Archive for November 21st, 2016


by Sam Juliano

Inventing instruments wasn’t easy.  But they fiddled around, discovering which materials hit the right notes.  They transformed oil drums into cellos, water pipes into flutes, and packing crates into guitars.                         -Susan Hood

There could hardly be a more inauspicious setting for a child growing up than in a town sitting adjacent to a land fill in a third world country.  Surrounded by squalor and extreme economic impoverishment families faced the bleakest prospects for security and well-being, if indeed survival was in the cards for some.  In many towns such dire conditions invariably lead to crime, drugs and even worse.  Gangs have been known to take the law into their own hands, and violence in such hapless neighborhoods is a regular occurrence.  The 2002 Brazilian film City of God by Fernando Meirelles depicted a Rio de Janeiro district overcome by a drug trade that enlisted the services of children.  Many books and other films have sordidly chronicled this social plight, one where expressions like “Only the strong survive” and “the survival of the fittest” have been validates by a series of unconscionable events.  Once in a great while you do hear of stories of some enterprising youths beating the odds, and finding joy and creativity from the seemingly losing hands they were dealt, and some of the times the arc is from rags to riches as is the case with kids from dirt poor families finding out they possess enormous athletic potential.

In the afterward of Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay, a non-fiction picture book written by Susan Hood, the most extreme picture of abject poverty is painted in the town of Cateura, which functionally serves as the garbage dump for Paraguay’s capital and largest city, Asuncion, which lies on a border with Argentina.  Hood reveals that this geographical aberration is “one of the poorest slums in all of South America” and that astoundingly “twenty thousand people live there on less than two dollars a day”.  The author further adds another incredulous statistic for the reader: “They endure fourteen hour days picking through the trash in the landfill to find things they can recycle and sell.”  The book’s resilient heroine, Ada Rios is immediately established as someone who believes in that light at the end of the tunnel.  The garbage dump did after all give opportunity for recyclers -known as gancheros to scour through the refuse to earn five cents for a pound of cardboard and ten cents for plastic, and Ada’s thoughts were enlivened by the memories of her father finding “appliances, toys, perfumes and antique watches” and a woman lucking into a box of jewelry.  Ada, her younger sister Noelia and the other friends in their circle of hope saw every arriving garbage truck as a potential opportunity for coming upon something of value. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Happy Turkey Day 2016 to all our friends and readers stateside.  For some a time to catch up with music, films, theater and literature, for others a time to unwind and meditate.  Sports fans have the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day and those preferring to take advantage of the extra time have a plethora of quality new film releases in the theaters.  We at Wonders in the Dark would like to wish everyone stateside a happy and healthy Thanksgiving and those overseas a great week in every regard.

On Sunday at the Bank Street Bookstore in Manhattan Lucille, Sammy, Jeremy and I met up with esteemed author Heather Lang and famed illustrator Raul Colon to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ruth Law’s record-breaking plane flight. The duo treated an impressive gathering to a theatrical book reading of the masterful FEARLESS FLYER (a Caldecott Contender series review was posted on it weeks back at WitD) along with some original sketch drawings by Colon for the audience to enjoy.  On Friday night Lucille, Sammy and I attended the first concert of the 2016-17 season by the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra on Friday night at the West Side Presbyterian Church on S. Monroe Street. Under the baton of Conductor Diane Wittry, the ensemble performed spirited readings of Tchaikovsky’s celebrated Fifth Symphony and Violin Concerto (on original instrument) and Rimsky-Korsakov’s seminal “Russian Easter Overture”. (more…)

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