Saturday, December 31, 2011

Grateful for the Old Year; Hopeful for the New Year

Happy New Year, faithful readers. I wish you a happy, healthy, prosperous, peaceful, and wondrous 2012.

I recently came across an excellent exercise in gratitude. I learned about it from a magazine article by Eugene D. Holden.

Try the following for a week; and see if things start to move in your life.

1. Get a small notebook and keep it at your bedside.
2. First thing in the morning upon waking, write down five things for which you are grateful.
3. At day's end, write down five things that happened during the day for which you are grateful.

Among many things, I am grateful for all of you, and for living in this age when we can make friends across so many boundaries of space, distance and culture.

Here's to friendship in its many forms, and the power of friendship to knit us all closer.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fashion Dreams - The Exquisite Gowns of Hana Sadiq

Last night, Boston's Center for Arabic Culture held a fundraiser featuring a fashion show of gowns by Iraqi fashion designer Hana Sadiq, entitled "The Many Names of Love". Held at Boston's elegant Taj Hotel, the show was part of a special fundraising evening that featured the fashion show as well as a silent auction, and dancing. The Center for Arabic Culture is based in Somerville, near Boston, and has a full and expanding slate of activities.

But back to the fashion show. A bit spent from finishing a major writing project, I was thrilled to be in the audience for the show. It was such a balm to my spirit to feast on the sumptuous gowns. Sure they were couture-priced, but they were of exquisite couture quality too. Each worthy of Sheherazade herself, they had gaspingly gorgeous detailing, brilliant colors, fanciful cuts and dreamy fabric. Many featured embroidery of Arabic calligraphy. It is hard to bring the beauty to you - but here is a close-up of a gown that shows some of her amazing ideas - combining color, calligraphy and embroidery.
Most gowns were accessorized by fantastic headpieces and hats. All the models also wore five pearl or silver sequins above each eyebrow, to interesting effect. The Fashion Doctors blog has posted several photos of the show - link below. Here is one of the photographs showing a closeup of a model with the eyebrow sequins and embroidered hat. Lovely!
The models were professionals from Boston's Dynasty Agency. Since I went on my own, I didn't socialize, but left quickly after the show, my mind filled with Ms. Sadiq's fantastic creations. The guests, so elegant they could have done their own fashion show, clearly seemed to be enjoying themselves. They auctioned off one of Ms. Sadiq's gowns right after the show. There were many photographers there, and if I see any of the photographs from the show I'll post them. In the meantime, here is a link to Hana Sadiq's website . Bravo, everyone at the Center for Arabic Culture, especially director Farrah Haidar. Well done! 

In a blog called Fashion Doctors, there are several photos of the show. You can link to them here.
And if you're in the DC area, Hana Sadiq will be presenting her fashions at a benefit for the ADC in Washington very soon.

Friday, October 28, 2011

In Apricot Season

The Arabs have thousands of wise sayings and proverbs. I studied Arabic in college and lived in the Middle East for several years and have come across lots of them. Here are some of my favorites.

Bukra Fi Mishmish – “Tomorrow, in apricot season” This is the equivalent of westerners saying ‘when hell freezes over,’ in other words, ‘never’. Apricots ripen in summer but their season lasts only about a week. So when you want to put something off to an unlikely time, you can say, ‘in apricot season.’

Ibn al-Batt `Awaam – “The son of a duck is a floater” This one, from the Gulf country of Bahrain is akin to ‘the acorn never falls far from the tree.” A British resident in Bahrain wrote a book of Bahraini sayings using this one as its title.

Al-Jaar Qabl ad-Daar – “Choose your neighbor before your house.”  The Arabic version of ‘location, location, location,’ it’s a wise view of how any dwelling place is enhanced by good neighbors.

Misr Umm ad-Dunya ­– “Egypt is the Mother of the World.”  Yes, Egyptians really do think that, and they say it too. 

‘Ala khashmi - “On My Nose” You say this in the United Arab Emirates when someone has asked you to do something, and you want to say, ‘With pleasure, I’ll do what you ask.’

Laa shukr ila waajib – “There is no thanks for doing one’s duty” You hear this across the Arab world from merchants, from friends and in the workplace.

Fawg in-Nakhl – “Above the Palms”. A way of saying, ‘I feel great’. There’s a famous song of that title, popular in the Eastern part of the Arab world. I’ve heard that it’s originally from Iraq.

In Morocco, you say Waakha for ‘OK’. Baghdadi’s say Aku Maku for ‘How ya doin’. (I confess I’ve never been to Baghdad, but an acquaintance from there told me this.) Literally, it means, ‘there was, there wasn’t’. it reminds me of the Lebanese greeting Shoo Fee Maa Fee, or ‘what’s up, nothing much’. In Morocco they greet each other saying, La ba’as, or ‘not bad.’ You can say this both to greet someone and to respond to their greeting. Kuwaiti’s and others from the Gulf say hello with Ya halaa.  All over the Arab world, the expression ya’ani means ‘means’. Confused? OK, it also means, ‘in other words’, and ‘um…ahhh.’, as well as ‘like’ (Valley Girl style). You often hear it stretched out in a sentence while the speaker is stranded mid-thought.  It also has another meaning ---- ‘sort of’ or ‘not exactly’.

My friend Addi Ouadderrou, who owns Moroccan Caravan in Somerville, ( taught me a great one last year. Here it is in English. “You’ll find different things when you search in the river than when you search in the ocean.” (The words for river and ocean rhyme in Arabic). Do we have an equivalent of this? I don’t think so.

And last but not least, Abla, a Palestinian friend, told me, “Time is like a sword. If you don’t cut with it, it will cut you.”

Monday, October 17, 2011

Saudi Female Wedding Singers

Arab News feature writer Rima al-Mukhtar has written a lovely article about female singers in Saudi Arabia today. The article is pasted in below, along with a wonderful illustration.



When one thinks of a traditional Saudi wedding, a Tagaga always comes to mind. Tagaga is the Arabic word for a woman singer that only sings in weddings and women gathering nights. This profession has been around in Saudi Arabia for more than 50 years, but it used to be limited to certain people who have beautiful voices.

However, according to 28-year-old singer, Jehan, it takes more than just a beautiful voice to be a Tagaga in the Gulf region. “A true Tagaga has to be fluent in more than one Arabic accent. She has to be professional in Egyptian, Syrian, Moroccan, Gulf, Yemeni and Lebanese because people have different tastes in music. A Tagaga is an entertainer: she has to put in mind that people get bored easily, so she has to keep them interested by performing different kinds of music and sometimes dances with them,” she said.

Tagagas don’t have their own songs, but rather perform popular songs. Furthermore, they only use an Arabic drum in their songs to influence the Gulf rhythm in their music.
“Tagagas usually perform for four to five hours a night at a normal wedding,” said 24-year-old Tagaga, Jowhara.

Saudi weddings usually start at 11 p.m. and end at around 4 a.m. “We arrive at the wedding at around 12 a.m. and start singing until Fajer prayer or sometimes, according to the bride’s orders, until 7 a.m. We take five-minute coffee breaks every 30 minutes to give attendees a chance to catch up,” added Jowhara.

Some Tagaga bands are accompanied with a male singer to make their music more appealing. “I believe that I’m one of the first men to sing in women-only weddings. We usually sing in a room separated from women and coordinate with them by telephone,” said Mohammed Hashem, a male singer. “I have my own band of seven women singers and a sound manager. Furthermore, we use more than just Arabic drums as tempo; we also use an organ and DJ mixing.”

Tagaga bands nowadays charge up to SR20,000 a night. “I believe it’s fair to charge a lot of money because you are paying the whole band and not just one person. This band will guarantee you a night filled with entertainment,” added Hashem. “A Tagaga who just started her business will charge between SR3,000 and SR5,000 while a singer who has been in the business for more than five years will charge between SR15,000 and SR20,000. Well-known Tagagas charge more than SR20,000 because people already know her and she has been in the business for a long time.”

According to Cinderella, a lead singer in a band, most of those music bands fake their names to avoid trouble. “Most of those Tagagas come from very traditional backgrounds where if they mentioned their family names, they might get into serious trouble with their distant families. We heard about many female singers from Bedouin tribes who later got into trouble with their relatives for going on stage and singing for other women. Those tribes see that it as shameful and disgrace if they did such a thing,” she said.

When it comes to a traditional Saudi wedding, a wedding planner has to put specific things in mind, considering that weddings in Saudi Arabia are women only weddings. “Preparing for a wedding event can be hectic because many young women demand a modern wedding; yet it’s hard for them to let go of their old traditions. Brides never want modern music bands; they always demand the best Tagaga with the best crew of drummers. It’s hard to book those Tagagas because they are always on demand. I have to book them two or three months before the wedding just to make sure they make it on the same day,” said Randa Basha, a Saudi wedding planner.

“They are not your typical singers who just get on stage and perform. Those singers have to have their own place in the wedding ballroom and have to be provided with chocolate, dates, coffee and tea. You can say they are spoiled when they come to work and people pay them up to SR30,000,” added Basha.

According to Basha, some brides even book Tagagas from other cities around the Kingdom. “Brides always look for the best wedding performers and entertainment. I have arranged many weddings where the bride pays the Tagaga to come from Riyadh to Jeddah and pays the plane booking, hotel, accommodation and the wedding fees. Furthermore, those Tagagas don’t come alone, they come with a whole team of drummers, dancers and assistants. So, the bride pays all of them for their services,” she added.

Touha is a legendary name in the world of singing in Saudi Arabia. She has been working as a Tagaga for 30 years now and is considered one of the oldest Tagagas around and the one who started this form of art in the Kingdom.

“Nowadays, music is different and the music industry is going down. This profession is turning into a humiliation because the person who doesn’t find a job turns herself into a Tagaga,” said Touha. “This job became random because many people from different nationalities joined it and ruined it too. Those amateur singers are asking for too much money and for what? Three or four hours of singing?”

“Back in our days, we used to charge up to SR3,000 only, but singers now ask for SR15,000 and more! This does not make any sense and only shows only that they are greedy and not doing it for the sake of enjoyment like we did before,” she added.

It is interesting to note that Saudi families don’t approve of this kind of job, claiming it’s not classy and doesn’t match their religious beliefs. “I wouldn’t endorse the idea of one of my daughters working as a Tagaga for this job has one of the worst reputations,” said business man Saleh Shaheen. “I think many Saudi families would agree with me because this job requires the singer to stay out all night singing and dancing, which does not match our Islamic tradition or our closed society’s way of thinking."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Publication Party for Kate Whouley's "Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words"

Yesterday, Kate Whouley held a publication party for her latest book at Titcomb's Bookstore in East Sandwich on Cape Cod. Kate's book, Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words, is a heart-warming memoir about how she, as a single woman, dealt with her mother's final years in a struggle with Alzheimer's. While the story might sound grim, it reads like a frank conversation over a soothing cup of tea. Treating the reader as a trusted friend, Whouley shares her decisions and dilemmas, as well as moments of grace and humor, and the deep compassion that ultimately saw her and her mother through.

The book launched on September 6, 2011 to much fanfare, including a glowing review in USA Today (read it here), and a great review on Shelf Awareness (read it here). In addition, an excerpt appeared in, and an essay about her mom's birthday (which is 9/11) appeared in Obit Magazine. So...the only way Kate could top all this was to throw a bang-up pub party. Which she did.

Kate having a word with the 'Titcombs Man' - a statue outside the bookstore. He has good taste in books too!
The day was perfect - sunny, and slightly cool. Titcomb's Bookshop is located on a picturesque stretch of Route 6A on the Cape. The traditional Cape-style cedar shingle building was swathed in lush plantings, offering plenty of room for Kate's readers and fans to gather both inside and out. Throughout the event, readers waited in line to get their books signed. In addition to a delicious cake, guests sipped wine and nibbled cheese and crackers. Kate read from the book, admitting this was her first time reading it aloud, except when she read to herself or her cat in the editing process. Attendees wore buttons indicating whether they were a character in the book, from Beacon Press, or a member of the Cape Cod Conservatory Band, which also plays a big role in the book. The buttons were great conversation starters. Helene Atwan, the book's editor and Director of Beacon Press, as well as Beacon's Associate Publisher Tom Hallock, and Senior Publicist Caitlin Meyer were also on hand to cheer Kate on.

Photographer Anne Sweeney, known to television audiences as a friendly WGBH-TV fundraiser, took photos. Check out Kate Whouley's author page on facebook if you want to see them. Above, some of the book's characters, including Anne, joined Kate around the Titcomb's Man.

You can order a hard copy or e-book on-line from Titcomb's (link here). If you'd like a signed copy, call them at: 508-888-2331. If you are lucky enough to be on Cape Cod, stop by Titcomb's. In addition to a captivating collection of new and used books, they have a wonderful selection of greeting cards.

Congratulations, Kate! Obviously, I highly recommend Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Habibi Magazine - Archives on-line

My first published writing was a series of essays that appeared in a Habibi, a newspaper/magazine from California. The series was called "Arabian Journal". In it, I wrote about my adventures living as a young wife and college grad with my American husband in Jeddah in the late 1970's. I wrote about exploring the folk dance scene and some of the interesting characters I met in the process of trying to learn about the traditions there.

Habibi served the burgeoning belly dance scene in the 1970's, and was originally published by Bob Zalot. Later, in the 1990's, Shareen El Safy revived it, and during that time I wrote a stand-alone article for the magazine, a kind of summary of what I'd learned about the folk dances of the women of Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Gulf. Just recently, Shareen digitized the articles from the years 1992-2002 and put them up on a website. I highly recommend this as a research tool if you're interested in the Middle Eastern performance arts. You can search by author or keyword. Some of the best writing about Middle Eastern dance was published in Habibi, and it's worth a serious browse. The link is here.

Here is the link to my story from the Fall, 1997 edition, Loosening their tresses: women's dances of the Arabian Gulf and Saudi Arabia

Friday, July 15, 2011

Eduardo Paniagua and the Music of al-Andalus

One of the projects that occupied me this last winter and spring was writing a profile of the musician and producer, Eduardo Paniagua of Madrid. It just came out in the July-August Saudi Aramco World Magazine. This story was quite an adventure, and it opened my eyes to many things, and brought me to Spain for the first time. Eduardo Paniagua is possibly coming to New York to perform this September at the World Music Institute. I'll follow up with details if he's coming.

Here's the link to the story:  Listening for Al-Andalus

Monday, June 6, 2011

Helicopter wife or writing buddy?

Thwop thwop thwop.....the sounds of a helicopter hovering. Is that me... am I being a helicopter wife?

My husband is under the gun with an important writing deadline.  Ideas are floating around in his head, and he's at last sitting down to do his draft. It's slow going, but I know how his mind works, and am confident that the result will be logical, thorough and clear. But that doesn't mean it's not hard to watch him go through the process.

Usually I'm the one who is wrestling with writing deadlines. I've had a busy spring, with two magazine articles that involved many interviews and hours of transcriptions, followed by days of drafting, polishing and editing. With my stories submitted, I'm taking a breather and am about to turn to a novel project. I'm hanging back though, until he's met his deadline.

So what am I doing to help? Not much. I try not to ask him how it's going too often, though I worry that perhaps talking things out might help. I help him research things when asked. Mostly, though, I cook for him, top up his coffee mug, and try to keep things quiet so he can concentrate.

I just can't imagine what it must be like for the parents of a teenager....wondering if the college application essay is complete, how the term paper's going, whether all the deadlines are being met. Not having had children, I've little experience with all of this.

So am I a helicopter wife? Is there such a thing? I google it and find there is a term for a 'helicopter spouse' but I don't think it fits me, because I know his results will be stellar. In fact when we were in college, we both were going for an honors degree and had to write a senior thesis. His was elegant and focused - on how medieval Arab grammarians argued over the adverb. In Arabic, it's called a Haal. So we joked that he should title it, "What, the Haal?" Anyway, mine was a more amorphous and larger topic - on the lives and literary patronage of two aristocratic Arabian women in early Islam. I cried tears over retyping mine. He only had to change the spelling of 'genitive'. (This was before personal computers you see).

So we often laugh at the kind of writing we do. He, always the succinct, clear, and logical. Me, the big, amorphous, messy, emotional and dramatic. I try to make my stories more focused and imitate his clarity. He helps edit my short stories, helping crisp them up most elegantly.

So instead of a helicopter wife, I'm trying to be a good writing buddy. My biggest fear is that I'll jinx him by telling how excited I am to see how his work is going to blossom on the page. I know it's going to be good, I'm just impatient for my first look at his draft.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

This is My Father's World

Happy Easter, and Happy Spring, and to everyone in Egypt, happy  "Shem al-Neseem"  ('Smell the Breeze' Day).  The hymn "This is My Father's World" always gets to me. And perhaps not surprisingly, since it was inspired by a walk in the woods.The message is really powerful, especially for me these days as a group of us are fighting industrial wind projects in Maine. I find inspiration and strength in this hymn, and perhaps you will too, with whatever battle you are fighting.

The lyrics are below, and below that, an amazing video of the hymn being performed by the Indiana Wesleyan University Chorale. The arrangement rushes in the high points, but then this treatment is rather interesting in that it makes it overall, less 'shmaltzy'.

Strength to you, and gladness, whatever you face in your life.

This is my Father's world, 
 and to my listening ears 
 all nature sings, and round me rings 
 the music of the spheres.  
 This is my Father's world:  
 I rest me in the thought 
 of rocks and trees, of skies and seas; 
 his hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father's world, 
 the birds their carols raise, 
 the morning light, the lily white, 
 declare their maker's praise.  
 This is my Father's world:  
 he shines in all that's fair; 
 in the rustling grass I hear him pass; 
 he speaks to me everywhere.
This is my Father's world.  
 O let me ne'er forget 
 that though the wrong seems oft so strong, 
 God is the ruler yet.  
 This is my Father's world:  
 why should my heart be sad?  
 The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!  
 God reigns; let the earth be glad!

Now...take it away Indiana Wesleyan Chorale! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Desert Angel

Last year I came across a video taken in the Jordanian desert (link to it here), that featured bedouin musicians playing music round a campfire at night. I was quite intrigued by this video and others like it posted by 'TillyTuck' on YouTube and decided to find out about her.

Tilly's real name is Liz, but she also goes by her Arabic name, Malak, which means 'Angel'. Liz works at the BBC in London as a Director's Assistant. She also studied Arabic in Jordan and Sana'a, Yemen. A native Californian, born to British and American parents, Liz has been living in the UK since 2002, with many trips to the Middle East of course.

Q - What drew you to the desert?
A - I have had a passion and fascination for the Middle East since I was a kid (thanks to Indiana Jones, 1001Arabian Nights stories such as Ali Baba and to my dad's huge Arabic bedouin tapestry that he had on the wall of our living room). My love and fascination deepened in 1994, that was when I first traveled to the Middle East. From that point on, I knew that I wanted more than just a one off holiday, I had to go back one day to live, learn the language fully immerse myself in this ancient society."

Q - How did you get to the desert and make those amazing videos?
A - In 2007 I studied Arabic at the University of  Jordan's Language Center. During this time, I traveled to the desert quite a lot and became close friends with several bedouin families in Wadi Rum, Petra  (Wadi Mousa) and Al-Al-Humayma.  Poetry and songs are a huge part of bedouin culture. I fell in love with the depth and fire that are in these people's hearts and souls. My friends felt my genuine love for their people and culture. They are very observant and notice when somebody genuinely is interested in them. They knew that I loved gatherings of poetry and song around the fire in the desert, so every time I visited the area, they welcomed me to their homes, made me feel part of the family, and made sure to bring their musical instruments where they could pour out their hearts and express themselves.  It was a huge privilege that most westerners never get the chance to experience."
 Q - What's your favorite desert memory?
A-  "Sitting under the stars with the bedu in the middle of nowhere, next to the fire, listening to the oud, drinking maramiya, (sage tea), then falling asleep watching the shooting stars, just to wake up with the burning sun on my face."
Q - What would be your ultimate desert adventure?
A - I would like to explore the Rub al-Khali (Empty Quarter) in the Arabian Peninsula and visit the places mentioned in Wilfred Thesiger's book Arabian Sands.

Thank you, Liz, for sharing you story, your videos, and your passion for the desert and the bedouin. May you have many wonderful desert adventures!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words

The blurb and cover for Kate Whouley's forthcoming memoir, Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words, are out! Beacon Press will publish the book this fall. Visit Kate's website to keep up with the latest news. Congratulations, Kate!

When her mother began to exhibit the symptoms of dementia, Kate Whouley did what her English-teacher mom would want her to do: read up on the subject. She found lots of tips for preventing mental decline-too late for that-and a fair amount of practical advice for caregivers-moderately helpful, uniformly grim. Kate craved a compassionate companion with an appreciation for irony-and that's what she gives us in Remembering the Music, Forgetting the Words. With honesty and good humor, Kate shares the tough, the tender, the heart wrenching and the laugh-or-you'll-cry experiences of an Alzheimer's caregiver. 

As her mother falls into forgetting, Kate remembers for us. In her mother, we meet a strong-minded, accidental feminist with a weakness for unreliable men. We meet a daughter who learned early to fend for herself. We encounter their shared passions: books, words, and music. When the books are forgotten, and the words begin to fade, it is the music that matters most to Kate's mother. Holding hands after a concert, a flute-case slung over Kate's shoulder, and a shared joke between them, their relationship is healed-even in the face of a dreaded, and deadly diagnosis.

Remembering the Music is the story of two women, mother and daughter, who journey to a place where they are free from their not-uncomplicated past. Here, they meet each other in the present, sharing the only moment the mother knows, and one of many moments the daughter-and her readers-will remember.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Letter to Professor Anwar Chejne

Alhambra at sunset, Feb 24, 2011
Dear Professor Chejne,

Today, I finally made it to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. All those years ago, when I was in your course on Muslim Spain at the University of Minnesota, you told us how beautiful it was. You showed us achingly gorgeous slides of the palace and its grounds, for we were in your class long before the internet was invented. You explained the beauty of the place, its romance, all the arts and sciences that flowered here in Granada.  I still remember the day you wore a t-shirt in Arabic that said 'Long Live Ibn Hazm' and how we students laughed and laughed. How I wish I had a t-shirt like that today, for I would like to shout, "Long Live Ibn Hazm, Ibn al-Khatib, Ibn Zamrak, and all the poets of Al-Andalus!"

On my visit today, a sunny day in late February, the sky was blue, and it set off the buildings in the way it's supposed to. A quarter moon hung over the trees when I arrived. The palaces were stunning, even though the Court of Lions is still under repair. It is too early in the season for many flowers, just a few early bougainvelia, and primroses. But the migrating birds - finches and warblers, sang away happily. Another songbird woke me this morning in my tiny hotel room, just down the hill from the Alhambra. It sounded like an oriole of some kind. As I walked the grounds, the birds sang all around me. And the rushing water, in little courses on each side of some walkways, put the water sound into stereo mode that seemed to follow me throughout my visit. One steep stairway at the Generalife had watercourses on either side at hand level, so you could walk with your hands in a cool stream. That would be heavenly on a hot summer day. The sounds of water and the birdsong made a beautiful serenade, one I won't forget for a long time.

Thank you for being so smitten with al-Andalus, and waking us all to its splendors, Professor. I only wish I'd come here sooner.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Nothing is Written - Lawrence of Arabia - Film re-enactment in U.K. by Secret Cinema

I'm a long-time fan of the film, Lawrence of Arabia. In fact, that film awakened my love of all things Middle Eastern. Over the years, I've wondered what it was about the film that affected me so strongly. Certainly it's the film score by Maurice Jarre, full of micro-tones, Arab percussion lines, and sweeping melodies in the maqam of hijaz. It's also the scenery, and the spare, yet poetic dialogue. Underneath all that though, the film glows with an incandescent power, fired by Lawrence's affection for the Arabs with whom he fought, and his belief in the Arab army's cause of independence both from the Ottoman Empire and European powers. Even though Lawrence remains an enigmatic and controversial figure in history, the film, and his own life, influenced me a great deal.

I'm less embarrassed about my love of this film ever since I learned that Steven Spielberg decided to become a film director after seeing it. Diane Sawyer has a pillow embroidered with the words 'nothing is written' on her living room sofa. So it's not just me!

This video clip is amazing. It's of a re-enactment and screening of the film in the UK put on by Secret Cinemas. Only in the U.K. could you gather so many Lawrence fans for costumed mini-re-enactments of the film! Enjoy it...with the film score playing throughout.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Why I loved TRUE GRIT

True Grit, the Coen Brothers' latest film, up for ten Oscars, took my breath away. It inspired me as a woman, as a writer, and as an American swept up in a daunting fight to save Maine's inland mountains from the scam of industrial wind development.

On so many levels, this is a story we all need to hear, a movie we need to see, hear and feel. It's a clarion call about who we are, and who we should be and could be.

When plucky 14 year old Maddie Ross sets out to avenge her father's death, she's seeking justice, for the authorities had just let the murderer get away. She's also seeking vengeance. That's not a concept that we in modern-day America are familiar with, and as a modern woman, I admit it's a bit too much for me as well. Justice is about as far as I'm willing to go. But then again, vengeance in those days was probably the only means to get justice when the bad guy can get away by riding off into Indian territory.

From the opening scenes of the movie, over and over again the characters prove they have that true grit. None more than Maddie herself, but pretty much every character. Even her beloved spirited horse, Blackie gives his all for the cause. Maddie searches for lawmen with 'true grit' who will help her find her father's murderer. But in the end, it's she who has more than any of them, and she inspires them on.

She's a refreshing character that all American girls (and women) should experience. She's a dress-wearing, brilliant young woman with a steely spine, clear-eyed judgement, and a willingness to step outside the norms for women and girls. She also has more than an adult's dollop of courage and wisdom. Of course I teared up at the end of the film. But I even teared up at the beginning, as her strong character strode across the screen. She's everything I would want to be in my own life - brilliant, plucky, persistent, wise, and also forgiving. And, she gets the job done.

True Grit - that is what has always been at the core of our spirit, and not just America's spirit, but at the core of all humanity. Our willingness to fight for what we believe is right, despite the odds.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Spring Incense

It’s mid-January; not even mid-winter yet; 60 days or so until the official first day of spring. Outside, it’s a bright white world. Sunshine’s brilliant snow glare becomes a magical glow in the moonlight. It’s beautiful, but everything seems still, like we’re stuck in a slack tide.

Take heart, for things are beginning to change. Though this is typically one of the year’s coldest weeks around Boston, we’ve now achieved the 20’s of January. Next it’s sunset at 5pm, followed by the double digits of February, the onset of the short-named months (March vs. February), and then the longed-for double digits of March. Other signs: the first delicate crocus shoots poking out of the snow, and the tiny red tips of peonies that pop up in my south-facing garden. The birds have been silent a while, but by mid-February, if you’re up early enough, you can hear a symphony of optimistic songs, announcing that it’s coming, yes-sir-ee, spring’s coming.

A couple of days ago, my sister in Oregon reported that she found violets in the woods behind her house. At least it’s started somewhere. In fact, this particular call is an annual event, for being my sister, she tracks her springtime too and tries to give me hope that it won’t be long before it arrives here.

I need additional inspiration to get through these first milestones, though, especially in February, which passes like early sap from a maple. I visit places with distinct smells that conjure up fond memories, induce pleasure, and jolt me out of my midwinter doldrums. Some of my favorite smell spots are coffee shops, bakeries in the morning when bread’s in the oven, art supply stores, florists, shoe stores, and libraries (not just any library; old libraries smell sweeter than the new ones).

But the best place of all is Home Depot. It smells alive, like spring, summer, fall, like everything but the dead of winter. I walk through the door one January day and whoosh I’m in a huge, warm, well lit bubble where people are walking purposefully in sneakers like they’re already into their spring projects. Even though three people ask for snow blowers (they are sold out), I am swept away by the smell in the lumber department, the incense of spring. My husband, his parka still zipped up, tells me it’s eau de oak, then leaves me to inhale alone while he goes in search of quarter-inch washers. I savor the perfume of the freshly cut wood, taking deep breaths, trying not to be too obvious. Sparrows twitter and fly around in the rafters . For those ten minutes, I’m convinced that it’s already spring out there, that we better hurry and get going on our projects.

The freezing parking lot jolts me back to reality, but I’m refreshed. I’ve just been to spring and my faith is renewed that it’s coming. I think I’ll go home and listen to my CD of birdsongs. No wait, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I don’t do that until the First of February.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Doing Zaghareed on Skype

Dr. Mary Kertzman of DePauw University invited me to do a presentation over Skype for a group of students she is leading on an intercession tour to Morocco. This is what it took to get me up to speed on Skype. The whole experience was amazing in terms of what we could do. With Dr. Mary being willing to run my powerpoint and cue up Youtube music video clips, it worked like a charm. She aimed the video camera on her end toward the class, so I could see them, and they could see me too. If she wasn't so fantastic with the audio visuals, no way would this have worked!

The topic was an introduction to music of the Arab world, and to the music of Morocco. All this was to help them prepare for what they were about to hear on their trip. I was even able to teach them how to do zaghareed (women's trilling cry of high emotion) over Skype, and I could hear them doing it back!

I'm grateful to my friend Mary for the opportunity to try out this new (to me anyway) way of speaking to a group, and to use video clips to bring things to life. Youtube really has revolutionized this kind of lecture - rather than talking too much about a given music tradition, you can show the musicians playing and hear them.  For example, below is a clip of an Andalusian ensemble from Tetouan, Morocco. They are seated in a half-circle, knees touching, wearing traditional costumes. Very distinctive - the way they play the violins and rebec and the way the percussionist holds the little tambourine.

So enjoy the video clip. And thank you, Dr. Mary for kicking me into the Skype age!