Friday, June 23, 2017

Lessons Du Jour

 • The Brazilian music called choro has interesting connections with Ragtime.

• The 44 Brazilian music teachers in my course just played sizzling blues solos on the Orff instruments. Some of the best I have ever heard.

• I can teach 8 hours in my new normal of Cough and feel physically the same as if I had rested in bed, mentally much more uplifted by the people and the music and doing something worthwhile.

• But the price seemed to be that my voice is weak today and that’s hard.

• Fruit feels good to eat.

• I have nothing profound to say and no interesting way to say it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Real Sick

I reached out for some good thoughts from the Facebook Community and got some 85 folks sending me love, with a large majority telling me with “tough love” to GO SEE A DOCTOR!
I’m not averse to it, but it’s not an easy thing to figure out here. So started the day with my host taking me to his dentist to bond my tooth back in and she was so lovely and gentle and touching my face in such a healing way and accomplished it all after about 45 minutes for far under $100. Then on to the mall to get a sweater (had forgotten it’s WINTER in South America), some more Advil and Hall’s cough drops, to the bookstore since I spent so much time in Morocco reading I had run out and to lunch. No cough all morning, still slight sense of fever by lunchtime.

Then walked to the workshop venue and that was feeling good and got into the room and went straight to the piano to play, with my host UirĂ¡ accompanying on drums and that felt REALLY GOOD. Started envisioning the workshop and suddenly the feeling, “This is going to work. It’s going to be all right. It’s going to be more than all right.”

Back to the hotel, a quiet afternoon reading, short nap, preparing the workshop and then looked up a few things online and ended up watching some of the recent Daily Shows. And that’s when I found out about Philando Castile.

When I talk about the key stories that reveal the deep, deep sickness of my country, I usually go to Emmett Till. Not only the brutal story of the murder, but how the murderers, of course, were acquitted and even later made $5000 selling their story to LIFE magazine boasting about how, of course, they did it.

If something clearly transgressive of human decency and justice happens, that’s already a symptom of some sickness in the society. But how the society reacts is equally, if not more, important. Had Emmett’s murderers been given their just desserts, it would have changed the story just a little. Not for poor Emmet. But it would have sent a message that our system of justice does not condone this and that might have helped in future incidents.

But the policeman who shot Philando Castile, clearly without cause, captured on video, was acquitted yesterday. The NRA, that shouts and rants about a citizen’s right to own guns, said not a word about Philando’s legally registered gun that he told the officer was in the glove department. And as Trevor Noah revealed yet again (who could not know this in America?!), the fact that this revered citizen had been stopped 49 times for the crime of “driving while black” is still just casually accepted. Trevor himself has been stopped some 8 to 10 time in just the 5 years he’s been here, Miles Davis was stopped time and time again, never heard a statistic about Obama before he became President, but that would be interesting to investigate.

So tomorrow I do my tiny part to spread the absolute joy and beauty of the black experience as it was created in this thing called jazz and will talk as I always do, about the grief and suffering that privileged white folks simply can’t or won’t face and how nothing, absolutely nothing, will change until they do and how my grandson Malik has 14 years before he gets a driver’s license and my stepson Alijah and son-in-law Ronnie are already targeted and what will it take? 85 people send their love on Facebook because they know how devastating sickness is, but when are we going to say out loud what a sick, sick culture we’ve been handed and we are all of us, each and every one, being devastated by it day after day after day after day. And black folks are on the front line of the devastation just for driving their car, with no script for the proper conduct that the police will acknowledge. They are just the wrong color in a country that loves their music and reads their books and sees their movies and cheers them on at games but gets stonily silent when the police murdering them are let go. Every. Damn. Time. 

On behalf of Philando Castile and Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner and that long, long, long list that just keeps growing, let’s keep on working. Police accountability, personal love, teach your children well, throw the bastards out of Washington who put themselves above the law and all their rich white cronies, the whole 99 yards. I wonder if there’s a movement to send one million condolences to the family of Mr. Castile. I hope so.

Monday, June 19, 2017

When It Rains…

I have read some extraordinary accounts, both real and fiction, of one piece of bad luck after another and just when you think it can’t get worse, it does. Dave Eggers What Is the What comes to mind. Compared to stories like that, I can’t hold a candle.

But the surprise of “What next?” means I’m on the same kind of roll, even if the stakes are much lower and (for now), survivable. Now if I have too much self-pity, you are not interested, if I can manage a dash of humor, it’s better, but best of all is your sense of “Sure glad it’s you and not me.” And I’m happy to give you that pleasure.

So yesterday afternoon, a sense of normality teased me into thinking that restoration to good health was just around the corner. I was able to walk through this most beautiful city of Chefchaouen, to the Casbah in the morning and out to the waterfalls close to sunset. Ramadan gives a special meaning to sunset and as the rays descended over the mountain, the streets were alive with the happiness of a summer night. We walked to the waterfall, kids splashing in the little pools, groups gathering to gossip, wandered up a path looking over the city and the whole joy and romance of travel began to surface, being nobody in particular just witnessing the world at work and play.

From there to the same lovely restaurant as the night before and all the notes of dischord from the past 7 days began to line up in a harmonious music with their message, “For this you came.”

And that’s right about when I took a bite of a chicken pastry and lost my tooth. A crown, to be exact, right next my two upper front teeth so the gap will be in full view of the students I’ll be teaching in the next two weeks. Really? I mean, really?

Home to a hard night of coughing and hacking, waking myself and sometimes gasping for breath (scary) to get the necessary cough out. The next day dawned regardless of my ability to appreciate it, had a driver take us 3 hours down to a final train to Casablanca. I mostly slept and blessedly so. But arriving at the train station, the man motioned us to hurry, as the train was about to leave. We ran as directed to Track 2—and the train left. Without us. Following some advice, we returned to Track 1 to wait for the next. But a train came on Track 2 and sure enough, everyone was off and running again to the other side.

Karen led the way, I tried to follow, but tripped and hit the cement running. Came up with two skinned knees, a bloody face, concerned arms helping me up and Karen nowhere in sight. Ran down the length of the train yelling her name (thought she had boarded) and then she came from the far end of the train. Just as she noticed I was bleeding, her face looked alarmed and she said, “Where’s my backpack?”

So she ran back to the first track, me imagining a lost passport and such while the blood dripped down my face and my toothless grimace looked alarming and of course, coughing all the time. Is this fun yet?

She returned with her backpack (sigh of relief!) which they had already brought into the lost and found (Hooray for the honesty and concern of the Moroccans!) and we boarded the train that we thought was the right one. And surprise of all surprises, it was!

Made it to the airport hotel, got our key, entered the room only to find an open suitcase and a closet full of clothes. Whoops! That's never happened before. So went back down and got the room next door. Now just time for dinner and wake-up at 3 am. Aren't you glad you stayed home?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Two Legs and a Camera

 Santorini, Greece.

Positano, Italy.

Valparaiso, Chile.

And now, Chefchaouen, Morocco.

These extraordinary towns nestled into cliffs with winding streets and stunning white, blue or multi-colored architecture. Yes, ten thousand tourists, but still a character intact. And me with the good fortune to visit them, to wander around and wind around the maze of streets and alleys.

Of course, what the postcards don’t show is the 100 degree heat, but that is our fault. Timing is everything and if we were to return, May it is.

Was it Greta Garbo who said, “Take me to the Casbah!”? Well, finally went to one and great to have some Spanish signs explaining the deep connection with this part of Morocco and Andalucia in southern Spain. And last night heard some Spanish spoken in restaurants and after feeling left out with my non-existent French and Arabic, great to be able to talk a bit to folks.

This is unquestionably a “one picture worth a thousand words place” and this writer is mostly just “two legs and a camera” walking around with a cough, so I’ll share a few photos and see if the words will surface when some semblance of a normal self returns. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 17, 2017


The loveliest room I’ve ever stayed in, Riad Albarta in Fez. Friendly staff, a parrot who whistles that song from “The Bridge Over the River Kwai,” air-conditioning to stave off the 107 degree heat outside. A beautiful park where young university students sat together and studied. Men greeting each other with kisses on both cheeks. The Medina market place living up to its twisting alleys and signature Moroccan foods alongside shampoo and sneakers and a few hundred scraggly cats—or kittens. Minus the manic barking, cats in Morocco are like the dogs of Bali. A fabulous Berkeley-feeling restaurant called The Clock with fruit smoothies and a storyteller. The remarkable fact of just about everyone honoring the Ramadan fast and keeping a pretty good temperament amidst the difficulties—especially no water in daylit hours during 100 plus degree heat.

The days in Fez were long and languid and oddly, never felt like lunch, tuning into the Ramadan rhythm somehow. Sunset was a blessing and occasional cool breezes stirred a bit and the streets were teeming with life and folks eating and children playing and continuing past midnight. Not so different from Spain in the summer, minus the enforced fast. And many connections with Spain and no accident, given the Moorish presence there until those foolish monarchs cut their diversity by 2/3rds by kicking out the Moors and the Jews. There’s a lesson we should learn as King Trump aims to narrow the Rainbow Nation to his horrible shade of grey. It was a bad idea then and it’s a bad idea now.

From Fez, took the train to Rabat and here on the ocean’s edge, more feeling like Miami Beach than Madrid. Passed a McDonald’s behind a Mosque, the kind of cognitive dissonance that is the new harmony of the day. Driving the palm-lined highways with a bracing ocean breeze. While our hosts finished their last day of school at Rabat American School, we walked on the beach a bit in company with the fisher-people, wandered the streets in search of mid-day coffee not to be had during Ramadan, ended the day with a “school’s out!” party at our host’s house, with convivial conversation and the stories of teachers who came from and have lived and taught in so many places—Indonesia, India, Cameroon, Qatar, China, Germany and more. Travel alone doesn’t good people make, but you can mostly rest assured that they are prepared to refuse portrayals of other cultures foisted on the ignorant public by people who have never lived in those cultures.

So now it’s Saturday and we’re off on a bus to the fabled city of Chefchaouen, driving around a bustling Rabat trying to find tickets and Robitussin cough syrup and a bendir hand-drum (got the first two, not the last) and now at the bus station ready to begin the 5-hour journey. I am by no means better health-wise, but I’m sick of thinking about it and talking about it and am just going to keep on living through it without complaining, minus this sentence. See you soon.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Lazarus in Paradise

A white butterfly against green grass. A cool ocean breeze and roar of waves against rocks. A sunlit porch where we watched the sunset last night. Each a promise of paradise just at the edge of my finger’s reach, but one I’ve been unable to touch.

Thanks to some bootleg Nyquill, I slept an entire night through without waking myself up coughing. But I woke straight into the unwelcoming arms of my sick, sick body. Forced myself through breakfast, tried to escape my misery with Solitaire, burrowed back into my book just at the point where the heroine is stricken with pneumonia in Paris. The symptoms almost matched mine, but not quite. Had my wife research both pneumonia and bronchitis on the Internet, and the latter was closer, with a discouraging footnote that it can last up to three weeks. I’m in my 11th day.

The fact is, besides the physical discomfort of each and every moment—stuffy head, sinus headache and the unpredictability of simply being able to breathe without triggering a body-shaking coughing fit—there was the guilt of being a bad traveling companion for my wife, a bad guest for our generous hosts putting us up at their beautiful house in Rabat. I did teach a guest class at the school they both teach in and their three kids all go to and got through it okay, but not with the dependability of a voice in full-function mode. Then of course, the way we humans keep piling imagined future problems on to the feelings of the moment, I’m wondering about the two back-to-back courses in Brazil and Colombia I will be teaching within the week.

But here is the most disturbing thing: I lost the ability to remember what it feels like to actually be well. The simple fact of normality which we all build our lives around and then paper the walls with real and imagined sorrows with occasional low-energy fatigues and sicknesses, I just couldn’t imagine ever feeling that way again. That was scary.

Hope you noticed “was.” Far from out of the dark woods of my discomfort, but I took more Nyquil and Advil PM and awoke from a mid-day nap with that extraordinary sensation of coming back from the dead.  Lazarus rising out of his tomb could not have been more astonished to find himself alive again than me in this last half-hour. An old-fashioned market-shopped-put together lunch of avocado, rice cake, carrot, cheese and more awaited me as I walked some 30 feet without a cough.

The whole beauty of Creation, as well as Morocco’s impressive aesthetic human-wrought creations, was not just the backdrop for my gloom and distress, but actually something I might again participate in and savor and enjoy. I think I would have rejoiced equally to have woken up in some dumpster in a bad neighborhood as long as I recovered my health again. But even better to have the ocean greet me and the promise of a beautiful day invite me to step out of my wretched state and re-join the world.

Of course, more coughing and stuffed head and headache awaits me, but perhaps just a bit less. And then I can finally give this marvelous land the attention it deserves. Find some words that sing its soothing tune and some thoughts that keeps the dialogue open of how near the “other” is to us and how much every “other” has to offer until the “they” becomes “us.”

But first, a walk on the beach.