Sunday, November 29, 2009

Andean Explorer: Puno To Cusco

If one of the sweetest ways to travel is by train then one of the very best journeys must be in Peru. When we were there we chose to ride the Andean Explorer from Puno, near the Bolivian border, to Cusco, the old capital of the Incas.

The entire trip took 10 hours, leaving from Puno at 8am and arriving in Cusco at 6pm. The weather was perfect - blue skies and mild temperatures. We were treated to two delicious meals and a free concert in the bar car!

We stopped once for a break to buy souvenirs and soak up the air of the Andes...

Much of the landscape was barren and beautiful...

The wine flowed...

...and the alpacas roamed...

It was a highlight of our trip to South America and a great way to see the Andes...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Bob Dylan: Ho, Ho, Ho!

Bob Dylan has that new Christmas record out - Christmas In The Heart - and all the haters have been dissing it as either a treacherous sell out or a rollicking piss take. One jackass even went so far as comparing it to his going electric at Newport in '65. It's nothing of the kind. He plays the tunes straight, going for the same iconic reverence as Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and...Dean Martin? Uh, yup, he's not kidding. It could be one of his most sincere albums ever with proceeds going to charity. And as he says, "These songs are part of my life, just like folk songs. You have to play them straight..."

That's right - straight as a polka! Oi! Only one month till Christmas!!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Michael Ondaatje: Salad Days

When I met Michael Ondaatje in Vancouver during his speaking tour supporting Handwriting I got his handwriting...his autograph! I was cheeky - I brought along Van Morrison's Astral Weeks for him to sign. He hesitated, looked at me like I was a punk, then smiled and scribbled his name just above "Madame George." If you're familiar with his work you'll know Van has popped up in his writing throughout the years.

I'm currently reading In The Skin of a Lion and while great, parts do feel twenty years old. The postmodern ellipses seem contrived and not as startling as I remember them being at the time. I prefer his poetry, or the "poetic prose" of The Collected Works of Billy The Kid and Coming Through Slaughter. Here's a couple from his early days:

The Cinnamon Peeler

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to you hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler's wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
--your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers...

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter's wife, the lime burner's daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner's daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler's wife. Smell me.

Notes for the Legend of Salad Woman

Since my wife was born
she must have eaten
the equivalent of two-thirds
of the original garden of Eden.
Not the dripping lush fruit
or the meat in the ribs of animals
but the green salad gardens of that place.
The whole arena of green
would have been eradicated
as if the right filter had been removed
leaving only the skeleton of coarse brightness.

All green ends up eventually
churning in her left cheek.
Her mouth is a laundromat of spinning drowning herbs.
She is never in fields
but is sucking the pith out of grass.
I have noticed the very leaves from flower decorations
grow sparse in their week long performance in our house.
The garden is a dust bowl.

On our last day in Eden as we walked out
she nibbled the leaves at her breasts and crotch.
But there's none to touch
none to equal
the Chlorophyll Kiss

Monday, November 16, 2009

2012: The Rise Of Africa!

Africa rises in director Roland Emmerich's new megaflick "2012," literally. I would almost include the entire developing world if it wasn't for the annihilation of India and parts of South America. Rich nations are totally wiped out. One after another - the US, Germany, France, Canada, Britain, Japan - are swallowed up by the shifting earth's crust or tsunamis the size of the himalayas. This could be interpreted as revenge for all the crap the industrialized world has dumped on the planet until you realize at the end that a small fleet of gigantic "arks," (as in Noah), are enroute to Africa to begin the process of "civilization" all over again. Nice subtext. Ugh! Those poor people.

The film itself is decent entertainment - the visuals, special affects and most of the performances put it above Armageddon or Independence Day. But it's rife with a dour kind of melodrama and dialogue that sticks in the teeth, if not to the camera lens.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Achilles From Flin Flon: Bobby Clarke

Bobby Clarke was rock n' roll on ice. He was a scrapper and the type of player who went all out as if his life and yours depended on it. As the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers he inspired commitment because he never expected his teammates to do anything he himself wouldn't do first. In the mid-70s Clarke and his "Broad Street Bullies" shook up the "City of Brotherly Love" and the rest of the NHL with a speed and aggression that changed the game forever. I loved it.

As a young aspiring pee-wee I thought his style was the coolest. I found out his birthday - August 13th - was one day before mine and always went looking for his hockey card whenever a new season came around.

I also took his number - 16. With no front teeth and curly blonde hair, Clarke led a gang that could deliver a kick ass performance at the drop of a puck.

Clarke was selected 17th by the Flyers in the second round of the 1969 draft, but he had diabetes - his achilles heel. With the help of trainers he put together a sugar diet and began drinking a bottle of Coca-Cola with three spoonfuls of dissolved sugar before each game. Between periods he downed half a glass of orange juice with sugar added, and kept chocolate bars and a tube of 100% glucose stashed nearby just in case.

Here's an interview with the CBC's Brian McFarlane from the 1976 Super Series, a string of exhibition games played between USSR Red Army and 8 NHL teams.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Looking For Freedom: The Fall Of The Berlin Wall

If you've been to Berlin since the wall fell you know how truly divided it once was. Yuko and I made it there in 2000.

Alexanderplatz (above), the main square in the old Communist part of the city, resembled a kosmonaut village with the GDR/CCCP's love of all things space-like finding expression in the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) and all the shiny, metallic surfaces. Ironically, the communists' futuristic fetish revealed an escapism that would have made a comrade like Bertolt Brecht choke on his pumpernickel.

Meanwhile, the western part of the city reveled in a kind of gritty realism; stone monuments, blackened from pollution, and building facades pock-marked with bullets leftover from WWII, offered a requiem scarred with history.

I was at the University of BC in Vancouver on November 10, 1989 (a Friday), the morning after the checkpoints were opened. It was a beautiful autumn day and I remember meeting with my theatre history prof, the great Peter Loeffler, who was ecstatic over the news.

Here's an account of how it happened in the days leading up to November 9, 1989:
"Erich Honecker, East Germany's head of state, resigned on October 18, 1989. The new governement prepared a new law to lift travel restrictions for East German citizens.

At 6:53 pm on November 9 a member of the new East German government was asked at a press conference when the new East German travel law would come into force. He answered:
Well, as far as I can see, ... straightaway, immediately.

Thousands of East Berliners went to the border crossings. At Bornholmer Strasse the people demanded the border open and at 10:30 pm it was opened.

That moment was the end of the Berlin Wall."

Oddly (and sadly), David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff's "Looking For Freedom" was a mega-hit in West Germany in 1989, staying at number 1 for eight weeks.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

From Nairobi To Shenzhen: Mark Obama Ndesandjo

Yet another of Barack Obama's half-brothers is alive and well in...Communist China. Mark Obama Ndesandjo has just unveiled a book in Shenzhen - From Nairobi To Shenzhen - based in part on his relationship with his often abusive father, Barack Obama Sr. Apparently, it's part fiction because Ndesandjo couldn't remember having any good experiences with him. As a result, he decided to add fictional details to make the character of Obama Sr. seem more authentic.
"My mother used to say of my father, 'He's a brilliant man, but a social failure' and I remember times in my house when I would hear screams, when I would hear my mother's pain. And I was a child, and I could not actually, I could not actually ... I could not protect her."
I haven't read the book, but Ndesandjo's journey sounds interesting. In 2002, he ended up in China after working in the US and earning degrees from Brown and Stanford. He's 46, married to a Chinese woman and has been teaching piano and English just over the border from Hong Kong in Shenzhen, and is involved in consulting. By all accounts he appears to be loving life. Here's a news report from Chinese TV last year:

The book is available online from Aventine Press, a self-publishing company less charitably known as a "vanity press" because it publishes works at the author's expense.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Back To Mono: It's The Beatles!

The Beatles were as much a part of my upbringing as toast and peanut butter or mum's roast on Sundays. In fact, I had the melody to "Let It Be" and George's solo down on air guitar before I could lickity my split...Phil Spector had it right... least when it came to music...

...pre-Sgt. Pepper, that is...

...bring it all back to mono...

My Beatles in Mono box set just arrived from Amazon and I'm immersed in Beatles everything. The sound is awesome, especially on the early stuff...

The set includes all the albums up to The White Album complete with their original photos and album inserts like the cut out moustache that came with Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band:

So may I introduce to you, the act you've known for all these years: