December 31, 2009
December 30, 2009
December 29, 2009
December 28, 2009
December 27, 2009
December 26, 2009
I think Jim Henson would have been proud of this sketch, living up to the old standards:
December 25, 2009
My best to you & yours. I offer my old movement Trio Minus Mandy Patinkin, from my sprawling unfinished piece Concept Album, as a respite from overplayed Christmas tunes & all things holly jolly. I've put a free printable score on Scribd, I'm sorry there's distortions in it. (There's an old mp3 with Bonnie Whiting Smith on marimba & Drew Jorgensen on electric bass, download it free here.)
December 23, 2009
I'm playing with a layout for a comic strip based on a sheet of paper with six character sketches I drew as a child. (I posted it here.) I chose Stuck Duck as the obvious hero of the strip. I may have to change the font (as much as I love garamond) & which program I use to lay it out.
The original folk hymn tune is here, (inspired by the Infancy Gospel of James), & I'll reprint the lyrics now for your convenience:
twelve years old and married
in the temple where she first did bleed.The matriarch was once a teenage bride,
The mother of the world's salvation was a girl who cried.
I thought she was truer.
Please, I know no man, Lord, I am pure.
mourning & rejoicing,
see the silent earth expects its king.
saddled on a donkey,
find a cave, behold a mystery!
I accidentally bought a new hardcover copy of this book while attempting to Christmas shop for other people. It's a beautifully written book about vegetarianism, but sadly, I have to report, I don't think he's doing a very good job of including non-vegetarians within its ideal audience. Still, he's one lovely author, & it's lovely just to be curling up in the sun beneath my Christmas tree reading his words (Jonathan Safran Foer hasn't published anything since 2005's Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, one of my favorite books.) And isn't the cover art kind of Christmasy?
December 22, 2009
"We left early the next morning. My host had given me an enthusiastic send off and instructed me in painstaking detail on a message of praise I should deliver to Keiter. My driver waited impatiently in his seat while these elaborate proceedings continued in front of him.
"Just as the sunset takes the life out of the world, the sunrise was something that feels like the very birth of existence. The evening fog that had settled over the mountain ridges and valleys began to burn away like malicious spirits being chased by the golden, dancing light as it spread its fingers across the horizon. The death-like cold that had settled on the earth at the moment the sun disappeared suddenly was vanquished. Life was breathed back into the world immediately by the coming sun. With this spectacle in front of us, we continued toward Keiter's site.
"I don't believe I have ever seen anything like it. The natural wonders that surrounded us where something to behold. Dew had collected on the wild, chest-high grass that grew on both sides of the narrow dirt path. The rays of the rising sun played off the tiny droplets. As the cart rolled on, I noticed my companion looking off into the fields where blood red poppies grew in flocks next to meandering sheep. The clouds floated lazily overhead.
"'Beautiful!' I shouted at the man next to me. He simply grunted in genuine affirmation. You cannot understand how few words can mean such deep sincerity. It was a simple formula, I noticed. The more these people talked at you, the more they disliked you. Long, elegiac speeches were the deepest form of insincerity in this country. A terse word, expressed with direct and deliberate annoyance was a profound expression of love. I thought back to the tavern. To yell at someone was to love them here! It embraced you like a hug from a brother that had been gone for years.
"'Da,' my man grunted. We sat in an intimate silence.
"At the foot of the mountain, we met with a strange sight. In the distance, I thought perhaps it was a truncated tree sitting alone in an open field. As we came closer, the mysterious shape slowly formed into an old man. He sat on a chair, facing toward the mountains. I looked around for a flock, assuming he was a shepherd, but there was nothing. Nor was there a house as far as I could see. The driver pulled up next to the man and dismounted to give his beast a rest and feed it. The man in the chair didn't move.
"I dismounted the carriage and as the rocks crunched beneath my shoes, the sitting man finally turned to me. I pulled a bottle of water from my bag and took a swig. I extended my arm to the man in the chair.
"He nodded and clicked his tongue. 'I don't want.'
"I took another drink and placed it back in my bag. 'I'm old,' he whispered. He had returned his gaze to the mountains in the distance as he spoke. 'I am 73.' He resembled the living dead, to be honest. His cheeks were sunken and the skin hung off his frame like a poorly assembled tent.
"'I'll be dead soon,' he said after a long silence. I was at a loss for a response. 'I am old,' he repeated. 'I must wait to die now.'
"I offered him the bottle of water again, but he failed to even notice this time. He simply repeated the words, 'I must wait to die.' I waited silently, listening to this solemn chorus. Gosho fed the mule and then whistled to indicate that it was time to leave."
Mack paused in his story.
"You just made that up," someone in the cabin interrupted. "There is no way that happened."
"I swear to you that is exactly how it happened," Mack insisted. "I didn't believe it myself."
"Fine. Finish the story."
"We continued along the path. The man in the chair remained at our backs as we went into the mountains. The sun had disappeared behind black clouds and the cold returned.
"I think living in the mountains, life takes on an unassailable timelessness. Wars and empires sweep over you like so many winter storms. As the bitter cold edge of winter eventually melts away, so too do the many soldiers and passers-by disappear. The vast, uncaring mountains stand as a testament to our own transitory smallness. The villages seemed to sprout out of the side of rising walls of rock. They are no imposition or incongruity, blending into the black forests. The houses, red-tiled roofs, mud-brown bricks seemed to have roots as deep as the pines that shield them from the harsh winds. Buildings and trees huddled together in the shadow of the never-changing mountain face, protected by these natural fortresses.
"Snow began to fall, dancing around my head like a lazy afterthought. The black clouds behind us promised harsher weather very soon. Gosho goaded his mule into a faster pace and we continued to the next volunteer's site."
One of my favorite homemade Western Harmony tunes, JAMES, inspired by the Infancy Gospel of James.
December 21, 2009
December 20, 2009
I wrote some shape-note Christmas carols last year, which I'm happy to re-post for this season, in a series of Christmas songs leading up to yuletide.
While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.
All glory be to God on high,
And to the Earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from Heaven to men
Begin and never cease!
December 19, 2009
December 18, 2009
"I remember mostly his face, I think." Mack's voice had become somber and deep, as if he were delivering a eulogy. "And the words he said. Those frightful last words!" His tone rose for a moment and fell again. "I still hear them echoing off the walls of those angry mountains."
"What words, Mack? What did he say?" another companion asked, his voice wavering slightly.
"Don't be so impatient," another voice cut in. "Let Mack finish his story."
"It was still two days from Keiter's site. The sun set just as a small town appeared on the horizon.
"'One hour,' the golem next to me grunted. I had grown cold as the darkening night advanced on us. The nights in that country are something to behold. The moment the sun set, it was as though all the warmth was sucked from the world and a harsh cold cut through my clothes. The darkness fell on us like a thick shroud and the whole world became as silent as the deepest bowels of a catacomb.
"I wrapped myself in the clothes I had and sat, shivering. The driver looked at me for the first time in hours. A fleeting change fluttered across his face and I swear I thought the man smiled! But his face was returned to its former state before I could determine whether or not I had imagined it.
"The first thing we encountered on the outskirts of this village were large, haphazardly arranged stones. In the darkness, I thought they were sleeping animals, like a pack of petrified wolves. As we got closer, I realized that we were passing by the town's cemetery. Parts of an ancient fence demarcated the former boundaries of the place. A plank of wood rested on two stones, where a row of five black, human shapes. On each end of the bench, the women held flickering gas lanterns which gave off just enough light to reveal their ancient faces staring at us from the black scarves tied around them. The graveyard stretched behind them and disappeared into the thick night.
"Suddenly, amidst this scene, a tall, blond woman came rushing toward the donkey cart. I swore that she was some figment of my imagination. Her slender figure stood against the flickering lights of the town behind her. She wore a crimson sweater, the words STANFORD emblazoned on the front. Her jeans were clean and without holes and I swear as sure as I am here today, she wore Birkenstocks. A brand new pair of brown leather Birkenstocks. Stranger still, she had a permanent smile on her face. She greeted the driver in a manner so profuse I became embarrassed. In her strangely accented Bulgarian, she poured forth, "Thank you so very much. It is so nice of you to drive all the way out here." He grunted back at her but she remained perfectly unaffected.
She turned to me suddenly, her golden hair framing her fair skin and smile which seemed to pick up whatever little light there was and reflect it three fold. She had the features of a child. I doubt that her eyes had ever seen anything upsetting, they seemed so untouched by the world.
"'Aren't these people so sweet?' She drew out the 'e' in sweet and I muttered a polite agreement. The driver produced a bottle from inside his coat and took a pull on the yellowish liquid and offered it to me. It smelled as though it could be used to power one of the tiny, puke-orange, Soviet-made cars that occasionally roared past us on the road.
"He made a gesture with the bottle toward the woman. She smiled and said in Bulgarian, 'Why, no thank you! I don't drink.' This went uncomprehended by the driver who extended his arm more insistently. She laughed. 'I don't drink, thank you!'
"He shrugged and returned the bottle to his coat pocket. Suddenly, children began to swarm like a pack of hungry monkeys. The children! They came at us shouting gibberish in imitation of what I assumed was English.
"'Hallo! Hallo!' They shrieked. 'How you! How you!' They moved quicker than I could keep track of all of them. I never got a proper count, as I made sure to pull my valuables closer to my body. 'Kvo e?' they repeated, pointing at everything on my body. I looked to the woman for help.
"'Oh, they're just so sweet!' She laughed again. 'C'mon! Let's get you set up!' She almost giggled each word out. Clutching my bags, I followed her down the dark streets, which were lined with ancient, staring eyes. Dust-covered faces, wrinkled and worn sat on bodies wrapped in blankets and jackets that may very well have been from the previous century. Their mouths, scowling or blank, didn't move once as this woman, leading me smiled and waved at all of them passing by. A herd of chickens roamed in front of a bar at the end of the street. An ancient specimen sat on a stump, ostensibly the keeper of the chickens. He enthusiastically smiled at the coming woman, revealing a gummy cavern.
"We walked into the smoke-filled tavern through the dark wood paneled door. I felt the air hit my face and invade my lungs. Tobacco and burning trash danced in the air and began immediately to burn my throat. Twenty blank eyes immediately turned toward us as we walked in and a silence as dense as the smoke fell on the room. I remained astounded as she walked confidently into the room and sat at a table, unaffected by the stares and the smoke.
"'I would like a mineral water and a salad, please.' The waitress grunted and turned toward me. I pointed at a squat bottle with a long, slender neck sitting on the bar. It contained the same yellow liquid the driver of the donkey cart offered me earlier.
"'Oh, that stuff is just awful! I don't understand how these people drink it.'
"What we discussed that night was simply baffling. This woman seemed perfectly unassailable in her optimism. I wondered if she had been in fact living in the same town we were now in. I am certain that she lived in some other world, much more beautiful and safe than any world I have ever seen.
"On all sides, we were surrounded by men and women, slumped over, weighed down by some invisible burden. Yellowish eyes, the same color as their liquor, struggled to remain open. It was as though these bodies had been in this tavern for eternity, part of the dismal decor. Occasionally, the low buzz of voices would be punctured by slurred yelling about trivialities like the weather, anything except the true source of their anger, which was something deep and ancient and entirely inscrutable. These people were all burning inside and were desperately dousing the flames with their drinks. So long as they lived, however, there was fuel for this fire.
"The fire that burned within these people was a slow one, as if it were deprived of just all but the very necessary amount of oxygen to keep it alive. The fire that burned in him, though, was a wild one, uncontrolled and completely destructive. Nothing in its path was spared. It was all consuming and raged. It flared for a brief moment and left nothing but a dead, blackened world in its wake. It destroyed more completely than anything I had ever seen.
"'The people in this town are just so sweet,' she smiled again. 'I think they are really grateful to have someone like me. It really is only a matter of time before this place becomes much like the rest of Europe. We really are just doing a small part toward that!' Her enthusiasm fed on itself and as her ideas grew grander, she spoke faster and with more gestures.
"'I've only been here for a few months, but already I see so much potential!'
A lull in the conversation came when she had clearly exerted herself too much.
"'What do you know about Keiter?' Her abstract ideas and grandiose designs conspired with my drink to make me dizzy so I seized the opportunity to redirect the conversation to something more concrete.
"'I've only met him once,' she answered. 'It was at the beginning of his service. He's really nice, you know. I real volunteer! They say everyone at his site loves him, truly loves him. I wish I could be like him!' Her voice trailed off. I sipped my drink.
"'He was full of great ideas when I met him. When he talked about the professional standards we were bringing to Bulgaria, it was impossible not to believe him. How much hope he carried with him!' I swore she was describing some prophet or saint and expected that she imagined he traveled with a host of angels. 'He truly believes in what he's doing! He's not cynical and jaded like the rest.'
"'I hear that some people think he's gone... overboard.' I offered the bait gently and she devoured it ferociously.
"'They're fools! You can't judge him like that. Look at his work, then judge him. Look at what he's accomplished. Do you know how much it takes to accomplish what he has? You will see when you meet him. You will see.' This was the first time I had seen her smile leave her face. She stared at me with a violent intensity as she repeated those words... 'You'll see.'
"And I did see all that he had accomplished. I saw the monstrous thing those beautiful ideals had become, there far away from friends and family. Far away from the comforts of home. There, where introspection becomes a deadly tool against yourself, where no one is there to pull you back from the abyss, where your sanity is as tenuous as your internet connection. That's where you discover the empty truth about yourself. I have come back, but Keiter didn't. He couldn't. He had gone too far.
The New York Times blog Opinionator just mocked East Coasterners for mispronouncing my home state:
[...] national broadcasters on election night who cannot pronounce Oregon (it’s like gun) or Nevada (it’s not Nev-odda) [...]
The name Nevada comes from the Spanish "Nevada" [neˈβaða], meaning "snowfall", after the Sierra Nevada ("snow-covered mountains") mountain range.
Most non-Westerners pronounce the name /nəˈvɑːdə/, with the /ɑː/ of "father" after the imagined pronunciation of the Spanish, which annoys locals. The most famous case of this was George W Bush's faux pas during his campaign for the 2004 US Presidential Election. Vindication later came when President Bush campaigned at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center on June 18, 2004. The president opened his talk by proclaiming that "It's great to be here in /nəˈˈvædə/," the crowd roaring its approval when he light-heartedly noted "You didn't think I'd get it right, did ya?"
December 17, 2009
I thought Miss Grainne & others would find this senatorial spurring as whimsical as I did:
"Keiter's post was at least three day's travel from headquarters. The director managed to scrounge together a donkey and something that apparently passed as a carriage in that wretched wilderness!
"The driver was a native in the employ of the Organization. I swear the man and the beast he drove were split from the same soft stone that litters that country. They both wore thick, gray hides, wrinkled with time and work. The man's colorless face matched the winter coat he clutched around his neck in spite of the sweltering heat that had already made me strip down to my undershirt. Both stared, as one imagines a somnambulist to stare, at the brown earth beneath them.
"In unison, they turned to me as I approached. 'Where go you?' he croaked, his thick accent almost obscuring the words. His mouth was empty, except for three yellow teeth jutting out of his gums like forgotten gravestones. His breath smelt of lingering spirits and decay.
"'The center station.' His brow furled, perplexed. 'Center Station... Keiter' The driver stumbled slightly in his seat and clutched his reins tighter. The mule shivered once and kicked the dirt.
"'Center,' he exhaled and made an unfamiliar gesture which I took to mean 'come along' though it was anything but welcoming. The man returned his gaze to the dead earth beneath his beast's feet and clicked his tongue. His shoulders hunched and he grumbled incoherently to himself, perhaps communicating with that mule whose aspect seemed so much like his own.
"I didn't realize then that this man would be the best company I could've asked for on the three days journey from headquarters to Keiter's post. In that wilderness, good company is a rare thing indeed. The man was more real than all of those lost creatures at headquarters wandering from place to place, protocol and statutes the only language they spoke. They recited empty legalisms as they wandered the grounds, like so many rabbis reading the Talmud. I welcomed his sincere silence.
"'Cold li?' the man next to me grunted. I knew enough to know that the single syllable he attached to the end of the one English word he spoke meant that he was asking a question. He gestured aggressively toward me as you would toward a reckless child.
"'Cold?' I was somewhat confused by the question. I was sweating. He just stared at me, a scowl scratched into his granite face.
"'Gol!' Naked! 'No. Hot!' I responded. The man only sighed through the etching on his face that served as his mouth. The cart rumbled on, and to my surprise, held up.
"'Name li?' I asked the driver. The sun had begun to beat violently against my forehead and I needed something to take my mind off my growing discomfort. I pointed at him as I asked. Beads of sweat gathered on my forehead and I waited for what seemed nothing short of an eternity.
"'Gosho' he grumbled without breaking his gaze ahead and down. Silence, except for the creaking and rattling of the cart. I waited for something more from this stone man but soon lost my patience.
"'How old?' I pointed at him again. 'Forty-five.' He spat out the words in his native language as he tightened his hands around the cracked leather reins. Again, I sat awaiting a reciprocal question. Nothing.
"We passed much of the rest of that day in silence. Sitting on the splintery plank of a seat, I sought distractions from the acute physical discomforts cutting into my body from all sides. In the distance, the silhouettes of the mountains stood like an overgrown Cerebus or Charon, guardians of some alien, dead world in the distance."
Mack remained quiet for some time. The sounds of the deepening night had crowded us from all sides.
December 16, 2009
Miss Martichka & I set up this make-your-own facebook scandal. Which, I must say, didn't hit as hard as we hoped, even after we posted a few "Get me to the Church on Time" videos on each other's walls, & a link to the South Lake Tahoe's Chapel of the Bells. Anyway, this correspondence with her mom resulted:
I love your daughter very much. I will treat her as my little doll in my dollhouse. We may not have much in this world, but with what little I got, she will be my queen. I've got a chicken, a goat, ample semen, an heirloom collection of rare spider venoms (which have to be kept at a constant 45 degrees), and of course her father's dowry, from which we can start a life. We will only be living with you while the first baby or two is incubating, and then once my poetry career takes off, I hope to make the down payment on our very own triple-wide trailer. I love your daughter very much,
Jas. H. W____
The next installment of Beer As Dark As My Heart.
"I didn't hear his name again until I arrived in the country. We volunteers all met with the Director of the Organization before we headed to our sites. It was standard protocol.
"The Director of the Organization was a baffling woman. As she sat at her desk, the naked light bulb hanging in the center of the room cast shifting shadows across her face, her very existence seemed an impossibility to me -- the stack of neat papers, her starched, white shirt.
"'We stand on certain ceremony here,' she said with a performative gesture, as if delivering a well-rehearsed monologue. 'If we give up on a little, we lose a lot.'
"I hid my scowl in a cough; I had been in country for only a few days now but already I had grown tired of hearing such meaningless slogans. I wondered how long I could hide my growing disgust from this strange woman.
"She continued her speech. 'Business casual is always a requirement in headquarters. That was my idea,' she announced proudly. I noticed her eyes were staring through my head, as if she were speaking to an empty chair. She paused, expecting a response, I assumed. She seemed less like a person but a trick of the light casting shadows that vaguely resembled a human form.
"'Yes. It's all quite in order,' I obliged, wringing my hands. She smiled absently. Her pause afforded me a moment to bring up my real concern.
"'When might I be able to arrange transport into the center of the country? I'm very anxious to get started.'
"That amalgamation of dancing shadows before me continued staring through me to the gray concrete wall until I felt a violent urge to yell my question at her again. She was nothing more than a strange projection of light and dark and I felt that if I reached over to strike her, my hand would simply pass through this fantastic illusion.
"'You must remember how you found this place. Business casual is the order of the day here! Business casual. Before I came, it was all a mess. Quite unseemly, you understand? You couldn't understand if you hadn't seen it before I came. Yes, now it's all in order.'
"My eyes darted to the floor and she paused.
"'He isn't as good as most think. Surely, he is a fine volunteer. Reports from his region show some of the highest rates of success of any other volunteers in the Organization. I met him once. High-minded, idealistic. Yes, they love that in Washington. Please, don't misunderstand me. He is a fine volunteer. One of the finest.'
"'You see, we can't have the Organization's reputation sullied by such behavior. I'm sure you understand. We encourage integration, of course. It's essential to the success of the Organization's mission here, as you know. But we are worried that he may have gone too far. His methods have become unsound.'
"Unsound... What that word meant, I wouldn't understand until some time later when I finally met that man. A man! He was something, but surely not a man by the time I met him deep in the center of the country, far from the farcical parade of business casual costumes and impotent regulations imposed by this impossible creature sitting on her fallacious throne. It seemed to me a gentle breeze would cause it all to collapse and she would vanish in a moment. But that's what order is! An illusion we conjure up with our starched shirts and tedious regulations enforced by false bureaucrats!"
A voice interrupted. "There's no reason to attack your friends, Mack."
"Yes, you're right. I got carried away, I suppose," he continued. We had been sitting for some time, listening to Mack recount his story and it had grown dark. No longer could I see the others. Mack's voice came to me out of the darkness.
"I couldn't take it much longer," Mack continued. "So I broached the subject once more.
"'Might we discuss the question of my transport?'
"'Yes, yes of course. We mustn't interrupt operations, now.' A flash of white teeth appeared from the dancing shadows. That I had nothing to say about Keiter seemed to disappoint this shadow. What was this obsession with him? The reports suggested that he taught more English than any other of the volunteers combined, but they said that he had become dangerous, integrated. He hadn't left his site in months, they said. The only evidence they had of his continued existence was the steady stream of English speaking Bulgarians coming from his site. Up to now, I had only heard whispers about him, rumors of his operations in the center of the country, but the panic in the director had unsettled me and piqued my curiosity. It would lead me down a path and I would find out more about Keiter than I ever wanted to."
December 15, 2009
Mack's Bulgar adventures continue in the next installment of Beer As Dark As My Heart. Enjoy!
"This story begins when I joined the Organization. The details of getting to the country are mostly mundane. There were medical exams and the question of psychological fitness, they called it. All the volunteers were submitted to the scrutiny of the Organization's alienist. That's where I first heard his name.
"This doctor was the last on the list of hoops through which I had to jump. I was already exhausted from the prodding and probing of the previous specialists and I had begun to feel like some sort of specimen in an experiment.
"She wasn't in the office when I arrived, so I looked over her bookshelf, stacked with the latest literature: Improvements and Developments in the Rorschach Technique, You Are What You Write, Reinterpreting Freud. One particular book caught my eye amidst all those scientific pamphlets: A Mad Soul: Man Outside of Society. As I bent to pick it up, the door began to open and I rushed to take a seat on the fake leather couch on the other side of the room.
"The doctor greeted me, shook my hand and sat down behind her desk in one uninterrupted movement. Even as she sat at her desk, she gave the impression of constant activity. Her smile stayed even as she spoke.
"'Tell me, then,' she pulled out her notebook, 'does your family have any history of mental illness?'
"'None,' I answered succinctly. My patience for this scrutiny had worn thin and I weathered the routine questions as best I could without betraying my growing annoyance.
"At the end she looked up and smiled. 'So where are they sending you, then?'
"'Bulgaria,' I said and she suddenly took on a serious countenance, her brows lurched toward the bridge of her nose, her eyes narrowed and her smile melted into a contemplative frown.
"'Be careful. They say things change out there.'
"'Change?' I asked.
"She stood up slowly and began to come toward me in deliberately measured steps. 'You will meet him, most likely. There is no reason you shouldn't know. I would love to meet him, to ask him some questions. I'm sure he's fascinating!' She stopped and leaned against her desk, her eyes gazing past me.
"'Keiter. He is a special case, they say. He isn't the only one. Many of them come back with...' she paused, looking for the right word '...complications, but he is something else entirely. Yes, something else.' With that, she retreated into her thoughts and I took the opportunity to leave without further discussion.
One Matthew Weiss alerted me to this mind-boggling collaboration, here featuring two names that I never expected to see together, Tom Waits & Kool Keith. N.A.S.A.'s release The Spirit of Apollo is rife with such pairings, including such notables as David Byrne, RZA, George Clinton, and Del. All in all, the album should be filed under "not as good as you hope, but still a good time." KRS-ONE's contribution is predictably enough called "Hip Hop," which induces the response, "come off it, KRS." We know that you love hip hop and enjoy writing its history with you at the center, but you don't need to make an idol of it to such an extent. Give us something else.
The Spirit of Apollo is the second collaborative effort I've listened to this year that features the voice of Ol' Dirty Bastard from beyond the grave, the first being Blakroc's eponymous album. And so my question is this: Is there a gigantic archive of unused ODB material that people are dipping into? If so, how can I gain access? Or am I missing something?
December 14, 2009
Hello to the faithful readers of It Was Lost. I have invited myself on board as a 'Very Special' guest novelist as part of the end of the year push to get It Was Lost to meet its quota for the last year of the Aughtie Naughtie decade.
I, too, have been lost and forgotten in Bulgarstan for nigh two years now. The following is the result of boredom, alcohol and existential anxiety. I hope you enjoy!
The train had been stopped for sometime and none of us were quite certain where we were. We had departed Paris perhaps 6 hours ago and were somewhere in the French countryside, not far from the German border. Our train had stopped abruptly and the sun was falling rapidly behind the distant mountains.
We four travelers sat together in the wooden-paneled train car. The beds were stacked two high on each wall. There was standing room between the beds, just about a man wide. The quarters were comfortable enough, but the standing still of the train had begun to annoy everyone in our cabin.
"What's wrong with this damn train?" one of our companions grumbled from his bed.
Only Mack remained entirely not bothered by the tedious delay. Mack leaned his head toward the window, intently staring out of it at the setting sun. He never tired of watching these natural spectacles. It was almost impossible to interrupt him in these moments and the three of us knew better than to try.
"We'd better get moving soon," another voice piped up, in a tone that an annoyed father would use to address a particularly lallygagging child.
"The evening light always seems to glow brightest in the moments just before it is extinguished and darkness overtakes us. I've seen the sun turn red like that before, just as it sets. The light changes suddenly, instead of the shimmering gold, everything is drenched in heavy, crimson light." We all stopped when we heard Mack's voice. It was an unexpected sound.
"There's a country, not too far from here, but still a world away, where I've seen such an angry sun set." Mack's voice caused our concern over the stopped train to vanish. He started to talk and we knew what would follow would be worth listening to.
"Europe is profoundly and thoroughly explicable. There is nothing baffling about the consistent and sound logic of the West. There is order and predictability! Don't underestimate the comfort of predictability. A stopped train is an anomaly and causes us to complain because we expect to be on time. If a flock of sheep crossing the tracks caused us delay, in Europe we would be shocked by this irregularity.
"The world of predictability ends, though. It's edges are tattered and beaten by inscrutable passions, singed by some invisible flame. There are places where, at the edge of Europe's reasonable world, nothing makes sense. Chaos and disorder, apathy and fatalism are forces of nature that, like some black tempest, throw men about violently.
"I once sought such an adventure-- the loss of the predictable, the comfortable. And I sought it in the edges of reason."
He extended his arm, and then his finger slowly, pointing to the Southeast.
"There is where the world, as we know it, ends."
The silence in the cabin became palpable and we waited for him to continue his story. The last of the light from the setting sun began slowly to diminish now that the burning sphere had disappeared behind the mountains.
"I joined the Organization on a whim, of sorts. When I finished my studies, I was unsure what to do next. And I had seen them advertise: 'How far would you go?' That question had gotten to me. I wanted to do something in this world, I thought. I wanted to matter, to make a difference."
He punctuated his sentence with a deep sigh and turned his head toward the dying light.
Claire skipped two steps with each soundless stride up the dimly-lit staircase. Sarah, meanwhile, was aware of every creak as she allowed Claire to outpace her. They'd said good night at the doorway to their boarding house since Claire lived three floors higher up. When Sarah reached her room on the fourth floor, she could feel Mrs. Calloway's eyes on her through the opposite peephole as she fumbled with her key.
It had been difficult convincing Mrs. Calloway that she and Claire belonged in the boarding house and not in the other house across town. Two years later and Mrs. Calloway retained her sickeningly sweet "good mornings" while whispering just within earshot about the whore across the hall. She was always ready to catch Sarah "up to some of the shenanigans," as she said.
A musky smell of water-damaged floorboards and books greeted her as she closed the door behind her. She breathed in deeply, the smell convincing her of home more than any other sense. She had carried the smell with her from the old place in the forest, where she lived with her parents.
Hunger stabbed at her stomach but she ignored it, instead hurrying to her desk and igniting a candle. The light spread across the wood grain before disappearing over the edge. Sarah took the single black quill and turned over a used piece of paper. Without hesitation, Sarah began to record Claire's half of their recent conversation.
"'It never mattered to me. People asked me all the time. Don't you want to know? I know it's supposed to be strange, but I don't care who they were. I just have this feeling that who they were has nothing to do with who I am.'"
The idea was foreign to Sarah, but that didn't surprise her at this point. The longer she observed Claire, the more she understood that they had nothing in common. Sarah couldn't imagine herself without her father's influence; her father who had died for his books and the books that had created Sarah. It was all that was left of her family.
As a child, Sarah dreamed only of the town, believing that it was filled with others like her. She imagined the coffeeshops and bars that she read about, everything that didn't exist in the woods. She found bars, but they weren't filled with the people she expected. They were crueler and colder. She gave up on them quickly.
She had been working for six months at the Purple Dodo when Claire walked through the door, stunning Carl into hiring her without an audition. Claire was a desirable enough product that few of the rules ever applied to her and her reticence regarding her background was seen as an added perk rather than grounds for suspicion.
Sarah, near the point of giving up, knew instantly that Claire was the one that she had been waiting for. Now that she had been shown what she wanted, however, things were progressing impossibly slowly. Claire was used to excessive attention from men and women, making Sarah hesitant to approach her directly. She understood her technique well enough, however, to know that all she had to do was stay in Claire's life, because since coming to the town, Sarah had been searching for a subject. All she had to do now was keep her.
"She is simply Claire and she defines and surrounds her name with her limitless grace. The first time I saw her dance, it was as if she was purifying our vulgar profession, reclaiming it for our own purposes..."
Since childhood obsessed with the varied heroes and heroines of novels, Sarah had grown to understand that she was not one of them. She recognized herself in the awkward narrators, who tangentially attached themselves to great individuals and recorded their progress. The principle emotion involved, she reckoned, was envy and she was jealous of Claire, more than she had ever felt about anyone. She envied Claire's impossible body and her profound indifference to the opinions of others. She was jealous of the ecstasy that Claire seemed to feel when she danced. Jealousy, as far as Sarah could discern, led her to observe Claire with the necessary assiduousness and the more she learned, the more she fell in love with her subject. And she was pleased with this effect, because she knew that it enabled her to write Claire such that she might be understood.
"In the beginning we cannot know her. When you see her, you will know that she is greater than fate, that she will create her own future. Now she is only growing stronger, gathering her power. It is my good fortune to have come upon her story near the beginning, for it is impossible that she will not do great things. And wherever she goes, I will follow her. And I will write her..."
Sarah could no longer see what she was writing as the flame sputtered before her. Her hunger subsided into a passive lull. When at last she could no longer write, she looked out on to the main street, four floors below. The lamps were fading with her candle and the street was empty. Finally, in the fully darkened room, the cold surrounded Sarah. She quickly fled to her bedroom and covered herself in her blankets. She imagined Claire three floors above and she couldn't give her the quotidian feelings she had in that moment. Returning to her desk, she located what she hoped was a fresh sheet of paper and blindly wrote.
"Does Claire experience this same irritable hunger? Does she shiver in the cold as I do? Does she wonder for hours why she didn't eat or why she didn't light the stove when she came in? It's impossible. I cannot see her shivering in her apartment in this moment, even though the same cold pervades her room as mine. Is it wrong that I fear discovering the human that must reside in her?"
With the blanket wrapped around her shoulders, Sarah stared through the window at the starless night. Her teeth chattered. Perhaps she slept for a few hours, her mind so focused on Claire that she couldn't dream. When she opened her eyes, the sun still had not risen. She picked up the quill.
"Tomorrow I will speak with Claire. Tomorrow I will see her in the daylight."
December 11, 2009
In our continuing series on Republican Politicians who double as songwriters, starting with John Ashcroft & continuing with Orrin Hatch, we now return to the distinguished Mormon Republican Senator from Utah for his 2009 Hanukkah hit, Eight Days of Hannukah, sung by Rasheeda Azar, "a Syrian-American vocalist from Indiana ": “Anything I can do for the Jewish people, I will do,” Mr. Hatch said in an interview before heading to the Senate floor to debate an abortion amendment. “Mormons believe the Jewish people are the chosen people, just like the Old Testament says.” In short, he loves the Jews. And based on an early sampling of listeners, the feeling could be mutual. “Watching Orrin Hatch in the studio, I said to myself that nothing this great will ever happen to me again,” said Alana Newhouse, the editor-in-chief of Tablet.
“Anything I can do for the Jewish people, I will do,” Mr. Hatch said in an interview before heading to the Senate floor to debate an abortion amendment. “Mormons believe the Jewish people are the chosen people, just like the Old Testament says.”
In short, he loves the Jews. And based on an early sampling of listeners, the feeling could be mutual.
“Watching Orrin Hatch in the studio, I said to myself that nothing this great will ever happen to me again,” said Alana Newhouse, the editor-in-chief of Tablet.
December 10, 2009
(special to the ICO from our arts correspondent)
Los Angeles, CA, December 6, 2009
Just moments before he was to go onstage to conduct his final concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, composer-conductor John Adams became the victim or a brazen act of intellectual property theft.
While the orchestra and soloist Leila Josefowicz waited onstage of Disney Hall to perform Adams’ concerto for electric violin, “The Dharma at Big Sur,” the composer discovered that felons working under the alias “Airborne Toxic Event” had bypassed the hall’s normally tight security and gained entry to the backstage area.
Once inside the group vandalized Mr. Adams’ dressing room and made off with his ritual “dharma pants” (see photo above), special apparel that the composer wears only for performances of his concerto.
The same Airborne Toxic Event had earlier in the week crashed a party at the White House given by President Barack Obama and his wife. On that occasion the thieves were unable to separate the President from his pants, succeeding only in escaping with a set of ceremonial Christmas drink coasters dating from the Carter administration.
When the theft of Adams’ “dharma pants” was made known, one of the Philharmonic’s violists, Bagwam Shree Rajsneesh Jr., generously offered Mr. Adams the use of his emergency spare dhoti.
“I keep it in my case along with extra strings and a picture of my kids, said the violist. You never know what might happen during a concert.”
Adams, however, respectfully declined Mr. Rajsneesh’s offer, opting instead for a quicker alternative, a pair of Acton Protecto Hip Waders offered to him by a member of the stage crew. Click here for surveillance camera footage of frantic dressing room activity in wake of theft.
FAA police later in the day apprehended The Airborne Toxic Event thieves as they stepped off the plane and crossed over Austin city limits.
Mr. Adams will be reunited with his pants later in the week when he arrives in New York to conduct his Nativity oratorio, El Niño at Carnegie Hall next Sunday.
“Happiness is overrated,” said the composer, but a good pair of dharma pants is serious bliss.
El Niño, by the way, is one of my favorite pieces of music ever - so if you're in New York, go out of your way to see the living composer conduct it! Thanks to Mrs Bonnie Whiting Smith for the tip on this story.