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Trickle-down Urbanism

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

Trickle-down Urbanism

How does a tradition begin? A question I asked fifty-plus years ago when our graduating high school class met to discuss our Senior Gift to the school.

I raised my hand with serious innocence to suggest the following: that we search the world of American musical composition for someone to write the “Fennimore Co. High School Graduation March”! My modest proposal — in hindsight, worthy of Jonathan Swift — came armed with a preliminary list of candidates (several of them from pieces our band had played, or tried to): Walter Piston, Norman Dello Joio, Vincent Persichetti, even the symphonist William Schuman. If Charles Ives had been alive, I’d have included him as well. But my list went to the garbage, rather than to the floor for discussion. My classmates’ shock was followed with a chorus of, “But ‘Pomp & Circumstance’ is traditional!” they chimed. At what point, precisely, I wondered, did P&C attain that status? So Monday afternoon, we may have begun a very local and inconsequential tradition: Lasagna for New Years Day dinner.

Our friend Paula drove down from Fargo for the afternoon — no small accomplishment in double-digit temperatures below the doughnut — and contributed a fine minestrone in seasonal red and green. And, as with most meals (i.e., communion) with her, the conversation turned to both food and local custom.

Paul’s kitchen is equipped with seasonings than mine. She mentioned three varieties of paprika and vanilla beans sent from a friend in Madagascar; the room fills with sweet scent whenever she breaks the bean jar’s tight seal. I contributed a few recollections from a short trip to Egypt a dozen years ago — still vivid images of a spice market in Luxor — and thought to pass along a small packet of saffron bought in Budapest last June; we’re unlikely to use it. We then discussed a store seen recently in a town that shall remain unnamed: a shop that sells flavor-infused vinegars and olive oils.

What can it possibly say about a community when one need travel no father than a few blocks to satisfy a craving for truffle-infused olive oil or to select from among three varieties of balsamic vinegar? It says the process of gentrification is well along. The flip side of such boutique shopping experiences is found at the suburban big-box stores.

Last Summer Rowan and I went to the garden center of the most notorious Big Box, perennials being one of the very few items that are reliably Made in America. While Rowan inspected the hostas, I did an experiment in the spirit of Making American Great Again: was it possible to find a pair of white cotton socks that were actually made in this country? Not finding any, I expanded my target to include underwear, then housewares, then tools, then….  Well, you get the picture: each and every item was manufactured in Vietnam or Indonesia or Guatemala; in the People’s Republic (their China) or Taiwan (our China); anywhere else beyond our borders.

“Get the feeling of done—and done is fun!”

Wayfair-Logo1.png

Recognize this logo?

Visit their website. Inspect any product. Check the “specifications” and you will find the country of origin — which, in my experience, has never been “U.S.A.” Free shipping may be a “game changer” but this barrage of imported crap does little else but harm the U.S. economy.

The Marxist in me


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