Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Furnace and Soul tuneup

Last week I called in the Gas company for a routine maintenance of the Fireplace and the Furnace. I don't really believe the 15 minutes, 3 screws, one blowing into a nozzle, and a glance at the CO meter really merited 265 dollars.

I didn't realize though I was getting more than just that, as the dude also had a mission to show me the Way, the one with the capital W. I had never been approached by an evangelizing type, especially not a 190cm (6'4") 80kg (200lb) furnace tuneup impersonator.

Thanks to a basically maintenance-free machine and the power-screwdriver, his formal task took 12 or so minutes. The flames were restored to the pilots, the burners were inspected, and the heat of the hades was flowing in my house once again. But alas, heaven awaited, and I was getting more than the bargained-for service. Taking advantage of my sleepy crack-of-dawn stooper (at 9 am), the maintenance man transformed himself into a paver of the path to glory. He took a look at the book on my coffee table ("Persepolis", a graphic novel that basically encapsulates my Iran during my childhood give or take a gender).

"Hey what book's this?" He asked curiously, though still in the Furnace fixer tone of voice.

"It's a book about Iran..." I said, preparing to explain my affinity for the book, though I was conflicted. After all, I was sure he could care less about all the nuance I was about to unleash. What I didn't expect was to be out-drawn on the oratory front.

My half sentence lingered in the air only a moment, and then came his response. His voice suddenly had changed to a semiwhisper deep voice, degaussed of all the crispness of early-morning man-to-man talk, and airbrushed into a sacred-wanna-be monotone.

"You know what book I think is magnificent?..." He asked, and then answered ad-infinitum himself. He told me about this book that showed him the path through the depths of despair, and of arrival at the doors of salvation. He quoted me chapter and verse of all that stands between me and heaven.

after about a 5 or so minutes, he asked me if I had heard of the Bible. He didn't expect me to say I had actually read it. The gauzy voice screeched to a halt and the soft melodic sounds momentarily lapsed as he asked in the furnace-man voice " You've read the bible? Where are you? Do you believe?"

I am very comfortable in my belief, I said, though others may not agree.

He blinked, his mind reaching to flip the mental tape for the b-side, turned on the pseudo angelo-acoustics and began into another few minutes of how his path had saved him, and how his job puts him in front of many people who don't see the way. He told me about his hands being magical creations, about evolution being a falacy of the devil, of evil blinding us to the true path, and how easy it is to go to heaven.

In the 20 or so minutes that he continued with his monologue, I had plenty of time to ponder things.

Of all the permutations, I chose to think that he was genuinely interested in sharing his bliss with me. As such, I should be thankful for his efforts even though, as I wanted to impart on him, some people need to learn the alphabet while others are already reading. I also wanted to ask him about his compunction to spread this word and whether he was doing it to feel better about himself?

In the absence of an entrypoint to this one-sided conversation (uni-versation), I also understood the unfortunate thing: there was no mutual acceptance here. There was no dialogue about shared understanding. His monologue only saw one path to one truth, and a very literal one at that. Eventually, he ran out of what he had practiced to preach(and/or the next appointment loomed, or he got tired of my quiet nodding), and chalked it up to another practice run for the next time.

I thanked him for his work and his words, and congratulated him on finding his own path and that may others find their paths too. His "does not compute" frown momentarily flashed, followed by his non haloey bluecollar tone telling me You Bet., and off he was to the next furnace appointment to salvage another person from the worldly cold and their souls from otherwordly peril.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Express yourself

I will begin by telling you two musical irritations of mine, before I tell you about one night's experience in Istanbul that shattered them both, and those who have seen the film "Crossing the bridges of Istanbul” know why.

One, I am by no means a jazz lover. I love parts of it, don't get me wrong, but there is always a point where the musicians get themselves into some sort of persistent fixation, or an audio-compulsive frenzy. By the time they detach themselves from their instruments I feel my eardrums have been swisscheesed by a swarm of termites. I am fully aware that this is my lack of appreciation of the artform, as I can see the mastery at work, it just happens that when they get possessed by the Jazz wigging bug, It means agony.

Secondly, I am not so keen on “fusion”. Just as I don’t like ginger extract in my cup of espresso in the name of blending of cuisines, most mixing of musical genres leaves me upset about two good things being ruined. (As you see, I don’t even know the proper use of the term fusion)

On this fateful night, I showed up at Babylon music Bar in Istanbul. This is unassuming, but substantive brick hall with African artifacts in faux-window arches and sharp blue and red lights giving it a “I am too cool to point out my coolness” kind of place. The stage was set, and before long they marched in from the entryway on stage left; Two DJ dudes, a percussionist, a guest French jazz pianist, a Yankee on sax, a Britton trumpeter, a Saz prodigy (Saz is the long-necked string instrument with that haunting twang), and a tiny traditional folksinger with a mesmerizing voice that soon would penetrate our souls.

Without fanfare, the double DJs went to work, and with a few switch flips and a few knob turns, they paused, looked at each other, and unleashed a groovy house techno disco something or other backbeat on us all, immediately going into their synchronized torso-bobbing as if they were sharing the same pogo-stick.

Almost immediately, the percussionist picked an impossible eastern cross-rhythm on his tabla/and djembe drums while the Saz player began the captivating plick-placks of an old Turkish melody. Before long, all of us in the audience were riding the same pogo-stick, bobbing up and down while the Saz hummed our collective heartstring, and the drumbeat tickled our solarplexus. By the time the piano and the horn section moved into the audioscape of the hall, it was impossible to decipher what music was being played by whom, and moreover, it didn’t matter.

We were all awash and abob in the sea of musical umami. As the juxtaposing east-meet-west fantastic rhythms of the synths and the drums warmed up our core, the musicians took turns to do their solo frenzies. the vocalist’s beautiful and elongated notes; the rapidfire piano riffs; the uber-ambidextrous beating on the drums ; the slow howl of the saxophone, and the permeating, tiptoeing of the delectable Saz.

They cured me of my boorishness about Jazz-wigging and fusion, they slow-fast mesmerized me, fused the music into me and scooped me up in their trance-bob-groove-fest for hours on end, and showed me the way to Fusistan.

so much so that I am ready for that ginger in my cup of java....

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Of Both Worlds

It is fitting that this thought should cross my mind as I am airborne enroute to Istanbul, which to me is a genuine crossroad of civilizations.

Those who know me have heard many times my lamenting the plight of the emmigrant-type. You know…growing up as a child in one culture, then being transplanted (or rather transtumbled) into another, often with a period of "transition" ( i.e. war, repressions, harrowing escapes and sundry other occasions of enduring inhumanity). This means the soul lands with feet on planks of existence that are tectonically moving apart, or askew.

In Persia we/they call it "one rooftop but two skies".

The above is my segue, or actually anti-gue into the thought I was mentioning: I feel blessed about having grown up in a culture where from early on we were spoken to in parables and proverbs. We then learned more parables and proverbs as we ostensibly studied grammar and dictation, oration and comprehension. We also heard it from taxidrivers and grandmothers and the bums on the street in simile and saying form until it was second nature to be "a dead mouse" when scared, or "having grown a tail" when mischievous.

This is helpful in the following ways. First, it is thusly not boring to learn life lessons. For example, Be thankful for what you have was the lesson I remember leaning through one of Saadi's prose pieces in gradeschool farsi class; It talked about a ship and its owner and one of his "servants" (slaves, really, though we didn't address that issue) who was so afraid of the water he was in hysterics. The patron (master, ….) ordered him tossed into the sea to get a couple of gulps, then had him lassoed back onboard whereupon he became quite content. Unpolitically correct, I should admit, but memorable nevertheless.

Or on the virtues of doing good deeds we were told to "do good, throwing it in the river, so that god would return it to you in the middle of the desert".

Second, thusly these sayings get folk accustomed to looking for patterns at a young age, deriving meaning from seemingly unrelated events.

"The cat who couldn't reach the meat said 'it stinks' [meaning the meat, not the situation, though that would be another parable]"

"Whenever you grab a (live) fish from the water it is fresh"
Hearing statements like this gets the mind a fresh alternative universe whose patterns are similar but there is no exact correspondence. Cat is to you as the meat is to an unreachable item, as "it stinks" is to a shrug and a "pssha". However, you don't meow, the meat isn't what you are trying to touch,etc…

The blessed feeling also pertains to my opportunity of hours of lunchtime entertainment as I look at colleagues faces as I invoke or inaugurate such sayings, as I did at my best friend's wedding during my bestman toast. The parable was about trees growing roots and intertwining and shades and sunsets. It was a Persian Saying; I was Persian and I was saying it.

I will end on the random(er) note that I actually did say the last two sentences in my toast, and half the audience heard me say "I am virgin and I am saying…", and chalked the grammatical glitch to my foreignness.
ON to Istanbul, the land of virgins, parables, stinky meat and rooftops looking onto beautiful skies filled with seagulls and the sounds of the call to prayer.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Aran Island for some

OK, so most people tell you amazing stories about the Aran Islands, and how they are the relatively untouched part of Ireland, where you hear Irish being spoken by the

locals, where the wool sweaters beckon you with their (wooly) aroma (stench?), and the rocky 700ft cliffs face the Atlantic waves with majesty and perseverance.

Yes we too heard the lore, and set out to capture it with our own senses. We made a perfect plan. Fly into Shannon airport, hire (rent) a car, drive through the scenic Burren area of the county Clare, then arrive at the tiny but authentically musical town of Doolin, spend an evening listening to Irish music, then head out to the Inish Mor on a Ferry the following morning.

Inish-mor is the largest (and farthest from Doolin) of all the islands. It is there where the medieval stone ring of Don Angus perches atop the 700ft cliffs, about 5km away from the harbor, making it a perfect bike adventure for a daytrip. Yes, yes, perfect adventure, nuances notwithstanding. For us, here were but a few nuances

- The ferry being cancelled the day of the planned trip due to rough seas (should that alarm anyone?)
- The ferry-crossing being being the longest (due to departing from Doolin)
- The ferry being the smallest of the Ferries (and the most expensive)
- 6ft waves
- motion sickness

That morning, we were prepared to take our jaunt on the hourlong ferry to the Inish-mor, and the sea looked much calmer than the day before, and the number of whitecaps were decidedly less. We quickly ate a plate of salmon scrambled eggs and some orange juice, and took the brisk walk, 3 minutes down to the end of the road and beginning of the sea.

There we paid our 35Euros, and waited along with throngs of french speaking tourists. With Laressas reframing help, I felt pretty good about managing this hourlong ferry ride without getting too seasick, thinking about all the ferries I had ridden and how I could manage some turbulence and this was a mind-over-matter opportunity.

The "Happy Hooker" pulled up into the pier. This was unlike any ferry I had imagined. It was much like any smallish commercial fishing boat, very happy to bounce on the suddenly impressive looking waves.

We marched on in the mass of french around us and onto the back of the 'ferry'. while most were filing inside to grab the 20 or so seats, We noted benches tucked on the sides of the cabin, facing the back of the boat, out in the open, in front of rows of blocks, but under a roof.

Perfect. as we sat down, we had the perfect back-ways view off the bow.

By the time everyone settled (or rather piled) in, our view was that of the armpit of a couple of Germans, and a not-so-newly shaven face of a lady.

The boat left the mooring, and we started to bob and weave past the harbor and into the sea.


It became apparent that the harbor's relative calm (which I had thought was anything but) had belied the actual sea's festive mood....


as the boat roared slowly to its cruising speed, the pitch and yaw and twist and waves began in the earnest....mind-over-matter....from the small openings in the claustrophobic wall of german tourism we were witnessing the dousing of the others with all their luggage as the waves would crash onto the side of the boat and spray accross the bow....mind-over-matter...mind-over-matter. I (mistakenly) took a peek around the side to see the see, as we bobbed in and out of the valleys of water, and I could make out the smallish 2m...yes..2meter squals (that suddely gave me panic visions of titanic proportions)

...mind-over-matter...oh please...mind-over-matter.

It took about 5 more minutes of this mind over matter exercise. In those 5 minutes, I began feeling very sweaty and warm, then very parched, and all this time being smothered by the germans who hung on the ceiling above my seat and bounced around 3 inches in front of my face.
A young man came bursting out of the cabin and off past the folks onto the side of the boat...


Within seconds, the green looking french woman to my left darted outward mumbling and then not mumbling whilst running for the edge


Next, it was Laressa my travelmate who bolted from my right around to the southern side of the boat, where the most splashing was happening....


Nope. I had to go.

I stood up. I looked at the sailor guy and said "I have to go"

"Not to that side...it is wet"

"But my, my...."

"Your girlfriend? I'll get her to come around over."

No time to haggle over the title of my travel companion,

OUT of the way french man with camera,

OUT OF THE WAY Older french woman sitting on luggage sitting in Water,

OUT OF THE WAY old bald man looking as if I am a leper....


It is not the winning of mind over matter, it is the triumph of SEA OVER MAN!

The next few moments, without getting into graphic details, were glorious. Glorious in relief despite the wretchedness. I was defeated by the sea and I welcomed it. You win Atlantic, You win. You can have it. you win.

FWHOOOOSH a faceful of power wave of the ocean as I leaned over the edge of the boat

"Yes" and there was relief in convulsive waves.

FWHOOOOSH, another wave to cover most of my torso and my pants

"Sea over man...sea over man"


And so it went for the following 5 minutes, until I could manage to step back to the side, and find a divet in the side wall as minor reprieve from the oncoming powerwash.

I banged my head on pipes, I torqued my thumb attempting to hold on, I felt numb, I thought about my "girlfriend", I looked through the window, past the dispondent looking person on the inside, through the other window, and onto the other side of the boat. I could see her head as she sat facing the ocean, face down, taking her punishment in wave after wave of gushing ocean water. I was dripping wet on my pants and jacket, and she was the one on the "wet" side.

And after 5 minutes I felt sick again, and weak, and wet. I thought about if it would help if I jumped off the boat. I thought about if it had been 67 hours. I thought about the fact that in 5 hours I had to make this journey again (or think about emmigrating to Inish-mor). I thought about how wet Laressa was. I thought about fainting. I thought about how thirsty I was, and how the salty water was not to be drunk. I thought about my water bottle in my pack, kept in care of the short french man somewhere away from all this water.

I thought about moby dick, and the movie perfect storm and poseidon adventure and titanic, and how I definitely must forget about space travel.

It took the ferry onoly 75 minutes to reach Inish-mor. By this time I was no longer able to walk straight, yet found my predicament quite funny if it weren't so painful. The sailor told me that this was not the largest of seas by any means, but the "northern chopper" was a devil to deal with especially if you got sick to start with. He recommended I eat up before I come back

"It helps, trust me, not that you won't be sick, but it helps", and I knew what he meant. and I wanted to wail thinking about 5 hours later when I had to go through this again.

We came off the boat, like beaten up wet kittens. I could not straighten my head or walk straight, and the solid ground wasn't rocking enough. Laressa was much wetter and colder than I, and much more coherent. Her feet and hands were numb, and her chin was quivering like a harpstring. We wandered like vagrants in oliver twist, begging for a place to lay down, a pair of pants to buy, or a room to rent, or anything. Finally, I collapsed on a bench outside the harbor, while she found a wool-sweater shop and purchased sweaters and socks. Amicably, we parted (temporarily) ways, while I sprawled on the bench like a drunkard, and she ventured off to the cafe she had scoped out to blowdry her pants, and warm up her limbs and spirits.

An hour later, after a blissful recovering nap in the sun that warmed my cheeks and dried up some of my clothes, I was able to actually walk and look for her. I was still acting a bit drunk, and couldn't find her, so I asked a minibus tourguide driver about a cafe near a convenience store

"What are you looking for?"

"Well I seem to have lost my.....(on with it) girlfriend"

"That's a problem for some and a blessing for others, but the SPAR store is yonderways"

I told him about our predicament and he told me about the cure being a shot of brandy and a shot of port, then he told me to find her and bring her so he could give us at least a driving tour of this island. I mentiioned to him about getting in a vehicle might not bode well for his upholstry, and he chuckled and waved me off.

I found Laressa tucked inside a cafe, with hands wrapped around a mug of hot tea and stomach filling with hot soup. We laughed.

This had become a humility crossed with survival test. We had come to terms with it.

No we were not about to do any sightseeing.
No we were not about to rent a bike or get on a pony driven "jaunting car".
No we would not wander much past the harbor

For us the Inish-mor was unlike all other tourists around us. It became about accepting our limitations, that for us the island was a wobbly harbor, a somewhat unaccommodating surrounding to our need for dryness and warmth, a sweater store, a sun-drenched bench, soup and tea in a café, a shared shot of Brandy, and eagerly but apprehensively getting on the “HAPPY Hooker” to take us back.

…which is another story.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

where to?

I roamed maybe in a 500m by 500m quadrant of the world today; up from the house here to the edge of the road (to throw out the trash), and then back through the snowfilled fields adjacent, up to the powerline, through the patch of pines, and back to the house.

I might as well have been roaming on the 6th moon of Jupiter. Nothing specific about that moon, which tangentially is called Ganymede. and, not because I was witnessing some out-of-this-world scenery; it was your typical Swedish (or Minnesota) early spring scenery with white covered fields, a slightly biting breeze, and crunchy snow that you know has melted and frozen before, like the layer of crunchy snow that appears on freezer-burned ice cream.

I was in another plane though. The snow was crunching under my (well, henrik's loan) boots, and I was wondering what the hell I am doing in this part of the world. I thought about cougars who might be hungry and happen to find me here, and what sort of defense I might have against such an unfortunate encounter. Then I was wondering about how one would orienteer in this situation, and the wisdom of using 2 aligned points of reference instead of one. (Which I assume it is because if you pick a far enough point to walk towards, you can pretty much walk forever "towards" it, but in reality be walking a zigzag/spiral/figure-8 or whatever that never reaches it.

This thought led me to what the thought can represent:
First, that whatever point towards which you are going is arbitrarily picked,
Second, you may never reach it.

Then a Gödel third, or Zeroth: Towards what point am I traveling?

In the easy case, today in this field, it was the random Birch tree with the branches looking like crossed fingers for good luck.

In the hard case, this life, I am not at all certain. That there is some destination there is no doubt (or is there? how about that for a premise rebuttal, but I digress). Assuming there is one, WHAT THE HELL IS MINE?

The journey is the destination...OK fine, so a buddhist hallmark card shall quell all this internal angst. And it doesn't.

Two reasons why: 1. This answer doesn't help any more. If the purpose of life is the experiences, then what is the purpose of the experiences? Life? hahaha. Now that we are done with 6th grade circular arguments, can we please move on?

(You're not looking for reason #2 I hope, it was a 'creative' writing trick)

By this time, I had reached the dang burch tree, and my nose was dripping. I stopped there, wiped my nose on the luckily stuffed tissue inside the glove, then turned to my left, picked another destination (this time a less mystical one, namely a high-power electric tower) and kept on crunchety-crunching.

No more life/journey/destination crap on this leg of the promenade. Instead I concentrated on the yellowblack little finches who were shuffling from branch to branch on the naked bushes to my right. They seemed quite content with their frivolous game of chase. It is spring, and that must mean something to them.

I got to the powerline tower much faster and with much less internal angst.

more to prove my old friend (who doesn't realize it, and I haven't seen him in about 4 years), the Philosopher of simple-life, the Brithish Jonathan, who was the first with an epiphanic prognosis of my problem. One day not far from this 500m patch where I was walking, he and I were having lunch, and I was bending his ears about my problems with women, love, life, future, world, politics, job, peace, war, sportsmanship, trust, honor, justice, etc, then I said, so what do you think?
He looked at me with bushy eyebrows (Yes, yes, he looked with his greenish eyes, but the bushy eyebrows is what you always notice more), shrugged and said:
I don't.

Where to? pffft, wherever, but just stop the dang thinking.

I went back inside and tried some Yoga poses with Sylvia. Ouch.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Back to Sweden

The first day at Sylvia and Henrik's started with a lot of sleep. MORGONSÖV as it is called. I had the run of the secluded living room, in which I rooted about until the sun came up and then promptly fell asleep. The 2 of them probably woke up at 7 or something, and used sign language during my morning nap. I finally walked off at 11 to find S. feeding the birds, and H. out in the shed, working on their latest hobby, a 12+ meter boat (40ft). Gustav (the gentle teenage son of Henrik, who has grown to about his dad's height already at 15) cooked us 2 lazies breakfast, which comprised of slowcooked oatmeal, Lingonberry jam (made by Sylvia and sister), and whole milk.
The following hours were spent very leisurely (for me). S and I visited the boat-shed across the yard, finding a dusty H. showing off beautiful mahogany bits and pieces he worked on (All pictures proudly presented in Swedish at www.fuhrita.info.se). Then the non-mahoginzing 2 of us sat on the bench outside the house in the early spring sun, and had the kind of conversation one has with old friends; about love and future and thoughts and thinking too much, and of course about backache too.

When Henrik broke away from the shed with 4 clumps of wood to varnish, we all went in and created a delicious homemade lunch in their handmade kitchen. I did some salad, S. made Risoto, H. made some fish dish. The food turned out delicious, the making of it turned out soulful.
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