Best Most Awesome Superlatives 2016

Winner of the Weirdest Award

Winner of the Weirdest Award

This has been, in countless ways, a crap year.

In terms of Hartford-specific issues, it hasn’t been so bad, but that has gotten drowned out by the presidential election, all of our crushes from the 80’s dying, and a billion other things like plane crashes, environmental racism, Muhammad AliAleppo, Orlando, and Princess Leia.

Still, our ridiculous awards must go on. If it helps, imagine us shoving a fiery dumpster down the red carpet. Because there is nothing more appropriate to round out this year. (more…)

Gary Shteyngart Lights Up Charter Oak

Gary Shteyngart reads from Little Failure at Charter Oak Cultural Center, February 25, 2016

Sasha Senderovich pressed for Gary Shteyngart to “blurb” on the spot about the Republican candidates. After a few false starts, the award-winning author instead gave us something he tweeted earlier in the day: “Hartford, the Paris of Connecticut.”

This seemingly lavish praise was followed by Shteyngart’s rimshot: he has seen the rest of Connecticut.

Gary Shteyngart, the author of multiple books including Absurdistan, was at Charter Oak Cultural Center on Thursday night to chat, take questions, and read from his latest, Little Failure. If you entered the sanctuary without knowing what was going on, you might have thought this was a comedy act instead of a book signing. (more…)

CTFastrak: A Seat-of-the-Pants Review

Part One: Frog Hollow to Firefly Hollow

Photo by Christopher Brown

A friend had suggested a Sunday morning meet-up at the downtown New Britain CTFastrak terminal for a leisurely bike ride to Bristol’s Firefly Hollow Brewing Company. I rode my bike to the Sigourney Street Fastrak station in Asylum Hill to catch a free ride to Hard Hittin’ New Britain. A woman in a bright vest offered a decal and advice about the best entrance to use when loading a bike on the bus. (Tip: there’s a bike pictogram by the rearmost door—go in that way) (more…)

Book Review: Better Together: Restoring the American community

Books about urban development and growing community are often written in jargon, making the content inaccessible to the general public.

That choice in language says for whom the knowledge is intended. It says who is expected to do anything with it.

Better Together is different.

Emphasized in almost every chapter is the need for the people, for the residents, to be involved. Echoing this, it is written in plain language.

But it’s not an instruction manual. Showcased are places where community already exist, ways that empowerment of individuals has provoked social change, and where setbacks have occurred. A recurring theme is the empowerment of people who may be viewed and view themselves as powerless, such as youth, blue collar workers, and the very poor.

Published in 2003 during a time when many were struck with alienation following the militaristic response to 9/11, Better Together maintains its relevance. (more…)

In God We Trust Afrikan Restaurant: Fufu, not frou-frou

UPDATE: This establishment has since closed.

We were about halfway down the block with our container of leftovers when we heard the proprietor yelling another thanks for our patronage to us.

Though not a fancy place, In God We Trust Afrikan Restaurant beats out anything downtown in the category of warm and welcoming. It’s the kind of place where Judge Judy on the television is not annoying because it gets you talking with diners from another table, who also say goodbye when you are done with your meal.

Who wants linens and flattering lighting when you can have that? (more…)

Hartford Pew Review: South Church (traditional service)

Satan is real, not symbolic,” Pastor Adam Söderberg told worshippers at South Church on a morning when the -2°F windchill temperature no doubt kept some away from the cozy, well-lit Meeting House. Thoughts of raging hellfire on such a cold day might not have had the intended effect on congregants who filled about 20% of the room.

South Church is more like two churches in one, as the traditional service varies wildly from the contemporary service (reviewed separately) in message and style.

South Congregational Church, also known as the Second Church of Christ in Hartford, originated in 1670 when members split from what is now Center Church. They pride themselves on maintaining tradition, but have made steps to take themselves into this century. They have a web presence, which includes social media and embedded videos of past sermons on their website, which is attractive and easy to navigate. As someone who spends too much time on poorly designed sites (primarily for restaurants) trying to ascertain basic pieces of information, like hours of operation, this online accessibility is very appreciated. Grace Academy, a fairly new middle school for girls with an enrollment around sixty, is located within the South Church compound, which can be a bit of a maze for visitors. (more…)

Book Review: Bringing Up Bébé

For someone who has never actually given birth nor received an advanced degree in child psychology, I have read a lot of parenting books.

We all need hobbies.

I began heading down this path when I worked long hours in a department store. On the rare occasions that they sent me to tidy up the children’s section, I would wander to the book aisle, hoping to get some mental stimulation at this tedious, low-paying job. It was here that I began reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting, one of the most read books about pregnancy. It was either that or look at Goodnight Moon for the tenth time.

One reviewer on Amazon asserts that the author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting “assumes that pregnant women are idiots, and talks to them accordingly.”

That must have been what compelled me to keep reading, in search of “how to” guides in this area that were better, or at minimum, more respectful of their female readers.

Bringing Up Bébé: One American mother discovers the wisdom of French parenting is my latest attempt to find something useful, respectful, and accurate. An interview with author Pamela Druckerman on NPR had alerted me to what some had been dubbing Tiger Mom Goes to Paris.

Yes, both authors assert that there is something wrong with American-style permissive parenting, but the similarities end there. (more…)

Winning Hearts and Minds with Amigo

John Sayles speaking at Cinestudio

If you missed the talk with Amigo‘s director John Sayles, you can still see the film at Cinestudio, but what you will not be able to get is the refresher Imperialism 101 lecture that he provided for the audience on Wednesday evening. Having this context in which to view the film is not necessary, but does add depth. It’s historical fiction, based on no singular figure or battle, but made from many truths. While this story focuses on the Philippines, it should not be forgotten that this was the same era when Guam and Puerto Rico were also annexed as territories of the United States.

In History classes, this period is typically represented as an eyeblink between the Industrial Revolution and World War I. Not much has been done cinematically with the Philippine-American War either. According to Sayles, Amigo is only the third American-made film about this subject.

A criticism of the film has been that it serves as a metaphor for the War in Iraq, which would be apt if the language and appearance of occupation had been invented in the last ten years. (more…)