Tuesday, January 25, 2011

It's "gang aft agley" Day!

Back home again, after an extraordinary time in Sydney. The "other side of the world" thing could not have been more cogently realized than in the extremes of weather.

In Sydney, I got a severe sunburn on hands, neck, and throat, from taking a 5-hour bike tour. It was overcast, and actually rained a bit, but the sun is so strong there, and the ozone level so thin, that my poor skin incinerated. The burn was so bad that I was happy not to go outside during the entire week of the Tallis Scholars workshop.

On the day I left Sydney it was 86 degrees. When I touched down at JFK 23 hours later, it was 19 degrees. The endless flying and jet lag settling in led to a strange state where I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone episode "The Midnight Sun," where the world seems to be burning up, but it's only a dream from someone freezing to death. (Up theme music please)

It will take me a while to catch up on things. But I'm glad I didn't miss the chance to say, Happy Birthday, Rabbie Burns! The great Scot was honored with a Google logo, just for Google UK. It references his poem, "My luv is like a red, red rose, that's newly sprung in June." I wrote a tribute to his birthday a few years ago, replete with an Al Hirschfeld anecdote and an insistence at getting one of his most famous lines right.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

My Songlines

“Aboriginal Creation myths tell of the legendary totemic beings who had wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path-- birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterhold--and so singing the world into existence." Bruce Chatwin, Songlines

A knowledgeable person is able to navigate across the land by repeating the words of the song. Wiki

The songline that has led to my upcoming time in the land of the Dreaming tracks of the Dreamtime begins with the daughter of the great British philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, Barbara Geach. Some day I will tell Barbara’s own, extraordinary story, but that is not this day.

This day I sing into existence

Spem in alium nunquam habui praeter in te Deus Israel
qui irasceris
et propitius eris
et omnia peccata hominum in tribulatione dimittis

Because of Barbara Geach I became interested in Renaissance polyphony and The Tallis Scholars. Because of a colleague I attended a concert of the Tallis Scholars at Lincoln Center in November. Because it was part of the first annual While Light Festival, there was a free reception where I saw Peter Phillips, with whom I have already attended two polyphony workshops. And in that conversation he nudged me into going to the Tallis Scholars workshop in Sydney, Australia, where he will conduct Spem in Alium, the famous 40-part motet from Thomas Tallis.

Global Strange Happenings

Australia is a mystical place, as all who travel there will say. It is now experiencing floods of Biblical proportions. Rockhampton, near Brisbane in Queensland, is suffering:

Residents of Rockhampton are braced for complete isolation as waters, which have flooded an area bigger than France and Germany, have closed the town's airport and railway and is now lapping at the last remaining road link.

The floods have now unleashed a plague of snakes including highly venomous taipans, brown snakes and red-bellied blacks. Residents say the snakes are climbing trees and hiding in houses as they search for dry refuge. Emergency officials warn the snakes are in their mating season and are very agressive.

Rumours of crocodile sightings are also sweeping the town.

Thousands of poisonous cane toads have also been spotted while authorities say Rockhampton will be hit be sandflies and disease-carrying mosquitoes breeding in standing water.

Natural disasters and mass animal deaths have been reported everywhere (a roundup from the EUTimes):

Brazil: Mysterious killing of fish in coastal regions; Canada:10,000s Birds found dead in Manitoba, Dead Birds and Fish reported in St. Clair River, Ontario; Chile: Thousands of Birds fall from the sky; China: Eagles and Birds are falling from the sky; Italy: Thousands of Doves are Dying; New Zealand: Hundreds of snapper dead on beaches, Penguins, petrels and other seabirds, mass deaths; Philippines: Residents gather, eat dead fish floating in barangay Ibo; South Korea: Dead Teal Ducks With Bird Flu Strain; South Africa: Mystery of dead birds on Cape roads; United Kingdom: Dead fish discovered in canal marina near Abergavenny, 40,000 ‘devil’ crabs found dead on the beach; Vietnam: Tons of farm fish found dead

USA: Arkansas: Nearly 3000 Dead Birds Fall From sky, Now 100,000 Fish Dead; Florida: Thousands Of Fish Dead In Spruce Creek; Illinois: Dead Birds Reported by Residents in Southern Illinois; Kentucky: Dead birds; Louisiana: Dead Birds Fall From Sky AGAIN, 300 Miles From Arkansas Incident Days Earlier; Maryland: 2 Million fish die in Chesapeake Bay; Michigan: Hundreds of Dead Fish In Lincoln Park

So much death and disaster in the global Dream Tracks. Reminds me of the film The Last Wave. And that’s from the great Australian film director, Peter Weir. Hmm.

Weir’s The Last Wave has haunted my mind since I saw it many years ago, the rationalist lawyer drawn into the mysticism of a modern-day apocalypse first seen as extreme, freak weather that only the Aborigines see the significance of. Weir also directed Picnic at Hanging Rock, that oddity of fiction about 3 school girls and a teacher who go missing from a boarding school picnic that was so compelling that some fans enthused that it had to be true. It was just a made-up story.

Leaving a Sad Nation for Down Under

I leave New York in between monster snowstorms, and the country reeling from the shootings in Arizona. I believe that the killing has more to do with mental illness than politics, but the details do speak to the very heart of us as a nation, from the idea of a local meet-and-greet with your Congressperson, to the issue of the lack of gun control, and that it’s legal to carry concealed weapons in Arizona, to learning that little nine-year-old Christine Green was born on 9/11/2001 and was there because of her interest in school politics.

Such a strange, jumbled intersection of personal and collective threads in the early part of our new year.

A blogging break starts now. I’ll be gone a couple of weeks, but will be tweeting between the traveling and the singing. Follow me, you know where.

(Photos, top to bottom: David Gulpilil, from opening sequence of The Last Wave; Richard Chamberlin at the end of The Last Wave; Gabriel Zimmerman, murdered in Arizona; Live shot of the Pacific Ocean via web cam on the Hollister storefront on Fifth Avenue, NYC)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Running in the New Year!

It was a lovely night for a run, and so said all 5,600 of us. The Emerald Nuts Midnight Run in Central Park is one of New York's lesser-known gatherings. We may look like those crazy people in Time Square at the start, but at the stroke of midnight we are underway to fly as fast or as slow as our legs will go.

The night feels very special in the park, as the NY Road Runners takes over the highways and biways. The race starts on the 72 street transverse, goes up the east side to 102 st transverse, then down the west side back to 72 street. The views are dramatic for much of the run; I felt entirely indebted, again, to Olmstead and Vaux and their brilliant vision for the park. What they didn't image is the scope of the illuminated skyscraper skyline that would rise above their trees, symbols of the energy and imagination that is the best of New York.

With fireworks overhead, the ragtag assembly of costumed runners, casual runners, real runners, enjoys the experience together, cheered on by spectators who take a break from parties nearby to cheer and wave on the throng.

There is no better way to shake off the cares of the old year than to sweat them out of you and enjoy the visceral sensation of letting go.

Happy New Year Everyone!