Hero Vs. Hero

June 30, 2011 § 2 Comments

Guest post by Grete Bauder.

When I was little, one of my biggest heroes—though I mightn’t have said it—was Jane Goodall, the anthropologist. My 6th grade science teacher remarked it was the first time he heard my voice in class: I answered a question about her.

I remember thinking she was absolutely regal. She was intelligent, not fussy, looked so nice in pictures, and got to be famous for being quiet. I was very shy, and all I wanted was to be recognized for simply doing what I did best. Jane sat quietly in the forest, hidden and peaceful, doing the same thing over and over again, observing monkeys. She wrote down what she saw, thought about it. It was smart and interesting, so people noticed.

She didn’t have to jump up and down and say, “I’m the best, the best scientist in the whole world!” She didn’t have to do something gross, like dissect things, and she didn’t have to do something hard, like invent something. I suppose for all the kids who liked to jump up and down or fiddle with things, inventing and shouting would be far preferable. But to me, Jane’s work sounded easy. Plus, I could draw, and just by being patient and understanding, I could be part of a whole ‘nother species’ culture. I could have secrets the whole world would be astonished to hear.

Now, as a (more) grown up, I find myself with a different demeanor and a different type of hero. Now I speak up, speak honestly, and speak my mind–I don’t mind causing a stir. Maybe I’ve lost patience with the world, this world I’ve come to know and love and hate since the summers I spent climbing trees.  Maybe it’s because difficult is more impressive and easy doesn’t exist. Maybe because I think now our world needs more repair than discovery.

This summer is the 50th anniversary of the first Freedom Rides down through Alabama and Mississippi. I was struck by Jim Zwerg’s clip on the PBS special’s website:

Jim made a conscious to decision to go where he didn’t have to, where it wasn’t pleasant, and do what didn’t come easily. He went into  conflict. He went to make a statement to the whole world: his fate was bound up with other people’s oppression, even though he had nothing to gain from it.

Jim didn’t observe, he let himself be observed. He got hurt, he got hospitalized. It was hard. Jane’s accomplishments were slow and steady. Jim’s was a punch in the face. He wasn’t in the quiet forest; he was in the raging urban jungle. He was peaceful, but not hidden.

Little me idealized the quiet life and accomplishment through intelligence. Now I’ve learned to value outspokenness and accomplishment through courage.

But wait—maybe my heroes aren’t too far apart after all.

Jim sat on a bus for long hours. Just waiting there. Then  got off in Birmingham. He didn’t say a word. A person with no fuss, who has since faded into the woodwork of life. Jane has since taken up the cause, and spoken out on behalf of the natural world.

To me these two embody opposite ends of the spectrum, but they’re actually whole people. I forget about that. You don’t have to have one or the other. They aren’t. So I guess, I’m allowed to like both, maybe even be both, too.

3 Up-and-Coming Spanish Speaking Musicians

June 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

I took a bit of Spanish once upon a time and many years ago, most of which I’ve since forgotten. Still, it doesn’t stop me from enjoying some of the great music being sung in this language. Here are a few musicians I’ve come to enjoy even if I’m not always entirely sure what they’re saying and Google Translate fails to help me.

1. Carla Morrison is one of my favorite artists, though half her songs, I’ve yet to find the translation. I just love her sound. A Mexican American singer/ songwriter from California, she played in a few rock cover bands before a friend offered to record an EP of some of her solo songs. This year, her show sold out at Vive Latino Festival in Mexico City, and she’s working on a full-length album.

On top of that, her main website has a hip bird on it. So cool. Listen to “Esta Soledad” (This Loneliness) below and check out her takeaway show of “Pajarito del amor” (Love Bird) with La Blogotheque.

2. The New Raemon hails from Barcelona, Spain. Fronted by Ramon Rodriguez, who seems to have dabbled in a dance troupe, comic book writing, and many back up bands, the group started The New Raemon as a side project four years ago. Their success (and apparent restlessness) has led them to keep creating.

Though their latest album is a bit more rocky heavy, I’ve really enjoyed their third album, La dimension desconocida. My favorite song is “el fin del imperio” (the lyrics begin, “The days of the empire have ended, and the invention of money fail as well…”). “Estupendamente” is excellent as well.

3. Mexico City’s Gina Recamier, going by Madame Recamier (after the French socialite Juliette Recamier) played her first American show at SXSW last year. Since then, her covers and translations of American songs (i.e. Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface”) have garnered her more popularity and she’s working on her second album and more U.S. shows. In her interview before SXSW, she shares about the Mexican music scene.

Listen to “Mira Mira” or “Pam Pam Pam” (below).

4. And a bonus! Mexican American artist Julieta Venegas isn’t up-and-coming (she’s won 5 Latin Grammys), but her music is so fun, I felt she should be added to the list.

The Youth of Uganda Create

June 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

My first afternoon in Kampala, Uganda (a couple weeks ago) was spent at Bavubuka (ba voo boo ka in Luganda means youth). Bavubuka is a community of young artists. These artists share their craft for the purpose of social change. The young men and women shared their dances, music, jewelery, and art pieces with us. Ending an 8-hour flight with Bavubuka was a great way to be welcomed into Uganda. (Photos taken by Gilbert Frank Daniels of Bavubuka.)

The folks were as vibrant as their screen prints and art pieces. Their songs are sung in their native tongue, but tied to a hip hop flow. Most shared stories of how thankful they were to have a space to learn, create, and share in community.

Learn more about Bavubuka at their blog space here. A nod to the young artists at Bavubuka who are creating in community.

The Poetic Genes of Passion

June 22, 2011 § 1 Comment

Guest post by Leah Zimmer

I’m looking for a poem that celebrates the rafter-shaking, window-pelting storm rolling in.

I want it to hold the bread and the knife of Billy Collins and the dark things of Pablo Neruda. It should have the brevity of William Carlos Williams’ plums and the yawning of Maxine Kumin’s bedding.

Last weekend, a musician-friend said, “I really want to like poetry, but I don’t know how to tell what I like or what’s good. And once I find it, how do I know what to read next?”

Both of these requests bring to mind the brilliant Music Genome Project that Pandora Radio uses to analyze, catalog and recommend music. It’s startlingly accurate, as I thumb-up most Arvo Part and thumb-down most Train, capturing the small details of taste I hadn’t been able to name before. And that’s really part of what my friend was asking about poetry, “How do I name what I like so that I can find it again?” How, indeed?

On Pandora, my “Futile Devices” station captures my affection for musical attributes (or musical genes) like “folk roots,” “a subtle use of vocal harmony,” “acoustic rhythm piano,” and “melodic songwriting,” which brings me more Sufjan, Ane Brun and The White Stripes. This is all good.

But poetry is often categorized thematically, whether on websites that identify poems about beauty, the sky, home, and loneliness, or as in Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems, where he gathers poems about “Such as It Is More or Less,” “Deliberate Obfuscation,” and “The Sound of a Car.”

Even a new Poetry App from The Poetry Foundation sticks to themes like optimism, passion, enthusiasm, nature and family when making recommendations, which seems more in line with the Moody-Player. But I am not attracted to a poem because it is about a particular topic. There is something, as Pandora has discovered with music, in the minute slicing of the details of voice, language, and rhythm that affects me.

I can read dozens of poems on passion, but only Neruda’s “Sonnet XVII” will cause my heart to skip a beat with its particular language of salt-rose and topaz, its growing intensity through the third stanza before falling back to bed, and the extended metaphors of earth and growth and hiding that move through the sonnet. Are these the genes of the poem? I am not looking for more poems about salt-rose or growing, so what is it? How to decipher the feelings that the poem’s DNA inspires?

A similar not-yet-released project is the Literary Genome Project, which only says “Pandora + The Love of Reading + You = The Literary Genome Project.” It seems full of possibility, and slightly more specific than a recommendation I might get from GoodReads.

I’m not sure that the work of the Music Genome Project, or its corollaries at Music-Map cannot be replicated with poetry, so it begs the question: what is the first gene we can build on? I’m more certain of this possibility now that I’ve seen another of my favorite musical trends—the mash-up—applied to literature when the Elevator Repair Service did a literary mash-up of three classics in 20 minutes. Poetry’s moment is coming.

5 Books I Intend to Read Soonish

June 20, 2011 § 6 Comments

It takes awhile for me to pick up a book and commit to it. Once I do, I’m a fast reader. But before the moment my hand reaches out to pick my next book up, I need to see the book on shelves, in lists, through recommendations by people I know. I need to be coerced by the cover art, to trip over the book a few times as it lies in piles around my house, and to mention that I’m reading the book to someone who will undoubtedly ask me how it was the next time I see them, for which I’ll get right down to the business of reading.

So with recent poll results revealing an overwhelming majority (4 votes!) who want a summer reading list, I thought I’d share a few books that I’ve “been meaning to get around to” for some time. Thus you, readers, can hold me accountable for my literary actions.

Abi’s To-Read List With a Vague and Ambiguous Deadline of Somewhat Soonish (FYI–lists with long titles are far more likely to be successful. Also lists with vague and ambiguous deadlines.)

1. The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

First of all, what a great title. Secondly, Ann Patchett is also the author of Bel Canto, one of my favorite novels for its mix of romance, terrorism, opera, and English language learning in South America. Despite my love for Bel Canto and my long-revised appreciation for its ending, I have yet to read anything else she’s written.

2. A Mad Desire to Dance by Elie Wiesel

This might not be the most lighthearted fare for summer reading. As much as I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Elie Wiesel, his writing tends towards the dense, dark, and sad. Best known for his Holocaust memoir Night, I think his fiction is equally powerful and probing. As I now have this book checked out from the library, the deadline in which to read it is a little more defined.

3. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

A contemporary classic, I’m embarrassed I haven’t read it yet. And I was reminded of this lack in my life when I heard of Chabon’s new project with his wife, author Ayelet Waldman. They’re co-writing a fictional series for HBO titled “Hobgoblin,” about magicians and con-men who battle Hitler in WWII. It’s an interesting concept, mixing such a distinct and recent historical event with fantasy. We have a slew of contemporary-set fantasy books (i.e. Harry Potter), but with an event that is so well documented and familiar, I’m curious to see how they will reinterpret this period in light of magic. And if a war that is always approached with such gravitas will hold up well mixed with the “low art” of fantasy drama.

4. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

Really, this selection could also be The Namesake or The Unaccustomed Earth. I’ve yet to read anything of Jhumpa Lahiri, but I’ve heard great things about her and I’m excited for the growing popularity of Indian and Indian American authors on the international literary scene. I recently met an Indian graduate student spending the summer researching in the U.S., and after an enlightening conversation regarding chai, monsoons, and Jhumpa Lahiri, I was once more encouraged to explore her works.

5. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron

I’ve seen this on so many book lists since it was translated into English and finally picked up a copy at a used book store. It’s about books (the best kind of plot), mysterious goings-on, and (I hope) a bit of magical realism. I’m intrigued.

What books are on your to-read list this summer? What books would you recommend?

A Few Unlikely Heroes

June 17, 2011 § 2 Comments

In The House of Seven Gables, Nathanial Hawthorne writes:

If we look through all the heroic fortunes of mankind, we shall find this same entanglement of something mean and trivial with whatever is noblest in joy or sorrow. Life is made up of marble and mud. And, without all the deeper trust in a comprehensive sympathy above us, we might hence be led to suspect the insult of a sneer, as well as an immitigable frown, on the iron countenance of fate. What is called poetic insight is the gift of discerning, in this sphere of strangely mingled elements, the beauty and the majesty which are compelled to assume a garb so sordid.

So come our real-life heroes, a bit marbled and muddied. Here are a few note-worthy ones.

1. Last year for Father’s Day, videographer David Hui reflected on his absent father during childhood and his present role as father to two kids, a challenge coming from any background. With Matt Kirk, he composed this moving video essay on fatherhood and faith. Here’s to many fathers.

2. Frederika has become a super-grandma. When French photographer Sacha Goldberger saw that his 91-year-old grandmother was feeling lonely and depressed, he proposed dressing up and shooting a a series of crazy photos. The shoot was such a success and she received so much support from fans, she hasn’t felt lonely or depressed since. There is even talk of a movie…

You can see more photos of Frederika and read how she saved ten people during the Holocaust here and here.

3. And of course, a brief nod is due to all those tech-savvy people in our life who come to our rescue. In any age and at most ages, we need them.

Your Opinion Wanted

June 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

Readers! Thanks for journeying with us these past six months. We’ve both enjoyed our foray into the blogging world and the opportunity to share our finds with you and hear what inspires you creatively. By now, we’ve learned what we like writing about, but we’re curious as to what piques your interest.

So tell us! If you have requests or ideas not listed in the poll, do share them in the comments below.

Thanks and keep reading!

Abi and Pakou

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