Sunday, January 31, 2016

Cut It As A Girl

I’m en route to the mall with my daughter and two friends.  It sure sounds rough out there for eleven year-old girls.  One classmate, who’d surely scream if they heard what this crew were saying about her, is already putting make up on, which is totally uncool, far worse, she doesn’t know how to put it on right.  She is reportedly putting on eyeliner so that there is a gap that is somehow visible.  I absolutely would not have cut it as a girl.  I’m certain I would have been slapdash in my application of eyeliner. 

We’re at the Indigo mall.  This is apparently cool.  I’ve been through so many new malls in Beijing over the years, from the Friendship Store to this that I’ve lost count and assuredly all interest.  This seems in no way discernibly different from the big mall environment I ducked in to on Market St. last week in San Francisco, searching for insect repellent.  Comforting, depressing, homogeneity:  my country’s malignant contribution to global civilization:  the mega mall.

Columbia’s contribution to global civilization includes Cumbia.  I’ve got Gregorio Uribe, his accordion and his big band up in my ear buds.  I’d seen him at Zinc in the Village two weeks back.  It was most assuredly a big band with about eighteen people up on the tiny stage. They tore it up that night and he was utterly charming, articulate.   I remember admiring the guitar player’s afrobeat guitar chops that I wish were profiled a bit more loudly on this recorded mix in my ears. 

The girls went to the food court.  I funded it, but figured I’d cut them some space to enjoy themselves.  I’m down at the other food-centric amphitheater.  Four floors of restaurants stare out on to some kind of center stage where a Lincoln-log, faux rural Chinese New Year set stands, uninviting, beneath eighteen red lanterns.  The windows are tremendous and remind me of the departure hall of every airport built in China, during the last five years.

Feed Them To The Fire

There are only two days left in January.  The Christmas tree should definitely be put away.  For the first time in many years, we have a fireplace.   The tree stands two meters to the side.   The other night, I heard a sharp crackling in the other room.  Entering I noticed my wife had begun to take a pruning shears to some of the lower branches of the tree and feed them to the fire.  

I thought about this.  Something automatic from my youth told me that A: you don’t burn pine because it’s sappy and doesn’t burn well, though this tree was rather dry, and the branches were quite happily burning away.  B: sappy pine is bad news for the chimney flue.   The creosote will clog it up, or worse, catch on fire.  I mentioned all this to my wife, who wasn’t particularly interested.  There weren’t many branches.  It was visually and auditorily appealing.

She clipped away at various intervals over the last ten days.  It was a slow denuding and a slow disassembly of Christmas ornaments.   What was left after a time was a rather scarred carcass of our tannenbaum with the star still atop, beyond anyone’s reach.  The lights still drooped down from the summit. Visually unappealing it seemed at one and the same time sacrilegious and at the same time, practical.  I asked her to draw the shades. 

Today, my daughter and I clipped off the rest of it, put away the ornaments that had been piling on the table in the living room and swept up all the needles.   The bare, clipped trunk remained with its root structure, potting soil and the large wooden tub that housed it all.  (that’s how the sell em’ here, folks).  Two men had brought it in.  I managed to get it out side.   

All the needles are swept up.  There’s a pile of branches there, clipped for kindling, as well.  The ornaments and the lights are in their box now, down beneath where the garbage bags and the shoes no one wears, are kept.  Curtains closed on Christmas, five days from a late lunar New Year.   I should probably go buy a saw so I can “recycle” the bare trunk.  It will sit there for a while, otherwise.

Start A Chat With

I had the trip all planned.  But I still had the last four days in Costa Rica to account for.  In all my years of travel, I have never bought a ticket (let alone four) for a flight, month’s in advance, to find out later, though still month’s in advance, that it had been cancelled.  Air China will not be flying that flight that day.  The flight you bought the ticket for no longer exists.  You can get a refund, or we’ll put you on the same flight two days later.  The fact that that I had bought four such tickets through a service called “Cheapo Air” was not reassuring.  Digging in, it appeared to be an Air China call however, which I could try to get a refund on, or just deal with. 

So we’ll fly back two days later.  Miraculously I got all the connecting flights switched ahead of time, as well.  So we’re good.    I’ve meant to make time for weeks to plan for these extra days, but only got down to it the other night.  The only merciful thing to do after bringing three ladies up volcanoes, across borders, into the jungle, into many, many churches and museums, would be to allow for some days on the beach somewhere.  I began to look into it and quickly discovered that four places in a row were sold out.  I instinctively cursed the four hundred million new middle class Chinese who were invariably traveling like me for Lunar New Year.  Upon reflection, (and examination) it’s more likely the gringgos  fault . It’s President’s day weekend. 

Last night I reviewed.  The Pacific coast down near Quepos, is only two hours from the capital, San Jose.  I sifted through the places.  That expensive?  Too cheap.  Too far from the beach.   The Hotel Mariposa was afforded high praise.  The photos were remarkable.  The near by town, compelling.  Post card beach.  Remarkable forest.  OK, OK.   It will invariably be sold out. 

I looked for where to call as I’d done with a half a dozen other places in Nicaragua, the week before.  “Start a chat with one of our staff.”  A link, caught my eye.  (I looked just now, and couldn’t find it on the site, which seems odd.)  Soon I was texting with a woman named Marissa.   They provided a photo of her smiling face and without too much trouble she upsold me on different dates than I wanted.   It will mean a painfully early departure the last night to catch a plane but the rest of it should be grand.  

I said thanked Marissa and wound down the conversation.  Her photo continued to smile at me, throughout.  She sent me a form to fill out and I noticed her surname was Chen.  She had, in fact looked Chinese, aside from her lips, which had a large, mestizo quality.   I hadn’t anticipated much of a Chinese presence in either country, beyond the billionaire who wants to build the new canal.  But the diaspora is fathomless and appears to have cast the honorable surname Chen, over there in Ouepos.  Perhaps she can tell us more abut the story, when we're there. 


My older daughter was lying on the floor staring at her computer upside down.  “Whatchu working on?”  “Have to do something on Mesopotamia.”  “Awesome!” “Whatever.”  “What are you going to do it on?”  “My friend and I have to pick something.  Mythology.”  “Do you remember last summer when we went to the Brooklyn Museum?”  “Sort of.”  “They have that amazing life size wall relief.  The guy with the wings and the sandals?  Near Eastern something.  What was that?  You remember it?” “Nope.”  “I’m gonna look it up.”

What I’d remembered was the “Relief of Winged Man-Headed Figure Facing Right.”

The figures in the reliefs from King Ashur-nair-pal II’s palace, including the king himself, are sometimes depicted with wrist- and headbands decorated with rosettes. When worn by genies, rosettes may identify them as personal attendants of the king. The rosette may have been associated with the worship of the goddess Ishtar, since numerous rosettes have been found in her temple in the Assyrian city of Ashur.

“Ishtar, man.  That is it.  Do it on the goddess Ishtar!”  I could tell she was mildly curious, which is about as good as it gets.  Ishtar goes way back.  She makes an appearance, albeit as a brat, in the oldest piece of literature ever carved into a tablet, “The Book of Gilgamesh.”  She served as the Asyrian goddess of love, war, fertility and sexuality, which probably meant folks consulted with her regularly.  Akin to Venus for the Romans, Aphrodite for the Greeks; same pantheon, different name; the Fertile Crescent probably makes as good a claim as anywhere to the origins of this mighty lady. 

“I think we’re supposed to find someone named ‘Astar-ish.’”  “OK.  Hah!  Look here.  Astarte is supposed to be a different name for Ishtar.  They’re both goddesses of love.”  “Lemme see.”  “Ishtar is totally the cooler name.  You should do Ishtar.”  She took all this in calmly, and returned to her computer. 

I returned to consider the Man Headed Figure and his wings.  Massive forearms, and a handbag.  I’m glad the Man Headed Figure is safely incarcerated there on Eastern Parkway, and out of the hands of ISIS. 

Unexplored For So Long

Not precisely sure how this happened, but I completely missed Roxy Music for the last 49 years.  The dearest of friends, with impeccable, stem cell-similar taste that evolved in a waltz with my own, wrote recently to insist I dig in.   Appropriately it was his college-aged son who had forced the band upon him.

The first few Roxy Music album covers were absolutely iconic, sexually supercharged, unavoidable flashing lights at the age of thirteen in every record store at the time.  And times immemorable, a teen flipping through albums, I saw, considered, and discarded them as something I wasn’t interested in.  Why?  Too soft when I was in to punk?  To angular when I was rediscovering everything else from those early seventies years?  It wasn’t just me, either.  No one else among my knowing set, echo chamber, had anything to say about them for all these years. 

I’ve been listening over and over to the first four albums this week.  They feel like missing femur bone that connects one limb of rock history to another.   I pride myself on knowing either side of that bridge, very well; say British rock of the early seventies to the punk explosion a few years later.   These songs are punchy, catchy, experimental, blessed with tasteful period guitar fills and screeching sax.  Brian Ferry himself soars, with a voice that seems to immediately suggest seminal influence for, Jello Biafra, Devo, David Byrne, Howard Devoto, David Vanian, and how many other voices I otherwise considered as sui generis, and utterly unique. I caught a clip of Ferry reminiscing about the band and he came across and thoughtful, articulate, smart.

I’m still a bit mystified by it all: how cold something so obvious, remain unexplored for so long?  I’m trying to recall who was ever into them over the years.  No one comes to mind.  Better still, why wasn’t every one into them?  The album covers have a pornographic quality that made them feel cheap, glammy and trite.  Something that looks like that can’t be what I’m looking for.  So glad to discover I was wrong.  I’m gonna put on ‘Re Make / Re Model’ right now.