November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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James Randolph Jordan/Creative Nonfiction

Harvest

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The law of harvest is to reap more than you sow. Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.

             –  James Allen

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 By James Randolph Jordan

My parents moved to Mechanicsville in 1954. Back then, it was a slight gathering of buildings — a few houses, a feed store, drug store, post office, gas station and a bar. And even though it had its own place in the old war (my great-aunt Bertha always corrected me if ever I called it a Civil War — “There was nothin’ civil about it”), by 1966 it still remained a world away from the cement sidewalks and noisy streets of nearby Richmond.

It was June, the last day of school. A Tuesday if I remember right. Just about five o’clock, Daddy got home from work and before it was time for my brothers and me to be in bed, he had finished off his first six-pack of Schlitz. It never mattered what my brothers and I had done with our day, what chores we had or had not forgotten. It didn’t matter if we had forgotten to feed the dogs or not answered “sir” when he called. It never mattered. Whether we knew why or not, it was coming. Ronnie, Ricky and I would get the punishment we deserved.

Daddy grabbed Ricky’s wrist, squeezing it. While holding my brother’s arm with one hand, my father unfastened his own belt with his other hand, and yanked it from the loops of his pants. My brother knew what was next.

“Daddy, I didn’ mean to … please, don’!” Daddy was deaf at that point. Maybe he could have heard my brother if he’d wanted to. But he didn’t want to. The whipping began slowly. It always did—as if our father was trying to find his mark—and then striking him with greater accuracy and deliberation with each swing of the belt.

“Daddy! Please!”

“Goddamn you, boy!” The thin narrow belt made loud cracking noises each time it snapped against my brother’s bare legs.

“Please, Daddy—Daddy, please! Stop!”

The whipping grew more intense. Sweat ran down Daddy’s face. Spit sprayed from the old man’s mouth. “You son of a bitch!”

Blood now began weeping through the cuts and welts that appeared on Ricky’s legs.

“Daddy, I’m sorry!”

“Ya gonna …?” Daddy now swung the belt so hard he seemed unable to remember what it was he was going to say. His arm flung the strap wildly, each time still managing to hit his mark. “Ya gonna do it again?” he asked after a few more strikes. Ricky could barely answer.

“No, suh ….”

It was right that Daddy swung his belt against us—swearing and cursing some vile thing he saw in me and my brothers. It had to be right. Our father was always right. As Ricky sat curled up on the bed crying, Ronnie and I got ours. Daddy’s belt tore through our skin. Our cries and screams echoed through the open windows of our bedroom—filling the hot evening air of the surrounding woods. Mumma stood there. Silent. Time for bed.

The next morning, Daddy was gone before my brothers and I got up. As the sun began heating our small, cement-block house, our mother fixed us a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast. A body always needed to look hard at what Mumma was fixing us to eat—especially when Daddy wasn’t around. Whether it was from her upbringing or just something she’d heard in passing, I didn’t know—but Mumma held strongly to the notion that children should be fed things which didn’t taste good—because things that taste bad must be good for you. As a matter of principle, the worse something tasted, the better it was for you.

Mumma slid plates of eggs in front of each of us and led us in grace. “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive ….”

Ricky began poking at his eggs before the final words. Mumma reached over and rapped his knuckles with the edge of a butter knife.

“From Thy bounty through Christ our Lord.”

After the Amen—Ronnie, Ricky, and I each grabbed a piece of toast from the plate in the middle of the table and began to fill our faces.

Our kitchen was dark yellow. The vinyl seats of the kitchen chairs were dark yellow. The vinyl backs of the chairs were dark yellow and the table, with a Formica top and chrome legs, matched the chairs. Even the wall-phone, with its long curly cord, was dark yellow. This particular morning, the color of the scrambled eggs matched the rest of the kitchen.

“The eggs look funny,” I said. Ronnie and Ricky were already eating theirs, but not without drinking large amounts of powdered milk and taking a few bites of toast between each forkful.

“Jus’ eat ’em, Randy,” Mumma answered.

As I took the first bite, I chewed carefully— not wanting to be too surprised at whatever was coming.

“They taste funny—kinda fishy.”

My brothers had fought this battle too many times and lost. This time, though, they surrendered without even a word. I, on the other hand, wasn’t about to go down so easily.

“Mumma, what’s in the eggs?”

“It’s shad roe.”

“What’s roe?”

She snickered a little.

“They a’ fish eggs. Jus’ eat ’em. They’ll make ya smart.”

“I don’t wanna be smart. Can’t I have just some plain eggs?”

“Y’all go on out ’n play,” Mumma said to my brothers as they sat there watching me gag. “You finish your breakfast before I give you somethin’ to really whine about.”

I choked down the rest of the shad roe while Ronnie and Ricky ran out the back door and off to play with friends. By the time I had finished eating, they were long gone. It was better that way for them. Rarely did they want their little brother tagging along as they built forts or shot BBs at their friends and each other.

I went out the back door and walked across the gravel road towards Arlen Stewart’s house. Arlen was a tall, skinny, white-haired boy with a lanky step and a gap between his teeth. He was also a few years older than me. It’s funny that while even just a year or so during one’s childhood can feel more like a decade in age difference, Arlen didn’t seem to mind. Unlike my brothers, he didn’t mind sharing his day with me. For months at a time, nothing deterred us from playing together, not even the fact that he was from a family which my parents referred to as “white trash”—not to be interacted with unless absolutely necessary. But with Ronnie and Ricky off on their own, this morning it seemed like the necessary thing to do.

Next to the Stewart’s house were a few acres where each year they grew their own vegetables—mostly potatoes, tomatoes, watermelons, and some pole beans. Every summer as each crop ripened, Arlen and I would sit under a small tree in the middle of the garden and sample whatever we could pick or pull out of the ground. No water was around to wash the vegetables so we took turns spitting on the produce before taking a bite.

“There’s a nest ’a squirrels in one ’a those trees,” Arlen said. He pointed to the woods up the hill in the distance. The garden was guarded by a copse of oaks, maples, and pines which stood at the crest of a small rise just above where the tomatoes were planted. As mid-morning approached, we sat there among the weeds beneath the tree in the garden—crunching on some potatoes we had pulled from the ground.

“I’ll bet we could get one,” he continued. Pieces of potato fell out of his mouth as he spoke. “This time ’a day they ’a nestin’. We could sneak up on ’em and get ’em!”

At almost 12 years old, my friend amazed me with his knowledge of wild things like squirrels, rabbits, frogs, snakes and whatever else we ever saw. In the years I had known him—which had been all my life—he had taught me just about everything I knew about finding animals that were hiding or naming an animal by the sounds it made. And if he didn’t know something, we would go ask his Mamaw—a slight old woman with a sun bonnet and gingham dress who always came to stay with Carlton and Ora Stewart during the summer months. But this time, Arlen didn’t need to ask his Mamaw. He knew what he was talking about.

We walked up the hill to the woods. Arlen’s hair reflected the sun that was now high in the sky. With a hatchet in hand, he whacked away at each tall weed, bush, and sapling we passed.

“Ya gotta be quiet,” he said. I hadn’t said anything up to this point. We walked into the woods. Arlen placed the hatchet back in its sheath and pulled out a small pocket knife.

“Whaya doin?” I asked.

“We need somethin’ to stick it with.”

“Wuh we gonna stick?”

“The squirrel! This is gonna be neat,” he continued. “Jus’ watch ….”

My friend whittled a branch of sassafras wood into a pointy spear. As we walked, he carefully searched the treetops—all the while continuing to whittle. After a few more steps, we stopped. Arlen looked up and locked his sights on to a particular tree and then with a slow gaze followed it down to the ground. He crept towards a small tree in front of us.

“This is the one!” He pressed his ear firmly against the bark. “You can hear ’em inside.”

My friend backed away from the tree and motioned for me to take a listen. I held my breath for a minute—trying to become as quiet as I could.

“I don’t hear anythin.”

“Plug ya other ear,” Arlen told me.

I stuck my finger in one ear and listened with the other—and there it was, a clawing and scratching on the other side of the wood—like rats inside a wall.

“I hear ’em!”

“Move,” he said pushing me aside. I stepped away. Arlen pulled his hatchet from its sheath and began striking the tree with glancing blows. Methodically, he sliced off pieces of bark as if he were whittling the entire tree. After a short while, his shaving turned into gouging, as if he were trying to dig a splinter out of the tree. Finally, after shaving, gouging, and digging—a hole appeared—and pushing through the hole was gray fur.

“Tha’s it! Tha’s it!” he screamed. “I got it!”

“Whaya gonna do?”

“I wanna make th’ hole bigga first,” he said as he continued to dig. “I wanna be able ta see it more.”

He drove the hatchet into the wood. The squirrel now began to squeal and screech—clawing wildly at the tree from the inside. Why it didn’t escape, I didn’t know. Maybe it was stuck or maybe it just didn’t know how to get out. But I began thinking that if it didn’t get out soon—within a very short time, it would be too late.

By this point, Arlen had carved a hole about as big as a silver dollar. We could easily see the squirrel now twisting in a frenzy for survival.

“Look,” he said, “it’s got teets!”

“Whaya mean? Where?”

“Right there,” he said pointing to the squirrel’s stomach. “That means she’s got babies in there!”

“Maybe we oughta leave her alone.”

“Come on! We can get it!”

I didn’t answer as my friend continued to look intently at the squirrel. Her screeches and barks echoed through the surrounding woods. Arlen picked up the sassafras stick he had whittled earlier and began poking at the squirrel—making her squirm and screech as much as he could. Each time he poked, she bit and clawed at the stick—desperately trying to avoid the attack while not wanting to leave her babies. Within a moment, Arlen’s pokes became jabs. Small streams of blood started to trickle out of the wounds around her nipples. Tiny pieces of flesh and fur now clung to the stick The squirrel screamed even louder—moving around in a feverish panic. The white-haired boy and I both stood there—fixated on the work of his hands.

“If we kill it, we can get it out ’n eat it.” He stared at the blood coming out of the squirrel.

“I don’ want it. I don’ like squirrel.”

“Ya ever had it?” He continued digging and poking.

“Uh-uh. But I know I don’ want any.”

“Well, I’m gonna get it!”

Arlen now leveled the sharpened stick directly at the squirrel as she continued to move around in the tree. He pushed slowly, pinning her against the inside of the trunk—then, with one slow grinding motion, he plunged the stake through her. The squirrel shrieked and jerked. After a moment more, she was dead. We both stood there—not moving. The only noise was the slight whimper of the mother’s litter as they squirmed in the nest beneath her.

My friend took out his pocket knife and continued working to open the hole in the tree so as to retrieve the dead squirrel. But after digging for only a minute or so, he stopped.

“Oh, well. I don’t reckon I can get it out anyway … it’s too big.” And with that, we left the woods.

For the rest of the morning, we wandered around the banks of Old Man Gagnon’s pond—watching snakes slither in and out of the water. Occasionally, we happened upon a bullfrog or an eel that was just a little too slow. The white-haired boy whacked each creature with a stick, saying he wanted to take it home so as to eat it, but we always ended up leaving it behind. We fished for a while, using old line and rusted hooks strewn about a small pier that stretched a few yards out into the pond. We didn’t catch anything.  In the afternoon, we spent a few hours building a fort out of saplings and broken branches. We imagined how much fun it would be to live in the nest of sticks we created. Eventually, we made our way to the creek that meandered from the spillway of the pond so we could dig for crawfish—just to pinch off their claws. But as the day grew older—no matter what else drew our attention—my thoughts returned to our activities earlier in the day—and to the tree which now held an unknown number of baby squirrels whose mother lay dead just above them.

As I walked home, I began to wonder if perhaps we had done some things we shouldn’t have. We shouldn’t have left the garden that morning. We shouldn’t have walked into the woods—or looked into the trees. We shouldn’t have listened to the sounds coming from the inside of the tree. Perhaps then that mama-squirrel wouldn’t be lying dead on top of her babies in the hollow of the tree. If we had eaten the squirrel that might have changed things—but we didn’t. If we had taken the crawfish home for supper, maybe ….

When I got back home, I washed my hands and lay on my bed. Mumma asked me to call my brothers in for supper. Daddy would be home from work soon. I couldn’t remember if the dogs got fed.

 

About the author:

James Randolph Jordan, a native of Mechanicsville, Virginia, currently lives in southeastern Pennsylvania where he works full-time as a writer. His essays, short stories, reflections, and academic writings have appeared in a variety of publications. In addition to working as a writer, he teaches writing and theology at Neumann University in Aston, Pennsylvania.

 

March 2, 2013   Comments Off

Fred Roberts/Music

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, “The Tower of Babel”

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Der Tower von Babel

by Fred Roberts

In my tireless 1980s’ search for German music, rumors reached me of bands and musicians who went further linguistically than I’d imagined. They avoided German and didn’t use English as their medium of delivery. They embraced local culture and flavor, performing their music entirely in dialect — Low German, Bavarian, or the language of Cologne cryptically called Kölsch.

BAP
The first name I heard when I asked about music in dialect was BAP. Before I knew their music I assumed they were German rappers embracing the latest genre out of the States. That was a mistake. BAP did not rap. BAP is a serious rock band, a band with substance: complex arrangements, thoughtful productions and a guitar sounding dreamlike solos and riffs, often with a touch of melancholy. The musical brainchild of Wolfgang Niedecken (not to be confused with the world famous Niederegger brand of marzipan from Lübeck, though the music is just as tasty), BAP formed in 1977 and are still performing today.

BAP 3x10Jahre3_800x600

Niedecken himself is a child of Cologne. My first introduction to their music was 1988’s Da Capo, their seventh studio album. I couldn’t understand most of the lyrics but enjoyed the sound of the words. The texts were sometimes humorous, sometimes socially critical, and always of poetic importance. Nearly all the tracks are strong, “Shanghai” and “Sandino” most of all, musical impressions of tours in China and Nicaragua.

The first seven studio albums hold nothing but highlights. The song “Anna from affjetaut” (1985) conveys a carefree spirit of ‘70’s summers. “Kristallnaach on vun drinne noh druse”(1982) is an indictment of the racism in Germany connecting to the nightmare of the thirties. BAP covers “Like a Rolling Stone,” making Dylan sound like Springsteen. The debut album BAP rockt andere kölsche Leeder (1979) is musically the most modest but has nice moments, especially “Sinnflut” with its harmonica wink at Dylan, and “Hang on Sloopy” in dialect. Yeah, BAP rocks, even if you can’t understand what the hell they’re singing.

Website: http://www.bap.de

Plattdeutsch

Plattdeutsch, or Low German, is a term covering the diverse North German dialects which are the missing link between English and German. My grandmother spoke Hamburg’s dialect but back then, in the early 1900s it was frowned upon as an uneducated means of expression (much as Appalachian dialects in USA are frowned upon in our day. Unjustly, it must be added). Low German is nearly a vanished tongue in Northern Germany today and consequently, there is not much of it in contemporary music. One only celebration of Low German was Hannes Wader’s title Plattdeutsch Lieder, a collection of traditional folk songs accompanied by guitar. Nothing to rock to, but worth a listen. Wader’s masterpiece is a German language album called Sieben Lieder, a dead ringer conceptually for Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, and what drew my attention to Wader. Other than Wader is one of the first German hip-hop bands, Fettes Brot, from Hamburg, who had a massive hit in 1995 with Nordisch By Nature, rapping in English, German and Hamburger-Platt. No one had done that before.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfWyo2mqXnw

 

Wolfgang Ambros

If Mick Jagger had been born in Germany they might have called him Mikael Jäger. John Lennon would’ve been Johann Lennau. But since you can’t have a name that sounds any more German than Robert Zimmerman, then we’ll turn to Austrian singer-songwriter Wolfgang Ambros. When a friend tipped me off to an album of Dylan covers in Austrian dialect I wasted no time in finding it. Like nearly everyone in the ‘70s’ universe, one of my first records was The Best of Bob Dylan and, like everyone else, I’d played it a thousand times or more. Ambros’ album was Wie im Schlaf (1978) (In My Sleep), and it’s a treasure.

Wolfgang Ambros - copyright Tony Schoenhofer 410_big

Wolfgang Ambros – Copyright Tony Schoenhofer

Hearing familiar Dylan titles in Austro-Bavarian was stunning. We know the songs, we know what they’re about and, with a little knowledge of German, following the texts is easier than one might imagine. Ambros begins with a driving version of “Allan wia Stan” in a dialect generally associated with Gemütlichkeit. It was so much fun to listen to I seldom let the needle past it. Just lifted it up and set it back to play again. With each listen, one realizes this is not a literal translation, but a worthy transformation into a new language. Sad to admit, it wouldn’t work in standard German, which isn’t idiomatic and economic enough to capture Dylan.

Ambros covers other favorites: a near reggae version of “It Ain’t Me Babe,”an intense “Sooner or Later,” and “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” with a touch of plaintiveness. These are strokes of genius, and the rest, like “The Man in Me,” “Drifter’s Escape,” “Corrina Corrina,” “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” “Temporary Like Achilles” and “She Belongs to Me” nearly so. Wolfgang Ambros didn’t copy. He added.

Allan wia Stan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d08XVPZvRsA

Website: http://www.wolfgangambros.at

Isar Indian – Willy Michl

In late 1988 I travelled to Munich, noticing immediately how easy it was to make friends and meet people as opposed to the somewhat cooler and detached Northern German manner. I asked my standard question, “Who was good to listen to?” They told me about Willy Michl, an eccentric musician, playing blues in Lederhosen, only in dialect, never outside of Bavaria or Austria, with several records from the ‘70s now out of print and extremely scarce. In the way people spoke of him with awe and admiration, Michl sounded half-myth and half-legend.

copyright willy_michl_009

Copyright Willy Michl

At the time, one of his earlier albums, Ois is Blues 88 (Everything is Blues), had hit the shelves and was on massive display. Pressed into my hands by a sweet Bavarian Mädl I had met, it became one of my favorite records of any language or culture. It’s 80 minutes of music, serious blues-jazz sung in Bavarian but near enough to High German for the non-initiated to understand. It features acoustic guitar, occasional flute, a horn section on some songs, blues organ, and synthesizer adding a spacious feel to the music. The only comparison is Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica, not through musical similarity but via a similar unique vision.

Michl’s songs tell stories of nature, motifs of  the mountains, the seasons, the sunset, a falcon hunting its prey, the thousand year Eskimo, the glimmer of the river Isar, Katmandu, the Himalayas, the five dimensions (three are space, in the fourth time is buried, and the fifth is feeling). The music is spiritual and of a soul at one with nature but it is not religious. Michl perhaps gives a clue in “Der Falk” – when the falcon is ready to dive and grasp it’s victim: “God have mercy on you / and He is seldom merciful / I couldn’t even say / if He exists at all.” “Herbstlied” is the most poignant song, about the fading of summer, the passing of summer love, the coming of storms. It bears the lovely line, “The horizon is my friend, and he shines as clear as wisdom.” These are unconventional themes for blues but Michl reapplies the genre and elevates it to new heights.

On “Wakantanka,” Willy Michl quotes an Iroquois Indian chief:  “When the last tree has lost its last leaf, and when in the rivers and lakes the last fish has breathed its last, only then will man realize that one cannot eat money.” To this he adds his own remarkable statement: “It is our opinion, one must be able to drink from the rivers and lakes of this Earth from their source until they flow into the sea, at every single location. Because only then does the Isar truly shine in the middle of Paradise.” The uncompromising statement gives insight into the person Willy Michl, and reminds us how far removed from perfection we have brought the planet. It also explains Michl’s transformation into an Isar Indian.

You can listen to several of Willy Michl’s songs, including “Wakantanka” and “Epilog” from Ois is Blues at his Website: http://willymichl.com.

March 2, 2013   Comments Off

Video Far & Wide

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Ptaszarnia

This short film tells the story of what is happening in your interiors, when everyone had left……

[jwplayer mediaid=”13887″]

“Ptaszarnia” is the first (November 2012) of twelve parts of an original collection called ”XII”, entirely designed by Karina Wiciak (from Wamhouse). The collection “XII” will consist of 12 thematic interior designs, together with furniture and fittings, which in each part will be interconnected, not only in terms of style, but also by name. Each subsequent design will be created within one month, and the entire collection will take one year to create. Here, visualization is to constitute more than a design, which is thrown away after implementation of the interior design, but mainly an image, which has a deeper meaning and can function individually, for instance as a print on a wall, or even a movie. The project “Ptaszarnia” includes the armchair “Ptaszek” and the hanging lamp “Ptaszyna”.
More about “Ptaszarnia”:
behance.net/gallery/XII-collection-part-I-PTASZARNIA/5523845
behance.net/gallery/XII-collection-part-I-PTASZARNIA/6134713
Credits:
Design: Karina Wiciak
Animation and compositing: Mariusz Warsinski
Contact: wamhouse.pl

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Don De Mauro on Spool Mfg.

Video by  Stephen Schweitzer

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violins

Stutter the Violins

…a short film on the struggle of structure and chaos by  Jason Greendyk

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Alexys is reading Little Otik (AfterFx exercise)

…a  video by  

 

 

March 2, 2013   Comments Off

Daniela Gioseffi/Creative Nonfiction

jesus

Remembering Losing Jesus

to Science, Nature and Poetry

(Excerpted from a memoir)

by Daniela Gioseffi

Memory gives continuity to living. Without it, we are aimless ships adrift on endless seas. Memory is the current that carries us from shore to shore and toward new horizons. It is what brings us home to love — allowing us to learn, and, sometimes profit, from past mistakes. How terrifying it must be to suffer amnesia, Alzheimer’s disease, or “short-term memory loss,” so common as an affliction of severe senility. Without memory, we can’t be sure of who we are and how we came to believe what we espouse as truth. Thoroughly dependent on past experience, love itself, the greatest solace of human suffering, can be lost with lost memory.

I remember clearly an event that early on shaped my spiritual life. At seventy, I can recall fully how I, as an adolescent, was swept by fate towards the shores of pantheistic humanism as the final resting place for my spirit. I keenly recollect how I lost my ardent childhood faith in Jesus along with the hope endowed by a belief in the benevolence of a loving God. I had reached the tender age of eleven, and had just begun to menstruate, when I was forced by fate to discover a cruel world through maturing eyes. The fact that providence is often random, and innocence and love frequently unrewarded, struck me with devastating force, shaking my new found faith, too naïve and ardent to endure.

In 1952, at age eleven, I was a Pied Piper of Little Falls, New Jersey, babysitting for many kids in the neighborhood. They loved my stories and songs and would follow me about whenever they saw me. We moved there when I was ten to escape the poverty of our Newark Italian ghetto. It had adjoined the poverty of the African American ghetto to one side and the Polish-Jewish ghetto to the other side of the teeming City of Newark. I tended the children of our new suburban haven, and they seemed to like me even if my big sister Lucy never would. I sang lullabies to them, and told bedtime stories, ones I made up myself.  I had fun with the kids I babysat for, pretending I was Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” just returned from Kansas on the wings of a Tornado to tell wild stories of my life “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I was lonely when my older sister Lucy eloped, because her friends had always dominated our yard and front porch when she had lived at home — making it difficult for me to learn to make my own. My younger sister, Camille, was a popular Tomboy who immediately made lots of friends in our new suburban development. She was always out somewhere riding her bike around the neighborhood, or playing baseball with a bunch of athletic kids while I was babysitting, reading and doing my homework, alone.

After Lucy ran away and left me alone, I was happy not to be bullied by her. Alone, I dropped Roy Rogers as my hero. He had really been hers anyway.  I decided to bond, instead, with Jesus Christ as my secret friend. My parents did not give us religion. My father was a scientist, busy at his laboratory all day, and my mother — though raised a Catholic — had been molested in the Confessional by a priest. Then, a nun who was her teacher in the seventh grade, smacked her hard with a ruler on her swollen hand, wounded and festering from a piece of broken glass that had become embedded in her palm. When the nun smacked that aching hand with a ruler because my mother was whispering to a schoolmate in the next desk about what page the assignment was on, my mother jumped out of her seat and ran out of the school, never to return. She forged working papers that claimed she was sixteen years old and got a job working in a factory. “Thanks to that mean nun who beat my swollen hand, and the dirty priest who grabbed my breast in The Confessional, I never went back to school again!” That was how she told the story, many times over. “Now, I have no good education like your father has!” she would add, dejectedly.

I was on my own when it came to finding faith in any god.  I bought a white plastic-framed portrait of Jesus at Woolworth’s in Newark just before we moved to Little Falls and just after Lucy ran away with Billy Matteo. In my plastic portrait, Jesus was handsome as a movie-star,  gentle-eyed and red-bearded with long wavy hair. He gazed beatifically heavenward. I threw away Lucy’s cardboard picture of Roy which I confiscated when she eloped and put Jesus in Roy Roger’s place on my beside table in my new suburban bedroom.

This would prove, because of Lucy’s new married life, to be a very sad.  Eventually, Lucy, a pretty woman, would marry four times and never really be happy.  She always blamed all of her life’s failures on me. She had some idea that I got more than she from our parents. Later in life, I would come to realize that I was born in what Freud would have explained as her “Electra Complex phase” when she was nearly six years old. She would forever see me as the “favored baby” who took my father’s attention away from her. She’d grown to be nearly six years of age without having to share a thing, particularly our parents, with anyone, until I came along to displace her as the new baby and the center of attention. Then, right at that juncture in our lives, my father became ill with lung disease and my mother contracted breast cancer. All fun ceased for quite awhile until they were finally out of the hospital. Lucy associated the end of all pony rides and Daddy’s attention with me. …

* * *

My mother, Josephine, a war orphan, perhaps Jewish, was raised by a Polish woman, named Rose Buzevski who had taught her to speak Polish as a child.  My mother used to call my father a “Greenhorn Guinea,” when she pushed him away. He would get hurt and call her a “Dumb Polack” in return for not wanting his embraces or attentions. This made me very lonely. …

The Polish woman who raised my orphaned mother, Josephine, used to barter sex for groceries and schnapps after she arrived steerage passage in America. My mother hated all the men who used to visit her guardian, Rose, in the bedroom locking her out, leaving my mother alone and hungry and waiting to be fed. Rose had come alone, dejected, and starving, steerage passage from Poland, after burying her husband and sons — dead of small pox when an epidemic swept through Europe. She had to dig their graves in the earth with her own hands on a farm she’d worked with them. She had to be tough to survive, and she taught my mother to be a tough survivor who could not allow herself to feel deeply. Rose had loaded up a horse-drawn wagon with her two living sons, and all they could carry of their worldly belongings, and made her way along the Polish corridor to Dansk. … 

“I was born in 1910, the year the Titanic sank,” my pretty blue-eyed, strawberry-blond mother would laugh and sometimes cry, “and I’ve been sinking ever since!” She looked just like Maureen O’Hara in the 40’s movies with peachy smooth skin and a radiant smile. She sewed stylish clothes to make herself look like a Hollywood star in the mode of a Jean Harlow. We loved when she would, once in a while, stay home from the sewing factory and make us doll clothes. She’d sing to us and pull us on a sled through the snowy streets. Once, she even visited my classroom on “Parent’s Day” and all the kids thought she was so beautiful in the green dress and hat she’d made for herself, her blue eyes smiling and red hair shiny like Maureen O’Hara’s.

“Your Mom’s pretty!” they all remarked, making me feel special for a change. “Even the teacher said, “What a beautiful mother you have, Daniela!” I felt so proud of her and wished she would come to school more often, but it was just that once that I can remember. …

My father  never made us go to church and he didn’t go either. Other kids made fun of me because I didn’t go. They said that I would fry in Hell for not going to Catechism after school like they all did. My mother didn’t want to go, because Rose, the woman who raised her, had prayed and gone to church too much before she died. She had made my mother go to Catechism and Holy Communion, but after my mother had those misadventures in Catholic School — with the nasty ruler-wielding nun, and lecherous priest — she never wanted to go to church again.

My father never went because his father, Galileo, said the priests in Italy were “mariuolo,”  swindlers who want your money and your children to work for The Church instead of for la famiglia.”  My father told me later, that where he lived in Candela, Provincia de Puglia, the only schools were run by priests and nuns who would demand money of the village families and then try to get their children to leave home and serve The Church as priests and nuns — rather than help the family tend the fields to grow food. The Church, La chiesa, was an institution of il Vaticano,  and the Pope in the north of Italia, not the mezzogiorno – the poorer South where the farmers toiled for little pay to produce food from the “bread basket of Italy.” After taxes, they had little left to feed their own families. The Church and the North had always abused and used the South, or mezzogiorno my father said. So, Grandpa Galileo would have none of it. My father grew up without religion and was a cynic about “the blood bath of history” largely, he learned, caused by religious conflicts.

All through my youth, he made many sacrilegious jokes, especially about The Crusades and The Inquisition, which he said were excuses for butchery, torture, and stealing. I had no religion to comfort my loneliness, rejected by both of my sisters, and a pensive youth, I watched the dramatic story of The Crucifixion and Jesus of Nazareth on television at Easter time and secretly became devotedly religious, sure that my belief would save me from all the unhappiness my parents and sister Lucy endured. I had saved my pennies to buy my glowing plastic-framed Jesus photo. I kept it always close at night on the table near my bed and imbued it with magical significance. I took to praying to it constantly to save me from all the scary monsters of the movies like Godzilla. …

… I lived most of my nights in terror of these Hollywood creatures, unable to fall asleep in the dark, thinking my vigilant stare into its deep precipice would save me from harm. I could at least scream if I saw a shadow move or heard a voice, but now, I had magical Jesus, my secret friend, to protect me, and I fell asleep in comfort after my prayers for grace and salvation were complete.

That is, I had Jesus until Lucy’s baby, Danny, suddenly got very sick for no reason at all that I could understand. I remember clearly my mother gasping as she spoke to Lucy on the phone. “We’ll be there soon as possible. I’ll call Daddy.” My mother and father left immediately, as soon as he drove home from the chemical laboratory where he worked and beeped the horn in the driveway. They didn’t come back all day and night. I decided that I could save Baby Danny, no matter how grave his illness. All I had to do was pray hard to Jesus Christ.

I knelt beside Jesus’s magical photo, shining in its white plastic frame. I prayed and begged for Baby Danny’s life. “He’s only a little baby, six months old, Jesus, and he hasn’t even had a chance to be bad or steal anything. He hardly even cries and he smiles a lot just for a rattle or a song. I know his head is kinda flat in the back, but Mommy says it’s ‘cause Lucy doesn’t pick him up and turn him over enough. She sleeps all day and doesn’t take out the garbage. That’s not Baby Danny’s fault. I know you know that, Jesus, and you love children, so please, please let him live! His father Billy smokes and works a lot and he doesn’t pick him up either. Lucy says she’s unhappy, but that’s not Baby Danny ‘s fault. He’s just a Baby and he doesn’t know much, so I know you will look after him – because I heard you love children, even though you make them suffer ye to come unto you. …”

I kept on praying and must have prayed harder than any human ever had, all day and night, without stopping once for a drink of water or to go to the bathroom or anything. I was sure I was saving Baby Danny from all harm. All day and into the night, praying on my knees, until I fell asleep on the floor prostrate before Jesus’s magic photo, his kind eyes looking heavenward, his handsome red-bearded face that looked kinder than a movie star’s. I dreamed of him standing there in my room by the bedpost in a white gown, his hands spread at his sides to welcome me. His face quietly smiling like a mother happy to see her child. He faded into a ghostly white light that shimmered around my bedpost just where the moonlight hit it.

“Wake up and get in bed, Daniela! What are you doing here on the cold floor, you crazy kid?” My mother grabbed me up by the arm, waking me from my prayers. “The baby’s dead,” she said. I started to whimper climbing into bed half-awake. “Go to sleep! There’s nothing you can do about it! No one can to anything about it.” she spoke matter-of-factly, reverting to her troughness so that she wouldn’t have to feel too deeply, trying to make me tough, like Rose has made her tough to survive,  as she pulled the blanket up over me. “We‘ll have to have a funeral for Baby Danny and bury him in Summit tomorrow. Get some sleep or you can’t go with us for the ride in the car.”

After she left the room, turning out all the lights to save electricity, and leaving me in the scary dark, I mulled over what she said. Then a big sob shook free from my throat and I defiantly turned the light back on just long enough to knock Jesus off the bed table with a punch. I never prayed to him again. …

“The Doctrine of Original Sin” would be the final reason that I would forsake Catholicism, and finally all religion for science and its actual wonders. If we are all born dirty and in sin, then why bother having us all grovelling here alive trying to earn a bit of happiness along with our bread from this earth? No, I couldn’t buy it. There is too much beauty in the goldfinch and cardinal’s song for them to be born in filth, too much sweet innocence in a small child for him or her to be born of dirty sin. I decided at the age of sixteen, after reading Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Renaissance,” Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and Shakespeare’s “Tempest” that The Doctrine of Original Sin” couldn’t possibly be The Creator’s idea. It was the Calibans of the earth that ruined sex. It was the great poets from whom we learned emotional truths, not religion. I  still liked to read Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, his greatest piece of poetry, but I did not like the story of The Crucifixion, so full of sadism. Christmas, the child born of the mother in innocence in a manger of straw was a beautiful piece of poetry that I liked to celebrate, but Easter for me, I decided, would always be the celebration of Estarte, ancient goddess of fertility and spring, prima vera.

Once I became a teenager showing a real interest in reading and books, and bringing home A’s on my report card, my father — with his dramatic diction and passionate recitation — read me “Romeo and Juliet.” He wept at the sad ending. Next, he read me Cervante’s Don Quixote, saying he felt like Don Quixote at the finale. He said his Italian Mother, Lucia, had told him stories of Cinderella and Pinocchio, animating them with her voice and gestures, as he sat with her by the coal stove in their Newark, darning covers on baseballs from the baseball factory with his many brothers and sisters. For each finished baseball, they earned a penny with which their immigrant mother could buy bread. Unwittingly, he got me started along a better path, poetry – a path that asks important questions without giving easy , only emotional truths. After Shakespeare, I found my way to Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” and oh, how I wept alone in my room after reading it through. Next, I found Edna St. Vincent Millay, and then, Emily Dickinson, and I’ve been surviving on the emotional truths in poetry, ever since.

“Some crazy, misogynistic priests who hated women – the type who would castrate Abelard for loving Eloise – they made up that “Doctrine of Original Sin,” I decided. …

I eventually forgave Jesus for getting mixed up with all those priests and their crazy ideas of sex as sin. “The Sermon on the Mount” is true and good, I told my Christian friends, but Christianity is one thing, ChristenDUMB another!” …

Anyway, what did celibate priests know of life, love, babies or nature’s glories? Why did children have to suffer to come to Christ? That was their idea, not his. Just like it was the idea of mortals that people of different color skins should be segregated, and people of the wrong religion should be killed in the name of God, and so I gave up Jesus and gained a fervor for social justice and the wonders of science,  nature Herself. …

“What could be more extraordinary than all those unseen molecules spinning around their nuclei, the schemes of photosynthesis and atmospheric balance that most live daily unaware of?” I thought. How often, when chopping down trees or rain forests, do men or corporate hacks think of the Romance of Photosynthesis — first link in the food chain that weds us all to Mother Earth? That spectacular wonder by which plants convert sun to energy for the entire animal kingdom! How often do we think, in our daily lives, of the trees giving off oxygen as we breathe out offering them carbon dioxide in the balance of planetary breath?

What is more awe inspiring than the mystery of endless space, stars shining light years away in the galaxy; what more spiritual than the music of the spheres as we spin in an expanding universe too vast to know; what more phenomenal than the red and blue colors of the sunset which continues to out do itself year after year; or the flight of a tiny ruby-throated hummingbird thousands of miles south and north in its yearly migration to breed?

What more religious a prayer is there than the cry of a baby born from a womb, bloody and wet, into the light of spectacular seeing and phenomenal hearing — all come from the wondrous gift of pleasurable sexual union?” If there is a god, and he had a mortal son, he knows that he made it just exactly right when he dreamed up the scheme of sperm and ova from which we miraculously blossom from a mother’s and father’s love. If there is a Holy Trinity, if there is a Father and a Son, then “The Mother of Us All,” must be the “Holy Ghost!” The memory of how I found my way to “Her” that is to say Earth, Herself, is the story of my life’s work in poetry, nurtured by my awe of science as revealed by natural wonders of this mysterious and gorgeous planet and stupendous unfathomable universe.  What a horrible pity that we are now destroying it with carbon emissions and toxic waste!

About the Author:

Daniela Gioseffi  is an American Book Award-winning author of 16 books of poetry and prose. Her anthology of world literature, ON PREJUDICE; A Global Perspective, from Anchor/Doubleday, NY, 1993, received a World Peace Award at The UN from The Ploughshares Foundation. In 2007, she won The John Ciardi Award for Lifetime Achievement in Poetry. She edits www.Eco-Poetry.org/ combining literary and visual art with climate crisis articles.

 

March 2, 2013   Comments Off

Jeff Katz/Music

Red-faced Musical Confessions

By Jeff Katz

Musical passions are as strong as political ones. We have much wrapped up in our musical tastes and, in my life, many of the fiercest arguments I’ve gotten into have been about music. I can still recall a front porch heated discussion with my friend David on the relative merits of The Style Council v. Big Country. (I was pro-Style Council and was, and still am, correct). The fact that neither bands aged well, though David and I did, should clearly show the pointlessness of the passion. But still….

The flip side of our desire to promote our musical loves is the unwillingness to expose our embarrassments. We are loathe to admit that we may be square, that at times in our lives we were well outside of our own view of what was acceptable. So, I’ll go first.

I used to cry whenever I heard Air Supply’s “All Out of Love.” True and I can picture myself blubbering. In my defense, I was an emotional wreck back in 1980, all of 17 going on 18, finding my way through first relationships and graduating from high school early. It was a tumultuous time for me. My parents, with tremendous lack of understanding, told me we were going to move from Long Island to Staten Island, smack dab in the middle of my senior year. I was not going to subject myself to enrolling into a city school for six months, so I graduated in January and worked on Wall St., missing out on the last and best part of high school. “All Out of Love” came out in February and I can recall driving and weeping, especially during the part when the soaring music stops and the singing proceeds accompanied by a lone piano. I don’t know when the choking stopped, but I do know I was in college, a few years later, driving down Route 17, the ice covered cliffs glimmering around me, when the song popped up and I was a sobbing mess.

Recently, I came across Greil Marcus’ Listening to Van Morrison. His explanation of what set Astral Weeks apart from the norm when it emerged in 1968 finally explained for me why I hated it on first listen. I was already running the school record store when I grabbed Astral Weeks from the stacks. I was a fan of Van the Man, but only knew Moondance and Tupelo Honey. Morrison’s distinct Hibernian groove, alternating from the slow soulful to the frenetic, grabbed me. I expected the same from Weeks, which I knew to be seminal. From the opening casual strumming of the rhythm guitar and the pronounced jazzy bass immediately joined by strings, I was put off. This was not “Caravan!” This was not “Wild Night!” I was so displeased by the sound and thrown by the stories of Irish transvestites that I brought the album back to the store and stuck in the bin for returns to be sent back to the distributor as defective. It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized I was the defective one. By then I was older, into jazz, and able to take in Astral Weeks for what it was, not what it wasn’t.

My friends have told me that they too don’t understand some of the greatest artists, that John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman leave them cold, or that they prefer Dave Matthews to The Beatles. Oh well, there’s always a taste issue afoot (which leads to Style Council v. Big Country debates), but when an artist is revered it is difficult to admit that you don’t like them or, worse, have no interest. My two biggies in that category are The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd.  I  still think Moby Grape is the best band to emerge from the late ‘60s’ San Fran  psychedelic scene. When the Dead morphed from trippy freaks to country rockers,  it only made it worse for me; there are too many better at that (Byrds,  Manassas, Gram Parsons, Dylan). And though I love jazz and can listen to Sonny Rollins play solo for 30 minutes, I have no patience for the ramblings of the Dead.

Floyd is something different. I do like the early Syd Barrett lunacy – “Arnold Layne,” “See Emily Play” – but once they became the Floyd of Dark Side of the Moon I was eminently bored. The Wall – blecch! It’s dull and gives me a headache. I always took immense pride in not owning Dark Side, yet it’s not easy to respond to lovers of Floyd with a simple shrug.

There’s a whole subset of embarrassment-concerts. My list is short, containing Billy Joel (my first, in 1980) and Billy Squier opening for Pat Benatar. “Hell is for children” indeed! I admit I liked Pat for the reasons most boys did back then, but seeing her live was enough for me to sell off the albums of hers that I had and put the money towards more timeless albums by acts like The Slickee Boys and The Neats (yeah, I know). Some of the best bad shows  I’ve heard of over the years are David Cassidy (which now has much retro cool) and Rick Springfield, but hands down, the worst combination was related by a former co-worker who saw Michael Bolton on New Year’s Eve with her parents. That is the shame trifecta!

Then, of course there are the guilty pleasures, the crappy acts that still have a hold. Some of my friends have haltingly admitted that they still have a soft spot for Seals & Crofts, Howard Jones, Thompson Twins, America and Berlin. I make sure no one is watching when I put on my Haircut 100 album.

It wasn’t easy asking friends to fess up to their musical embarrassment and, to be honest, I got few responses. See, no one wants to admit their weaknesses! The best story I heard was this one, in a category all of its own.

At 13, I was in a store called Turn Style. I saw Grand Funk Railroad’s E Pluribus Funk. I didn’t even like Grand Funk but the cover was a different shape than the regular LP and it fit nicely under my coat. So nicely I was caught!

Nabbed for bad taste! Who said it isn’t a crime to like crappy music?

 

About the author:
Jeff Katz is music editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

March 2, 2013   1 Comment

Kids Like Blues/On Location-LA

FB

Second-grade-teacher Jon Schwartz with his students.

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Kids do like the Blues

A interview by Ginger Liu

The Kids Like Blues Band is a performing music group that uses The Blues as a thematic teaching tool to teach kids language arts, technology, history and the visual and performing arts. It’s comprised of  30 second-grade students in Oceanside, CA, and their classroom teacher Jon Schwartz.

Q) What is Kids Like Blues and how did it start?

A) The kids are regular children doing extraordinary things. They have 15 blues songs in their repertoire and can play a 35-minute set as a self-contained unit or with an accompanying rhythm section. They have played on TV, at street fairs, talent shows, and college campuses.

Last year I had an extremely creative class. When we grew tired of “Old McDonald” and “Pop Goes the Weasel” I decided to take a chance and play some of my own favorite songs on guitar – blues songs like “Deep Elm Blues,” which happen to be rich in symbolism and rife with opportunities for lessons in phonics, diction, phrasing, and even exploring US History – all academic standards that we’re required to teach.

The first time I played the song, one of my students, who I’d already identified as GATE (gifted and talented) through her expressive art samples, spontaneously got up in front of the class and made up a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers type of dance to my playing. The other kids were transfixed. The next day I broke out the song, she started right in with more moves, and a few other girls – who were usually shy and reserved in class – joined her and started singing along and dancing.

I shared our work with Professors of Education at Cal State San Marcos, and they were thrilled at how we were using the songs to teach academic content standards like reading, writing, speech, US History, technology, and build classroom community, self confidence, and self esteem, and the whole class was invited to play at Cal State San Marcos for the College of Education’s staff and teachers-in-training. They wanted to show their students – teachers-in-training – what integrated, creative, thematic teaching could look like.

Kids Like Blues Band

 Q) How has your teaching in music, communication and digital helped your students?

A) I write for many outdoors publications, am an accomplished marine photographer, and do a lot of video, web, blogging, and Photoshop work. I use these disciplines to engage my students, and I teach them how to use these programs as educational tools to enhance their learning experience. Over 90 % of my 30 2nd grade students have their own personal blogs,  and they know how to perform internet searches, are aware of how to safely navigate the net for quality information and images, know how to scan their own hand-drawn visual art into the computer and edit the images in Photoshop, and then upload them to their blogs.

I involve students in all phases of our many audio and video recordings. I show them how to storyboard our music videos, and then they participate in the filming and editing of the footage. They see how the final products made in quality high-tech programs like Garage Band and iMovie are the result of individually recorded scenes and tracks that have been planned, staged, edited, and synthesized.

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 Q) How good is the band?

A) It’s actually an awesome band! We’ve evolved into a legitimate gigging band with a 35 minute 15 song set that features original choreography. The students have played enough gigs to where they have moved past the point of fear and we can have a great time commanding the stage for our own enjoyment. Once they played for 300 kids, 1000 at a street fair, the CSU College of Education, and on live TV, to them it’s just another gig. Personally I get a lot out of it musically because the kids and I have developed a real musical relationship, we have an actual unspoken report where I have developed a style that fits with their vocals. I never play the exact guitar parts twice, so it’s a living, breathing musical organ, where we are playing off of each other in subtle ways. They have an incredible vocal mix this year and their moves are spectacular. Thankfully we have several natural-born choreographers in our class that are happy to devise all of our stage moves, because that’s never been my forte.

Q) You have a background in music. Why is it blues music in particular that has connected with your students?

A) The blues has a natural song structure and down to earth content that kids seem to crave. A lot of what they hear on the radio is overproduced and lacking in lyrical meaning. The songs that we are using aren’t just cute rhymes sung over synthesized tracks, they are the golden road to our collective culture and speak to the kids on a deep level. It’s like they are connecting to their ancestral history for the first time. These songs speak about immigration, hard labor, westward migration, the industrial revolution, the building of the transcontinental railroad, and the songs use imagery that resonates with the kids and provides a great launching point for ventures into art lessons, discussions of genre and author’s purpose, and comparisons of the past and present.

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 Q) How did you recently help a Japanese student?

A) Last January a student entered our class. Her family had fled the aftermath of the tsunami and the nuclear disaster. Understandably, she was very shut down. I tried to engage her using my iPhone by speaking English and having it translate it and then speak, in computer speak, the translated version of what I said into Japanese, but that is very impersonal and only worked in short phrases like “Now we are going to line up” and then she would nod her head.

When I first played that blues song on guitar for the class, she was one of the first students that got up and started dancing and singing the words. Here was a student that would stare at the floor with no expression, and then we’d play blues songs and she would get up in front of the class with a few others and dance to the song – and most importantly – sing the words!! Other than “Yes” and  “No,” the words to “Sweet Home Chicago” were probably the first English words that she ever spoke! And she took to the music like no other student. She turned into a fearless stage performer and memorized all of the songs quickly – and she’d sing them at home, to the delight of her parents. Not only was she stealing the show at that first performance in front of 300 students, when we played a street fair for a thousand strangers, she leapt right onto the stage and started practicing her moves before the music began, looking right into the eyes of the crowd. She found herself in our blues band work.  t each other’s cultures and use of music.

Q) You have brought your young students into the 21st century with digital teaching, such as blogging and digital photography; why do you think some schools are still hesitant in teaching these fundamental skills?

A) A lot of the younger more tech-savvy, progressive teachers lost their jobs when the economy tanked and the school districts were forced to make draconian budget cuts.  This is especially true in areas where the tax base didn’t have a cushion to absorb the decline in revenue. Wealthier districts could more afford to keep younger teachers who know how to integrate tech into the curriculum.

Most comparatively younger teachers like me who choose to teach in less affluent areas either lost their jobs, lost their tenure, while the more senior teachers were left. Private schools and public schools with a flush PTO might have a huge computer lab full of the best equipment and tech savvy teachers. Schools in less affluent areas like mine work with what they can afford, which is often refurbished, donated computers that can barely handle basic software.

Q) What public performances do you have planned for the Kids Like Blues band in 2013? 

A) I think we’ll have a good shot at playing the huge Del Mar Fair in June, and I’m talking with the professors at CSU about having us play there again, plus we have all the gigs we want at local senior centers. I’ve struck up relationships with prominent figures in the world of the blues and we hope to have some collaborations, even if it’s just jamming with the kids.

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 http://kidslikeblues.org

http://kidslikeblues.org/making-news

 

Ginger Liu is a Los Angeles-based photographer, writer, blogger and publicist. You can read more about her in About Us.

   

 

 

 

March 2, 2013   Comments Off

Jeff Edstrom/Music

Hot Potato

By Jeff Edstrom

Recently, my seven year old daughter located the vinyl records and the turntable on a bottom bookshelf in the basement.  After I showed her how to use it and she started dancing around, I had to face up to two sad truths: I no longer listened to adult contemporary music and I once bought a copy of Huey Lewis and the News’ Sports.

I don’t even know how to get back into current music.  I’m in my mid-forties and have spent the last ten years listening to children’s music and the oldies station.  All the artists I listened to either play their old hits or moved on to something that doesn’t sound quite the same as their music years ago.

Why did they have to change?  Why can’t they play new music that sounds like what I remember them making back then and not something strange an unfamiliar?

My friend, Jeff Katz wrote about what we expect from our favorite groups in his recent review of Graham Parker and the Rumour’s most recent album.  He was disappointed that the album did not express the rage and anger the group had 35 years ago.  It even had a rainbow on the album cover: “Maybe it’s unfair to assume that reuniting with the band he started with would bring Parker’s writing back 30 years. Could be, but if Three Chords Good’s existence is predicated on the return of the originals, then it isn’t inappropriate to assume something of the old magic.  There’s no gold at the end of this rainbow.”

Change is hard for artists and their fans.  How do you recapture that magic, or can you?

Another group tried to answer that question last year when they brought back their original lead singer who had taken a five year hiatus.  The group was wildly successful both before and after changing leads, but there’s always something about four people who build something together that makes them want to recapture the magic.

I speak, of course, of the Australian supergroup, The Wiggles.

My children were fans of The Wiggles when Greg originally led the group. We listened to them a lot together, so much that I sometimes find myself singing their songs without thinking.  My kids eventually outgrew the group about the time Greg transferred the yellow skivvy to Sam.   The group continued to prosper as new children danced to the music.  Periodically, we’d surf past The Wiggles on TV and it wouldn’t be the same.  It wasn’t our Wiggles with Sam now singing lead.

There were rumblings of jealously because of the growing popularity among children.  While that may have played a role, it seems like the guys just wanted the easy friendship of their old colleague.

The backlash from fans was unexpected.  Children who had no memory of Greg as lead singer threw tantrums at the loss of THEIR yellow Wiggle.  Their mothers, mostly in their 20’s and early 30’s, felt the loss of the 32-year-old Sam with whom they had more in common than the original 40- and 50-somethings Greg, Anthony (blue), Murray (red), and Jeff (purple).

The group sang the same music, but the children who knew Greg, my kids’ cohort, had moved on to Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber.  Now, they roll their eyes at songs like “Hot Potato, Hot Potato” and “Rock a Bye Your Bear.”

Trained in early childhood education, The Wiggles knew that they had to take on different roles and let younger singers be the face of the band.  All but the blue Wiggle announced their retirements at the end of the year after a farewell tour. They’ll still lead the creative process for the group because they own the corporation and they say it’s all about teaching children.

How many groups have we followed that disappointed us after a year or two?  They change, we change, or we both change.  It’s rare when an artist or group keeps a steady creative output that is commercially successful.  Sometimes, the creativity continues, but it’s not as successful.  Some, like Dan Zanes of the Del Fuegos and They Might Be Giants move into children’s music.

I’ve been a fan of The Del Fuegos and They Might Be Giants. When Zanes and the TMBG’ two Johns lives changed with marriage and the birth of their kids, they had their music reflect those changes.  They played good, enjoyable children’s music with a familiar voice and style.

Then there are the groups whose continued success is based on giving their fans what they want to hear the way they heard it years ago.  It’s the show that matters whether you’re in Branson or on the Rolling Stones’ tour.

Sometimes, artists reinterpret their old music in ways that reflect who they have become, like Eric Clapton did with the Layla acoustic version.  As I got older, I understood better why he changed it.  I think he understood the absurdity of a middle aged man exposing his adolescent emotions of crazy young love.

If an artist’s career survives, they open up the Great American Songbook.  Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Bette Midler, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Boz Scaggs, Willie Nelson, Robbie Williams, Sting and Rod Stewart all have released albums of the old standards, saying it brought them back to their own youth when they’d listen to these songs with their parents.   To move forward, sometimes you have to look back.

As I look through my own music collection, I see the artists I listened to with my own parents – The Mills Brothers, Glenn Miller, Rosemary Clooney and many others.  Some of their tastes found their way into my collection and my parents even came to like some of my music.  I guess as my kids move beyond The Wiggles and into more popular music, I’ll go along with them for the ride and share my music with them along the way and be reminded why I do like Huey Lewis. Perhaps some of my music will make it into their collections someday.

 

About the author:

Jeff Edstrom is a Chicago-based environmental consultant. He is married and has a son and a daughter who keep most of his free time occupied. When he can, he gives tours of the Monadnock Building, the world’s tallest masonry frame office building, as a docent with the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

March 2, 2013   Comments Off

Rachel Guido deVries/Fiction

Ingrid Martel Photo

Ingrid Martel Photo

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Bernadette’s Sea Gull

 By Rachel Guido deVries

When she was a little kid, starting when she was around three or four, my sister Bernadette’s favorite game, which she played all by herself, was to fold a small white washrag over and over into little squares, unfold it a flap at a time, and then start all over again.  She would do this for hours.  Our parents didn’t like it, but it was hard to yell at her over such a harmless, quiet way to pass time.  It seemed to make Pop particularly uncomfortable, and although he could be quite the disciplinarian, he could never bring himself to do anything to make her stop.  Years later he would say that was when he knew something was funny with her, and he wished he had stopped her.  Instead, he became fiercely protective of her and her washrag, and once, when my cousin Anthony, always an over-active kid more given to guns and stones than washrags, got caught up in Bernadette’s game and tried to take the rag away from her, Pop hit the roof.  “Give her the goddamned washrag, ya little son of a bitch,” he screamed.  Anthony drove him nuts anyway, and to see him taking away one of the few things that made Bernadette look content filled him with rage.  For her part, Bernie did nothing, just sat there watching Anthony making off with the washrag, while her dark brown eyes filled with huge tears that spilled down her cheeks.

But she never tried to get it back, and it was probably that defenselessness, that resignation to her loss of pleasure that so infuriated my father.  He’d had to pry the washrag out from between Anthony’s clenched fingers.  When he handed it back to Bernadette, she took it, and resumed her folding and unfolding, while he wiped away her tears with a big thumb, saying, “there, okay, ya happy now?”  It was a rare display of tenderness from him, but from that point on, he kept a special eye on Bernadette, and he told me to keep an eye on her too, because I was her big sister.

Once, when we were still in Catholic school, I had to come to Bernie’s defense, just like Pop had.  I had watched the scene with Anthony, and it stuck with me.  I guess I started thinking about her as a little bird with a broken wing that you had to be gentle with.  We were walking home from school on a drizzly day in fall.  I was strutting on a long cement ledge that ran the length of a block of row houses, imagining I was Zorro on a bridge over the Grand Canyon, my umbrella a sword I kept poised to keep away outlaws and animals.  Bernie walked dreamily on the sidewalk beneath me, her little brown plastic book bag bumping off her knee with each step she took.  She was eight, and I was almost eleven.  Jimmy D’Amico caught up with us, and at first, I didn’t pay any attention to him, but then he was making fun of Bernadette, calling her snotty nose and crybaby, and sure enough, she started that soundless crying right away.  I told him to quit it.  He wouldn’t.  Jimmy was in my class at school, and sometimes I liked him, but right then he was making me really mad.  I told him again to quit it, and still he kept it up, so I leaped off the bridge over the canyon and came at him with my sword, yelling “En Garde,” the skirt of my uniform billowing out as I jumped.  The umbrella’s point caught him in the chest and he started swinging at me with his fists.  I fought back until I was straddling him on the sidewalk, where I held his arms down and he wiggled wildly, trying to avoid the spit I was dribbling onto his face.

“There,” I said, when he was beaten.  “Now leave her alone.  Go pick on somebody your own size next time, you jerk, you weakling.”  I took Bernadette’s hand in my own and we walked the remaining blocks home like that.  I can still remember the way her hand felt, so tiny and soft, and slightly damp.

A  year or so after that my mother took us out of St. Anthony’s.  First, the nuns had a talk with her.  “Mrs. Brancato,” they said, “Bernadette has a runny nose all the time.  We think it’s a nervous condition.”  I heard Mamma telling Pop this when he came home from work.  My father did not like nuns, or priests either, for that matter, and neither of my parents went to mass, though they made me and Bernadette go every Sunday.  When I heard Pop say, “Whadda they think, They’re head-shrinkers now?  Let’s take ‘em out of there, Delores.  It’s too expensive anyway,” I was thrilled.  All I could think of was no more catechism, no more “who made me” questions and answers to memorize.  Bernadette showed no reaction one way or the other.  It just meant a longer walk to school.

Something happened to Bernadette in public school.  She never became an outgoing kid, and she always seemed resigned to what ever came her way, good or bad, but around the fifth grade she started skipping mass on Sunday to sit drinking lemon cokes in the sweet shop not far from church, and then skipping school, and by the seventh grade she was smoking cigarettes and hanging out with the hoods.  She never talked back to our parents or teachers.  She just quietly refused to do anything that she didn’t want to.  The days of the washrag were long gone by now, of course, but that same air she’d had when she used to play with it stayed.  She still cried easily if anybody hurt her feelings.  She was terrified of bugs of all kinds and would get hysterical imagining one was somewhere on her body, or in her clothes.  And she never learned to protect herself—not from bugs, or hurt feelings, or from kids who were always up to no good.  She just put up with what ever or who ever came her way.

When she was 15, she got pregnant.  She would never say who the boy was that made her that way, and she seemed to have no reaction at all to the fact that she was going to have a baby.  Pop carried on about her being a putona, and about how the family was shamed.  Bernadette sat still on the couch, crying a little.  Plans were made.  She would go to an unwed mothers’ home at the shore in New Jersey, far enough from Syracuse so that no one but our family had to know what was going on, but close enough so we could visit her once a month.

The first and only time we went to see her, something happened.  It was March, and pretty cold, but we all walked on the boardwalk, and after a while, we bought some coffee and sat on a bench looking at the sea.  Sea gulls were flying all around us, and all at once, my sister caught sight of one in particular and began to get upset.

“What’s the matter, Bernie,” Mamma asked.

“Lookit that bird, Mamma, that one!”  Bernadette was pointing wildly, her eyes full of terror and pity.  We all looked where she pointed but none of us saw anything unusual, none of us was even sure which bird she meant.  There were so many of them, swooping close to the boardwalk to pick from the trash baskets.

“Cut it out, Bernadette,” Pop said.  “They’re just flying, looking for food.”

“Not that one,” she insisted, beginning to really cry, and she pointed again to one bird she seemed to see in a flock of birds.  The three of us couldn’t see any difference in any of them, but Bernadette did.

“Look,” she was practically wailing.  “It can’t land, Papa, it’s got no legs.  It lost its legs, it just has to keep flying.  Oh my God, that poor bird is so tired, it can’t land.  Look!  All the other ones have landed a couple of times, but that bird can’t land.”

Our father stood up and began waving his arms wildly, the way I had waved my sword at Jimmy D’Amico all those years before.  Tufts of his hair, almost the same gray as the gulls’ soft bodies, blew straight up in the wind.  “Leave her alone,” he screamed, “get the hell outa here!”

The birds took off in a mad flutter of wings, heading out to sea, even the one my sister insisted couldn’t land, I guess, because after that she was quiet.  But we were all shook up after that incident, and Pop insisted she come back home with us where she belonged, the hell with what anybody had to say.  I guess he really knew then that Bernadette was a wounded bird, and she needed a nest.  Mamma, who had never wanted to send her away in the first place, cried a little in relief.

A few months later, Bernadette had her baby, a little girl, and she spent hours feeding and washing her, brushing her soft dark hair, and washing, ironing, and folding her clothes.  Bernadette was happier than any of us had ever seen her.  After a while she could even laugh a little when we talked about the sea gull without legs, but today, although over twenty years have gone by, Bernadette says she still thinks about that poor bird flying endlessly around the shore of the Atlantic, near the boardwalk, where so many people can see it, waiting for one of them to help it land.

 

About the author: 

Rachel Guido deVries’ latest book of poems is The Brother Inside Me, (Guernica, 2008). Her first children’s picture book, Teeny Tiny Tino’s Fishing Story, (Bordighera, 2008) was a winner of The 2008 Paterson Prize:Books for Young People Award. She self-published a collection of poems for young readers on topics her students asked for: The Purple Potato and Other Poems. Other books include her novel, Tender Warriors, and two other collections of poems, How To Sing to a Dago, and Gambler’s Daughter. She is past recipient of a New York Foundation Artist’s Fellowship in fiction. She is a poet-in-the-schools throughout central and upstate New York, and offers workshops independently. She lives in Cazenovia, NY.

 

 

March 2, 2013   1 Comment

Jeff Katz/Short Takes

 

 

Get Up! 

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite

… and more

By Jeff Katz

Ben Harper is always forgettable. Over the years, with each new effort, it’s usually one spin and out. Whether solo, with band, in Fistful of Mercy, Harper never sticks. (The only album he’s made that bore repeated listening was 2004’s There Will Be a Light that paired Harper with gospel legends The Blind Boys of Alabama.) Not so with Get Up!, Harper’s huge new record with blues harmonica giant Charlie Musselwhite.

The album takes off from the get-go, with the raw, searing opener, “Don’t Look Twice.” “We Can’t End This Way” is a joyous gospel noise. The pair gives Zeppelin a lesson in heavy blues with “I Don’t Believe a Word You Say.” This is the way it’s supposed to be done! Each track is powerful its own way; “Blood Side Out” is a juggernaut, “She Got Kick” a hip shaker.

Harper is the lead actor here, but Musselwhite’s the real star. Ol’ Charlie gives each track a serious, and occasionally sinister, heft. He’s the meat on these bones and Get Up! is one serious meal.

 

good kid, m.A.A.d city - Kendrick Lamar

Sometimes I hear a name and it grabs me. It happened with Nelly Furtado. Before her first album came out, I heard the name Nelly Furtado and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Whoa Nelly, her debut, did not disappoint.

Kendrick Lamar. Same thing happened. The name stuck and so does the album, good kid, m.A.A.d city. It’s a brilliant second effort from the Dre disciple, a hip-hop triumph with remarkable range. In seconds, Lamar goes from invoking Jesus to musing about a girl’s thighs wrapped around his (Lamar’s, not Jesus’) head. That’s a wide bit of subject matter. It’s often heart wrenching, with gritty peeks into life on the rough streets of Los Angeles, and hysterical, with Kendrick’s dad (or his mom’s boyfriend) yelling into Lamar’s voice mail, “Where’s my motherfucking Domino’s at?”  And all of that in the first song alone! “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” is the peanut butter track on the roof of your brain. It’ll stay there for a while.

good kid presents life in Compton with great depth, the gang violence that permeates intertwining with the daily joys of Church’s fried chicken, smoking weed and sex. Ultimately it’s the story one boy’s loss of innocence, a tragic tale delivered in a loose string of easy beats. I’m a little late to the game here, good kid, m.A.A.d city was released last October, but there’s still time to catch up. Don’t miss it.

 

 

March 2, 2013   Comments Off

Franziska Strauss / Photography

franziska_strauss_17©Franziska Strauss

Dancers from the 2012 project title Vert.

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The art of seeing

An interview with photographer

 Franziska Strauss

____________

With Chuck Haupt, Photography Editor

Q: I see you are shooting “on the street,” spending a lot of time in both NYC and Paris. Do you like capturing the moment that is unplanned and unexpected, or do you look for locations where the moment may happen?

A: Usually I’m either just strolling or on my way from a to b, noticing something. Sometimes I linger where there’s something interesting, but most images occur very suddenly and are gone just as fast. Street Photography still is very exciting, but also makes me very uncomfortable, I never know how to deal with it. Having the feeling you need to ask the people if it’s ok and knowing, that you couldn’t possibly always do that, either because it’s just not possible due to distance or noise for example, or it simply destroys the mind set I need to be in to see things. Always a struggle.

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Franziska Strauss / Candids

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Q: How did growing up as a dancer prepared you to capture the movement and emotions of a dancer?

A: At the risk of sounding elevated, I do feel, that when taking pictures of someone dancing, partly I observe with my eyes and partly I feel what they’re doing as if my body was doing it and react to it. From time to time I put myself in their position, meaning I dance/improvise and try to figure out what influences the situation (the room, sounds, music, my behavior,…). It’s very important to create an environment, where they feel they can let go and not think about, what they’re doing. I wanna switch off their brain so to speak. For that to happen, they need to trust me. With professional dancers it’s also sometimes a bit tricky to get to a point where they stop “performing” and start moving the way they actually feel.

Q: See early in your career you were doing some medium format photography? How is it different from your other work being constrain to work inside of the box (square format), so to speak?

franziska_strauss_16

© Franziska Strauss

A: The format is not much of an issue. It’s mostly the camera itself – the weight, manual focus, manual exposure, changing film every 12 pictures. That changes everything. It slows you down so much, which is, depending on what you’re doing sometimes very frustrating, but also very liberating at times. I definitely miss the quality of film in general, so I’m trying to force myself to use it more.

Q: Where do you see your shooting style going, has the dancers photographs become your niche?

A: It has become some kind of specializion, not planned though and I need breaks from it from time to time and shoot something totally different. It’s demanding, at least for me. I’m curious myself what the next couple of years will bring. For now I wanna put my focus on portraiture and journalism.

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Franziska Strauss / Dancing projects

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Franziska Strauss of Berlin, Germany, currently is exhibiting at the Egbert Baqué Contemporary Art Berlin Gallery. She studied photography in NewYork, Chicago and Munich. Visit her site at franziskastrauss.com and her blog at franziskastrauss.com/blog/.

About the interviewer:

Chuck Haupt is Photography Editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in “About Us.”

March 2, 2013   1 Comment

Zaira Rahman/Eye Over Pakistan

Madhubala

Un-amused Musing:

An Eye Over Pakistan

By Zaira Rahman

I have been quite content with being a Pakistani all my life though I feel there is still an emptiness that seeks a deep national pride, which I so greatly desire. Honestly, I continue to hope that one day I, too, shall experience such pride, though somewhere down the lane everything seems so dark.  My patriotism is not blinded enough that it would allow me to overlook all that happens around me. That is, of course, how I feel, but I do know that there are millions of Pakistanis who think otherwise. I don’t quite follow them and I have no doubt that my unbiased views for the most part shall remain misunderstood by them. Therefore, I care to convince none. Despite this vacant space, I am not amused when my friends and acquaintances from across the globe try to fill in this barrenness by throwing some absolutely uninformed and ignorant queries at me expecting in return answers that would please them.

There was a time indeed, when I used to calmly respond back to their emails and messages on social networking sites only to be asked similar questions using alternate words. I no longer have the patience to explain to everyone that Pakistan is not like Afghanistan, no Pakistanis don’t live in caves, not all Pakistani women wear hijab (scarf like cloth to cover a woman’s hair) or burkhas (a loose attire that is worn over the regular clothes to covers the entire body of a woman), and yes, believe it or not, Pakistan gets almost all the products that one can possibly think of from anywhere in the world. I can never forget how a friend of mine from Australia was stunned to know that we get Maggi noodles here.

The level of unawareness regarding Pakistan is upsetting. Everybody is so used to the idea of believing that Pakistanis are an uneducated lot. Thus, when they see pictures of us enjoying a fairly liberated and modern lifestyle they find it unbelievable. Some get appalled and others wish it were not so.

I have remained a firm believer of truth, which does come to the surface sooner or later. I have never denied that Pakistan is a small country with countless flaws. Being a Pakistani, I scrutinize a lot only because I wish the flaws would be removed, but when I see stagnation in that regard it agitates me. I may belong to a privileged part of the society but there are still many who are suffering in ways that one can hardly imagine. Too many dreadful things happen around here, but I still do cherish a few good things that exist. Since I’m writing (for Ragazine.CC) after a long time, I’d love to emphasize upon a little bit of both that is going on in Pakistan currently.

* * * *

Being an ardent animal lover, I must report that the Zoo Day was celebrated on 10th Feb, 2013, at the Karachi Zoological Garden – or what is commonly known as the Karachi Zoo.  The main highlights of the day were the twentieth birthday of the zoo’s senior lion ‘Raju’ and the first birthday of a Bactrian camel ‘Gudu’. The cake-cutting ceremony was followed by a cultural show and other supporting activities to entertain both adults and children.

The concerned authorities finally are putting in conscious efforts to raise awareness amongst the masses about wildlife and animals. It is an evolutionary process since such events have only started taking place recently on a large scale. It has been reported that around 80,000 visitors were a part of this annual event. Thus, the authorities need to educate themselves on the fact that animals can get stressed out and irritable during such all-day events in the presence of so many visitors (especially the rowdy ones who find it amusing to tease animals instead of admiring them).

Though these events are not that grand in nature, it is pleasant to see that the authorities are focused on improving the condition of the city’s only zoo. Keeping in mind the masses in general have very few recreational activities and places to turn to in times of distress. One must also add the fact that there are even lesser options that are affordable by the common man. It is much easier for well to do families and their children to lavishly eat at pricey franchised food outlets or watch 3D movies in comfortable cinemas as and when they like, but it is the poor man who finds it difficult to entertain his family and children. The Karachi Zoo is an important place for such people. The entry ticket to the zoo is only ten rupees (ten US cents), an amount most people can spend without thinking twice.

Raju the senior lion (1)

There was a time, until five years back or so, when the Karachi Zoo was going through a major disaster. It’s corruptible administration had their own vested interests and nobody cared about the animals. We read frightful stories about baby lions being stolen as a result of negligent staff. Going ten or twelve years back, I remember being told how poorly the animals were treated at the same zoo, that a polar bear had only a single slab of ice in its den to feel at home, which would be rather torturous for the poor animal. I suppose the care takers were trying to be humorous when they chose to do such unintelligent stuff. Similarly, there was an extremely sick lion, who had an infected tail but ill-mannered visitors had the audacity to pull off his tail through the bars. And needless to say, the staff filled their own pockets with funds that were allotted to get the food for animals.

People like myself who admired the wildlife, could not stand to witness such misery but could do little for the poor animals. Fortunately, conditions have improved with time at the Karachi Zoo. Animals such as the puma cats and Bengal tigers arrived at the city zoo some time ago, even white lions were added in 2012.

The Zoo Day reminded me that I visited the Karachi Zoo in June last year after a good twenty years away. I remember I had a good time going there as a kid, but wanted to see how things were now. When I was little, the most famous attraction was a huge female elephant named ‘Anarkali’. She was very friendly and I remember taking a ride on her back. My head band fell on the ground while I sat on her back with my siblings and Anarkali picked it up. She was the best memory I had of the zoo, but she died at the age of sixty-five after a prolonged illness.

In 2012, there was no Anarkali but we met two amazing young female elephants named ‘Nur Jehan’ and ‘Madhubala’. They were the friendliest and sweetest animals there. I was busy taking their photographs while they bonded with the rest of my family. These eight-year-old elephants were a real joy and seemed so smart. It was comforting to note their trainer was a dedicated man. who knows his craft well, and we were almost ensured that these two young girls were in good hands.

I remember seeing an old, sad lion, who was none other than Raju, the senior lion himself. He was one of the saddest big lions that I’d seen in decades. His eyes were speaking such sorrowful tales that cannot be expressed in words. He was perturbed by the behavior of unkind spectators and now that I know his real age, I’m sure he must have seen thousands of such mean humans during his time at the zoo.  However, when I saw updated photos of Raju in newspapers recently, it was evident that the zookeepers did take good care of him, and despite his old age he looked much better. On our visit, we also observed that the puma cats were quite agitated because of the heat. One handsome tiger, too, was continuously talking to us, though we could not understand what was bothering him so much.

Over all, the Karachi Zoo seemed quite clean and big. It is obvious the administration is  working on making things better for both animals and the visitors. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement, and I don’t feel that it is ready to become a tourist attraction yet. The problem does not lie with the animals, but with the overall ambiance. It’s a fact that animals become happy with genuine love and attention. Therefore, with proper care and well-trained handlers the animals can live decent lives at the Karachi Zoo, as well.

Secondly and more importantly, the attitude of the visitors is not encouraging at all. The absolute lack of compassion amongst the adults and the children alike is disheartening. Although all the cages and dens are built in a way that visitors should not trespass the first set of railings, most of the spectators lack the common sense to understand that. People in general are not taught to love animals. They just think it is their birthright to tease them, to hurt them and to throw stones at them. Everyone is such a preacher in Pakistan, yet they all forget that our religion (Islam) teaches us to treat all animals, humans and living things with kindness.

Apart from that, Pakistan’s first metro bus service was also inaugurated on the same day, that is 10th Feb, 2013. The government is boasting that it was built only in a time span of eleven months at a cost of thirty billion rupees. A positive development to say the least, but then it’s been sixty-five years since our independence. I think it was about time.

* * *

On another subject, let me also write something on what is not at all that close to my heart – politics. I can safely say I don’t believe in the agenda of any political party in Pakistan and there is no political leader who has convinced me to date that he or she is honest to the country or its people. It is, to put it humbly, a sad situation. Even after sixty-five long years nothing is at its right place, politically. Perhaps it all started incorrectly for Pakistan. Pakistan had struggled for far too long in developing its constitution, holding fair elections, handling martial laws, fighting wars with its neighbors and sadly losing one half of the country (which is now a much happier Bangladesh) since 1947.  I am not such an optimistic soul to say that I hope things will get better soon. There are many countries in the world that got their independence much later than Pakistan, but they are far ahead of time today because of a clear vision and honest governance.

Anyhow, Pakistan’s famously corrupt establishments over the decades have left little for the common citizens to praise, yet politics remains a hot topic in every other household. Most of our politicians seem like a joke. Some of our esteemed ministers pass silly and unnecessary statements, only to appear as bigger fools on the global face. Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister of Pakistan is one such person who is no less than a clown himself on the social media front and a source of major embarrassment for most sane Pakistanis. Anyone who needs a good laugh can Google a bit about this man and the kind of statements he passes unnecessarily at the expense of our national honor.

No matter what the occasion is – religious festivals, new year’s eve or any other important event, Rehman Malik makes an appearance on news channels and informs the nation that our cellular services will shut off to ensure no terrorist activities will occur, which is not at all an assurance for anyone who lives here. Ironically, bomb blasts still take place despite such measures. Many Pakistanis still die as a result of horrendous criminal activities, bombings or target killings. Hence, shutting down cellular services is not the best measure of protection.  It is difficult to say which part of the country is absolutely safe for the common citizens of Pakistan.

On the social media front, the world has moved on, but Pakistanis have been deprived the privileges of accessing YouTube for months now. The video sharing website was banned in September 2012, for containing contents of an anti-Islamic film, ‘Innocence of Muslims,’ that besmeared Islam as a religion and therefore resulted in hurting the sentiments of Muslims around the world. Though the blasphemous content could be blocked from the website, the government is in no mood to open the URL for the citizens who now have one less option of entertainment, education and awareness on their list. The people are so tired in general that they don’t even care about protesting against this unreasonable laziness of the government. I understand that it is absurd on the part of those who ridicule somebody else’s religion, but I fail to find any logic why Muslims everywhere react in such an illogical manner to such acts. There is always a civil way to respond back, especially when one stands on the right side.

January 2013 started on a sad note for Pakistan when deadly twin blasts hit Quetta, the capital city of the province of Balochistan. The twin blasts killed more than a hundred Shia Muslims and left over two hundred injured. The blasts were considered to be the deadliest in Quetta’s history. The Shiite community has been targeted as a minority for years by those who don’t want the nation to live in peace in the name of hatred, religion, sectarian violence and much more.

The Shia community of Quetta were pushed over the edge by this bloody incident. After decades of unequal treatment and no sound protection in their homeland, the community decided to stage a sit-in along with the dead bodies of their loved ones until the province’s existing government was removed – since it had failed miserably to provide the people of Balochistan security of any kind. It was appalling to know that while so much was happening in the country, Balochistan’s Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani was enjoying his vacations abroad. That is the level of indifference and inhumanity among the so called leaders of the country.

It was a heart-shattering sight to see reports of this incident, while the community buried its dead only after Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf dismissed the provincial government and imposed governor’s rule in Balochistan. However, one cannot be so hopeful that the minorities (or the majorities, for that matter) will remain safe anywhere in the country while those who want to disrupt the social life of the country for the sake of ugly politics and fanaticism walk freely. As long as the prejudiced mindset flourishes unobserved, one cannot feel absolutely safe.

Talking about political leaders, despite the numerous attempts of the Supreme court to put President Asif Ali Zardari behind bars on charges of corruption, the Swiss government finally refused to re-open the dormant graft cases against him on the grounds he is a head of state. Thus, for the time being or until Zardari is out of power, this chapter is pretty much done.

Belawal Bhutto Zardari, the chair person of PPP (Pakistan People’s Party), the son of President Asif Ali Zardari and late Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has officially stepped into the political scenario of Pakistan. Though he is very young, his family name, political party (PPP) and political history gives him a strength unlike other political leaders here who have spent decades trying to get some recognition. However, this so-called dynasty rule has given practically nothing to the country, or to the people, to be very honest. The followers love their leaders blindly because they don’t know what to do otherwise. Their faithful fans are in a dry well, hoping to see the light, but such loyalty gives them nothing in return. All the benefits are to be bestowed upon the Bhutto family alone for as long as they will live.

Imran Khan, the unforgettable Pakistani cricketer and skipper is still not such a charmer in the field of politics. Though he has come a long way and inspires quite a number of young people,  it seems far-fetched that he will be in power any time soon. I have always found his political statements and his party’s (PTI – Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) agenda unclear and unimpressive. There is never anything solid to put on the table. I was disappointed when I heard Imran Khan say that he wants a (political) tsunami to hit Pakistan soon.  He suggests that the entire nation should bring forth a tsunami, perhaps an irrational revolution.

Tsunami in itself is quite a destructive phenomenon, I wonder why would an educated man like Imran Khan promote such a negative term in his political campaign. Secondly, I doubt Pakistan is the sort of nation that can witness a revolution of any kind. For those who love to talk seldom act upon their own preachings.

* * *

Pakistani media continues to enjoy its puberty even after years of exposure. It is just refusing to grow up. The news channels are so completely biased that it is obvious they support their alliances. Some support the government, some the opposition, while others only focus on ensuring that Pakistan is humiliated on the global map. The quality of reporting is absolutely ridiculous. The kind of graphic images that are aired while reporting about heinous bomb blasts and accidents can be easily done away with, but our media lacks a sense of humane reporting.

Entertainment channels seem rather lost as well but they don’t quite understand that they need to be self critical in order to produce better content. Producers, writers and actors only concentrate on making money and not on the quality of content that is being produced. Almost every other actor is seen on more than two channels working in more than two to three projects at one time. The power of money is bigger than the passion of art and acting.

* * *

Lastly amidst all this chaos, elections are ’round the corner, and I am utterly lost as to what to do with that valuable vote of mine. Even overseas Pakistanis will get the chance to vote, as I am hearing. We have the prestigious right to votem yet I am not quite sure if we can trust anyone enough to cast our vote for them. There is no distinctive political party that can be trusted.  History has taught us our votes don’t bring us any happiness, satisfaction, growth, security, protection, food, shelter and all that a common citizen requires. I firmly believe that these elections will not be any different.

 

About the author:

Zaira Rahman is a writer, reporter, and observer of “the scene” in Pakistan. She is an occasional contributor to Ragazine. You can read more about her in About Us.

 

March 2, 2013   Comments Off

Mark Levy/Casual Observer

F on FL

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Saving Time on Envelopes

by Mark Levy

 In 1963, the U.S. Post Office, now called the United States Postal Service or USPS, decided to simplify our lives — or at least Post Office employees’ lives — by introducing two-letter abbreviations for the 50 states. This was to accommodate a 7-digit field for zip codes, too, which were introduced the same year.

Some of the abbreviations are difficult to remember, since a number of them begin with the same letter. For example, the words, Michigan, Mississippi, and Minnesota all start not only with M, but M-I. Who knows how many residents of Michigan have received threatening reminders from companies harassing customers in Minnesota or Mississippi.

The two-letter abbreviations make sense for states that have the same starting letter, like the eight M states and the eight N states. But I now live in Florida and there’s only one F state, just as there is only one G, H, L, R, and U state. There’s also only one P state at this time, but when Puerto Rico becomes a state, Pennsylvania will lose its status, at least abbreviation-wise.

Of course, I am going along with this silly naming convention, even though only one letter would be sufficient for Florida, but it’s starting to bother me that I have to use the letters FL for my address when, in fact, there would be no confusion if I used just the letter F by itself. I can’t help thinking how much effort I’ve put into adding the superfluous second letter so many, many times.

If you multiply my frustration by the 19 million of my fellow sunshine state residents, you can see how astonishing our efforts are. If each person who lives here writes or types a Florida address only once a week, for instance, the amount of wasted ink or printer toner can amount to well over two, maybe three gallons every year. In this age of conservation, that certainly appears wasteful, don’t you agree?

Well, if you do agree, perhaps you’ll like my plan: let’s all write to the USPS and ask it to change its policy for Florida. When the USPS receives millions of requests, it’s sure to capitulate.

I know what you’re thinking: wouldn’t the effort be ironically counter-productive if we included the second letter of the postal abbreviation on our return addresses? Glad you asked that insightful question. And you’re right: sometimes you have to travel in the opposite direction in order to get where you want to go. At least that’s the way I saw it when I spent last weekend in Georgia.

 

About the author:

Mark Levy, our “Casual Observer,” is an attorney in Florida. You can read more about him in About Us.

 

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March 2, 2013   Comments Off

Galanty’s Re-Tweets

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reTORAHcal Questions

& other nonsense

From Scott “Galanty” Miller

JC Penny is having its annual back-to-summer-school sale for delinquents./I’m able to communicate with the dead. “Oh, hey, Arsenio’s career.”/ I’ve been having non-committal sex with an unusable violin- no strings attached!/ I told the cab driver, “Take me someplace where nobody has ever been before.” He responded, “I don’t go
trumpto Staten Island.”/ If Donald Trump had a nickel for every asinine thing he said, he’d be a very rich man./ It’s said that “the best things in life are free.” But, no, I have to pay for my pelvic massages./ I uploaded my infectious disease on Youtube. I hope it goes viral!/ I’ve been waiting in line for the past 8 hours because Apple has come out with a new long line./ I have the world’s greatest friends! (It’s a shame they’re such terrible human beings, though.)/ Growing up, I was forced to wear my mannequin’s old hand-me-downs./ “Does the carpet match the drapes?” is what I asked that woman, my neighbor, with the blue drapes getting new carpet delivered this afternoon./ Breakfast is the most important meal of the morning./ What are the first five books of the Jewish Bible? (That was a reTORAHcal question.)/ You know what you never hear? “Let’s stay for the entire poetry reading.”/ If I had a time machine, I’d go back 12 months into the past. Aren’t you curious to see what life was like back then?/ I keep a gun under my pillow just in case someone attacks me while I’m fast asleep./ You know what you never hear? “That was very honorable of you, Newt.”/ thornEvery rose has its thorn. For example, there are many great songs on the radio. But sometimes they play Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”/ My salad has that “new car” smell./ Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you’re not good enough. Just BE not good enough./ There’s such a fine line between “we’re friends even though we disagree with each other politically” and “we hate each other.”/ I can count on my hand the number of times I’ve committed any kind of serious crime. (803 times)/ I’m up to one-million people I’m following on Twitter!/ Life is so full of possibilities. Can you possibly shut the hell up?/ The new Creed song sounds totally different from their other songs… is something that nobody said today./ Birthdays are like regular days on ACID! (Because I take acid on my birthday.)/ My friend died from alcohol poisoning. So now, before I get hammered, I check to make sure my alcohol hasn’t been poisoned./ My pen name is Bic./ I before E, except after C. That’s such a weird grammar rule in our society./ My fiancée and I have the same last name. But when we get married, she wants to keep her last name… just out of spite./ The Bible says it’s a sin to covet thy neighbor’s wife. That’s why I skip the coveting and go straight to the oral sex./ A good friend is someone who is always there for you — no matter how many coorstimes you throw each other under the bus./ I’d like to see Michael Vick use the QB option more during 3rd & Long because his effectiveness in the pocket is… wait — he did WHAT to dogs?!/ You know what you never hear? “I really want to impress my guests. Bring out the Coors Light!”/ “Life is but a dream.” Actually, that statement would be a lot more accurate if you shorten it to “Life is BUTT.”/ I stole a yo-yo & a pack of bubble gum. The judge ruled I should not be tried as an adult./ I’m trying to watch my waistline. (My waistline h
as hardcore pornography on it.)/ My friends can always count on me to be there for them 50% of the time./ Don’t be a victim! (Be a perpetrator.)

About the author:

Scott Galanty Miller is a contributing humorist to Ragazine.CC. Read more about him in “About Us.”

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March 2, 2013   Comments Off

Mircea Filimon/Gay Life

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DNA Google Images

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What makes ‘a gay’?

 By Mircea Filimon

It’s been a while now since I started asking myself the same question over and over again. ‘What makes a gay?’ I’ve researched and read, watched and listened, asked and then asked some more, and I still couldn’t come up with an all-comprising answer that would satisfy me. My first and most convenient resource was simply looking within myself. However, I soon realized I was embarking on a rather subjective and misleading path, that would barely provide a partial answer to the question ‘What makes me?’, let alone enlighten me on the topic of gay identity. So I abandoned it.

I am very well aware that we are all different individuals and we all construct our identity in our own personal manner. Yet, I still have a feeling that there is a common ground that ties us all together, just like in the case of other minorities, that have been more or less ghettoized and stereotyped. If we just take a look at the decades that followed the Stonewall events, it’s pretty easy to create a short retrospective of the gay image. We first started by standing up to the authorities and refusing to be ostracized any longer, we then created a movement, we strove to clean and sterilize such words as ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ and infuse them with positive connotations. We managed to start shaping an identity but over night we were mainly blamed for the irresponsible sexual behavior of both men and women and the wide spread of the ‘gay cancer.’

We then worked even harder to clear our name and orientation and when it was finally safe to do so, we started coming out of the closet in larger numbers. We felt patriotic and wanted to fight the more or less necessary wars initiated by our mother country, only to be told that we can do so under the strict condition that we don’t mention or act according to our sexual orientation. We then wanted to get married, but we were informed that as ordained by the all-mighty law, marriage was only the union between a man and woman. We again fought and lobbied even more ardently than before, and after years and years, we can finally wear fatigues without fearing that someone might sneak a peek at our rainbow colored socks. And probably the most notable achievement of all, we can now marry our beloved life partner, in select states, and enjoy a few of the benefits that others have been tarnishing and taking for granted for centuries.

But is that all that is to being gay? I very much doubt it. These are only mere pieces of the highly diverse puzzle that is homosexuality. We know what we used to be in the past, but the Garland days have long gone, so have the era of Studio 54 and the gay ’90s. Now we live in a different time, a more accepting and liberal one, or so I’d like to think. And what I would really like to know is what makes the contemporary gay man and woman. We have a collective identity for sure, but what is it?

Since we live in the era of technology and communication, it’s only logical that the media should be the first stop on the road to inquiring about gay identity. Nevertheless, the general image conveyed by the ruling forces in television and cinematography is not quite so comprising; actually, it’s bordering on insulting stereotypes. If we are to form a part of our identity according to the characters presented on both the big and flat screen, gay men are destined to be the single and frustrated best-friend of an even more disturbed leading female character, whereas lesbians are condemned to being the butchy lady in your building who sports a crew cut and fosters countless dangerous-looking dogs. And if the screenwriter really gets creative and steps outside the box, we might even end up being portrayed as fashion-obsessed effeminate scrawny little boys, who are only interested in shoes, gossip and new methods of hitting on married men, or even better, sex-crazed gym rats who spend their lives dancing topless in sleazy clubs. I am by no means denying that all of this is part of reality, however I am quite intrigued why this is chosen to be the main representation of probably the most diverse human community on the planet.

This comes of no surprise to me, since we are just a minority and usually the representation of such categories is done through the eyes of the majority, which coincides with normality, or better yet in this case, hetero-normality. Generally, one constructs his/her identity by using the way others see him/her. So does this mean that the identity of contemporary gays and lesbians should be forged according to the inaccurate representations in the media and television? I would say certainly not, but I am positively sure that there are many who fervently disagree.

Here is just a part of the things I have been observing vis-à-vis the widespread representation of gay life. I am certainly planning on keeping an eye out for any upcoming change and analyzing its impact on our constantly revolving identity. All in all, what I will be trying to achieve with this column is identifying the constituent pillars of modern day ‘gayness.’ As I am doing that, I will try my best to paint a clear picture of what I see to be the gay identity in the current social and political American environment. And most importantly of all, I urge you, my future eager readers, to get as involved as you desire, if this topic is of interest to you. Let me know what you think and how you regard these matters. The more input I receive, the more comprehensive and objective the assessment will be. And so, step by step, we can come up with what it means to be gay, outside all the restrictive stereotypes that are flouting out there. But for now, I bid you good reading.

 

About the author:

Mircea Filimon was born and raised in Romania. Upon completing his academic studies, he moved to Manhattan, where he currently resides with his partner. He holds two Master’s Degrees from the University of Bucharest in British Cultural Studies and Literary Translations. Mircea is working as a translator in New York City at the moment and is aiming at furthering his education in the field of cultural and identity studies. He lists reading, gardening and cooking amongst his hobbies.

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Fear Itself

 

 

March 2, 2013   Comments Off

Gerburg Garmann/Poetry

Competition

 

…‘tion’– the ending’s warming sound like that of an old British bathrobe

lingering over the early hours of the day. The beginning – a long invite

over – until sunset, maybe midnight or beyond.

 

Ending and beginning, two tender lowlands – if only they

weren’t broken in on by the pecking ‘p’, the stabbing ‘t’.

Then, we could spill the soothing ending for all eternity

and extend the sweet beginning to endless generations.

 

Though, I ‘m not sure that we will be successful in melting

the inherent ‘ps’ and ‘ts’, and that is a dilemma, ‘cause

it is between their distance of no more than fractions of a second

that our days unfold, it’s their betwixt-between that keeps on

 

shriveling the stretching warmth of the beginning and the end.

Just words, you say, but don’t you see, the plosives, alveolar or

labial, keep piercing endlessly the sheltering sounds, the cozy

 

fabric, while most of us stand

at the edge of daily craters

hoping the ’p’ will not push us over

and the ‘t’, that keeps on dinning,

will not make us sink.

 

About the poet:

Gerburg Garmann, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Modern Languages (German/French), University of Indianapolis, Indianapolis, IN. His web site is:  http://europeanartstudio.carbonmade.com/

March 2, 2013   Comments Off