsequently shocked when I passed the ball back to him). Friends laughed as they failed — miserably, might I add — at rowing the rental row-boats, families picnicked, Kensington’s feral parakeets chirped and swooped down into crowds of onlookers, perching on hands of all colours, hoping for a free, fruity meal from apples held within. At least for two days, in Kensington, London was a portrait of multicultural success.

The seasons march along here as does the pace of life, and as in nature there are no ideals. London bears its own battles against the tumult and sin of intercultural bias and prejudice, but on the whole, is on the up-and-up in the brightest way possible after a trying and painful week, demonstrating resilience and the long-living cohesive fire of the British Empire.

London is a well-oiled economic machine which runs on intellect and trades in quick-thinking transactions of thought itself, with little time to be slowed by anything which might suggest taking more time than would a cup of tea. Love has won in London.

“Sky’s On Fire”: Urban vs. Rural Reactions to Fire

On March 5th, 2017, a fire tore through a Scrap Yard in Govan, Glasgow, sending plumes of billowing smoke skyward — much to the curiosity of Glasgwegians. On the streets in City Centre, on campus at the University, and in Partick near the River Clyde, bystanders at bus stops and crossing the street stood frozen in awe of the never-ending formations forming from the billowing smoke.

A few months ago, I was living and working in Northern California when wildfires tore through the hills, blackening everything in their path. Wildfire crews worked around the clock to extinguish the flames, but not before a fair amount of damage had already been done. There’s only so much which can be done for a wildfire when the fields of sun-dried grasses present an opportune tinderbox for even the smallest flame (I reflected on that experience with an essay and photo series here).

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After The Fire II, Brooks, California © Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016

In both scenarios, a fire commands the attention of powerless bystanders who chance upon it or its effects. But in stark contrast to fires in urban areas, bystanders can be few and far between, only seeing the effects of a blaze up close and personal when it’s on their doorstep.

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Lake Berryessa Fire, Brooks, California, (c) Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2016

But in urban areas like Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city by population, human reactions happen in real-time, expressing emotion and concern for something which instantly hits close to home. The outrage, concern, fear, and sadness hits every citisen within hours of the first spark.

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Urban Fire Under Glass, Glasgow, Scotland, (c) Caroline C. Evans Abbott, 2017.

Even from the safety of a cozy flat, there are few views which are not inclusive of a fire’s effects in some light — and the longer it burns, the more this issue presents itself. The slightest change in vantage point in an urban area will reveal the fire’s presence even if the fire itself is not directly visible: the demeanour of bystanders going about their day to day, the chatter of a local shop, a television or radio giving updates. Concern hangs thick in the air.

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Fire’s Effects Linger in the Atmosphere, contributing to Beautiful Sunsets — themselves often a product of pollutants. Glasgow, Scotland, (c) Caroline C. Evans Abbott 2017

But in California, where the Lake Berryessa fire burned thousands of acres, outrage, while certainly felt amongst NorCal’s population, was not as personal: it wasn’t on their doorstep… yet.

We have something to learn from the discrepancy between these events not just for their obvious differences, but chiefly, for their overall commonality. It is critical for the preservation of forests and the management of wildfire, particularly, that accessibility to personalised images which demonstrate fire’s impact on human and animal populations are distributed — because otherwise, human populations will always continue to be more terrorised by a lit match in a humid cement jungle than in a massive field of hay.

A New Page for ‘The Ruby Slipper Project’

In late 2015, I began an investigative photoessay memoir project which aims to explore the stories told in my family from one generation to the next. Until I feel it is finished, I will be traveling across the world, seeking out an immersive experience of my family’s most poignant, funny, heartbreaking, weird, and beautiful stories with the hope of inspiring others to do the same. The more frequently we do so with eyes open, rooted in an emotionally-sound connection, the more prone we are as individuals and as a society to cultural acceptance — something which cannot be undervalued in the current politico-social climate. And the shoes… well, there’s a story for that, too.

The new page will serve as a cohesively-flowing home for the project in its entirety, and new installments will still appear on my blog as usual. If you would like to follow my journey and work in its entirety, please follow my blog.  Learn more about me or drop me a line here.

New Glasgow Guardian Article Out Now: “Glasgow protests Trump’s Muslim Ban”

At the end of January, I covered Glasgow’s two protests of Trump’s ‘Seven Nation Ban’ — or ‘Muslim Ban’ in a much more ‘newsier’ style than is typical of my past work for the Guardian. I investigated two separate rallies which took place within mere blocks of each other — one sponsored by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR), and the other, a privately-organised and unaffiliated event organised by Hali Amezianne Campbell. The new article investigates the reasons for the two separate gatherings in addition to covering the events themselves. Read it here.

Covering these events and subsequently reflecting on them  has given me immense faith in the character of the global community and in humanity, but has also elucidated the fact that truly, no one is perfect — particularly political parties, individuals, organisations, and factions — no matter how worthy their cause. Critically, it has drawn to my attention the fact that the responsibility of global citisens (in an age which poses increasingly more daunting challenges to that state of being) is ‘simply’ to keep one another in check: fact-checking, remaining objective, and ensuring that we all recognise our ability to morally falter. The longer an individual remains unchecked, the higher the risk of detrimental decisions, and serious ramifications to follow. The task of democratic constituents is to continue challenging our leaders — something the American press is consistently attacked for doing, guilty of doing incorrectly, or some combination thereof.

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Protesters take on increasingly sombre expressions as protests continue, growing in numbers: Glasgow City Centre Trump Muslim Ban Protests, Glasgow, Scotland, Caroline C. Evans Abbott, January 2017.

Conjoining photography with writing through my continuing coverage of Glasgow’s reaction to Trump’s election and subsequent executive actions — and this project in particular — is an exceptional opportunity for which I am very grateful. To capture the faces whose attendance to these rallies made the difference in proving Scotland and the United Kingdom’s majority state of solidarity with United States political discord has made all the difference in the way I perceive, process, and draw conclusions from the cultural events I cover.

Reading student journalism from around the world can truly take one on a journey without ever leaving your desk — for this reason alone, I encourage everyone to reach out and take a few moments to read some content they otherwise may not have.

 

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“A Boy Called Blue”, Glasgow City Centre Trump Muslim Ban Protest, Glasgow, Scotland, Caroline C. Evans Abbott, Jan. 2017

A sample of the article, below, details my interactions with a young boy called Blue (above) whose protest sign was by far the greatest of the night. For more photos of the rally and a thank-you note to Blue, click here.

But among the swarming crowds trying to make sense of the separate rallies, a little face, bundled in hat and coat, held a sign high at the periphery and gazed into the droves of people. His name is Blue, with eyes to match, and as he bravely consented to have his photo taken with permission from his Dad, he peered over the top of the cardboard picket sign he made all by himself, it’s big letters and colourful handle conveying a very direct message: “Mr. Trump [,] Everyone is the same change your ways!”

Dichotomy and Balance: Hidden Worlds in Old Town Edinburgh’s Alleyways (Photo Series)

Edinburgh is a city of human industry, harbouring the elite who live comfortable lives, the tourists who splurge and indulge in cultural experience at the same instance as the students, the poor, and the homeless. In many ways, the cold, metropolitan sister of Glasgow seems more her cultural foil than close relative. Frequently regarded for her friendly acceptance and treatment of travellers local and foreign, Glasgow is in many ways a more authentic experience of Scotland than the tourist-prone Edinburgh could hope to be. But with some of the most iconic sights in Scotland within or just minutes from its borders, Scotland’s capital city ranks highly on the list of places to see for many world travellers, and with good reason.

In the wealthy parts of Edinburgh, Scotland has never looked more beautiful. The district close to the castle, known as “Old Town”, is perhaps the most frequently visited (and inauthentic) Edinburgh experience a visitor can have. Close to the castle, winding cobblestone streets play host to expensive sports cars darting between buildings before vanishing out of sight, revving their engines impatiently though fully equipped knowledge of the restriction borne upon them by the nature of the antique streets. Well-dressed men in suits and ties weave between tourists; women with tiny dogs and expensive haircuts (who have somehow managed to procure magic potions to restrain their hair even in near one hundred percent humidity) wobble insecurely on cracking sidewalks, grateful only for their presence as an alternative to cobblestones; tired looking restauranteurs post chalkboard placards in the street with what’s on offer for the day’s fish lunch. The heart of the city breathes with the disease of tourism in its veins, tied to that which sustains it as the dregs of culture swims for deeper depths, desperate for oxygenation. It is night to Glasgow’s somehow-sunny days )between the ever-present rainclouds).

But even within these less authentic parts of Edinburgh, authenticity is to be found through its illustration of internationally shared sociological problems — and the presence of their solution.

Winding through the streets of  Old Town, alleyways overtake your peripheral vision: the especially dark, damp, and dirty looking sort your mother warned you about and your father probably darted between as a boy. Cigarette butts, old newspapers, garbage — nothing to look at, particularly in light of the more fantastic sights just beyond. But these alleyways play host to, and frame in their own right, the sights which surround them. Through their frame, we are able to see Edinburgh in a new light: the fantastic, upheld symbolically and realistically, by the less fantastic sights surrounding them.

The alleys which see homelessness, people rooting through the bins, people standing outside of student accommodation smoking their stresses away, are the same alleys which catch glimpses of young love, of castles just beyond them, of jokes between friends, angsty teenagers spurting their misdirected rage into colourful patterns sprayed onto walls, or of pigeons consorting with a strange, tall man with brightly coloured trousers and an even stranger affinity for carrot cake. The city’s economic and cultural disparities are well portrayed by peeking down the alleys (perhaps a bit farther than you dare). It is by looking through these alleys and those like them by which the visitor to Edinburgh will truly be able to see into in this city’s soul for all its diversity, and find balance within.

 

Hues of Old Glasgow

Glasgow is a friendly city rife for exploration even on the coldest of days. The winter brings with it the evocation of drab imagery: it is expected that every day spent wandering in this bitter season will include only gales from the North Atlantic to match the monochrome surrounding denizens whose wardrobes seem to have submitted to the bleak conditions. Fortunately, aside from the frigidity of the atmosphere, none of that is accurate… at least not all of the time.

The city is, of course, unforgivingly cold in the winter. Humidity hangs motionless in the air and sinks into even the most weatherproof of clothes indiscriminately. Citisens and visitors old enough to have errands appear as regularly as ever, going about their duties, where children seem less easily affected by the cold, darting between alleys and streets chasing one another on scooters and bikes. Aside from the historic tenement flats overlooking some of the city’s most popular roads, their ancient architecture looms over modernised storefronts as occasional, glamorously sleek structures blink between them.

Living here demands recognition of this fact: it is a confluence of old and new at every turn, an undeniable embodiment of the cyclical nature of life. History is patchworked into every element of life here even in the most modernised parts. Often, this overlap is felt most strongly through the creative freedoms taken by residents of tucked-away homes and buildings: using colour and quirkiness to underline the overlapping ages through architectural self-expression.

Attn. Mr. Trump: You Are No Son of Scotland

When I arrived in Scotland this September, a cab driver told me “Scotland always welcomes back her Sons and Daughters”. This sentiment has been echoed by many for each month I have been here, often at points when I would otherwise have felt alone. Instead, I felt surrounded by a community which loves its people – all of its people.

Just like me, Donald Trump is a Scottish-American citizen. And as a Scottish American whose culture and family is rooted so deeply within this community, I can speak to the fact that that connection carries with it a great deal of pride. Pride in country, in family, and in fellow men and women.

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Peaceful Protest: Inaugural Protest a Demonstration of Varying Opinions Coming Together to Admonish Trump. Glasgow City Centre, Trump Inauguration Protest Rally. Glasgow Scotland. 20 January, 2017. Caroline C. Evans Abbott

The fire and ferocity behind Scotland’s pursuits of freedom are a well-documented (and frequently embellished) facet of our culture. That fervour was present tonight in the hearts of the people who came together in City Centre.

There were no blue faces tonight, no tartans – and no, no haggis. But there was peaceful protest, there was ferocity, and there was a sense of safe community.

Being behind a lens frequently gives you a free social pass into diplomacy — the world sees you photographing and assumes you are doing your job and are to be left alone.

I make every effort when photographing to reveal truth, to remain objective, to analyse in the moment so that others may see that truth: to capture my perspective through compositions which convey the emotional and cultural relevance of a scene. But today I am a participant as well.

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“Mary with Child”: Protesters Smile at Joke Told by Speaker. Trump Inauguration Protest Rally, Glasgow City Centre, 20 January 2017. Caroline C. Evans Abbott

Behind my lens, I was shaken and moved to tears as a man began his speech with an emphatic battle cry: “Donald Trump: I am not afraid of you”, followed by the screams of the crowd. Sons and daughters of Scotland and of the World stood together tonight in a joint effort — putting aside political and cultural differences to stand in solidarity with my American friends and family. With me. With you.

Today my heart bleeds for the millions of innocent people at home who are afraid of facing a future which jeopardizes their religious, social, and human freedoms. For my friends. For my family. For those who choose to believe the values of the Democratic Party to be so clearly portrayed by one or two examples, and who then choose to regard my loved ones and I as ‘unsaved’ because of it. If that is the saviour you follow, then I am justified in divorcing myself from your brand of faith and am further at peace with my own.

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Protesters Gather Below Donald Dewar Statue. Glasgow City Centre Trump Inauguration Protest Rally. 20 January 2017. Caroline C. Evans Abbott

Mr. Trump has taken his oath today, and it is my hope that millions of Americans do so as well. Whether they be participating in his festivities, remaining impartial, or protesting his inauguration, may they vow to keep their hearts and minds open to the opinions of their fellow Americans.

It is my hope that they vow to expand their horizons. To not get angry, but to be thoughtful. To read more. To vow to do act with the class and grace our nation deserves, to commit acts of kindness, to deny gilded temptations which gloss over the truth. To make themselves uncomfortable, and then to come to terms with why they may feel that way. To swear an oath to defend our nation from whatever evil it will encounter: to defend your brothers, your sisters, your countrymen.

Mr. Trump may not support the arts, education, equal rights, or maintaining the separation of church and state which we rely upon for democracy to function, but I do.

In protest to Mr. Trump’s ideologies concerning education, the arts, his blatant lack of support for Native American rights, and his demagogic rhetoric, I will take to mine in whatever way I can through my art and writing.

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He has taken to demeaning, to bullying, and to fighting a big story with a bigger one. He has chosen his weapon of choice in a battle for America. And I will take up mine.

Scotland took a stand today, alongside thousands of citizens all over the world to protest the entry of a man into the most powerful position in the world – a man whose clinically narcissistic temperament has been overlooked by a population which felt abandoned by our government. That abandonment is what we must address going forward: with love, with education, and with exposure to the arts. But all good things in moderation, and I feel I speak for Scotland and for many Scottish American citisens when I say:

Mr. Trump, you are no Son of Scotland.

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“Sons of Scotland”: Two Young Boys Watch Protest Unfold. Glasgow City Centre Trump Inauguration Protest. 20 January, 2017. Glasgow, Scotland. Caroline C. Evans Abbott

How Van met Phyllis: Curley’s Diner, Stamford CT, The Ruby Slipper Project

Has anyone ever told you you have bedroom eyes?” He leaned in over the counter of the tiny diner and set down their food as her big brown eyes darted back and forth. For the confident, handsome, thirty-four-year-old veteran (a line cook for now), this interaction was easy, comfortable. For her – also a veteran, and savvy, but with a giddy laugh she never was very good at holding back – the interaction would have been a little less comfortable: she was on a date with another man. But my grandfather didn’t seem to care much.

That is the spark-flying story of how Van met Phyllis – the story of how my maternal grandparents met. Hers was an extreme caricature of a position many women have encountered over the course of history – whether to follow the head or the heart. She followed her heart, and like their memory, the diner still stands today.

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The year was 1948, and Curley’s diner in Stamford, Connecticut had been open for seven years, about the same number of years Van Gordon Evans, a southern gentleman with a strong jawline and an incurable sense of confidence, had called the north his home. There was instant chemistry, and through a series of events she never fully detailed, they were married six months later with their first of three baby girls arriving ten months after that.

My grandmother had an affinity for diners – frequently calling us from the land line of a local joint she had spontaneously arrived at to see if we would like to join her for a coffee, one of my greatest regrets in life is the one time I declined to join her on one of these occasions. But more often than not, we would end up in a booth at a diner, having a B.L.T., and talking about life: the future, the past, and the present. It was in those diners where I got my first sense of the world around me, of the community we lived in, and where she passed to me her unabatingly street-smart sense of class. Frequently, she spoke out against things she felt were wrong if the time arrived, but more frequently, she complimented that which she saw as good for the world. I gauged her reactions to the world around me partly in diners just like Curley’s, and in so doing, she taught me when to speak up and when to shut up.

Their courtship would have taken place as the height of Country-Western, Latin, and Big Band music led up to the birth of rock n’ roll. Most of their dating activities happened in and around the Southern Connecticut area where she had spent the latent parts of her childhood after immigrating with her family from Italy at the age of eight. But Curley’s diner is the stand-out landmark of their love story – itself as imperfect and inescapably charming as their relationship. The neighbourhood surrounding them abounded with visual disparity even then between the ‘rich’ sides of town and the poor, ramshackled places struggling with crime, violence, poverty, and drugs.

The diner was empty when I arrived, and admittedly, sticks out like a sore thumb in the heart of the increasingly gentrified Stamford, Connecticut, which in its efforts to beautify the neighbourhood has gone largely in favour of a more classic turn-of-the-century style. Skyscrapers and parking garages spring up all around, and construction sounds ring out in a clamour from behind the tiny parking lot, but inside there’s just silence. Across the street, town efforts to transform the neighbourhood into a bustling downtown are succeeding – it is a portrait of gentility with carefully restored brickwork and particularly-chosen lampposts. Black, Hispanic, and White workers can be seen ducking between the shadows of the buildings, working on construction crews while well-kempt Black, Hispanic, and White families enjoy the appeal of the restoration efforts below, driving into the city for a day of shopping while locals are an interesting mix of privilege and pain. But Curley’s is a quirky and quintessentially authentic New England diner, hosting senators, congressmen, and actors – DeNiro even filming a part of his film “Everybody’s Fine” at the counter.

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I love your shoes.” The waitress says in a very matter-of-fact way as she swings by the table. “Thanks! There’s actually a funny story about that – it’s kind of why I’m here”. I explain my Grandparents’ story and the shoes’ significance, hesitant at first and admittedly taken aback by the interior which looks more seventies than fifties despite the iconically original sign which still stands on the roof outside, but I am welcomed by her directness and interest. When I explain my grandfather’s opening line, she laughs and exclaims with great joy “I’d probably date him, too! And the Wizard of Oz is my favourite movie. Love it.

Opened by Herluf Svenningsen, called ‘Curley’ for his golden locks in 1941, the diner has been a stubbornly-steadfast icon of Stamford for decades, changing hands in the seventies after being bought by Maria Aposporos. It has, literally, made it through hell and high water: surviving everything from the flood of 1955 which left southern Connecticut drowning, to gentrification efforts which would have liked to do away with the diner entirely.

In 2007, then Stamford City Mayor and now Connecticut State Governor Dannel Malloy’s Urban Redevelopment Commission’s efforts to seize the diner under Eminent Domain in hopes of replacing it with an apartment complex lost to Aprosporos in a hard-fought and very public Connecticut Supreme Court battle garnering attention from everyone from The New York Times to CNN.

Curley’s didn’t ‘fit in’ with the sleek gentrification plan for Stamford, and the ground upon which it rests was valuable. It gives off an anachronous vibe: clashing heavily with the art deco style taking over the newly renovated downtown with its fifties charm and even more out of place seventies interior. Aprospros fought back with a card as political as the one she was dealt, using powerful alliances and the press to establish security on her investment – after paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees to fight government claims of Eminent Domain, the battle ended in Aprosporos and her sister Begetis saving the decades-old piece of history from destruction.

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Aprosporos, a Greek emigrant with thick white hair and friendly eyes whose accent is as steadfast as her commitment to the diner, has garnered plenty of attention and support from Republican politicians and community members as a result of her public battle with Malloy, at one point supporting Tom Foley’s unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign for Governor in 2010, and serving on the Republican Board of Representatives in years prior. During his campaign for Governor against Foley, Malloy would later cite her involvement as a political move and claim no involvement in the Urban Redevelopment Commission’s decision to attempt to seize her property in Stamford.

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Typically, the Connecticut Democratic Party’s constituency are proponents and defenders of arts, culture, and humanist ideologies, and gentrification projects tend to reflect the democratic majority’s reverence for the arts and historic integrity, even across party lines – Willimantic, Connecticut, once much more of a heroin hotbed than it is today, has made strong and continuing comeback efforts in recent decades, presenting a swinging comeback which regards the area’s original features and historic value.

Today, restaurant is an unapologetically authentic homestead for the family clan – Maria and her daughter chat away in Greek as they serve the community. As she directs her staff, she carries herself with the wary sensibility of a street-smart mother, as though watching carefully for the next political move which may jeopardise the integrity of her legacy. She carries with her the wariness of her generation, looking out for her diner like a child from behind the front counter, ducking in and out of the kitchen in her apron.

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An African American woman and her son walk in mere moments after I take my seat – right across from the doorway my Grandfather may have walked out of so many decades before. In the quiet diner, she thwarts the boy’s requests for ham in his omelette order, explaining that it would cost more than they had — $0.50 more, to be exact – and that she had to eat, too. As they settle in and prepare to order, the waitress, who has overheard from the kitchen, comes forward to take their orders.

Excuse me, ma’am, not that it’s any of my business, but I overheard part of your conversation. This is the best value on the menu” she points at the menu, explaining the volume of food for one order. “Let him get what he wants. I’ll make sure you have enough to eat. I’ll put the extra dollar in.” She leans down to the child, shyly looking over his menu. “What do you like to study in school?” she asks. He responds happily, explaining in fragmented sentences his love of math, science, and community. He’s gotten loads of awards so far this year. He’s an area local, it’s clear he has no Daddy but he’s too young to mind, and he likes ham with his eggs.

Some time passes and a local comes in, greeting the waitress with a hug. They ask each other about business and he sets about getting some lunch. It’s the authentic place for the ‘real’ Stamford residents to come, where on the other side of the street, wealthy shoppers frequent the attractive, restored storefronts.

“Let me see if I can find something for you… Ma! I’m goin’ out for a minute” The waitress disappears into the parking lot. Moments later, she returns with two items: an old article from the Stamford Advocate featuring the diner’s story for me, and a toy truck. I pour over the collection of images, and information, and naturally, order a B.L.T., then watch as she takes the truck to the boy. “Santa told me you’ve been good this year”, she says, stooping down to deliver the gift. The boy graciously accepts, and the waitress returns with a smile, saying “you keep doin’ good in school, okay?” as she walks away.

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Curley’s diner represents a community through several parts of a very diverse whole, the underlying current of mankind uniting despite political, social, or racial differences to convene for one purpose: to enjoy some really good food and have a chat. Greek, Italian, Scottish, and Black culture, Liberal and Conservative, converging in one space with no animosity. Naturally, conditions are not always this idyllic, but for today, it was peace incarnate, and my Grandmother’s affinity for the American diner was alive both through her story and her legacy of acceptance. Their marriage was rife with differences – some more innately curable than others – but they loved each other, so they dove right in.

Maria represents a demographic which came to American in pursuit the American dream: much like my own Grandmother’s journey from Italy, and a demographic which is still very much alive and well today, but one which is challenged by hyper-conservative immigration reform proposals and adjacent media firestorms. When big business got in the way, Maria accorded with whichever political side could aid her in moving forward with her dream. But even with her conservative allies, she has not lost her socially liberal ideologies; serving food to the poor, sometimes lending money to regulars, and welcoming everyone, from white collar workers to prostitutes, to eat at her table. In the wake of the election, relations are tense even in the ‘quiet corners’ of Connecticut – but the American diner is still even ground on which to have a discussion or to learn about life from a stranger.

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Diners and community gathering places like them are hotbeds of human interaction: in them, we meet people from all walks of life and from all parts of the world. Frequently, they are tied to the romanticised ideals of American road-tripping, and frequently, that is an accurate connection, with travellers visiting from all over the country and the world. They provide common ground upon which ideas and differing philosophies can duke it out, ground upon which humanity’s most basic interests stand, and a chance for minds and hearts to meet. My grandmother’s view of diner meals as an occasional luxury was due to more than just her depression-era frugality: she saw the educational, humanist value to the interactions which took place within them.

I speak with Maria on my way out, talking about her experiences owning the Diner and the transitions which have taken place over the years. But charity isn’t new to Curley’s – in fact, Maria explains that the extent of their charity – feeding the neighbourhood poor, hungry, and prostitutes, had sometimes exceeded thousands of meals a week. She explains her battles to secure her business, her plans to eventually renovate, to keep improving, and to restore the building to a more original 1950s style: big dreams which transcend her age or any battles she may face in future.

I’m planning to fix the sign” she explains, sounding almost sheepish. But as her daughter chats with the young boy’s mother in the background of our conversation, watching the young boy play with his new truck, Maria has no idea how perfect her diner already is.

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Sources Consulted:

Some important sources consulted for anyone looking for basis to references made. It is important to note that all of these sources have been considered in light of their potential biases and most analysis within this piece has been made on the basis of interview and experience. Big thanks to Curley’s Diner for such a wonderful afternoon and for sustaining such a beautiful memory in the hearts of many people. Great food, too!

http://www.courant.com/politics/capitol-watch/hc-christie-to-appear-at-diner-where-owner-clashed-with-city-malloy-20140923-story.html

http://www.stamfordhistory.org/ph_1002_n3.htm

http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fsb/fsb_archive/2007/04/01/8403853/index.htm

Winter in Storrs

I was back in the Northeastern United States for the holiday interim, back in the [strange] Connecticut town I called ‘home’ for twenty odd years once again. Same quirky neighbourhood, same interesting townsfolk, same local paper, same solitarily inexpensive coffeeshop I used to avoid for fear of bumping into the past.

Anyone who has been generally rootless for any number of years can attest to the fact that, when the world barrages you with images you’ve never before processed, your analytical side is sharpened as finely as your subjectivity is tested.

I have found over the past few years that this test has awakened an excitement for the simple things I had, maybe, missed in the past. The town which (in the high school just a few moments walk from my front door) my peers and I would minimally complain about to foster within us a unifying hatred for a common enemy has suddenly become visible through a new lens by most of us who have returned to see the colours we couldn’t before.

I once found this scenery bleak in winter — devoid of colour and bereft of life’s motions (and then I met Glasgow [haha]). Coming back to town after months away in a new city, and after over a year on the other side of the country has changed that perspective: there’s colour exploding everywhere here almost as vibrantly if not more as in autumn.

It’s still not exciting here in a cosmopolitain sense which would excite a teenager or young adult. The biggest town scandals usually centre around the neighbouring Willimantic, Connecticut (still a hotbed for drug activity despite continued success with gentrification attempts) and the latest developments near and around the University of Connecticut. The people here love puns, bookstores, eclectically sensitive musicians posted on street corners, and eccentric characters. Things change year to year, but every year, most things remain the same. It is a community of people in a beautiful setting.

It’s still a sleepy town in the winter, and when it’s this cold outside (in the subzero celsius range), no one wants to part with the fireplace, but we like our spiced alcohol, our funny stories, our town anecdotes, and I am so grateful to have this community to come back to in a life which, by all other accounts, has stripped me of static roots… though I’m definitely not complaining about that.

This was always enough for me, and if nothing else, travel has validated the fact that there truly is beauty here unlike anywhere else in the world.