The Weak and The Poor

Delhi SquatterOn the Arabian Sea-side of Mumbai sits a white jewel of a shrine in the midst of the sapphire waters. The causeway out to the shrine is about three-fourths of a kilometer long. I visited it one day in 2005. What I saw will haunt me forever. Even now, seven years in remove, it brings tears to my eyes and a choking rage at the way some people treat their fellow humans. In the words of Virgil, “if I had a hundred mouths and a hundred tongues and a throat of iron, I could not rehearse their crimes or name their punishments.”

One of the reasons I dislike India so much is the myth making, the lie that it is a nation living up to its Gandhian inspiration, when in reality it hides behind it, a nation of a few powerful feeding off the many who are weak.

Is this a harsh judgment? Then read this.

A Taxonomy Of Travelers

I’m working on what I call a taxonomy of travelers. Obviously I am painting with a very broad brush. Here is a list of the ten most common types I’ve encountered:

1. The Rookie
2. The Braggart
3. The Loner
4. The Old Dude
5. The Tourist
6. The Misfit
7. The Man Whore
8. The Drunk
9. The Social Butterfly
10. The Happy Couple.

I’ll define two of them:

The Social Butterfly: The social butterfly is that person who provides the glue for a group that has temporarily banded together to travel from point A to point B. This person is frequently very metro, but not necessarily gay.

The Happy Couple: All backpackers have met at least one “happy couple.” Who they are and how they act is largely self explanatory. Everyone secretly hates the happy couple. At least until they are one.

So, what type have I missed?

Speaking Of Wealth

There are a wealth of sunrises in the world.

Austin Sunrise: February 21, 2012

Be sure to catch one.

Rich Beyond Compare

Wood Duck (aix sponsa)“Where’d you see that,” my father texted me after I sent him this photo. “In the zoo?”

In true text-speak I replied: “Zoo! Haha! You’re just jealous.”

To which he replied, “yup.”

My father, in case you were wondering, is the man who introduced me to birds, among many other things. Our exchange was good natured, but it had a subtle point, one I think he’s been missing lately: if a person were to just get out and walk around they’d be amazed at what they found. It doesn’t matter, for the most part, where you live. There is an active birding community in New York City’s Central Park, for example. One afternoon while on a layover in Los Angeles on my way to Taiwan I saw this little guy, my first and only Black-throated Blue Warbler.

Before I started paying attention to the world around me I had no idea it was this rich. As my father replied after I admonished him to get out and just explore his neighborhood, “I hear you. I see people with headsets, paying no attention to the songs in the trees or the birds flittering about.” To which I would add: the crazy, insane beauty of bugs, the miniature dinosaurs rummaging around our grass and trees and the trees and flowers themselves. Better yet, try turning the television off for thirty minutes and watch the sunset (or wake up early and watch it rise), I promise you’ll not be disappointed.

Just yesterday while The Brunette and I were on our daily walk through the neighborhood we spotted the Wood Ducks, right in the middle of the city, paddling in Shoal Creek. Take a close look at the photo and think for a moment what it would be like to see such a beautiful animal. You’d pay to see it in a zoo, wouldn’t you?

So go walk around your neighborhood. It’s free.

What Is The Constitution Of Money?

Take a moment and think about what money is. Then take a moment to recognize that there is a constitutional structure behind the medium of exchange we call ‘money.’ It may seem an esoteric question. Trust me, it’s not. We have built the structure of money just as we have built skyscrapers and roads and armies.

Much of our lives are centered around economic activity and the medium of exchange we use for that activity, so why not ask fundamental questions about the origins and meaning of money just as we do the origins and meaning of illness? It seems there is much more mythmaking when it comes to money than bacteria, viruses and the like. Give this podcast a listen. I do believe this might be the single best podcast George has yet run.

Fast Fingered Franz

The day before yesterday I read a fascinating essay in The New York Review of Books about Franz Liszt. I’ve spoken before of how much I appreciate The New York Review. In my opinion it is the single best, all around, English language periodical, bar none. The essay on Liszt is another in a long line of examples why that still holds true.

I enjoy symphonic music and have since my little sister introduced it to me in my late teens but I would not normally seek out a 5,000 word essay on Franz Liszt. It’s my policy, however, to read each issue cover to cover. After reading the essay I made a note in my iPhone to seek out some of Liszt’s music on the morrow. I forgot to do so, but this morning The Brunette emailed me an *.mp3 of his music. This one was ‘Love Dream’ which is a wonderful piece of composition and immediately after listening to it I sought out one of the pieces of music suggested in the essay: Piano Concerto No. 1in E-flat Major. (There is a hint of Chopin in this piano concerto, as well.)

Not only is it a soulful piece of music, but it’s powerful, as the author of the essay notes:

He invented the principal musical effect that for almost two centuries has sent audiences roaring to their feet with applause: the single musical line played strongly and rapidly with both hands spanning octaves for a lengthy dramatic passage, fortissimo and staccato. The right-hand octaves in the higher register provide metallic brilliance, and the lower left-hand octaves a thunderous sonority. In addition, when the musical line makes large leaps quickly from side to side, an attractive acrobatic element is added visually for the audience’s enjoyment, as at the opening of Liszt’s Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major.

The finger work is damned impressive. As a musician myself, I can appreciate not only the artistry but the skill and showmanship happening here. And it reminded me of something my little sister told me once about Liszt: before him the pianist played the piano facing the audience, not to the side as they do now. Franz Liszt changed all that. Minor point, but how different it makes the experience, no?

Anyhoo: chalk up another win for The New York Review of Books. If you want to maintain a well-rounded intellect you can do no better.

The Best Dog I Never Owned

Guido and I in the ApenninesDo you have any dog stories? Leave them in the comments.

I’m not a dog person. Sure, we had a black lab–named Isis after a Saturday morning television show for kids–from the time I was six until I was seventeen. What a life that dog did lead. She would hunt and fish with us, chase after all manner of ducks and birds. She never harmed another dog, but she never lost a fight either. She’d immediately roll them on their back and that was it. She was a bad-ass. But she was my father’s dog, never mine.

I’ve moved around too much to own a dog. One can leave cats alone for a week or two to their own devices only to be fed by friends once a day and have their litter cleaned once a week. They are much easier than dogs. We have two currently: Kedi–which means cat in Turkish–so named as we got him shortly after we returned from Istanbul in 2010. And Stella, whom we rescued after we returned from Costa Rica in 2011. (We’ll not be getting a cat when we return from China this year, however.)

But I do like dogs and was reminded of the best dog I never owned when my father texted me the above photo the other day.

Dad and I were high in the Apennines, just above an Italian village called Pescasseroli. It was August of 1998. The dog, whom we named Guido, had attached himself to us the first morning we arrived. We were heading out of town and up the mountains. He followed us all day, ate our scraps and showed us the best trails in the mountains. He was a cheap guide. He wasn’t pushy. He was sweet and didn’t slobber or smell. The kind of dog I like.

The next morning and the next morning and the next he was outside our hotel, waiting. It was uncanny. We grew fond of him. How could we not?

What’s even more uncanny is that the morning we were leaving Dad and I both expected him to meet us at our hotel as he had for the prior three days. But he wasn’t there, as if he knew.

I often wonder what became of Guido. I hope, where ever he is, he’s getting good salami scraps from tourists on the side of some mountain, on earth or in heaven.

Grumble, Grumble

I had a rather unhappy late puberty-early adolescence. (There breaths a man?) So yesterday when I received an email promoting a certain prominent psychiatrist who treats addiction, which was tied to the presumptive addiction related death of Whitney Houston I had a hard time resisting the urge to hit reply and write a scathing email.

Why? Because when I was 14 years-old he was my shrink and he bilked my father’s insurance company for thousands of unearned dollars and misdiagnosed me. Had he taken the time to listen to me he would have realized I was an exceptionally angry kid who was still highly pissed off at his selfish parents and their divorce. Yeah, I smoked a lot of pot and was out of control, but in the parlance of pop-psychology I was acting out for attention.

I didn’t send the email and it surprises me just how angry I was yesterday, 27 years later.

I decided, instead, to be an adult and use my anger constructively. So I quit smoking.

I’m sure there are psychologists and other professionals out there who say it won’t last. Maybe it won’t.

Screw ‘em: today I’m a non-smoker.

On That New Van Halen Thingy

Apropos this post I wanted to comment on something Eddie Van Halen said in the interview, here. David Lee Roth remarks late in the interview that Eddie’s guitar playing always reminded him of drumming. (Diamond Dave learned something from his radio gig: how to interview and when to shut up, thank gawd). This is a really trenchant remark on his part. Eddie’s use of finger-tapping and the harmonic tapping always fascinated me. I tried and tried to learn how to play the harmonics as he does many, many times. I just couldn’t do it as rapidly as Eddie did. But the finger-tapping? A short story.

At around 15 I was getting better playing the guitar and was listening to Eddie Van Halen all the time. I had no idea how to finger-tap. Heck, I was still memorizing scales and chords, trying to move from an open F to an E to a G and then run the pentatonic along the fret board without fouling it up. One night I got far too high on some of my Dad’s chronic. (He always had the good stuff and I raided his stash whenever I could. Of course, I am reformed now.) I fell asleep and dreamed. Yes, I dreamed Eddie Van Halen taught me to finger tap. And the next morning I woke up and to my surprise tried what I had dreamed. It was rough, but it was finger tapping.

I don’t ascribe this knowledge to any kind of divine inspiration or to dreams in general. I tend to see the mind as a giant computer and sleep as a large scale defragging session, a way of re-arranging the knowledge we accrue in daylight and process and synthesize it.

Sure, the new CD is lackluster; sure, it has its moments: Stay Frosty is a fun tune, worthy of late 70s Southern California with the best of David Lee Roth’s bullshit thrown in for good measure. Yes, Dave’s got the howl, but most of the time he sounds old  and tired.

Eddie’s guitar shines–its that big Southern Cali sound and always will be. But get this: Eddie cannot read music? I never knew that.

Alex’s beats are great, hypnotic.

Eddie’s son Wolfgang holds down the fort with a steady bass line. The only thing missing is Michael’s Anthony harmonizing. Never realized how integral he was to the chorus line vocals.

Anyway, that’s totally random. I’m looking forward to the show in June. I missed the 1984 tour as I was grounded by my Dad. Not this year.