Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Cherubic Cumulous Positivity

A clear night and now the sun is coming over the hill which we live near the bottom of.  Uncharacteristically minor sounding solo above the cherubic, cumulous, positivity of the Congolese rhumba.  Some exceptional time changes, horn fills on this gorgeous song by Les Grands Maquisards “Nsonia de Diana.”  It was so arresting and obscure that I thought to add it to a Youtube playlist I have as a general repository.  I couldn’t find the edit function the way I formerly could.  I watched two or three how-to videos, read through unpleasant threads of complaint and . . . gave up.  I’ll do it later.  The sun’s coming up.

Some little bird is out there signing triplets.  peeya peeya peeya pi pi pi.   I tried to capture the sound with my handy, dandy bird call identifier app and it tells me I’m listening to a starling or perhaps a nuthatch.  In the time it’s taken to type that, he’s gone. 

A fresh pot of coffee from a cup with a stupid slogan on it.  This isn’t a cup anyone I know bought.  It’s a remnant I suspect from an earlier tenant.  A new bird’s on the scene.  She sputters off two upward calls and then a spray of eight staccato tweet-thrusts.  I’m gonna head out there and dump some seeds on the lawn.  As I often do, I imagine them looking down up on me incredulous: “Here he comes again.   I know.   He’s just throwing seed around.  He’s an idiot but he’s our idiot.  peeya peeya peeya pi pi pi."

My younger daughter’s vacation just got extended by a week.  The older one was told Spring Break would extend till mid-April.  And just like that, we’ll all be a foursome again for an extended period of time.  We will need to buy puzzles and monopoly sets and a deck of cards and more, I’m sure, as we ain’t going nowhere. Stranger perhaps than for many people watching this virus unfold as a bicultural U.S. – China family. As the terror over there was very personal and commanded all of our attention where it was perhaps only of peripheral interest to most Americans and we could watch as it flared and receded in one place and built with uncertainty here now as well.   The unknown, the unpredictable is America’s broth just now, where Chinese have been told all is now well under control.  The editorial in Today’s New York Times by Ian Johnson captures this sentiment nicely and stares coldly at America’s unwillingness to see learnings from how China handled matters.

Saturday, 03/14/20

Ambient Hum, Awake, Asleep

I finished the second volume of the “Jin Ping Mei” today.   A third of the way through this three-thousand-plus page tapestry, painted during the Ming about the world of the late, northern Song.  No dearth of amoral characters, who cheat on and steal from each other with impunity, page after page.  But it is not an amoral world.  Everyone’s place in society and their relative degree of agency, or slavery is interdependent and to those we read about, obvious.  If you’re a magistrate you can order your slaves fingers crushed for a small matter that clearly wasn’t their fault, like letting the ill adorned, Scrounger Pai force his way in and take a seat in the waiting room.  No one would dare to question such a wretched decision.  And like the “Dream of the Red Chamber”, everything is fine, until the emperor and officialdom decides it’s not.  And then, it is all over rather quickly. 

There is graphic sex in nearly every chapter.  But it is so commonplace and unremarkable that it begins to feel normal, this unedited view into private lives.  Of course everyone with power uses it to get what they want and if the magistrate decides he’d like to sleep with your wife, and pay her informally in silver taels . . . you and she can both laugh about what a dolt the magistrate is later on and keep the silver.   At first it all seems like an overload, of all this bawdy activity, page after page, day after day.  Gratuitous indulgence, “you bet!” to every temptation, is it all a bit much?  Rather, it probably maps quite accurately to the appetite of the typical adult male mind where titillation and distraction occur like an ambient hum awake, asleep, amidst much of our cognition.  Xi Men Qing is wealthy, powerful and can act on whatever he fancies, for now. 

Rainy Day.  Rained last night. Sun didn’t make its appearance on time. I threw on a sweater and went outside tossed some seeds around.  Noticed the metallic sound of the Tufted Titmouse call, down in the lower field.  Why does he sound so strange, and tinny?  The squirrels are fighting over the sewn largesse now.  I’m considering throwing on a bike-rain coat I’d bought and haven’t yet used, to hit the trail on a rainy day and today is made to order.  I’ll come home all muddy.  The road will be sloppy.  

I tried a few free apps yesterday to let you identify bird calls.  Song Sleuth allows you to specify your location and time of year and make a real time recording which it then pairs to most likely sources.  Standing beside my bike at a cross point on the rail trail, it suggested I was hearing a squirrel or a toad.  There you go.  I’m trying to use it now, inside, but it can’t capture the sound that I can hear so clearly.  Merlin Bird ID made by the esteemed Cornell Ornithology Lab expects you to put in so much information before it can make any suggestions.  By then, your bird will have flown.    

Friday, 03/12/20

The Guy I’d Transplanted

Two days back I spied two small evergreen tree saplings.  One has long needles like a pine the other had shorter fir needles like a Christmas tree.  Tough to say if they were well placed to penetrate the canopy one day given their respective locations.  One of them, the pine, was very close the path and eventually would be stepped on.   The other was set a bit further back and had committed to one long, low branch shooting out from base.  Neither of these saplings were larger than six inches in height. 

I dug them up placed the soil into some large pots and brought them up to the fenced in area my wife has for gardening.  I set them in there with the idea that I’d ideally grow them to a larger size and then move them somewhere in the yard when they were sturdier.  They seem like they’re doing alright, so far.

Yesterday when I set out on my bike, heading north towards Rosendale, I took especially close notice of pines.  Earlier, I’d spied what seemed like a broad variety of pines on Old Huguenot Street.  Watching closely on this ride I noticed dozens of trees that looked like my little, long needled pine.  And similarly, there were an uninterrupted parade of fir like trees that resembled my little transplant.  There were cedars too, but I’m not counting them.  We already have quite a few.  And the further I went the more convinced I became that, there wasn’t much of anything else to see, in the evergreen family.  I don’t know what I’d been looking for.  But it was bit deflating and illuminating certainly to now characterize all the evergreens I saw into two or three simple buckets. 

The six-story pines out in front of Garvan’s are long thing needled pines. That aren’t so different from the big one in my front yard.  The sweeping firs that arch down to the street like graceful hems of a dress near the graveyard set off the road, are basically the same needle shape as the guy I’d transplanted.  Looking online there are obviously many nuances.  A “Balsam Fir” and “Black Spruce” are two I’d have bucketed into my fir bucket.  My dull surprise was that the basic characterizations seemed to simple and finite. 

I found one pine-like tree that was rather distinct from the common one I’d otherwise been seeing.  This one had longer, thicker needles that were further separated from each other than the springs on the common pine.  I looked below it and couldn’t find anything like a pinecone.  Nothing was hanging in the tree either. Later, back in the old railway parking lot I saw the tree once again.  And it can’t be a coincidence that this tree was also bereft of any cones.  I took a small stem and figured I’d plant it to see if I could induce it to sprout up in our garden. 

Today, I’m heading south.  I will be looking very carefully for pines, once again   But I don’t expect to come up with anything particularly new in the conifer world, beyond my three basic Pinaceae buckets.

Thursday, 03/11/20

Jay, the Carbonated Dove

Had been wondering.  As documented, I’d been leaving meal worms out on the concrete slab down below, above the sceptic.  No one touched them all day, they are never there in the morning.  I was up early for a call as usual and all the lights were out.  In the back yard the moon lit the yard and there was a substantive shadow, foraging around down there.  It might have been a porcupine or a ground hog, but once I had the binoculars on it was plain to see from his big, striped tail that it was a raccoon.  Seeing as how they are unreserved about rummaging through garbage, one assumes that this fella didn’t pass up my regular meal worm offering.

There is a water line that runs out the house and into the garden. But the hose fixture that it should connect to has cut clean through.  We diddled around for a while, my wife, and I and managed to connect the garden hose on one end to the source, and the other end to the line that runs out to the garage.  A big blue handle suggested that it simply needed to be pulled and the water would flow.  But it didn’t.  Downstairs the source of that water line was traceable back to a row of handles.  All the lines but this one had a knob to turn.  For now, we’re befuddled.

Stuck home, waiting out the virus, I got tired of nagging my little one to read, to write, to practice for the SATs.  Riding my bike home, I resolved to turn the study into a competition.  I could give them both a vocab quiz.  My wife is always diligently adding to her English word hoard, so I knew she’d be willing.  But the little one?  I suggested that whoever got the higher score could dump a glass of ice water on my head, which caught her attention.  At dinner it was revealed that my daughter got a B while my wife got 100%.  Mercifully my wife wasn’t interested in dousing me. 

Everything seems to revolve around the virus, for so long now.  First, we watched it sweep across China, watched friends evacuate, colleagues hunker down.  Now it is the U.S. turn and I’d say we are likely more tuned into to this progression then most Americans because we watched what happened in Asia so closely. 

I’ve been wishing I knew more of these bird calls.  A few are easy: the abrasive blue jay, the carbonated dove.  I think I know what the cardinal sounds like at this point as they prominently occupy a branch and make it obvious when they are calling.  Most calls, however, remain a mystery.  There are a few birdcall libraries I found on-line, but the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Ornithological Lab appears to be the most serious.  Issue is, you need to know the specific bird name.  Entering “cardinal” gets you thirty different birds to choose from.  I took a guess and picked the vermillion cardinal, which seems an oxymoron.  I had to wade through dozens of other birds that begin “black capped” before I found my little back yard sparrow.   There must be an app like Shazam that lets you record them in real time and feed you back what it is.  I’ll look. (I now have three of them.)

Wednesday, 03/11/20

Playing Congas in the Street

I indulged and allowed myself a viewing of the entire movie, profiling the music, played there in Kinshasa in 1974 at the Rumble in the Jungle concert.  Much of it I’d seen before.  But different to consider in its entirety.  Watching Johnny Pacheco pal around with some local kids, telling them he was from the Bronx, or Ray Barreto playing congas in the street in Kinshasa, with other drummers.  It must have been a heady experience, despite whatever ironies may have been throbbing beneath the bonhomie, as these guys jetted in and jetted out. 

I’m back into the "Plum in the Golden Vase."  I’ve had the second volume of six sitting around for some time.  It wasn’t what I expected to read next, but I think I’m growing increasingly lonesome for China.  This is a medieval Chinese world with interlocking logic that pinion people and behaviors quite at odds with anything we’d think of as normal while at the same time primping and conniving in a manner that couldn’t be more contemporary.  People sounding off violently, but then backing off.  People caught lying and cheating and loosing control of themselves after too many drinks. 

Yesterday was freakishly warm, the first such day all year.  I just stepped outside this morning and it’s colder today.  I’ve been about to go for a ride now for the last few hours, but I keep finding one more thing to do first.  Outside, my bird feeder is out of commission.  I suspect that the sticky tanglefoot I’d put up as a deterrent was so effective that some squirrel couldn’t come undone and took the whole thing down with him.  I can rebuild it all, but there’s a critical screw now missing.  I’ve dug around in the bushes a few times and just could not find it.

My daughter is home for the next two weeks on . . . spring break.  But we aren’t breaking out anywhere.  We’d talked of going out to Portland to see her older sister.  I suppose we might be there right now, if it hadn’t been for this virus.  Not sure about everyone else.  We’re waiting this out carefully for the time being.  The lady of the house is setting the tone.  We’re following her leadership.

Tuesday, 03/10/20

Monday, March 9, 2020

Bit More Snow Please

We went out for a breakfast this morning. High Falls seems to have enough hungry people to sustain two or three thoughtful, distinct breakfast eateries.  Monday around 10:00AM, we had the High Falls Kitchenette to ourselves.  I had steak and eggs and grits and it was delicious. The little one was raving about her grilled cheese and sweet potato fries.  We’d been at the Egg’s Nest across the street, only ten days or so back.  They’re both wonderful, I’m happy to report, this one light, open, a bit austere.  The other dense, with every corner sprouting visual candy.  Both worth your time.  I’ll return to both. 

But we were in a different mood this week.  We’d snuck out.  The lady of the house preferers we call-off all non-essential engagement with the outside world.  Breakfast at the High Falls Kitchenette cannot intelligently be defined as  “essential.”  But it’s good to get out of the house and talk (from behind my mask, mind you,) about what it is my little girl would like to do when she grows up.  And idle chat about the cafĂ© she’d like to open is a rare sprout, something to be nurtured and treasured.  Precisely what I risked the cordon sanitaire for.

Only two days ago I wouldn’t have dreamt of bike riding without gloves, a sweater and a coat.  Today simply a sweater was too much.  It’s warm.  It’s spring.  Ta dah.  But wait, I wasn’t really done with winter.  That was winter?  I mean, there was some snow.  It snowed some.  But, that’s all we get?  I am firmly grounded in the notion that this is a mirage and somewhere around March 15th there will be a blizzard.  A bit more snow, please.  I’m recently returned and this was underwhelming.

Today, geez, it may as well have been April.  I drove up north on the trail and saw a big, fat ground hog waddling up the rocks.  It did not appear to be a day to return hibernatory.  After crossing of Old Huguenot Street, the path becomes desolate and wooded, and beyond one hill the trail passes a swampy pond that was frozen most of the winter but is now a chorus.  Frogs!  A remarkable Woodstock of frogs.  Considering the season, thoughts of bees, and of birds one imagines this can only but be a collective chorus of: “expletive me.  “I must expletive you.”  . . . amplified towards frog stadium volumes.  I am on thin ice suggesting insights into frog psyche, but you know what?  I’d say all the frogs, were getting off on the fact that all of known frog-dom had chosen this particular time and place to get off, right now, too.  I just stood there are marveled at the frog triumphalism.  Fuck on.

Monday, 03/09/20

Irresistible Buoyant Bass Runs

Apparently hearing the sax player ‘King Curtis’ pronounced to his reckoning as “Verckys”, the sax player, orchestra leader, Verckys Kiamuangana Mateta, adopted the moniker by which is he known to the world that knows anything about the remarkable music of the Congo.  Congolese bandleader who grew from Franco’s famous TPOK Jazz band I’ve been enjoying his textured harmonies irresistibly buoyant bass runs that create a wall of citrus and berries.  So consistently upbeat, in almost belies gravity, negativity.  What could be that joyous, that consistently?  I refer you to Congolese history.

These guys are such dreamy fans of Latin rhumbas, I bet there must have been some interesting exchange during that Rumble in the Jungle concert (Ali vs. Foreman) in Kinshasa in 1974.  Rather than the obvious interplay between say Franco and Tabu Ray, and James Brown, which can only have been fascinating, I’d have be particularly interested to know what the exchange was like with the Fania All Stars from the Puerto Rico, via New York. Did Johnny Pacheco and Willie Colon jam out with these Congolese bands, with such complementary orchestral sensibilities?  Hmm.  

OK.  I just got sucked into Youtube candy and watched Hector Lavoe sing “La Canta Mi Gente” there in Zaire in 1974.  My goodness, they were all up there.  Larry Harlow on the keys, Ishmael Miranda, Cheo Feliciano on backing pipes, and those Bobby Valentine bass lines could be the mirror image of those Verckys’ bass lines, just strip back the cherubic, high-neck repeating delayed guitar-crystal of the Congolese and front end the congas and punchy El Bario, keys and allow for dalliances in the minor modes. 

My mom paid us a visit today.  I kept my distance.  Spoke to her through a mask.  She was only dropping things off.  A wonderful drop off, actually.  Virtual hug.  Wave bye, bye.  I think it’s best.  This virus has a way of mercilessly dethroning blowhards.  Best to err on the side of caution.  We all know America isn’t really prepared.

Sunday 03/08/20

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Entertain Such a Sacrifice

Sun is gone but there’s a fine glow coming up from behind the Gunks.  I took an art class with my sister one summer and we learned the technique “French Wash” which reminds me of what I am looking at.  “This is Happiness”  by Niall Williams is denuding I slow down.  I think I’ve been reading fiction, written by people who are moving story lines more than chiseling marble.  Mr. Williams is concerned with every sentience.  One needs to slow down and chew on each of the sentences.

I’m back in New York, under a self-imposed quarantine.  I just flew to LA and back in about 48 hours.  Reporting live, it doesn’t seem as though America is taking this Covid19 alert seriously.  Not a single person on either flight nor anywhere in the airports has masks on.  None of the TSA staff, none of the staff on the airlines, none of the folks tasked with coming on the planes later to clean them up.  No one seemed particularly well protected.  It isn’t going to be pretty if interstate travel becomes curtailed.  Can America even entertain such a sacrifice?

I washed my hands diligently during my trip.  Fretted more than I otherwise ever would have pushing the doors at Port Authority, gripping the rail down to the A Train or later at the Path Train.  Hoboken was oblivious.  Newark was oblivious.  Anaheim as oblivious, Pasadena and Studio City and LAX and Newark Liberty Airport, and Port Authority once again and the Trailways Bus Company and the New Paltz stretch of the Walkill Rail Trail just now.  Everyone is still assuming  this is happening somewhere else. 

Driving up from Port Authority on the first bus out this morning we had a young woman as our driver.  About fifteen minutes into the spaghetti bowl of arterial possibilities, we had a flat tire.  The driver, our helmslady, was great.  She tried to calm everybody down, acknowledging that the sound of the tire popping was intimidating.  And that this would introduce delay.  But we shouldn’t be the least bit frightened.  She needed to go out of the bus.  We should stay inside.  It will be OK.  Everything went exactly as she said it would.  Later, after we’d switched busses and taken seats in our new bus and driven all the way up the New York State Throughway to my home stop, I made a point of telling her that she did great, in managing our flat tire matter.  She was unresponsive.  But I hope it gave her a shine.  She deserved it. 

Saturday, 03/07/20

To This Scene Scaffolding

"Blues from Laurel Canyon" is a John Mayall and the Blues Breakers album he did around 1968 or so.  In his typical chatty narrative, he claims that he’d “never seen a better crop.” Considering the ladies in the neighborhood.  I always hated that line.  A few minutes ago I made the first-in-a-life-time , uneventful turn on to the Laurel Canyon exit from the 101.  This is “Studio City” which much have something to do with movieland.  I’m just watching the life outside the window.  There’s a guy who’s probably a decade younger than John Mayhal, which means he’s still in his seventies, sitting on Ventura Boulevard and Vantage Ave with a tourquoise Strat that looks not unlike my own.  He’s wearing dapper little hat and a young lady, just stopped, deposited coins in his box and chatted for a while.  

Freeways, man.  Highways, and interstates, and state routes.  This is such a celebration of a particular American epoch:  Post war.  The freedom and the tyranny of the automobile:  In LA there was no apparent reason to say “no” to the next highway, to connect the next ex-burb and as a result no urban core ever seemed to coagulate.  I was at the beautiful Huntington Library, Gardens and Art Gallery and it was astoundingly beautiful to traipse from “desert” gardens to Japanese gardens to Australia gardens.  But I couldn’t escape the feeling, even though the hum was faint and nearly drowned by the calls of birds I didn’t recognize, that we were surrounded on all sides by highways, liquid veins of humanity that punctuate and human notion of “natural.” 

I’ve enjoyed this brief visit to California.  I always do.  It is one of the most wonderful places on earth to visit.  But I wouldn’t want to live here.  I never enjoyed living in this state.  If you had “obscenity-thou” money, perhaps it would open like an orchid, but at a baseline, I’d miss the seasons and I’d hate the freeways.  Highways are important to New York City too, of course.  But they are so obviously an after thought.  Something bolted on, rather than essential to the initial build-out. 

“This is Happiness” by Niall Williams has forced me to slow down.  I was reading it quickly, following broad brushstrokes and it dawned on me, when I considered the dense, ironic pace, that I’d been missing nugget after nugget.  No, there isn’t any filler.  Every sentence is thoughtfully crafted.  It’s more like reading poetry thank ‘move-you-from-this-idea-to-this-scene’ scaffolding.  Once I slowed down, it occurred to me just why my stepmom was so enamored with this tale.   I have a long flight home tonight.  A ‘redeye’ as they say.  I'm off to sleep early and when I return from oblivion we are already landing in Newark.  

Friday 03/06/20 

A Phalanx of "Oh You."

So much of the country appears to be wasteland.  Is that a fair thing to call it?  A pejorative, certainly.  One man’s “waste . . . “   Dry, dusty, desert, it seems, that extends out and rises up in sharp, denuded peaks, of no great size, considered from way up here.  There are disparate signs of humanity, but not many.  One remembers how little of one’s own country one has any real knowledge of.  I’ve flown across the country dozens of times, but driven across and back only once.   And that was thirty years ago.

The news, bad, of course.  Go to China if you want good news.  The nice thing about China Daily:  inflation is always under control, thieves have always, just been caught.  Advertising revenue isn’t particularly important.  Manipulating public opinion is the unvarnished objective.  Flying across the country from New Jersey to Los Angeles the Washington Post has a heat map of where all the Corona cases are flaring up across the country.  The New York Times informs me that California with fifty cases now, has declared a state of emergency.  Lovely.  I fly home tomorrow night and perhaps, by then, New York will have done the same.  (It did.)

I had it in my mind to go to the Huntington Library and see the collection, perhaps I’d find some live jazz.  Forget it.  I’ll probably just do my meeting and return to the cordon sanitaire of my budget hotel.  I wouldn’t even bother to make the trip, but I can safely say, this voyage is important. 

Last night was in Maplewood New Jersey.  My brother and his family live about fifteen minutes from Newark Airport.  That . . . is convenient.  I got to see my nephew at his school.  He’d told all his teachers and his friends that I was coming and I was greeted with a phalanx of “oh, you,” as I made my way through the school and out to the playground.  What a lovely age, what a lovely young man.  He’s open to ideas and to whatever is before him.  He wants to share everything.  Being around children of that age is rejuvenating. 

We’re landing now.  Perhaps I’ll give you some kind of update from the City of Angels.  First I have to do my share of driving in this city of freeways. And there it is, like it always was, the California sun cutting through the arrival hall, making a mockery of the "wolverine" coat in my arms.  

Thursday, 02/05/20

Loathe to Put One On

Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra, with Coleman Hawkins up in the ears.  Up until a few moments ago I was sailing down the New York State Throughway, not far from the Woodbury Commons exit, but we have just reached a jam.  There may be road work up ahead.  We just passed a sign that said the right lane was out.  Prepare for it.  Fortunately, I’m not in any big rush.  And ten minutes later we’re back to a respectable speed.

Off to L.A.  Business in southern California. Fly over on Thursday, return home late Friday.   It will be sunny.  It will be a lot of driving, as any time in L.A. tends to require.  I may have some down-time on Friday and have asked some friend’s who know the city which of the many museums the city boasts of, would be a good excuse for a visit. Is it easy enough to see live Jazz in L.A.?  I remember that Harold Land used to play at a place called Hop Singh in Marina Del Rey, but it appears that this venue is long since closed. 

I’m riding on Trailways bus down to Port Authority and no one is wearing a mask.  I have some in my bag but am loathe to put one on, just now.  Masks, as we all know do not protect you from much though can help to protect others from you.  A colleague explained last night, that the masks are invaluable for another reason, as well.  They retard people from putting their fingers up to their mouths.  I have a little flap of skin on my thumb.  It is annoying me.  I’ve tried to flick it off with my nails, scrape it back, pull at it.  It’s almost impossible to ignore.  I want to bite it off and acknowledge that resisting this temptation this time and every time will be no small task.  

I feel that sleepy feeling coming on.  I had an early call and was up earlier than that.  Tonight, I am staying at my brother’s and I can’t wait to see him, his wife and their buoyant little boy, my nephew, their son.   I’m to rendezvous with my brother in Hoboken after arriving in Port Authority.  Have I ever ridden a Path Train?  I have certainly never strolled the streets of Hoboken.  One suspects there is some remarkable, old architecture and some commanding views of Manhattan.  I’ll have a look at what’s recommended for lunch in this New Jersey all-but-borough. 

Wednesday, 02/04/20

Where All the Insufferable

A piece of siding got separated from the side of the house.  Where else would siding go but on the side of the house? Our former neighbor who is a contractor had suggested he’d come and fix it.  But it’s been a few days and the Mrs. is worried that all the rain is ruining the wood beneath.  Ruining the house itself.  Gazing out at the back yard today talking away on the phone, I was pleasantly surprised to see Josh, one the members of my neighbor’s crew, walking along downstairs with a large ladder.  Later I went out to offer them coffee they confirmed that the wood underneath hadn’t yet been damaged. 

Regular readers know that I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about the Congo, the Republic of or the Democratic Republic of.  I’m on to Adam Hochschild’s “King Leopold’s Ghost,” the first part of which traces his frustrated royal youth, his loveless marriage, and his unerring desire for an empire of his very own.  The broad outlines of the in unfortunate history I’d traced in other works, and while some of the brazen logic that buttressed these land grabs is all but incomprehensible today, the construction of the justifications for one or another such effort are all quite familiar.

Around 10:30AM I hopped on a scheduled call.  My sister’s old friend has worked in Senegal and other sub-Saharan countries for much of the last two decades.  She had a friend she wanted to connect we with who hailed from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  A wonderful young woman, with an exceptional tale of asylum and subsequent success.  She hailed form Bukavu, Eastern DR Congo on Lake Kivu, across the water from Rwanda, where all the insufferable warfare, genocide, revenge, and retreat spilled out that very area when she was young. 

She was visiting the United States when an assault in her home town convinced that her life was in danger at home.  Fortunately she was able to apply for a secure asylum in the United States, during a civil time, somewhere in Obama’s term.  One can only imagine how wretched it might have been for her to have needed anything like official tolerance and empathy, during he toxicity of the current administration . . . may it end swiftly.  A friend from Israel wrote last night, still shell-shocked that Bibi had somehow won a third election.  I asked him to wish us better luck, please, in our upcoming affair. 

Tuesday 03/03/20

Monday, March 2, 2020

Simply Read it Through

Tender reader, you know I’ve been keeping crazy hours.  I didn’t have a midnight call last night.  But after the 9:00PM call and follow-up afterwards, I just went to sleep and as a result woke up early around 1:00AM.  Not tossing and turning.  But up.  And the Mrs. wasn’t in bed yet, great coordination between us.  So, I turned on the light and made my way through a novel from Zimbabwe, that my daughter is reading for school: “Nervous Conditions” by Tsitsi Dangarembga.  Propped up on the pillow, I read it straight through, Tambu’s remarkable coming of age. 

I crashed out with my wife when she finally entered the bed not long after I’d finished the novel.  But before long I was up again trudged out to the living room, turned on the thermostat, and checked emails and texts in the office room.  And before I got pulled into the world COVID-19 and the primaries, on the morning news, I let myself start up another book I had on the Congo:  “Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa,” by Jason Stearns.  Written as what seemed to be an elaboration of in depth articles he’d written during the period concerned, it offered more color but ultimately was a less satisfying read than the same treatment of that puzzle-wrapped in an enigma, handled in the relevant chapters of: Congo: The Epic History of a People,”  by David Van Reybrouck, which I’d finished the day before.   

It was also a lot shorter than the Van Reybrouck, book and I was done with it by 9:30AM or so.  I had one call.  Another was cancelled.   I looked out at the yard and considered all the critters feasting on the seeds I’d thrown not long ago and then considered my desk.  Yes, there was work, to do.  Yes, I ought to go out and get some exercise.  But there on the desk was “Life and a Half” by the Congolese writer, Sony Labou Tansi.  It was only one-hundred and thirty pages long and I told myself I’d only read the first twenty pages, which turned into the first half the novel and then, as it roughly preceded, I decided to simply read it through. 

I appreciate that I do not sound very busy, if I have time to read three books in a day.  In fact, there is a bit of a waiting-game underway on a key business effort or two.  And while there are always another few emails one could reply to, it is a comparatively slow time, what with the virus and the harvest of a reasonably productive work-weekend.  Around noon my package came and there are two more books about the Congo, along with a new pair of jeans.  My other pair evidenced an unseemly gash the other day, right beside the front zipper.  Still don't know how it happened.  But they were ruined.  That wouldn’t do.  But enough is enough.  I went out for a bike ride, took a shower, had some lunch and got some work done.  But I confess, I’ve also already read the first twenty pages of Alain Mabanckou’s “Black Moses,” which I suspect wall also be completed before the morrow’s dawn. 

Monday, 03/02/20

The Stoicism and Grit

The Mrs. is nervous about the virus.  She’s not alone.  Last night my father and stepmom suggested a dinner at Lombardi’s in Gardiner.  We’d tried to go there on Valentine’s Day at the last minute and it was completely sold out.  I’d been a few years back, but couldn’t much remember what it was like.  I’ve swung and missed on the few Italian joints we’ve visited and in New Paltz, so yes, sure, let’s head there.   My wife wasn’t having it.  “Let’s eat home.”

Indeed, yesterday she came home after having done a massive shop.  She let slip that she’d seen an article in Chinese social media about Americans stockpiling food. One imagines that nothing like the Hubei province, Wuhan metropolis lockdowns that happened without major protests.  U.S. citizens won’t take kindly to any such lock down.  Some U.S. citizens pride themselves on being armed in preparation for any such government interference.  Guns notwithstanding, it will be harder to control people and their movement in this country.  And so, perhaps spreading will occur uncontrollably. 

There are many way in which one could critique the CCP’s handling of the virus, particularly in the early days of the outbreak, but the world certainly has the Chinese people to thank for putting up with the hardships and restrictions of the last six weeks, or the spread of the virus would invariably be much worse.  One hopes the number of new cases in the U.S. continues to grow unconvincingly, in small fits are starts.  But if not, we’ll all need to model ourselves on the stoicism and grit of hundreds of millions of Chinese families. 

And much as I would have liked to go out for dinner last night, I was content to dine at home.  Before dinner we all took a walk, down on the rail trail.  I bike down there every day.  My wife and I walk down there regularly.  But it’s not often my little one joins us.  I warned here that she was underdressed and by the time we got to the bridge she was complaining that her ears were cold.  I gave her my coat with the hood, while keeping ahold of my gloves, and zipped up the turtleneck on my sweater for the return walk home.

After dinner my wife shared an interesting documentary about Isabel Cook.  I know of the stories of Sidney Rittenberg and Sidney Shapiro, but this was a Canadian woman who’d been born in Sichuan, the daughter of missionaries and who, after returning from college in Canada, was married to a British communist and they worked for the revolution, helping to establish the Beijing Foreign Studies Institute.  A Chinese production, there was the notable omission of anything that occurred between 1953 and say, 1979.  I looked and her husband was (of course) imprisoned during Wen Ge, and she was confined to the university.  Regardless she was a forceful and compelling advocate and as they sat there in her small Beijing apartment interviewing her in Chinese, I got an aching melancholy considering just how much I missed Beijing.

Sunday, 03/01/20

I Will Likely Go

The Congo.  What do I know of the Congo?  I think that if it had been more than a week ago, I might have labored to distinguish the Republic of the Congo, with its capital in Brazzaville with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and its capital in Kinshasa.   Surely, I knew which place had formerly been known as Zaire.  And, I’ve a love of Franco and Tabu Rochera.  I’ve seen ‘When We Were Kings.” Yes, I’ve long enjoyed Mbongwana Star as well.  But a week ago it became clear that one of my clients will likely want our help for an event in Pointe Noire in late June.  Pandemic’s notwithstanding, I will likely go. 

This means I’ve a lot of reading to do to begin to piece-together precisely what this Central African mother-load is derived from.  I’ve bought a bunch of books.  Having essentially closed out on all the reading I’d lined up for pre, during, post Israel, with the ever popular “New Testament” I dove in properly today to David Van Reybrouck’s “Congo:  The Epic History of a People”  About half way through now, as the sun sets just after 6:00PM on this first of March, 2020, I am up to World War II and thoroughly enjoying considering this reckoning with colonialism and imperialism, from a completely distinct perspective.

I’ve more historical texts and many novels on deck.  Reading about the Congo, which, to be fair, and as confessed the other day on the phone when the client mentioned this event, which has so catalyzed my thinking, I’d only really ever read “Heart of Darkness.”  So many people love Conrad and I’m open to him finding his mark eventually, but having read HoD a second time not so long ago, as well as “The Secret Agent” I noted a similarity between his works that I didn’t like.  He writes beautifully, but “uses” the topical population as mere window dressing.  There is little of interest to discern about the Congolese from HoD and the depiction of anarchist thinking seemed pungently disingenuous in TSA.

I threw in “Congolese” into Spotify.  I was hoping to find an old CD there, which I’d purchased years ago, that was a 1940s sampler of rough Congolese Rhumba, complete with moody black and white photos from that time.  It’s in storage somewhere in Beijing at present.  And I came up short, trying to find it with the most obvious key words.  I’ll have to keep at it.  But fortunately something else populated:  “Congolese Funk, Afrobeat and Psychedelic Rhumba from 1969 to 1978.”  Um, yes!  It’s stunning and a lovely reminder that there is rather a lot more listening work to do, in preparation as well.  Bring it. 

Saturday, 02/29/20