Let There Be Dragons

I just finished reading a book, “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.” I’ve been reading it for 3 years. It is an amazing book. I envy the author, Charles Mann. He has explored a fundamentally unique and foundationally important event in the history of the human species: the collision of two separate cultures, each with wholly different views on core aspects of life, society, and purpose; each developing cultures and civilizations entirely apart from one another. If you ever found yourself wondering what would happen if the earth were visited by aliens, read this book to unearth some clues. I always had this idea that the European cultures prevailed over the Native American cultures because the Europeans had guns and smallpox immunity. But I learned that the Europeans prevailed also because the Northern Natives felt a sort of indifference towards them, as though the Europeans were just children mingling around at the feet during a party – something to be gently tolerated. I say this because the narrative of the book takes every opportunity to contrast differences in sociology and culture between the two worlds in question, and the Native American seemed amply more mature. Instead of quickly wiping them out, which Native Americans could have easily done, instead they nurtured, taught, and even adopted the communities of new Europeans. The book up-ended almost all of my beliefs about the pre-Columbus American civilizations. Being geographically-partial to pre-Columbus North America, I admit to being unexpectedly surprised and delighted by the histories of our neighbors to the south. These include: A three-dimensional, unspoken language conveyed through knotted strands of rope? Who knew! Near-wholesale pre-Columbian slashing and development of the native Amazonian landscape? Say it isn’t so! Milpas and Terra Preta?? How is it possible? So much in the book amazed me. I appreciated the primary accounts of incredibly vast populations that lined the north eastern shores before European disease destroyed entire villages and towns. The matriarchal societies of North America were news to me (it wasn’t just limited to the legendary Amazonian Warrior group). I was stunned to read the position that the vast buffalo herds were a European creation and not a consequence of ecological balance (in fact, it was ecological imbalance which created them). Most of all, though, I was amazed by the posit that democracy and the cherished ideals of American Freedom borrow heavily from the philosophy of the pre-Columbian North Americans. I was taught that these were Greek and European ideas, but Charles Mann presents a compelling argument that Native Americans deserve long overdue credit. The North American was a culture of individual freedom, of intolerance for incivility and inequality, and of codes of civic honor and intergenerational social safety networks. What amazes me about this isn’t the lack of credit where credit may be due, but the concept of such a monumental paradigm shift being caused by the merging of these two worlds. The European world was one of lords and lands thereby owned – peasants and all. Caste systems and servitude were rock solid. Nobility was by blood and serfdom was for a lifetime. There was not an intellectual concept for individual equality – not until one mixed with the ideologies of the New World. Amazing nugget to consider, isn’t it? Just imagine what we still don’t know about our capacity for governance, for human individuality, or for social civility. What will happen when we next encounter a new culture? Or, are there even any left for us to run into – on Earth or otherwise.

Google is Getting “Pittsburgh Cool”

The Google offices over in Bakery Square have been named among the top cool “tech spaces” in the country. That is pretty rad. I would have thought that there were enough cool places in Denver and San Diego to bump Pittsburgh down to maybe, top 51 coolest? But, the Business Insider has spoken! It cannot be refuted!

With all the talk about coolness and Pittsburgh, you’d think you might start to see a bandwagon riding around for people to jump on. Oh, no, my bad. That was the boob truck.

Starting Off Right

I’ll be nice since the holidays are coming; I’ll begin my new Pittsburgh blog with a pat, but lest you worry that you’ll be caught in the treacle, I’ll pan something soon.

The praise goes to Right By Nature, Pittsburgh’s new organic grocery in the Strip. I haven’t been there yet. They opened last week and according to the press coverage, the store intends to supply organic food, including freshly cooked items, at very reasonable prices.

Attracted by a recent Post-Gazette article, I called to ask if they had electric scooter carts for those of us who can’t navigate on our own. My phone call was answered by a (gasp!) human, and a nice, friendly human to boot. This person told me that they were still in the throes of opening week hubbub, and the carts haven’t arrived yet, although they are on order.

She offered to check on the ETA, put me on hold briefly until another human, equally cordial and helpful, picked up and assured me that she would keep my name and phone number and call me when the carts arrived. If this is the way Right By Nature intends to do business, all I can say is whooopppeee!

Experience leads us to expect corporate-speak idiocy or indifference from customer service most of the time. Cheerful, bright people who actually know how to communicate are so rare that this call left me bubbly with good feelings toward Right By Nature.

Reasonable prices for organic food are almost too much to expect and I can’t wait to shop there. Sure, Whole Foods is grand; the produce, bakery and prepared foods sections make me delirious, but who can afford to shop there? Well, I guess the Shadyside 30-somethings whose BMWs jam the parking lot can, but I can’t.

I’ve limited my shopping to the Giant Eagle Market District for more than a year, and they do many things well. Their staff is a cut above other Giant Eagle employees. Once, when I thanked a bagger for his helpful attitude, he told me that only one out of 100 Giant Eagle employees qualified to work at the Market District. It’s great to shop where the cream of the crop works, but unfortunately, that also means the curdled part populates the other Eagles.

On my last trip to the Market District, I was stunned by a $1.99 price for a single grapefruit. This was for a conventional, not organic grapefruit, so I was really dumbfounded. Last week, my son and I gazed at lovely, plump oranges priced at 2 for $3.00, and, feeling like a Dickensian orphan, I asked him if he might try to save up and give me an orange for Christmas.

I understand that the pervasive economic horrors have as much to do with prices for both organic and non-organic foods as any corporate Giant Eagle policies, but as a result, I have to reluctantly turn away from most of the organic offerings at the Market District. Earlier in the year, I got into the habit of treating myself to rarities like chicken and beef unsullied by antibiotics and growth hormones, but I can no longer afford to eat food that isn’t killing me.

Now that Right By Nature has opened, maybe that will change. Clean, wholesome food for the masses: what a concept!