Friday, May 31, 2024

Here's That Rainy Day

Found myself humming Jimmy Van Heusen’s jazz standard while riding this morning and for good reason. Our good luck dodging the rainstorms changed today as we began the ride in a steady strong downpour. 20 minutes into it, we reached a bridge to cross the river and the bridge was gone. So some quick re-calculating while standing in the still-pouring rain and eventually found our way over the river and through the fields (not woods and no grandmother awaiting us) on a dedicated bike path. We passed some fields of an unidentifiable grain (young barley?), heard some frogs and ducks and miraculously, the rain abated and the sun came out! Glory, glory, hallelujah!


On we wheeled, the gravel path turning into bumpy hard stones, but no matter with our sturdy bikes and good shock absorbers. The sun was enough good fortune, as was the privilege of biking free and footloose through lovely countryside with no more cares than wondering when the next rain would fall.


We didn’t have to wait long, for just as we approached a town, it came again and then harder and then harder yet and we stopped under the eaves of a barn and decided to backtrack a few hundred yards and follow the sign to a restaurant. That we did and the restaurant was closed, but there were some covered areas with tables and just as we arrived, the skies opened wider, the thunder boomed and the rain tripled its intensity. We ate the lunch we packed from our breakfast (shh! Don’t tell!) watching the river rise before us. And then 20 minutes later, the sun again!


On we went and now some 24 miles and three hours from our start, we arrived at our next hotel in Vrhnika. As we checked in, a few claps of thunder and yet again, pouring rain. This rondo form of weather, with rain the constant A section. 

The afternoon awaits while my soaked- through shoes and shorts do their best to dry. While waiting for the next appearance of the sun, I’m listening to four different versions (on Spotify) of Here’s that Rainy Day— Astrud Gilberto, Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker and Bill Evans. The lyrics don’t match my experience today, but still, lovely to listen to them all. A touch of Americana (at its best) in the Slovenian countryside. 

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Turn of the Tide

"We must be wary of ourselves when the worst of man becomes objectified in society, approved, acclaimed, and deified, when hatred becomes patriotism and murder a holy duty... “   -Thomas Merton


Walking home last night in light rain along the river in Ljubljana, the streets abuzz with a convivial chatter, the beauty of the exquisite architecture, the flowing water under the bridges, the church bells began to ring. Not for nine strokes announcing the hour, but over and over again for some fifteen minutes. The sensual mix of rain, visual delight, full bellies and the music of the bells transported me into the European mythos captured in paintings or novels or films, a sense of “God’s in her heaven and all’s right with the world.”


I didn’t know what the occasion was for constant church bells, but waking up to the news that the Teflon guy has been found guilty on 34 counts made me connect the two events. “Ding, dong, the witch is dead!” Not quite yet, as for reasons still unexplicable to me, a convicted felon can’t vote but can still run for President? But still it signals a turn of the tide and hopefully the first of more to come that will topple that evil, evil excuse for a man who indeed became “objectified in society, approved, acclaimed and deified and who held up hatred as patriotism.”


According to my fantasy, the sun should be shining brightly this morning and the birds singing out, but in fact it is still raining. But no matter, I’m still hopeful that “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail.” May it be so!! 

Palette Cleanser II

Back in the 1500's, it was a special treat to obtain pork. When visitors came over, they would hang up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth that a man could, bring home the bacon. They would cut off a little to share with guests and would all sit around and chew the fat.


Those with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead to leach onto the food, causing lead poisoning death. This happened most often with tomatoes, so for the next 400 years or so, tomatoes were considered poisonous.


Bread was divided according to status. Workers got the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family got the middle, and guests got the top, or the upper crust.


Lead cups were used to drink ale or whisky. The combination would sometimes knock the imbibers out for a couple of days. Someone walking along the road would take them for dead and prepare them for burial. They were laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days and the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. Hence the custom of holding a wake.


England is old and small and the local folks started running out of places to bury people. So they would dig up coffins and would take the bones to a bone-house, and reuse the grave. When reopening these coffins, 1 out of 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside and they realized they had been burying people alive. So they would tie a string on the wrist of the corpse, lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone  would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift.) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be, saved by the bell. or was considered a dead ringer..


And that's the truth...Now, whoever said History was boring!!   

Back to the Story

Ljubljana is now one of my favorite cities! Simply delightful to walk or ride bikes along the river, some lovely parks, an impressive array of affordable restaurants and such lovely people. Many of whom we met last night as I connected with Tadeja, a Slovenian Orff teacher I helped train and invited us to another Orff colleague’s event that just happened to be this night. Her college students were giving a little concert sharing their original arrangements and compositions on Orff instruments. It was an intimate affair in the most beautiful University building and they played well with good spirit. 


Afterwards, their teacher, Tadeja and two more folks went with the five of us out to dinner, an outside spot with a perfect menu. We learned so much about ancient and recent Slovenian history, as well as some charming stories about some sights we were passing Like the statue of the woman with the naked breast and the tree planted to block the view from the nearby Church. And the story of the ruler who went to Spain and came back to this place with an elephant, which is why the Best Western where we are staying is called Zvesta Slon. (Slon means elephant). A simply wonderful evening and so much more satisfying than just being outside tourists.


The next day, Karen, Terry and I took off on our bikes alongside the river to ride the 30-minute (well, really an hour) trip to the elementary school where Tadeja teaches. She insisted that all we had to do was follow the river and we’d find it, but gave Terry the Google map directions just in case. A good choice, as the path along the river suddenly stopped going straight and we needed that electronic guidance.


But arrive we did and the kids, 5th graders, played two jazz pieces for us and then I taught them one and then they shared a couple of more games. As in everywhere I’ve taught kids this year, they were focused, attentive, relaxed, cooperative, musical and clearly having fun. We toured the school a bit, dropping in on an art class, the library and then back to the city via the bike path next to the main road. Just in time for the rains to kick in and send us back to our hotel rooms.


I checked in on the NBA Playoffs and had a new perspective on Luka Doncic, the Dallas player who is Slovenian. (Check out the highlights of the 4th game and look at his shot with 13 seconds to go!) Caught up on Steven Colbert, lay down to read my book and without intending to, napping.


Dinner and perhaps a jazz club tonight, ready to hit the road again tomorrow. That’s the report on Day 5. 


Eulogy for Gary King

Though this won't mean much to my general readership who don't know the man, still I want to honor his passing anywhere I can.  

Another grand presence in the Orff world has left us— Gary King. (Garyth King on Facebook). And like all those who have sowed the seeds of their unique gifts in this most marvelous world of music and dance and fun and humor and endless imagination, his legacy will continue to shine on far beyond the mortal body. Already the testimonies are coming in as to how Gary lifted people up, be it in their teaching, their musicianship, their love of dance.


As for me, I met the man first through his recordings. He was one of the founding members and driving forces behind the group Shenanigans and the moment I heard their recordings, my folk dance curriculum was changed forever. I liked the old scratchy 45’s that I first heard folk dancing at Antioch College and felt the authenticity of their recordings from actual musicians in Bulgaria or Macedonia or Israel or France and beyond. But by the time I was teaching folk dance to my kids, it was an outworn technology and no tape or CD versions that I could find to replace them. 


For a while, the recordings by Gemini that Phyliss Weikart favored became the go-to for Orff teachers folding folk dance into their curriculum. But once I heard the Shenanigans, there was no going back. The instrumentation was much more varied and authentic, the arrangements tasteful, the tempos perfect and the variety impressive. (As an aside, I was so moved by the Bulgarian gaida in the Rada Pere dance that I vowed to get one and learn how to play, which I finally did.) I loved using their recordings of familiar dances and was inspired to learn many new ones that they introduced. 


So when I finally met Gary at the Chicago Orff Conference in 1987, I was well-prepared to like him. And I was not disappointed. Wonderful to dance to his music live and to feel the full spirit of his playful energy and boisterous spirit. He also got to meet my mentor teacher Avon Gillespie at that Conference and he was so happy for that opportunity. 


The next time we crossed paths was at the Australian National Conference in Sydney. It was a dramatic conference, with bush fires raging nearby and an impressive mixture of talented presenters. Near the end, there was a boat trip around Sydney Harbor with Gary and friends provided live dance music. A beautiful summer night with the lull of the water, the Sydney Opera House in the distance and the conviviality of Orff folks celebrating the end of a memorable time together. 


It was also at this conference where Gary attended my workshop and asked me one of the more intriguing questions anyone has ever asked. After I presented my “4-Level Canon” body percussion activity, he raised his hand: “Was that an exercise or a piece?” He seemed well-satisfied with my answer: “Yes.” 


A few years later, we met again at the Melbourne Conference and I had my whole family with me and he had his. I vaguely remember some ping-pong games in a rec room and going to one of this workshops on improvisation that seemed a bit on the wild side. 


Yet later after that, perhaps in the late 90’s, Gary came to San Francisco. I have to look in the archives to see if he presented for our local Orff chapter, but perhaps not, as I think he was connected with people in a California contra-dance community he met. At any rate, he did come visit my school and I had him sing “Travel Around Australia” to see if the kids would recognize his voice. They didn’t and he turned to me and remarked, “Well, it a bit lower than it used to be.” He had a great time at the school and I enjoyed seeing him yet again.


And then it stopped. Not for any obvious reason. Just somehow our paths stopped crossing. The Shenanigans had long ago disbanded and Gary simply didn’t come to the few Australian conferences I got to present in after 2000. I remember some warm Facebook exchanges, but they’ve long ago floated out into the ether. In the past few years, I heard that he was ill and wrote some healing thoughts to him. And just one month ago, an Orff colleague trying to track him down asked me if I knew any news. I asked my Australian friends what they knew and the answer was simply, “I believe he’s still with us.” Until he was not. 


Right up until my last classes with the 5-year olds in 2020, we were still dancing to “Travel Round Australia,” indelibly imprinted with Gary’s signature voice. I’d like to imagine him on that Grand Highway Number One in the sky, still stopping here and there to “walk, walk and run, run, run. ” 


Rest in peace, Gary King and thank you for all the joy, music and dance you gave to so many. You will be sorely missed, but never forgotten.


Palette Cleanser 1


Facebook is occasionally the source of both inspiring quotes and interesting information. I particularly liked this post explaining the origins of phrases we all use, but never understood where they came from. So while getting ready for Day 5 of Slovenian biking, here is a first installment “palette cleanser.”


• Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May, and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.


• Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.”


• Houses had thatched roofs-thick straw-piled high, with no wood underneath. It was the only place for animals to get warm, so all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs) lived in the roof . When it rained it became slippery and sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Hence the saying, “ It's raining cats and dogs.”


• There was nothing to stop things from falling into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. Hence, a bed with big posts and a sheet hung over the top afforded some protection. That's how canopy beds came into existence.


• The floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. Hence the saying, Dirt poor. The wealthy had slate floors that would get slippery in the winter when wet , so they spread thresh (straw) on floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on, they added more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. A piece of wood was placed in the entranceway. Hence the saying a threshhold..


• In those old days, they cooked in the kitchen with a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. They ate mostly vegetables and did not get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes stew had food in it that had been there for quite a while. Hence the rhyme, Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old. 

More to come. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A River Runs Through It

A three-hour bike ride from Skopja Loka to Ljubljana and as much as I can hook into the fantasy of the idyllic life in the country, I have to confess that I love cities. I remember the same feeling coming into Stockholm at the end of the first bike ride I did in the Swedish countryside. I like the energy of lots of people, the choices of restaurants and cafes and stores and particularly the beauty of European cities with their exquisite architecture, always charming Old Town and the castle on the hill. 

An afternoon wandering down the river, thinking of other cities with the river as the connecting thread of the city— Salzburg, Prague, Budapest, Amsterdam, Brugge, Venice, San Antonio, Souzhou, Paris, London and more. Certainly not all cities— not Madrid, not San Francisco, not New York (the Hudson on the edge rather than the middle)— but enough to feel the commonalities between them. The river as a winding spine around which the musculature of the city is built. A place to stroll on either side, to eat at tables perched on the edge, to splurge and take the boat ride up and down. 


Truth be told, we could ride longer each day. A mere 18 miles today and we’re tending to arrive very early afternoon. Then we lunch, we wander, we nap, we go out to dinner. But no use complaining. Enough exercise to keep us toned and both the walking and the biking perfect tempos to enjoy the surroundings. 


Tonight will be different as I will connect with some Orff colleagues (as mentioned), go to a concert and have a late dinner. Hopefully along the river.

So approaches the end of Day 4.  

Letter to Avon 2024

Dear Avon,


Today is the day you passed from this world, 35 years ago. I wrote my usual annual e-mail to Mary, Judith and Rick, these three people who you brought together and who loved you so. Each passing year of your absence brings astonishment at how long ago it was that we got to hear you laugh and be lifted up by your soulful singing voice. And yet, you stay by our side, for me, just about every day of my teaching life.


Today I biked through the Slovenian countryside trying to enjoy everything yet a bit more knowing I was living it on your behalf. The world, left alone to change organically and naturally without excessive human interference, remains a beautiful place. The bright green fields made so colorful by so much rain, the ever-present distant mountains, the constant bubbling streams and rivers. 


I evoked your memory when I taught recently at the Orff institute and there you were in the movie we showed in Room Five. There is no one left teaching there who remembers you pushing a piano out into the hall and leading a rousing Gospel session. Sonja Czuk, long retired, never stopped talking about it. 


I don’t know how things work in your world and if you’re aware of all your Orff colleagues who have recently crossed to your side. Danai Gagne, Arvida Steen, Barbara Grenoble, Mimi Samuelson, Marilyn Davidson, to name just a few in the past year or so who were around your age (but made it into their 80’s). Don’t know if there’s an Orff Welcoming Committee or indeed, whether any of you would actually want to see each other again, but I’m just giving you the report. 


Tonight I will go to a concert here in Ljubljana of Orff students sharing their compositions. Their teacher is someone I taught and I am someone you taught and that’s how it goes on, all of us connected in a long chain in which we all became necessary to each other and we in turn to the kids we teach. It’s the way the world works in all professions, but I like to think that ours has a special spark with the joy, connection, inclusion and great music and dance it helps generate. A legacy of unabashed delight and enchantment.


So, my friend and forever teacher, that’s the report 35 years down the road. I hope these words and thoughts somehow reach you and give you a tingle. 





Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Unwelcome Guest

That delightful Mr. Nobody, the anonymous traveler who is so happily riding and walking with me through new territories, is a most welcome guest. But not so Mr. Somebody, that constant teacher who appears to be jealous and insists on invading every single night dream, teaching one disastrous class after another. 


Tomorrow, I’ll invite him into my day life as I visit a school where a Slovenian Orff teacher I helped train has invited me. It will be interesting to see if he then leaves me alone that night in my dreams.


The mind is mysterious. Bad teaching dreams are annoying. But better than bad teaching.  


The Red Umbrella

The forecast for the day the night before was not promising. It looked like it would rain the entire day. But following “no bad weather, just bad clothes,” I decided I could bike in my bathing suit and Tevas and raincoat (really, I have no fashion shame whatsoever!) and just accept whatever the weather had to offer. 


When I came down to breakfast the news was— it’s not going to rain after all!

I put shorts over the bathing suit, wore my raincoat for warmth and “just in case” preparation and we got an early start at 8:30 am. 


We began our ascent up the mountain, six miles of uphill and here’s where I might as well confess— we all have electric bikes. I do believe we could have done it without it, but all five of us are in our 70’s and why not make things just a bit easier? Truth be told, I prefer “acoustic” bikes for flatland and downhill, but it sure is sweet to get that extra “turbo” charge going uphill. It felt like rising in an airplane as we saw the clouds in the valley below us. 


When we reached the apex and started off downhill, we downshifted to Eco mode with stunning views of idyllic green valleys ringed by distant mountains. Karen’s paneer fell off her bike and rolled down into the woods, but luckily there was a path that allowed us to retrieve it. We stopped briefly at the small village of Sorica, next to a statue honoring an artist. I’m always impressed with the way Europe attends to its poets and artists and musicians and writers. Believe me, it’s a big contrast to the U.S., where Louis Armstrong’s birthplace was razed for a freeway, Duke Ellington’s birthplace torn down for a Fed Ex building, Art Tatum all but unknown in his home town of Toledo (except for the black neighborhood that named a library after him.). 


On we went, our longest ride yet (50 kilometers), moving back between dedicated biking paths and roads shared with fast vehicles. At one point, I came up from the back to see Gerri laid out on the ground entangled with her bicycle and not moving. Really alarming, to say the least! She missed noticing the curb down from the bike path to the street and took a tumble. We gathered around and slowly extricated her from the bike and it was a genuine miracle that nothing was broken or sprained, just a few minor scrapes. The bike itself was fine, as was her phone. Five minutes of taking some breaths and walking a little and she was back on her bike. Scary and a reminder to us all to be careful!


It was sunny or mildly overcast the entire four hours it took us to arrive to our destination village of Skopja Loka. By now it was 70 degrees (Fahrenheit) and sunny and I changed to a short sleeve shirt. We settled in our rooms and got ready to walk to Old Town for lunch and Boom!! Boom!!, there was the thunderstorm we had avoided. Time to get out the red umbrella.


The night before, I looked for my umbrella to take to dinner and couldn’t find it. Decided I must have left it at the restaurant from the previous night. So went back there to ask, they didn’t have it, but offered me a red umbrella they had in the lost and found, probably for months. It was a sweet gesture from nice people and so I happily took it. Went back to my room to pack and sure enough, there was the umbrella I brought from San Francisco tucked away in my suitcase! But since the red umbrella was smaller and lighter and had a nice personal association, I opted to leave the other one. 


So now it came in handy as we walked from our Mini-Hotel into Old Town in search of lunch and sure enough, it began raining. A lovely repast, walked up to the castle with its museum, expansive view and lovely row of linden trees where young women used to be educated under their branches. Crossed the famous old bridge, back to the hotel again and out to dinner. The weather remained a rondo form of rain, no rain with clouds, rain, brief sun, rain. And so my red umbrella and I were quite happy.


So ended Day 3.  

Mini Triathlon

Our day of “rest” was in Bohinji, an odd town that wasn’t quite a town. We spent the morning walking and wandering around and the most interesting things were a lovely little park and a train station that evoked the old country European train stations mythologized in movies and books. 


We got back on our bikes and discovered a perfect bike path along the river, smooth, newly-created and well-cared for. Biking alongside a river is a special kind of pleasure, that sense of both of you moving forward, one with gurgling, bubbling water and the other with whirring wheels. We had no destination—my favorite kind of travel— but were vaguely looking for a bridge to decide when to turn around and head back. Finally found one that put us on the highway with a two-inch shoulder and off we went, hoping to find a parallel bike path on the other side of the river. Never did find it and just kept on with cars and trucks whizzing by. We found our way back to the train station, where I had a mega-size chicken burger for 7 Euros. Some prices here in Slovenia are astonishingly cheap— hard liquor drinks (vodka, rum, whiskey, etc., all of which I don’t drink) for 2.50 Euros, same for ice cream, beer for 4 Euros and today entered a bakery to find a large round of bread that Tartinne charges $15 for for E2.90. But most dinner seem to be around 16 Euros—not extravagant, but not that cheap. 

After lunch, we went to the hotel swimming pool, which was actually an aqua park of sorts with an enormous circular pool with islands and currents and little caves and bubbly places. Though I’d just relax and read my book, but the intolerable disco music from the speaker behind me nixed that plan. But I did swim and spend some time in the somewhat tepid hot tub. At any rate, walking, biking, swimming— it was a good mini-triathlon day. 


After a convivial dinner of mushroom soup and buckwheat ravioli, it was time to pack up for tomorrow’s ride. So ended Day 2.


PS All of this would be better with accompanying photos, but strangely, Blogspot isn’t letting my access my photos. Sorry! 

Monday, May 27, 2024

Pass It On

I always knew that I wanted to be a father and when that moment arrived— all the way until the present time— it never disappointed. Amongst a thousand things I looked forward to and eventually cherished was the pleasure of passing on to my kids all the things that I had loved. Not with any expectation that they would love it in the same way— or even like it— but just to open the door. So from reading them some of my favorite childhood books, initiating them into every Hitchcock film and many other classics, hiking, biking, camping and so on and so on, we did indeed share some of the same likes and dislikes (though some disappointment that daughter Talia refuses to ever watch a black-and-white film again!). 


Travel was a big part of that and travel we did. While my New Jersey childhood mostly roamed no further than the Jersey shore, Long Island and the Catskills, by the time my daughters graduated Middle School, they had been in Bali, England, Spain, Italy, Austria, Costa Rica, Mexico, Kenya, Egypt, Australia, Fiji and most major areas in the U.S.. By the time they left college, we travelled with them to Ghana, Ireland, Brazil, Cuba, South Africa, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia and more. 


So now when I travel, I find myself thinking, “I have to come back here with the grandkids! How they would love biking this path in Salzburg, how they’d flip out over this circular pool in Slovenia, how much fun they would have learning games with the kids in Ghana!” Naturally, I also passed through the books and films repertoire that I did with my kids, with many new ones added to the list. I’ve backpacked with Zadie, hiked with them both in numerous places, gave Malik my special San Francisco tour and loved spending every summer in Michigan paradise with them, again, going through the same list my kids went through. But the foreign travel has yet to happen and I’m ready for it. I believe they are also. 


Life is extra sweet when you have some young ones that you’re eager to share its sweetness with. Traveling takes on a different tone when you keep finding yourself thinking, “Oh, the kids (grandkids) would love this!”


May it come to pass.  

Sunday, May 26, 2024

And So It Begins


“Farewell sorrow, praise God the open door,

I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.”


And so it begins. Nine days of biking in Slovenia with my wife and three friends. The first minutes of the first day always brings that blessed sense of release as you start wheeling through the woods and fields cradled by mountains. No more attention to the claims of identity, of accomplishment, of the busyness of business. Touching back to that 21-year old first setting forth in the world, one’s life spread out before you like an open book that hasn’t been written yet, all promise and possibility. Grateful for it all.


That was my Facebook Post, with a few photos thrown in. Here are some of the more mundane details of our first official day of biking.


The trip actually began in the van hauling the bike up a hill some seven miles long. With our electric bikes, I think we could have done it, but we were fine with starting downhill. Probably another seven miles or so without needing to pedal muchgiving new meaning to being “over the hill.” Finally straightened out to some flat land and hit our stride. Some car traffic, a few towns and finally arrived at the lake near Bohinji. Quite a bit bigger than the one at Bled, with kayaks for rent and a bustling little tourist area. We found a bench to have our lunch and then set off alongside the lake to see a recommended waterfall.


Lovely to bike with the lake on our right through wooded roads—that is, until the rain began. But as the Swedes say, “there is no bad weather, just bad clothes.” So I donned by new raincoat I bought last week at Sports Basement and it did the job, but was no help for my blue jean pants getting soaked through. By the time we arrived at the base of the waterfall, the rain had mostly let up. We locked our bikes and began the ascending the hill with intermittent steps, some 600 plus by the end. Stood in proper awe of the double waterfall and equal awe that us folks in our 70’s could do that walk after a few hours of biking! Back down, reverse trip with the lake on our left and then a new road to begin the last leg to our hotel. Ended up on a beautiful dedicated bike path next to the river, exactly like the kind I know in Salzburg and lo and behold, the rain began again. 


Finally arrived at our hotel, grateful to get out of wet gear and rest a bit before searching for dinner. Which we found at a quaint restaurant called Strudel that served traditional dishes like sausage in barley stew and mushroom soup and strangely, not a green salad in sight. But we made do and topped it off with a apple strudel. 


Weirdly, tomorrow is a “rest day”—ill-timed coming so soon at the beginning of the trip when we’re just ready to hit a rhythm and truth be told, not as much to do here as at Bled. But it’s all good, this life of just being and I hear the hotel has a pool.


So ends the official Day 1.



Saturday, May 25, 2024

Welcoming Mr. Nobody

Salzburg was a blissful re-connection with old haunts and old friends. Everything not only familiar, but preciously so as I invoked in my imagination the long line of people I’ve shared it with in the past 30 plus years. It was also a chance to teach yet again at the Orff Institut and share something about jazz in a way that few have considered. It was yet another place to share my movie and that was meaningful in both place and people attending. Finally, it was a chance to be the Salzburg tour guide for both my wife Karen and my friend Terry, a role I love. All of which required the ”somebody” half of self— a fellow I deeply appreciate, having spent my whole life cultivating him. 


But now’s the time to switch to the “nobody,” a half I equally relish and deeply need. The anonymous traveler just soaking in World through all senses, with no agenda other than to praise and be grateful. That’s the one I hope to greet each of the next nine mornings as we ride our bikes through the exquisite Slovenian landscape. 


This Mr. Nobody began to wake up on the four hour train ride through the rolling hills and  mountains between Salzburg and Bled, Slovenia. Like a developing photograph, he appeared a bit more vividly in last night’s dinner at a traditional restaurant serving buckwheat fritters with mushroom sauce, a well-crafted local IPA beer and a delicious walnut ice cream drizzled with pumpkin oil. 


This morning, he slept in a bit while Mr. Somebody bought his long-overdue flights for the coming New Orleans Jazz Course and took his bulging laundry bag up the street. Miraculously, he figured out how to negotiate the token system and the machines themselves, lucked into the one open washing machine out of the five there and again, found the one open dryer when the cycle was finished. Those little victories that the traveler celebrates with renewed appreciation. Then to the hotel breakfast with a carnival of different choices— breads, muffins, yogurts, muesli, granola, eggs, fried cheese, fried cauliflower, bowls of nuts and dried fruits, cheeses and sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, six different juices and yet more. 


Then off the five of us—Gerry, Terry, Dennis, Doug and Karen (for future reference)—went to walk around the lake in this most picturesque town of Bled. (The actual biking begins tomorrow.) First, we took a stop at a fancy hotel with a pool on the 5th floor. Not open to the public, but a pretty impressive place to swim laps. 

Then we began the walk in earnest. A sunny, warm day, a castle looking down at us from the mountain, a church from the island in the lake, a friendly path along the water’s edge, sometimes near the road, sometimes in open little fields, sometimes through the woods. 

Halfway across, we took a boat to the island and watched the “gondolier’s” unique rowing technique. My friends paid the 10 Euros to enter the church, but I’ve seen enough of that story to forego it and just waited outside. Sitting there without looking at my phone like my Mr. Nobody used to do when I traveled, re-invoking that sense of being footloose and fancy free, all of life an adventure spread out before me. Realistically, not, but mythologically that sensation available any time. 

Back to the mainland, lunch on a bench (shh! Little sandwiches we made from the breakfast spread and took with us) and then on we went, with tiny sprinkles of rain and distant thunderclaps accompanying us. Past a gathering of people training for water lifesaving and a machine that literally grabbed a car out of the water and hoisted it up. (I believe this was a practice exercise and not a real find.) 


With the thunder sounding more ominous, we continued on and started to ascent the path through the woods to arrive at the castle. Another pricey entrance fee which I gave in to, but some interesting exhibits (see the photo of pipes below) about this quite interesting country about which few people know anything! There have been jazz festivals starting in the 1960’s, the town of Bled first became known as a tourist attraction through its Spa resorts, Slovenia as it’s known today was not a country until 1991 and it boasts one of the world’s older languages spoken by one of the fewest number of people living in a nation state (around 3 million). 

We enjoyed the exhibits at the castle, soaked in the views and found a path through the woods that intuitively felt right—and it was. Got back to the hotel late afternoon and thankfully missed the threatening thunderstorm deluge. (Which still hasn’t come).


Everyone resting now, me writing and thankful to begin my life anew as Mr. Nobody.  

Friday, May 24, 2024

Made to Help

Eating my muesli breakfast in the old familiar Merkur, this thought struck:


We are made to help each other.


Surely, not a profound epiphany, but how often do we stop to consider? There was the butcher slicing some meat for the customer so that his body would be nourished and fortified and continue to live. There was another pouring the coffee that would give both pleasure and energy to somebody’s day. Soon we will check out with the hotel employee who helped give us shelter these past seven nights. Outside in the hall are the cleaners waiting to swoop in and make the space available for the next traveler in need. Once checked out, we will board the bus and the driver will take us to the train, a whole other group of humans dedicated to helping us get from one place to another. 


If you have the leisure and the interest to think deeper into this, the chain of help goes far and wide— the truckers who brought the meat and coffee, the people who packaged it, the farmers who grew and tended it. Then further back to the people who made the trucks and buses and trains and the mechanics who kept them running and further yet back to the people who made the tools to make the vehicles and further yet back to the steelworkers. Not to mention the bankers and the lawyers and the doctors. Oh yeah, and the teachers.


If we stop to consider how deeply necessary we are to each other and how most people’s professions are built around giving needed services so that we might both live and thrive and enjoy life, it’s astounding that we don’t walk around in a state of constant gratitude. Instead, we get all caught up on the different names of God or who was born in the right place speaking the right language and listening to the right music and think we have the luxury to ignore, dislike, put down, marginalize, hurt, oppress and hate “the other.” Even when “the other” has proven to be essential to our existence and we have benefitted enormously from their labor. (Think chattel slavery, for example.)


Is anybody teaching these lessons in school? Wouldn’t it be interesting to take any random object—a pencil, for example— and trace it back to the endless chain of people and professions who brought it to our school desk?


And so I give thanks to all who brought my muesli to me as I bid farewell to Salzburg and head south to Slovenia.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

People and Places

Amongst many blessings of living long is the list of people you know. A list that, thanks to both my international travels and workshops where people come to me, is perhaps a bit larger for me than most people. This means nothing in and of itself, but means everything when I get to meet and re-meet people I know and enjoy as I travel. 


In the last five days, I’ve had marvelous reunions with people I enjoy and care about so much. A ten-mile walk through the city with my good friend Rodrigo Fernandez, a lovely lunch and tea-time at her home-on-the-mountain with Barbara Haselbach, a festive lunch with former intern Werner Rohrer, Orff Institut teacher Andrea Ostertag, my wife Karen and old head of school Terry Edeli, a workshop at the Institut with old colleagues and students followed by a viewing of my film, a dinner at my Iranian friend Mandana’s house with the most stellar children one might hope to meet, sitting politely during adult conversation, planning piano pieces at our request (expertly, I might add), joining in on a jam session with two other guests, coming around to shake all our hands and bid us goodnight when the hour came. Poster children for what our own American children could do so much better. 

Then today, my Salzburg Doug-bike-tour with Terry and Karen with perfect weather. Hellbrunner Allee, Hellbrunn Park, the Sound of Music Pavilion, the Steintheater, the Folk Museum, the zoo, the Maibaum in Anif, the churchyard with Herbert Von Karajan’s modest grave, the Anif farmhouse where I stayed many times in previous guest teaching at the Orff Institut, the path along the stream, the surfers, the Leopoldskrone Park (another Sound of Music site),  and yet more. All of it still there, all of it still heartbreakingly beautiful and soul-inspiring. 


And all of it peopled with memories of all the other people I’ve shared it with—nine different groups of Special Course students worldwide, the SF School kids who performed here in 2011, the scores of people I’ve taught and come to know in the Summer Courses. I could feel them all riding by my side, hair blowing in the wind and that shared exhilarating sense of freedom and delight. 


The weather was pitch-perfect for today’s bike ride and we had some time to spare before having to return the bikes. So we walked a bit in Old Town and suddenly, the skies opened and the iconic Salzburg deluge began. The bike rental man had abandoned his post and left a phone number that didn’t work and it was quite a drama to figure out how to leave the bikes and helmet and keys and lock, all amidst the pouring rain. We finally did, the clothes are drying in the hotel room and a glass of Belgium cherry beer awaits before the search for dinner. 


And tomorrow? The train to Slovenia.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Right Speech

“Right Speech” is one of the precepts on Buddha’s Eightfold Path. That means no lying, divisive or abusive speech. (Take away "no" in this little list and there you have the First Precept of the cult religion of Trumpism.) Language, alongside bi-pedalism and opposable thumbs and the capacity to feel exalted emotions, are evolution’s gifts to human beings, a gift we mostly squander, abuse, ignore. Each time we refuse, whether it be a tiny transgression of unimaginative speech (“you’re awesome!”) or an out-and out lie (“you’re awesome!”), we tip the needle from Buddha to the other one. 


So putting on my "English Teacher" hat which I never officially earned except from thousands of hours of reading and writing, today's lesson is about the important of Right Speech. Not only in the spiritual sense, but in the articulate, eloquent and poetic sense as well. Related to my “Plain Talk” post, I found this marvelous quote from Bertrand Russell, suggesting we speak more clearly and succinctly. As an example, he asks us to trudge through this over-inflated sentence filled with the rocky pitfalls of technical jargon and try to figure out what it means:


‘Human beings are completely exempt from undesirable behaviour-patterns only when certain prerequisites, not satisfied except in a small percentage of actual cases, have, through some fortuitous concourse of favourable circumstances, whether congenital or environmental, chanced to combine in producing an individual in whom many factors deviate from the norm in a socially advantageous manner.’ 


How’s it going? Out of compassion for your confusion, he kindly translates it into speakable English.


‘All men are scoundrels, or at any rate almost all. The men who are not must have had unusual luck, both in their birth and in their upbringing.’ 


Then there’s this lovely passage from writer Ursula Le Guin:


Socrates said, “The misuse of language induces evil in the soul.” He wasn’t talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. 


Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth. A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.”


Praise be to those who chose eloquence and speaking on behalf of love and kindness, truth  and beauty. 

Sunday, May 19, 2024

Getting to the Essence

“I counted my years and realized that I have less time to live by, than I have lived so far. I feel like a child who won a pack of candies: at first, he ate them with pleasure but when he realized that there was little left, he began to taste them intensely.


I have no time for endless meetings where the statutes, rules, procedures and internal regulations are discussed, knowing that nothing will be done.


I no longer have the patience to stand absurd people who, despite their chronological age, have not grown up.


My time is too short: I want the essence; my spirit is in a hurry. I do not have much candy in the package anymore….. It is the essentials that make life useful.


Yes, I'm in a hurry. I'm in a hurry to live with the intensity that only maturity can give. My goal is to reach the end satisfied and at peace with my loved ones and my conscience. We have two lives and the second begins when you realize you only have one.”


~Mário de Andrade (São Paulo 1893-1945) Poet, novelist, essayist and musicologist. One of the founders of Brazilian modernism.


I love this so much. I don’t know any of Mario de Andrade’s work, but here he captures the gifts of maturity perfectly. That hard-earned gift of cutting through the bullshit and getting right to the essence. In my own lifetime of trying to find the language to define what’s important in teaching, I keep whittling it down to simpler and simpler essences. Leaving aside the technical terms and long sentences and getting right to it. Things like:


• Watch the children.

• How else can we do this?

• Sing what you hear, play what you sing, hear what you play. 


And so on. No one has yet suggested that I’m too old to teach or am washed up and hopefully the reason is that those still taking workshops with me feel the power of the way I can get to the essence of the activity and the essence of how to artfully present the activity and remind teachers of the essence of their calling. 


Retiring from school has helped. No distractions of staff meetings, report cards, powerpoint presentations. No extra duties or evening events. Now when I teach children—as I have been so happily this year— it’s straight to the center of what we’re here to do. I am tasting the candy of essential intensity and I can testify it is delicious indeed.