Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial

I always feel sad when I remember a visit to The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Social Change in Atlanta, Georgia. The eternal flame was not lit. The foundation for the flame was cracked. The precious historical ephemera documenting King’s life were in a small exhibition moldering because of poor ventilation. I smelled the decay. Sadly textiles, photos, and papers were disintegrating. I don’t think I can ever go back.

But then comes some hope: the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial near the Basin in Washington, D.C. I visited the memorial in fall 2011. The trees–cherry blossoms, elms, and crape myrtles–stood bare like bone thin sentries bordering the memorial. I saw the stone representation of a mountain in a carved boulder from across the street just steps beyond the Lincoln Memorial. I walked past  the King Memorial because this massive expressionless cold stone couldn’t be it! I felt nothing. I tracked back and walked through the center where a part of the boulder had been cleanly sliced down the middle creating a passageway. Walking through felt claustrophobic, perhaps how King felt in a prison cell in Birmingham, Alabama, part of the fall-out of the broader mid-century social movement against vice-like racism.

Something changed when I walked into an open circle, freedom, when I saw the likeness of King rooted in stone. King once said, “Out of the Mountain of Despair, a Stone of Hope” in “I Have a Dream,” his most famous speech. The words are carved into the statue, the idea of the mountain and stone made tangible. On the other side of the statue are the words, “I Was a Drum Major for Justice, Peace, and Righteousness,” a paraphrase. World renowned writer Maya Angelou was certainly hot about the paraphrase because she argued it made King sound pompous, really the antithesis of his public persona in the Civil Rights Movement.

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Between the statue and the boulder are many of King’s quotes in an arc at feet level etched in grey granite:

  • “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
  • “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
  • “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”
  • “Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”
  • “I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against it not in anger but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and above all with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as a moral example of the world.”
  • “If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.”
  • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
  • “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”
  • “It is not enough to say “We must not wage war.” It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.”
  • “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
  • “Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.”
  • “We are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs “down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
  • “We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”
  • “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

As I walked away back through the split boulder, I was blessed and moved by what felt to me like sacred space. The monument renews the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. as an icon in service, in life and death, for equal rights and desegregation for African Americans during the Civil Rights Era of the 1950s and 1960s. Millions of tourists, so many people, will pass through the stone remembering the legacy.

Photos by Dianne Glave

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Georgia Rain + Toulouse-Lautrec & Nature

I ran out of my house looking up at the darkening sky. Wondered when I would stop to take the time to take photos of the budding trees on a clear day. I didn’t want to miss the spring flowers. I jumped into my car. Drove.

I headed to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta for the “A [Culture Shock] Event: Dans le Moment.” What was shocking was the rusty seven-foot Eiffel Tower, the bodacious burlesque dancers who weren’t so bodacious or burlesque, and “delicious Parisian street food” that wasn’t so delicious. I kept it going though, glad for the company of two friends.

Towards the end of the night, we purposefully made our way to the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition. I kept saying, “Where are the Tahitian women?” as I am always in one way or another looking for nature. Surely nature could be found on the island of Tahiti! One of my friends kept repeating, “You are confusing Lautrec with Cezanne.” It turned out we were both wrong: Tahiti + Women = Paul Gaugin.

So I meandered through Lautrec, disappointed in my own wayward stubborn limited knowledge of art.

My Father's Nose

By the time we left, the Georgia skies had opened pounding the earth, well in midtown Atlanta the asphalt and concrete. As one friend headed bravely for the car I stood with another towards the back of the museum looking at a Marta entrance across the street. The rain still poured. I murmured to myself, “He’s going to get soaked.” I used the concrete wall as a vertical sofa. The friend who remained told stories.  Made sense: story-telling and rain. The only thing missing was a rustic cabin and a fireplace. That’s me responding through one of my millions of facial expression to his story of his sister who was a cheerleader. He said, “They would chant U G L Y.” Was the other team being called ugly? I was too enchanted by the power of the deluge and my own desire to sleep to ask for clarification. I listened as I tried to force him to put a plastic bag on his head for no logical reason.

We made it to our respective cars and I did the dumbest thing halfway home: I drove my car through a flooded area on the highway. The water was churning. I could see it was high as the other cars navigated through. Yet I forged ahead. When I got home, I thought to myself, “Dianne, pay attention to the signs that spell D-A-N-G-E-R,” and played the news footage of people swept away in their cars in floods in my head.

I dropped hard into my bed and slept instantly after “Dans le Moment” and barely escaping a watery death.

The next morning I decided to give Toulouse-Lautrec another chance  looking at his work online. I learned–perhaps re-learned because I’m sure I’ve been to a Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition in the distant past–more about the artist and his work. Briefly, he’s known for interior scenes of bohemian life in Paris. At the museum and online I found this painting compelling:

Lautrec's "Le Toilette"

Many of his paintings were interior scenes including those of prostitutes. I thought the women in these scenes worked all night, and slept all day, limited in many wass to the outside world including nature. Perhaps the woman depicted in the painting spent a few moments by a dirty window watching Parisian street life with a tree here and there, a weed sprouting up from the ground hardened by foot-traffic.

Toulouse-Lautrec’s shared the interior lives of the women in his painting. He suffered from health problems that limited his mobility. Nature, even an urban one, waited outside the doors and windows, waiting and beckoning for the people in his paintings, waiting for Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Photograph by Dianne Glave

The Walking Dead Roadtrip: Disease, Environment, and Humanity

SPOILER ALERT

Ok, there are black people in The Walking Dead! I was glad to see the British actor Lennie James, who was fabulous in the canceled TV show Jericho. Lennie plays Morgan James who is central to the first few episodes of The Walking Dead. In ensuing episodes when the two have parted, Rick Grimes, the lead character, played by Andrew Lincoln frequently invokes Morgan, the first person he met in the new world of flesh-eating monsters.

Rick travels on leaving behind bread crumbs or sign posts (i.e. notes on cars) for Morgan to follow Rick and his rag-tag of survivors of the zombie plague. Their travels show the familiar trope of film and television of the buddy road trip–this is the horror show version–traveling across many terrains. Transforming the trope, a group and not a pair of buddies travel across the land as the group bonds and develops. I have already seen forming and storming. I am wondering if the series will get to norming, performing, forming and mourning in the midst of living dead chaos.

The backdrop to the character development is disease and the landscape.  The disease that triggers the transformation into zombies and the defunct Center for Disease Control (CDC) condemns healthcare system and perhaps even reform in the United States. The plague is winning, and modern science and medicine are losing.

In one of the first scenes is in a hospital. Rick wakes from a coma, stripping off the monitors to the machines that kept him alive; pre-plague, a suspect shot him while on duty as a police officer. He walks the corridors of the hospital stumbling about encountering the first of many zombies to come.

Looking at the environment, the telling landscapes are in the Atlanta Metro area are a grassy “plain” dotted with trees, the Bellwood Quarry, the empty streets of Atlanta, and the CDC.

One of the first times Rick kills a zombie is on a grassy slope, probably a park. I am assuming the scene is somewhere in Atlanta although I cannot name the place.  A mangled zombie drags herself, half of her body gone below the waist, seeking to chomp on a human. Rick watches the futile efforts and then kills the zombie.

Rick’s humanity slowly seeps away, as he becomes less and less human and more and more dead like the zombies he shoots and bludgeons.

That rag tag group was already forming and living near a quarry while Rick was in his coma in the first episode. The location is Bellwood Quarry in Atlanta. The  place is abandoned, unproductive, non-working–much like the people simply surviving in what is essentially a post-apocalypse. No one is planting crops. Great paintings are no longer being created. The 21st century War and Peace or Beloved are not being written. Civilization no longer exists like a quiet rock quarry that is no longer producing slate for kitchen countertops and outdoor walkways.

Before finding his new and struggling community, Rick makes his way to Atlanta in hopes of reconnecting with civilization–which ultimately serves as condemnation of Atlanta and more broadly dying urban life. The empty streets of asphalt and the sidewalks of concrete are an echo of what once was. The buildings tower, almost close in on Rick. Rather than being greeted by “society” he meets swarms of zombies during this first visit. Atlanta once Rick’s place of hope is now hopeless. The city in 2010 is full of empty condos and houses that will not move in the stagnant real estate market. Like many an American city, particularly downtowns, it is a bleak city. Atlanta is a metaphor for modern issues of poverty and crime overcoming ailing cities in the United States with more zombies than humans wandering around. Dead cities, dead people.

You would think the beacon of hope would be the CDC, another of Rick’s stops. Not. They do not use the real CDC which is on Clifton Road in Atlanta. Security did not allow for access, I’m sure. Pike fences surround the real CDC, which is closed off from the street.

The small group led by Rick arrives on the edges the alternate CDC on open terrain still searching for civilization, along with answers. They find dead bodies scattered on the campus; not a good sign. And the undead are lurching about as usual.

When they get into the CDC after much drama, one man, a scientist still remains trying to figure out what went wrong. Why does this disease vector trigger an illness that transforms people into zombies? He does not have the answers sought by this band of gypsies. And the unspoken question: was the CDC responsible for the plague? There’s no answer for that question either.

Without fuel–perhaps an allegory of 21st Century reliance on fossil fuel, the CDC begins automatic shut-down and goes into self-destruct (so the cache of viruses and diseases that remain in the building are not released)  much like the survivors. When the scientist locks them in with him, locks them into his hopeless and futility, they fight to leave and survive.

The band, the cobbled community are still holding tight to their humanity in the midst of the dehumanizing plague. They still have free will, Christian theology for some, choosing to die with the scientist or continue to live on through the journey. The members of the community leave the CDC without a cure, without the answers to spoken and unspoken questions. Others stay behind choosing to die and give up on the journey, a cure, and their community. No matter the choice, there is free will.

Running across the grounds of the CDC dodging the undead, the survivors leap into the RV and other vehicles to continue their twisted frightening road trip.

What new place is next? Will the disease further strip the group of their humanity? As someone who loves show for the tortured troubled relationships, the struggle to create community, and maintain their humanity–not the zombies and many variations on clubbing and shooting them–I look forward to seeing what happens in the city, on the farm, and in the woods.