haiku after monet at te papa

claude your eight red blobs
placed in meadow with poplars
take my breath away

the poet who falls
from atop a long white cloud
grins and says thank you

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hostel hostility

OK, it’s official, i am not a people person. which i had kinda suspected for most of the last half-century but … staying at backpacker hostels has confirmed it.
sharing kitchen and bathroom space with other frugal-minded travellers with varying standards of cleanliness and etiquette and privacy considerations does not bring out the best in moi. like, just now, while i am quietly attempting to compose this blog post, a young bearded fellow has picked up a guitar and started to strum it. right in front of me. in MY space. and i don’t feel like hearing that just now, thank you very much. but, rather than throw my jandal at his inconsiderate head, i will merely sigh and conclude this snippet with something i just copied off the wall in the eating lounge:

The way to happiness is:

Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry. Live simply; give much. Fill your life with love.

Do as you would be done by.

(Buddha)

lonny hears lenny

seamless. sublime. sexy. everything you’d expect from a leonard cohen concert. (everything i expected, anyway.)

heard the master at auckland’s vector arena last night and was, well, blown away. i’ll try not to gush on here too much, but it’s not often poets-cum-songwriters fill arenas and get standing ovations just for stepping onto the stage … and then get called back for seven encore numbers. sounding at times like tom waits, the gravel-voiced canadian icon treated the adoring new zealand crowd to an embrace of  “greatest hits” proportion. dressed to kill in a dapper black suit and fedora, he delivered many of his offerings from a crouch position, almost as if kneeling in prayer, and cradled the microphone in both hands like it was a baby chick or a fragile shell.

there doesn’t seem to be anything fragile about this still rakish-looking wordsmith, however — despite having worn his heart on his sleeve for five decades. the 75-year-old who still oozes sex appeal — damn! — was on the stage for almost three full hours, breaking for just one 20-minute intermission after the first hour and then bounding back for almost two straight hours of classic cohen, songs that celebrate  the light and the dark of the world and of the human condition, the human heart; our brokenness, our longing for love.

a man of few words between songs, he drew a huge, knowing laugh when he said “i studied the religions, the philosphies … but cheerfulness kept breaking through.” 

cohen’s angelic background vocalists, sharon robinson (longtime collaborator on many of his songs) and the webb sisters, hattie and charlie, take his arrangements to a whole nuther stratosphere. and his amazing band is tighter than tight. the whole package was powerful. spiritual. breathtaking. goosebump-inducing.

here is the song list from an unforgettable evening:

1st set:

dance me to the end of love
the future
ain’t no cure for love
bird on a wire
everybody knows
in my secret life
who by fire
chelsea hotel #2
hey, that’s no way to say goodbye
anthem (ring the bells)

2nd set:

tower of song
suzanne
the gypsy wife
the partisan
boogie street
hallelujah
i’m your man
thousand kisses deep
take this waltz

encores

so long mariane
first we take manhattan
famous blue raincoat

if it be your will
democracy is coming (to the USA)

i tried to leave you
wither thou goest


and sometimes when the night is slow
the wretched and the meek
we gather up our hearts and go
a thousand kisses deep

red, white and blue all over

i’m back in e-town after a week in nashville.
i love to travel, so generally any road trip is a good trip … but i’m still trying to sort out my conflicting gut impressions of music city.

some of the high notes:

  • getting to hear john irving (the world according to garp, hotel new hampshire, cider house rules, a prayer for owen meany, etc.) deliver a free lecture to an almost-packed house at the ryman auditorium. irving spoke at length about the state of publishing in america, and the importance of libraries (“there you can still find the classics; most of the books in a bookstore today are crap”).
    he talked about censorship and book-banning in the u.s.a. (“americans love to ban things. there’s no law that says you have to read a book before you can ban it.”) and how that spills over into issues like same-sex marriage and abortion rights: “the instinct to suppress is always there. suppression is very american: if you don’t like something, don’t let ANYONE have it. my own attitude is, if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one. and why should it matter to straight couples if gay couples get married? how insecure can they be? all over the world, i am asked: ‘what is the problem you americans have with gays, with abortion, with sex, with drinking?’ ah, yes, drinking. remember how well prohibition worked.”
    his advice to young aspiring writers: “read every book you can get your hands on, see every play that you can. if you’re fortunate enough to become a (successful) writer, there’ll come a time when you’ll want to write more than you read. and then you won’t read anymore. the time to read everything … is when you’re young. being a widely-read person is the only defence there is from crap, from the junk. you’ve just gotta read as much as you can. read, read, read.”
  • the frist, the rymer gallery, cheekwood museum: there’s a whole lot more to tennessee than country music, jack daniel’s, football and barbecue. there’s a thriving arts scene, for example. but it can be hard to find when the titans are 9-0, and the CMA awards are coming to you live from 5th and broadway, and elvis paraphernalia assaults you from every souvenir shop window.
  • the honky tonks: thumbs up to the concept of rotating bands at live music venues all through the day and long into the night. no cover? even better. nothing but budweiser and pabst on tap? pity.
  • the country music hall of fame/museum: awesome! as you’ve probably guessed, i’m not a huge country fan but it was hard not to be dazzled by this outstanding multi-layered attraction which includes an amazing array of musical instruments, rhinestone jackets, satin shirts, belts, and of course cowboy hats and boots. elvis’s gold piano and cadillac, webb pierce’s “silver dollar” car, and johnny cash’s black shirts are just a few of the gems preserved in Sing Me Back Home, the museum’s permanent exhibit which includes artifacts, photographs, original recordings, archival video, and interactive displays that glorify the history and sounds of country music. . . (did you know there was a song called “dern ya” recorded in feminist response to roger miller’s hit “dang me”?). there are walls and walls of gold & platinum records (anne murray’s on there at least twice), bill monroe’s gibson F5 (“the most famous mandolin in American music history”), and a gift shop that stocks thousands of CD titles, not to mention googoo clusters — a confection item involving chocolate, peanuts and marshmallow that’s apparently been an american tradition since 1912 and is manufactured right there in nashville.
  • the grand ole opry: yes, indeedy, i attended the opry at the ryman. saw vince gill and randy owen and mel tillis (pam’s dad) and diamond rio and marty stuart, and a parade of geezers from the glory days of the ’50s and’ 60s. i had fun … still, couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t a single person of colour in the entire audience. (the ryman is located two blocks from a boulevard named in honour of rosa l. parks. if you’re missing the connecting thread … google rosa parks.)walkhank1

    … and some sour notes:

  • kevin costner and modern west. kevin, give it up. you are not a singer. you are barely an actor. put an end to this charade right now and let us remember you for bull durham and dances with wolves … not for your feeble attempts at becoming a country crooner.
  • the veterans day parade. in canada, regardless of how you feel about war, november 11 tends to be a day of solemn remembrance, of showing respect for victims of war; a day for honouring those who gave their lives in battle. it’s two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. for many it’s a day of sadness; of sombre reflection and gratitude.nashclown1
    in the states, if nashville is any indication, november 11 is a day to flex your military muscle by rolling your tanks and jeeps down main street while marching bands play peppy tunes, shriners in garish fake arab costumes (oh, the irony) ride around in ridiculous little miniature cars, and soldiers atop armored tanks spin their turrets at clowns mugging for cheap laughs. (excuse me, i seem to have forgotten… somebody please remind me again what’s funny about war?)
    perhaps most pathetic was the sight of white-haired veterans in their 80s and 90s crowded onto wagons and flatbeds pulled by tractors, smiling and waving feebly at people on the sidewalks. these were clearly soldiers from wars prior to vietnam and desert storm, before iraq and afghanistan. knowing how the current administration treats, er, ignores the broken veterans of its more recent military actions … well, let’s just say it was harder to stomach than the googoo clusters.

home again

what a country.

the drive from toronto to edmonton is horrible. at least that’s what i always thought, based on the first time i drove it back in march of 1980. but i was only 22 then, and … well, it turns out i didn’t know anything at that age. in fact, the drive this time around was hardly painful at all. which tells me that i was just a real impatient, self-absorbed dumbass when i was 22.

now that i am much older, i like to think i’m at least a teeny bit wiser; and i’m pretty sure that in my blind wanderings since then i have managed, in spite of myself, to become more compassionate, more kind, more aware.

which is neither here nor there, really. but one does have a lot of time to think when one is behind the steering wheel staring at tundra, pine trees and prairie skies for hours at a time.

i think i’ve got it pretty good.

go home lake, minnedosa, minnewanka, wawa, nipissing, neepawa, nipigon, short road, long road, ball park road, post office road, baptist church road …

what a country, indeed.

check engine

you never want to be on day 2 of a 5-day drive and have your “check engine” light start winking at you from the dashboard. but that’s what happened in the suburu (AKA jupiter 2; the buick is voyageur when we’re communicating via walkie talkies — damn these new-fangled communication devices!) yesterday as we were cruising into nipigon, about an hour east of thunder bay, road-weary and gobsmacked by lake superior’s majesty.

it’s probably just the sensor, we all agreed, smiling on the outside but anxious on the inside. day 3 of the drive (today) is the t’under bay to winnipeg leg, featuring dead man’s curve (see previous post) and you don’t want to be taking chances with a potentially wonky engine on any inch of that particular stretch of pre-cambrian asphalt, so just to be on the safe side, jupiter 2 is now at the local suburu dealership in beautiful downtown thunder bay, on the receiving end of the automotive equivalent of a tongue depressor to the tonsils. it’s delayed our departure by an hour so far, but as long as she requires no major surgery, jupiter 2, voyageur and their valuable cargo (including four restless drivers, three books on CD, two thermosii of coffee and one amazingly mellow cat, NOT named toonces) should be pulling into kenora in time for afternoon tea and yodels. she said hopefully.

see you in the central time zone …