February 20, 2015
Do you like Wine?
Do you like Music?
Do you like Comedy?
Then ‘At The Vineyard’ where Italian exuberance meets English sangfroid & understatement in a Cabaret Show of thought provoking, tear jerking, belly laughing storytelling & music with partner Anne-Louise is for you. March 21st @6.30 PM in the beautiful tasting room of Christopher Bridge Winery in the hills south of Oregon City. Sip award winning Pinot Noir or Gris and enjoy a great live show.
Tickets $20 at this LINK or email me at email@example.com
Tickets includes one glass of wine. Tasting flights will be available at $4 and snack plates $5.
February 1, 2015
For some years now I have had the pleasure and honor to read a selection of poetry intersecting the songs sung by ViVoce. ViVoce is the outreach ensemble of the Portland Revels. They are an a capella women’s ensemble and sing songs from around the world, two performances in winter and two in summer in concert. Directed by Bennett Bailey and Jamie Lynn Webster, and managed by Antonia Forster; who wisely chooses the poetry.
Often, my partner Anne-Louise also joins me to tell traditional stories rewritten to provide a humorous theatrical interlude. We have a great time doing this, and we are always somewhat deflated when the two concerts are over.
Until now I have not thought of a way of telling everyone involved how much I think of them and the amount of hard work they put into such a short exposure to the public. Two concerts in January and two in June.
Today, February 1st, when many Americans are glued to a panel that will sell them things they don’t need for four or five hours and call it a football game, I sat and listened to the ensemble rehearse for the second winter performance. And it came to me to write a poem. A poem for them, and about what they really do. Here it is…
Never underestimate what you do
Never doubt that somehow
That somehow your voices;
Striking out clearly
Striking out and beautifully reflecting
Off stone and wood;
That you voices find homes
In the minds of listeners.
We who are listening transfixed,
Made to open our hearts,
Open to a sweet, bittersweet knowing.
We listeners almost willingly frozen
Receive a gift, another chance.
A chance to open dark chambers
And let the light of your music pour in.
Whether we know it or not
We are permanently changed.
Never doubt the value of what you do.
Sure, it is a little ragged and I will edit it sometime. But it is a start to thanking them for their acceptance and kindness. More about ViVoce at this LINK
November 17, 2014
Most mornings, no matter what else I eat for breakfast, I butter a large piece of baguette from Grand Central Bakery and dip it into my coffee. As I pop it into my mouth the butter is melting, mixing with the honey sweetened coffee and I am once again in Paris on the morning of August 21th 1962, my sixteenth birthday. I am sitting with Wally, a school friend, and about fifty other teenagers from many countries in the cafeteria of the Auberge Jeunesse Internationale somewhere close to the Pigalle Metro station, just down the Boulevard from Le Moulin Rouge.
The day before Wally and I had cycled from Beauvais to Paris; about fifty five miles; stage four or etape quatre on our two week bike tour of North Western France. Wally, whose real name was Alan Wallace, was not a close friend. We were in the same year at secondary school; The Skinners’ Company School for boys. He was about to focus his studying on English and Languages; I would study Sciences and Mathematics (more about this choice later). We did not ordinarily mix. The only things we had in common were a love of cycling and perhaps a curiosity about France.
No Englishman can ever be neutral about France. It is close not just geographically but emotionally. Since Wally and I both lived in Kent the only thing that separated us from France was a shallow ditch of navigable salt water twenty two miles wide called The Channel by the English and La Manche by the French. The history of our country and indeed the county of Kent where we lived were soaked in a thousand years of Anglo-French arguments, diplomatic spats, invasions, ententes, and in 1944, a rescue.
In the late fifties and sixties a wave of visits and ‘exchanges’ began. Organized by language teachers on either side they sought to introduce each new edition of their youth to their opposites. It has worked very well. Nearly every town in the UK now has a ‘twin’ city in France and more recently in any number of other European countries. But in the summer of 1962 these programs were in their infancy. Wally and I were in the forefront, boldly carrying a tiny piece of teenage Englishness to France. But that is not how two fifteen year old schoolboys rationalized and planned a two week cycle tour in the winter of 1962.
Visit again soon for Episode Two…
November 8, 2014
I think I posted this poem a few years ago when it was shorter. It contains, in a jocular style, a list, an inventory of medical or physical concerns I once presented and will again to my doctor. As the years go by the list, and the poem, grow longer. Here is the version I read last Thursday at Songwriters Roundup at Artichoke Music. Which by the way is a terrific institution and musical hang out. Check out this LINK.
My Medical Inventory
or erectile is not my only dysfunction
Scanning from the ground upward over my torso
Reveals an disturbing inventory of dysfunction and decay
Brachymetatarsia, in both feet!
Unequal leg length
Atrophied right quadriceps
L4 & L5 Vertebrae way too chummy.
Are these breasts?
Are these jowls?
A score of epithelial polyps decorate my neck and torso
Moderate gastro intestinal reflux
Causing persistent rhinitis.
Three diopter challenge in both eyes
Now between cataract procedures
Dermatochalassis, left and right
Somewhat corrected by Blepharoplasty
Scintillating scotoma (look it up!)
Finally to cap it all
With rear solar panel developing.
And yet when asked
I reply, Oh, I’m fine! I’m fine.
And you, and you, still love me.
November 1, 2014
Earlier this year I had Blepharoplastic surgery. This was to improve my peripheral vision which was being slowly compromised by drooping eyebrows. It certainly changed the way I looked. Indeed for a while, as the wounds healed, I was as you see, hideous.
Nine days ago I had the first of two cataract surgeries; the most common daily procedure at any hospital. The surgeon was three hours late. The procedure took less than fifteen minutes. After a night’s sleep I went as usual to the mirror to shave and immediately noticed the sharp improvement in near vision in the left eye. This improvement also allowed me to examine for the first time the corrugated nature of my skin, the fissures, ridges and grooves, the blemishes and tags that had been developing there for some time but hidden from my perception by a failing lens. It was a bittersweet moment. Now I was beginning to see myself as others do.
I am now wondering what will be my reaction when in two weeks’ time the right eye will also receive a new lens. All those gruesome features marking my face will then be in 3D.
Nevertheless, I can only marvel at the procedure and am thankful it is so mundane. Here is a picture of my face wearing the approved ophthalmic tea strainer which protects the eye at night from poking and prodding.
October 10, 2014
Air travel gives you a tremendous opportunity to write. Even if your plane is curiously on time there are hours spent waiting in various holding pens, waiting on the aircraft itself before it lurches off the ground and of course those happy hours aloft with nothing to disturb the even flow of creative thoughts except the vomiting child next to you and the scientifically programed interruptions from the crew reminding you of all manner of things you really needed to know; or not. If we add to this the interesting gas that passes for breathing air on an airliner one can hardly be surprised if any writing done on an airliner is anything but a touch morbid.
And so, I submit this poem written en route Boston to Portland very recently. I think it demonstrates the dangers of air travel very clearly. As I recover from that trip I may edit this poem and so ask you to view it as a work in progress and join me in hoping that I don’t have to fly anywhere soon unless I am upgraded to the nirvana behind the dark curtain where the privileged sprawl on vast cushions slopping up champagne and chowing on free nosh.
I met life one day
And life joined me to talk.
For years we walked,
It was fine, my life.
When I stumbled
Life would slow down,
Waiting for me.
Now I stumble more
And life waits even longer,
So that I wonder when
Life will turn and say,
“I can wait no longer”
Then I will have a new and darker companion
Who does not walk with me, or ahead,
But silently behind.
Who was there always
Unseen around a corner of perception.
But now I have to see,
And I find myself
Picking up the pace
To stay ahead
Ahead of that dark silent figure
Who will, one day, cover me
With an inescapable shadow.
September 18, 2014
It is one of the commonplace items of conversation whenever Anne-Louise and I meet new friends or are in one of those social events that require some explanation. How did you meet. Over the forty years of our marriage I have perfected a suite of stories that satisfy most occasions. Of course, Anne-Louise has her own, closer to the truth accounts.
Here is one of my favorites. I have told it to my children with various results, mostly pleas for mercy.
How I Met Your Mother
As some, or even many perhaps, of you know, it was more than forty years ago when a small piece of history was made. It was in the early seventies when a forward thinking scion of American-Italian New Jersey aristocracy summoned his most trusted, reliable and need I say daring, bondsmen to the sound proofed lounge of his modest palazzo in the bosky suburbs close to New York City. So close one could almost smell the halitosic breath of the toll booth attendants on the George Washington Bridge when the winter winds came off the palisades into the discreet residential enclaves to the west of Fort Lee. In the brisk directive and uncompromising terms characteristic of this economically worded man his associates were charged with the special task that would shake the world. It was a task that once completed would eliminate a serious challenge he had been facing. A family challenge.
A few months later I was sitting quietly in a pub where I was not well enough known to cause a problem; The Bottle and Glass at Binfield Heath, Berkshire, England. It was indeed a quiet night. Before me stood a pint, my second that evening, of Brakspear’s ordinary; an affordable session beer favored by young men of limited means. An innocent and yet attractive young man quietly enjoying his respite from his hectic career as research laboratory schlepsman and apprentice layabout.
To my left and right two equally innocuous and innocent Englishmen, who I later realized, must have been bribed. Conversation had fallen to the acceptable murmur that amongst Englishmen passes for heated discussion. We were debating as usual the age old question that troubled most Englishmen of our vintage. When were we next getting our leg over, if ever? Outside the softly falling summer night caressed the trees and the rusting fenders and bodywork of the parked British made cars.
From out of this seeming gentle darkness four darkly clad and plainly foreign men; they had good teeth; burst into the public bar of the Bottle and Glass, pushed aside my two companions, rapidly gagged and bound me and laid me in the trunk of an enormous American car that hurtled off into the night. At this moment I lost consciousness.
I hope you can imagine my surprise upon waking to find myself in a modern church sitting bolt upright in the front right pew. There appeared to be a marriage in process. Judging by the colorful costumes; of the men; it was an American marriage. As I looked around at the packed pews and saw that every eye was upon me, and finding that I was wearing a rented morning suit, and that a pearl gray top hat rested in my lap, I came rapidly to the stunning conclusion that the marriage in question was my own. I saw that escape was unlikely and stiffened my lip for the worst.
An unseen hand playing upon an invisible keyboard let loose a strangely familiar refrain and a hundred and thirty heads swiveled to the rear of the church. Thinking this might be a chance to make my escape through the sacristy I carefully rose to my feet. A heavy hand from behind pressing on my shoulder prevented this move and added the gutturally whispered words, “Not yet, big boy”.
The familiar refrain continued amid gasps from the assembly. I quaked, imagining the horror that was about to reveal itself. As the notes faded into the brickwork the heavy hand now gripped my collar and hoisted me to my feet with the rasping instruction, “OK Limey, its playtime!”
I had never been so reluctant to look left, but remembering that I was in some as yet unrewarded way representing England on a foreign shore and that I had already stiffened my lip, I slowly turned to face my future. I almost fainted. With relief. For there, smiling at me with the sweetest brown eyes and a laughing mouth was a lovely vision in white. Towering over her left was the aristocrat himself. I felt his powerful gaze upon me and smiling weakly stumbled into the aisle to begin the best years of my life with an amazing woman.
And that is how I met your Mother.
August 20, 2014
My Dear Jacques,
Did you ever think that when you started to write songs in far away Belgium in the 1940’s that an ageing Baby Boomer would adopt your songs as his shtick and hawk his version around a west coast city in America.
It must happen to a lot of writers. I mean, who sits down to write and says to themselves, “I don’t care if no-one ever reads this or uses it while I am alive; this is for that person who has perhaps not even been born”? No, most of us work for the time in which we live and act. And yet by far the bulk of any writer’s fans will be those who find his or her material long after their remains have rotted away to dust. In his lifetime Bill Shakespeare could probably count on a few hundred, maybe a thousand folk of his acquaintance who would dare to say they liked his work and would defend it against whoever reigned. And now Bill has a fan club of possibly billions.
And so, Jacques, I wonder if it ever occurred to you that your work had more staying power than you thought at first?
I have to say that when I first listened to the “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris’ album I was not immediately bowled over. I did not go, aha, this is the kind of music that I can get into and through which I can reveal my own true character and musical aspirations. Well, I was only 28. But over the years as I listened again and again something happened and when I was in my fifties I suddenly found that your songs had gotten into my psyche and would not go away.
It did occur to me that I was only affected by the English version that Blau and Shuman had produced in New York in the 1970’s. So I bought CD’s of you actually singing your own work, and found yet more depth and interest in the music; and the discovery that the NYC review had sampled only 22 examples and there were so many more.
So how is it that your music is the vehicle for my musical aspiration? You are not the only other writer I admire. Somewhere in your work there must be the connection with my mind that pushed me. Something that said, Bob, you can do this, it is you. Whereas I feel somewhat out of place and uncomfortable singing Leonard Cohen or John Lennon, I feel absolutely at ease when I sing your work, and feel thoroughly connected to it.
I do sing others songs, and with pleasure, but it has been your work that gave the platform from which to begin. And so I thank you, Jacques, from my heart, from the stage where I am and hopefully from the stage where I want to be…
Your late, very late fan,
August 1, 2014
This week someone close to me sent me a joke about Mexican immigrants. I did not find it amusing. Here is my response.
know you are only trying to amuse me, but I find these kinds of jokes just a little hard to swallow. So please forgive me if I sound a little upset in this response. I send it with love knowing you will read and accept that you and I cannot always think alike. But you knew that anyway!
Every time I ride my bike past a field of beans or berries or corn, in my leisure, I can see groups of twenty or more Mexicans working producing food that will appear later in my local Thriftway. It was 90 Deg. F. today and will be the same for the rest of the week. They work for minimum wage or less and live in conditions that neither you nor I would tolerate for a day. Most of them go to local Catholic churches, and they bring their children too. They encourage those kids to go to school so they won’t have to work in the fields when they become adults.
Neither you nor I can imagine the conditions in Mexico and Central American countries from where so many try to escape. You would have to go back to the late nineteenth century in Italy, Sicily and Poland and Russia to find an equivalent. It is not just poverty from which they are fleeing. It is extreme violence. Violence; much of which is caused by drug trafficking. Drugs that many white Americans seem to be happy to buy. Parents have no hope for their children in their own country and so they send them to the one place they desperately hope might help them. Would you or I do that? Under what terrifying conditions would one say goodbye to a ten year old daughter knowing you might never see her again? Under what terrifying conditions would an adult leave his family behind knowing that he or she might never see them again and that their lives remained in danger.
The recent crisis of children crossing into the US pales in comparison to other refugee issues around the world. Jordan, (a country the size of Massachusetts) has absorbed 600,000 Syrian refugees. Lebanon (the size of Connecticut) has absorbed as many. A new wave of Iraqi refugees is about to hit neighboring countries. In North Africa there are millions of displaced people moving from one country to another to escape religious violence or famine, often both.
Fifty thousand Hispanic children is a drop in the bucket. Double it and it would still be a small number. America can absorb these children so easily. And would it be different if they were Chinese, or Korean, or Indian, or Vietnamese, or any other race? Not in my eyes. The idea that any race other than white Europeans has any merit is utterly unacceptable. I think, I know, it might even be a Christian ethic.
The idea that Mexico and Central America is full of freeloaders looking for a handout, a free ride, is unacceptable. Of course, not every one of them is as upstanding, moral and hardworking as the next man or woman. But then neither were many that had their names changed as they passed through Ellis Island a century ago. And neither are so many whose antecedents arrived long before that. No race is born lazy; none.
A better solution to the problem is for the richer countries of the world to help those countries change. America has a great record of trying to do that, although political meddling has tarnished it often (Chile is an example). Sure millions of dollars have been spent to little effect and yet our standard of living is affected less than that than by the trillions we spend on our defense budget; to little or no effect. Iraq remains a total disaster, Afghanistan the same. Do not misunderstand me. We do need defending, seriously, but not against a few children.
When I decided to stay in America it was in very large part thanks to the generosity of my future in-laws, their family and their friends, and the feeling that I was welcome. My contribution to the common good of America in the last forty years will be no larger than some of the men I see working in those hot fields. It is no larger than the dedication of the Mexican mothers I see shepherding their children to school before they go to work in cleaning, retail, food prep., and all the dirty jobs no-one else wants. Who exactly is lazy now?
I hope you can see why I don’t care for the joke you sent me. As I said, I know you were trying to amuse me, but it can’t. It’s not that I am entirely guiltless myself. I have my own learnt reflexes to people who seem different. It is more that as I get older I find it harder to accept that I am any better or worse than any other human on the planet.
And so I hope you will understand if I ask you not to send me these kind of jokes.
Sent with love and respect.
Here is the ‘joke’ they had sent me.
“Tough shit, Amigo“
A beautiful fairy appeared one day to a destitute Mexican refugee outside an
Arizona immigration office.
“Good man,” the fairy said, “I’ve been sent here by President Obama and told
to grant you three wishes, since you just arrived in the United States with your
wife and eight children.”
The man told the fairy, “Well, where I come from we don’t have good teeth, so
I want new teeth, maybe a lot of gold in them.”
The fairy looked at the man’s almost toothless grin and — PING !– he had a
brand new shining set of gold teeth in his mouth!
“What else?” asked the fairy, “Two more to go.”
The refugee claimant now got bolder. “I need a big house with big three-car
garage in Annapolis on the water with eight bedrooms for my family and the rest
of my relatives who still live in my country.. I want to bring them all over here” —
and PING– in the distance there could be seen a beautiful mansion with a three-car garage, a long driveway, and a walkout patio with a BBQ in an upscale neighborhood overlooking the bay.
“One more wish,” said the fairy, waving her wand.
“Yes, one more wish. I want to be like an American with American clothes instead
of these torn clothes, and a baseball cap instead of this sombrero. And I want to
have white skin like Americans” —and — PING — The man was instantly transformed – wearing worn-out jeans, a Baltimore Orioles T-shirt, and a baseball cap. He had
his bad teeth back and the mansion had disappeared from the horizon.
“What happened to my new teeth?” he wailed. “Where is my new house?”
(THIS IS GOOD — NO, ACTUALLY THIS IS VERY GOOD!!)
The fairy said: “Tough shit, Amigo, now that you are a white American, you have to fend for yourself.”
July 8, 2014
I almost caused a small road accident in my small town when BBC World News (Via Oregon Public Broadcasting, thank you) announced on my car radio a German goal in the first fifteen minutes and then four more before half time. When I went into the hardware store it was 1-0. When I came out it was 4-0. I had to use both lanes of Route 99E to recover.
Welcome to the world of English cricket I said to myself once I had stopped laughing.
We, the English, get regularly thrashed at the other game we invented by nations as tiny as Sri Lanka and the West Indies. But we still play, we still show up because to play is more important. Just like the English, the Brazilians, after years of being told they perfected the beautiful game find that others can play it too.