March 31st, 2012
Tuna. What I ate for lunch every day in high school. What I ask for these days in sushi. And now there’s Wicked Tuna, a National Geographic series about the lives of Gloucester fishermen who pursue their livelihood in pursuit of these magnificent silvery fish. (Seeing them hooked, harpooned and decapitated might make a vegetarian out of me.) The series starts Sunday night on the National Geographic Channel and was previewed this week at the Wilbur Theatre, with many of the fishermen, friends and relatives in attendance.
The iconic images belie a troubled reality, with pressures coming for them on land and at sea. For the families involved in the pursuit, bluefin tuna are the defining element of their existence and the key to their economic survival. The series follows the struggles of five fishing boats, their captains and crews, revealing the stunning difficulty of their grueling work lives. There’s nothing high tech about the way they fish; it’s rod and reel, strength and determination. It costs about $3000 to provision a boat for a three-day outing on Georges Bank. They need to catch at least one fish just to break even, more than one if they’re small. Their language is salty, to say the least, and their anger at the elements or at each other is unconcealed. But underneath the “man talk” are a grittiness and entrepreneurial commitment to survive and succeed that is impressive.
Such stories are also the subject of a Regis College musical in April based on oral histories of the Gloucester fishermen’s wives. It will be at the college in Weston from the 11th to 14th and at the Cape Ann Theatre in Gloucester the 20th and 21st.
National Geographic’s stated goals are to tell the human stories behind the macro descriptions of the fishing industry and to educate people about the increasing scarcity of bluefin tuna. (According to its press material, the adult bluefin population has declined by as much as 83 percent in the Atlantic since 1950.) Marine biologists say it is a victim of overfishing. Governments have tried to set quotas for fish and regulate fishing methods, creating other problems for the fishermen.
But overfishing isn’t the only threat to Gloucester. Increasingly there are concerns about community gentrification and historic neighborhoods giving way to luxury development. Gloucester seems on the verge of solidifying the home of its 400-year-old fishing industry by marrying it to 21st century activities around marine innovation. It’s still a working class community, and one hopes it won’t become too precious as travelers and high rollers move in. Sadly, if gentrification goes too far, the real endangered species might turn out to be the Gloucester fishermen and families themselves.
I’d greatly appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.
March 31st, 2012
At about 6 pm on Friday, March 30, Chancellor Martin T. Meehan of UMass Lowell spoke to an audience of more than 100 people in the Moody Street Feeder multi-purpose room on the fourth floor of the Boott Cotton Mills Museum. Behind him, through tall east-facing windows of Boott Mill #6, segmented like rectangular-blocked graph paper, behind him the late-day light of early spring gave the rose-red bricks of the Massachusetts Mills a familiar warm glow—and all we could see from that fourth floor height, from a certain angle, was the uppermost sections of the mill and the old Napping building, an industrial ridgeline under the pale blue sky.
Someone listening to the Chancellor talk about the extraordinary partnership between Lowell National Park and the University and how projects such as the new “Dickens in Lowell” museum exhibition enrich the community, this exhibit whose opening we were there to celebrate, someone listening and looking out the windows could imagine the surprise of Charles Dickens when he arrived in Lowell in February 1842 and noted the “fresh buildings of bright red brick and painted wood,” a scene matched by what we were seeing outside the windows in the historic mill district of downtown Lowell, in the middle of Lowell National Park. Dickens visited factories, mills, that produced cotton cloth, carpets, and woolen fabric. He saw the city when it was still new, about 20 years old, the span of time from 1992 to now.
The rose-red structures yesterday, thanks to careful preservation and useful renovation, hardly looked older than those that Dickens saw 170 years ago. The view-shed began above street level, so there were no utility poles, street signs, or moving vehicles to distract from the vista. There may have been a wire or two that I filtered out. It was a view out of time, or timeless, a fitting backdrop for the commentary we were hearing about Dickens and the nineteenth century, about crossing the Atlantic in a small ship in a winter storm, and the boarding house outfitted with a piano. When Florian Schweizer, director of the Dickens Museum in London, spoke to the crowd, his English accent only added to the retro quality of the moment. We could imagine Dickens himself speaking with the Lowell movers and shakers who escorted him around for the half day whose experiences made for the lasting account in the author’s travel book “American Notes for General Circulation.”
Merrimack Prints web image courtesy of Lowell Historical Society
March 31st, 2012
Young Abigail Adams (1766) Portrait by Benjamin Blythe
We are reminded that on this day March 31, 1876, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John Adams - future President of the United States – as he and other members of the Continental Congress were gathered as the governing body of the Thirteen Colonies. She wrote:
”I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
From the National First Ladies Library’s biographical notes on Abigail Adams :
When John Adams went to Philadelphia in 1774 to serve as his colony’s delegate to the First Continental Congress, Abigail Adams remained home. The separation prompted the start of a lifelong correspondence between them, forming not only a rich archive that reflected the evolution of a marriage of the Revolutionary and Federal eras, but a chronology of the public issues debated and confronted by the new nation’s leaders. The letters reflect not only Abigail Adams’ reactive advice to the political contentions and questions that John posed to her, but also her own observant reporting of New England newspapers’ and citizens’ response to legislation and news events of the American Revolution.
Regarding Abigail Adams’ admonition to husband John – it was nearly 150 years before the House of Representatives voted to pass the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
Learn more about Abigail Adams here at the National First Ladies Library.
An older Abigail Adams (1744-1818) … Portrait by Gilbert Stuart