Friday, July 25, 2008

A terrific - Taste of Ghana - both music and food!

Last night (July 24) was a special treat for me and upward of 100 others attending Chihamba's 19th Annual African American Cultural Arts Festival presentation of "A Taste of Ghana" featuring Okyerema Asante at the Burley Middle School.

Online biographical notes describe Okyerema Asante as "a master drummer from Ghana, famous for performing all parts of a traditional five-person drum group by himself. He attaches percussion instruments to various parts of his body and simultaneously plays drums, a balafon, and many other instruments. He has as many as 85 instruments in one performance. Coming from a family of drummers, Asante is an expert of traditional Ghanaian talking drums."

Asante has also toured with Hugh Masekela is playing with Paul Simon on his Graceland album and is well worth seeing in the future if you missed yesterday's performance.

I think it is James Brown who was called something like the hardest working man in music (I don't think that is correct - but close). But, Okyerema Asante might now fit that description. He was constantly in motion - shaking the bells and nuts strung around his lower legs while playing a huge ensemble of drums, the balafon (a xylophone sort of instrument) and a host of other hammered, struck, shaken or plucked instruments - often while telling a story. Incredible.

I and about 10 others joined in on two audience participation numbers playing a variety of percussion instruments while marveling to the drum rythms of Asante.

Asante was dressed in much the manner in the album cover image above, but with a different set of horns. I guess when one tours the world and wear horns as a regular costume item one set might not be enough. Or, perhaps, with strict limits on bringing animal parts into the US, perhaps the ones in the album cover had to remain in Ghana.

There were also several poetry readings by members of our local African-American community, awards to community members and local business sponsors and a great sense of community among all who were present.

But, there was more than the music concert an poetry worth noting. There was a fabulous assortment of traditional dishes from Ghana for all to sample. The menu included Peanut Paste Soup with Chicken, Jjolof Rice, Rice Balls, Ghanaian Pancakes, Ghanaiaan Meat Pie, Fried Red Plantain, Spinach Stew with Meat, Spinach Stew with Fish and Shrimp (my personal favorite), Wakye, and Akala. Perhaps you can check these out on Google search and try them at home. Some of the ingredients in the dishes was grown at the QCC Farm at Sixth Street SE and Monticello Avenue. Now that is definitely eating local!

I had such a good time that I am disappointed this is the first Taste of Ghana I have attended. Be sure to consider attending next year's Taste of Ghana. If it is to be anything like this year's it is worth putting on your calendar now. Iaren Waters, Executive Director of QCC Inc. was the mistress of ceremonies and I am sure put in a great deal of organizational effort along with the rest of her team to make this a memorable community event. Thank you Karen for your efforts and for alerting me to this year's Taste of Ghana. I definitely plan to attend again next year.

But, that is not all....... The African American Cultural Arts Festival will be continuing on Saturday at Booker T. Washington Park starting about 10:00 am and ending at 5:00 pm or so. I will be there too for storytelling, music, dance, and yes - more food. I hope to see you there too.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Yes you can get visitor information through the mall entrance

Yes, you should be able to get into the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau through the doors on the east end of downtown mall whenever it is open. I am delighted that the city took my concern (see previous blog entry) expressed to city council about these doors being blocked by the Charlottesville Pavilion fencing on Saturday afternoon July 5 when we had lots of visitors in town - even though the Visitors Bureau was still open for another hour and the Pavilion concert wasn't to begin until later that evening.

I presented my concerns on Monday, July 7 during 'Matters from the Public' and got an email from Aubrey Watts, Charlottesville's Director of Economic Development on Friday, June 11 stating that he met with Pavilion staff, Convention & Visitors Bureau leadership, and Transit Center staff to discuss the matter. The email stated that the door to the Convention & Visitors Bureau "must be accessible whenever they have the CVB office open." In addition, the policy is that "they must open the area anytime a person with the need to use the elevator request it."

I thank Aubrey Watts for addressing this concern so promptly and ensuring that all of the groups involved had a clear understanding of the access policy for the future. I wasn't aware of the elevator access policy, so I even learned something new from this conversation.

Many people still believe that "you can't fight City Hall," but I find that you can bring a concern to the city leadership and if you present a clear argument for action on their part you can get a prompt and positive response. With interaction like this, there is really no need to even consider needing to fight City Hall."

Graphic: Logo of the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention & Visitors Bureau

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Is the Pavilion sensitive to Charlottesville's visitors

In my last Squeaky Wheel column in the May 24, 2007 HooK entitled "Pavilion creep: Speak up about Mall takeover' addressed the issue of the Pavilion claiming an increased area of public space for its events over that specified in the Pavilion agreement with the City. But it appears that there is a continuing effort by the Pavilion to expand even further into the public space.

I was walking toward the Pavilion on the downtown mall at 4:00 pm on Saturday July 5, 2008 and was blocked at the Pavilion fence that blocked the entire east end of the mall to pedestrian traffic. I was not even able to access the Charlottesville Visitor's Center - which was open for business at the time. I saw the several groups of visitors being instructed that they could enter through the Water Street entrance. But, that requires walking down 30 steps, then back up those steps again to the Visitor's Center desk, then down and up again to get information that shouldn't require the 120 step trip.

I did the hike and chatted with several visitors at the desk who also did the detour demanded by the Pavilion staff. I also learned from the Visitor's Center staff that they knew nothing about the blocking of their entrance but that this was the first time their doors had been blocked. I chatted with the person operating the Pavilion ticket table who told me that if I had any problem with the fencing, I should talk to City Council. Never being shy about bringing my concerns, ideas, suggestions, etc. to City Council I presented my concerns last night during 'Matters from the Public' at beginning of the council meeting. I am counting on councilors, our city manager, and our city attorney to review this in light of the Pavilion agreement and ensure that visitors to the mall have access to the information they need when they visit Charlottesville in a convenient manner.

What I find most disconcerting about this blocking of mall level access to the Visitor's Center is that the Pavilion management is claiming their need to post a permanent information sign for mall visitors. How odd to believe that access to Pavilion event information on the east end of the mall is important, but access to visitor information is not.

Perhaps there is a misunderstanding about where the Pavilion event area has been set, and I hope this is a matter that will not happen again, but I look forward to a clear statement from the city or the Pavilion management once our city leaders work out a solution. I do believe that access to the Visitor's Center must be available to our visitors whenever the Center is open to the public. Simply placing the plastic fences in a slightly different location would solve the access problem.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Should the new downtown mall brick be placed in mortar or sand? Or is it best to repair the current bricks?

The most recent public discussion about how the bricks on the Charlottesville downtown mall should be repaired or replaced brought out a standing room only crowd at the city design space. The MMM consultants promoted the idea of replacing all of the bricks with new brick and placing them in sand rather than using mortar as the original bricks were installed. Apparently, MMM has determined that placing the bricks in sand is the current standard installation technique around the country. But, if we look at the recent brick and stone installed in sand at in the crosswalk at East High Street and Fourth Street NE, there is obvious damage to both bricks and stone due to automobile traffic.

This is already the second installation of these bricks. The first installation had significant settlement of the bricks and stone, and many of the brick and stone elements were chipped. But, the two photos of this crossing taken on July 5, 2008 show similar damage (but no further settlement). The stone pieces are loose and the sand between the stones and the bricks is no longer in the joints. Is this what we will see on the two vehicle crossings of the mall?

Another problem with the sand joints is evident in the sidewalk bricks by the Albemarle County Sheriff Office. The bricks have only been in place for a few months in the entrance to the Sally Port (where prisoners are loaded and unloaded behind the just installed steel gates), but the sand joints have lost most of the sand. And, in the sidewalk section near Jackson Park on East High Street, crab grass is growing in the joints.

I am curious what the difference in installation would be between these installations and that to be done for the hundreds of thousands of bricks proposed for the downtown mall. My guess is that there will be a significant maintenance requirement to keep the sand joints in good order. Is the sand installation better or worse than the mortar installation? I can't tell. The mortar installation on the mall lasted over 25 years with not much routine maintenance. Can sand installation really do better than that? Clearly the vehicle crossings won't do well if the installation is similar to the 'improved' installation at the pedestrian crossing at East High Street and Fourth Street NE.

I hope MMM and the city will make sure they consider if the problems shown in these photos will occur on the mall, too. Maybe repairing and replacing the mortar in the existing bricks is the best solution after all.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

On Being Independent - suggested reading

A thought on July 3, 2008

I find that some documents are worth reading many times - and that I learn or understand the meaning of that document more each time. The declaration of independence is one such document. With the anniversary of the signing of that document upon us, I thought you might spend a few minutes re-reading it - or maybe reading it for the very first time. There is an online copy of the Declaration of Independence (along with other "Organic Laws" of the United States).

An online presentation of the Declaration of Independence is available on the U.S. House of Representatives Office of the Law Revision Council website for easy access.

I am always intrigued by how many of the very same issues addressed in this document in 1776 still are being discussed, and fought in many places around the world - and in the United States, too.

I encourage you to spend the few minutes it will take to read this document and consider what being a free and independent people means in the 21st Century.

Enjoy the read! I just did, and will plan to do this again next July if not before.