Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vishnu's Largesse

A friend of ours regaled us yesterday with pictures of the trekking region around the Nepalese peak of Annapurna, which she had visited late last year. As I looked at the pictures of teahouses with English signs, and young boys blocking the trail to beg, I considered for the umpteenth time the peculiar nature of tourism, but especially tourism in the vicinity of poor, remote people.

It may be that fascination with Tibet and remote mountainous regions peaked between the fifties with the first summit of Annapurna by French climbers, and the last generation with the publication of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Along with an increasing trend of young techies from California and others becoming entranced with climbing and photography, the approach of the millenium heralded more treks around the 9000 foot elevations in the region of those highest peaks - and of course the inevitable economic reactions: more English spoken and used in signage; more salable trinkets not necessarily on the radar of the Hindu worshipper; more demand for guides and sherpas; and more begging.

It's not, of course, the case that rural peasants in Tibet or Nepal had not seen Westerners in, perhaps, giveaway REI hiking boots or fake-wool vests before 1980, for they surely did. One of the interesting wrinkles was the advent of, in particular, television, which rendered unavoidable the truth that some significant number of souls abounded somewhere who were never hungry, had indoor plumbing, and never had rotten teeth at fifty.

What could a Hindu in such a place make of the actual arrival of one of these exotic denizens of far-flung empires? Another friend had gone to the Everest base camp with a guided camping group which included a Silicon Valley couple who had never camped (though claimed in the application form that they had) one of whom had to be carried out at the arrival at the halfway point due to illness due partly to dehydration. Would the locals associate this with nearly incredible foolhardiness, or just assume it as alien behavior? Could they not be resentful under the circumstances?

Presumably the gradual resurgence of the world economy will bring a renewed demand for those lodgings and guides, and with that inevitable increasing familiarity with things prosperous, agnostic, and Western, it may be that a quiet rebellion less splashy that that shaking the Middle East autocracies will erode some of the old ways.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Anthem of One

Some members of the extended family gathered last Sunday for that quintessentially American event, and our hosts being DVR fans, we bypassed most of the prefatory gab and several commercials - but not the rendition of the National Anthem by Christina Aguilera.

It's been around forty years since both Jose Feliciano's rendition and Ray Charles' "America the Beautiful", both unabashedly colloquial statements of patriotism - not to mention effective and groundbreaking performances. By now, the pop-via-R&B stylings of "Star Spangled Banner" by those like Ms. Aguilera are almost old hat, but I confess I will probably never like those stylings. So with that admission out of the way...

My sister-in-law, who didn't think Aguilera's fumbles at the Super Bowl mattered that much, sent some "rules of the road" for would-be performers of the song courtesy Eber Lambert on the American Idol forum:

1) Start as low as you can go. 2) Remember all the words. 3) Only two Whitney notes, no more.

As a longtime singer familiar enough with this range-pusher, I'd rate these very helpful - well, at least if the "Whitney notes" refers to show-offy high notes. And I tend to agree with the sentiment behind them; it's not very plausible that this particular singer would make such glaring errors unless a) she just got her wisdom teeth out b) got horrible news right before taking the mic or c) was underprepared.

Assuming things like a) and b) don't apply, I had to think about what c) meant, that is, what does it mean that a very experienced singer who has sung before huge audiences for quite awhile, and is very familiar with the rehearsal/performance mechanism and tradeoffs, makes mistakes this obvious in one of the arguably highest profile performances she's likely to give? And, of course, what does it mean for someone observing it or learning of it from abroad, that a famous American singer flubs the national song? Here's a clue of what it meant to her:

“I can only hope that everyone could feel my love for this country and that the true spirit of its anthem still came through.”

- alas, what came through for me was her love of technique.

Friday, February 4, 2011


"Dementia is all about decline, not growth, and whether living inside it...or being a companion to it, as I am, it's nearly impossible to make sense of it. If anything in this life can puncture the fantasy that we have some control over our lives, dementia may be the ultimate reminder, not just of its unpredictability but of its incomprehensibility. And its absurdity."

--Lillian Rubin

My sister and one of the caregivers took my dad to a new doctor last week. He turned out to be excellent, just the kind of doctor we expected when we went to his previous doctor over a year ago. This new one asked Dad a lot of questions and had a great rapport with my sister. After the session with my dad, my sister met alone with the doctor. As we basically already knew, the doctor said Dad was somewhere between a moderate and severe stage of dementia, probably Alzheimers. It's been a challenging few years. I was late to the realization of what was actually happening. The biggest "tell" was certainly his loss of interest in reading. A life-long reader, mainly non-fiction but also some Sherlock Holmes, Edgar Allan Poe and Moby Dick, for almost 80 years he always had a coupla books going, mainly scientific or mountain climbing in nature. Yeah, a member of the "greatest generation" - he was a communications officer in the Big War, flying in a B-24, maybe up to a dozen missions or so in the Pacific before his plane had a lousy takeoff and crashed, killing everybody on board except him and a couple of other guys. He ended up in a hospital and shortly thereafter, we took out Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

My earliest memories of Neil Young were when he was in Buffalo Springfield. Of course, at the time, "For What It's Worth" was ubiquitous, but on hearing their other songs, it quickly became apparent there was someone else in that band who was not the FWIW singer, but who had an incredibly unique, quavering, high pitched voice that was somehow mesmerizing. And the songs he wrote were fascinating and haunting. So I started getting into Neil Young's Springfield work, but at that point not to the extent that I was really his "fan". However, after NY's first album, that changed. Talk about haunting and mesmerizing. Last Trip to Tulsa did the trick. But the other songs weren't far behind. I mean, c'mon - The Old Laughing Lady! When was the last time you heard that? The whole album was spectacular. I was hooked.

To Be Continued