Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Yesterday, we left Chicago for a trip through Wisconsin. First, we drove up to Madison, where H had spent several years in the early 90's pursuing an advanced degree in Sociology, otherwise known as "The Painful Elaboration of the Obvious." We visited the UW Sociology building, which had this lovely decor on the walls, "Man: Creator of Order and Disorder":

S practiced his TA section-leading skills:

After spending the bulk of the day in Madison, we drove up to the far north of the state to visit one of our friends, a former union organizer sister who now has a large organic garden and does some other odd jobs. Today, we went out on a canoe:

S found a big stick, and practiced his "Red Guard" stance:

For equity's sake, here's a picture of the older sister:

After an hour or so on the lake, we went hiking/tick gathering, and found this fascinating micro-ecosystem in a truck tire rut:

Brick city

After leaving Detroit on Saturday, we spent a few hours in Ann Arbor and then drove on to Chicago. And what did we choose to do in that city of big shoulders and fascinating labor history? That's right, we drove out to the suburbs to visit the Legoland Discovery Center in Schaumburg:

There was a Lego Obama:

And a replica of the downtown Chicago skyline (later in the day, we had dinner with a friend and trade union brother who took us on a guided tour of the real skyline)

Of course there was a place to build your own Lego city buildings:

And, what theme park (even one in a suburban mall) would be complete without a ride (the things they are riding in are replicas of a certain Lego vehicle, and they pedal to raise themselves up):

US Social Forum (with kids)

After a couple of days travelling through Ontario, we spent much of the last week in Detroit for the 2010 US Social Forum.

I helped represent my union at the World Social Forums in 2002 in Porto Alegre, Brazil and 2006 in Caracas, Venezuela, and was part of a delegation of about a dozen folks from the Vermont Workers' Center who attended the first US Social Forum in Atlanta in 2007. So I was not going to miss the 2nd USSF in Detroit.

However, having largely replaced myself in both organizations, I was going in to this one with a lot fewer responsibilities, so rather than go crazy trying to visit all the workshops and be hyper-political all the time, I thought I'd integrate it into a family vacation, bring the kids, hang out, etc. We marched in the opening march (above), window-shopped at all the tables for radical posters and literature and so forth. H took the kids out into Detroit on a "work bridage" to do some work on one of Detroit's many urban gardens:

The kids even went to a couple of workshops that they enjoyed: one on writing run by the folks at Rethinking Schools and an anti-militarism fashion show.

And, of course, a bit of running through fountains:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A visit to Mexican Town

The last time I visited Detroit, it was with a couple of folks for the Labor Notes conference about four years ago. One of them, when it was time to leave, insisted on going to Mexican Town to buy some tamale-making materials, yet apparently had no idea how to get there. Consequently, we spent several hours randomly driving around Detroit looking for it (this was, of course, in the days before iPhones and such like). Not only did we not find it, we were actually reduced to the point where my friend N insisted that we stop at a Taco Bell to ask the poor African-American teens working there if they knew the way to Mexican Town (they didn't).

Anyway, fortuitously, prior to this visit to Detroit I happened to read a wonderful blog post about Honey Bee Market La Colmena, a family-owned supermarket in Mexican Town. H and the kids went there yesterday for some food shopping while I was stuck in workshops, and decided that tonight, when I was relatively free of movement obligations, we should go and check out one of the many restaurants there.

We had a great dinner, then took a walk across the pedestrian bridge:

Everything was closed (it being after 8pm) but we saw a charming little building that has been turned into a theatre:

And, across the street, a former decorative-iron workshop that has been turned into a gallery:

and on the wall of a tortilla factory, this pretty cool mural (the text on the left reads "In the spirit of the indigenous people who cultivated the land that was once theirs"):

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Toronto: Food, Art and Architecture

Well, we've arrived at the US Social Forum — more about that later. We spent Sunday evening and much of the day Monday in Toronto. As with our last trip to Toronto, we stayed in Chinatown and wandered the shops, ate out, and made one museum visit.

Both kids received an official Adventurous Eating Award for the Toronto stay. Sunday night, inspired by a conversation in the car with the kids about the appropriateness of using your hands to eat, we found an Ethiopian restaurant so the kids could dispense with utensils while eating some spicy lamb, mixed vegetable stew and a kind of thick puree of split garbanzo beans. Then Monday for lunch we found a good cheap place that served dim sum all day; we filled up on dumplings and steamed buns and such.

Last time we were in Toronto we visited the Art Gallery of Ontario, with its new Frank Gehry architectural extension. This time we visited the Royal Ontario Museum, which also has a funky modern architectural extension poking out from a more traditional building:

The spiky triangular bits had a funky staircase inside:

There was an exhibit by some Romanian artist who does installations in which he draws on the walls with markers. A lot of it was, to be honest, a bit much crossed with not really very much, but I guess a few of the drawings had some charm and insight:

There was also a cool exhibit of gems and minerals and such, including this natural sheet of copper:

But I think my favorite was the obelisk in the lobby, inscribed with the names of financial supporters of the museum, which lit up when you touch it, and which provided kids (not just ours) with all kinds of entertainment:

Monday, June 21, 2010

Road Trip Day 2: We beat the G20 to Toronto

Yesterday, after a leisurely morning in Kingston, we drove to Toronto, arriving five days ahead of the G-20 meeting of the leaders of the world's biggest economies. The G20 meeting is going to so disrupt the daily life of Toronto that they are announcing it on the highway signs:

We also saw this awesome graffiti in Chinatown:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Road Trip Day 1: Kingston, Ontario

We left Burlington today for the beginning of a 5-6 week road trip across the country. Well, across two countries, technically — the first leg of the trip is a three-day excursion through Ontario en route to the US Social Forum in Detroit next week. If you draw a straight line on a map from northern Vermont to Detroit, it more or less goes through the middle of Lakes Ontario and Erie. The Canadians thoughtfully built a major highway right along the northern edge of those lakes, which makes it much more efficient to drive through Ontario than to zigzag through upstate New York, across the top of Ohio, and then swing back up North.

There are also some cool places to visit — Toronto, of course, but also Kingston, a smallish city at the northeast corner of Lake Ontario. It's about the same size as Burlington's metro area, maybe a little bigger, and has some similarities. Both cities have a downtown shopping district with lots of restaurants and bookshops and funky boutiques near a picturesque waterfront. Both cities were major shipping and transportation hubs back in the 19th century when shipping on the lakes was the best way to move raw materials and manufactured goods, and both have lost lots of manufacturing jobs in the last few decades. But the differences are stark: while Burlington has successfully reinvented itself as a tourist destination and command center for the regional economy (with its attendant cultural institutions, "new economy" jobs in marketing and such, and general veneer of prosperity), Kingston still has the overall feel of a working-class de-industrialized city.

Most observers would say that Burlington is prosperous and Kingston is depressed, but I suspect the actual economic differences aren't as stark as the perceptions. Burlington has a lot of poverty — a full 50 percent of the kids in Burlington's elementary schools qualify for free or reduced lunch. It's just hidden and segregated into the Old North End (a working-class neighborhood just north of the downtown) and pockets of the more suburban New North End — a trailer park and two large affordable-housing developments. Despite merchants' complaints about homeless people panhandling on Church Street (the pedestrian mall downtown), you don't see many working-class folks from the Old North End on Church Street, which is maybe a block away. I suspect this is due to a mixture of economic reasons (most of the restaurants and shops on Church Street run to the expensive side), subtle and internalized social pressures not to appear in the playground of the upper middle classes, and, when necessary, explicit use of police power.

It's actually quite striking as you walk along the four "ped mall" blocks of Church street from south to north — for two and a half blocks the people walking about look healthy and wealthy, they're well-dressed and mostly white, and they're generally on their way somewhere to spend money. Then for the half a block between the Old Navy and the bus stop you'll suddenly notice more people of color, more working-class folks, more cigarette smoking and more "hanging around." Cross Cherry Street, and you're back to the middle class. Needless to say, that one half-block of Church Street has more "No Loitering" signs than anywhere else, and it's quite strictly enforced — I myself was asked to "move along" about a week ago. To be fair, I was leaning up against a column with a "No Loitering" sign talking to some people — but, being pretty middle-class looking, that's never got me in trouble on any other part of Church Street before.

Kingston is a bit like the Old North End had gotten more assertive and grown up over Church Street and the waterfront, as if to say, "you can have your fancy restaurants serving cod in a fennel ragout*, but you're not going to forget the fact that your fancy service economy has been built on a foundation of upwards wealth transfer, you're not going to forget that when we went from working union jobs in your factories to bussing your tables and cleaning your hotel rooms it has meant poverty and suffering and some of us are damn well going to be sitting in your doorsteps begging for change."

*which was delicious, by the way

* * *

Anyway, on account of H now working for an AFL union which pays pretty good, we decided to splurge on a fancy-ish hotel in downtown near the waterfront: the Hotel Belvedere:

It's converted from an old mansion, presumably built with some of that 19th century shipping wealth, and sits on a street of similarly grand buildings, some of which are private clubs, some of which have been converted into quaint museums, and some of which are apparently for sale. When we got into the room, we discovered that it featured a "walk-up" closet:

Part of how we are affording this is staying in a room with one queen bed and making the kids sleep on the floor on camping pads. We thought it would be cute to make the boy sleep in the closet:

* * *

After a nice dinner at Chez Piggy and checking into the hotel, we went for a walk on the waterfront:

There was a pretty spectacular view of thunderclouds over upstate New York. You can't really see them in this picture, but the large island that sits right where Lake Ontario flows into the Saint Lawrence River is now covered with industrial wind turbines, which I actually think are quite beautiful, especially when tinted pink from the setting sun behind us.

Definitely more beautiful than, say, a massive oil spill.

One of the cool things about the Kingston waterfront is that, interspersed with a small public walkway, boat rentals, a "steam-pump ship museum" and lots of tourist hotels, is a working drydock. While I generally prefer the Burlington waterfront, with its massive public space, I'm also a little sad that its history as a working waterfront only lives on in a few bits of ugly, abandoned industrial detritus (out of site of the main tourist sites of course) on the one hand and a handful of historical markers, maybe of interest to visiting yuppies, on the other.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Scallops with tomato-cilantro pozole

Scallops with Pozole

My secret ingredient recently for weekday cooking: canned, fire-roasted tomatoes (I use the ones from an organic tomato company). Here it makes a nice base for scallops.

This recipe (today's lunch) was made with what I had on hand, for two people. I presume it would double easily, and then you wouldn't need to worry about what to do with the other half a can of tomatoes, other half an onion, etc. If you have or can afford more than 3 scallops per person, I would recommend 4 or 5 per person. You could also probably put a chile pepper into the pozole if the people you are feeding it to aren't as spice-averse as my spouse.

1/2 medium-sized onion, coarsely chopped
a good bunch of cilantro, some leaves reserved for garnish, rest (including stems) coarsely chopped
1/2 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 can golden hominy
1/2 cup chicken stock
6 sea scallops
1 green onion, chopped, for garnish

1. Put the onion, cilantro (except for reserved garnish) and tomatoes in a blender and puree. It doesn't need to be totally smooth (green bits are ok), but shouldn't have any noticeable chunks. Add a couple of pinches of salt.
2. Heat some oil in a heavy saucepan, then add puree and cook until it darkens and thickens a bit.
3. Add chicken stock and hominy, bring to a boil, and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Ladle into two shallow bowls (the scallops cook really quickly)
4. Heat a thin film of oil in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. When oil is almost smoking, pat your scallops dry with a paper towel, season with salt and pepper, then add to the fry pan.
5. Cook scallops until well-seared, 1 to 2 minutes, then flip over and cook on the other size for a minute or two. Remove from pan and place 3 scallops on each bowl of pozole.
6. Garnish with reserved cilantro and green onion.