Friday, August 31, 2007


Went yesterday to MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art), the first stop in what turned out to be a day of acronyms: B&N, H&M, ABP. And then of course I took the IRT back from ELC to BKLYN. I was quite taken by this big painting (200 x 200cm) by post-minimalist Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco, called Kytes Tree (2005). This picture's from the MoMA website but the colors are all wrong; I found a truer (but noncopyable) image here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


This is not a picture of Manhattan as seen from Brooklyn (it's from a recent muckraking article on cage-free chickens, the latest fad) - but it could be!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A toast to Brooklyn!

I'm picking my stuff up from my storage locker in New Jersey next weekend, so that means a few days camping out chez moi. It's kinda fun! It felt like a real achievement to have my first home-cooked dinner there yesterday. Borrowed a set of plastic party cutlery from school. Stopped by the Salvos Op Shop on my way home from Manhattan yesterday, and found some nice dinner plates and pasta bowls, which will complement those coming home next week. And my friend C came over (for another joyous meeting finalizing details for our upcoming course on Religion & Theater) bearing pots and pans she'd bought for me on the way...

Savoring my Trader Joe's tortellini with a Brooklyn Lager in my Ghan stubbie holder as Manu Chao played in the background, everything seemed to have come together: California, Australia, Paris - and of course Brooklyn!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Migrants all?

Our freshman orientation program this year centers around questions of "identity and migration." (I've shared one of the five readings with you; the others were essays by Ralph Ellison, Francis Fukuyama, Suketu Mehta and James Baldwin.) The speaker, an anthropologist originally from Bombay, told us about the cover of the newest issue of Time Out New York (but had not, she admitted, had time to read the article - NOT the right message for incoming students!). The statue of liberty in a sari! Our familiar green woman now brown with a spot on her forehead! The caption:
__ thrills me
__ angers me
__ confuses me

Is it manipulative? Sure: they want to sell magazines. It reminded me of the far more inflammatory picture on the cover of Time Magazine a few years ago (below it's - more than a few years: 1990) - which showed a US flag whose white stripes had been replaced with stripes in various shades of brown. "America's Changing Colors" was its sinister and xenophobic title. (I remember because I sent a furious letter to the editor, not, of course, published.) But it also raises interesting questions, since the Statue of Liberty is our great symbol of immigration - but she was a gift from France, and faces across the Atlantic... And she naturalizes European hegemony in the New World: if those tired and weak and helpless welcomed in are not all European, at least the welcomer must look European... or not?!

After the talk faculty met with students for mock seminars discussing the readings and talk. My two discussions were friendly if pretty formless, but interesting as ways of helping the students get used to the idea that being in a seminar college means participating in discussion, listening to your fellow students, etc.

The students took the upshot of the readings to be that they, too, were migrants, an identification they cheerfully accepted. They generally overlooked the rather unhappy realities of exile and exclusion discussed in the readings... so the question I wound up raising had to do with the word migrant. It's a word used in Australia as we in the US use the words immigrant and, less commonly, emigrant; migrant, meanwhile, connotes migrant laborers who move back and forth but don't settle: itinerant, seasonal. (And it's pronounced not like immigrant but like migraine + vagrant / 2; it's not underogatory). Perhaps our speaker used it because of the new generation of transnational immigrants who move back and forth between homeland and here rather than leaving the one for the other...

I mentioned the difference in Australian usage (see, the sabbatical's paying dividends already!) and asked the students: if we say we're migrants are we saying anything interesting? Isn't the term migrant too broad and imprecise to help us understanding things? Too weightless and uncommitted? It may show unexpected affinities, but does it not make dissimilar things seem similar, obscuring as much as it clarifies? What could be more different than voluntary and involuntary "migration"? Economic and political and familial? Refugee and pilgrim and student? Similarities there may be, but the differences are great and important.

I think some students were a bit surprised to see me challenge, if indirectly, the suite of texts we'd been given. Welcome to college!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Come on over!

So here it is, my new home! The inside's sadly empty, except for the luggage of P and A, who leave first thing tomorrow morning, and a few pieces of furniture they're kindly leaving me, so let me show you the outside: at right the street entrance (that's A, and the apartment is behind the tree to the left of the wooden door), and below the wonderful garden in the back, as seen out the kitchen window: an oasis of green!

I start moving in tomorrow! Having had a chance to get to know P and A, dear friends of my dear Melbourne friends K and D, it feels not just like starting a new chapter in my life as a New Yorker but also like continuing an Australian tradition - "Mark in NYC: II" but also "Melbourne, the Sequel"! If you're in the neighborhood, drop in and we'll drink a toast to the Carlton House Share Network, Brooklyn Chapter.

Friday, August 24, 2007


One of the joys of teaching at a liberal arts college is all the stuff you learn from your colleagues. Case in point: a focal point of the new students' orientation now underway is a talk and set of readings on the theme of "Identity and Migration," which a bunch of us faculty will be meeting with groups of new students to discuss on Monday. The talk will be given by a young anthropologist of India; the readings have been selected by various faculty members. The most interesting to me (picked by a politically engaged biochemistry colleague who happens also to be a Persian from Iowa) is the poem "Puerto Rican Obituary" by Pedro Pietri (1944-2004), founder of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. Much has changed since it was first read in 1969 - Puerto Ricans are now outnumbered in New York by Dominicans and Mexicans, for instance - but much has stayed the same... The "white american family / with black maids / and latino janitors" of the 1960s disappeared but is reemerging; only the megarich have "maids" but lots of white families now have "housekeepers" and "nannies" from the Caribbean or Latin America (think of Enrique's mother) or the Philippines, etc., and the janitors remain Latino... (You can hear the poem, part of it even read by him, here.)

They worked

They were always on time
They were never late
They never spoke back
when they were insulted
They worked
They never took days off
that were not on the calendar
They never went on strike
without permission
They worked
ten days a week
and were only paid for five
They worked
They worked
They worked
and they died
They died broke
They died owing
They died never knowing
what the front entrance
of the first national city bank looks like

All died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
passing their bill collectors
on to the next of kin
All died
waiting for the garden of eden
to open up again
under a new management
All died
dreaming about america
waking them up in the middle of the night
screaming: Mira Mira
your name is on the winning lottery ticket
for one hundred thousand dollars
All died
hating the grocery stores
that sold them make-believe steak
and bullet-proof rice and beans
All died waiting dreaming and hating

Dead Puerto Ricans
Who never knew they were Puerto Ricans
Who never took a coffee break
from the ten commandments
the landlords of their cracked skulls
and communicate with their latino souls

From the nervous breakdown streets
where the mice live like millionaires
and the people do not live at all
are dead and were never alive

died waiting for his number to hit
died waiting for the welfare check
to come and go and come again
died waiting for her ten children
to grow up and work
so she could quit working
died waiting for a five dollar raise
died waiting for his supervisor to drop dead
so he could get a promotion

Is a long ride
from Spanish Harlem
to long island cemetery
where they were buried
First the train
and then the bus
and the cold cuts for lunch
and the flowers
that will be stolen
when visiting hours are over
Is very expensive
Is very expensive
But they understand
Their parents understood
Is a long non-profit ride
from Spanish Harlem
to long~sland cemetery

All died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
Dreaming about queens
Clean-cut lily-white neighborhood
Puerto Ricanless scene
Thirty-thousand-dollar home
The first spics on the block
Proud to belong to a community
of gringos who want them lynched
Proud to be a long distance away
from the sacred phrase: Que Pasa

These dreams
These empty dreams
from the make-believe bedrooms
their parents left them
are the after-effects
of television programs
about the ideal
white american family
with black maids
and latino janitors
who are well train
to make everyone
and their bill collectors
laugh at them
and the people they represent

died dreaming about a new car
died dreaming about new anti-poverty programs
died dreaming about a trip to Puerto Rico
died dreaming about real jewelry
died dreaming about the irish sweepstakes

They all died
like a hero sandwich dies
in the garment district
at twelve o'clock in the afternoon
social security number to ashes
union dues to dust

They knew
they were born to weep
and keep the morticians employed
as long as they pledge allegiance
to the flag that wants them destroyed
They saw their names listed
in the telephone directory of destruction
They were trained to turn
the other cheek by newspapers
that mispelled mispronounced
and misunderstood their names
and celebrated when death came
and stole their final laundry ticket

They were born dead
and they died dead

Is time
to visit sister Lopez again
the number one healer
and fortune card dealer
in Spanish Harlem
She can communicate
with your late relatives
for a reasonable fee
Good news is guaranteed

Rise Table Rise Table
death is not dumb and disable
Those who love you want to know
the correct number to play
Let them know this right away
Rise Table Rise Table
death is not dumb and disable
Now that your problems are over
and the world is off your shoulders
help those who you left behind
find financial peace of mind

Rise Table Rise Table
death is not dumb and disable
If the right number we hit
all our problems will split
and we will visit your grave
on every legal holiday
Those who love you want to know
the correct number to play
Let them know this right away
We know your spirit is able
Death is not dumb and disable

All died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
Hating fighting and stealing
broken windows from each other
Practicing a religion without a roof
The old testament
The new testament
according to the gospel
of the internal revenue
the judge and jury and executioner
protector and eternal bill collector

Secondhand shit for sale
Learn how to say Como Esta Usted
and you will make a fortune
They are dead
They are dead
and will not return from the dead
until they stop neglecting
the art of their dialogue
for broken english lessons
to impress the mister goldsteins [bosses]
who keep them employed
as lavaplatos porters messenger boys
factory workers maids stock clerks
shipping clerks assistant mailroom
assistant, assisant assistant
to the assistant's assistant
assistant lavaplatos and automatic
artificial smiling doormen
for the lowest wages of the ages
and rages when you demand a raise
because is against the company policy

died hating Miguel because Miguel's
used car was in better running condition
than his used car
died hating Milagros because Milagros
had a color television set
and he could not afford one yet
died hating Olga because Olga
made five dollars more on the same job
died hating Manuel because Manuel
had hit the numbers more times
than she had hit the numbers
died hating all of them
and Olga
because they all spoke broken english
more fluently than he did

And now they are together
in the main lobby of the void
Addicted to silence
Off limits to the wind
Confine to worm supremacy
in long island cemetery
This is the groovy hereafter
the protestant collection box
was talking so loud and proud about

Here lies Juan
Here lies Miguel
Here lies Milagros
Here lies Olga
Here lies Manuel
who died yesterday today
and will die again tomorrow
Always broke
Always owing
Never knowing
that they are beautiful people
Never knowing
the geography of their complexion


If only they
had turned off the television
and tune into their own imaginations
If only they
had used the white supremacy bibles
for toilet paper purpose
and make their latino souls
the only religion of their race
If only they
had returned to the definition of the sun
after the first mental snowstorm
on the summer of their senses
If only they
had kept their eyes open
at the funeral of their fellow employees
who came to this country to make a fortune
and were buried without underwears


will right now be doing their own thing
where beautiful people sing
and dance and work together
where the wind is a stranger
to miserable weather conditions
where you do not need a dictionary
to communicate with your people
Aqui Se Habla Espanol all the time
Aqui you salute your flag first
Aqui there are no dial soap commericals
Aqui everybody smells good
Aqui tv dinners do not have a future
Aqui the men and women admire desire
and never get tired of each other
Aqui Que Paso Power is what's happening
Aqui to be called negrito
means to be called LOVE

Puerto Rican Obituary, Pedro Pietri, Monthly Review Press,
N. Y., London, 1973, pp. 1 - 11

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The deed is done!

I met my new landlady today, signed the lease ... it's final!! My new address: 265 Prospect Place, Apartment #1, Brooklyn, NY 11238! See the little green arrow at upper right in this satellite view from We're on the ground floor of the building just to the right of the widest part of the arrow. The big oval at lower left is Grand Army Plaza, the entrance to Prospect Park, Brooklyn's central park.

The apartment is bigger than I dared remember, the garden too, and lusher - and easier to take care of than I dared hope. And the place is mine, all mine, until November - my housemate doesn't move in until then. So September and October are the time to come visit! You'll have a private room, though possibly still unfurnished.

The best part is that I feel the present tenants P and A are friends - good friends of good Australian friends - and, since they're chummy with the landlady, I got to meet her like an old friend, too. Very nice. And then P and A and I went to dinner at a pizzeria nearby, where I not only had a delicious (and cheap) prosciutto and fig pizza, but F, one of my colleagues from school whom I didn't know lived in the neighborhood, walked in. Even better than finding I already know half the neighborhood, entrepreneurial P pointed out, is that I was able to advise F on the menu - a place he hadn't been in before.

I actually move on Sunday, and will then post you a picture of the place. But for now I'm feeling at home in the world!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No end

Just saw the new documentary "No End in Sight," a heart-breaking account of all the things the US did wrong in Iraq after the invasion, as described by all the major players but the Bush gang, who, um, declined to be interviewed. (You can get a pretty good sense of the film from the preview on the official site.) It's very depressing. It shows how the war was lost as specialist after specialist was ignored or removed by Bush cronies with no relevant experience. There were people in place who had learned the lessons of Yugoslavia and even Gulf War 1, but they were sidelined and undermined.

It's sobering to be reminded how things fell apart, from unchecked looting through sidelining of Iraqi leaders through oppressive interrogations in search of nonexistent WMDs through the disbanding of the military and on and on. But it's heart-breaking to realize that, illegal invasion notwithstanding, things need not have fallen apart this way.

Much that's in the film is familiar, but the way it draws things together made me realize something today for the first time: for the rest of my life I'll be meeting Iraqis whose lives were disrupted if not upended by the incompetence of an illegitimate American President and his cronies. And the rest of us, who let them get away with it.

I doubt we have the political will to undo even what damage can still be undone in Iraq, though we must. Where's the candidate for President in 2008 who knows we need to make amends to Iraq, and not just to get out? And why haven't we impeached the Prez and VP yet?!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Brainy, yay

Perrier, who introduced mineral water to the US, has an odd new campaign. I guess being French no longer sells, so we're being taught to read it as if it were an English word rhyming with, say, terrier, and as connoting more of something. This water is not just perry (whatever that might be) but Perrier. The ads show drawings like this one with the Perrier label rewritten as Crazier, Riskier, Healthier, Sexier - and Brainier. I don't buy it, but I found this one amusing!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Them and us

Nipped into a bookstore yesterday to kill some time before seeing a film ("The Simpsons Movie," if you must know), and saw book after book about Islam and the West, most arguing that Islam has never been and never will be our friend - whoever "we" are. They have incendiary titles like America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within and Suicide of Reason: Radical Islam's Threat to the West. On the new religion books table I found Religion of Peace? Islam's War Against the World. And today's New York Times Magazine's cover story (below) told a similar story, a bit more worldly wise but as emphatic in asserting that there is a coherent "we" threatened by an irreducibly foreign "them" and equally pessimistic about the possibility of rapprochement, let alone the discovery or rediscovery or creation of common traditions or values. This article at least had pretty pictures: photos by Thomas Struth, like the one above (though it's actually out of place because as shows that "we" sometimes do go to church.)

What's all this about, besides an obvious bonanza for publishers and pundits? Did I miss something during my year in Australia? Is this background to why "we" should give up on Iraq, or can't afford to? Judging from the front tables at Readings on Lygon Street, the big issue was the atheist retort to religion per se, especially religion in the west: The God Delusion, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Letter to a Christian Nation: A Challenge to Faith, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism and Islam. But of course: Australia is a culturally post-religious place, as mystified and disturbed by American religiosity as by any other, while religion's alive and well in America. To Aussies and atheists all religion's suspect, but for "us" it's only Islam...?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Leafy Brooklyn

For the week I'm housesitting for a friend who lives on an archetypal Park Slope street. With his wife, son and dog M lives in the top half of one of the grand cookie-cutter brownstones in the picture above: you climb the stairs to the building entrance, then go up another staircase, to arrive at their two-storey house among the trees. This picture below can't really convey how the apartment is awash in the subtle greens of the platanus (?) trees out the windows facing the street and the darker greens of trees in the yard in the back. It really is like being in a treehouse, and as the breeze sways the branches you might be floating in Howl's Moving Castle! (The trees have their own quiet...) Not just New York but even Brooklyn might be a thousand miles away. Dreamlike, or is it movies I'm thinking off? Prospect Heights, my soon-to-be neighborhood isn't as swishy. But it also doesn't have the slightly terrifying uniformity of these streets.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Out of synch

I'm feeling a bit out of synch with my colleagues. Having just spent a year of luxurious leave, I'm actually eager to get back into our shared educational project. My colleagues, on the other hand, are all still pretending that the summer vacation has just begun! And, in truth, classes don't start until next month, with orientation activities starting a few days before. It seems the part of prudence for me not to observe that I've just had three summers in a row, and it's getting a bit old. Perhaps this succession of summers (the reason for this blog's name, you'll recall) has made me forget what it means for summer really to end - to disappear for nine whole months - rather than just to hide behind a tree and reëmerge again three months later!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Empire builders

Don't imagine, Australian readers, that I'm not keeping up with what you're getting up to down there. Consulting The Age is one of my daily ablutions! It's not the most thorough paper, but if you wade through the latest Hollywood celebrity gossip you can still find news on the latest shenanigans of PM John Howard, the last surviving friend of our feckless and now Roveless president: sending dubiously qualified cronies to administer the Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, and wishing India a happy birthday by arranging to sell it lots of uranium. (At right he's with Putin having signed a similar deal with Russia.) But you're kicking him out in a few months, right?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Traveling Bishop

For the next week, I'm house-sitting for a colleague who is on holiday with his family in Nova Scotia. M is a poet, and the big temptation, apparently, will be to take the day it requires to get to Great Village, the place in Nova Scotia where the great American poet Elizabeth Bishop (1911-75) spent her childhood.

As it happens I just had dinner with C, a good friend and also a good friend of M's. By a curious coincidence something I said (I think it was about how Western Australia helped me understand the outwestness of frontier California) reminded her of a poem of Bishop's. Bishop is her favorite poet, I learned.

Here's the poem in question, written during Bishop's time in Brazil. I remember being introduced to it my last year of college by a Somerville College student named (I think) Jo Phillips, who was writing her thesis on Bishop, of whom I'd at that point never heard. (Can that have been twenty years ago, my travels barely begun?)

Questions of Travel
There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
--For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren't waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.
Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?
But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
--Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
--A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.

--Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr'dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
--Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds' cages.
--And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians' speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:
"Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one's room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?"

Land ahoy

Flying again over the splendors of the American West today I was once again over- whelmed by the beauty of land and cloud formations, transported by the pageant of history carved by rivers large and small in deliriously varied geological surfaces... I'll let you fly through them too. Just to name the places I know, you'll see the pier at Imperial Beach (where we saw the sand castles), the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley - which, you must recall, is all that's left of a huge mesa.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Bye bye, Pacific

My 3-week stint of relaxed days on the Pacific ends tomorrow. I haven't been to the beach as much as I expected - the marine layer of coastal cloud has kept the temperatures low many days, while high temperature bring mobs of people from inland. Nevertheless: plenty of days of bodysurfing, and lots of walks above and below the cliffs...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

On the road

The daughter of an old friend has done something really cool (not that she wasn't cool already): she's walked the Camino de Santiago! 780 kilometers from St. Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela took her 35 days. I asked her, admittedly somewhat flippantly, if it had changed her life. Here's her answer:

Has it changed my life? Yes and no. I wanted to change many things in my life before I left, and most of those things are still works in progress, but I feel like a new person indeed, and how I am IN the many aspects of my life has changed. I feel my heart opened and deepened, a great sense of my inner strength, and, most of all and least expected, a deeper sense of faith, not in the religious sense necessarily, but trust in myself and the world to provide what is necessary to move forward always.

I found that the Camino was something different for everyone who walks it. For me, it was about trust, rediscoving "my magic", and leaving behind that which no longer is useful in my life. (There is actually a place for that, it's called the Cruz de Ferro, an iron cross atop an astounding pile of stones!) I met so many amazing
people there from all over the world. Some of them will remain lifelong friends, I'm sure. I fell in love with many of the small towns I passed through and would love to return to them someday. There is so much about it but really you have to walk it to understand it completely.

She sent along some of her favorite pictures, four of which you see.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Blue agaves

Here are some pictures of the blue agaves along the Guy Fleming Trail in Torrey Pines State Reserve. A docent (my father) tells me they're "exotics" - not native but planted (originally from Mexico) - but since they were planted by naturalist Guy Fleming himself, they've been allowed to stay.

Good thing, too! Their bluish color is cooling and mysterious. The large lobes curl and fold elegantly. But the neatest thing are the spiny shadows on the lobes, which go in diagonals, sometimes intersecting. The serrated lines are imprinted as new lobes, curled tight in the center of the plant, push out against the others wrapped around them. Are they ornaments of family tradition or the scars of the struggle of generations?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Taste of Baja

I'll be back in New York in four days - high time to get a fish taco at Rubio's, a local San Diego-based chain and favorite of my sister's and mine. Rubio's started in National City - the founder noticed that students from San Diego universities loved the fish tacos served fresh on the beaches of Baja California, just south of the border, and thought they might eat them back home, too. It was a new idea - would Americans go for soft tacos, even knowing this was how they're eaten in Mexico? do enough people likes fish, even if it's beer- battered?- but it caught on. The fresh corn tortilla, cabbage, white sauce, freshly fried fish and salsa are fantastic, light and fresh and filling. They taste nothing like the heavy meat and cheese bombs often served in Mexican restaurants in the US, let alone the hamburger-substitutes at Taco Bell.

Now Rubio's is so successful it's changed its name from Rubio's Baja Grill to Rubio's Fresh Mexican Grill. "Fresh Mex" is a new industry (think Chevys). People who've never heard of Baja now enjoy Rubio's yummy food without realizing it came from Baja and not from some restaurant developer concerned to re-brand Mexican food as good for you...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Holy Mackerel

After years of PC toil, my dad switched to Apple today! (I had nothing to do with it, having long ago stopped making offhand remarks about the superiority and style of Macs and their users.) Very exciting!
Actually, he was going to get it two weeks ago, but decided first to get broadband installed (something I'd also long ago stopped mentioning). That took longer than expected - the first cable installer said he couldn't do an indoor installation and we had to wait for another, yada yada - but this turned out to be all for the best! For when we went to the Apple Store this morning, the new iMacs had arrived! They're even sleeker than their predecessor, and cheaper, too. And the keyboard is so thin that your hands are almost flat as you type... I want one too!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Finding your inner Gandhi

Just watched Rajkumar Hurani's "Lage Raho Munna Bhai" again. I saw it the first time in the plane on my way to India and loved it. I decided (courtesy of Netflix) to share it with my parents, somewhat scarred by Deepa Mehta's "Earth," which I inflicted on them two weeks ago. This one's a very amusing film, with everything we love about Bollywood - side plots, song and dance numbers, weddings, and incredibly fast cuts - though at a mere 144 minutes it's shorter than most.

The story: goon gets in touch with his inner Gandhi - and you can, too! (You might recognize Gandhi in the clouds in the poster at right. In the film, Gandhi actually appears and advises the protagonist on how to win over the object of his affection!) The actor playing the goon (in red in the poster) is Sanjay Dutt, who's just been convicted of some kind of involvement in the Mumbai bombings 17 years ago. I gather the film's part of a series about a pair of lovably clueless goons. But on its own this makes an entertaining and even eloquent case for the continued effectiveness - and strangeness - of Gandhian nonviolence, a tradition largely forgotten (alleges the film) in India today.

My father thinks a "morality play" like this wouldn't fly in America; I wonder. We have our share of heart-warming stories where the old ways prove their continued worth, not to mention an endless litany of films on the salvation of repentant hit-men (a genre I've never understood, perhaps because I've never owned a gun?). Maybe Gandhi's too iconoclastic for our morality plays...

Monday, August 06, 2007


Did you know that San Diego County is remarkably like the Holy Land in geology, climate and even animal and plant life? Well, sort of. They're in two of the world's five temperate "Mediterranean" areas, seismically shaped, and at the confluence of several flora and fauna environments.
Another convergence is happening as we speak: the largest ever exhibition of Dead Sea Scrolls outside Israel is now on at the San Diego Museum of Natural History. (Natural history museum pedagogy presumably explains the factoid about this being geograohically a new Israel, not the confluence of Evangelicals, Jews and Latter Day Saints in the area...!) I went to see it this afternoon. It's an impressive show! Although the scrolls on view (ten from Israel and a few more from Jordan, with others to come in a few months) are small, their very tininess made their survival and decipherment that much more exciting. (The picture above is Paleo-Leviticus 11Q1.)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Picture of good

Just read Sonia Nazario's powerful Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother. The book is this year's "One Book, One San Diego" reading, selected by our local public television station - an effort many cities now make to try to generate a sense of shared culture and discussion. Released earlier this year in paperback, Enrique's Journey is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of feature articles Nazario wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 2002; the accompanying photos by Don Bartletti won a Pulitzer, too. As Nazario describes it, the project grew from her discovery that Carmen, the Central American woman who cleans her house, had left her children behind when she came to the US, and hadn't seen them in a dozen years. The following year, Carmen's son made his way north to find his mother.

It turns out there are many children left behind by fathers and, increasingly, by mothers. (Driven by an inability to feed their children they usually head north intending to stay only a year or two - but end up staying much longer, not so much dazzled by El Norte as exploited by it and unwilling to return with nothing to show for their efforts.) Each year tens of thousands of children make the dangerous journey north, too, in search of the mothers they fear have abandoned them.

Nazario retraced the journey of a teenaged boy from Honduras whom she met in Nueva Laredo, just south of the US border in Mexico; by that time he'd already tried eight times to make it to the US to see his mother, Lourdes, whom he had not seen since he was five. Over the next few years Nazario met and interviewed Enrique's family in Honduras and a remarkable number of the people he met on his way - and also traveled as he did, on the top of freight trains (though she was able to ensure there were police on board in case one of the gangs of thieves who beat and rob many migrants, including Enrique, tried to attack her), hitchhiking, etc.

At the same time she kept in touch with Enrique and Lourdes, and chronicles their difficult reunion in North Carolina - after initial joy and disbelief came resentments and shouting-matches; it took a few years for them to find their way to something like an affectionate relationship. But even as all this was happening, Enrique's girlfriend in Honduras bore his child, raising the same questions all over again. He finds a way to have her smuggled up - in two years they'll have earned enough money to return to Honduras and their little girl. They hope. Perhaps they'll have better luck than Lourdes. But in the meantime, young Jasmin is, like Enrique before her, being passed from hand to hand.

The resulting book is powerful and disturbing, and raises deep questions about immigration to the US, its causes and consequences. Nazario's conclusion is that this particular stream of illegals can only be stopped at the source - nobody leaves her children willingly. Meanwhile, the toll taken on children by absent parents is huge, and seems to have repercussions for years.

Along his way through southern Mexico, Enrique is robbed and terrorized by gangsters and policemen in Chiapas, but when he finally makes it through to Oaxaca and Veracruz is amazed to find that people along the rails come meet the trains and throw the migrants food, drink and clothing. Nazario met some of the food throwers (as she calls them) and found them to be poor but energized by the need they could meet. A visionary priest was one inspiration; another was the memory of sons and brothers who had themselves headed north, few to return and some of whom had never been heard of again

The image above seems a vision of goodness to me.

Friday, August 03, 2007


At the risk of seeming like a dull boy who dreams of theater but actually spends his time in libraries, let me show you a rather nifty mosaic wall recently crafted by some local artists for the Public Library here in Del Mar. (The library itself is in a building constructed as a Catholic church; for several decades after the parish of St James moved to nextdoor Solana Beach, the building was used as a restaurant.) I'd admired the clever use of found objects in the mosaic for a while, but only just learned that the found objects were in fact donated by citizens of the town, and include all sorts of things of sentimental and occasionally historical value. Among them is a piece of another wall (below right): the Berlin Wall!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The play's the thing

I believe I've mentioned that my friend C and I will be teaching a course together this coming semester called "Religion and Theater." After several months of intense phone conversations e met several times during my brief new York visit last month, and are now finalizing our syllabus, once again by phone and e-mail. What will we be doing in the class? Reading, discussing, acting. We'll be reading some works from the theory of religion and history of theater, but the main texts are plays. (I'll describe the religious studies and the theater studies aims some other time, if anyone's interested.) Here's the (very ambitious!) list we've ended up with. When - inevitably - we think "but shouldn't we also..." and "how can we not..." we cut ourselves off with the thought: next time!

Euripides, The Bacchae
Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus
Mary Zimmerman, Metamorphoses
The Harrowing of Hell from York Mystery Cycle
3 Noh dramas: Zeami's Birds of Sorrow and Atsumori and Kan’ami Kiyotsugu's Sotoba Komachi
Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (B)
Calderon, Life’s a Dream
Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, The Divine Narcissus
Ibsen, Ghosts
Synge, The Well of the Saints
Tagore, The Post Office
Brecht, Life of Galileo
Beckett, Waiting for Godot
Miller, The Crucible
Susan Lori Parks, In the Blood
Stephen Adly Guirgis, The Last Trial of Judas Iscariot

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Summer colors

Here are the colors of some of the sandstone bluffs in nearby Torrey Pines State Reserve, as captured by Russian-American impressionist painter Nicolai Fechin (1881-1955).