Open Secrets

The hottest spot in Hartford right now is the Hartford Public Library.

Does this mean I am getting older or nerdier? I’m not sure. In any case, I am continually impressed by how much I benefit from a place that does not charge a fee at the door.

Buying a home (or, to be more accurate, anticipating buying a home) has required me to become a tightwad. In some aspects of my life, this has been effortless. In others, it’s been more difficult. I enjoy the diverse restaurants in the city and I admittedly get a buzz from bookstores. While my own cooking absolutely pales in comparison to places like Barca, Masala, and The Russell, my book cravings can be equally sated by borrowing as by buying.

Obviously, there are more rental items than just books. I have not taken as much advantage of those as I could, but realistically, I probably should not indulge too much in passive entertainment like films.

What really draws me to the library are the community events, such as the recent Board of Education Candidates Forum. I like that there is an avenue for locals to express their opinions beyond City Hall or in Letters to the Editor. There is more opportunity for discussion at this kind of venue. I often run into friends and other folks I know at these forums.

A highlight of my year in 2008 was the sari fashion show held in the library. I know that the One Book program has been very popular, though I have yet to participate in it. When a non-fiction book is selected, maybe I will join in. Anyway, I noticed that the most recent One Book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is actually available on audio, which is a nice option for people with lower literacy who might want to participate in this.

What I like about the library is that I am always discovering new areas of the building. The third floor is especially good in this way. Through the children’s area there are conference rooms. Opposite the children’s wing is a collection of randomness. This is where the Hartford History Center is located. I was a bit intimidated by the room because there is a fancy sign-in procedure. The staff were welcoming, though, and volunteered to orient me with the room.

Further down the hall from the Hartford History Center is the ArtWalk. When I wandered through there, I noticed a few things. First, it was silent. Secondly, there was one person besides myself in the area. Third, it’s really cool to be able to look at artwork and out into Main Street at the same time. The library website describes the gallery as:

ArtWalk at Hartford Public Library offers one of the largest and most stunning exhibition spaces in greater Hartford and the opportunity for visitors to view art in a magnificent setting in their own community. The state-of-the art gallery rises above Main Street along a glass wall that floods the space with ambient light during the day and appears to glow as a jewel box at night. Exhibitions will offer an array of art experiences that reflect a variety of media, styles, and cultures in the art world, providing diverse viewing experiences, and allowing for many tastes. Art work is displayed on “floating” wall sections that allow the visitor to discover each piece while never seeing the whole exhibition from one vantage point. Because of the unusual cable system in place, one of the most unique aspects of the ArtWalk is that any wall and lighting configuration or arrangement can change with the nature of every new exhibition.

Currently on display, as of yesterday, are works by Stanwyck Cromwell. His work is a variety of oil, mixed media, colored pencils, collage, and assemblage. The colors he uses are bright. The works on display are also for sale, so if anyone is wondering what to get me, you know, with the holiday season approaching and all, any of his paintings or collages would be fabulous.

From the ArtWalk gallery, I could see pieces of the mural for the American Mural Project.

What would take the Hartford Public Library from crush status to true love would be if they reopened the cafe area. While I have been good so far about not cracking open my mug of hot chocolate, I am not sure how much longer I can suppress my coffee and chocolate needs in the library. See, my book addiction aggravates my mocha addiction. When I am appeasing one, I need to appease the other. My track record for not dousing books with liquids is solid; I’ve broken many a spill with items of clothing and bags. Any damage incurred could be added to my overdue book tab.

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BOE Candidates Forum: A Glance at Our Options

There was a good showing of Board of Education candidates  Tuesday night, with only two no shows: Nyesha McCauley (Republican), whose absence was noted as related to her having recently given birth, and Richard Barton (Republican). On the panel: Milly Arciniegas (Parents’ Choice), Albert L. Barrueco (Democrat), Robert Cotto, Jr. (Working Families), Michael J. Fryer (Republican), Lori Hudson (Democrat), Elizabeth Brad Noel (Working Families), Sharon Patterson-Stallings (Working Families), Ines Duke Pegeas (Petitioning Candidate), Cherylann Perry (Parents’ Choice), Luis Rodriguez-Davila (Democrat), and Mary R. Storey (Parents’ Choice).

As always, in Hartford politics, some people had to bring their posse to fill the audience and testify. The annoying theatrics were kept to a minimum, thanks to the moderation of John Motley, who also provided well-timed comic relief. Still, what gathered the most applause did not tend to be the most intelligent comments, but those who shouted the loudest. From a rhetorical standpoint, Hartford voters tend to respond directly to emotional tactics. One hopes that reason will rule when they enter the voting booths.

Robert Cotto, Jr. of the Working Families Party was the most prepared, as he provided facts and statistics nearly every time he responded to a question. The teacher and Harvard graduate argued that while magnet schools help students, charter schools do not. An example he gave was Achievement First, where a parent reported that her autistic child was not being sufficiently helped. When asked about the reduced transportation budget that has forced more children to walk to school, he suggested that other parts of the budget should have been cut first, citing page 234 of the budget, which shows that three people have a salary of $100,000 $300,000 each. To show the poor choice in budget cuts, he referenced the recent accident in which a school crossing guard was hit by a car, explaining that it is not safe for children to be walking such distances to school. To address the gang problem that has created controversy this past week, he said that the first thing we need to do is admit there is a problem. Continue reading “BOE Candidates Forum: A Glance at Our Options”

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Become an Informed Voter

Tonight is the Board of Education Candidates Forum at 6pm in the Hartford Public Library (main).

On November 3, 2009, Hartford voters will elect four members of the Hartford Board of Education.  The Hartford Public School System is in the midst of significant reform efforts. Attend this forum to learn more about the candidates, their vision for Hartford schools, and their ideas and positions on the issues.

In a city where it seems most people make their voting choices entirely by which political party they belong to or by using second-hand information that is too often filtered by the media, it is especially important for the voters to actually meet and see the candidates in action.

If tonight’s forum is not an option for you, I would suggest checking out the BOE Candidate Focus series on Cityline, which has the candidates all responding to the same questions:

  • Robert Cotto, Jr.
  • Elizabeth Brad Noel
  • Cherylann Perry
  • Lori Hudson
  • Albert Barrueco
  • Lillian “Milly” Arcinieagas
  • Achieve Hartford! has also compiled questions for the candidates. It is telling when candidates simply do not respond to such requests. Does this mean they have no answers? No time for explaining their perspectives to the public? No sense of commitment? Assumption that they’ll be carried by their political parties?

    It’ll be interesting to see which candidates decide that the library forum is worth their time.

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    Staycation 2009

    When my friend David told me he’d secured a reservation for a trip to the top of the Travelers’ Tower, I had no choice but to invite myself along. This would bring me downtown in the late morning, and since I had plans to be less than a block from there later in the afternoon, I figured I would just spend the time in between downtown.

    At eleven we zoomed to the 21st floor. I did not think about the logistics of this. After having walked 2.5 miles to get downtown, the three flights of stairs did not seem so fun. The view was worth the panting. From the street, the tower does not look like it can hold more than two people. We had six people up there, and there was plenty of room for more. I had no luck locating my apartment.

    East Hartford
    Continue reading “Staycation 2009”

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    A Somewhat Holey Quilt

    What would Hartford be like with people on the streets? As Doug Suisman put it, “people attract more people.” A bustling city would seem like a happening place to be. One might even reserve a seat on the MegaBus from Boston to come here. One of the goals of the iQuilt project is to do just this– make Hartford a destination. Yet for those of us who live here, we know that there are people out and about in Hartford– they are just not plentiful downtown. Park Street’s activity was alluded to during the presentation on the evening of June 24th at the Belding Center for the Performing Arts, as was the need for such a downtown project to reach out to the neighborhoods, yet that part of the plan was more talk than design. It’s early still in the process and every idea was clearly up for further discussion. Some of the iQuilt ideas are hope-inducing and would be positive changes; some ideas did not go as far as they needed to and other aspects were ignored altogether. Leaving the forum, I would have felt better had Suisman asked for comments mainly from people whose names he did not already know.

    David Fay–President of the Bushnell—explained that two years ago the Bushnell began thinking about a plan for Capitol Avenue, as the center is isolated from much of downtown. The iQuilt project began about six months ago; “up to this point,” Fay said, the project “has been paid for.” They want feedback and public support before an organization is developed to manage the project and move it forward. Getting questions and comments during the public forum should be a start, but not the only effort taken to gather feedback.

    The presentation on Wednesday was given by Douglas Suisman, of Santa Monica, whose role as one of the project’s planning principals seemed less of an odd choice upon learning that he grew up in this area. He is the principal of Suisman Urban Design (Los Angeles), which describes its vision and guiding principles this way:

    cities are complex human artifacts which evolve over time. We believe that urban design solutions must therefore incorporate a deep understanding of the physical place and a profound respect for its social and cultural fabric. We are committed to broad participation, clear communication, and high quality. We are motivated by a passion for the lived experience of cities.

    Continue reading “A Somewhat Holey Quilt”

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    Bed Bugs, Noise, and Other Things to Make Your Skin Crawl

    If you have gripes about any of the following, then the place to be on July 15th is the Hartford Public Library: bed bugs, public safety, crime, violence, noise, street racing, graffiti, neighborhood cleanliness, and blighted buildings.

    From 6-8pm the “Summer in the City: Quality of Life in Hartford” panel will be moderated by Councilperson Jim Boucher. Light refreshments will be available beginning at 5:30. A representative of the Hartford Police Department will be on hand.

    At the same time, there will be a forum on bed bugs. The Mayor’s office sent out a press release for this:

    The City of Hartford Health and Human Services Department in collaboration with the Hartford Public Library will be offering a community forum to inform Hartford residents about solutions to an issue affecting urban centers such as Hartford in recent years- bed bugs. Continue reading “Bed Bugs, Noise, and Other Things to Make Your Skin Crawl”

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    Discussion on Voting and Immigrants

    On Cinco de Mayo the Hartford Public Library is hosting what promises to be a lively discussion:

    Tuesday, May 5, 2009
    Refreshments at 5:30 PM; Program at 6:00 PM
    Hartford Public Library, 500 Main Street

    Should we allow non-citizen immigrants to vote in local elections?
    Hear what community members have to say and give your opinion.

    Renae Reese, Connecticut Center for a New Economy
    A Community Conversation
    Continue reading “Discussion on Voting and Immigrants”

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    Literature and Love & Forgiveness

    history1The Hartford Public Library is hosting a reading series– “Let’s Talk about It: Love & Forgiveness.” The discussions are being led by one of my favorite professors, Dr. Gilmore of Central Connecticut State University. The first book–Sense and Sensibility–was already discussed in March. Each month’s chat can be registered for individually, so there is no obligation to attend all of them.

    The next book is The History of Love, to be discussed on April 26th.

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    Free Tai Chi: Coming to a Library in 2009

    Tai Chi? In the library? A friend has taught yoga there previously, and yoga and Tai Chi are not that far apart. In college, every time I tried to sign up for the Tai Chi class (in hopes of fulfilling that pesky phys. ed requirement) it was full. After taking the mandated number of phys. ed classes, I was finally able to get into the Tai Chi class during my final semester. It was fun, relaxing, and I loved the instructor. She was my height, possibly shorter, but when she gave a demo of the movements sped up, the guys in the class backed away. I remember that she did this kick in the air, and that from the back of the studio, I could hear the sound of her foot cutting the air.

    Free Tai Chi classes will be held at the main branch of the library from January 8th through February 5th from 5:30-6:45pm. Participants should wear clothing conducive to movement. Tai Chi involves slow, gentle movements; essentially, it’s a moving meditation.

    You can register online at the library website.

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