Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

viernes, enero 30, 2009

Cheech And Chong

Cheech and Chong (2009)

Pardon me, but this is ridiculous:
It took a quarter of a century, five presidential administrations, two divorces and a nine-month prison sentence, but Cheech & Chong, those lovable lowlifes of comedy who broke up in 1985 to pursue solo opportunities and get away from each other, have at last reunited.

Sure, they may now carry BlackBerrys and look like your grandfather (if your grandfather kept roach clips in his pockets and had a perpetually squinty look in his eye), but they are still the same genial reprobates of albums like “Big Bambú” and films like “Up in Smoke.”

Only now, when they play the characters from their repertory of comical degenerates (as they are scheduled to do on Saturday at a sold-out Radio City Music Hall show) or reminisce about their 40-year-old partnership, there’s an added poignancy; the acts are colored not only by a marijuana haze but also by the passage of time, and by the onset of old age and infirmity.

You grandfather? The "onsent of old age and infirmity"? Ouch. Chong is 70; Cheech is 62. They look to me like my old hippie friends. And in a way, they are. And when the Times thinks they might look like "your grandfather," I have to wonder how old the present readership is. If I had grandkids, which I don't, how old could they possibly be?

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jueves, enero 29, 2009

2000: Boca Beat River, But This Is Amazing

This is really something. Play it over and over again, go ahead.


John Updike, RIP

The afternoon grew so glowering that in the sixth inning the arc lights were turned on-always a wan sight in the daytime, like the burning headlights of a funeral procession. Aided by the gloom, Fisher was slicing through the Sox rookies, and Williams did not come to bat in the seventh. He was second up in the eighth. This was almost certainly his last time to come to the plate in Fenway Park, and instead of merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, we stood, all of us-stood and applauded. Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause-no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment. At last, the umpire signalled for Fisher to pitch; with the other players, he had been frozen in position. Only Williams had moved during the ovation, switching his bat impatiently, ignoring everything except his cherished task. Fisher wound up, and the applause sank into a hush.

Understand that we were a crowd of rational people. We knew that a home run cannot be produced at will; the right pitch must be perfectly met and luck must ride with the ball. Three innings before, we had seen a brave effort fail. The air was soggy; the season was exhausted. Nevertheless, there will always lurk, around a corner in a pocket of our knowledge of the odds, an indefensible hope, and this was one of the times, which you now and then find in sports, when a density of expectation hangs in the air and plucks an event out of the future.

Fisher, after his unsettling wait, was wide with the first pitch. He put the second one over, and Williams swung mightily and missed. The crowd grunted, seeing that classic swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed, naked in its failure. Fisher threw the third time, Williams swung again, and there it was. The ball climbed on a diagonal line into the vast volume of air over center field. From my angle, behind third base, the ball seemed less an object in flight than the tip of a towering, motionless construct, like the Eiffel Tower or the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was in the books while it was still in the sky. Brandt ran back to the deepest corner of the outfield grass; the ball descended beyond his reach and struck in the crotch where the bullpen met the wall, bounced chunkily, and, as far as I could see, vanished.

Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs-hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted "We want Ted" for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.
The New Yorker, October 22, 1960.

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miércoles, enero 28, 2009

Roberto Bolano's "Ambiguities"

Roberto Bolano

This morning's NY Times treats us to a brief article, "A Chilean Writer’s Fictions Might Include His Own Colorful Past," meaning of course, that some people think that Mr. Bolano was/was not a heroin user and was/was not in Chile on 9/11/73. It's hard to weigh in for either side of either question. Bolano was playing with what I call "faction," mixing fact and fiction, and he was not alone in Latin American fiction of the late 20th century to say that a piece of fiction was actually written by someone else (Ricardo Piglia wrote a piece by Roberto Arlt) or to create "ambiguities" (Juan Carlos Onetti seems to have reveled in this) about what was fact and what was fiction.

Part of the controversy might be financially motivated, an attempt to sell even more books-- "2666", published in English in 2008, and "Savage Detectives," published in English in 2007, both received wonderful reviews-- books to those who would like to speculate about the facts and hunt for clues:
But his widow, from whom he was separated at the time of his death, and Andrew Wylie, the American agent she recently hired after distancing herself from Mr. Bolaño’s friends, editors and publisher, are now challenging part of that image. They dispute the idea, originally suggested by Mr. Bolaño himself, endorsed by his American translator and mentioned in several of the rapturous recent reviews of “2666” in the United States, that he ever “had a heroin habit,” that his death was “traceable to heroin use” or even that he had “an acquaintance with heroin.”
The heroin controversy is fueled by a piece Bolano submitted to a Spanish magazine in response to a request for stories about the worst summer in his life. Others who submitted submitted autobiographical sketches. Was Bolano's, which by all accounts resembed Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"?

And the question of whether he was in Chile or still in Mexico City when he said or let others say he was in Santiago is based on friends in Mexico City and Chile who say he was/ was not actually with them or didn't know what he should have known about Chile if he had actually been there.

Roberto Fresan, interviewed by the Times, summarized the situation perfectly:
Rodrigo Fresán, an Argentine novelist living in Barcelona, said, “Roberto’s biography is going to be interesting to read, and I am thankful that I was only his friend and not the one who is going to have to write it.” Somewhat ruefully, others who know Mr. Bolaño only from his work have come to the same conclusion.

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martes, enero 27, 2009

Why The Mayan Riviera Beckons

Nah Yaxche, on the beach in Bahia Soliman, near Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico

Tonight the weather forecast in the Northeast US is for yet another big storm. This time we're expecting more than 10" of snow. We've already had 3 storms this winter of more than 6". We've already had an ice storm that knocked down trees and wires, leaving thousands of people without electric power, some for up to a week. Yesterday morning, it was -4F. On Saturday the wind chill was -30F. This morning it is a glorious 3F. Even the cats and dogs don't want to be outside. Long story short: I have to be crazy to stay here. I can understand thoroughly why the pioneers after checking out New England and Eastern New York for a few decades immediately and deliberately started moving to the south and west. They were looking for something, all right. They were looking for a place where you could leave your car outside and not have to spend 10 minutes scraping the ice off your windshield. They were just trying to escape.

And so, this would be a really great time to head to the Mayan Riviera of Mexico. The temperature today and everyday this week there will be in the mid-80's F. The sun is shining. You can see the beach in Akumal right here on a web cam. Look out your window. Now look at the image on your screen. Compare. You tell me which seems better.

Our house in Bahia Soliman is renting for a 5-day window in early February at a ridiculously low, reduced rental. You can take advantage of this. Just fly to Cancun (airfare is inexpensive), rent a car (ditto), and get away from Winter for a few days. Soliman Bay is absolutely paradise. And the peso, instead of being 10 to the dollar is now about 13, so everything seems to be 25%+ cheaper once you arrive.

What are you waiting for? Buen viaje.

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domingo, enero 25, 2009

Score One For the Oligarchy

I live in NY-20, the district allegedly represented by Kirsten Gillibrand, and have lived here in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains for more than 22 years. Maybe that has made me cynical. It means I lived here when it was part of militaristic Gerry Solomon's conservative fiefdom. You remember his most memorable contribution to the nation: a law that if you plead guilty to a non-criminal possession of marijuana for personal use, you lose your federal financial aid for a year. Great policy, Gerry! Salute! And then it was represented by his hand picked, militaristic successor, John Sweeney, him with the DWI arrest with a woman, not his wife, allegedly sitting on his lap. When he ran against Gillibrand it was in the wake of allegations that he (still) beat his wife. Great politics, John. Salute!

And now, Kirsten Gillibrand, daughter of a political family and apparently a friend of Alphonse D'Amato, has been selected by Governor David Paterson, who was never elected and who replaced client 9 and is the son of a political family, instead of Caroline Kennedy, daughter of a political family, and Andrew Cuomo, son of a political family, to succeed Hillary Clinton, a member of a political family, in the Senate. Score yet another one for the oligarchy.

Faced with the obvious, that being a political blue blood remains the most important qualification for the Senate, many people who consider themselves Democratic or progressive are now busy making excuses for Kirsten and describing if not how great she'll be in the Senate, how she'll turn out to be ok. You've heard it all. Here, for example. She'll move to the center, and maybe even to the left. She does good constituent work so her 100% NRA rating doesn't matter. She's for/against marriage equality. She's for/against the war in Iraq. She's for/against the environment. She's for/against the Stimulus package. She voted against the bailout/New York. Others have described all of this far, far better than I care to.

The part of this I find most instructive is all of the excuse making. Folks on the left or the just to the left of center are making excuses because we don't want to confront the obvious. The obvious is that Kirsten, who is not on the left, who is not really in the center, and who is a blue dog, is in the Senate from New York because she was already a member of a certain club, and that club is from whence people who are also in the club promote other club members to the Senate.

Chances are, dear reader, that you aren't in that club. And that you never will be. Nor will your children. And it's not because you're not a talented and nice person. And it's not because you wouldn't like to do public service. And it's not because you know nothing about politics. It's because you don't have the money or the time or the connections (any two of these 3 might give you a chance to be in the club). I hope you're not surprised by that. In fact, Barack Obama might prove the rule. He's not old school. He had time and made connections. He didn't have money. An unusual two out of three, but 2 out of 3 nonetheless. This appointment, however, is old school. It's money and connections paying off.

In baseball kids begin getting ready for the Big Leagues when they are 7 or 8 or 9. They advance as their skills grow. There are Little Leagues that feed into minor leagues that feed into the major leagues. Ability matters. Baseball, unlike politics, is a meritocracy. You supposedly cannot play for the Yankees if you cannot catch and throw and hit. Even if you're rich. Even if you father owns the team. That's quite unlike politics. You can still get ahead in politics if your family is already in the business, and if you have money, lots of money, and if you or your family have friends in the club (friends like Al D'Amato, David Paterson, and Hillary Clinton). It doesn't necessarily matter whether or not you can speak in coherent sentences (are you reading this, W?) or can legislate or can perform any of the many other tasks supposedly involved in being a public servant. What matters most is your pedigree.

I'm delighted that Barack Obama doesn't appear to be from the oligarchy. That makes it all the sadder when New York's Senator, appointed after his election, is chosen in the old school way. New York and the nation deserve better.

Such is the state of the American democracy. You can dress up Gillibrand's ascension and coronation however you like. And you can talk about how you're going to give her a Populist Primary and defeat her in 2010. But, alas, I think all of this is just self deception. What we need to notice here is that the oligarchy is still strongly in control. And that we're without the resources to do anything at all about it at the moment, yell and scream as much as we want.

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viernes, enero 23, 2009

Wal-Mart: Hands Off Chile!

As if depriving worthy drinkers of Cuban Rum in the US for half a century weren't a grave enough offense and annoyance, Wal-mart has evidently decided to buy Chile's largest supermarket chain, Lider, and, that's right, cut off Chilen@s from Cuban products, including Havana Club. Basta ja!

This from HuffPo:
Recently, Chilean consumers stormed the liquor section of dozens of supermarket locations throughout Chile, snatching all the Cuban rum they could buy.

The reason for the rum rush: Wal-Mart is coming to town, and it refuses to sell Cuban products....snip

On Dec. 23, the giant U.S. retailer made a bid to control all the shares of D&S, the company that owns Supermarket Lider, Chile's largest supermarket chain. The deal is due to be finalized Jan. 22....snip

Alarms are already ringing, as Supermarket Lider workers fear that Wal-Mart may dismantle their unions or revoke their benefits. Small retailers, meanwhile, are nervous about being squeezed out of business. As economist and union advisor Luis Alberto Araya puts it, "Wal-Mart arrives preceded by a bad reputation."

But the near-certainty that Wal-Mart will take over Supermarket Lider has already caused an entirely different, unexpected casualty: Cuban rum....snip

On Jan. 3, Supermarket Lider -- which controls 34 percent of the supermarket business here --began selling its entire stock of Cuban rum at half price. In a country where demand for rum has surged over the past decade, with sales in 2007 increasing 48 percent over the previous year, Supermarket Lider's announcement led to a flood of thirsty consumers...snip

Meanwhile, Chile and Cuba have signed an agreement to facilitate trade. It remains unclear which rules Wal-Mart will have to play by: the U.S. embargo or the Chile-Cuba trade agreement.
The new Obama administration cannot act soon enough to end the Bloqueo. The blockade has had devastating consequences for Cuba and for the US, it hasn't toppled Cuba's government, and now that it's hopefully on its last gasp, it's affecting even Chilen@s who know that Havana Club, particularly in its 7 year-old iteration, is the best rum. Enough already. Enough.

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jueves, enero 22, 2009

About the Chullo

Captain Haddock (l) , person wearing chullo (r), llama in center

A chullo is an Andean hat. It seems to be in fashion this winter in New York. Confirming this, we have an article by my neighbor, Verlyn Klinkenborg, about the chullo in today's New York Times. He's critical:
If there’s a political statement in the chullo, it’s a little hard to decipher. Perhaps it signals indigenousness, international-ness. But what it mostly says is, I don’t care how I look as long as I’m warm. I’ve seen chullos that look like one cup of a knit bikini top and some that make their wearers look like mittenheads, complete with dangling strings. The other day I saw a fur-lined chullo that looked as though it had eaten the elder George Bush’s Russian hat. You can give a fedora a rakish tilt. You can wear a hoodie with sinister élan. But it’s impossible to wear a chullo stylishly. It is to the noggin what a golf club cover is to a 3-wood. It is a bag for the head.

In a way, seeing so many chullos in New York is a little like seeing so many baseball caps on Peruvians and Bolivians — a token of our global inclusiveness, like the Andean musicians you hear in the subways playing what you think is Paul Simon but is really a Peruvian classic.

Perhaps the anti-stylishness of the chullo — its simple functionality — is its politics. The fact is that really cold weather eclipses style. I see men and women wearing earmuffs that look like noseplugs. They are clearly trying to keep their hair kempt. It’s a lost cause. Your hair is not truly your own until warmer days and higher humidity return. Until then, there is no better way to get hat hair than a chullo.

Well, well, well. I've been to Peru, and yes, I have a few chullos. Don Francisco told me that a favorite green one I was wearing was more for a woman (because it wasn't red). The lined one I'm wearing as I type this, the one with the llamas on it and the mountains, isn't from Pisak or Ollantaytambo or Aguascalientes, it's from a local ski shop where I bought it about 3 years ago. It was-- I know this is hard to believe-- made in the US. It is the most comfortable head and ear covering garment I own, more comfortable than those authentic ones. It's not that I don't care if it gives me a rather permanent hat head. It's just that, bless its pointed little head, it works really well.

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lunes, enero 19, 2009

Inauguration Day

On Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009, every workplace in America should pause between 9:30 am and 1:00 pm so that everyone can watch this truly historical event on television. I wouldn't miss it for any reason.

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domingo, enero 18, 2009

A Walk In The Lost World Of Quintana Roo

The Coast of Quintana Roo, between Bahia Soliman and Tankah

In 1958, Michel Peissel, who at age 21 was about to enter Harvard Business School, made a solo journey on foot from what would eventually become Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico, down the Caribbean Coast to Belize, which he described in his book, The Lost World Of Quintana Roo.

Quintana Roo in 1958 was the frontier. There were no roads. There were no railroads. There was no electricity. There was virtually no civil authority from the central government in Mexico City. The ancient sites of the Maya were mostly unexcavated and unmapped. The economy of the area was what it had been for thousands of years: subsistence milpa farming (corn, squash, beans), hunting, fishing and gathering. The outside world had made only two relatively recent, significant encroachments: coconut farms (cocals) to the coast, and in the interior, chicleros harvested chickle for chewing gum.

In 1847 the War of the Castes broke out between the Mexican Central Government and the Mayan people in the Yucatan Peninsula. Eventually, the Mayans surrounded the colonial city of Merida, into which they had driven the Mexican army, and the city was about to fall. To the besieged Mexicans' complete surprise and relief, the Mayans suddenly withdrew. It was time to plant corn, and under the rules of war the Mayans (but, of course, not the Mexicans) followed, planting was far more important than fighting. The Mexican Government responded by splitting the Yucatan into three states (Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Campeche), and the war officially ground on until 1915 when, in a scene that must have resembled the US departure from Saigon, the Mexican forces gave up and unceremoniously withdrew from Quintana Roo. It was not until 1935 that the Mayans conducted a ceremony in Tulum to acknowledging at long last the central authority of the Mexican Government. It was through this world that Peissel made his journey.

Last week, I went out for a two hour walk on the beach from Bahia Soliman south through Tankah 3. I wanted to try to get a tactile experience of what Peissel's beach walk may have been like. The beach and the headlands and the mangrove are all much the same as described in the book. But, of course, instead of intense vegetation growing right up to the beach, there are now houses and buildings and people. There is also plastic on the beach in a quantity that would not have been possible in 1958.

What emerges from my walk is the contrast between the soft white sand of the beach and the very tough and moonlike surface of the headlands and the piles of dead coral to walk on:

The Headland North of Tankah 3

Mounds Of Coral On The Headland

Coral To Walk On

As I walk, I imagine what Peissel's very long walk must have been like for him. I include the enormous distance he covered and the repetitiousness of headlands and bays. I add to the dense and impenetrable mangroves that grow right up to the beach, huge clouds of mosquitoes. I add to my pictures of the coral strewn headlands intense sun and heat and humidity. I mentally remove my comfortable hiking shoes and impose their 1950's equivalent on my feet. I mentally remove my shorts and t-shirt and add the jacket and pants that Peissel wore. I add an uncomfortable, bulky, old school backpack. I add a desire to find and record ruins that are just inside the mangrove and the frustration of neither speaking Mayan nor being entirely welcomed. I add a fear that stalked Peissel for his entire journey of robbers who unrestrained by civil authority would want and might try to take whatever money or property he might have had. And I hear the hot wind, blowing off the sea, making the coco trees clack.

This turns a beach walk into a great adventure. And it makes Michel Peissel's book, The Lost World of Quintana Roo, a treasure worth reading. It's an essential document before a trip to Quintana Roo.

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sábado, enero 17, 2009

Monday Evening: A Time For Cleansing And Smudging

Monday evening, January 19, 2009, is the last night of the Bush Administration. This could be a time to exhale and to celebrate having survived eight long, lawless, disgraceful years, a period that will go down in history as the US's worst administration. But the big party won't begin until after the Inauguration. We will want to celebrate a hopeful New Beginning rather than the final moments of Bush. So it makes sense, then, that Monday evening should be used to prepare for the New Beginning.

This brief essay is about a traditional way to prepare through cleansing and smudging.

Many North American indigenous traditions purify and set the stage for ceremonies by smudging. Smudging is the simple practice of burning particular plants and of allowing the smoke to purify and clear. You can purify and clear people, places, buildings, and in my view, entire nations and planets. This is mostly a matter of your intentions and having the right kind of smoke.

For example, you might remember when Guatemalan Mayans burned incense to cleanse sacred space after Bush visited a pyramid in their country. And many of you might have personally experienced how the Original Americans burn sage, cedar, and/or sweet grass to cleanse participants before and during ceremonies. These same sacred plants are also used to prepare the Sweat Lodge. Mayans have for many years burned copal so that its smoke might carry prayers to heaven. And the Q'ero, descendants of the Inca, burn palo santo both to cleanse and sanctify. These kinds of smoke have special qualities, and they have been used for centuries especially to purify and cleanse.

Some people have said that the White House should be smudged with sage. This is a good idea. But it's too limited. After the past eight years, the entire nation deserves to be cleared, cleansed, purified, and sanctified before the new administration begins. Monday night would be a perfect time to do just that.

How do you do it? First you need to make special, sacred smoke. You can light a smudge stick (white sage, sweet grass, cedar and/or lavender) and then, after it catches, blow it out. You don't want a fire, you want the smoke. Or you can light in a sand filled container or seashell (do not use glass) sage, sweet grass, cedar and/or lavender, and after it flames a bit, blow out the flames, making a nice, dense plume of smoke. Or you can light a charcoal disc (be sure this is in something that is well insulated so you don't burn yourself) and then drop copal or sage or cedar on top of the burning coal, making a beautiful, thick, continuous cloud of smoke. Or you can light a piece of palo santo (it's a stick), let it get hot and red, and then blow out its flame to make an aromatic, sweet smelling smoke. Be sure to be safe with this. You want to purify with smoke, you don't want to burn yourself or destroy your home or start a forest fire.

Then, lift the smoking object high over your head, and let the smoke spread. If you're in the house, be sure to open the doors and to walk the smoke throughout the house. If you're outside, hold the smoke up and let the wind carry the smoke. If you want to purify yourself, cup the smoke with your hands and bring it over and around you.

Once you've got the smoke, focus on your intention for the smoke to cleanse and clear and purify and offer your thoughts or prayers. These thoughts, your intentions, are also an essential part of smudging. You don't have to say them aloud. Thinking them is often enough.

What I plan to say goes something like this (it always changes on the spot):
Father sky, Star brothers and sisters, Pachamama, sweet mother earth, thank you for this day and for this wonderful smoke and for cleansing and purifying me, my home, this land, and this country, thank you for teaching us to walk in beauty and in harmony on the earth and in peace with other people and nations, show us the beauty way, and help us as a nation to be compassionate, understanding, courageous, and just. Let it be.

Please join me on Monday evening. Our nation deserves nothing less.

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Barack, Say It Ain't So!

Here's trouble. The Telegraph reported a year ago that president-elect Obama's favorite Premier League team is West Ham. Obama hasn't denied the story. Oh, puhleez! Barack, say it ain't so!
The key question hanging over Barack Obama's White House credentials has been answered - the Democrat has been revealed to be a West Ham United fan.

As the 46-year-old's campaign to become America's first black president moves into overdrive, Obama has declared his fondness for the Claret and Blues quarter of east London.

According to reports, the US senator has been a fan of the Hammers ever since a trip to England five years ago and watches Premier League games whenever his busy schedule allows.
Of course, Bill and Hillary Clinton are reported to be Man U fans. As is Nelson Mandela. That's despicable in my view, but at least Man U is at the top of the table.

But West Ham? As of today, West Ham is 10th in the Premier League, with a record of 7 wins, 5 draws, and 9, that's right 9 losses. And it has a -4 goal differential. The team plays 9th place Fulham tomorrow. I'm pulling for Fulham.

What about this team could it possibly be that deserves any of Barack Obama's attention? I just don't get it. Not at all. I hope and pray it's not an augury of things to come. Things like stubbornly backing abject losers. Supporting failed strategies. Inadequate defense. Uncoordinated offense. Poor planning. This I could expect from Bush, who has no idea what the Premier League is, but from Obama?

Meanwhile, it's reported that Osama bin Ladin apparently is/was a fan of Arsenal:
First there was Osama bin Laden's association with Arsenal, which led to the north Londoners reportedly banning the terrorist from attending any future games.

Bin Laden was apparently on the terraces as Arsenal side reached the final of the European Cup Winners Cup in 1994 season. The man behind the Sept 11 attack was rumoured to be so smitten with the Gunners that he bought a replica kit for his eldest son.
I have no idea what to make of that.

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The First Dog

My Nominee For "First Dog"

Permit me to expand on this commentary from the Times:
So, Barack Obama has almost decided what kind of puppy he's getting. Aaah, cute. He's whittled his choices down to either a Portuguese waterhound or a labradoodle - both, funnily enough, dead ringers for the Queen guitarist Brian May - and soon we'll be treated to a photocall on the White House lawn as he ruffles its head in a gesture that says: “Look, I'm just a regular guy like you, except that I have 12 bodyguards here who can kill with their bare hands and you've got notebooks.”

The only problem now is this: he won't have any time left to run the US. I do not exaggerate. When Obama said choosing the dog “has been tougher than finding a Commerce Secretary” he clearly had no idea that getting a dog is the easy bit. It's actually looking after it that makes having a real baby seem only fractionally more difficult than a Daily Star crossword.
It's with this in mind that I have to recommend to Barack Obama a proletarian, low maintenance, rescued dog. My nominee is above. Playful, friendly, loyal, nice to children, and smart, Luna Long Legs deserves to be first dog. In her short 16 months of life, she has already survived numerous, false accusations, calumny, and slander. She has been threatened with poisoning, beating and even death. She has survived all of this with equanimity and style. She remains cute. She loves to cuddle. And best of all, she remembers who her true friends are.

You think some Labradoodle or Portugese waterhound has these qualities? You have to be kidding.

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viernes, enero 16, 2009

A Love Supreme, Love Supreme, Love Supreme

John Coltrane (1926-1967)

Last night I found myself on a Continental 757 heading again for Newark, city of my birth, one of those tough places, a gritty, rusty place I return to repeatedly.

To my amazement, one of the audio selections available on the flight was John Coltrane's seminal 1964 recording "A Love Supreme." This album is one of Coltrane's greatest works, and it is repeatedly listed as one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. Why was I amazed? True, it was the 48th album of the 50 available. It should have been first. True, it was the 2002, redigitalized version (I am such a snob). It should have been the original vinyl. But forget all of that, there it was. I hadn't listened to it from beginning to end without interruption in more than 30 years. So yesterday I listened again to "A Love Supreme." What a delight.

The recording has four parts: "Acknowledgement" (which contains the famous Love Supreme, Love Supreme mantra), "Resolution", "Pursuance", and "Psalm." The recording (can we still call it an album or make believe it's classical and call it a suite?) is the culmination in many ways of what Coltrane began in Giant Steps and Chasing the Trane. It's modal. It's free. It's totally inventive. It's astonishing. "Psalm," the final part, the part I love most, is what Coltrane calls a "musical narration" of the devotional poem he included in the liner notes. In other words, Coltrane “plays” the words of the poem, but does not actually speak them. In this you can hear the sounds of devotional sermons of African-American preachers, Jewish and Muslim chanting, African singing, sounds of the street, the hum of Newark or Philadelphia, the voices from Coltrane's heart. Coltrane's solo ends with him playing the words “Elation. Elegance. Exaltation. All from God. Thank you God. Amen.” I say, "Amen, Amen, Amen."

What a striking, incredible performance. How can it be that 44 years after it was recorded, "A Love Supreme" remains so fresh, alive, exciting, expressive, deep?

A Love Supreme was recorded one December evening in Rudy Van Gelder's legendary studio in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. Pianist McCoy Tyner remembers the unusual, almost magical atmosphere surrounding the session. "Rudy that day dimmed the lights in his studio. I'd never seen him do that and it sort of set an atmosphere. There was just something very, very special about that particular session."

Drummer Elvin Jones says Coltrane "never wrote out any music for us. When he played we more or less had to imagine, or feel, how to interpret the song. And it got to the point where I felt I was almost part of his mind, almost telepathic in a way."

The quartet, which also included bassist Jimmy Garrison, needed little more than the seed of a melodic idea when it hit the studio. Tyner adds: "We had been playing some of that music and we didn't know what it was going to be until we got into the studio. And then it all came together."

Coltrane constructed the suite's main theme around a simple four-note pattern — based on the words "a love supreme."

The playing of the quartet on this recording is unbelievably wonderful. From the very first sound of a gong on "Acknowledgement", through the initial four notes Garrison plays on bass, through incredible drum solos by Elvin Jones (how can he do all of that?), through McCoy Tyner's unbelievably complex piano dexterity, to Coltrane's final, mind altering solo, the quartet at once plays together and individually, and it stretches the music out beyond anything rote, beyond the anticipated, beyond the possible, into the ionosphere. Remember please that this is music from the era when jazz players were justifiably revered for their genius. The skilled playing, the inventiveness of the improvisation, the faith of the players in each other, their mutual support of the themes culminates in my head shaking slowly, side to side, bliss, joy, ecstacy, nirvana, Om ah Hum.

As I fly toward Newark, my birthplace, with this quartet in my ears, I remember the Newark of the '60's. The riot. The killing. The incessant crimes. The discrimination, poverty, unemployment, oppression, racism. The Projects. The desperation. I can hear all of that in this music, welling up, speaking out, clenching its fist, and then opening it again in transcendence. And I wonder, "What would Coltrane have made of Obama?"

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Woof Woof Woof

There she is, Luna Long Legs. My dear dog friend. And, oh boy, are some people angry at her. Not me, not my family, not my friends, not visitors, not the other dogs. No. Seems that she barks and defends her territory (that's her job), and like lots of other beach dogs, she runs free. Ut oh. That means, she goes where she wants to and when she wants to. Did Bob Dylan sing, "Dogs run free/why not we?" And that, amig@s, is how she has encountered certain unnamed persons who dislike her and call the Perro Policia on her and threaten her Bienestar. Of course, when pressed the Perro Policia want her tied up. OK. Bueno. Luna will comply with the law. She doesn't have to like it. And she doesn't. But, Companeros, when you kick around the perros, it won't be long before she and the others rise up and establish the Dictatorship of the Perros. Just watch. It's a matter of historical necessity.

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sábado, enero 03, 2009

A Century Of Progress

Well, not really. On my drive home from running errands, I heard part of the Metropolitan Opera's Saturday broadcast of La Boheme. It amazes me that an Opera set in 1830 and written in 1896, would have a setting that is so very timely in 2009.

Excerpts about the setting of the story-- I'm leaving out most of what happens in the opera-- illustrate the point nicely:
Act I. Paris, Christmas Eve, c. 1830. In their Latin Quarter garret, the painter Marcello and poet Rodolfo try to keep warm by burning pages from Rodolfo's latest drama. They are joined by their comrades — Colline, a young philosopher, and Schaunard, a musician who has landed a job and brings food, fuel and funds. But while they celebrate their unexpected fortune, the landlord, Benoit, arrives to collect the rent. Plying the older man with wine, they urge him to tell of his flirtations, then throw him out in mock indignation.
Yes, it's Christmas eve. And of all impossible things, Marcello and Rodolfo are so cold that they burn Rodolfo's manuscript to stay warm. Art is a luxury. Writing and theater are luxuries. The paper is more valuable in that moment as fuel. The rent is unpaid. The reason why there is food is that Schaunard, unlike his three un- or underemployed friends, has gotten a job.
Act II. The bill is a lot more than Schaunard expects, so he manages through a scheme to leave it for Musetta's rich paramour.
Even though he's got a job, even though he has some money, Schaunard still cannot pay for an evening out for this friends. Is this because evenings out are luxuries and are priced beyond the means of ordinary people?
Act III. Rodolfo tells Marcello he wants to separate from his fickle sweetheart (Mimi). Pressed further, he breaks down, saying Mimì is dying; her ill health can only worsen in the poverty they share....
Mimi, it turns out, has "consumption," which probably means tuberculosis, and, of course, there is no treatment. Her persistent coughing and her illness and weakness emerge. There is, of course, no universal health care. Or anything resembling treatment because Mimi and her friends have no money.
Act IV. Months later, Rodolfo and Marcello lament their loneliness in the garret. Colline and Schaunard bring a meager meal.... Musetta bursts in, saying Mimì is downstairs, too weak to climb up. As Rodolfo runs to her, Musetta tells how Mimì has begged to be taken to her lover to die. While Mimì is made comfortable, Marcello goes with Musetta to sell her earrings for medicine, and Colline leaves to pawn his cherished overcoat. Alone, Mimì and Rodolfo recall their first days together, but she is seized with coughing. When the others return, Musetta gives Mimì a muff to warm her hands and prays for her life. Mimì dies quietly, and when Schaunard discovers she is dead, Rodolfo runs to her side, calling her name.
There is no health care. The poverty is unabated. Remaining items of property are pawned to purchase medicine. The overcoat is pawned. How will Colline go out of the garrett without a coat? Mimi dies anyway.

When I first heard this opera, many years ago, it seemed romantic. The characters seemed to be like Beatniks or Hippies who had chosen this life (this is the premise behind, Rent, an adaptation of La Boheme). The Bohemians had chosen art over commerce, literature over capitalism, and they were, in my mind anyway, voluntarily impoverished. They had chosen their life. They were archetypical starving artists, and their lack of money was voluntary and, in fact, their struggle was ennobling. I could choose that life if I wanted to.

But when I heard the very same opera today, it seemed strangely different. Surprisingly, this time the poverty and the lack of resources and the lack of medical insurance and the rent being behind and not having enough money, even though one has a job, to take out one's friends, seemed to me to be a rather common situation, something that happens around me with remarkable frequency of late. There was nothing voluntary or intentional about the suffering. At all. I was shocked by this revelation, though in retrospect it seems a very modest insight.

So I ask, is this where we've come? Is this what we've come to? Are we going to have an experience in this country akin to life in the 1830's Parisian underclass? Is this what we have to show for the past century? Tell me it isn't. Convince me.

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viernes, enero 02, 2009

My Dog Can Beat Your Dog Up!

Hollywood, sometimes you are really, really hard to put up with. Really. An example, is Marley & Me, a dog movie featuring this dog:

A cute, yellow lab puppy. And its cute owners, Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson. Everything is so totally cute, and 90's, and clean, and upscale, it might make the viewer (in this case me) want to shout theater in a open fire and shoot his fellow postal recipients with paint balls. But I digress.

Here is a real life dog, Maya, my dog:

She is very cute, but she's no longer a puppy. She is almost 7. And her owners are very cute (trust me on this), but they are no longer in their early 30s. Unlike Aniston and Wilson's characters, they are not having their third child. They did that almost two decades ago. They aren't cardboard cut outs like the people in Marley & Me. No. They are actual, real people. And their dog is a real dog.

I've been told that across the world, but not in the US, theater has turned its back on realism. Fine. I can turn my back on realism to. But first, I have a question. When is Hollywood going to turn its back on pap?

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jueves, enero 01, 2009

Happy New Year And An Update From The Dream Antilles

A special thank you for visiting The Dream Antilles in 2008. I hope you'll come back often in 2009. Here's an update on what's going on here:

I have really enjoyed writing this blog this past year. And I've frequently cross-posted items at larger sites (really? what site isn't larger?) including docuDharma and DailyKos. Occasionally, I've also posted at two other, excellent, smaller sites, The Wild Wild Left and Never In Our Names. I'm delighted with the range of issues I've researched and written about, and I'm pleased that so very many people have been able to read and comment about what I've written. I'm honored that so much of what I've written in 2008 has been posted on the front page at docuDharma or recommended or rescued at the Great Orange Satan, and that I've had such a large readership. Thanks.

My anti-death penalty newsletter, something I've been writing for more than six years, seems to have fallen in 2008 from a separate, creative venture into a means of distribution of pieces about death penalty abolition posted on this blog. I suppose the change was inevitable. I spare you the list of wonderful writers who started writing only about state killing and have since burned out and/or faded away. I'm committed to abolition, and I'll keep writing about it. Just not as regularly.

My 2005 first novel, The Dream Antilles, for which this blog is named, is still available at booksellers across the Internet. It has sold very few volumes, something entirely predictable, but is still a fun read, one highly recommended for the beach of your choice. It received a wonderful review just a year ago.

I remain hopeful that before the end of 2009 I will complete my second novel. It has the working title "Tulum", but I won't say anything else about it until it is finished. I've been "working" on it for two or three years, but I haven't really given it the sustained attention it deserves if it is ever to be completed.

And so, you've come to the end of a thankfully very rare meta essay. I'll be back with something substantive in a while. Thanks for reading. And have a happy, creative, fulfilling, prosperous, healthy, joyful 2009.