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For more than three decades North American travelers have been getting advice on European tourism from a folksy, easy-going travel writer named Rick Steves. Over the years, Rick’s best-selling guidebooks and popular Public Television travelogues have encouraged millions of Americans to get their passports and to visit Europe.
Rick has always encouraged Americans to become more mindful travelers and to engage with local cultures. And although he is often trolled for his “aw-shucks’ TV persona, Rick has long been a staunch supporter of progressive values and social justice causes. He consistently uses his platform to promote economic justice, address hunger and homelessness, free speech issues, and even legalization of marijuana in the United States.
For many years, Rick has donated significant amounts of money to groups such as the ACLU, Bread for the World, and NORML. Recently, and with little fanfare, he gifted a $4 million apartment complex near his home in Edmunds, Washington to the YWCA to provide housing for homeless women and children. When asked why he chose to donate the building, Rick responded, “Hey, I’m just helping people that would be living in cars, or motels, or people’s basements.”
On a personal note, I had the chance to meet Rick many years ago and to hang out with him for an afternoon. I was staying in the small Italian lakeside town of Varenna, when I ran into Rick as he was working on updating his Italy guidebook. At the time I was doing some travel writing and I had a few books in print. We compared notes on some Northern Italian travel destinations and Rick asked me to send him suggestions for additions to his updated guidebook. In response, he very generously plugged my books and a travel newsletter that I was publishing in his own newsletter.
Despite enormous obstacles—think bombs and bureaucracy—a 25 year-old Baghdad bibliophile has succeeded in launching both an indie bookshop and a bookmobile. Ali al-Moussawi has had a life-long passion for reading and books. With the help of friends and a like-minded Facebook group, he opened a small bookshop in a Baghdad mall and also purchased a truck to provide mobile book services around the city that was once the literary capital of the Arab world. Most days, you can find the Iraqi Bookish bookmobile at the University of Baghdad, but if you can’t visit in person, you can follow Ali on Facebook.
Every year, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the American Library Association (ALA) jointly recognize exceptional design in new library construction or renovation. Here are some of the marvelous winners of the 2017 Library Building Awards:
LETTER TO SOMEONE LIVING FIFTY YEARS FROM NOW
Most likely, you think we hated the elephant,
the golden toad, the thylacine and all variations
of whale harpooned or hacked into extinction.
It must seem like we sought to leave you nothing
but benzene, mercury, the stomachs
of seagulls rippled with jet fuel and plastic.
You probably doubt that we were capable of joy,
but I assure you we were.
We still had the night sky back then,
and like our ancestors, we admired
its illuminated doodles
of scorpion outlines and upside-down ladles.
Absolutely, there were some forests left!
Absolutely, we still had some lakes!
I’m saying, it wasn’t all lead paint and sulfur dioxide.
There were bees back then, and they pollinated
a euphoria of flowers so we might
contemplate the great mysteries and finally ask,
“Hey guys, what’s transcendence?”
And then all the bees were dead.
On 4/20/17, a former Lutheran church in Denver, Colorado will officially open as The International Church of Cannabis. The 113-year-old church building, which was decorated by renowned Spanish “ecclesiastical” street artist Okuda San Miguel and Kenny Scharf, is the new headquarters for a group called the Elevationist Ministries. The non-denominational order has no religious hierarchy or theology, just a belief in the spiritual power of marijuana.
Although public consumption of cannabis is still illegal in Colorado, and the Elevationists won’t be selling any weed at their church, the group is invoking constitutional freedom of religion to permit use on site. The Elevationists have legal permits to operate the church, but no one is certain how state and local authorities will react when congregants light up.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the country’s finest museums. Since we live nearby, I get to visit often. When I stopped by to see the current special exhibition and to see the model for Frank Gehry’s $150 million museum expansion, I spotted the PMA’s clever way to cover the construction work.
Throughout the building and renovation project, the museum plans to transform the ugly fencing into an outdoor gallery. Over the three year-long construction period they plan to display copies of some of the most popular works inside. With the institution’s enormous collection, I think that they will be able to cover the 100 meters of plywood fencing with no problem.