Tales from outer turnip head...

Tales from outer turnip head...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

A newsy post: Travels in South and West Asia...

Swayambhunath Temple, Nepal
I went to India and Nepal once—a long, long time ago: I just got off the phone with my mother who has just returned from a trip to India and Nepal, causing me to feel envy beyond description. And I am happy for my parents' trip: Hindu ceremonies at Dashashwamedh Ghat and Manikarnika Ghat in Varinasi, laying eyes on Mt. Everest, visiting the Taj, watching preparations at Boudhanath, Katmandu, seeing large cats in national forest parks, etc. etc. etc. But still, envy beyond description...

I'm still just a young pup: My mother was full of stories, and there will be more to come as I look at photos and hear her reflections as she processes a trip full of new experiences. I need to explain that my mother employs some physics worthy of Einstein et al. to explain how old she isn't. At some point I think we figured out that my older brother is a genetic impossibility given her suggested time line. All hyperbole aside, she and my father have been around long enough that I get to call them "old dogs" evoking that saying about "new tricks." Not all old dogs are unable to learn new tricks! My parents seem to keep going to new places and trying new things even though they have earned the right to just sit and smell the Jerusalem roses in their back yard. I think people who have worked hard their whole lives deserve to enjoy life without the pressures of planning for the future. The future needs to become the now at some point, and they are most definitely living in the now. But living in the now is not wisdom. It just is. Wisdom is derived from experiences that stretch us. I am impressed that my parents seem to be off having adventures that change their understanding of the world. And they are ever wise-ening! Envy beyond description...

Contrasts: On their return trip my parents had a lay-over in Dubai. Visiting this modern city of unparalleled prosperity and cleanliness probably provoked a bit of culture shock as they left the struggling industrialization of Nepal. They were in Dubai the day before a massive fire ripped through a luxury tower, killing no one by the way.

Why no one died in Dubai skyscraper fire (+video) By Jessica Mendoza,Staff Writer, Christian Science Monitor
My mother spoke of the contrast of wealth between Nepal and UAE. We talked about the ever-present spirituality of India and daily practice of Arab Muslims... The world is vast and complex and so easily explored by Americans, either physically or digitally.

Staying curious: So in the name of learning a little more—of reading and exploring why religion, and politics, and history, and values are important to study—read the following story and think how things could have gone wrong, but didn't...

Why is Suleyman Shah's tomb so important?

Scores of Turkish troops and vehicles have entered Syria to evacuate and destroy a mausoleum where the forefather of the Ottoman empire was buried. The BBC's Matthew Davis considers why the site was so important

The now ruined tomb of Suleyman Shah stands on a football pitch-sized spit of Turkish land inside Syria, but its historical and political significance belie this humble geography.

Shah was a Turkic tribal leader who lived from about 1178 until 1236, when according to an epigraph in his mausoleum he "drowned in the Euphrates along with two of his men, in search for a home for himself and his people".

Official accounts are questioned by some, but the story goes that Shah's followers headed north into modern-day Turkey.

It was there that his grandson, Osman I, founded the Ottoman Empire, which at the height of its powers centuries later controlled swathes of territory across south-west Europe, the Middle East and North Africa from its capital in Constantinople (now Istanbul).

The Ottoman empire had disintegrated by the early 20th Century, and the new state of Turkey emerged - but such was the national importance of Shah's burial complex that the site was protected under a 1921 agreement with France, which then occupied the area now located in Syria's Aleppo province.

Since then, Turkey has invoked its right to station troops there and fly its flag over the site, which was relocated some 80km (50 miles) to the north when the original area was flooded by the creation of the reservoir Lake Assad in 1974.

Turkey's only foreign enclave has retained immense emotional value for its people, but the chaos engulfing Syria in recent years has seen it assume a growing political significance.

In August 2012 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - then prime minister - warned all parties in the Syrian conflict that an action against the tomb would be considered an attack on Turkish territory "as well an attack on Nato land".

And amid reports that the soldiers stationed there had been besieged for months by Islamic State militants, last year the Turkish parliament authorised the use of force against the jihadists.

However despite recently joining the US in training some rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad, Turkey has resisted playing a full role in the US-led campaign against Islamic State.

Correspondents say that if the historic Suleyman Shah tomb had come under attack, the effect on public opinion would have made it harder for Turkey to avoid a full-scale military campaign against the group.

So the fact that the tomb is now moved and the Turkish soldiers evacuated is a great relief for the nation and its leaders, local commentators say.

"We had given the Turkish armed forces a directive to protect our spiritual values and the safety of our armed forces personnel," Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said after Saturday's operation.

Turkish media later showed images of three soldiers raising the flag at a new site closer to the Turkish border, which is likely to host a new tomb that authorities hope will provide a final home for Suleyman Shah.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bagging out on a windchill vacation day...

I am going to take today off from blogging: I offer a MyFaceSpaceBook-Status-Update instead:

My parents are off seeing my favorite city in the world: in India..

A former firefighter/friend is reflecting on Tet: in Vietnam...

My wife is posting snowy pictures from New England for those we know who are traveling the world...

My colleague/friend and I are ruminating the events of the day so to speak...

My daughter is taking family surveys...
"What is your ideal breakfast?"

The dog is chewing in front of a fire...

My son is playing "saints" on his flute downstairs...

I have the Orwells on while I bag out on this week's post...

What an amazing and complicated world we live in! Happy Winter Break, President's Day Weekend, and Sunday morning...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

"And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency..."

"And then the little boy's face lit up with such naked joy": I wasn't conscious of Patti Smith's emergence on the New York Punk Rock scene with Horses back in 1975 (I was 3 at the time and wouldn't discover Punk Rock for another 10 years). Numerous lists such as Rolling Stone's "Greatest Albums of All Time," NME's "20 Near-as-Damn-It Perfect Initial Efforts," and Time's "All-time 100 Greatest Albums" put Smith's album in high rank. I discovered Horses in the late early 2000s after I had broadened my music tastes and was coming full circle to find the music I should have known but had missed. I found Patti Smith in a back room office of a library in 1997...

"If you seek the kingdom come, come along": Each morning I would sit in The Andover Harvard Theological Library processing book receipts or creating the most bare-bones MARC records for cataloguing new titles. Part of my time was spent working for (my now good friend) Al. He preferred to start his day very early, leaving time for other pursuits later in the day, including performing explosive Rock and Roll at the local Club Bohemia. We would often listen to music while we worked, listening to selections from our existing collections or our frequent purchases (often inspired from recommendations from other musically inclined friends). Always preceding a splurge of purchases on my part was Al's annual "best of the year" list. He would send out his thoughts to an email list which worked much like present day blogs, and had quite a following. The list was, in parts, a reaction to independent music critics' picks in Boston, his numerous musician friends' picks, and his own well-developed critical opinion. Patti Smith's Peace and Noise made the list in 1997. Al asked me if I had listened to any Patti Smith, and I confessed I had not, despite knowing how important she was supposed to be to music in general. Little did I know she was critical to the music I loved so much from the New York Punk Scene. So, Al turned me on to Peace and Noise...

"Just another wandering soul adrift among the stars": A few years after my time in Boston I was looking for something that scratched my Punk itch while perusing the racks at Toonerville Trolly in Williamstown, MA. Owner Hal March had old copies of music from Blue Note, Sub Pop, and 4AD. Given the trend of online downloads and sales, I was impressed that such a small town still had a store with a broad record and CD collection with an audiophile at the helm. I told Hal I was looking to brooding my collection with some old Punk Rock; he inquired about my Ramones and Clash holdings; I told him I was flush; he eventually countered with Horses by Patti Smith. I remembered Al's successful recommendation of Peace and Noise, thought that Al and Hal had much in common, and so eagerly took Hal's suggestion. [I had also since learned of Smith's frequent collaboration with other artists I like, like Michael Stipe of REM and Bob Dylan. In 1996 Smith had released Gone Again in reaction to the recent deaths of Smith's friends and colleagues, including Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.] So I discovered Horses 30 years after it's release and the wait was not disappointing...

"There must be something I can dream tonight": So why write about Patti Smith today? Recently, I saw a post come across my feed of a talk filmed in 2012. The Huffington Post covered the story, it was reposted in my FaceBook feed and I actually clicked on it. I'll let Smith's words speak for themselves...
I’ve done records where it seemed like no one listened to them. You write poetry book that maybe, you know, 50 people read. And you just keep doing your work because you have to, because it’s your calling ... What matters is to know what you want and pursue it. And understand that it’s gonna be hard. Because life is really difficult. You’re gonna lose people you love, you’re gonna suffer heartbreak, sometimes you’ll be sick, sometimes you’ll have a really bad toothache. 

But on the other end, you’ll have the most beautiful experiences. Sometimes just the sky. Sometimes, you know, a piece of work that you do that feels so wonderful, or you find somebody to love, or your children. There’s beautiful things in life. So when you’re suffering … it’s part of the package.

I say, stay strong, try to have fun but stay clean, stay healthy, because you have a lot of challenges ahead, and be happy.
Smith goes on to tell a story about advice offered to her by the author Williams Burroughs. Although I am not sure I would place too much blind stock in advice from Burroughs, his words to Smith seem spot on to me:
When I was really young, William Burroughs told me, and I was really struggling, we never had any money, and the advice that William gave me was: "Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don't make compromises. Don't worry about making a bunch of money, or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work, and make the right choices, and protect your work, and if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency."

My lesson learned: When I lived in north Cambridge I had a 12 by 12 plot to garden. Two local women had the most fabulously producing plot and I asked them for advise. They told me to avoid using chemicals like MiracleGro, saying it acts like steroids for plants, feeding them directly and stressing them out too much. Their advice was to take care of the soil and let the plants take care of themselves. So I worked hard at tending the soil, and the plants tended themselves, and my garden flourished also. I think the gardeners' advise and Burroughs' advice are the same...

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Hughes... "when i post my masterpiece"...

Jazz Poetry: Today would be Langston Hughes' 113 birthday. "James Mercer Langston Hughes was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry." Google Doodle celebrated Hughes with one of his poems set to type and jazz piano...

I Dream A World
By Langston Hughes

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom's way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world!

Hughes' Cosmogram Medallion in Harlem
My introduction: I discovered Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance in high school thanks to an amazing poetry teacher, and through plays I saw at Center Stage (in Baltimore) through the drama club, most notably:
The Heliotrope Bouquet By Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin Written by Eric Overmyer. I was so taken by this dream play that I began reading more about the Harlem Renaissance and tried to fill in the social historical gaps in my "history knowledge" of my own country. I fell in love with the stories I found there, both inspiring and tragic. I have no knowledge that Hughes was particularly influenced by Joplin, but the two are married in my mind as each represent artists from a time when Harlem was one of the cultural hot spots of the world. Hughes, no doubt, grew up listening to Ragtime along with the jazz and blues that was exploding out of Harlem in the early 1900s. 

The Weary Blues
by Langston Highes

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway. . . .
He did a lazy sway. . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man’s soul.
O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
And put ma troubles on the shelf.”

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
“I got the Weary Blues
And I can’t be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can’t be satisfied—
I ain’t happy no mo’
And I wish that I had died.”
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

Jumping off... "when i post my masterpiece": The Harlem Renaissance was an explosion of creation; Art, music, writing! The internet has allowed us so much easy access to much of this art. What a gift! A friend of mine has been posting a series of paintings to a blog for months now, each post, another "masterpiece." I have been savoring so much from this list and continue to reflect how much art is essential to who we are, not just an "extra" in times of prosperity. Why do we strive so hard to succeed? In order to create! Please peruse "another althingsconsidered" for some more glorious creation...