The Luxury Building Boom Train

Gordon Baird

Mary Blood Mellen (1819-1886) Sunset Calm off Ten Pound Island Light, Gloucester, c. 1850s

Mary Blood Mellen (1819-1886) Sunset Calm off Ten Pound Island Light, Gloucester, c. 1850s

We’ve all recently read about the Cheryl Soones plan to build 4 houses on “the wrong side” of Atlantic Ave., i.e. the ocean side of The Back Shore. But really, why stop there?
There are a myriad of other proposals that could and should be vetted towards the great and holy objective of making money, you know, the almighty dollar, the beast of Mamon – to worship at the feet of dumptrucks full of cold, hard cash, driven up and dumped at the feet of the investors. In this era of Donald Trump, we invite readers to come up with their own ideas of other profitable building ventures in Gloucester to pump up the tax base and class up the place by bringing more of the “1%” into our ranks. Let’s start with the obvious: a full service Yacht Marina at the Lighthouse on Eastern Point. The Feds are only using the tippy-top part and the rest of it is going entirely to waste. The tower would make a heckova bar. Kick back with a Cuban cigar and a snifter of $200-a-glass brandy and watch the fish struggling their little lives away. The yachts and super yachts could tie up right alongside the actual breakwater (on the inside, of course).There would be a shuttle to the squash and paddle tennis courts at the end of the big, suddenly important Dogbar. It could be very profitable and could solve the problem of people who want to fish off the breakwater since there would no longer be room for them with the luxury cabanas and their personal bars, massage tables and big screen TV’s. And they could gaze right down the harbor to the brand new swanky health club on Ten Pound Island with its underground tramway back to Rocky neck. There would be a Trump Tower in Dogtown, as tall as the turbine windmills so as to boast the best views in the east. And just a zip trip away from the Ferrari dealership at The Man At The Wheel on the Boulevard. Hey, but what a wheel – we’d have to inport an Italian sculptor to modify the statue with an actual oversize Ferrari sterring wheel in his hands. Now that’s marketing the city!
And how have we not installed that Jet Boat Docking Terminal yet on Thatcher’s island? Another barely used asset that is just wasting it’s views and profit poptential – as The Back Shore so obviously does. That’ll all have to change. A Helipad at Stage Fort Park is a must for when VIP’s or even foreign heads of state come to town. Very welcoming and appropriate. And wouldn’t Coles Island make some classy Golf Club with all natural sand traps! Let’s not leave out Crane’s and Wingaersheek Beaches because with a wave of the rezoning wand, there’s still space for more and more houses, McMansions all. But more to the point: why couldn’t there be Luxury Apartment Towers on those beaches as well as in downtown Lanesville. We literally have to be able to “rise above” the actual zoning to get this plan to work.
Annisquam has long been itching for a sports and entertainment complex with equisitely fine dining and plenty of limo parking. I say we give it to them. That grey yacht club out there on stilts is getting too old for anyone anyway.
Gloucester itself has always felt kinda naked to me without a proper Polo Club. It can’t be sited too near Stage Fort, though, because the helicopters will spook the polo ponies. Wait, screw the Trump folks and put the Polo Club in Dogtown, far away from the noisy hoi-poloi in town. Put the Trump Tower right at the Rotary and rename the A. Piatt Andrew as the Donald J.Trump Luxury Bridge with a gold plated fence that no one will dare climb. That’ll put us on the map and we’ll get Mexico to pay for it.
Come to think of it, why are all those fish plants and smelly boats still allowed to remain downtown? They will definitely cut into our P.L.D.I. – the Potential Luxury Development Index that financial planners who make big decisions use. Come to think of it, the ocean side houses proposed for the Back Shore had a pretty strong P.L.D.I., considering just how little they paid for the lots. That’s a R.O.I. – Return on Investment – all developers can envy. Ms. Soones can set a new standard on P.L.D.I.R.O.I.
But wait! There could be a fly in the ointment for plans on our new Luxury Gloucester future. Maybe they’ll build the 4 Soones ocean side houses part Affordable Housing. After all, even non-1%-er’s want to live in the teeth of the Atlantic. Affordble housing with an ocean view! And when their houses are scattered down the length of the Back Shore, they’ll feel like the other displaced zillionaires – so that’s a bright spot when Americans feel more equal.
So send in your suggestions, ye citizens. The luxury building boom train is just getting ready to leave the station. Will you be on that train or just one of the old fashioned, stuck-in-the-mud, bleedin’ heart Back Shore protectors who think the rocks there are something special. Hah ! All you need is cash and no memory and we finally can get somewhere. Think P.L.D.I.R.O.I., people!

Gordon Baird

Gordon Baird sails, writes, sings and video edits his way through Gloucester as he has since 1950.  Musician Magazine called him co-founder, Gloucester Times calls him columnist, 3 kids call him Dad.  7 chickens, 2 goats, 2 pigs and a donkey call him breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Pimping Out Gloucester

Ten Pound Island. Photo Courtesy Laurel Tarantino

Ten Pound Island.
Photo Courtesy Laurel Tarantino

February 2016

A favorite quote of mine is one by Zelda Fitzgerald (1889~1948), “Nobody has ever measured, even poets, how much a heart can hold.”  I so understand this.  Science tells us that it’s impossible to die from a broken heart.   I beg to differ; it sure feels like it sometimes, especially when you keep taking blow after blow, seems like the damage can be irreparable.

With friends, my heart fills with gladness for all that we have and share.   These same friends have my best interest at hand when I’m sad for personal reasons.  They’ll turn me around to see the positive impact I have on people that count on me and need me.  Sometimes it’s hard to be needed.

I just took another blow to the heart again Tuesday night.  I need more than my friends for repairs this time. Before I let the tragic issues of the world get the better of me and turn me into a cynical old woman that roams the streets hurrrmmping through life, I reach out to you, anyone that may be reading this.

The injury this time, for lack of a better description, “The Pimping out of Gloucester,” in particular, Ten Pound Island, with total disregard for nature and its needs.  Where do we draw the line?  When are we going to say, “You know what, enough is enough?” When every inch of it is sold off to the highest bidder?

Put before the Waterways Board Tuesday night was a proposal for a float system on Ten Pound Island.  Sounds like a good idea, right?   It would give people access to the island, a place for people to tie up their boats, a place where people could take the Shuttle service every hour.   They even talked about tying it in with other activities…   yoga, the sailing program, the arts.  To me it sounds like another idea with an amusement park like theme.  In fact, the proposal was called “Harbor Park.”

My apologies, I’m starting to sound cynical, I can feel it.  I can’t help myself, when not one member of the board asked about the environmental impact to the area.  No one brought up the fact that the island is a safe haven for hundreds of birds, birds that migrate there, nest, roost and raise their young there.

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“Why shouldn’t everyone be allowed to enjoy the island?” has been a question on social media.  The answer to that is that everyone can.  People visit the island now by kayak, row boat, sail boat, paddle boards and small motor boats and all these folk seem to be very respectful of the area.  They seem to understand the term “Carry In, Carry Out,” without having signs posted to tell them to do so.  As it is now, the small boat traffic is about all the island can handle.  I find the people that visit truly leave the island as they found it.  If you open the area to an unlimited number of people for adventure I feel it would be incredibly hazardous to the environment.  In the 90’s there was a shuttle you could catch a ride on that left you on the beach.  During that time, my husband and I saw an increase in litter, dirty diapers strewn into the plant life that grows beyond the wall, human feces, an overflowing trash barrel that never got emptied, a neglected picnic table that usually had the aftermath of someone’s lunch on it, basically signs of an uncaring public.

I psyched myself up to go to this meeting Tuesday night and speak on behalf of the birds, as they have no voice in City Hall.  This was going to be a great feat for me, as I’m petrified of public speaking, but I was willing to sacrifice my comfort.  I was mortified when the meeting started with the Chair Person commenting, “I don’t know why all these people are here, for what issue, but I can tell you, there will be no public input.”  I had my courage and couldn’t do anything with it and I was letting the birds down.

If you’ve never visited Ten Pound Island, you may not know what a beautiful sanctuary it is for several species of birds.

Snow Egrets. Photo Courtesy Laurel Tarantino

 

From late April to late October, there are Snowy Egrets that adorn the treetops in such numbers that I often refer to them as Christmas ornaments.

There are Great Egrets, Black Crowned Night Herons, Crows and occasional songbirds in the trees as well.  Along the rocks you might be entertained by the sweet little Purple Sandpipers as they dab for small crustaceans while outrunning the splash of a small wave.  Common Eiders scurry down the rocks and jump in to have a swim.  Of course, there are the ever present Seagulls and Cormorants.   All these lovely creatures can be seen if you take a quiet ride around the island in a boat.

There are also birds that nest on the ground in the interior of the island.  One must be ever aware of their footing or they could very well harm the nest of a Mallard Duck sitting on her eggs.  You might destroy an entire family of Canadian Geese if you’re not being careful,

Just Hatched Canadian Goslings. Photo Credit Denise Foley

since they may not always be sitting on their eggs, you might traipse right through them without their snarling warning.  The Herring Gulls will distract your attention away from your footing to the sky as they swarm you to protect their nests, which are plentiful along the cliffs and on the ground.

I fear it will be disastrous for the birds if people are arriving every hour.  In this day of cell phones with cameras, I’m afraid that this safe haven will slowly disappear and be replaced by 54 “Likes” on Facebook, because people will have to walk through the homes of these beautiful creatures in order to get a sought after photo of the Lighthouse.  What will happen to the babies once they’re hatched?  They’re so incredibly cute, I can see someone trying to catch one, which wouldn’t be very hard to do, since they have no defense against us humans.

Juvenile Flounder. Photo Credit Laurel Tarantino

Juvenile Flounder.
Photo Credit Laurel Tarantino

What will happen to the thriving ecosystem in the water that surrounds the Island when you have a motor boat arriving several times a day, everyday of the week?  I cringe to think of it.

I’ll end this long winded rant with another quote, this time from Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Please help stop the giving away of Gloucester.  Believe me when I say (sadly) there are more great plans being drawn, but great for who is what needs to be asked.

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To learn more about the Audubon (IBA) Important Bird Areas, which Ten Pound Island is part of, visit the following site:

Massachusetts Audubon – Conservation

Locally, here is the link to our city offices should you like to contact them with your concerns on this or any other issue:

Gloucester, MA – Official Website

 

Laurel TarantinoLaurel Tarantino, writer, is happy to live in her hometown, Gloucester, with her husband, James,”Jimmy T,” daughter Marina Bella, and the family dog, Sport. She is known for “stopping to smell the roses” and loves to photograph and write about her beloved waterfront community.

 

 

Toward a Vision for the City’s Future

Peter Anastas

Peter Anastas and Sefatia Romeo Theken. Gloucester Mayoral Inaugration. January 1, 2016.

Peter Anastas and Sefatia Romeo Theken.
Gloucester Mayoral Inaugration.
January 1, 2016.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines inauguration as “to induct into office by a formal ceremony” or “to cause to begin, to dedicate, to consecrate.”  Our Gloucester High School Latin teachers, Josephine P. Ray and Vincent Elmer, would have taken pains to point out the Latin root “augurare,” “to presage, to foretell, to look ahead.”  This gave us the Italian “augurio,” “to wish, to be of good omen, to give one’s best wishes,” as in auguri.   So, in effect, we are here today not only to celebrate the induction of Sefatia Romeo Theken into her first full term as mayor of Gloucester, we are also gathered to look ahead, to consecrate ourselves and the city we love to a future of good omen, to wish our new mayor and her administration, our new city council and school committee—the community itself— tanti auguri for the New Year ahead and for our hoped for future.

Before I speak of that bright future we richly deserve, I’d like to look back for a moment, to pay tribute to those who have made it possible, particularly our parents and grandparents; and for Sefatia, her mother and father, Rosalia and Enzo Giambanco.  Enzo Giambanco, was president of the Board of Directors at Action, Inc., Gloucester’s antipoverty agency, when I first went to work there in 1972.  I found in Enzo not only a mentor but a person of deep compassion for the low-income families we were serving, including out-of-work fishermen, children who needed a pre-school education their parents could not afford, people who did not have health insurance, and elders who were torn between paying rent and utility bills and eating.  As an immigrant he understood what it felt like to be on the outside, whether you spoke a different language or your customs differed from those of the community.   Along with Executive Director Bill Rochford, Enzo helped to steer the agency through some of its most challenging times, while never abandoning those who depended on our services, whether it was help with fuel bills, home care, or after-school care for the children of working mothers.

I will never forget the time when, after the construction of the O’Maley middle school, the city was deciding what to do with the suddenly empty Central Grammar School with its beautiful WPA murals, where many of our parents had gone to high school and my generation had spent our 7th and 8th grade years.   Action proposed a reuse of the stately building for apartments for the elderly; but there were questions about the need for such housing and the ability of an agency like Action, which had never done bricks and mortar, to undertake such a project.  A public hearing was to be held at City Hall to determine which direction the city would move, and it was necessary to show support for the agency’s plan to create quality housing for our senior citizens.   Enzo told Bill not to worry.  And that night he arrived with 500 elders and their families, filling city hall auditorium and convincing the council of public support for the project.   The present Central Grammar Apartments not only met a crucial need in the city, it became a pioneer project in the regional movement to adapt former schools into much needed housing.

Sefatia learned these innovative and caring ways from the cradle.  She has spent her entire life helping the people of Gloucester as one of the city’s hardest working councilors and as a health care advocate and human services liaison at Addison Gilbert Hospital.  During her tenure as interim mayor, Sefatia again demonstrated her skills at reaching out to citizens across the entire social and economic spectrum of the city, listening compassionately to their concerns, hearing the ideas they shared, and making decisions in a thoughtful and intelligent manner, while relating to all of us in an open, caring and humane way.  When you are hugged by Sefatia you know she means it.

Sefatia has roots that run deeply into the community and its history.  She’s gone to school and raised a family here.  She can walk down the street and recognize everyone she meets.   She can tell you who lived on which street, who worked where, and what happened to them if they got laid off.  This kind of knowledge that comes from growing up in one place and feeling it in your blood is indispensable when it comes to understanding the needs of neighborhoods and their residents, no matter which part of the city they are located in.  A public official who is not deeply in touch with the culture of the community he or she hopes to serve is already at a disadvantage.

We need a mayor who encourages our community to engage in the kind of constructive dialogue that is the cornerstone of our democracy, a mayor who will lead us toward a more vital sense of community in education, civic responsibilities, historical awareness, fiscal prudence, economic and social self-sufficiency, and love of place.  We particularly need a mayor who understands and cares deeply about our fishing industry and the importance of our working waterfront and the innovative Blue Economy.  I believe that Sefatia will be this kind of mayor.   Just as we need to move ahead, we equally need to maintain our roots as a city of families and neighborhoods, where everyone has a place at the table and everyone’s  voice is listened to and respected.  There is a yearning all over America for the sense of place, of shared history, of belonging, that we in Gloucester are fortunate to enjoy in abundance.

Gloucester has always been a city of ethnic and economic diversity—and this diversity has been one of our greatest strengths.  We live in dangerous times and we need the peace and comfort that a community like ours affords.  It is through community that we learn together and grow together, as we help our children and grandchildren grow and prosper.

Concretely we must address the following issues as we look to the city’s future.

–We need a revised and updated Master Plan so we can best manage growth and know where to build and what to preserve.

–We must recommit ourselves to our embattled fishing industry and to the working waterfront itself, continuing our long history of adaption to change with the creation of a strong seafood innovation cluster economy and the good local jobs it will create.   We are also a great boating community and while we work to make our waterfront a more welcoming place for recreational boaters, we must not forget the importance of community boating facilities for our own residents.

–We will need to look newly at tourism and its impact on the city’s life and infrastructure (traffic, the harbor, the beaches, the land), with a special conversation about the role of a smart,  human-scale visitor-based economy, the corner stone of which should be cultural and eco-tourism.

–We need to continue our conversation around the development of a public arts policy with added discussion on the place of the arts in local life and the visitor-based sector.  Essential to the future of the city as a magnet for the arts is the development of live-work housing for local artists, who constitute a bridge between the life we all enjoy here and what we want to offer to those we welcome into our community.

–Essential also is an initiative to involve more citizens in public life, volunteering for boards and commissions.  We must especially nurture a new generation of engaged citizens: our democracy will depend on it.

–As for schools, plant is important, but what happens in the classroom is paramount.  We must transcend the tyranny of standardized testing, reasserting the primary role of the imagination, critical thinking and creativity in art, music, drama, science and the humanities.

–We must do everything to keep our city beautiful, not only for those who wish to visit but for those of us who live here year round.  The restoration of Stacy Boulevard, Gloucester’s crown jewel, is long overdue.   Dogtown is our refuge for hiking, cross country skiing, berry picking, and the exploration of nature.  Let us continue to support the work that volunteers are engaged upon in preserving this treasure and keeping Dogtown unspoiled for future generations.

What we especially need, along with careful planning to account for inevitable change, is a land ethic, a way in which we view the land and its uses beyond mere profit-taking and commercial development.  We must build what we need, but we must do it in a way that does not destroy the unique character of neighborhoods or disrupt human and natural ecologies.

We must plan regionally as well as locally, always with a sense of preserving the character and integrity of particular communities; for I believe that only those places which are sensitive to their uniqueness will survive.  Without an informed, coherent and humane vision of ourselves in relation to our environment we will not survive as a community, let alone as a planet or a species.

So as we inaugurate our new mayor and congratulate the city councilors and school committee members we have elected to represent us, let us re-commit ourselves to working together, to building “not only for today alone but for tomorrow as well.” If we expect it of ourselves, those who come after us will thank us for our vision, our imagination, and especially for our commitment.

Thank you e tanti auguri a` tutti for the New Year and for Gloucester’s future.

(This speech was delivered at City Hall, on January 1, 2016, at the inauguration of Sefatia Romeo Theken as Mayor of Gloucester)

 

Peter at Museum (1)Peter Anastas, EG editorial directoris a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.

 

Giving Thanks

A wish to all of you from all of us at Enduring Gloucester…   may you have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving, filled with many blessings.

“For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, For love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Gloucester Landscape 1919 Stuart Davis (1892-19640

Gloucester Landscape 1919
Stuart Davis (1892-1964)

Nice Place to Visit, But…

gloutucket

Photo courtesy of Document Photo/Morin

Well, my first week or so back in the city was an event filled one – not the least of which was the close race between Sefatia Romeo-Theken and Paul McGeary, as they vied to prevail as the two final mayoral candidates in November.

On September, 29, the voters went to the polls and decided it would, indeed, be a Romeo-Theken/McGeary mayoral contest on the first Tuesday in November.

The city and its people are fortunate in that both candidates have a lot of experience, and they both have demonstrated a deep commitment to, and love for this wonderful but rapidly changing city by the sea.

They may differ on some of  the details on how to best help the city and its people navigate the changes that are coming, but nobody, whether you support Romeo-Theken or McGeary, should doubt the commitment both these capable candidates have to the city and its future.

That said, having just returned from working the summer tourist season in Provincetown, something that would not have been economically feasible had it not been that I rented at a reasonable rate from an old friend; I worry that, as the fishing industry continues to be regulated to near extinction, there are too many people in Gloucester who believe that waterfront related tourism in the form of high end marinas,  ever more chic restaurants and bars, and luxurious accommodations of one form or another, will somehow offset the loss of the relatively good paying jobs the fishing industry and related businesses so long generated here in Fish City.

If the economic focus in relation to how best to use the waterfront in the wake of fishing’s decline is too heavily dependent on that high end tourism, Gloucester is setting the stage for another economic crisis a few years down the road from now. That crisis will revolve around the harsh reality that the people employed in those almost strictly seasonal, tourism and service industries will not be able to afford to live here any longer.

 

gifts- ernie morin, jeff weaver

Ernest Morin photo of Jeff Weaver mural at Harbor Loop, courtesy Document Photo/Morin

That is because as the waterfront is gentrified, the term is a bit of a cliché but I use it for lack of a better one, one can be sure the gentrification will spread out from the waterfront and up into what are still working class neighborhoods like “Portagee Hill”, the area in and around Middle Street, and all around and above Washington Street heading out toward Grant Circle.

As the gentrification spreads, already rising rents in the city will spike still higher.  It is all but guaranteed, yet the wages most of the jobs in tourism, even high end tourism, pay will not be enough to compensate for the ever increasing costs of housing .

Now, I know Provincetown and Gloucester are very different communities. But they share numerous demographic traits that, when looked at holistically and historically, make it clear that Gloucester can learn some lessons from Provincetown and, hopefully, not make the same mistakes Provincetown did as high end tourism replaced the once vibrant fishing economy there. As the fishing industry declined in Provincetown, old local Portuguese fishing families sold their multifamily  homes and moved away. Investors from Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco bought up those homes and transformed those once reasonably priced apartments into luxurious condominiums that are rented out by the week for two, three, even four thousand dollars during the high tourist season, only to be left vacant through the winter months – despite the fact Provincetown is experiencing a genuine housing crisis.

So acute is the housing shortage in Provincetown, people my age who have lived and worked there for years in the arts, in galleries, shops, and restaurants are leaving in droves. Even those who were fortunate enough to have bought something before prices went into the stratosphere about fifteen years ago are leaving. Why? Because their property taxes and assorted other fees have been raised to levels they can no longer afford.

The housing crisis is so severe that, increasingly, the employees in the shops, restaurants and galleries are Jamaican or Eastern European migrant workers who live four and five people to a room in bunk house style conditions for which each person pays two hundred dollars a week for the bunk – and little else.

Now, some will say such a development could never happen here in Gloucester, I beg to differ. In fact, a year ago this past summer I overheard two members of the management team at the establishment I worked at for two seasons talking about the need for the owners to start thinking about building dormitory style housing on the property because they understood that, as the economy of Gloucester changes and the city gentrifies, it is going to become ever harder for workers in the tourism and service industries to find housing here.

Gloucester, as Newburyport did twenty five years ago, is at great risk, especially in the wake of fishing’s decline, of becoming little more than a chic, coastal, bedroom community of Boston where most residents work off island for good wages; of seeing multi-family homes bought up and converted into high end condominiums, perhaps even to be rented out only in  the peak summer months at exorbitant rates as has happened in Provincetown, while the jobs created on island in the tourism and service sector industries  don’t pay enough to allow a single person, let alone someone trying to raise a family, to live here anymore.

People who don’t think that could really happen are kidding themselves.

That is why, as this municipal election cycle plays out, it is important for voters to find out where all the candidates stand on these all- important issues pertaining to the city, its people, and the future that awaits both.

Because the future is coming to the city, the only question to be answered is “What kind of future will it be?”

Michael Cook
Gloucester

 

mike_cookMike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.

Of the Social Contract and Gloucester

 

 

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Proud American – July 4th Revelry Document Photo / Morin

Of the Social Contract and Gloucester

Ernest Morin

” What is the object of Human society ? Is it to dazzle the eye with an immense production of useful and elegant things ? Is it to cover the seas with ships and the earth with railways ? Is it finally to give two or three individuals out of each 100,000 the power to dispose of wealth that would suffice to maintain in comfort those 100,000 ? “

Simonde de Sismondi – Studies in Political Economy 1818 – 1836

I recently watched a video on You Tube of Gloucester locals on a roof top porch espousing, “We need to elect …   to protect our Money… to protect our Money …” in  the local elections.

You can view it here and form your own opinion :

Rooftop Republicans

I wondered how is it that particular mantra is what’s most important now to Gloucester or as political thought, even.

The social contract as Rousseau framed it essentially explains that in a state of primitive existence man has all rights and no rules nor governance.  In this state of “every man for himself”  fatal conflicts are frequent and inevitable and it’s rule by sheer brute force.

In order to avoid that brutish state, people agreed to form a collective and be ruled, for the mutual gain of all.

The assumed contract is explained in three simple points by the time of philosopher John Locke, whom our founding fathers were influenced by: Life, Liberty and Property – property,  meaning what you labored to make is yours – what’s yours is yours, not communally owned. It originally meant land as property more than material goods.  The right to the ability to grow food and survive was its intent.

Later Property was expanded to mean the pursuit of happiness – the right to exist and achieve whatever your innate and learned capacities could allow.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” is part of our Constitution’s preamble, yet we know, all men are not created equal in strength, nor intellect,  but should have the right to reach whatever height they can so long as it doesn’t interfere with other’s rights, nor the collective good.

And we also now know that if you are born into the 1 percent now you are not created equal at all in terms of nurture, political power, ability to have freedom, live where you choose, or live a life of leisurely pursuits.

And if you are not born there, social mobility no longer exists. You will have less nurture, less ability to get a quality education, less chance of getting a high paying job, living in a quality neighborhood or not being the equal of an indentured servant to banks for school loans, mortgage and credit card expenses just to stay even. You will also likely be renting not owning for a very long time.  Thus your ability to have a life or liberty or to pursue happiness is far less optimal by birth accident, which the social contract was set up to level towards a more equal equation.

And while these are broad concepts there is universal agreement as to the gist of their meaning.

Prior civilizations understood the social contract. The Roman Empire did not let the top tier of society go below ten percent of the total to maintain itself peacefully for over 500 years. It shared the spoils of wars as well as provided allotments of bread to citizens during hard years.

In an age of machines and cities, the concept of  every man owning land and thus the means to survive doesn’t exist – therefore there is a need for some form of allowing for a means to survive economic swings. We now know the means as the various social programs of current government. Such programs are bound to have some margin of error and unnecessary costs incurred. It’s akin to a restaurant factoring in spoiled food costs as part of doing business.  That cost is inevitable, and you try to minimize it as best you can.

 

With constant progress of technology comes the constant loss of employment and continuous job reductions.  People can’t go back to subsistence farming, as they have no arable land. Provision has to be made or conditions will rightfully lead to revolt and return to anarchy and a brute state.

The problem with current society in a developed nation like the USA is that it has already devolved back to the more primitive state of every man for himself because economically 1 out of every 100,000 commands the bulk of the resources and wealth,  leaving the others scraps to fight over, albeit compared to a third world nation, the scraps are generous.

The elite now operate with little conscience for social consequences of the collective group as a result of that power concentration and its destructive actions.

They no longer believe in a social contract as it has been in the past.

Who needs a social contract if you have extreme wealth?

You can buy elections, private guards, schools, playgrounds, water, anything a government would provide, and get real service. The wealthy do not need to rely on public institutions at all.

If you live in an isolated bubble the notion of a social contract is perhaps meaningless, completely irrelevant.

Why would you want to contribute to maintaining such an antiquated notion in the age of drones. artificial intelligence, robots and G8 summits at Davos?
Or believe the notion of a nation in an age of rampant globalization, which is a mere euphemism for having no corporate national allegiance.  (The actual idea of a nation has only existed since Napoleon. It is relatively new in human terms and perhaps was an anomaly.  They may no longer be viable as we know them. Smaller regional or tribal units were the norm for millennia and existed as such under large empires.)  Are you aware GE paid no US corporate taxes on 19 billion dollars in profits last year?  Or that the major defense contractor Boeing is thinking of moving chunks of its production, outside the US now?  Under such circumstances the whole notion of a “Nation” begins to unravel into nonsense.

When your government leaders and presidential candidates like Mitt Romney keep most of their investments in offshore tax havens, when Congress exempts itself from insider trading for years and the Supreme Court gives corporations rights as people and unlimited ability to influence elections, what does a “Nation” mean aside from suckers to exploit?

It’s a long way from the society of Jeffersonian notions, of our younger democracy or New England town hall meetings.  The age of robber barons wasn’t this warped in terms of income inequality or political power of a minority.  It only took 400 families to contribute the bulk of 250 million to superpacs for the 2016 presidential elections, and many of them donated to both sides. It’s obviously a blatant attempt by the super-rich to buy influence and protect their interests above all.

That is only ten percent of the 1 percent – a tiny fraction of 360 million people living in the USA.

One could label it as: Tyranny of the extreme minority.

The bulk of the 1 percent no longer create, produce or trade any products. They are not entrepreneurial, merely wealthy. Reliance on living off one’s investment income is to lack the drive needed to be prosperous and thus protect wealth.

Hearing  the phrase “to protect our money” repeatedly espoused,  one can’t help but feel that there has been a real shift in the local demographic.

Lost is the moral imperative for the health of the commonwealth being paramount as the political concern.

Lost is any comprehension of being part of the tribe or that we are all in the same boat.

ernie social contract 2

Spectators at Fiesta- Beach Court Document Photo/Morin

 

It sounds like we may well be headed in the national direction.

This is not the Gloucester I have known in the past.

But then we are merely a microcosm of the USA now, not an island apart from the mainland.  We are suffering from the same dissolution of the social contract, albeit on a smaller scale.

We are becoming less of a working man’s town each year. The demographic is now bipolar, consisting of rich or working poor.

It’s become far less affordable than a mere six years ago. The fact that St. John’s Church and Action, Inc. are both currently exploring affordable housing projects attest to that.

The failings of the social contract will only become more visible here as time goes on.

Gloucester has always been a place where you had to realize you were all in the same boat, far more than surrounding communities, because of the staggering loss of life yearly, for a century or more,  to fishing.

The wealthy here had investments in the boats, shore facilities and banks and were linked to the local industry and workers. They attended worker weddings, baptisms and funerals.

The wealthy and summer residents now are disconnected from the local banking, industry or businesses by and large. They are no longer interwoven in the community in ways wealth was in the past.

We are no longer in the same boat.

Some have bought up the surrounding houses, which they impeccably maintain empty, as investments, not to have neighbors. Something that was inconceivable growing up here as much as the idea of gated enclaves were or the rocks along the back shore being labeled Private when the city always rebuilds the road and shuffles the rocks back, after hurricane storm damage.

That is not healthy for community or maintaining the social contract.

And a lot of the new people recently moved here with no sense of place nor understanding of what’s made Gloucester the Community it is. And indeed they want to change it. It doesn’t suit them the way it is. Frequently you hear they want it to be more like where they just came from.

I fully agree we have plenty of room to improve various aspects of our town. We tend to let it happen more organically based on need or function more than looks or perceived convenience, which is an old New England Yankee conservative value hold over, that is a strong part of our local character.

There is little understanding from the people pushing beautification schemes like the Harbor Walk or other luxury tourism or gentrification scheme changes, that once that’s accomplished it won’t retain the characteristics they moved here for, if they actually stay long enough to experience that change.

It’s obviously not easy to mend the social fabric once structural changes as such occur and people’s allegiance to the social contract dissolve at a national  level.

One shouldn’t have to wait for another great war to have the body politic realize it’s all in the same boat again.

Or that there is still good reason to maintain the Social Contract.

I should hope locally we want to elect new people to have them protect our quality of life here, protect what we value as a community and elect those who will work to strengthen our community, respect its diversity and try to ensure it remains affordable for young people who want to live, work and raise families here.

I also hope that the local mayoral and council races stay non-partisan and whatever party you’re from or its current platform questions do not matter, nor need to be discussed.

Gloucester has always left partisan politics aside, to its merit, and positions on pressing Gloucester problems were the only matter of importance in local elections.

We’ve always operated as a large New England town meeting, in essence,  despite being a city for a long time.

Otherwise Gloucester will turn into just another anywhere USA by the sea summer tourist town for the aging affluent and be but a shadow of a real place.

It’s always been valued as a very real place, which is something that should not be lost or given up easily.

Electing those who would use our collective resources wisely, for the good of all of the residents, is the place to start for maintaining it as “Gloucester” going forward.

Granted, it’s is a bit more democratic notion.  As such, it better adheres to the social contract.

 

Ernest Morin is a native of the City and a socially concerned documentary photographer.

 

 

Our Great Marsh

 

 

Plum Island

Plum Island photo by Judith Walcott

 

Plum Island Revery

 

Peter Anastas

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…”

plumpannes (2)

Salt Pannes, Plum Island photo by Judith Walcott

Gazing beyond the dunes of Plum Island at the Great Marsh, bronzed in late summer light, I thought of that evocative first line of Keat’s poem, “On Autumn”.

It was the last weekend of August.  Each year at summer’s end I love to walk the barrier beach of the Parker River Wildlife Refuge.  There are no dwellings nearby; and except for those who fish the ocean’s edge for striped bass, few beachgoers after Labor Day.  It’s a place where one is up against nature in the raw.  I make it a point to visit the beach often during the year, observing the seasonal changes—-the piping plovers as they propagate, the redwings that arrive by the end of February, the tree swallows who begin their pre-migratory flocking in mid-August, and the purple martins who leave by summer’s close.

The approaching autumn is a special time for me.  It’s a time for reflection.  It’s also a time when one prepares for the year’s declension into winter, a time of mellowness in the air, the light, as Keats’s poem suggests; a time of actual and spiritual harvest.

Stretching from West Gloucester to the borders of New Hampshire, the Great Marsh is a wonder.  As I contemplate its vast fertility from the silent dunes of Plum Island, I think of those early settlers, who gathered beach plums here (hence its name) and took the shellfish.  I think particularly of Judge Samuel Sewell, who in 1697 gave us this description of Plum Island:

“As long as Plum Island shall faithfully keep the command post, notwithstanding all the hectoring words and hard blows of the boisterous ocean; as long as any salmon and sturgeon shall swim in the streams of Merrimack, or any perch or pickerel in Crane Pond; as long as the sea fowl shall know the time of their coming, and not neglect seasonably to visit the places of their acquaintance; as long as any cattle shall be fed with the grass growing in the meadows, which do humbly bow down themselves before Turkey Hill; as long as any sheep shall walk upon Old Town Hill, and shall from thence pleasantly look down upon the River Parker and the fruitful marshes lying beneath; as long as any free and harmless doves shall find a white oak or other tree within the township to perch or feed or build a careless nest upon, and shall voluntarily present themselves to perform the office of gleaners after barley harvest; as long as nature shall not grow old and dote, but shall constantly remember to give the rows of Indian Corn their education by pairs; so long shall Christians be born there…and shall from thence be translated to be made partakers of the Inheritance of the saints in light.”

Those words were written three-hundred and eighteen years ago, yet they describe with perfect clarity what can still be seen and enjoyed today.  Whether or not we share Judge Sewell’s prophetic religiosity, we can still marvel at the acute sense of place evoked in his description of Plum Island and its surrounding forests, hills and wetlands.  We can marvel at this early ecological vision, at its appreciation of nature’s bounty.

Years pass as if they were days, places change and the people who inhabit them disappear.  Thanks largely to the vision and commitment of organizations like the Essex County Greenbelt Association and the Trustees of Reservations, numerous town land trusts, and preservation-minded property owners, Essex County has retained much of its austere beauty.  There is no present without a past, as Judge Sewell understood.  Yet today’s destroyers act as if they were the only people on earth, as if no one had been here before them, preserving what they cherished for us today.  They act as if their greed were a right, instead of a sin against each of us and the land itself.

Tasteless “trophy” houses and out-of-scale McMansions spring up in fields and meadows once husbanded with meticulous care by our colonial forebears.  Signs dot the oceanside warning natives, who have always had access to the shore, that the property is now “private.”  Gates appear where once we all walked with impunity; and greed reigns.   The sense of Commonwealth our puritan predecessors bequeathed us, the belief that the land and sea were ours to use and enjoy together, to preserve for the next generation, has eroded vastly since Judge Sewell’s time.  More than ever, it is our responsibility to secure this covenant once again.  Otherwise, those who come after us may never enjoy the seasons “of mists and mellow fruitfulness” we have accepted as our birthright.

 

Peter at Museum (1)

Peter Anastas, EG editorial director, is a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.

 

 

 

Remembering Bob Stephenson by Peter Anastas, Ernest Morin & Bing McGilvray

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PeterABobS Florence1959

Peter Anastas and Bob Stephenson – Florence, Italy 1959

In Memoriam: Robert Douglas “Bob” Stephenson (August 21,1935 – August 9, 2015)

With the death of painter Robert Stephenson on August 9, Gloucester lost one of its most distinctive contemporary artists.  We also lost a great character, a trait that is in short supply these days.

I knew Bob from the Hovey School, where we met in Miss Courant’s fifth grade class in 1947. Even then Bob was drawing and painting constantly.  He was also a wit, who kept us laughing when we should have been concentrating on our studies.   As befits someone as creative as Bob, he was  able to turn both his art and his wit into activities that gained him academic credit.

One of our first projects together was a play we co-wrote for our unit in American history about Captain John Smith and Pocahontas, for which Bob designed the costumes, or rather, adapted them from clothing we borrowed from our mothers—today you might call it “colonial drag.”  Bob’s mother, Cora Douglas, the daughter of New England lighthouse keepers, had a house full of the most interesting artifacts, many of which she and Bob’s late father, Charles Francis Stephenson, had collected during his tours of duty in the diplomatic corps.  In fact, much of Bob’s sophistication, which made him seem so much older and more mature than the rest of us, was the consequence of the family’s having lived abroad.  I suspect these experiences may have played a role in Bob’s becoming an incredibly accomplished linguist during his military career.  It is said that he was proficient in twelve languages, including several dialects.

Once we were in Central Grammar for 7th and 8th grades, our dramatic activities did not cease.  We wrote a play about Julius Caesar, which we performed with an Italian accent, followed by a Nativity play in Yiddish inflected English.  How we got away with what today would be considered politically incorrect behavior is still a mystery to me; but those plays, and others we did together, including a British murder mystery, in which we played Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson with the appropriate British accents, were performed in the school auditorium in front of the entire school body.

During 7th grade Bob and I also initiated an activity that we would pursue well into high school.  We spent every Saturday walking all over Cape Ann.  Beginning with Ravenswood Park, where we explored every trail in detail, we branched out to Dogtown, which we crossed to Rockport many times.   There was not a single Gloucester neighborhood we had not traversed on foot, or any place on the waterfront that we did not come to know intimately.   One of our signal achievements was to have walked entirely around Cape Ann, beginning in downtown Gloucester and walking to Rockport, Pigeon Cove, Lanesville, Bay View, Riverdale and back to Bob’s house on Mansfield Street.

We did it in a single day, carrying water in canteens and packing lunches that our mothers had prepared for us.  There were no cellphones or public phones from which we might report our progress.  Always during these walks we observed nature carefully, gathering specimens of plants and wildflowers or marine life that we examined by microscope in the laboratory I had set up in the basement of my house on Perkins Road.

Looking back on Bob’s artistic career,  it is my belief that his minute depiction of Gloucester places and objects, his grasp of buildings, wharves, rocks, beaches, tidal eddies, surf, trees, bushes, flora and fauna originated in part from the experiences of those walks during which nothing was lost on either of us.  Our early walks resulted in a lifelong habit of my own of walking all over the city of my birth and writing about it in my weekly column for the Gloucester Times, “This Side of the Cut.”

Bob’s artistry was nurtured at Central Grammar by our art teachers, Jean Nugent in 7th grade and Edna Hodgkin’s in 8th.  Both were practicing artists, as was the city’s art supervisor Hale Anthony Johnson, who had taught us all the rudiments of art since first grade, along with the history of the visual arts on Cape Ann.

But it was at Gloucester High School, that amazing WPA modernist building we had the privilege of attending classes in during the 1950s, where Bob came under the influence of Gloucester’s greatest art teacher, the native-born painter Howard Curtis, who was head of the art department.  Comprising an entire wing of the school, the art department had state of the art equipment and the benefit of northern light, because Howard and the preceding art teacher, Muriel Spofford, had insisted to the architects that the original siting of the school be rotated to take advantage of the light itself.

It would be an understatement to say that the influence of Howard Curtis on Bob’s art was profound.  Curtis, a distinguished artist who had exhibited widely, along with painting or restoring earlier murals in city buildings, was a remarkable teacher.  Learned, articulate and engaging, he held sway in his two-room classroom-studio from before school in the morning until late in the afternoon.   In those classrooms, whose walls were hung with the finest examples of world art, you could find students, some of whom did not even study art, in deep conversation with “Mr. Curtis,” as we all respectfully called him.   The subjects were wide and diverse, from the forms of Medieval and Renaissance  painting and questions of perspective to abstract philosophical issues about the origins and fate of man.  Curtis himself was a deeply meditative spiritualist, a mystic, in some ways, as I look back on him.   This part of his nature and his teaching must clearly have had an impact on Bob’s future art, which has a profoundly spiritual dimension, influenced as well by Bob’s immersion in Buddhism, prompted by his time spent in the Far East during his military service.

Taken together, Bob’s encyclopedic knowledge of Gloucester terrain and his spiritual vision, in part the influence of Howard Curtis and in part his Eastern knowledge and practice, provide a lens through which we can view and understand the astounding production of his paintings.  Many were completed in his first studio on the top floor of Brown’s former department store, later in the studio he occupied at the Fitz Henry Lane House, and finally at his remarkable studio on Parsons Street, just off Main, a former garage, which Bob, with the help of friends, converted into a living and working space that took advantage of a marvelous view of the waterfront and wonderful light throughout the day.  It was a studio, like those of the Florentine masters, that was open to all during Bob’s working hours.  It was not unusual to find friends visiting while Bob painted, or a conversation ongoing about the state of the world, about which Bob had many opinions, pungently expressed.

Everyone has a story about Bob, and I will conclude with one of my own.

It was late in 1959.  I was living in Florence, studying Medieval literature at the university and about to begin teaching English at the International Academy.  Bob was stationed in Germany with the US Army.  He wrote to tell me that he had some leave coming and wished to visit me in Florence.  I had not seen Bob since I was in college and he was attending art school in Boston, prior to his induction into the army, so I jumped at the opportunity.  Bob was due to arrive on the Brenner Express, so I went to meet his train at the railroad station.   As I stood on the platform, I observed a group of Germans getting off the train, all of them speaking excitedly in their own language.  Bob was among them, conversing in what I later learned was perfect German.  He was also dressed in German clothing, a gray Loden jacket and a dark green Alpine hat with a feather in it.

Bob stayed in the Pensione Cordova in Via Cavour, where I had been living since early fall.  His room had a marvelous view of the Duomo from its window.  Soon Bob set about drawing everything he saw as we walked (of course) over every inch of the fabulous city that was to become my home for three years.   From his study of art history Bob was familiar with the storied buildings and monuments, and his knowledge of the art was extensive.  As we walked through the galleries of the Uffizi and the Pitti Palace, Bob paused to explain what artists like Botticelli had in mind as they concentrated on the placement of figures or the overall structure of the work.   We explored the interiors of the great cathedrals and churches, from the Duomo to San Miniato, adjacent to which was a vast cemetery which fascinated Bob (my friend Paul Hamilton, who was studying art in Florence took some pictures of us in that cemetery, one of which is posted here).

Back in the pensione, I introduced Bob to another resident, Carlo Cirelli, a young artist from Ferrara, who worked designing shoes for a local company.  When Carlo saw Bob’s drawings and watercolors of Florence he asked Bob if he would ever consider designing shoes.

“I’ll take a crack at it,” Bob said, setting to work with his pencil and watercolors he borrowed from Carlo.   We left him alone for a while, and when he said the design was done, Carlo and I went to look at it.  Instead of an elegant Italian shoe, Bob had painted what looked like a worn out work boot, brown, scuffed and with turned over heels.  Along the edge of the boot he had painted a wooden match stick, inserted between the shoe and the sole.  The match was on fire and would naturally have resulted in a “hot foot” for the wearer of the shoe.  This was Bob at his best, using art to make a point about the vanity of fancy footwear.

I did not see Bob again until his retirement from the military when we were both again living in Gloucester.  From time to time I would visit his Parsons Street studio to see what he had been up to.   When I reminded him about his visit to Florence and the shoe, his eyes twinkled.   “I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d started a fad,” he said.  “You know how clever those Italians are!”

​Peter Anastas​

___________________________________________________________________________________

The Most Original Native Artist of His Time​

by Ernest Morin​

Bob Ste​ph​enson, like F​itz Henry​ Lane​, ​ was a Gloucester boy.  He also shared with Lane a real sense of light and love of the harbor and city. I met him when he had his studio in Lane​’​s house.

Bob Stephenson Photo Courtesy of Greg Cook

Bob Stephenson
Photo Courtesy of Greg Cook

When it came to subject matter however Bob Stephenson was not a realist. His canvas would be a place to situate dream, myth, reality, symbols and spirituality. He would combine an eastern sensibility towards use of space and western techniques of painting with scenes that were both drawn from local reality and greatly fabricated to fit artistically into the Stephenson paradigm, a very original paradigm.

His skill and technique with paint was extreme, he was a master at use of glazing, applying hot near cold color of designing a series of spaces within spaces that had strong push pull, repetitive form, harmony culminating in complex compositions that were layered with meaning.

He also did this in a way that was simple and abstract at heart – in the way an Edward Hopper is real yet truly abstract.

Stephenson labored intensely over 6 or 8 canvases at a time. ​ ​They were works to be pondered, to be massaged, to be coaxed into life one nuance at a time once they were cohesive. His art wasn’t rushed; he didn’t produce product.

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Gloucester Fishermen’s Memorial Service, August 22, 2015

Fishermen's Memorial 2015

fish mem 2 2015

From: Maximus, to Gloucester, July 19, 1957

A fisherman is not a successful man
he is not a famous man he is not a man
of power, these are the damned by God

When a man’s coffin is the sea
the whole of creation shall come to his funeral

it turns out the globe
is below, all lapis
and its blue surface golded
by what happened

this afternoon, there are eyes
in the water

the flowers
from the shore

awakened
the sea

Men are so sure they know very many things
they don’t even know night and day are one

A fisherman works without reference to
that difference.  It is possible he also

by lying there when he does lie, the jowl
to the sea, has another advantage, it is said.

‘You rectify what can be rectified,’ and when a man’s heart
cannot see this, the door of his divine intelligence is shut

Let you who paraded to the Cut today
to hold memorial services to all fishermen
who have been lost at sea. . .

not knowing what a fisherman is
instead of going straight to the Bridge

and doing no  more than–saying no more than–
in the Charybdises of the
Cut waters the flowers tear off
the wreathes

the flowers
turn
the character of the sea  The sea jumps
the fate of the flower  The drowned men are undrowned
in the eddies

of the eyes
of the flowers
opening
the sea’s eyes

Charles Olson

downloadPlease enjoy this clip from the film, Captains Courageous, which illustrates the treacherous life of the Gloucester fisherman.