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What's That Noise?

Here's my blog, hastily copy-and-pasted from that ancient facebook precursor known to archaeologists as tribe.net. I figured my own website is a better place for it. The links probably won't work. I might get around to fixing it sometime.


Pedestrian Adventures
So yesterday, I decided to take a walk to the park, which is only a few blocks away. Walking is not easy in Doha. For one, there are no sidewalks. There are piles of construction rubble. This year, I have nice sturdy sandals, and I've always been pretty good at rock scrambling, so I'm OK, although having Thelma strapped to me does throw my balance off a bit.

The sturdy sandals are important. The other day, I saw a bevy of 3 girls, all dolled up under their abayas, giggling their way through one of these construction sites on the way to the mall. I could tell they were all dolled up, because they were holding their jet black abayas up out of the pale grey dust, revealing their tight jeans and outrageously high heels. The one who was talking on her cell phone stumbled and almost fell down into a 2-meter-deep pit, but was hauled back up by her friends, who had quite a giggle about it.

But I digress. So, I'm in my sturdy sandals, and I have a choice of walking through actual construction sites, or in the highway, which is very busy, and as far as I can tell has no speed limit. They don't seem to build anything narrower than 6-lane divided highways here. I walked along on the edges for a while, which meant jumping over these thick blue tubes, which are what they use to remove the groundwater and dump it into the sea, so they can build the foundations for all these skyscrapers. I pass some other pedestrians, who are almost always short, dark, skinny men, in blue jumpsuits. I know, I'm short, skinny, and dark by most American standards, but not by Qatari laborer standards. (These aren't actual Qataris of course. They're imported workers like Bob.)

I eventually got to a roundabout, which are what they have here instead of intersections. Cars never actually stop here, they just enter this vortex, orbit it for a while, and then whirl out in a random direction, sort of like when, um, it hits the fan. To get to the park, I had to cross a roundabout exit, an entrance, another exit, and another entrance. To cross each, I had to wait until all three lanes of traffic simultaneously had a gap. This took a while. There were some other pedestrians attempting the same goal at the same time. We had different standards for how big a gap had to be to justify a run for it.

I eventually made it all the way across, and was victoriously in the park's parking lot. After a short walk over baking blacktop, I was on grass. There were birds, two very small cats, and short, dark, skinny guys napping under palm trees. I sat under a tree with fragrant white flowers and unstrapped Thelma, who tried to eat dead fallen flowers. Our patch of shade, like the rest of the park, had a clear view of dozens of construction cranes.

In the shade, the heat was almost bearable, unlike on the walk I'd taken to get there. I eventually concluded that this pleasant patch of shade did not really justify the walk, although the air conditioning in the apartment did justify the walk back. So, I strapped Thelma on again, put my had back on, and set out to do the whole thing in reverse.

I'd crossed only one roundabout entrance, and was waiting for a gap which would allow me to cross the roundabout exit, when a car honked at me. I figured it was one of the informal taxis, so I just waved it away, but the guy pulled over anyway (although there was no shoulder to pull over onto) and rolled down his window. "Need a ride?"

No, I didn't need a ride, thanks, I was just crossing the street.

He got out of his car and proceeded to "help" me by jumping right out in front of speeding cars to try to stop them, so I would have a clear path to walk. Cars were honking and swerving. In these roundabouts, it seems like cars are always on the verge of colliding anyway, and he was pushing things over the edge.

I yelled at him to stop and get back in his car. Anyway, there was no way I was getting into traffic under these conditions. As he was heading my way, I kept backing away from him down the dividing median. He eventually gave up and got back in his car. I crossed when there was a naturally-occurring gap, which occurred soon enough for the patient.

I decided to postpone crossing the next street, but walk on the other side, which had a bit of shade from trees, and less-lumpy construction rubble. Then this same guy pulled his car over and offered me a ride again! He'd gone around the block to intercept me. Sheesh, when some boy scouts want to help an old lady across the street, they just don't give up.

I waved him away again, crossed the 3 lanes of traffic when there was a gap, hung out on the median for a while, crossed the next 3 lanes when there was another gap, and was on my home block. I walked into the ridiculously opulent lobby of this apartment building, full of crystal chandeliers and white orchids. I appreciated the air conditioning.
Mon, October 19, 2009 - 6:36 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

I'm on TV again, whoop-de-do
ABC bought some more Djinn music, this time for a special by Michael J. Fox on optimism:
which will be shown tomorrrow, Thursday, at 10. I can only assume they needed our music to represent the forces of pessimism.
Wed, May 6, 2009 - 1:38 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Way too busy to blog
I hear some babies fuss in the evenings. That must be because they want to go out and dance to a reggae band, as in this picture. My klezmer band oppened for Adonai and I at Castaways, and a good time was had by all. Thelma rarely has the chance to fuss.

I have more pictures, but Bob's hidden them on the computer somewhere.
Thu, April 9, 2009 - 1:32 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Back in NYC
I'll try to type fast while Thelma naps. I'm in NYC, and will play at Djinn's weekly gig at Je'Bon tonight. My mom was going to babysit, but she's sick. Any volunteers (people I know of course) to keep Thelma entertained at the show while I play? The thing is, she likes dancing, but can't yet really do it herself, so someone has to pick her up and dance her around.

I took her out to The Cupping Room last night, and we both enjoyed the show, although Thelma fell asleep as I danced her around. She does that a lot.

I should do a more thorough blog than that. My new band, the Mitzfits, is getting gigs right and left. Ithaca apparently has been harboring a huge pent-up desire for a klezmer band for years. Oy, I need to update my website schedule! Thelma enjoys klezmer, and kvetches when we stop playing, so we have to keep playing.

Thelma has learned to roll over, and also is playing a new game called "Try to Catch the Stationary Object." You hold an object in front of her, and she looks at it very intently, then carefully swipes both her hands at it, usually missing it or knocking it away on her first several tries. But she perseveres, eventually grabs it, and rewards herself for this achievement by hitting herself on the head with it. I have to select objects for this game carefully.
Wed, February 25, 2009 - 7:42 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Baby Thelma gets a bath
I thought that once Bob got home, he would get busy taking photos of Thelma, but like me, he's too busy adoring her. Anyway, here's a video my sister took back around Thanksgiving of Thelma enjoying her bath:
You'd be surprised how much dirt can build up in the folds between a baby's rolls of fat. People say she looks like Bob, but I can't imagine Bob with this many chins.
And here's one called "Dramatic Thelma" which confused me at first, but apparently there's a whole genre of "Dramatic" videos on youtube.
Enjoy. Thelma is actually even cuter than this now, as she's getting even more expressive. She seriously overacts every emotion she has.
Mon, December 22, 2008 - 4:11 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Another baby blog. Thelma is just so absolutely adorable.

I'll use this blog to say a few words in rebuttal to some stuff I read in a bunch of baby books when I was pregnant. A lot of them say something along the lines of, "Don't resent your baby's cries, since after all, that's your baby's only means of communication, so she's just doing the best she can until she learns to talk." That's bull. My baby, at least, has plenty of means of communication at her disposal, and she makes use of them. As much as I'd like to think that my baby is unusually brilliant (and of course she is) I can't imagine she's such an extreme outlier on the communication skills bell curve.

Take hunger for an example. When Thelma's hungry, she puts her hand to her mouth in a gesture that very clearly says "Feed me." If a non-English-speaking tourist came up to you and made that gesture, you would know to point him to your favorite local restaurant, or steal his wallet because he's obviously a tourist, depending on who's reading this.

Once I see that Thelma is hungry, as I prepare to feed her, she opens her mouth and waggles her head very fast in what is clearly a gesture of excitement. It's not the most practical gesture, as it makes her mouth a moving target, but it is clear.

If there's a delay in my feeding her, usually caused by my inability to hit a moving target, she communicates her displeasure by punching me, and occasionally punching her own head. This does tend to further delay delivery of milk, as I now have both a wagging head and swinging fists to contend with, but I never said she was the most logical person, just that she was a fine communicator. For night feedings, these punches are often my first clue that she's hungry, since I can't see her gentler gestures when I'm asleep.

She's done all this communicating without crying at all, just perhaps the occasional grumble or giggle.

On very rare occasions,she makes more noise. If, for example, I'm in the shower, and don't see her gestures, she then starts saying "Eh" in a kvetchy tone, which clearly means, "What do I have to do to get some service around here?" She'll say this at increasing volume and frequency, until I finally stop whatever unnecessary thing I'm doing and pay attention to her. If even the "Eh"s don't work, then she'll pull out the heavy artillery and start using actual "Wah!"s. Even these will start fairly quiet and sparse. I've never heard her doing a full-blown crying fit since the day she was born, since I generally get out of the shower in time.

So when I read these "Your baby cries to tell you she's hungry" sorts of books, I have to wonder how unobservant the authors are, that crying is the first stimulus that they notice. My baby cries when she's exhausted all other means of telling me she's hungry, and probably when she's gotten annoyed at my poor communication skills.
Sat, November 15, 2008 - 1:15 PM — permalink - 5 comments - add a comment

Fattening up for Thanksgiving
In Our Babies, Ourselves, which I'm sure you all read after reading my last blog, we learned that pretty much the only thing different cultures have in common is that they're all absolutely certain that they're raising babies the one right way, and everyone else is wrong and should be corrected before they do irreparable harm to their poor babies.

I, like the rest of humanity, am now an expert in how other people should be raising their kids. As credentials, I have checked many books on childrearing out of the library and read most of them. As if that weren't qualification enough, I can now report that Thelma's first pediatrician's appointment yesterday was great. Not only is she perfectly healthy, but in her first 14 days of life, she gained 13 ounces. The standard expectation for American hospital-born babies is to actually lose weight for the first week or so, and then, by the end of the second week, to return to their birth weight. I didn't go to all the trouble of giving birth to this big baby just to have her shrink afterwards. She's been gaining steadily since she was born. I'm getting an increasing workout every day just picking her up.

Now that my credentials are established, I will pontificate on what other people are doing wrong, at, of all places, today's La Leche League meeting. My mother was excited to go there with me, since she's a retired La Leche League leader herself. I didn't need any particular advice or support, but I figured I'd go there to show off Thelma.

This month's meeting had a different leader than last time, and the topic seemed to be Problems. One woman had a problem with low milk supply, she said. Her month-old baby weighs a couple pounds less than she did at birth. The mother is pumping her milk with a machine to try to increase her supply. She's feeding her baby every two hours in the daytime, and sometimes at night, but she says she has trouble waking up when the alarm goes off in the middle of the night for feedings.

This problem started a discussion of which makes and models of pumps are best, and how some women are unfortunate enough to require the more expensive models to pump effectively. Meanwhile, my mother and I were thinking the same things: What's this about feeding her baby every two hours? Thelma often eats more frequently than that, not that I'm timing her. The baby is hungry when the baby is hungry, not when the clock says it's feeding time. Also, this business about not being roused by an alarm clock in the middle of the night makes perfect sense, when you consider that she didn't give birth to an alarm clock, and has no evolution-honed instinct to respond to its signals. She gave birth to a baby, and if she keeps the baby close enough to her at nighttime, she will be able to pick up on its hunger signals and respond to them. That means she will produce milk automatically in response to her hungry baby, just as all mammals do. Hoping that she can be made to produce milk in response to some more expensive pump is completely missing the point. If you wanted to produce, say, saliva, which would be a better way to do it, being served a mouth-watering meal, or hooking some saliva-sucking machine up to your mouth?

But these gearheads kept discussing milk-sucking machines. My mother told me I should interrupt this discussion to offer different advice, but I said she should do it, since she was the retired leader and all. Telling other people how to raise their kids is much easier in a blog than in person. Then it was time to leave the meeting early, since I had to get to a dentist appointment. But my mother, who has no blog, offered the mother of the skinny baby some simple advice on the way out. "Try nursing more often," she said. That was probably better than the long evolution-laced rant I would have come up with.

I hope the skinny baby gets enough to eat soon.
Wed, November 5, 2008 - 6:15 PM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Introducing Thelma the Quiet
I know, everyone's been wanting an update, so here it is, with the warning that it is not for the faint-of-heart. For months, I've been reading books that casually use terms like "mucus plug," as if they were acceptable in polite company, so you may encounter such terms in this blog.

My estimated due date was Oct. 15, and I want to emphasize that this is an estimate. Yet many of my friends seemed to expect me to produce a baby by that deadline. Sorry, folks.

I suspected my baby would appear after the estimated due date, if only because the midwife, and the OB she referred me to, both said that the baby was measuring small for date. Now, I say the simplest explanation for that is that they got the date wrong, but the OB in particular seemed to find it more interesting to speculate that something was woefully inadequate in my baby's environment. This sort of slow growth, he said, was just the sort of thing they see in babies that seem to be doing OK, until they suddenly die shortly before their due dates. I was like, gee, thanks for the info. My midwife said that the OB was an old grouch whose grumblings were best ignored. She said it was a much more likely explanation that, as Bob and I are both small but healthy people, our baby would be small but healthy too.

On Saturday, October 18, I lost my mucus plug. Here I'd been imagining it as a sort of champagne cork, but it more closely resembled snot. I got all excited and called my midwife, leaving a message on her machine, then googled it. I found that losing my mucus plug is a sign that labor might start any week. I called my midwife back and told her not to bother answering my earlier message.

But the very next day, Sunday October 19, my water broke around 6:30. I managed to get to the bathroom in time, so no damage was done to the house. I was impressed at myself for handling that so neatly, but what I hadn't considered is that after the water breaks in the first impressive gush, then there's this constant drip of water after that, way too much water to be handled by feminine hygiene products. I sat on a towel and waited for contractions to start. They usually start before the water breaks, so I was like, let's get this show on the road already.

Now I might make a parenthetical comment here, and say that in a hospital birth, once the water breaks, the hospital generally puts some strict deadline on delivery. Like, they'll say that the baby has to appear within 12 hours or whatever. (The time limit can vary by hospital) This is because of the risk of infection to mother and baby, once that sealed-off barrier of water isn't there to protect them from bacteria. The advantage to going to a hospital in this case is that they'll have lots of drugs handy to hurry the delivery along, and if you don't make the deadline, they have the cesarian equipment all set up to go.

What hospitals don't tell you is that they themselves are often the cause of those dangerous infections. Hospitals are breeding grounds for all sorts of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Plus, with all the internal checks OB's generally do, they give the resident hospital bacteria a free ride upstream into the uterus.

So, I said no thanks to all that, and sat at home on my towel. (Have you read The Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy?) I got a pad of paper to write down my contractions, since the midwife said to call her when they'd been 5 minutes apart, and lasting a minute each, for an hour.

When timing contractions, first you have to know what a contraction feels like. Was that a contraction? Was that indigestion? Or do I have to go to the bathroom? If this is all contractions feel like, they're pretty lame. They were maybe 15-20 minutes apart, if that's what they were. Anyway, I waited excitedly for things to get more interesting. I took my towel and waddled the hall a bit, since walking is supposed to hurry things up.

By the wee hours of the morning, the contractions were strong enough that I didn't have to decide if each one counted or not, but they were still only about 10 minutes apart. I was getting tired. I tried to lie down to rest, but lying down made the contractions much more painful. Lying down between contractions felt fine, but lying down during a contraction was intolerable, and so was the act of sitting up during a contraction. So, I sat up or stood.

By Monday morning, I was getting tired of sitting up or standing, and just wanted some rest. Well no, I wanted my baby already, then some rest. My contractions, meanwhile, got further apart, as if the whole labor was just a false alarm. This would have been fine, except for my water being broken already. Even outside the hospital, it was only a matter of time before some opportunistic bacterium discovered this underutilized resource and moved in.

I took a few little naps Monday, and had some snacks.

By Monday evening, things finally got interesting. The contractions got more painful, and finally were 8, 7, 6 minutes apart. I wanted to walk to try to speed them up, but I felt too tired. Finally they were 5 minutes apart, mostly, for an hour. I threw up my snacks, timed a few more contractions, and called my midwife.

She was busy assisting another woman, whose labor was charging ahead at full speed. Bitch.

She dropped by anyway, then left to help the other woman. I don't remember the timing of all the details, but over the course of the labor, I was assisted by the midwife, her nurse, her apprentice, and another midwife who filled in when the first midwife was at the other birth. Plus my mom, who kept my spirits up by saying how much better this was than her hospital births, and Bob, via Skype video chat. With the 7-hour time difference, the interesting part of my labor was taking place at a reasonable hour for him.

I tried to drink some water or juice, but threw that up too. This is something really stupid my body always does, that just when I need energy or at least hydration, my stomach rejects it. And I was still leaking a little gush of water with every contraction, too. I don't know where it was coming from, since I hadn't kept water down for, like, a day. I started running a fever, and the midwife (the substitute midwife this time) mentioned how chapped my lips looked, both symptoms of dehydration. Chapped lips were the least of my concerns at that point. The fetal monitor said that the baby's heart rate was speeding up, which meant that it was stressed from the dehydration too. The midwife started talking about setting up an IV to rehydrate me, but I hate IVs, so I suggested taking some ondansetron instead, which was the anti-morning-sickness drug that kept me alive through the first half of this pregnancy. She looked it up, found it to be safe, and let me take it. It enabled me to keep some diluted juice down, which was a good thing.

This fetal monitor, by the way, was not some inconvenient machine they strap you into like in the hospital. This was a little hand-held thing that the apprentice would periodically hold on my belly, to hear the baby's heart. We made a very interesting discovery. You know how I'd been in such pain when I was lying down during a contraction? They midwifery team suggested I try lying down anyway, since I really needed the rest. So I tried it, but the fetal monitor said that when I had a contraction while lying down, the baby's heart rate got dangerously low. When I had a contraction while sitting up or standing, the baby's heart rate got slightly lower, which is normal, but not dangerously so. Apparently the baby and the umbilical cord were arranged in such a way that the combination of gravity and a contraction cut off the blood supply through the umbilical cord. I'd instinctively known to avoid this dangerous position, because it had been painful. That's what pain is for, so we don't do dangerous things. If I'd taken a painkiller in a standard hospital birth, I wouldn't have known not to lie down, the baby would have have been stressed, and the hospital would rightfully have had to rescue the baby from this stress by performing an emergency cesarean.

Anyway, after a whole lot of waiting around as the contractions got more painful, they finally got so intense that I felt the urge to push. So I pushed. You know how on TV there are always people in the hospital yelling at the laboring woman to push? There is no need to do that, unless she's been numbed up by drugs I suppose. I was perfectly obvious to me when to push, and I didn't need anyone telling me how or when to do it. Thankfully, no one did. They just let me get on with it. Since lying down wasn't an option, I found the least uncomfortable position to be a squat. Call it a plie if you're into ballet.

Pushing was the fun part. Here I'd thought that this would be the painful part, when the baby is actually leaving my body, but actually this was when the endorphins finally kicked in, and also when I finally felt like I was doing something useful, not just waiting around. I was really surprised at how it wasn't actually all that painful, compared to all those tedious and very painful contractions earlier.

The midwife told me when she could see the top of the baby's head, and said I could touch it if I wanted. So I did, and yes, it was the top of an actual head. I stopped touching it because I'm sorry, that's a really weird place for a head to be. I was holding out for a more proper introduction to an entire baby.

So I kept pushing, and there was the head! The hard part was over, and just another easy push or two would free the rest, right? No. Instead, there was suddenly a whole lot of busy scrambling by the midwife's team, and rather more difficulty than I'd been anticipating, but suddenly the whole baby was out, in a disturbingly gory gush of blood onto, yes, another towel, which was over some plastic that was protecting the bed.

It turns out that the difficulty had been because this baby had the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around her neck twice. She's a little breakdancer, spinning on her head in there. Despite this, she came out bright pink, not blue. The midwife had to revive her with a bit of oxygen, though.

Then my daughter was in my arms! She's beautiful, even with her head smooshed like that. (It has since returned to a normal head shape.) As soon as she was born, she looked around at everyone in the room with total fascination in her big dark blue-grey eyes. Bob and I named her Thelma after Bob's great-aunt. After all that fuss about her being to small, she (the baby) weighed 7 lbs, 6 oz.

Once Thelma had done enough crying to get some air into her lungs, she kept crying, which bothered the midwife. I mean really, anyone whose head has been smooshed like that has every right to cry, but the midwife tried various things to soothe her. Nothing worked, until my mother started singing to her. She quieted right down and locked her gaze onto my mother, completely entranced. Here I'm the musician, and I didn't think of singing to her! Not to be outdone by my mother, I sang to Thelma too, and she liked that.

The midwife was adamant that Thelma start nursing right away, but Thelma seemed content to just hang out. When I tried to get her to nurse, she pulled away. I was cool with that, and figured she'd nurse in her own sweet time, but the midwife insisted that she nurse right away. She explained that when a newborn pulls away, that doesn't mean she wants to pull away, it just means that she can't control her body yet. And indeed, once I fought past this pulling-away thing she was doing, she latched right on.

The midwife was so adamant, of course, since nursing signals the uterus that the baby is finally out, so it's time to expel the placenta. Supposedly. In my case, we were still waiting for it two hours later. For me, holding Thelma, the time just flew by, but for the midwife's team, it must have felt like a long time, since various problems can result from a placenta that overstays its welcome. Eventually, after establishing that it had detached properly, she pulled it out, which was a bizarre sensation.

I felt great immediately after the birth, and I've felt great since, much better than during the pregnancy. I didn't need a single stitch. I'm amazed at how fast I'm recovering my former shape, too. I have to gain a few pounds to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight, though.

Anyway, Thelma is a delight! I realized I'd better write this blog already, since she's developing so fast, these early days are disappearing.

She's very good at her two jobs, sleeping and nursing. Sometimes she tries to multitask and do both at once, which doesn't work very well.

The midwife was right that she's not very good at controlling her body yet. Like, when she wants to nurse, which is most of the time, she will often put her hand to her mouth in a nursing sort of way. She's really good at communicating her needs like that. But then when I try to nurse her, she doesn't understand that first she has to take her hand away from her mouth, since only one thing can fit into her mouth at a time. I have to pull her hand away myself, which is hard because she's strong.

She gets very enthusiastic about nursing. Think of the Far Side cartoon of dogs at feeding time, saying, "Oh boy, dog food again!" That's what she's like about breastmilk. But to express her enthusiasm, she shakes her head back and forth very quickly, which can make it difficult to keep a grip on her and latch her on. Once she latches on, though, she gets right down to business.

Anyway, Thelma is an excellent communicator, and she does it all without crying. She occasionally emits a loud sound or two, to alert any adults in the area to the fact that something is wrong and needs an adult's attention. Once she sees that an adult is on the job, she quiets right down. Then she'll make occasional little distressed noises until the adult has solved the problem. Then she'll smile.

You hear about babies crying all the time, but she is definitely not one of those babies. I credit this good disposition to an excellent book, Our Babies, Ourselves, by local Cornell anthropologist Meredith Small:
She presents the obvious-once-you-think-about-it idea that babies come out adapted to a particular environment, the environment that humans spent most of our time evolving in. This would be the world of hunter-gatherers, where babies are generally carried around by their mothers as their mothers go about their daily business, and nursed on cue. The modern world, with its houses with separate rooms, its clocks, and its motorized plastic baby-entertaining devices, is completely alien to these creatures, so it generally makes them cry. Professor Small cites numerous fascinating studies that basically show that the more modern "improvements" Americans try to add to the old-fashioned hunter-gatherer model, the more babies cry. Seriously, the crying of American babies is often measured in hours, while the crying of babies from many other cultures is measured in minutes.

So, I sewed a simple sling to carry Thelma around in. This was with the plan of keeping her entertained with my daily activities, but actually she mostly sleeps in it. Since separate bedrooms are a modern invention, I take Thelma to bed with me, so she doesn't get lonely and scared in her own room. A hunter-gatherer baby left all by herself at night would be eaten by some predator by morning. Babies instinctively know this, so they'll complain very loudly if you try to put them in this situation. That's what I read.

Notice that I didn't say I sleep with her. As she sleeps much of the day, she's up much of the night. Anyway, this is still much more convenient than putting her in a separate room, since she has to be fed and changed several times a night anyway, so putting her in a separate room would just add a walk to each of these nighttime chores.

One reason many American babies have to cry so loudly is that they have to reach parents in distant rooms. They just keep increasing the volume until they finally get the response they need. Thelma, on the other hand, could never be called "The Loud" at least not until she gets a hurdy gurdy or zurna. At night when she needs something, she doesn't make a peep, but instead gets my attention by punching me in the face. I'm not saying it's a perfect system.
Fri, October 31, 2008 - 6:22 PM — permalink - 7 comments - add a comment

La Lech
I realize I've been blogging more about a suburban house and impending motherhood than anything musical recently, but hey, this is all novel and exciting to me, so this is what I blog about.

At my mother's urging, I attended a La Leche League meeting today. It was really fun, and not just because of Bob's wisecracks about lechery afterwards. For one, there was all this extremely concentrated cuteness in the room, so it hardly mattered what people were saying. Two, people, at least the ones who could talk, were saying interesting things. The advice fell into two categories: "Just trust yourself and your baby to know what to do, and everything will work out" and "Don't be afraid to ask for help when things go terribly wrong, because there's nothing easy or automatic about nursing." Interestingly, most of the "when things inevitably go wrong" advice seemed to come from women who'd had the more medical type of birth, such as cesarians. I figure it's like this: A newborn baby is only as smart as it has to be. Its job is to nurse, and it's usually born with just enough brain power to figure out how to do that, and no more. (OK, our particular baby will be so brilliant, the moment it's born, it will relate its idea of how to fix the US economy, but I'm talking about the average baby here.) If its squishy little brain gets befuddled with some cocktail of drugs, as it usually is in a hospital delivery, it loses its ability to do even its very simple job. I've read statistics about this, but hearing actual stories from actual people made the statistics seem that much more real. The people selling you these painkilling drugs in the hospital never tell you about the studies showing the side effects these drugs have on the baby. I don't like pain, but I'd rather feel pain and have a healthy baby than feel numb and have a befuddled baby.

This is all making me even happier I decided on a home birth (with hospital backup in the rare event I actually need it.) Now that I have a bit of distance between me and my old midwifery practice, I'm seeing even more problems with them. Like, when I first became their patient, they handed me this sheaf of pamphlets and stuff to read. It included information and coupons from a couple of different formula companies, but no information at all about breastfeeding. That's kind of like going to a cardiologist and getting coupons for donuts but no information about vegetables.

The proof showing that breastfeeding is best is so completely clear and obvious to anyone who looks at it, it's outrageous that the other midwifery office didn't mention it, but instead promoted formula feeding. Formula companies have the money to influence medical practices, while there's no money to be made off mothers' milk. Here I'd thought that this sort of thing was mainly a problem with drug company reps visiting doctors' offices to give them gifts and talk up the latest expensive drug, but it's apparently the practice of formula companies too.

At the La Leche League meeting, the leader ripped a poster off the wall and talked about it a bit. This poster was paid for by a formula company, and it was supposedly promoting breastfeeding, probably as a result of some legal settlement that required it to do so. It basically said, "You can reduce your baby's chance of getting an ear infection by 50% if you submit to the degrading practice of letting the dirty little parasite suck on your tender bits instead of feeding it formula like a normal person." OK, that's a paraphrase, but that was the basic idea. A simpler phrase would have been, "If you give us a couple of thousand dollars a year, we will double your child's chance of getting an ear infection."

It's really quite odd how all these things are phrased. Like some study showed that breastfed babies grow up to be kids that have IQs that average 8 points higher than formula-fed babies. 8 freaking points! (And this is normal, cow's milk-based formula, not melamine-enriched.) But this data is usually presented as if these breastfed babies had IQs that were higher than those of "normal" babies. The proper way to present this data would be to say that formula lowers a kid's IQ to 8 points below normal. If some company were to try to market sugar-frosted lead paint chips that were known to permanently lower kids' IQs by 8 points, people would be up in arms, and the FDA would ban them. OK, maybe they wouldn't, because people are really stupid. Now we know why. But formula is such an entrenched business, no one can touch it.

It just occurred to me that babies who drink cows'-milk-based formula, while their IQs are lower than those of normal babies, do have IQs that are higher than those of cows. It kind of makes you wonder how smart cows would be if we raised them on human milk. I don't plan to do this experiment myself, but I'm putting the idea out there for any scientists who are looking for a project.
Wed, October 1, 2008 - 9:01 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Here's a quick blog post while tribe is temporarily up. I plan to post my blog somewhere on my website, www.melissatheloud.com. If tribe stays up, I'll duplicate it here. (Don't look for it just yet, though, since I haven't set it up yet.) Ideally, I'd like to figure out how to allow people to post comments, but not spam.

I sure hope tribe stays up, since I enjoy the discussions here.

Anyway, I haven't blogged for a while, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy. My klezmer band played a bar mitzvah Saturday, that was a lot of fun. Kids know how to dance, and their parents often do too. By the way, my klezmer band needs a name. Ideas? We're a subset of the Cornell University Klezmer Ensemble (CUKE) that's a smaller and more manageable size. Gherkin is a little too obscure.

It was pretty hard wedging my doumbek onto the remains of my lap, though. And the baby still kicks off the beat. I've been playing in various rhythms in my various bands, and I expect this baby to be familiar with all of them by the time it's born in about two weeks. I mean, rhythm is fundamental, and I consider it to be more important than the martial arts it seems to spend most of its time practicing in there.
Tue, September 30, 2008 - 4:04 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Our living room now has a floor! Deciding what kind of flooring to get was like the last temptation of the environmentalists. There are lots of gorgeous tropical hardwoods available quite cheaply. Plus, many of these trees are so slow-growing, they create wood that's incredibly hard and durable, to withstand any number of dance parties, even the kinds of dances that involve shoes. In a few years, a floor made of these tropical hardwoods will be even more rare and valuable I'm sure, since those species of trees will probably be extinct.

There was also the option of bamboo, which is quickly grown on farms, killing no trees whatsoever. Then it's processed into beautiful flooring by Chinese slave labor. There's even a type called "strand woven bamboo" which is every bit as hard as those endangered tropical hardwoods. It's woven and pressed together, with some formaldehyde and probably the occasional unfortunate worker who fell into the vat, a la that Bodies exhibit. This would have been my choice, but Bob nixed it on the grounds that it looked weird, and he wanted a floor that looked like actual wood. So, we finally decided on some good old made-in-the-USA solid oak. It's so rare to find anything made in the USA, I figured this purchase was worth bragging about in my blog. Well actually with the dollar sinking, it's becoming profitable for businesses to make things in the USA again, so that's one good thing.

This floor's selling point, aside from the relatively smaller amount of destruction it wreaks on the world, is that it has a Scotchguard (tm) coating. I think that means it repels Scotsmen. Bob pointed out that it might just make their kilts levitate.

Any week now, the rest of the house will also have a floor, so there is much to look forward to. I can't wait to invite over some Scots.

Bob just interrupted my blogging to have me help him thread wires through the walls. We didn't notice when we first decided to buy this place, but the wiring is bizarre. Bob is redoing everything so that the lightswitches make some sort of intuitive sense, like they control things in the actual rooms they're in, instead of outlets in distant rooms. He's also installing ceiling lights, and threading speaker cables through the walls while he's at it. This means he's always drilling holes in the walls and crawling through the basement or attic or those tunnels that Scotty was always crawling through on the old Star Trek. I think Bob's good at electrical stuff because it's just like neuroscience.

In even better news, today, I finally met with a certified nurse midwife who does home births, and she says she can manage to fit me into her schedule! She's great. She measured my uterus, and said right away that it was smaller than average, but that's to be expected because of the shape I am, and the position the baby was in. She did not keep taking the measurement until she got the "right" one, like the midwives I've been going to. She even said that when she's teaching her apprentice to take this measurement, she has the apprentice hold the measuring tape upside down, so she can't see the numbers until it's time to read it. Finally, a midwife who has a good grasp of actual scientific data collection!

This midwife has a 6% cesarean rate, unlike the other practice's 20% rate, so I'm happy about that. I'm also tired, so that's all the blog you get tonight.
Mon, August 18, 2008 - 9:43 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Post-Pennsic blog
Too busy to write, but I have to write something. Pennsic was a blast of course. I wish I had more energy. Near the end of war, I ran into a lot of people who said, "Hey, you're finally here! When did you arrive?" even though I'd been there for a while, because I just wasn't my usual energetic self. I'd set out to busk, but schlepping my hurdy gurdy around was exhausting in itself. Then I'd sit down and try to put it on my lap, but that's a whole intense pilates exercise now, since I don't have enough lap left. I have to lean my torso way back, and lift my legs up, so I'm in a V-shape, with the hurdy gurdy resting at the bottom of the V. Just try doing that on a flimsy 3-legged folding stool on uneven ground. Then I strap it on, using the holes in the strap I've never used before, and then I try to figure out where they keyboard is today. It gets further away every day, and there will soon come a point at which my arms just aren't long enough to reach it. Once I have accomplished all this and am ready to play, that's when I have to go to a port-a-castle.

So, I'm sorry to all my fans who didn't get to hear much of me this Pennsic. I assure you that next Pennsic, I will have a lap again, and will have an accompanist on rattle. I'm sure the little virtuoso will be familiar with my whole repertoire already.

Anyway, I still got to enjoy Pennsic. Teribus is an awesomely butt-kicking band. The Closer-to-Period hafla went amazingly well, especially considering how little I did to organize it. Jamming with Tina, Mary, Bob, and everyone else at it was fun. And, without amplification or painfully loud modern drums, I could actually hear everyone!

But now I'm back in the real world, where I have so much to do I shouldn't be blogging. But anyway, here's a kvetch about my OBGYN office. They want to see me every two weeks, but they don't actually do anything at these appointments. Whenever they want to do anything, like some test, they spring the news on me at one of these useless appointments, and then I have to schedule another appointment, in addition to the useless ones, so they can do the test then.

At these useless appointments, here is what they do: After collecting a urine sample, they leave me sitting in the waiting room for quite a while, in front of a TV blaring some special medical waiting-room channel that is nothing but "Ask your doctor" type ads for drugs I don't need. Then they finally call me in, weigh me, and take my blood pressure (which is always low. If it were too high, that would be a problem. I have a long, long way to go before my blood pressure is too high.)

Then they take a tape measure and measure my uterus from top to bottom. Now, my uterus is basically a stretchy water balloon, with a vigorously thrashing sea creature in it. I think it might actually be one of those big crabs that provides the crab legs you get at Chinese buffets. Now, imagine I hand you, say, a pillowcase full of water balloons of various sizes. One of the water balloons contains this thrashing creature. I also hand you a tape measure, because your job is to hold the tape measure up to the outside of the pillowcase and measure, to the exact centimeter, the length of the one water balloon that contains the thrashing sea creature. You, if you are a reasonable person, would give me a funny look when assigned this task.

But, these OBGYN people are such experts in this, they know they are measuring the exact size of my uterus. In fact, they told me, the size of the uterus, in centimeters, always exactly equals the number of weeks a woman's been pregnant. They just look at my chart, figure out how many weeks pregnant I am, then place the tape measure, and wow, they measure the exact same number they just read off the chart! Miraculously, although they've given me three different due dates, based on different assumptions, they always were perfectly happy with the measurement they got, because it always matched whatever due date they were working with at the time.

OK, there was one problem once. One person measured my uterus, but then when a midwife looked at the numbers, she saw that they didn't match, as the cm measurement was smaller than the number of weeks. So, she called me back into the examination room to measure me again, just to make sure she'd get the number she knew she was supposed to get. To take this measurement, they measure from wherever they think the top of my uterus is, to the top of my pubic bone. Now, I might not know exactly where the top of my uterus has gotten kicked to recently, but I sure know where my pubic bone is, and I also know what's below it, which is why I can tell if someone is pressing a tape measure against bone or against what's below it. Anyway, the midwife, after a few tries, got the measurement she was expecting, so she was happy.

Making midwives happy is not my job, so I am getting increasingly annoyed at these useless appointments. The one cool thing they do is listen to the baby's heart with something they call a "doppler." It's nice to know the baby has a sense of rhythm, but I don't see the point of this. Any creature that's kicking like this has to have a healthy heartbeat. If its heart were to stop beating, being told this days after the fact at my next appointment would not help matters.

Anyway, at these useless appointments, they put on their soothing supporting face and always ask, "Do you have any questions?" I've asked stuff like "What's the cesarean rate of this practice?" The first time I asked that, the midwife acted really surprised that I would ask such a thing, but after she composed herself, she made lots of soothing noises, and said that there was no need to worry about that, since their cesarean rate was probably only about 20%.

Now, considering that extreme, life-threatening morning sickness, like I had (and which is mostly gone by now, thank goodness) supposedly strikes only about 1 in 200 women, a rate of 1 in 5 does not sound like good odds to me. Especially when I know that at least half those cesareans, according to the WHO, are unnecessary.

Now, 20% is better than the national rate of 31%, but still considerably higher than the World Health Organization's recommendation that no country have a rate higher than 5-10%. Cesarian rates are rising by leaps and bounds across the country. Rates of maternal death are rising in lock-step, because cesarians are, surprise surprise, dangerous surgeries. Infant death rates have shown no improvement. The US is currently the 41st safest country to give birth in.

Anyway, at my last appointment, I met with a different midwife, who actually admitted that my water balloon measured a couple of cm smaller than what she was expecting. "But that's still within the normal range," she said. OK, now there's a range, whereas every other person who took this measurement acted like there was one, exact number they were after, and they'd keep measuring until they got it. So I figured this was a reasonable person, and I asked her why this practice's cesarean rate was higher than the WHO's recommendation. She said that it was because they follow standard practices of the US medical establishment, even though these are known to result in worse outcomes than other possible methods. They do all the standard procedures because this reduces their liability, even though it also results in worse outcomes for their patients. I really appreciate honesty like that.

Still, I am still looking for a home-birth midwife. The standard practice of these people seems to be not to return calls.

Oh, the picture accompanying this blog is Bruegel the Elder's "Triumph of Death" from 1562, which I'm posting for anyone who misses Pennsic. That isn't me in the lower left-hand corner playing the hurdy gurdy. I'd get nauseous if I tried to play hurdy gurdy on a moving vehicle.
Tue, August 12, 2008 - 9:16 AM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Djinn's new CD!
We did it! Last weekend, Djinn, after lots of practicing, finally recorded most of the material for our second CD! Now, despite the ridiculous amount of stuff I have to do, I just had to blog about the recording experience.

We decided to record with Diko at Atlantic Studio in Dumbo, Brooklyn. We were scheduled to begin at 11 am Saturday. I was actually about 20 minutes late, because I wasn't feeling well. (which deserves a separate blog.) As soon as I got out of the subway and into cell phone coverage, Pete called me to ask "Where is everybody?" Not "Where are you?" but "Where is everybody?" which was odd. It turns out that both Diko and I were missing.

I got to Diko's studio soon enough, but Diko didn't. We stood outside the studio door and looked at it. Pete called Diko. Pete reported that Diko's response was something along the lines of a groggy "Wha? Oh sh-- Yeah. Sorry. Gimme like half an hour. I'll be there in half an hour."

Well. We went for a walk in the summer heat. In about 20 minutes, Diko texted Pete, saying it would be more like an hour. Now, this is where the story gets a bit confused, since I don't remember exactly how many times Diko texted Pete, but it was quite a lot of times, and it always pushed Diko's ETA ahead by about half an hour. It turns out that, in addition to whatever mysterious thing had kept him from showing up in the first place, he also had to go bail his friend out of jail, which apparently took more time than he'd anticipated. Eventually, Diko wound up being more than 4 hours late, but since he kept pushing the time forward by such small increments, we couldn't make use of that big block of time by doing anything useful in it ourselves, since we had to be hovering within a few blocks of Diko's studio anticipating his arrival.

Carmine made some calls to reschedule a meeting with a client he'd planned for that evening, since it looked like we'd be recording much later than planned. Brad changed his evening plans too. Poor Pete, who, in addition to working on our CD, has also been working extremely hard to finish his latest animation project before a deadline, was particularly twitchy about these wasted hours. Pete is the hardest-working musician I know, so I think this wasted time hit him particularly hard. He can do a lot in 4 hours, if he isn't forced to waste time hanging out in Dumbo.

I ordered Pete to stop and smell the roses. I pointed to some nearby roses. He said, "Those are roses?" This is a very urban band. Anyway, he smelled them, and said that they smelled good. So, problem solved; Pete was happy, right? Not exactly.

Later, I pointed out that Pete had a cute little bright red ladybug on his shirt. Carmine freaked out and rushed to swat away the innocent creature. The band was pretty stressed out that we had to be out here in the wilderness with all these scary wild animals.

Brad and I decided not to get stressed out. There was nothing we could do at this point. Well, I could keep saying "I told you so" and saying that we should have gone to Electric Wilburland, a great recording near Ithaca. I guess that wasn't really helping to improve people's moods.

In one of his text messages, Diko said he'd be there at 3. Then later he said that it might not be exactly 3, but would be sometime around 3. Pete told him to call us when he was close to his studio, since we were sick of waiting around there. We'd be in the air-conditioned coffee shop around the corner, and head for Diko's studio when Diko got closer, so we could arrive at the same time and get to work ASAP. We left Carmine guarding our pile of instruments in front of the studio, while the rest of the band went to bask in the air conditioning.

At 3:15, Carmine called from Diko's studio, announcing that Diko was finally there. He hadn't called us as he approached the studio, although he'd said he would. The rest of the band rushed over there, and watched Diko clean up the clutter that was apparently left from whatever band he recorded last. He had some story about bailing his friend out of jail, which we did not want to hear. Around 3:30, Diko and his studio were ready for us,

Once he actually got to work, Diko did a fine job of recording us. He had very expensive mics, and knew what to do with them. We'd listen to what he recorded, and sometimes say that he wasn't catching exactly the sound we wanted, so he would adjust things so he did capture the right sound. Our next CD will be of much higher recording quality than our last one.

Once the band was finally playing, that old Djinn magic came right back. I'd been worried, but we actually played well. The only trouble was, we didn't get nearly as much accomplished as we'd planned, since there just wasn't time.

The next day, Diko actually showed up on time, and we got back to work, trying to finish up Saturday's job as well as Sunday's. We actually got pretty close, but by evening, our brains were shutting down. We really, really want those missing 4 hours back. I don't know when we could schedule more recording time. Carmine's at Pennsic already, and I'm leaving for there Saturday. By the time we get back from that, we're all so busy I don't know when we could all get together to schedule another recording session.

You might think that the one redeeming aspect of this situation would be that Diko must have given us a big discount. You'd be wrong. He gave us no discount whatsoever. He said that weekend studio time was so valuable, there was no way he could discount it, because he'd be "losing money." That's what happens when you don't show up to work. You lose money. I'm surprised he hasn't learned this by now. If I were him, which I'm glad I'm not, I would have given the band at least 4 free hours of studio time, in an attempt to save my reputation, which is considerably more valuable than money. But as he apparently doesn't care about his reputation, I'm sure he won't mind people reading about his business practices in this blog.

I'm still considering having the band get together and bill Diko for our time. Pete should bill Diko for 4 hours of animation work, Carmine should bill him for 4 hours of web design, and Brad should bill him for 4 hours of consulting time. If I hadn't been in NYC to record this CD, I would have been home working on my new house. Since I wasn't there, Bob had to hire a guy at $32/hour to work on it instead of me. When Carmine and I get back from Pennsic, we should seriously put a bill together.

I have a lot more to blog about, but I have even more to do, so that's all the blog you're getting for now.
Thu, July 31, 2008 - 9:04 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

I didn't need to get pregnant after all
Let's see how brief a blog I can write about the Ithaca Festival. They moved it to a later weekend this year, in the hopes that it would rain less. It was easy to predict what was going to happen to a plan like that.

But we are Ithacans, which means that a little rain, OK a lot of rain, and some lighting, thunder, and hail, does not prevent us from having a good time. The only trouble was, Bob and Steve, those wimps, didn't want to play their cello and accordion in the rain, so Svraka was down to a one-person band, as I attempted to drum, sing, and play tinwhistle simultaneously. The sound crew scurried to hide their equipment under tarps, but I am The Loud. I need no amplification. The dancers danced under their umbrellas.

The Hogtie Sessions, possibly my favorite band, was awesome as always. They're so confident in their virtuosity, they can afford to be really goofy. The sun shone on their performance, which was right.

I danced a bit, and enjoyed wandering around seeing so many friends I haven't seen for ages. I didn't have the energy to check out every band by running between all the stages, hoping to find my next favorite band. My energy level is still not what it was, but I'm feeling so much better than a few months ago, when I wouldn't have even had the energy to catch my favorites.

I was reading some books on everything that can go wrong with a pregnancy and childbirth, and those were not making me feel better. The general impression I got, though, was that modern medicine is always trying to control things, when actually, every intervention they do just causes its own problems. Some books talk in vague terms about how great these interventions are, while other books cite specific, controlled scientific studies, which prove that these interventions generally don't do any good overall, and often cause more problems than they solve. I'm going to put my trust in the books that cite specific studies. Like for example, it sounds great to chose the exact day I'm going to give birth, make an appointment, show up at the hospital on time and have labor induced. That would be great, if it didn't increase the risk of harming the baby, which increases the risk that I'd need an emergency cesarian section, which would make my recovery much more painful and time-consuming. For weeks, I probably wouldn't even have the strength to lift my own baby as I waited for my severed abdominal muscles to grow back together. No thank you.

I'm reminded of my mother's stories of how she had my sister and me. My mother showed up at the hospital when she felt my sister was about to arrive, but the nurse said that the doctor wasn't there yet, so she should wait. My mother tried to wait a bit, but my sister was not going to wait, so she just arrived when she felt like it, never mind the nurse yelling at my mother to hold it until the doctor showed up. Really, my sister, and to a lesser extent my mother, were the ones in charge there, not some nurse or doctor with delusions of importance and control.

When it was my turn, there actually was a doctor in attendance, which meant that he declared that I was in the wrong position to be born, so he'd have to do an emergency cesarian. As they were preparing to cut my mother open, I turned around into a better position, and was born just fine the normal way, which was no doubt a terrible disappointment to the doctor, who I'm sure was hoping would look all heroic for rescuing me via this daring and dangerous emergency procedure. I mean sheesh, let a baby finish her yoga before being in such a rush to cut her out of her mother's belly.

All these unnecessary and often harmful interventions are in the category that I call "white-lab-coat-science" as opposed to real science. I like real science. Real science uses actual controlled studies to see if something works or not. If it works, it's used, and if it doesn't work, it's not used. White-lab-coat-science assumes that if something is given by someone in a white lab coat, it must be good. Maybe a better word for this would be "superstition."

So, I've read enough to know to say "No thank you" to just about anything they offer me in a hospital. This makes me wonder why I should bother going to a hospital at all. Yes, I know, there is a slim chance that I will actually need some fancy intervention. The trouble is, hospital staff are just itching to use all this fancy equipment they have lying around, and will jump at the chance to do so, whether the baby and I actually need it or not. This isn't just paranoia on my part, this is from reading actual studies (OK, books that quote actual studies.) My recent emergency room adventure is just the latest in a rather long series of my experiences with medical professionals which do not exactly reassure me that they know what they're doing. Ask me about the time I went in about a serious medical concern, but they ignored that and kept looking for a medical explanation for why I, a woman, would have hair on my legs. Women never have hair on their legs, apparently, so they kept looking for the hormonal problem that was causing this bizarre condition. I never could get them to do anything about the original problem I'd gone in for. And then there was the time--

But I digress. I'm seriously considering home birth, which a friend of mine, and a mother of two adorable children, recommended. In a home birth, the midwife will bother taking you to the hospital only if she feels you actually need to go there, which is quite rare. I normally would steer away from something that seems so hippy-dippy, but those all-important Studies Show that outcomes are actually just as good from home births as from hospital births, in terms of the baby's health, and are much better in terms of the mother escaping from cesarians and episiotomies and all that. This means I have to do more research of course, to find a good midwife. My friend Sareanda, a person I know and trust, is a doula training to be a midwife, so I'm sure she will have lots of good information. Of course, she was one of the many friends I ran into at the Ithaca Festival.

Actually, it turns out that I didn't have to go to the trouble of getting pregnant anyway. The highlight of the festival, aside from the Hogtie Sessions of course, was the Pocket Pets booth, which was selling sugar gliders. I had never even heard of them, which means I'm not up on my Australian marsupials. These little creatures are so absolutely adorable, it's a good thing they were prohibitively priced, or Bob and I would have gotten one or two of them and spent the rest of the festival cuddling them, and possibly ignored the baby when it finally arrived.

The odd thing is, I had a dream a few days ago, where I had a little pet creature, and I was asking my NYC friends if they could take care of it for me when I went away for a few days. But in my dream, all my NYC friends said that they were completely incapable of keeping a little creature alive even for a weekend. I woke up thinking that my subconscious doesn't think much of my friends, so I hereby apologize to everyone on behalf of my subconscious. I also woke up wondering what the little creature was. It looked sort of like a chipmunk, but not jittery, and it was intelligent like a monkey. When I related this dream to Bob, I told him that I dreamed I had a pet hamster, although that wasn't the right word.

So it was pretty darn freaky to see these sugar gliders at the festival. I hadn't gotten every detail right, like the long curling tails, and the gliding membranes that stretch between the front and back legs. But they are just as cute as the creature I dreamed. The vendors would hand them out to people, and they would rest in the palm of someone's hand, or sometimes try to crawl up their sleeves or down their shirts. They especially love crawling into pockets. People would pet them for a while, and then the creature would eventually get tired of these strangers and leap, spreading out its gliding membranes to soar through the booth, looking sort of like a bat, and wind up back on the vendor's shirt, and either hang out there or crawl into his pocket. Except when Bob was holding and petting one of these little creatures, it snuggled into the crook of Bob's arm, its huge black eyes gradually closed, and it went to sleep contentedly. I knew just how it felt.

But in general, as the vendors explained, these creatures are social animals, so they bond to the other members of their community, which in this case was these vendors. That's why they always soared back to the vendors. The young animals they were selling were at the age to bond to us, if we'd bought them, which we didn't. We figured there would soon be enough cuteness in the household.

I've been reading books on babies, in order to distract me from the 1001 Things That Can Go Wrong With Your Pregnancy type books. The goal, after all, is not just to be pregnant, but to get an actual honest-to-goodness baby at the end of this, who does all the cute things babies do. Like for example, according to my reading, when the baby is 6 months old, it's often able to sit up by itself, rather than just lie there.

For comparison, a sugar glider at the same age, according to my googling, can soar up to 150 feet through the air, which any objective judge has to admit is much more impressive.

But anyway, we're already commited to this baby thing, and I'm sure it will be fairly cute as well. Bob and I had already been discussing that it's good for children to have pets. You can bet this kid of ours will not be getting a puppy.
Mon, June 23, 2008 - 10:55 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

I am not a visual person
Yesterday, in celebration of the fact that I hadn't puked for a few days, Bob dragged me out to a big-box home supply store to research decorating ideas for the new house. As the photo in my previous blog shows, this new house, although it has many practical features, also has some features that are so ugly, even I notice them. That takes some serious ugliness, since I am not a visual person. Quite a lot of my friends are extremely talented at all sorts of visual arts, be it drawing, sculpture, jewelry design, costume design, computer graphics, whatever. I assume many of my friends are also very talented at interior decorating, but I wouldn't have noticed. The only reason I notice their talents at the above-mentioned subjects is because many make their livings at them, which I assume requires some skill.

When it comes to visuals, I have no skill whatsoever. That's why it's remarkable that I even noticed the ugliness of this house. The fact that I have even this low level of sensitivity to ugliness means that we have to do something to get rid of the ugliness. Getting rid of ugliness seems simple enough, but the complication is, we then have to replace it with something less ugly. The number of less-ugly options is so overwhelming, I'm almost considering living with the ugliness for simplicity's sake.

It seems simple enough to just paint most surfaces white, but I had no idea how many different colors of white paint there are. We grabbed a paint brochure, and it lists colors like "Ceiling White," "Betsy's Linen," "Blanched Pine," and even "Gilded Endive." Who would gild an endive? OK, I can see some of my artistic friends doing that, and then putting it in a gallery. I might blanch an endive, but I would never blanch a pine, even if it fit in the pot.

We picked up some more brochures, including one that promises "Unmatched leading-edge aesthetics inspired by the subtleties of nature. You can match your mood with a range of patterns, from tone-on-tone veining to 'earthy' randomly scattered particulates." This writing doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about plastic countertops. Match my mood? My mood can change quickly enough, I don't even expect my hairstyle to match it, much less any product with a 10-year guarantee. Considering that recently, my mood has ranged from "about to puke" to "exhausted after having puked" I don't want my countertop to match my mood anyway. Although I have to say, a countertop that features "'earthy' randomly scattered particulates" would in fact match my mood quite well. I don't think I've ever been in a "tone-on-tone veining" mood. That's probably a good thing.

The previous owner of the house was apparently in a "crawling with millions of tiny orange ants" mood, so we'll have to see which would be worse, living with this ant-print plastic countertop, or having to chose a replacement.

So in the big-box store, we were looking at various countertops, wondering why all the patterns were so ugly. Then we saw some granite samples, and went, "Oh!" These ugly patterned plastic things were failed attempts to imitate natural stone, which is beautiful. Imagine someone who had only ever seen the fake wood on the sides of old station wagons, finally seeing real wood for the first time. That was us. The trouble is, even the granite samples were all riddled with cracks and chips, because it's terribly brittle, and from my online research, granite is apparently great for countertops as long as you don't do anything like spill vinegar on it, because it will dissolve. Whose idea was it to make countertops out of this stuff?

So that rules out granite. But against my will, I've also learned about quartz surfacing, which is 93% natural quartz crystals, held together by glue and dye. It's almost as pretty as 100% real stone, yet can actually stand up to having food spilled on it and things dropped on it. It comes in a very nice variety of colors and patterns. Imagine my shock, and even a touch of dismay, to discover that I actually have an opinion about countertops. The thing is, this quartz stuff is almost as expensive as real stone, and Bob and I have to ask ourselves, do we really care enough about aesthetics to install a beautiful countertop? Maybe we should just live with the orange plastic ants.

Interestingly, there are businesses that sell complete used kitchens, cabinets, countertops, appliances and all, at huge discounts off new kitchens. When they build some high-rise of luxury co-ops, they of course have to install luxury kitchens, but when people move in, they all want their own custom luxury kitchens, so the unused original luxury kitchens get ripped out and usually thrown away. There are businesses that salvage these, so we've been looking to see if there's something that would fit our space, that would be less ugly than the ants.

All of this is much more attention than I care to devote to visual matters. In other news, I vaguely remember that someone asked me to play a polka on hurdy gurdy, so I've been working on those, gradually building my hurdy gurdy muscles back up, now that I'm feeling less awful. I don't need fancy countertops when I have a hurdy gurdy.
Wed, May 21, 2008 - 12:14 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

The Importance of a Small Head
Too much news as usual. Zaghareet magazine nominated Djinn in the Favorite Musicians category. You can vote for us here:
but we're up against such good musicians, I hardly knew who to vote for.

ABC News used some Djinn originals in their documentary, "Secrets of the Sistine Chapel" which was viewed, and presumably heard, by 2.5 million people. Why would that many people even own TVs? TV programs very rarely feature hurdy gurdies.

In more important news, Djinn's live shows have been going very well. We played for Kami Liddle and Sonia, of Bellydance Superstars fame, and they apparently talked us up to Miles Copeland, who would like to put Djinn's Jimmy Hafla on the next BDSS DVD and CD. We're still very proud of thIs CD of course, and we're happy that so many great dancers are dancing to it, but we've written a whole bunch of new material that we have to get around to recording too. I'm sure TV and dancers and such people would find all sorts of uses for it.

In other news, Bob and I bought a house. You know that gorgeous house that had received more attention from woodpeckers than from renovators since it was built in 1900? We both fell in love with that house, so we looked at our finances, figured out how much we could afford to spend on housing, subtracted the amount of money that would be required for tasteful renovations, and offered all the rest. The owner laughed in our face. OK, we never actually saw the owner's face, but the real estate agent conveyed the idea pretty well.

So, no gorgeous, woodpecker-feast of a house. Instead, we got a non-gorgeous, yet very practical house, with a big yard, in a neighborhood that is currently quiet because we haven't moved in yet. It needs a bit of work too, but all cosmetic. The photo at the top of this blog is of some of the wallpaper. That will be coming off ASAP, obviously. So will the yellow plaid wallpaper in the rental apartment out back. It might not make us that much more money in rent, but I figure it will attract a better class of tenant. Anyone want to rent a huge apartment, which will be guaranteed ugly-wallpaper-free by the time you move in?

I've walked around the yard, and am quite excited to see lemon balm growing wild in the woods out back, and water mint and watercress growing in the little stream. There are also lots of jewelweed seedlings, and I've always thought that was one of the most beautiful wildflowers. Also, there's a big boring front lawn that we're planning on ripping up and replacing with more interesting plants. I got so excited, I ordered strawberry plants already. They'll live in pots until it's time to move in.

In yet other news, I've been questioning my belief in evolution. I mean, if evolution is correct, I presumably am the product of many, many generations, who all managed to survive long enough to breed. These individuals must have had good genes to enable them to accomplish this, so they've presumably passed these good genes along to me.

You wouldn't guess it to look at me. The real reason I've done so little blogging recently is that I've been too sick to do much worth blogging about, and even too sick to sit upright at the computer and write some amusing blog about nothing. I threw up three times today before managing to keep down an anti-nausea pill. If it weren't for those anti-nausea pills, I would basically be dead by now, and they were just invented. How can evolution have produced an organism that requires fancy new pills to stay alive?

This is one of those rare occasions where the biblical explanation makes much more logical sense. You know, women's difficulties in childbirth are punishment for eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Well, if that story is true, this is going to be one heck of a knowledgeable kid. Oh, yeah, I'm pregnant. The brainy little babe is due in October.

This kid had better be one brilliant, nobel-prize-winning, olympic gold medalist supermodel for all I'm going through. It has been absolutely impossible to keep down any food or drink without the help of massive doses of anti-nausea pills (about twice the dosage they prescribe to chemotherapy patients.) While I'm very grateful that they've kept me alive, I don't like the side effects, like the headaches and wooziness. I'm not supposed to operate heavy machinery while on them, and my hurdy gurdy counts as heavy machinery. My hurdy-gurdy-playing muscles have atrophied in the last few months, because I've rarely had the energy or coordination to play.

I was running low on pills, so I called the obgyn to get another prescription, and she was like, "What do you mean you're still nauseous? That stage is supposed to be over, since you're in the second trimester already. Besides, we don't really know what the effects are on the fetus, so it's better not to take them." So I didn't take a pill that day, and I threw up literally every 20 minutes for 2 hours, until my throat was bleeding again, so I took a pill. I mean, the effects of these pills on a fetus might be unknown, but the effects of dehydration on an adult are known, and that can't be good for the fetus either. I've decided that I'll only take a pill if I've already thrown up twice that day, and am in imminent danger of throwing up again. I'm actually down to taking them only about every other day for the last week or so, and that is a huge improvement.

I went to the dentist a little while ago, and he was horrified at how my teeth have dissolved. Soaking in acid for a few months will do that. Here I'd managed to get through my 34th birthday with only one cavity ever, and now suddenly about 12 perfectly good teeth have dissolved. OK, 11 perfectly good teeth and one tooth with a filling in it. It's kind of hard to chew now, since my teeth crumble like eggshells under pressure. I'll do something about this when all this is over, but I can't deal with it now. My dad recommends medical tourism to Thailand, which is where he had some work done that would have been very expensive in the US.

Anyway. The point is, there is a kid on the way. It will have a very nice house to live in, and a yard with beautiful wildflowers and lots of mud to play in, and a short walk to very good schools. It will also have a great dad. Now, when choosing a husband, there are many important factors to consider, like "How often does he go dancing? Can he play cello? Does he have the right political signs in his yard?" but there are also other important factors, like "Does he bring you a fresh puke bucket before taking the old one away?" Bob is a great husband on all counts, even in matters to which I didn't give much thought before marriage. I figured, when choosing the father of one's children, the main thing is that he should have a small head. I have very narrow hips. I wear a size XXL hat. This combination does not suggest an easy labor, if the baby takes after me in the matter of head size. I'm hoping it takes after Bob, whose head must be very densely packed, with all the intelligence he fits into a space that small.
Mon, May 19, 2008 - 12:50 PM — permalink - 5 comments - add a comment

House Shopping
It's been too long since I've blogged, so I've accumulated too much to blog about. Rakassah was awesome, amazing dance and music, the usual. But we also had a new experience: Djinn rented a car and got to drive around San Francisco in the carpool lanes!

I finally did a dance performance, klezmer bottle dance, in Ithaca, with the Cornell University Klezmer Ensemble. Klezmer dance has a lot in common with belly dance, just as the music has a lot in common. Doing floorwork while balancing a wine bottle on one's head is an old Sephardic tradition. I was nervous about two things: dropping the bottle, and using inappropriate belly dance styling, but I think it went fine.

But the main thing that Bob and I have been busy with has been house shopping. Bob has disliked his current house for a while. Me, I'm hardly ever there, so it doesn't matter that much do me, but I will concede that it has a tiny, shady garden, and I want a much bigger, sunnier one. In my previous life, I was a Plant Science major at Cornell. I am doing nothing with this education besides watering my houseplants, but, if I could pick the perfect house, it would have room for more plants around it.

Bob also has other complaints, like saying that our kitchen is too small. I tried telling him that it's huge, maybe even too big, but he didn't belive me. He doesn't even cook anyway. He claims that if our kitchen were bigger, he would have room to cook. Whatever. I'm realizing that a person from NYC and a person from Kansas have completely different senses of scale.

I concede that our house is not ideal, because a perfect house would have one huge room, with a nice wooden dance floor, for parties. That's all I need, basically: one huge room for parties and a big garden. Throw in a bathroom, a microwave, and a little cot I can set up to sleep on when the guests leave, and I'm all set.

Switching houses is a complicated process, since we didn't even know exactly how much we'd have for the new one, and when we'd get the money, until we sold the old one. Selling a house means you have to hide half of your furniture, and all your clutter, including all the stuff you actually use, to make the rooms look more spacious. Our house looked great, but when I wanted a tissue or a doumbek or some basic necessity like that, I had to dig it out of hiding. And forget about hand-washing clothes and laying them out to dry, taking up space and looking cluttered. My cashmere sweater ($6 from the Salvation Army) was starting to smell like it was still on the original goat, which couldn't have helped sell the place.

But we finally sold our house, which means we can sprawl out again until the closing in July. The buyer came in and marveled at the nice spacious kitchen. She asked about gardening, so I said that it was possible to fit a few tomato plants in that little strip of earth next to the driveway, and she was delighted.

It's actually quite a nice house, and I'm glad we sold it to someone who appreciates it. It was built in 1880. When my sister saw it, she marveled at the intricacy of the hinges. She can't believe we'd sell a house with hinges like that. They don't make hinges like that anymore. Also, they couldn't build houses out of wood like this anymore even if they wanted to, because American chestnut trees are virtually extinct.

Bob and I have found some very nice houses to replace our house with, but now we have some tough decisions to make.

We've found a beautiful house, newer than our old house, as it was built in 1900. It has a huge living room, with a great hardwood floor, that just begs to have dance parties on it. Plus, it has all sorts of charming details, in the craftsman style, whatever that is. It has cleaner lines, more to my taste than the fussy Victorian style of the old place. It looks down on Cayuga Lake. It has a huge yard. There are lots of old trees in the neigborhood, yet our yard is positioned just right so it's sunny. It's a very short block away from a park with a stunning view down into Ithaca Falls. Bob can walk to work, and I can walk to the Commons to busk there. It even has a separate staircase for the servants. What's not to like?

It's a good thing I'm married to Bob, since he pointed out some rather important things, such as the fact that this house looks like it's been neglected since the 1940's. In some ways, that's better than bad remodeling, but in other ways, it's inconvenient. Like, the electrical system needs some updating. I believe it's currently set up to be illuminated by gaslamps that protrude out of the walls. It has no insulation, and the leaded glass windows, while too charming to replace, are awfully leaky, so the heating bills would be higher than rent I've paid for a spacious Ithaca apartment.

Bob also has objections to cracked walls. He said that our old place had cracked walls before he fixed them, before I moved in. This is lath and plaster we're talking about, so after you take off the wallpaper, then you have to laboriously remove the plaster, lath, horsehair, whatever the Victorians chose to make their walls out of, then replace it with wallboard, which is a huge job. Me, I say if we have cracked walls, that means we hang some large paintings. I think his irrational urge to have nice smooth walls might be attributed to the lead paint dust he no doubt inhaled when he did all this work on our old house. You'd think that anyone who'd done all that work once would know better than to do it again.

Well, he does know better than to do all that again, since he is proposing we buy a house that was built in, like, the 1960's. It also has a large yard, and a pretty large living room, which is all I said I needed at the start of this blog, so I should be happy, right? And Bob is sensibly pointing out that, for all the effort we'd be expending to make the beautiful house practical, we could be instead be making a practical house beautiful. We could install wood floors. We could remove the horrible plastic foam imitation brick from the inside walls. We could remove the horrible plastic imitation wood beams from the ceiling that are trying to make the place look rustic. As for the outside, well, we could plant vines. If we really wanted, we could install a seperate stairway for the servants, but I don't think that would be a high priority.

It's more complicated than that of course. This practical house is in a neighborhood of similarly practical houses. I look at this neighborhood, and I think "suburbs." Sure, I would be planting an interesting garden, but the rest of the neighborhood is all about boring monoculture lawns. There are no sidewalks. It's closer to the mall than to a waterfall. As a New Yorker, I have a deep-seated racial hatred of all things suburban, and I'm finding this prejudice difficult to overcome.

Bob would have to take the bus to and from work, and I'd have to take the bus, or drive, to get pretty much anywhere. Now, in NYC, I have no problem with taking public transportation, so I should not have any aversion to it in Ithaca. But still, it is nicer to be in walking distance of things.

Complicating matters further is that this suburban place has a huge rental apartment in back. Add that rental income to the lower property taxes we'd be paying out there, and there would be a big difference in our yearly budget.

Maybe what this means is that we just haven't found the perfect house yet. Of course, if there is a perfect house out there, it would be too expensive. Hm. Anyone have any advice?
Mon, April 14, 2008 - 7:02 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

One more thing
For those who enjoyed my last blog, I have one more detail to add. I didn't even realize what this meant at the time, but in retrospect, it might be the best part of the whole story.

When that doctor finally took me to that other room to have a private consultation with me, one of the first things she asked me was, "Do you feel safe at home?" This threw me for a loop. I mean, Ithaca is rated the third safest city in the US. There might be some danger of slipping on all the snow and ice, but when I'm in my house at least, I feel perfectly safe.

I think I've figured out what she was getting at. She was looking for an explanation for all the black-and-blue marks on my arms! If she had asked me, "Do you feel safe in this emergency room?" I would have given her a different answer. But at home, I feel quite safe from vampires.

But seriously folks. I'm still worried about all the other patients in that emergency room, many of whom were not in nearly as good shape as I was, who couldn't stand up for themselves. I'm wondering what happened to them. In the first room I was in, for example, I had a roommate. I don't know what her health problem was, but the nurses gave her a diuretic, which they told her would make her have to go to the bathroom frequently. This seemed like bad news to me, as she didn't look like she was capable of getting herself to the bathroom.

Sure enough, I later saw her struggling to get herself out of bed. I'm guessing this was about 2 in the morning. Since she was having so much trouble, I called for help for her, and kept calling and calling, until someone finally came by, said "Oh, you're falling out of bed" and helped her back in.

I had my own problems to deal with at that point, since this was around the time I was convulsing from a bad reaction to that first drug they gave me. When I next had some attention to give to my surroundings, I saw that this woman's bed was wet. Now, it was pretty chilly in there. Maybe it was just me, but I was really cold under both a blanket and my down coat. OK, it probably was just me. But it certainly wasn't warm. The staff were all in a few layers of sweaters, and they were very actively running around, so that at least is an objective indication of the temperature. My roommate, already quite ill, had no coat, just a thin blanket, and it was now wet. I'm sure that whatever health problem she'd come in with wouldn't have been improved by hypothermia.

Maybe around 5 AM, I heard someone order someone else to change this woman's wet bedding. By the time I was transfered to another room at 7:30, her bedding was still wet.

That's just one incident, and I could relate a whole lot more, but I'd rather put it all behind me. OK, one more thing: you have to picture the young yuppie, with blood streaming down his face, charging around the room and shouting, "But you know what really pisses me off? This is very expensive shirt!"

A nurse assured him that peroxide would take those bloodstains right out, and that quieted him down. I might complain about them, but these nurses have some serious skills.

Oh, and sorry to all my friends who I didn't call. I wasn't very capable of it when I first arrived, with the oxygen mask on my face and without use of my arms and everything. Then later when I was more mobile, it was in the wee hours of the morning, and I didn't want to bother people. Also, my cell phone's battery was almost empty, which was rather nerve-wracking, as it was my only connection to the outside world, and it was fading faster than I was. OK, I'll bother you next time, but hopefully, of course, there won't be a next time.

Anyway, I'm now safely in Ithaca. Bob and I kept our appointment to look at houses with a real estate agent today. Ithaca might be safe, but dang, the property taxes on some of these houses would cost more than the mortgage. Just outside the city, taxes are lower, but then again, we'd be outside the city. Much to think about.
Mon, February 25, 2008 - 7:58 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Hospital Review
I did not pass out on the Times Square 7 train platform Friday night. Instead, I decided to very quickly lower myself to the floor. In dance parlance, this was a level change. I even made a point of choosing a part of the floor that was not signifigantly grungier than other parts of the floor, in the brief time I had available to make this decision. I would have liked to have put my hood up, so my bare head wasn't lying on the grungy floor, but I didn't have that kind of energy.

For those of you who have seen those signs in the subway that say what to do when you're not feeling well in the subway, and wondered if the system works as well as advertised, here is my review.

When choosing a subway platform to collapse on, just as when choosing one to busk on, I have to say the busier the better. I don't know what would have happened had I collapsed on one of the more obscure platforms, but for the Times Square platform at least, help arrived almost immediately, in the form of one those orange-vested guys who sweeps up litter. As I was too large for him to sweep into his dustpan, he asked if I needed help. I was about to say that of course I didn't, I would be getting up in just a minute, when I realized that that wasn't true, so I said "Yes."

It's a good thing that he could differentiate me from the people who regularly lie on subway platforms, presumably enjoying it and resenting interruptions.

In no time at all, he fetched some other guys, who again asked how I was doing. It's really hard to say anything other than "Fine, and how are you?" when asked this, but considering how stupid that would sound from someone who is lying on the a subway platform, I fought this instinct. I said that I wasn't feeling well. No, I had not passed out, I had just decided to lower myself to the floor. And, er, well, no, actually, I didn't think I could get up. And why yes, thank you, by bag would make a better pillow than this floor.

So more reinforcements were called. Someone put Wet Floor signs around me to stop people from tripping over me as they rushed to their trains. But New Yorkers are nimble at charging past the fallen without a look back, so I don't think this was even really necessary.

Subway platforms are cold, and they conduct heat much better than the air. I became keenly aware of this as sweat soaked through my shirt, sweater, and coat, forming a perfect heat conductor between my skin and the platform. I started shivering uncontrollably, almost convulsing really. Shivering was taking so much energy, I was seriously wondering if there was any real advantage to lying on the floor in the first place, and if sitting up or even standing might be more energy-efficient. This was a moot point, however. The advantage of shivering is that it doesn't require any coordination.

In really very little time, I'm sure not more than ten minutes no matter how unpleasant those minutes were, some EMTs showed up, with a cheap-looking little orange plastic wheelchair. I mean, this thing had like two tiny wheels on it, like on a shopping cart.

Whatever, I was hardly in a position to take issue with the tackiness of the wheelchair. The guys put me in it, piled my hurdy gurdy and gig bag on my lap, leaned me back at a dizzying angle, and off we went. Maybe this model of wheelchair has the advantage of being light, as they really did whisk me up stairs and into the waiting ambulance.

My excuse for collapsing on the platform was that I've hardly been able to keep food or even water down since, well, Sunday morning. This has happened to me before, and I could write more reviews for comparison, but I don't have time now. The short of the matter is, my digestive system doesn't work that well in the best of times, and when any little problem sets it off, it shuts down completely, starting me on a downward spiral that shuts the rest of my systems down too. This sucks.

We discussed enough current events to establish that I know who the president is, unfortunately. We even theorized a bit about who the next president might be.

I've often thought that my veins are my best feature, but it's always nice to hear. The EMTs found a vein worth stabbing right away, and hooked up an IV to fill me with the water and salt that I'd been unable to take in through more conventional means. They also hooked me up to an oxygen mask, like flight attendants always show off on airplanes but never let you use. They did all sorts of tests, and generally didn't like the results, but had some arguments about whether those bad results were my fault, or the fault of the equipment. I remember complaints like this from my last ambulance ride as well. The thing is, people with test results like mine are not supposed to be coherent, or even concious, and this always confuses EMTs. I like to think that I have coherence to spare.

The equipment did seem pretty beaten up, with chips taken out of it, and dingy cracks. The EMTs did seem to know how to use it, though. They also were very pleasant. They thanked me for not being homeless and/or fat, since I'm sure such patients are no fun to whisk up stairs.

They were so pleasant it was easy to forgive them for splattering my blood all over my sweater and coat, especially considering that these garments were not particularly clean to begin with, although the subway platform might now be a little cleaner.

They asked if I had a preference for hospital, which I, not being a hospital connesseur, didn't, so they took me to "Rosie's" that is, St. Luke's Roosevelt, which was nearby, and not nearly as crowded as you'd think an emergency room would be on a Friday night in NYC. Then again, I think I got the VIP treatment, and didn't have to wait in the waiting room with the plebes.

The emergency room people put me in a bed with my hurdy gurdy and gig bag, which I appreciated. They didn't like how the EMT guys had done my IV, so they redid it. Twice. They also took some blood samples from my
other arm, eight of them I believe, although I was of course getting increasingly woozy with each of these blood samples so I can't be too sure about the number. They also took a tiny drop of blood for some other test by poking a hole in my finger. Why they had to do that I don't know, when there was plenty of blood scattered all around that they could have used. More got on my coat and sweater, not to mention blanket, bed, and floor.

It was all different people taking all this blood, which is why they asked me why I had all these mysterious black-and-blue marks around my veins. Because you vampires keep poking holes in those veins! Sheesh. Anyway, although they started out praising my veins, they ended up complaining about them, as they had to keep looking for more and more obscure veins that the other vampires hadn't spoiled already.

They also wanted a urine sample, but they actually had to put over three liters of saline into me before I was able to produce one for them. Note to self: do not get this dehydrated ever again.

They also hooked me up to a blood pressure monitor, which would strangle my right arm (the one with all the black-and-blue marks) every 20 minutes or so, and some other mysterious device around my left thumb (which was on the arm that also had the IV drip.) A cool thing about the emergency room is that all the beeping things (I think there were two on me alone) form interesting polyrhythms, that drift in and out of synch with each other.

With all of this blood loss, I started to feel much worse than I'd felt in the ambulance. I complained about this, and they said they'd give me something for nausea. They injected something into my IV. And I have to say that it was very effective for nausea, if that's the effect you're going for. It also made me shake uncontrollably, sort of a shiver, but also sort of a thrashing like some pathetic attempt to get away from how nauseous and generally awful I was feeling. Shortly before I collapsed on the subway platform had been the worst I'd ever felt up to that point, and now already I had a record breaker. I hope I have the name of that drug somewhere, since I never, ever want to take it again.

Oh, and I have to mention that in between all this vampiric stabbing and poisoning, and also in between or sometimes during the blood pressure strangle hold, and under the blazingly bright lights, and while other patients were charging around the room ranting drunkenly or hollering for help, the nurses told me to just close my eyes and get some sleep.

I complained that I was still nauseous, so they offered me some more of that horrible drug, which I declined. So the offered me a different drug, which I accepted with great trepidation, and you know what? It worked. The nausea I'd had all week was gone. They gave me a cup of apple juice and I drank it just fine, and even kept it down. After week I'd been having, this was a truly wonderful, marvelous thing.

So. I was cured. What was I still doing there? I pestered the passing nurses a great deal as they scurried by, and one finally said (as she was taking yet more blood, or course) that they hadn't liked my blood before, as it was too high in acetone. Yes, my blood can actually be used as nailpolish remover. It's a wonder it didn't eat through the linoleum when they dripped it on the floor. I think I read about this somewhere way back in bio. When your body is starving, it first uses up all the stuff it's stored as fuel, and then when it runs out of that, it starts breaking down more important stuff that is really not meant to be broken down. It's like running out of fuel oil to heat your house, and instead burning the furniture and the interior walls. When the body does this the result is acetone, and also the ketones, whatever those are, that they found in my urine and hadn't liked either.

They said they'd send a doctor around to talk to me, and if all went well, I could be out of there by 7 AM. As I'd been there since about 9 PM, it was about time.

More time passed amid the beeping and the hollering, and the arm pressure band that hissed like a boa constrictor as it tightened around my arm. It seemed to know exactly when I might be in danger of actually falling asleep. My blood pressure was always ninetysomething over fortysomething, so I don't know why they needed the same reading over and over again, but when I complained about it, they said that they needed it, so it had to stay on. Eventually I managed to snag some passing employee, and said that I needed to go to the bathroom, but couldn't while entangled in this machine, so he took it off me. No one seemed the least bit interested in putting it back on me when I got back to bed.

Around 7:30 AM, an actual doctor took me to another room for another examination and consultation. She said that if I stayed this sick, they'd have to admit me to the actual hospital, not just this emergency room, which is apparently only a higher level of hell. I told her that the second anti-nausea drug they'd given me had worked great, and I'd even felt hungry under its influence, so I didn't see why I had to stay here. It was wearing off by now (I think I'd been given it around 3 AM) but if I got another one, I was sure I could eat breakfast like a normal person, and thus give my cells something to eat besides do-it-yourself acetone.

So, that was the plan. She said she'd send someone in to give me another anti-nausea pill like the second one, and breakfast. I asked what they had here for breakfast, since I have allergies (which they took note of when they admitted me, and even wrote on my armband) and she said that that was the cafeteria's department, but she was sure they'd have something. If I could actually eat breakfast, and keep it down, and that improved the results of my blood tests, then I would be free to go.

I was extremely cheered by the thought of imminent breakfast. I hadn't really eaten, or at least kept food down, for about a week, as evidenced by my chemically starving, self-destructing body. Oh boy. Breakfast. A breakfast I could actually keep down, thanks to the miracle of an anti-nausea drug! This would presumably be forthcoming any minute now.

Someone stuck his head in, saw that the room was occupied, and hurriedly withdrew.

Someone else came in to take out the trash, and left again.

Around 8:30, I wandered out of my little room to see if I could expedite breakfast in any way.

"Oh!" said the receptionist. "What were you doing in room 14? We thought you were in room 6. I'll send someone around to do that bloodwork right away." While this was not exactly the news I was hoping to hear, I dragged my acetone-ridden, disintegrating body back to room 14.

Around 9 AM, sure enough, a nurse came in with more of those wretched needles and tubes, and no breakfast. She was, of course, there to take more blood.

I'd had enough of this. "There's been a mistake. The doctor ordered that I was to have an anti-nausea pill, and breakfast."

She took actual offence at this. "You can't have breakfast if you're nauseous! I'm here to take some more blood." Yes, the actual plan, in her mind, was to keep taking my blood until it showed evidence that I was no longer starving, and only then would she allow me breakfast.

There were so many possible arguments against that, based on common sense, basic biology, and even thermodynamics, that I decided not to use any of them. Instead, I said that there must be some mistake, since this was not what the doctor had told me. The doctor was the authority figure here, so the nurse should go check with the doctor before doing anything.

To my surprise, this argument worked, and the vampire vanished. I'd been picturing being put in restraints, just like several of the other patients in the emergency room I'd seen, as the nurses persisted in draining my blood until I stopped starving.

There wasn't much of my body left by now except acetone, but I managed to get out of bed again, stagger to the receptionist again, and again inquire about my anti-nausea pill and breakfast. Nothing came of this. I staggered back to my room.

Then, I had a moment of inspiration, like a golden light beaming through storm clouds. I had a small bag of leftover popcorn in my gig bag! Bob, bless his heart, had popped it for me. I'd put it there Wednesday morning in case I ever felt hungry again, and promptly forgotten about it.

Fearing that I had misremembered this, I unpacked my gig bag with trembling hands, and discovered that yes! I had popcorn! Enough of that one working anti-nausea pill was still in me that I was able to eat it. I ate it very slowly and carefully. It stayed down. I was particularly nervous about this, since according to the doctor, my whole future was riding on my ability to keep food down, and thus walk away from here a free woman, or else give in to the vampires and possibly to my doom.

After eating, I felt remarkably better. It was really hardly any popcorn at all, about half a cup, but it was something besides acetone, and it made a huge difference.

There was an old copy of Women's Day propping up one of the trash bins, so I picked it up. This is evidence of my extreme boredom, as well as current inability to play hurdy gurdy with all this stuff done to my arms. It's not my type of magazine. Aside from the topics being boring, it's one of those magazines where it's very clear that the product the magazine is selling is the readership. The customers of the magazine are the advertisers. Almost the entire "non-ad" portion of the magazine was made up of brief articles about great new products the readers could buy. (Boring as this was, I was amused by the ad for frozen peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches. Who needs to buy that as a packaged product?)

I had just about decided that reading this magazine was more boring than staring at the ceiling, when I realized that the real meat of the magazine was buried on the overleafs of the drug ads. There were oodles of "Ask your doctor" type ads for prescription drugs, that had, for example, a picture of a smiling child happily working at her piano lesson, and a supposed quote from her mom who's delighted that this wonder drug has cured her darling's ADHD, thus enabling her to endure any number of forced piano lessons without complaint. OK, it wasn't exactly phrased like that, but that was the gist.

But on the back page of this ad, there was all this fine print listing the possible side effects of this drug, including hallucinations, stunted growth, and, I kid you not, "sudden death." Now this was interesting reading material. I mean really, I'd rather have my kid quit piano lessons. Apparently, some parents think differently.

As interesting as this was, I soon finished the entire thing, so I looked for other ways to amuse myself. I posed myself very carefully, poring over this magazine in as healthy, acetone-free a posture as I could manage, while casually snacking on salty hulls left in my popcorn bag. If anyone walked in, I would be seen as a perfectly normal, healthy person, not worth poking with needles at all. Anyone could see that it was about time to take this stupid IV thing out of my arm. It wasn't even feeding me saline anymore, as that had run out long ago. It was now just a needle in my arm for a needle's sake.

This bit of theater was wasted, however, as no one came in. Under my new popcorn power, I wandered out to try to snag random passers-by who looked like they worked there, to ask about breakfast, or if I could just leave, since I was really feeling fine by now.

This didn't yield conclusive results, so I went back to my room and sulked. It now looked like I'd never get out of here. I called Bob, who was sympathetic. I called Bob's sister Ann, who is a doctor, for advice on how to get service in an emergency room, and she said that just complaining a lot is pretty much all you can do. It also helps to have someone else there looking out for you. I called my sister Thea, who lives in NYC, to see if she could come rescue me, or at least bring me some food. I left a message on her voicemail.

Another vampire came in with her needles and tubes, and still no anti-nausea pill or food. I tried reasoning with her, until I remembered that I should just use the argument that worked the first time, so I did that and it worked again. The difference is, this one actually came back much later to say that the doctor had indeed called for more blood tests, but they were just using some of the blood they'd taken before. But if they hadn't needed that blood for anything before, why had they... Never mind.

Anyway, around 10:15, someone finally brought in a disposable foam breakfast tray! Although I have to call it brunch at that hour. There was no explanation for this apparent change of heart or odd schedule. She also brought me an anti-nausea pill. I wanted it by that point. I mean really, under normal conditions, if I spend a sleepless night being bled, and then only have a tiny bit of popcorn for breakfast, I'm feeling pretty nauseous anyway, whatever happened the previous week. Don't you get like that? OK, maybe it's just me.

Here is a complete listing of items on the tray that I was not allergic to:

One hard-boiled, green-yolked egg.
One very small cup of orange juice.
Two packets of grape jelly.
Salt, pepper, and two packets of sugar.

There was also coffee, but I probably don't even need to mention how badly caffeine messes me up.

A mysterious thing is that there was nothing to put the jelly on, allergen or not, unless I was supposed to put it on the egg. Whatever. I ate the egg, the salt, and even the grape jelly, slurping it out of the packets like it was some slime-themed candy marketed to kids. I drank the orange juice in one gulp. I even considered the sugar packets. At that point, anything besides acetone was pretty appealing. But I know that too much sugar can mess me up at the best of times, and these were not the best of times.

In short, I ate what was edible of this brunch in less time than it takes to describe it. I then figured out how the sink in the room worked, and brushed my teeth. I brushed my hair, which was quite a spectacle by that point. I tucked in my shirt. I sat around waiting to impress someone with my ability to both eat and keep down breakfast, and then lounge about in a relaxed, yet vibrant, healthy way, but there was no one to impress. I even would have been willing to give more blood if anyone had wanted it, if it would have gotten me out of there. Blood-acetone-level-sensing-ability is not counted among our senses like sight and hearing, but I was feeling good enough that I was confident that any blood work they wanted to do would prove that the acetone was gone, replaced by nice healthy blood sugar, courtesy of all that grape jelly.

I wandered out again, with a perfectly healthy, relaxed, vibrant stride, and tried to snag random passers by to ask how I was supposed to get out of here, and also how I was supposed to get this needle out of my arm. A few people said they'd send someone around to remove the needle, and a few people said they'd send a doctor around to discharge me. This cheered me for a while, until more time passed and I realized that I had to keep working at it. I kept working at it. This is not a job for the timid, but it is a great job for the bored.

I eventually got the information that they couldn't discharge me until they got some test results back. That made sense at least. They sent me to sit in the radiology waiting room so they could use my bed for someone who was actually sick. All my strutting around had made the right impression.

My sister called, and said she was coming to pick me up, which was great news. For all my strutting, I still felt more secure traveling in company, presuming they would actually let me leave here.

I was tired of sitting, so I wandered around. I watched them serve lunch to the other patients. I really don't know what kind of connections those patients had, but they were clearly better-connected than I. What the heck, I asked if I could have lunch. One person said to just take a tray off the trolley, but then another person asked what I was doing messing around with the trolley, and what was I doing here, and was I even a patient anyway or just some healthy person who had snuck in off the streets with no good in mind? I mean, two or three shifts had gone by since I'd first come in, so these people didn't even know me as the puddle of acetone I'd been to the first shift.

I pulled up my sleeves and showed her what they'd done to my arms, and she changed her tone entirely. She even offered to get me something I wasn't allergic to, and found a packet of corn chips and some fruit. I was extremely delighted by this, so I took my treasures back to my seat in the waiting room. When my sister arrived, she found a me very happily eating the pear and the corn chips simultaneously. She questioned the health value of the corn chips, but hey, they were technically food, even if they were deep fried.

Around 2:30, someone reported that the results were in and were fine, so she could discharge me. Even though I was in a hurry to get out of there, I took the time to ask what these results were that had taken so long, and what all these mysterious tests had been in the first place, and what they'd needed all this blood for anyway. She said that if I wanted the test results, when I checked out at Window 5 (just follow the blue line) the person there would give me the number of the records department, and I could call them to ask about how to get the results. This implies a rather complicated filing system, in which the records of all these tests are not housed anywhere near the hospital where the tests are needed. I'll make as much of a quest out of this as my patience allows.

She also gave me a prescription for the wonderful anti-nausea drug, that had cured me despite the best efforts of all these vampires. She even took that nasty old needle out of my arm, and put a really thick bandage on it, tight. Nonetheless, when I bent down to sign the thing she told me to sign ("Wait, what are you signing!" shouted my sister the lawyer) more blood than I thought I had left in me soaked all the way through that thick bandage, and poured down my arm, onto the paper I was signing, onto the chair I was awkwardly resting the paper on, and onto the floor. My sister is never happy about me signing anything without reading it carefully, and here I was signing it in blood.

The nurse scurried away to get an even thicker bandage, and put it on even tighter. I somehow couldn't hold a grudge against someone who was handling the paperwork that allowed me to leave this place.

After bleeding me one last time, she of course took my blood pressure. I'd rather she'd taken it before, but whatever. It was apparently high enough for her to allow me to leave. If it had been too low, they would, of course, have had to keep me there for longer, taking more blood samples I'm sure, until my blood pressure got high enough for them to discharge me. That is, they would have bled me to death. OK, with my sister there, I'm sure she would have prevented this. But not everyone in that emergency room had a friend there to help them, and a lot of them were in much worse shape than me, and I'm sure less capable of defending themselves from vampires.

We headed out into the snow. We went to a drug store, but they didn't have that drug, so we decided to look more later. First, I took my sister out to lunch. It was delicious. I then looked online for all the drug stores in the area, and called around until I found one that had it. I sent my sister out to buy it for me. Due to some confusion between the drug store and my insurance card, they charged me full price, $90 for a total of 4, count them four, pills, which should be taken 3 times a day. I will follow up on this later. Anyway, this will at least get me back to Ithaca, where I can recouperate, hope my left hand shrinks to normal size, and make an appointment with my regular doctor to try to interpret those mysterious test results, assuming I can retrieve them.

As I write this, my left forearm, most noticeably my hand, is badly swollen. I can type, but playing hurdy gurdy would be awkward with fingers this thick. I think they damaged the vein pretty badly, either during the three times they put that big IV in, the three times they yanked it out, or possibly just during the 16 hours they had that vein serving their purposes as a needle-storage tube, rather than its natural function to convey blood from my forearm back to my heart. It's not doing that job particularly well at the moment. I assume that it will heal itself just fine with time. I'm not going to a doctor about it, I'll tell you that much.
Sat, February 23, 2008 - 7:29 PM — permalink - 6 comments - add a comment

21–30 of 174
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I'm in Ithaca, rooting through the pile of interesting instruments I got at that estate sale way back before I left for Qatar. There's a lot of good stuff in the pile. For one, I have this huge Tibetan conical-bore wind instrument, that you would think was some kind of zurna, except it has a single reed! It's a small, thick reed, so it doesn't sound much like a clarinet. It even plays an actual useful scale, unlike some of the other things in the pile.

I've also been busy cleaning off the furniture I brought back from my dad's place. My dad wants to retire to Florida (actually, he says he doesn't want to, but it's the law) so he wants to clear his NYC apartment of stuff so he can rent it out. Anyone need any stuff? I mean any stuff at all, of any kind, I'm sure my dad has a big bin of it. I've already taken a big load of candles to our weekly show at Je"Bon, and the belly dancers were happy to take them. Then last week, I took a huge bag of silly wigs, and those went over well too. There's all this stuff that I'm sure would be useful to someone, so we don't want to just throw it out, but it mostly wouldn't be worth the trouble of putting it on ebay.

My dad also has some beautiful furniture that had belonged to my grandparents. Bob actually managed to fit this big beautiful china cabinet into his car, and once we get it cleaned up, it will make a great home for our instruments. We could even put a humidifier in there, so things don't parch in winter. But someone clumsily spattered paint all over it, so we're scrubbing that off the beautiful wood.

Speaking of wood, our house, which was built in 1880, has quite a lot of beautiful wood in it. You can't get wood like this anymore, since the American chestnut trees that produced it were wiped out by chestnut blight. But some fool painted over all this beautiful wood with boring, and now flaking, white paint. When Bob first moved in, he set about rescuing the wood from this unjust obscurity, but after making a few rooms beautiful, he decided to live with the boring white paint in the rest of the house. I can't say I blame him, as it's a lot of work. But this is an issue now, as we're thinking of selling the place.

It's a fine house, but the thing is, it's just to small to hold a decent dance party in. We have a friend who holds dance parties all the time, and we're envious of the big room she holds them in. (She'd be happy to sell her house to us, as it's usually just below an artificial pond that someone situated on top of the hill in her backyard. That is, the pond is usually above the house.)

Plus, our garden is tiny and shady, and I want room to plant some pawpaw trees. You should go google pawpaw trees. They, like the wood in our house, have inexplicably been obscure for ages. And what native North American fruit becomes popular instead? The cranberry, a tiny, hard, sour fruit. Pawpaws are much more deserving of fame than the cranberry, and I want to plant some.

And some native plums, which are another unjustifiably obscure fruit. Back in 1779, George Washington ordered Major General John Sullivan to wipe out the native Americans who were living in this area, with orders including these: "The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more." Sullivan followed Washington's orders, and proudly reported that his troops had destroyed "40 Indian towns, vast fields of vegetables and fruit trees, and 160,000 bushels of corn." The people he didn't manage to kill starved to death the following winter. They didn't teach that in your history class, did they? Instead they teach a different story about George Washington and a cherry tree. Apparently the warning signs were there even as child.

The lesson I get from this, aside from the fact that our country's history is not exactly spotless, and they don't teach about the spots in standard history classes, is that there are some native trees that produce very tasty fruit, and I want to plant them. I just hope that Sullivan isn't around to chop them down.

So now Bob and I are looking for a house with a bit more yard, as well as at least one big room to hold a dance party in. Bob also says stuff like our kitchen isn't big enough, and I'm like, dude, you don't even cook, so you are no judge of kitchens. Our current kitchen is bigger than some NYC apartments.

I actually too busy to blog, what with all the stuff to do to get the house salable. Bob and I have decided on a division of labor that involves me destroying things and throwing them away, and Bob fixing them afterwards. First step, that moldy stuff in the basement.
Mon, January 28, 2008 - 9:21 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Back in NYC!
I am so glad to be back in NYC, I'll keep this blog short.

I really missed my hurdy gurdy while I was in Qatar, so I was very glad to return to it, and find it in almost perfect tune! To my further surprise, I still remembered how to play it. I was concerned, since you know how that say that certain things are like riding a bicycle, in that you don't forget them? When, in England, I borrowed a bike from Bob's sister and felt very wobbly on it, as I haven't ridden a bike in years. But I remembered just fine how to play hg. I'm working on getting my crank calluses back.

It feels so good to be playing with Djinn again. At the show at Je'Bon last night, I forgot that I didn't know how to play a few tunes, so I played them. Also, it's such a delight playing for such talented dancers!

Enough blogging. More busking!
Thu, January 10, 2008 - 8:03 AM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Hey, I'm in England
Just a brief post from England on my way back to the states. I have a niece and nephew with British accents! Theyr'e adorable. If all goes well, I'll be back in Ithaca in time for the New Year's Eve contra dance.
Wed, December 26, 2007 - 12:43 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Leave the country cleaner than you found it
I have too much to cram into one blog, but I'll try. Bob is in the kitchen reassembling the skeleton of something with very long fangs, and he occasionally shows off his work, but I'll try to blog through this distraction.

Bob's final grades are in, so we've actually had some time to go exploring in the last few days. Bob turned in his rental car for a rental 4-wheel drive, which was necessary for serious exploring.

Bob's colleagues often have suggestions of places to explore, but we've also done well finding a spot on the map, or on Google Earth, that looks interesting and heading in that direction, seeing what we see along the way. The roads are totally under construction, by the way, like everything else in the country. Alongside the roads, which are being built as we drive on them, there is flat desert to the horizon, speckled with subtle hints of green from the tiny, hardy plants that live their slow, harsh lives here. But more often the view out the window is of the construction vehicles tearing up the aforementioned delicate desert ecosystem to build suburban housing.

The day before yesterday, we went to the shore near Simaisma, where some folks found a new species of sea slug in March. After driving through a lot of tedious desert, we got to a beach, with pretty shells, but most importantly, mangroves! The land may be barren, but on the shore, there are honest-to-goodness trees, with shiny green leaves and everything, and little tweeting birds flitting between the branches, singing songs that did not exactly harmonize with either of the calls to prayer coming from the two nearby mosques simultaneously. I think it was low tide, which meant that we could walk right up to the mangroves, but we tried not to step on those peculiar breathing tubes they send up out of the sand.

A short drive later, we got to salt marshes. It looked almost like a familiar landscape out the window, with low green plants almost covering the sand, and trees (i.e. mangroves) but when we got out of the car, we could see that it was quite alien. For one, this environment was incapable of supporting human life, at least human life that weighs as much as us. What looked like solid ground, or at least damp sand, was, in fact, mud made of water, salt, and a bit of pale grey dust.

Bob said that the low plants looked sort of like salicornia, which is edible. Now, Bob is not a botanist, and in general seems to think that two plants must be the same species if they are both green. But he was willing to taste some, and declared that it tasted like salicornia, i.e. like salt. Now, I was pretty sure that everything in this environment, including the lower legs of our pants by this point, tasted like salt, but I was willing to give it a try. So I put a bit in my mouth, but first licked off the salt that was covering the outside, which was considerable. Then when I was sure that was gone, I bit into the juicy, crispy plant itself. It tasted like salty broccoli. I can see how it would be good mixed with other, non-salt-based vegetables.

Wandering through the salt marsh, we found a small skull, and wondered what bird it was from, until we saw that it still had a tooth. Then we wondered what mammal it was from, which was a more interesting question somehow, since we hadn't seen any local mammals like this. We looked around to find more of its skeleton, and found leg bones, vertebrae, some fearsomely long teeth, and even a little hand-like paw. It's like a build-your-own-mammal kit. I'm guessing it was originally about as big as a large subway rat. We'll have to ask someone what this is.

In our wanderings, we saw many beautiful but timid birds, soaring white birds, little shorebirds that run along the beach on long legs, little chirping birds in the mangroves. But the most birds we saw were on one stretch of beach, where we counted 25, and got really good close-up looks at all of them. This was easy, because they were all dead. Little songbirds, long-legged little shorebirds, two big stout ducks, and a pink flamingo, all lying there on beds of salicornia, feeding the flies. We have no idea what this was about. We have a theory that someone was using them for target practice. I would develop some theory about bird flu (which is the reason there are no eggs in the supermarket) but it seems unlikely it would be isolated on this one short stretch of beach. We didn't see any really old bird skeletons or any really recent ones, which would suggest that bird death was a continuing occurrence on this beach. It looked like most of these birds had died a week or two previously.

One of Bob's colleagues had mentioned that he found a great stretch of beach that featured the corpse of a dugong, and bags of very tasty tea that apparently fell off a ship. We soon found a large plastic bag, full of small plastic bags, full of tea. Unfortunately, this was a while after Bob's colleague had been to this beach, and the plastic bags had let sea water in by now.

But more treasures had washed up on this beach. Between a couple of rotting corpses of birds, we found a larger skeleton, and I mean much larger. We were wondering if it was a camel, but we didn't see leg-bones. Then we saw a blubbery hide like an old blanket, and realized that it was the remains of the dugong.

Now, I've gotten along just fine never having seen the skeleton of a dugong and never felt that I've been missing out, and I also have to say that no part of said skeleton has ever been on my wish list. Then again, when was I going to get another chance to own a piece of a genuine dugong? Someone had already taken the skull of course (wouldn't you?) so we grabbed one of the choicer vertebrae. The rest is still there if anyone wants it.

Later, we saw a big flock of flamingos off in the distance, so I was glad that the dead one on the beach wasn't the only one I'd see. Now, the odd thing about them being off in the distance is that they were standing knee-deep in the water, and we were standing on the beach as close to the water as we could be without sinking too deeply, and they were still so far away we could barely see them. This is because the beach slopes less than many dance floors. If you wanted to go for a swim, you would walk for several blocks before the water was even up to your knees. Another odd thing is that there are no waves. There are just little ripples, small enough to fit in a sink.

This flat grey expanse is home to a whole lot of creatures that I can't describe since I didn't bring a shovel. All I know about them is that they dig burrows for themselves, and pile up little round balls of wet dust all around the entrances to their burrows. Also, snails like tiny multicolor striped unicorn horns crawl all over this landscape, leaving little trails in the sand behind them.

Yesterday, after driving through a lot of construction, we went to Ras Albrouq Nature Preserve, which has a sign at the entrance telling you not to bother the ostriches. Bob actually saw ostriches there on a previous trip, but I'm telling you right now that we saw no ostriches on this trip, so you might as well stop reading.

What we did see were mountains! OK, not mountains by Ithaca standards, but certainly by Qatar standards. These mountains were quite bizarrely shaped. They were totally flat on top, then had sides that either went straight down as sheer cliffs, or sometimes actually went in, so they were hourglass-shaped. Sometimes they had sides that sloped out like proper mountains, but those were not the majority. They were all the same height.

Anyway, the ones with sides that sloped out could be climbed up, although they were very steep, and composed of tumbling, fluffy rocks and deep dust. You might question my use of the word "fluffy" but I assure you that they were full of holes, so they looked kind of like lace. They somehow didn't look volcanic, so I think the holes were the result of them not being very waterproof, so rain erodes holes in them very easily. Lace made out of rock is rather scratchy.

So we sprinted up a mountain, and Bob took photos of me, then Bob sprinted up, and I realized that I forgot my camera in the car, so I went down and took photos of him. OK, maybe it wasn't a real mountain. It's the most geography they have around here, though, so we made the most of it.

Then we sprinted up another mountain together, and walked around on top. It was totally flat up there, with grey rocks and grey dust, just like on the lower level. It was like seeing two apartments on different floors of the same building that have exactly the same layout, but one has a better view.Well, it wasn't exactly the same, as the furnishings were different. There were a few little dry shrubs on the lower level, but mostly just lichens on top.

Looking down into the gorge between a couple of mountains, we saw an old tent, that wouldn't have looked out-of-place in a dumpster at Pennsic. So I went down to check it out, and saw that it was hand-sewn with big stitches, and the poles were bamboo and plumbing pipes. It was now the same color as the dust.

There were little footprints everywhere which we thought at first were from a dog, but we're wondering if they're actually from a desert fox, which supposedly lives around here.

After more delightful wildlife, including a closer flock of loudly honking pink flamingos, a large neat burrow entrance with cute little pawprints around it, and something Bob said looked like a dog tick, we drove on.

We soon saw a mysteriously sparkling field. Unlike the rest of the desert, it didn't have even tiny plants on it. So we wandered around, and found that it was totally covered with long, clear crystals growing out of the ground like a manicured lawn. Bob tasted a crystal (I am going to lose that man one of these days if he keeps this up) and declared that it wasn't salt, so it was probably gypsum.

Moving on, we got to a rocky shore with many little tidepools full of scurrying crabs and things, and more beautiful shells. This charming spot was overlooked by a watchtower that didn't have any Keep Off signs on it, but from the way the stairs were swinging, and the way the ground was littered with pieces of watchtower, it didn't really need a sign. If it were in the US, it would have had a sign, and a big barrier around it, and still there would be graffiti at the top.

It was starting to get dark, so we drove in a home-wards direction. By the way, there are no actual roads in these places. There are tracks, which we stick to since we don't want to kill any more of the desert than has already been killed. You can really see the tracks very clearly, since they're double lines of bare sand going through the relatively green desert.

Bob decided to take a track over what looked to me like a scary hill, and took us to a bizarre place. There were little round huts made of stone all scattered all around a little gorge. They had no roofs. A few of them were on the second level, that is, the tops of the hills. One was on top of a long-stemmed mushroom of a hill, so it was accessible only by rope, and the rope was broken. These huts were all identical, and, despite the primitive style of their construction, seemed pretty recently-made. Bob's theory is that this was an official park campground. I don't know, as people here seem to camp just fine in tents. We've seen lots.

Today, we set out in a different direction, and saw a sign for Al Khor Public Garden! This was very exciting to us, as we haven't seen a real garden for ages. So we drove to it, and saw beautiful green trees rising out of the desert in the distance. Sure enough, we got to a parking lot, where we parked with the other cheerful families, and walked through a gate, where I expected to pay an entrance fee or something, but no, it was free.

It wasn't really what I would call a garden, but it was a really nice park. I reminded me a lot of Flushing Meadow Park, in that municipal sort of way. It had well-established lawns with real weeds, and populations of lively insects, not like these scary monoculture lawns we have in Doha. Bob got some pictures of some beautiful butterflies. It also had trees full of cheerful birds, lots of white-cheeked bulbuls, which have looks and personalities sort of like chickadees.

The park was full of families enjoying the beautiful day. Oddly, although I saw lots of women in abayas, I didn't see any men in thobes, the traditional Qatari clothing. People wore whatever, Western clothes, beautiful saris, etc.

I marveled once again that they'd seemed to make no effort to plant flowers that belong in a desert. Here as in Doha, there were big simple beds of petunias all over the place, with occasional big simple beds of marigolds for variety, with irrigation tubing running alongside each plant. These are the same plants I can grow in Ithaca, and I don't need to see them here too when there are many beautiful desert plants that would probably do well here if given a chance. I've seen many beautiful desert plants in California, Arizona and Colorado, as well as in Oman, and I think they should be tried here.

But anyway, as we strolled under the shade of the trees, I heard a distant thumping, and tried to figure out if it was rhythmic. I eventually decided that it was. It sounded sort of like someone thumping on one of those big plastic water cooler jugs, like the Dilbert Marching Band in the Ithaca Festival Parade a few years ago.

Anyway, this was the closest to live music we'd been, so I was determined to check it out. We strolled in that direction, Bob photographing insects along the way. Closer, I decided that it actually sounded sort of like a drum circle, with two drums at least. Also, it sounded like someone was banging on a tin can with a stick occasionally.

We finally found the source. The two drums were a set of tabla, but not the classical Indian tabla I know. These were bigger, with a seriously big bassy large drum, and even a pretty big smaller drum. I had no idea that tabla could carry all the way across the park, but this drummer was really playing them. I'd say he was playing in a folk style, with an intricate, yet groovy beat, not the highfalutin complicated art style you hear in Indian classical music. I think he was playing in a fast 7 for one song, basically Doum---Tek--, with various fills, ornaments, and breaks. Also, he would occasionally bang on a tin can for variety.

The drummer was also singing, great, beautiful songs. Up close like this, the sound was perfectly balanced. Only the bass carried all the way across the park, where it sounded loud, but up close it was just loud enough.

There was also a great sarod player, playing a very old-looking sarod, the color of the desert dust, that sounded great, and also surprisingly loud. With its skin head, it sounded sort of like a cumbus.

These wonderful musicians were part of a small gathering of guys hanging out and enjoying the music. One guy was dancing in a random happy sort of way, which probably had an unfortunate effect on the video he was trying to take simultaneously.

We sat at what we felt was a respectful distance from these musicians, as we weren't sure of the etiquette. Even if we knew Qatari etiquette, which we don't, that wouldn't have helped as we're guessing these guys were Pakistani.

After only a few songs, a soccer game, a volleyball game, and cricket match started to get set up simultaneously on the lawn in front of us by a great many cheerful park-goers, so the musicians sensibly put their instruments safely away.

Bob and I got up and continued our journey. We theoretically set out today in search of old petroglyphs that are supposedly around here. So, we did as the guidebook said, drove to the abandoned village (which seemed to have been abandoned in the 70's, judging from the remains of the cars in the garages) and made a right into the desert. However, rather than petroglyphs, we found instead a long row of tents and RVs, extending all along the coast until the next town.

Whatever. We kept driving. Bob at one point decided to follow a little track off-road, and took us to a beach. This one had rocks off in the water, with birds perched on them, that the zoom on the camera revealed to be pigeons. We could hear them cooing when we got out of the car.

There were also cuttlefish bones all over the place. You know, the ones you buy in pet shops for your parakeets and canaries to nibble on for the calcium. They were all over the beach, one with part of a cuttlefish still attached. Many of them had beak marks, as the local birds do indeed nibble on them.

Then we saw something very sad. A small sea turtle was on the beach, flies in its eyes. There was still a ragged old fishing net wrapped around its neck and front flippers. Just think about being a sea turtle, and you get caught in this weird thing, and it wraps around your neck and is slowly choking you to death, and you can't get it off because you don't have hands.

Now, I'm not a a vegetarian, and I somehow wouldn't have been so upset if someone had killed this turtle for food, but it was just so pointless for this rare creature to have died just because someone was careless about how he disposed of his old nets.

I couldn't do anything for this turtle, but I could do something for other turtles, so Bob and I picked up some litter off the beach before it could wash into the sea and kill some more turtles.

This was quite a job. I believe I've mentioned this before, but beaches in Qatar are the filthiest, most trash-strewn places I've ever seen. They are worse than the most littered street in NYC after the rowdiest, most drunken holiday. They are worse than the apartments and even the cars of former friends of mine. They are covered with trash, not just the trash that washes up on shore from afar, but trash obviously left by picnickers, still laid out in neat picnic formation.

There were trash cans every few yards, so as Bob and I walked along, we would pick up trash to put in the cans, but our hands would get full before we'd gotten even halfway to the next can. The cans were generally empty, so there was at least plenty of room. We threw away plastic rope, plastic bags, plastic nets, plastic bottles... Of course, I don't know where this stuff goes after it goes into a trash can. For all I know, it gets dumped into the sea.

We could only do so much of this before getting overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the task, so we drove on. Maybe next time we're here, we should organize a beach clean-up day. Sort of adopt-a-beach.

In our drive, we saw what looked like another abandoned village off the road a ways, so we went off road on an established track, and saw that yes indeed it was an abandoned village, like the ones we saw crumbling in Oman last year. It had a sign with some Arabic and a bit of English asking us not to disturb the archaeology. The sign was riddled with bullet holes.

This village was so old, the mosque actually didn't have loudspeakers on it! We climbed up the narrowest spiral staircase I've ever been on. I mean, I could barely fit my shoulders between the wall and the inner post. The steps seemed to be very sturdily made of some sort of cement, but then I looked up and saw that the undersides of the steps were made of thin twigs with a lot of insect holes in them, and mud insect nests. This was providing the structure to the mud that comprised the tops of the steps.

Whatever, we got up fine, and had a nice view of crumbling buildings. Then we spiraled down to explore the ruins up close, and saw lots of tiny lizards scampering over the crumbling walls.

A path led from the ruins to the beach, so we checked that out. This beach had to win the prize for the most trash-strewn. We can't even blame local Qatari picnickers for it, since most of it had clearly washed up from the sea.

There were no trash cans to put this stuff in, but when I saw that huge old net half in the water, I had to do something about that at least. It was truly so huge I could barely drag it up the beach. I dragged it up past the high-water mark and dumped it there.

Bob, meanwhile, after obeying my instructions to photograph me doing this good deed, ("Be prepared, and be careful not to do, your good deeds, when there's no one watching you") went back to his favorite hobby of picking up rocks and seeing what scurries away. Crabs scurried out from under these rocks to what they seemed to feel was the safety of our shoes.

Anyway, more than just trash had washed up on this beach. There were truly ridiculous numbers of cuttlefish bones, piled up like autumn leaves. I also found some parts of a sea turtle, a much bigger turtle than we'd found earlier. It had been dead much longer, so I could pick up parts of it without inconveniencing any flies. Bob found an interesting jawbone, with lots of sharp teeth. After this trip, we have enough souvenirs to furnish a natural history museum, if we can figure out what these things are.

These mementos will probably be really valuable once all these creatures are extinct.
Fri, December 21, 2007 - 2:05 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Midi carols
The decorations in the lobby of this apartment building now include a plastic tree and a very loud midi carol player, playing all the mall standards. Where's Islam's famed hostility to music when you need it? Bob said it sounded like a blog entry, so here it is.

Hm, what other news? Bob and a bunch of his fascinating colleagues and I went out for Indian food a few days ago. When we walked in, I thought to myself, "I don't need a place this posh." I mean, I could have done just fine without the jewels set into the tables, and assorted other products of the interior decorator's art that I wasn't interested in enough to recall now.

But once we settled in, I realized that not only did I not need a place this posh, I didn't even want a place this posh. The waitstaff kept fawning over us in an annoyingly groveling way. I'm perfectly capable of putting my napkin on my own lap. And they didn't seem to get the concept that we were sharing all our dishes according to which we happened to like best, so we didn't want them spooned out onto our plates for us before we'd had a chance to taste them.

The menu was big, glossy, and gorgeous with pictures of India. This restaurant specialized in food from one state, but I forget which one, sorry. The menu was amusingly written, in perfectly good English on one side, Arabic on the other. The amusement came from half the categories having headings meant to discourage you from ordering those items. There was a bread section, but it said that people there don't eat bread, they eat rice. There was a vegetarian section, but it said that vegetarian food is eaten only as a last resort by people who have no choice.

One dish in the vegetarian section claimed to be flavored with, I kid you not, "freshly broken clay pot." None of us were brave enough to order that. But, despite the discouragement of vegetarian dishes, we did get an eggplant dish, which had tiny black eggplants the size of cherry tomatoes, served with their long stems in a puddle of brown sauce. It was very tasty.

We ordered all sorts of different dishes, but they all came out looking exactly the same, brown puddles of sauce with brown lumps of meat (or eggplants in one case.) The sauces all tasted quite different at least. Except for the tiny eggplants, there were no vegetables on the table. At least two of us found the food, while flavorful, to be lacking in heat, so we asked for a few chillis on the side, but they never came.

People sat around trying to figure out which dish was which, while relating stories of professors they knew who had gone insane.

This feast came to 50 Qatari rials each, or about $15. When we got home, I ate some vegetables and felt satisfied.

Oh, and we taught our dance class Friday! Bob had been very cautious about inviting over too many people, since he was concerned that they wouldn't all fit in our living room. Is this a guy thing, that you think your living room is too small despite all evidence to the contrary? I just measured it, and our living room is 16 feet 3 inches by 30 feet 8 inches. Approximately. In realtor terms, that's frickin huge. Yes there's some furniture, but push the furniture aside and it's still frickin huge. We could hold a contra dance in here.

Despite this, Bob was concerned that it might get too crowded, which means that, of the few people who knew about it and wanted to come, only four were able to fight their way through traffic to get here. We got a call from a couple of people who were stuck in traffic and gave up on trying to reach us. We live right across from City Center Mall, which is convenient for me as there's a hypermarket in there, but on a weekend night (Thursday or Friday) traffic is ridiculous. The mall is where people go to hang out, stroll around, see and be seen. Even other times, it's always very impressive to see the young women trying to out-modest each other with their silky black abayas and masks, and the young men adjusting their head coverings at rakish angles. I'm not into malls, but you have to consider that before malls, people here really didn't have any place to hang out besides their homes, so they've made a big change.

But anyway, given the lack of public transportation, everyone drives or takes turquoise taxis to the mall, which means that even up here on the 17th floor, we can hear lots of honking from cars trapped in traffic. Oh, although it's called the 17th floor here, it would be called the 18th floor in the states. They start with the ground floor as zero, then you go up one flight and you're on the "first" floor. Lots of people get into the elevator with us, and take it up just one flight, because there's a health club up there. Then I assume they get on the stairclimber.

But anyway, Friday, the people who managed to get to our apartment had a good time, I think. Bob and I taught swing, which went over quite well. We also demonstrated a few other dances, and asked people to demonstrate dances they knew, so we got some Lebanese debke and Turksih line dances, and French ceroc as done by a Croatian from Australia in Dubai. This came with stories of what a fun, happening place Dubai is. Anyway, this is the sort of event we'll have to have more often when we come back next year. If Dubai can be a fun place, then so can Doha.

Mon, December 17, 2007 - 2:34 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Party by the pool
My last blog was a kvetch, so here's a nicer blog. Bob and I just got back from a very nice party, a barbecue by the pool of a beautiful compound where one of his colleagues lives. This being Qatar, the emailed invites asked us to RSVP so our host could give our names to the security guard at the gate of the compound. Also, this being Qatar, we got a bit lost on the way there, and seemed to be driving through miles of interior decoration shops. We finally reached a sort of maximum density of decorating shops, and got to something that's actually called the Decoration Roundabout by our GPS. So we found the compound, which is near there.

This compound was beautiful, with attractive buildings, green lawns, and lots of palm trees. But the best part, it seemed to me, was this big common area where the barbecue was, near a common building for events, with a gym with big windows that looked out on the glowing blue pool and hot tub. I'm not into the decorating aspects of this view, but it was nice to have a place where people could hang out.

These people really are a fascinating, intelligent, and diverse lot. They really should have their own blogs. They also are good cooks (and shoppers) and brought all sorts of tasty dishes. One guy brought a guitar and harmonica, and sang classic rock songs, accompanied by whoever thought they knew some of the words. It took me a while to figure out that the song I know as Lola does not include the spelling "Y O D A" and include verses about lifting logs with The Force.

When we got back, Bob pointed out that this building also has a pool and health club, so we went to those, and sure enough this building has a big glowing blue pool too, open to the sky on the second floor through some miracle of architecture, and a gym, and a big outdoor party area.

With all these amenities, it would be a shame not to host an event ourselves, so Bob and I have invited folks over Friday. People who saw us dancing to some of the classic rock tunes were very enthused about the idea of us teaching swing dance. We certainly have the room for it.
Tue, December 11, 2007 - 12:43 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Here's a little kvetch about slavery.

An odd thing about Qatar, and other countries around here like the UAE, is the exit permit system. If you get a job here, you need your employer's permission to leave. That means that, if, say, your employer feels like not paying you for a few months, or rapes you or whatever, you still are not allowed to quit your job or leave the country without your employer's permission. You're also not allowed to go work for someone else in Qatar. There are frequent defensive posts on message boards saying that this is not to be confused with slavery, but I really don't see the difference. There was a very carefully written article in the newspaper a while ago, saying that a bunch of workers were protesting outside a building, complaining that they were owed several months back wages and weren't allowed to return to their home countries. The newspaper was very careful not to name the company, or show any photos of the building or the protesters.

This exit permit system also causes problems like this:
A journalist was prevented from leaving Qatar to attend the Arab Free Press Forum. I'm sorry, but what the heck was Qatar thinking?

In other news, Bob mentioned that one of the students at the medical school was shunned by her classmates when they found out that her father was a musician.

On the plus side, the seafood selection at the hypermarket is fabulous. You can get all sorts of perfectly fresh fish for like $1.20/pound.
Mon, December 10, 2007 - 10:52 AM — permalink - 5 comments - add a comment

New photos
I just put up a bunch of new photos from a drive we took Dec. 1. (Two colleagues of Bob's, Bob, and me, in a 4WD, in the desert.) I'll blog with details later, but for now enjoy the photos.
Wed, December 5, 2007 - 5:30 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Is that a spork in your skort, or are you just happy to see me?
Ok, by popular demand, here is some more information about the Hash House Harriers, but I really told you all you need to know in my last blog. They're a bunch of folks who go running around in the desert. Someone goes out ahead of time, and spraypaints occasional rocks red to mark a trail, but the trail isn't supposed to be that obvious, because getting lost is part of the fun.

Maybe I have to explain where this trail is. Maps in Qatar are hard to come by, often because they don't exist. Also, roads generally don't have names, and no one has addresses. Where do I live here? I live in an apartment building. It's near City Center mall, but it doesn't have an address. It used to have a name, but then it changed ownership, so maybe it still has that name, or maybe it has a new name now. No one really knows, or at least, no one I know knows who knows.

So, by spraypainting little red dots on the occasional rock, the HHH are actually being more clear and informative than whatever urban planners organized this city, if "organized" isn't too generous a word.

Bob and I showed up a bit late, because he was working. Bob works really hard here, by the way. They get their money's worth out of him.

The highways here actually have pretty good signs, but the little roads in the countryside don't have signs, so the trailhead was hard to find. We drove through what is destined to be suburbia, with lots of McMansions (Al Mansions?) under construction. Each house has a wall around it.

We finally got to a track in the desert, so we drove along it, and found an impromptu parking lot, with cars neatly in rows. We saw the HHH ahead of us, as we were late, so we hurried after them. They're a cheery, mostly British-accented crowd, doing a combination of milling around aimlessly yet enthusiastically over the featureless desert, and jogging. Occasionally one of them would tootle on a trumpet, symbolizing something I'm sure.

And this desert was pretty featureless. There was dust, and there were little rocks, and there were dried old camel droppings. That was really mostly it. There were also tracks of 4WD vehicles. There was the occasional bush or tree, very well-pruned by camels into ornate topiary. There were also occasional tiny plants. The desert was almost completely flat, but wherever there was a patch of ground that was slightly lower than the surrounding patches, there would be a few more of these tiny plants. One plant had tiny bright yellow powderpuff flowers. I guess the extra little bit of water those areas get makes a big difference. I really wonder what the desert would look like if you walled the camels and cars out of a section and just let things grow.

None of the HHH knew who owned this particular patch of desert, if it was private property or government land or what. No one bothered us as we ran around, so I guess it was OK. Someone said this group finds places to run by looking on Google Earth.

After this, when it was dark, people gathered to hang out in the parking lot. There was going to be some sort of circle ceremony, but I'm not into ceremonies, and it was dinner time, so we went home. Besides, what's the point of a circle without drums?

Yesterday, there was even more excitement, as Bob is on a list that got an email that there was going to be a movie at the Recreation Center on campus at 5:00. It looked like an interesting documentary about some medieval Islamic scholar.

This would be straightforward if it were at Cornell's Ithaca campus, but this being Qatar, of course it had to be difficult. There is no map of Education City. None. I dare you to find one online or anywhere.

So, Bob asked a couple of people where this mysterious Recreation Center might be, since he'd never heard of it. He got a couple of sets of directions, but of course, they did not include any names of streets or buildings, since they don't have names.

So, we drove around Education City, which is huge (1,400 hectares) looking for something that looked like a recreation center. Most buildings don't even have signs saying what they are. They're all huge, pristine, brand new buildings, done in a sort of modern classic Arabic style, but apparently they didn't have any money left over for signs.

We parked and wandered around in case that yielded better results. I went into a building and asked the security guard if she knew where the Recreation Center was, but she didn't know what I was talking about, and also didn't speak much English. I said that there was supposed to be a movie there, starting about now, and she said that the movie was down the hall, but it was starting at 7. I think that was a different movie, though, since this email said 5, and besides, with the female security guard and female students clustered around, it didn't look like men were allowed in this building, and Bob wouldn't have been on a mailing list advertising a movie in such a location.

So, we gave up, and strolled around the campus for a bit. There were gardens around that are actually pretty nice, and look like they've been there for longer than a week. Some plants have had time to grow so tall that they hide the irrigation tubing.

Today, I timed my grocery shopping to coincide with the peasants coming to clean the apartment. There are all sorts of interesting, cheap foods for sale, and I have the luxury of time to prepare them. For lunch, I made myself a salad with at least a dozen different things in it. It was tasty. At home, I normally just grab whatever's fast, and not necessarily nutritionally balanced. Then I run to some exciting activity. I thought the lack of exciting activities would make me terribly bored here, but I'm actually pretty good at keeping myself entertained.

There's a great fish section right there in the hypermarket, with all sorts of exotic fish I've never seen before. They also have some fish I have seen before, but only in documentaries about the plight of coral reefs. Parrotfish, for example, are beautiful, even laid out on ice. They're orange and blue.

I didn't get a parrotfish, but I did get a faskar, which after some googling I think is also called a double bar sea bream:
It was beautiful, with bright silver and yellow scales before the guy cleaned it for me. In my googling, I haven't come across anything in particular about it being endangered. I figured that if it's that cheap, it can't be that rare, anyway.

I'm having my usual ethical dilemma about eating beautiful creatures like this, so maybe I'll end this blog here and mull this over on my own time.

Oh, and the title of this blog doesn't mean anything. It's just something I've been saving for when I couldn't think of a good blog title.
Wed, November 28, 2007 - 3:04 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Qatar Hash House Harriers
Bob and I tagged along with the Qatar Hash House Harriers, who go running around in the desert every week. It was fun. I posted some photos, and also finally posted some photos that should go with earlier blogs. Enjoy.
Mon, November 26, 2007 - 10:08 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

I'm doing pretty well on the homework I brought to Qatar. I've been doing some sewing, reading Orchesography, doing my yoga, practicing sight-reading, and learning chalumeaux. These are all things that NYC was too distracting to allow.

Doha has its distractions, though. Here, for example, is a page listing live music performances in Qatar:
Click "Gigs By Date" to see the entire schedule for November and December. Don't worry if you have a slow connection; it loads very fast.

There's even another website listing music events:

Oddly, neither of these pages list the live "traditional" overamplified keyboard music at Souq Waqif every Thursday and Friday evening. I might add those events myself, just to decorate the calendars with something. But I might be too busy, as I'm getting quite engrossed in my homework.
Sun, November 25, 2007 - 3:00 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Persian Gulf Pleasure Cruise
27 folks from the medical school, including a few family members such as myself, took a little cruise today on a dhow. Now, I am a land animal, but I know that a lot of people enjoy being out on a boat, so I gave it a chance. I actually had a nice time. I still feel like I'm rocking, though.

We got some beautiful views of all the construction. An interesting thing, that you really notice from the water, is how extremely flat Doha is. If the sea level were to rise just a little bit, the whole city would be underwater. Considering how fast Qatar is selling oil and natural gas, they seem to be trying very hard to pump more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, raising the temperature, thus the sea level, as fast as possible. Well, Bob and I and all the other pampered peasants on the boat will have taken the money and run for higher ground by then.

Everyone on the boat was very intelligent and interesting, and had many fascinating stories about their travels, but I should probably let them write their own blogs about them. But I have it on good authority that Iran is a nice place to visit.

Our Dhow was on two levels, one shaded downstairs (but with no walls, so the view and breeze were unobstructed), one open to the sky upstairs. We could pick our sun exposure depending on the temperature. The breeze made it quite pleasant, so the sun upstairs was tolerable, and the view was nice.

We motored out into the water, then anchored just off a rectangular sort of island, that I'm assuming was man-made. It might have been part of "The Pearl-Qatar, A Riviera-style man-made island developed in an exclusive environment in Doha,Qatar and the Middle East's most glamorous address, covering 400 hectares of reclaimed land, is Qatar's first international real estate venture" according to one of the run-on-sentences on their overblown website. Of course, it also has "the charm of the old world, and the spirit of the new" just like every massive project of this sort. They've been building it for a while. Of course, they had to start by building some islands in unnatural shapes. It should be about done by the time the oil money runs out, or by the time the sea rises to drown it.

The young daughter of one of the professors said that it was an environmental disaster, and I assume she knew what she was talking about. Although she also said that she has recycling at her school, which was news to me. As far as I knew, there was no recycling in Qatar. It feels very odd to put perfectly good cans and paper into the trash with the custard apple seeds, but that's what we've been doing.

Anyway, once we were anchored off this unnatural island, many folks put on perfectly ordinary American-style bathing suits, jumped over the side, and swam around. As I said, I am a land animal, so this sort of activity is totally alien to me. But Bob, an amphibian, wished he'd known that this would be a possibility, as he could have brought a bathing suit too.

Folks swam to the island, walked up onto the beach, and disappeared over an unnatural hill. When they eventually returned, the one who'd gone farthest reported that he'd seen flamingos and a rabbit. It was almost enough to make me wish I were an amphibian.

The fact that our boat was stationary made us a landmark, to be circled by people on noisy jet-skis. I was somewhat concerned they would ride over the swimmers, but I figured the swimmers could duck under water if they had quick enough reflexes, and they probably did.

I stayed on the boat, and watched folks dangle fishing lines over the side. They hadn't brought official bait, so first they used bits of raw chicken originally meant for the grill, then they used leftover steak from the barbecue, since there was so much of it. It was really good steak, too. I hardly ever eat steak, but these people have really developed their grilling skills to a high art.

The fish appreciated all the food, neatly picking it off the hooks, so eventually folks got tired of replenishing their serving utensils for them. But then finally someone pulled up a line, and there was an actual fish on it, beautifully white with yellow markings. She tried to remove the hook to throw it back in, but it was impossible, as it had swallowed it. So there was nothing to do but put it on the grill.

So she took it downstairs, and when she came back up she reported that someone had scaled it alive, cut slashes into its still thrashing body, sprinkled salt on its wounded flesh, and thrown it onto the grill. She declared that she was now a vegetarian.

She didn't seem like a vegetarian, as she was one of us eating it when it was done. It was good, too. I just wouldn't say it was any better than well-prepared tofu.

This inspired more folks to keep baiting the hooks in the hopes of catching another fish, which I didn't see the point of, as we had so much leftover steak etc, we certainly didn't need any more food. But people cut up some of the steak to bait the hooks with, and eventually caught another of the same type of fish. This one hadn't swallowed the hook, so it was possible to free it and throw it back in. It swam away very fast. I felt worse about that than the one we'd eaten somehow. Torturing an animal for the sake of eating it makes some sort of sense, at least when there's no tofu available (and I haven't seen any) but torturing an animal for fun? Why?

We then watched the sunset, which was predictably beautiful. Then we headed back to the dock, thus putting an end to our fishing in this reputed environmental disaster area.
Sat, November 24, 2007 - 10:11 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Gelatinous Mutant Coconut
Thursdays in Doha can be fun. They're like Friday or Saturday nights in the states, in that that's when people go out and have fun. For example, In the evening, families picnic on the strips of grass alongside the highways in the dark.

As fun as that might be, Bob and I instead went to Souq Waqif (the old souq). Quoting from Marhaba, Qatar's Premiere Information Guide: "Recently Souq Waqif has undergone a massive transformation that has returned it to a look much more in keeping with its roots...external walls have been constructed from rough stone, ceilings from palm leaves, bamboo and rope..." Anyone who has been to a renaissance festival will recognize this style of construction, except it's Arabic-themed. I felt right at home.

This area was still under construction last year, and it was still fairly charming. It's done now, and Doha can now boast a neighborhood worth strolling in, and on quaint cobblestone streets, not the dust and rubble of last year. Someone who hadn't read Marhaba, or seen this area last year, might mistake it for an actual old neighborhood.

There's live traditional music every Thursday and Friday evening. Last night, that meant a band with about twenty drummers on frame drum, drowned out by one extremely amplified keyboard player. The local music here can be fascinatingly polyrhythmic, totally different from the Arabic music I'm used to. But that doesn't mean I want to sit through overamplified keyboard.

There was no place to sit anyway, since the outdoor seating area was packed. There was a women's area off to the side that was a solid mass of black. The mixed and men's areas were packed too. Rather than fight for seats, we figured we could hear the music just fine from further away, so we strolled.

Behind the musicians was a shop selling souvenirs, including some very quaint handmade leather sandals. I'm not sure if they'd really stand up to construction rubble, but they should be fine for walking on decent surfaces like those we enjoy at Pennsic. They're very similar to the sandals I bought at Pennsic for $70, but these were 50 rials, or $13.70. There were also even quainter shoes with long upturned pointy toes and all that, but I managed to escape without buying them, since where would I wear such things?

In another shop, there was quite a selection of Bahraini pickles, so I got a jar of chilli lemon pickle. Finally, I have spicy pickle! It's good, although not as complex as Indian pickle. They also had shark pickle that we decided to save for later.

This shop also had bags of little dark things, which Bob and I peered at in confusion until the shopkeeper gave us a couple to sample. He said they were full of vitamins. They were salty on the outside, then had a hard shell to bite through, and that was it. It was exactly like biting open a closed pistachio nut, but with no nut inside. There didn't seem to be much point except as a jaw-strengthening exercise.

There were also two oud shops, one of which had a workshop in which the ouds were actually made. It also had a bunch of lightweight doumbeks and such. Other shops had swords, daggers, jewelry, traditional rectangular clothing, remains of animals that Bob identified as South African springboks and North American horseshoe bats, and various other mementos of Qatar.

We strolled down a street with lots of little cafes, and were fumigated by secondhand smoke from all the shisha pipes. It's pleasantly perfumed, but I'd still rather not breathe it. We ducked into an alley to get out of the shisha district, and unlike any alley in NYC, it did not stink of urine at all.

Today, when we left the apartment building to get some groceries, we noticed that the palm trees in front have been untied. They're finally free to spread their fronds. Bob was very surprised, since he said those same trees have been tied up there for the whole three years he's been here. Maybe someone in maintenance read my blog. Hopefully they'll start on the piles of loose bricks that constitute the sidewalk next.

Today at the hypermart, we got various goodies, including, and I'm quoting directly from the label, "Gelatinous mutant coconut." So of course that's the title of my blog, but then I googled it and found that everyone on the web has blogged about it already, and they all think they're being all original and quirky. So I want it known that I'm using the phrase ironically.

We were tempted by the durians, but decided to google them first to make sure we knew how to pick a good one. We decided to have our Thanksgiving feast today, and it was quite a feast. Blue marlin steaks, some weird vegetable called red spinach that I think is some kind of amaranth, chestnuts, apples from China that smell like roses... We have much to be thankful for.
Fri, November 23, 2007 - 12:25 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Between a petunia and a hard place
I have the most time to blog when I have the least to blog about, so this is a test of my blogging ability.

Yesterday, I can't say that I woke up late or early, since I didn't wake up at all. That would have required getting to sleep the night before. I'm getting pretty tired of jet lag, and I hope I get over it soon.

I was glad for the excuse to spring out of my bed early, as I had to get out of the apartment by 8 to make way for the cleaning team. So at 7:45, I was out looking for an alternate route to the corniche, over more reasonable terrain. This early in the morning, it was relatively cool, mid-90's (fahrenheit) and of course it was blazingly sunny.

Immediately in front of this apartment building is a sidewalk made of decorative, oddly-shaped bricks in different colors, laid out in geometric designs. There are also two recently-installed palm trees with their leaves tied up straight, I assume for easier transport on the truck that delivered them. They should probably be untied at some point, but I bet no one knows whose job that is.

A few yards to the right, the decorative bricks have been ripped out of their geometric patterns by some construction incident and lie tumbled on the sand, looking as if they've just been dumped there by a truck. Yesterday, a woman had just parked her car by the curb and was getting out onto this "sidewalk" while wearing stiletto heels. I was having enough trouble in my sturdy sneakers. I considered offering her a hand, but I assumed she wore those stilettos because she enjoys twisting her ankles on jumbled bricks, and who am I to interfere with her pleasure?

I have to say a few words about the "sand." This is not like beach sand, heavy smooth grains. This is really more like dust, blowing in the slightest breeze. It's hard to tell how much of the haze in the air is dust and how much is pollution. Actually, sometimes much of it's fog, since it's extremely humid here. It seems unfair to have my visibility limited by fog and dust at the same time.

I attempted to leave the decorative brick zone by crossing the street. Each one of these attempts is an activity worthy of its own blog entry. There is absolutely no provision made for pedestrians here, even though there actually are many of us who attempt to walk here. Well, a bunch of skinny dark male peasants, and me, filling the skinny dark stereotype fine at least. I fill the peasant role too, since really, even though Bob and I have a very plush life here, we have the same legal status as all the construction workers, petunia-installers, and apartment cleaners. That legal status deserves its own blog, but for now, if you're curious, you can read the forums on www.qatarliving.com to get an idea.

Anyway, it looks like they have the concept of sidewalks, but whatever sidewalks they once had have been destroyed by construction, and we pedestrians who chose to brave the rubble have to leap over deep pits and dodge massive construction machines driving victoriously all over the mangled remains of the sidewalks. At least they never make beeping backing-up noises. There are no barricades warning pedestrians away from danger zones, since it's assumed that any sane pedestrian would stay the heck out of Doha in its entirety. Maybe there was a sign at the airport I didn't notice.

But I get the impression that at least theoretically, there will be sidewalks here eventually, which suggests the knowledge of the existence of pedestrians. Given that knowledge, it's odd that no provision has been made for us to cross the street. I can't really call them streets; they are highways. I did see one of those painted striped pedestrian crossings across one of the highways, but it leads from an impassible pile of rubble on the "sidewalk" to the strip of petunias in the middle of the highway, which we're presumably meant to trample. There's a paved patch in the median a ways away, but it's pretty far from the walkway. Getting from the rubble to the petunias, or from the petunias to the rubble, was the goal that the designer of this walkway assumed would be dearest to the hearts of pedestrians.

Even if darting back and forth across a highway between a pile of rubble and a strip of petunias were my idea of fun, it wouldn't be wise to satisfy this urge this in Doha, since pedestrians here do not have right of way, and are apparently invisible to drivers.

If I went to an intersection to wait for a light in my favor, I'd be waiting a while, since their are no traffic lights, or American-style intersections. What they have here are roundabouts, which drivers enter at full speed with no regard for which vehicles have right-of-way, swoop around like comets around a sun, and ricochet out of on some different trajectory. Accidents at these things are frequent. An odd thing is that in Qatar, whenever you have any accident at all, you're legally required to leave your cars exactly where they are, no matter how badly they're blocking traffic, until the police show up to make a report. The resulting blocked traffic enables pedestrians to cross the highway fairly frequently, so I have to count that as a good thing. On my walk yesterday, the traffic jam caused by two stationary cars and the bumper lying on the road between them was the only thing that enabled me to cross the highway on at least one occasion. That was an accident I saw immediately after it occurred, but I should thank many other anonymous drivers for causing the traffic jams that enabled me to cross the highways on other occasions, so here in the public forum of this blog, I offer my heartfelt thanks.

Once safely away from the jumbled bricks and on the construction-vehicle-tracked sand on the other side of the street, I found an easier route to the corniche. I was sinking into soft sand rather than teetering on jagged rubble more than half of the time. I did of course get gawked at by a whole lot of construction workers, since what the heck is a woman doing out of doors and in sensible shoes? But I got to the corniche just fine.

That little park with the sweetly flowering tree was being groomed by a team of peasants, so it was too hectic to relax in at the moment. They were mowing the lawn, and carefully scraping up every last lawn clipping to throw away. (Lest any topsoil form, and endanger their watering and fertilizing jobs I suppose.)

So I hurried along to the corniche, and walked along its pedestrian-friendly, but still terribly hot and sunny length. To my right was a strip of lawn and palm trees, just past that was a roaring highway, and past that was an endless expanse of skyscrapers noisily under construction. I took some photos, that I'll have to figure out how to get onto the computer to post.

At one point, I had a sudden urge to look into the water, and saw a school of thousands of little fish, all swimming clockwise in a very tight formation a couple of yards across, looking like Jupiter's red spot, but greyish-brown. "Wow," I thought. "How did I know to look at this exact spot, when here I've walked for blocks and not had the urge to look before?" Then I realized the fallacy of that, as I didn't know how much other interesting marine life I'd walked past in ignorance. So I walked for another several blocks, looking determinedly into the water to see what else I'd been missing. I saw nothing but trash.

I had planned to walk along the corniche all the way to the souk area, where I hoped to buy some sandals to replace the ones that got ripped up by construction rubble on my first attempted walk. (Upon closer inspection, I saw that not one but both of the soles had gotten completely shredded by sharp rubble, and these had been sturdy sandals once. It reminded my of my friends describing how walking on fresh sharp lava in Hawaii destroyed their hiking boots.) But the weather changed that plan, as I realized that it would be just about impossible for me to keep walking in this heat. Sweat was making my pants stick to my legs quite uncomfortably. (I brought long skirts and dresses which are cooler than pants, but I couldn't bring myself to wear them with these clunky sneakers, even to save myself from heatstroke. People who have seen what I wear are probably surprised to read that I do have some standards. They're low, but they exist.)

So, I walked back. There's been a lot of discussion on qatarliving.com about harassment and assault of women who dare to go out on their own, and this does make me feel a bit insecure when I go out alone. And I have to say that it was a bit scary to realize that a guy was "curb crawling" behind me, driving so slowly that he just kept up with my walking pace. But this was OK, as he was driving a lawnmower along the grassy strip, and probably couldn't go any faster.

I fought my way back through the traffic, and was quite surprised to see a huge black and yellow butterfly on some petunias in the strip in the middle of the highway. It looked like a swallowtail. It's pleasant to see some non-human life here, as it's so rare.

The heat had just about killed me by the time I got to the mall, so even though most of the stores weren't open yet, I was glad to be in air conditioning. It was a little before 10 AM. I decided to get some groceries at the hypermart, Carrefour, which was open. I blogged about this ridiculously huge store last year. They try to cater to every last ethnic group here, and do pretty well. They don't have collard greens or chili pickle, and their oatmeal is prohibitively expensive. But they have all sorts of good stuff, like a huge olive selection, and fresh ripe guavas, sapodillas, etc. Bunches of fresh herbs are just one rial each, and as a rial is worth only slightly more than a quarter, I've been enjoying those quite a lot. Basically, food is great and cheap here. Of course, I don't know what laws they have, if any, about pesticide residues and such, and nothing is labeled organic. Then again, I don't really know what pesticide residues I'm eating in the states either, as I get the feeling that they're pretty lax about checking imports for anything. It feels a little odd buying all this good fresh produce from Saudi Arabia when I mainly know Saudi from stories like this:
But I can now also say that they grow some nice crisp cucumbers there. Part of me wonders if I should be boycotting the whole country because of horror stories like that, but I doubt it would have any effect. They're not our allies because of their cucumber farms.

Carrefour also sells housewares, clothing, etc, and they seem to have an entire Payless shoestore in there as well, so I looked at their sandals. Unless all those sequins are actually really sturdy enforcement material, all their sandals looked like they wouldn't survive a single sprint across the highway.

So, I walked home (which is much easier to write than to do. A big glut of pedestrians built up on the strip of petunias in the middle of the highway, since one half of the highway was easier to cross than the other) and dropped off my groceries. The peasants actually hadn't been there yet, so I left, but said hi to them on their way in. Their supervisor was a woman who spoke English. If I'm mentioning women a lot in this blog, that's because I see them so rarely. Virtually everyone you see outside is a man.

I headed back to the air conditioning at the mall, and figured I might as well look for shoes there now that stores were finally open. In the mall, about half the folks are women, quite different from the street.

Qatari women look very graceful in their abbayas, made of such flowing, absolutely black fabrics you can just tell they're very expensive. They look like evening gowns. They're good for showing off their stiletto heels, outrageous eye makeup, and handbags. Qatari men, on the other hand, look kind of silly in their white thobes. I have nothing against men in long dress-like things, but what makes these look silly is that they have stiff collars exactly like old-fashioned formal European shirts, and big stiff cuffs with cufflinks. These things don't even look good in European clothing, so why would anyone want to imitate them?

I wandered around in search of a shoe store. What I found were oodles of stores selling the sorts of dresses that would only be appropriate at an awards ceremony, or possibly a prom. Apparently, there's a huge market for dresses that are absolutely encrusted with sequins, embroidery, jewels, trim... They basically look like belly dance costumes, but without the bare belly. Also, they look to be of higher quality, like real clothes meant to be scrutinized at close range, not costumes to be viewed from afar. I saw one store with dresses covered with sequins that were made of real metal, not plastic. Now that would be SCA period, if I wanted to blow Bob's salary on outrageous garb.

I didn't enter these stores of course, but it was nice to look in the windows, like displays at a museum. They also had home decorating and antique shops that again looked like museums. Someone who was into interior decorating, and had unlimited money, could have fun here. Or someone who enjoyed sprinting between rubble and petunias. Either of those people would be having a ball.

I finally found some shoe stores, but predictably, as women apparently don't spend much time outside here, there's no market for shoes that are wearable outside. They did have some nice fur-lined tall boots, which are probably what fashionable ladies are wearing in Europe and New York, so why not here? Just turn up the air conditioning.
Thu, November 22, 2007 - 3:42 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Interior Decorating
I woke up at two today, thanks to the remains of my jet lag. That's PM, not AM like yesterday. I'll hopefully wake up at a reasonable hour tomorrow, since I have to get out of here by 8 to make way for the team of peasants with buckets coming some time after that to clean the apartment.

I should describe this apartment. Most individual rooms in it are larger than the apartments of most of my friends in NYC. It's all done in soothing shades of cream and old rose. The sheer number of options for places to sit down in the living room is overwhelming. Do I want to sit on the couch, or the other couch, or the armchair, or one of the six chairs around the huge fancy wood table? Maybe before I sit down, I should get myself a glass of water from the kitchen, but that's an awfully long walk.

It's a shorter walk to two of the bathrooms. There are three bathrooms here for the two of us. One is just a toilet (with a hose by the toilet, Eastern-style, for washing yourself off.) One has a toilet, bidet, and shower, and one has a toilet, bidet, shower, and tub. There are two bedrooms, so one of them is my music room. I've put all my instruments in drawers to be out of the way of the cleaning team.

After my morning, er, afternoon yoga, I spent the rest of the day doing my music homework. I'm really liking my new chalumeaux. It's actually hard to not play them all sultry and swingy and gypsy-jazz-ish, and I don't have any documentation that that's how how they were played back in renaissance and baroque times. But they sound so cool like that!

The only thing left to blog about is the Education City Mixer at the Diplomatic Club that Bob took me to yesterday. We were a bit late, because he had a test to give in the evening, and then when he got home to pick me up he had to share in my celebration of my material possessions (many of which he hadn't seen before, since I got them at the estate sale after he left.)

Man, I'd thought the hotel in London was posh, but it was nothing to the Diplomatic Club. They really went all out to make it absolutely clear that they'd gone all out. Marble hallways, big bouquets of orchids, huge crystal chandeliers, and a plush deep blue carpet for a bunch of academics to grind caviar into with their heels.

Bob of course headed immediately for the food, which is his habit considering that he lived entirely off the snacks at these official functions before I got here to cook for him. If this spread is typical of his diet, he's been living off of quail eggs stuffed with caviar, shrimp, lamb, and mushrooms on sticks, papaya, kiwifruit, lots of complicated little assemblages in pastry shells, and various forms of baklava.

We also snagged some fresh-squeezed orange juice, mango juice, and limeade from the strolling waiters. Then we finally started mingling, and Bob introduced me to his colleagues.

We chatted with a professor of Interior Design (I guess I'm not allowed to make fun of interior design as an academic subject, when here I am a musician, and is music really any worthier a subject than interior design?) I mentioned that I was wondering about the legality of playing music in a park. My only concern about it had been a generic concern that anything that isn't normally done might be illegal. (See my blog from last year about the extreme military reaction to Bob's attempts to take photos of some ants.) But she pointed out two additional reasons that it might be a bad idea: For one, music in general is frowned upon by fundamentalist muslims, and we are under sharia law after all. Two, I am a woman, and women doing anything in public is also frowned upon. So, those two reasons, plus the generic reason that it's dangerous to do anything weird, add up to it being a really bad idea to attempt to sit under a tree in the park and quietly practice chalumeau.

We asked someone else where we might hear some local music, and he said that he'd heard the local music once, but it was really totally boring and unsophisticated, since it was "just drums." I said that when I'd heard some local music last time (OK, not totally local, since these bands were from Bahrain) I'd been very impressed by the polyrhythms, which are much more sophisticated than any rhythms I've heard in western music, or even in other forms of Middle Eastern music with which I'm more familiar. He repeated that the local music is totally uninteresting because it's "just drums."

Bob and I also chatted with a colleague of his who had quite a lot to say about his gas grill, and also how nicely his wife, who is an artist, has decorated their house here. We also chatted with someone else who wondered if any alcohol was available at this party. Now, alcohol is a depressant isn't it, and why would anyone need that at a party where people are going on about their gas grills, interior decorating, and music that's obviously inferior to Western music because it's "just drums"?

We finally got into an interesting conversation near the end, where people were discussing how the colleges might do some outreach to the community. A lecture series was suggested, with the various lecturers giving talks for the general public on their fields of expertise. Everyone is so busy of course, but Bob said that he might have time to give a talk on auditory and visual illusions, which you don't even have to know English to appreciate, or game theory, which is a fascinating subject. I mentioned that I really enjoyed learning about game theory and its applications to so many other fields, such as evolution. Then the conversation went silent. Apparently, a while ago some imam came to the medical school and told the students that everything they were learning there was wrong, since it contradicted Islam.

Then a young TA brought up the Flying Spaghetti Monster (sauce be upon him) and Bob and I of course burst out laughing, but it seemed like sort of a dangerous subject to discuss. Things were winding down by then anyway, so the last of us left. Bob drove us between the skyscrapers, most of which are still under construction, to take us home.

Oh, one more thing to blog about: on qatarliving.com, someone said that he had a dance troupe, that performs in "cinematic/western" style, and he was looking for any dancers with performance experience. So of course I called. I know most of you here on tribe know me as a musician, but I'm a dancer too. I studied modern dance in college, plus capoeira. I was in a performing Scottish country dance group in Iowa. Plus, of course, various belly dance performances, in troupes or solo. It would be really fun to be in a dance troupe here.

The first thing he asked me when I called was where I was from. "New York City," I said. "Oh!" He said. "I was looking for Indians. We dance to Indian music."

Well, then why didn't he say in his post that he only wanted Indians? I explained that I like Indian music, but he insisted that it was impossible for me to dance to Indian music, because I was from NYC. He has clearly never been to NYC.

Now, if he'd only wanted people who had Indian dance experience, it's quite true that I'm not qualified, but he didn't ask about that at all. All he wanted to know was where I was from, and that was answer enough for him.

I just checked his post, and he's edited it to say "indians preferred." [sic] Not "people with experience in Indian dance preferred."
Tue, November 20, 2007 - 11:22 AM — permalink - 4 comments - add a comment

Taking a walk
Now that my luggage is here, I spent part of the morning unpacking and assuring myself that everything is fine. Then I had to spend another good chunk of the morning playing my long-lost instruments, and starting my homework of sight-reading the Pennsic Pile. And of course revelling in the return of my workout DVDs, and doing yoga on my long-lost yoga mat. I bounced out of bed at four thanks to my jet-lag, so the morning had lots of room in it for these activities.

But I am in another country, so it was about time I did some exploring. It's a challenge to dress modestly yet coolly, but I think I managed pretty well. You know those long rayon dresses I wear at Pennsic all the time because I'm too lazy to make real garb? They're pretty modest with a long-sleeved shirt under them. Yes, I have the same vaguely late medieval look I have at Pennsic, but that's appropriate, since according to the Muslim calendar we're in the year 1428. There's an essay there, but I don't have time for it at the moment.

With my modest dress, my sandals, and my sunhat, I was prepared to head out into the world. Bob put a thermometer by the window, and it said that it was 107 degrees fahrenheit outside. Then again it was in the sun. Then again I was in the sun for most of my walk, since there's a serious shortage of trees here. I was soon soaked with sweat, since it's not just hot, it's very humid here, which seems odd for a desert.

Last year, there was a reasonable walk from this apartment building to the Corniche, which is a pleasant pedestrian area along the water sort of like the Brooklyn Promenade. When I say a "reasonable walk" I mean that long stretches of sidewalk were actually not torn up by construction.

It is no longer a reasonable walk. Along either side of the road (I can hardly bring myself to call it a street, since they don't make anything narrower than 4-lane highways here) what used to be a sidewalk was completely torn up and infested with construction vehicles. I mean, for blocks and blocks and blocks. It was an obstacle course. I started to doubt the wisdom of wearing sandals even before one of them got ripped up by the chunks of jagged concrete. For the rest of my walk, one of my sandals made flapping noises as its component parts flapped against the construction rubble and my foot.

Each construction site has a huge billboard next to it, showing an artist's rendering of the future skyscraper. They all look very bold and striking, but each one is portrayed by the artist as standing all alone in a huge open space, full of trees and parking spaces. But when these things are actually all built, it won't even be possible to stand back far enough from these buildings to get a view like that. They'll be crammed together like Manhattan, except all shiny and new. I sure hope they have a decent public transportation system by then, since I don't know where all the future occupants of these buildings are expected to park. (As of last year, there is a bus system, but the guidebook says in its mild way that in Qatar, men and women stay separate, yet there are no women's areas on the buses. Therefore men ride the buses. Women stay home I guess.)

But these artists' renderings are all very nice, and I'm curious to see what this country looks like when it's done. I have a sinking feeling that by the time all these skyscrapers are built, the oil and natural gas that's funding them will be just about gone, and they'll disappear like a mirage. Buildings with skins of dark glass, in a climate like this, require serious air conditioning energy.

Flapping sandal or not, I had a goal, so I kept going. I eventually came to a mirage, but it didn't evaporate, at least while I was looking at it. A beautiful fountain, with water spurting into the air and then flowing smoothly down dark stone curves, materialized mysteriously out of the construction rubble. There was grass all around it, so freshly installed that most squares of it hadn't had time to die yet.

So I walked around appreciating the fountain. There was a pair of shoes at the edge of it, and sure enough there was a guy wading in it, but he was cleaning it or something, rather than hanging out in it. There was another guy doing the same thing at another part of the fountain. These guys are all over the place. They're generally about my height, dark skinned, and thin. Here in the year 1428, the peasants are stunted by malnutrition in their childhoods, while the nobility have plenty to eat, and energy and time to spare to put on a thick coat of sunblock and stroll around a fountain.

I continued my walk, and finally came to an actual sidewalk, lined with plantings of petunias. They're seriously into petunias here. I haven't seen anything I'd really consider a garden yet, but they do have these huge monoculture areas of monotone petunias. They're probably best appreciated from an airplane. This part of the walk also had a row of starkly vertical royal palm trees with their trunks painted white on the center island in the middle of the highway for my viewing pleasure.

After a seeming infinity of alternating patches of white and red petunias, I eventually came to an honest-to-goodness park, with birds in it! The lawn looked like it had actually been there for a while, and couldn't easily be rolled up and removed. The edge of the park was bordered with shrubs and trees, which had a vine in the morning-glory family, with big purple flowers, rambling all over everything, and clashing excitingly with the pinkish-orange lantana blossoms.

I ripped off some of the flapping plastic parts of my sandal and strolled. One tree had beautiful white pinwheel flowers with yellow centers. Many flowers had fallen to the lawn, so I picked one up and sniffed it, and man, if it were a person I'd say it was wearing too much perfume. Nice perfume, though.

Birds were flitting all over the place, singing and taking baths in the leaks from the irrigation tubing. I looked up some of these birds last year. One of the most common ones is the mynah bird, yes, the one that talks. It was apparently introduced as a pet and took over.

There were so many pleasant spots under sweetly flowering shade trees, I couldn't help but think that this would be a great place to sit and practice chalumeau. I'm really enjoying my new chalumeaux, so it was hard to put them down and go out for a walk.

Then I remembered that last year, when Bob had tried to take some pictures of some ants he saw crawling on a bush, not one but two military vehicles had zoomed in to interrogate us for quite a while about who we were and what we thought we were doing. I don't know how they would react to something equally criminal like sitting under a flowering tree and practicing chalumeau. I don't even mean busking, I just mean playing music totally for its own sake, not with any audience in mind. I posted a question about this on www.qatarliving.com, which is a pretty bustling online community. No responses yet. The tricky thing is that, unlike, say, in the US, where I always get a printout of the rules from City Hall, I get the feeling that in Qatar, the law really is whatever they feel like making up at the moment. Like belly dance being illegal. I read some articles on that, and it seemed that no one really knew who had made this law or why, but it suddenly was the law.

So, I didn't join the birds in music, but kept walking through the park to the Corniche. There were very few people out, by the way. Some people were taking naps in the shade of trees. Most people who have the option are in air conditioning in the daytime.

The Corniche was as I remembered it, a long strip of pedestrian walkway along the water. I flapped my sandal along it for a bit, then flapped back. it was too darn hot.

On my way back, once I entered the construction zone again, I noticed a peasant digging a ditch wiith a pick. I'm sure this ditch is destined to be part of the foundation of a soaring skyscraper. It's being dug by a dark-skinned man of about my height and build. Maybe he should produce a workout DVD.
Mon, November 19, 2007 - 5:51 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

I have material possessions!
Gee, thanks for the huge outporing of sympathy from all my friends over losing all my instruments and stuff.

There was no need to waste sympathy anyway, as my luggage finally showed up today! Everything is in perfect shape! Except my hat, which got a bit warped, but it should still be adequate to protect me from the sun, so it plus some cool-yet-modest (and slightly wrinkled) clothes should now permit me to charge outside and see if Doha has gotten any more interesting since last year. Last year, the listings of points of interest mentioned a museum that was closed, but this year there are now TWO museums that are closed, so I have to count that as an improvement.
Sun, November 18, 2007 - 9:41 PM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Hey, I'm in Doha
Lonely Planet has called Doha the most boring place on earth. This was before Bob got a job here, so it's out-of-date, but still, Bob is working so hard that his students get more of a benefit from his presence here than I do.

So I packed lots of stuff to keep me occupied. For one, many of the new instruments I bought at the Tom O'Horgan estate sale were too interesting to leave behind. I very carefully packed my new rauschpfeife, a chalumeaux, and a tabor pipe in my suitcase, along with my old seljefloyte, fifes, and tinwhistles. Plus my zills and castanets. I've been neglecting my other instruments in favor of my hurdy gurdy recently, but these are all worthy instruments, so it's good to have a chance to practice them. I also have been meaning for quite a while now to improve my sight-reading, so I brought the Pennsic Pile and some other music books.

Aside from that, I packed my yoga mat and a whole bunch of yoga and dance instructional DVDs. I've really just been coasting on the fitness and dance skills I have already, although I know that as I get older I can't count on staying fit without working at it. And it's always good to learn some new dance moves. I've given myself homework of doing at least an hour of yoga and/or dance a day, so I can stay fit even if it's too hot, dusty, and/or uninteresting to do anything outside.

Plus, there are a bunch of sewing projects that I've been meaning to get around to for years. It's about time I finally made myself some really nice medieval garb for SCA events, so I brought yards and yards of linen, which had the dual function of cushioning the instruments. I also brought some totally glam fabric to finally make myself a cabaret belly dance costume that fits.

I figured that was enough stuff to keep me occupied for six weeks. And it probably would have been, if my luggage had shown up. If someone sees a large brown suitcase floating in the Persian Gulf or somewhere, would you please contact the Doha airport? They're looking for it.

They were very nice about this at the Doha airport. When the last of my fellow passengers had harvested their suitcases from the carousel, and it finally stopped running, someone noticed me standing there looking rather disappointed, so he came over and directed me to the missing luggage desk. Unlike the staff in NYC and London, the staff in Doha actually spoke English. They were very nice about filing a lost luggage report, and they said they'd call me with any news.

Luckily, I thought to pack the other chalumeaux and my mijwiz in my carry-on, and there's lots of sheet music online, so my sight-reading homework is still due. I have two workout videos on my ipod, along with a lot of great music I can try to play along with on my chalumeax. Of course, I already wore my spare set of clothing, but at least I can wear a dirty set of clothes as I wash the other dirty set of clothes.

Eh, all I really want to do is websurf anyway.
Sat, November 17, 2007 - 10:50 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Hey, I'm in London again.
I'm blogging from the internet lounge of the very posh Radisson Edwardian hotel in London. My flight from JFK to Heathrow was a teensy bit late, which meant I missed my flight to Doha. Virgin Atlantic was very nice about arranging: bus tickets to and from this hotel, a hotel stay, and dinner and breakfast.

The long flight meant I had time to watch Sicko, a documentary about the pathetic state of the American health care system. It compared it to the systems in other countries, including Britain, and I have to say that the British system looks good.

When I got off the plane, the immigration guy interrogated me very aggressively about what I was doing there, which makes sense considering how many Americans must try to imigrate, especially if that's the film Virgin Atlantic is showing.

In the lounge here, the front page of The Daily Telegraph says: '500,000 Record number of foreigners who settled here last year.' It might be for the health care, or it might be for the food, which at this posh hotel at least disproves the stereotypes you hear about British food. I had a great salad bar and grilled salmon and shrimp kabobs with safron rice for dinner last night. Or then again, the presence of all these foreigners might explain how good the food in Britain is now. Anyway, for breakfast, I attempted to go British, and ordered the porridge and some sort of fish thing.

Now, the fish thing required me pointing at the menu for a while, and the waitress squinting at it as if the'd never seen it before. She eventually went to the kitchen and reported that they didn't have it. So I ordered the other fish thing, the Highland Scottish kippers, which she squinted at similarly, but eventually figured out that they had. She brought me a very tasty fish, although if it was a real authentic Highland Scottish kipper, neither she nor I knew, since clearly neither of us had seen one before.

The porridge was more problematic. We did the usual pointing and squinting, but this time I asked her what kind of porridge it was. Was it oatmeal? I wanted oatmeal, but was open to other ideas if that was some authentic British thing.

I managed to get across that I wanted oatmeal. She came back a little while later with a pitcher of hot milk, which I assumed was to go with the oatmeal, which would be forthcoming.

While waiting for it, I availed myself of the buffet and filled up on stewed prunes, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, and, to be honest, lots of fresh pineapple, melon, etc, since even if it's not stereotypically British, it is good.

This was to pass the time as I waited for my oatmeal, but by the time I snagged the waitress to inquire about its whereabouts, I was pretty full.

I didn't know 'oatmeal' sounded so much like 'hot milk' but apparently it does. She appologized and assured me that she'd be back with my porridge. I attempted to communicate that there was no point by now, as I was full of other stuff, but figured that it was easier to just let that point go.

My porridge, when it finally arrived, was what I assume is a typically British puddle of milk with an occasional oat, and as I do not have the digestive system of a baby cow, I left it there on the table.

This was actually an improvement over the communication issues I had with the waitress at Virgin Atlantic's upper-class lounge at JFK. Now, after the show at Je'Bon Wednesday night (which was fabulous and really deserves its own blog) I went back to Queens, tidied up a bit, then got into the limo to take me to the airport. I had breakfast there, which felt a bit odd as I hadn't had any sleep.

I saw that they had various herbal teas on the menu, so I pointed to the Orange and Spice Tea. Again, the waitress acted as if she had never seen a menu before. She asked if I wanted orange juice. Now, I don't insist that waitresses speak English, but is it too much to ask for them to be able to read the menus of their own restaurants?

I eventually got some Apple Cinnamon Tea, which was fine. I also ordered scrambled eggs and homefries, with, most emphatically, no sausage, no bacon. The waitress soon delivered a cheese omlette with a big pile of sausage and bacon. As I didn't have a baby cow handy to lick the cheese out of the omlette, I left it there. I picked some home fries out from under the meat, but they were so greasy from the meat that I couldn't eat much. I mean, I like meat, but not the smoked fat some people eat for breakfast. If I were vegetarian or had religious restrictions, I would have been upset.

Considering America's pathetic health care system, I have to wonder if we get the second pick of waitresses, who couldn't get into their first choice of Britain.

I'd best get to the airport. My next blog will be from Doha.
Fri, November 16, 2007 - 3:21 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

CD/DVD release party
I've let so many blog-worthy events go by: Greece, Je'Bon, Halloween, busking... But I have to at least blog about the Hybrid show last night, if only because my keyboard happens to be working at the moment.

This was the release party for Pete List's new CD, and Kassar and Blanca's new DVDs. Sarah Locke made it look easy to organize a perfecly smooth show, full of amazingly talented people.

Pete might have the highest talent:ego ratio of anyone I've ever collaborated with. It's a rare musician who, while brilliant himself, also lets others shine through.

I loved hearing his various guest musicians. Tbird Luv in particular amazed me. She played the flute as if it was just a natural extension of her voice, not a separate instrument at all. Julianne Carney has that glorious combination of perfect technical skill and fiery soul on her violin. Why don't these people have CDs? I want to go to their CD release parties.

Irina's dance to Kassar Army thrilled me. She transformed each of Pete's drum beats, and each wail of my mijwiz, into moves of stunning grace and precision. I have a message for all the dancers out there: If you buy this CD, you'll be able to dance exactly like that too. Trust me on this.

Also, thanks to Blanca for inspiring Pete and me to learn a new tune for her gothic dance. This might be the start of a whole new era of gothic music from Djinn. Playing music is fun on its own, but seeing such wonderful dancing to it is even better.

Oh, and in other news, I now am the proud but very inexperienced owner of a rauschpfeife, a dulcian, and two chalumeaux. You might want to stock up on earplugs, since there will be a big run on them soon.
Sat, November 3, 2007 - 2:24 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Greece, youtube, etc.
To much to blog about! My trip to Greece was great. Until I have time to blog about that and other fun events, tide yourself over with this:

Here's a long video of me playing a couple of tunes in Union Square Park:
and here's an interview in which I'm slouching terribly:

These videos and many others of NYC buskers can also be seen on the videographer's website here:

Tue, October 9, 2007 - 8:40 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Collect them all
No CD collection would be complete without the latest from Pete List, and not just because I'm playing mijwiz on track 5. Here it is on CDbaby:

And on itunes:

This whole CD is awesome for tribal dance. If you want proof, check out these dancers in the video clips:

The CD release party is November 2nd at Galapagos Art Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NYC. I actually don't know what we're going to be doing at it without Pete's studio mixing magic, but I'm sure some sort of good time will be had.
Thu, September 20, 2007 - 9:59 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Maryland Renaissance Festival
Last weekend, I had the honor and pleasure of playing in Istanpitta:
at the Maryland Renaissance festival. Now, Istanpitta is a real, serious medieval band, that not only plays impeccably-researched period music on period instruments, but kicks butt while doing it. Despite these very high standards of authenticity and musical virtuosity, they're also very fun, laidback folks, who will happily play a cover of Djinn's Brooklyn Baladi on krumhorn, just like they would have played it in 16th C. Germany. Now I need to get a krumhorn. Like I don't have enough instruments to keep me busy already.

It was a really fun faire, and it seemed that many of my favorite people from Pennsic were there. Cercamon played gorgeously as always. Now that is a butt-kicking band. I covet their chalumeau, although it doesn't really seem very different from my xaphoon. The real difference seems to be in how well it's played, so maybe I just covet their musical skill. And the rather generically-named Rogues kicked butt on bagpipes.

The highlight may have been the jam Saturday night, when all the above-mentioned musicians played some of the most gorgeous, glorious, butt-kicking music I've ever heard. I was totally outclassed on melody instruments, so I played percussion, which I could do without embarrassing myself.

Whenever I hear musicians like this, I resolve to practice more. So why am I wasting time on this blog?

Oh, and thanks, Jim, for giving me a ride back to the bus station afterwards.
Thu, September 20, 2007 - 9:20 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Irving Plaza
Djinn's gig at Irving Plaza went pretty well. It was rather startling when they opened the doors, and a horde of thick-necked metalhead guys charged the stage, all wanting to be the first to slam against the anti-stage-diving barrier. In all my bands, I'm used to playing for dancers of various sorts. These guys were clearly not dancers of any sort. They were enthusiastic, though, and did seem to enjoy our music. They also greatly enjoyed the Bellyqueen dancers we had on stage, who put on a beautifully gothic show.

The audience may have enjoyed our music more than I did. I know, I've compained about sound guys before, but in this case I have to say that the sound crew was truly competent, capable of accomplishing exactly what they wanted. The trouble was, what they wanted was not to my taste. There's this style of amplification where they take the bass frequencies of any instrument, and amplify the heck out of them, so that every instrument sounds like a didgeridoo. They then amplify this low rumble so that it shakes the stage, and any individual sound, such as a the doum of a doumbek, feels like someone is kicking you in the chest. With earplugs, my ears were actually not in pain, since most of the frequencies in the mix weren't actually perceptible by my ears, but instead shook my body. But still, I wish that people who enjoy this sort of sensation would buy themselves a vibrator already and leave the rest of us in peace.

There were two bands on after us, and I think that under different amplification conditions, I might have enjoyed them, but there was no way I was going to stick around to get kicked in the chest some more, so I took my hurdy gurdy, headed down to the subway, and busked. Ahh. Now that's what a hurdy gurdy is supposed to sound like. The crowd was very appreciative, including some people who'd come straight from the audience at Irving Plaza.
Sun, September 9, 2007 - 3:56 PM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Guess the Species
Bob and I strolled through Cornell Plantations today. Photo by Bob.
Sun, September 2, 2007 - 7:12 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

I am The Loud
My whirlwind tour of Ithaca is going well. Last night, Mockin'bird played the contra dance. Now, it's always great to play in my hometown, because the dancers are so wonderful and enthusiastic.

Also, there's a sound system. Now, I strongly believe that if you can't say anything good about something, don't say anything at all. So here goes. You'll notice I am not actually complaining.

The sound guy set up a mic in front of me, I don't know why, because he never turns it on. I know this for a fact, because at one point, Bob tried to play his jew's harp, which is so quiet it requires serious amplification, but got no help at all from his mic. So, he leaned over to the soundboard, found the input that was turned all the way down, and raised it up, raising it until he hopefully got a sound out of his sillent mic. This resulted in a feedback sqeal from my mic, which was the one he was actually turning up from zero. Why his mic wasn't working was never really clear.

Whatever. I am The Loud. I don't need a mic, not even to power about sixty stomping shouting contra dancers. I can drum through crowd noise, amplified accordion and electric cello, no problem. When called upon to do so, of course. I can also be quiet enough to suit other circumstances, but "Melissa the Sometimes Loud and Sometimes Quiet" would be an unwieldy name.

Then tonight, the Cornell University Klezmer Ensemble played an honest-to-goodness bar mitzvah. We are now a real klezmer band. This was a different sound guy, and I'm sure he would have given me a mic if I'd wanted, but I was like, "Nah." So, I drummed just loudly enough to be heard through two amplified cellos, two amplified violins, an amplified upright bass, an amplified clarinet, a trombone. (which, like me, didn't need amplification) and a huge mob of excited dancing kids and their excited dancing families. People kept putting other people in chairs and then lifting the chairs up and carrying them around. A big enough mob of kids under a chair can pick up even a grownup. Cool.

This was one fun party, and they really went all out. allen our clarinet player (that is not a typo, that's how he writes his name) noticing the uniformed staff weaving through the crowd offering trays of delicacies, wondered if they'd come around with shrimp. Bob pointed out that shrimp were unlikely at a bar mitzvah. And allen should know that, too. Bob had no reason to know that in particular, except for the fact that he knows most things. But salmon is apparently kosher, so I pigged out on that, and some yummy pineapple on sticks, and a salad with flowers in it.

It was great to get this practice drumming, since I've been distracted by melody instruments recently. I've just been coasting on my old drumming skills, not really developing new ones. But tonight, I got better at playing doumbek and riq simultaniously. Bob, reading over my shoulder, says I should give myself credit for sounding like a whole drum kit on just doumbek and riq. Whether this is a worthy goal I don't know.

Oh, but this morning, I worked on some new tunes I'll be playing at the Maryland Renaissance Festival September 15 & 16. Al (capital A) Cofrin asked me to accompany him in his ensemble, Istanpitta that weekend. This is such an honor. Now that's a serious, talented, authentic period band, and their music is just so stunningly gorgeous. Actually, Al didn't say I had to learn these new tunes, just that it would be nice if I knew them, but I'm taking that as an assignment with a deadline, since it's about time I learned some new hurdy gurdy tunes. I've heard and enjoyed these tunes before, it's just a matter of working them down to my fingers. So, that's all the blog I have time for tonight.
Sat, September 1, 2007 - 7:57 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

New Generation
I'm so proud:
Read the last paragraph, or the whole thing of course.

I'm also really proud of Djinn's Djam at Je'Bon:
which went great last night. We got a lot of good feedback about it, including thanks for hosting an affordable event.

Tonight, Djinn is rehearsing with Unto Ashes for our show at Irving Plaza Sept. 7. I'm happily busy.
Thu, August 23, 2007 - 9:40 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Silent D
Just got back from Djinn practice (and then a yummy Thai dinner.) We have a lot of work to do to prepare to record our next CD, which will be called "Silent D." I'm sure people will still mispronounce "Djinn" though. Oh, and when I went to pick up the fliers from the printer yesterday, the printer guy thought I was a DJ named Inn.

Anyway, we're writing some really amazing new stuff, and then trying to remember it, which is the hard part. OK, we do 10 measures of 9/8 and then 8 of 6/8 and then 6 of 9/8 and...

It will be good to have a weekly gig at which we can practice these things, and test them out on our fans. Oh yeah, everyone should come to our gig tomorrow in the East Village:
Our special guest dancer will be the famous Morocco! Yes, that Morocco.

But for now, enjoy this picture of a mayapple. Bob and I went hiking through Six Mile Creek in Ithaca last week, and had a delightful time. One of the delights was that the mayapples were actually ripe. I've read in wildflower books that the fruits are edible, but they have an extremely short season, so I've never chanced upon them when they were anything other than hard and green or missing. But last week, they were actually ripe, so we ate one. It was delicious, sort of like a strawberry in its juicy, sweet tanginess, but with a different deliciously fruity fragrance. We saved the seeds to plant in our backyard. But then Bob googled them, and found that the seeds hardly ever sprout unless they first pass through the digestive system of a box turtle. Not having a box turtle handy, we'll just have to stick them in the ground and hope.
Tue, August 21, 2007 - 8:59 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

I'm back in NYC!
NYC is just like Pennsic, except drier. I took the bus in today, and went straight to Djinn's gig in Long Island City, organized by the always amazing Sera. We played for many talented dancers. What more could we want? Well, better sound, for one. The sound guy piled all the speakers in one corner of the room, and wanted us to play huddled behind them. How are we supposed to improvise with dancers we can't even see?

We eventually convinced the sound guy to let us play on the actual stage, but then he keep tweaking things, as far as I could tell, to ensure maximum feedback. Pete would run over to the soundboard and fix things so there would be no feedback, but as soon as Pete got back on stage, the soundguy would tweak things to make feedback again., or make something inaudible. We really need two Petes, one onstage and one doing sound.

But anyway, it was a very fun gig nonetheless. There was no mud and no smoky firepit, so I really can't complain.

Afterwards, we were all hungry, but there was no place to eat around there, so we went all the way up to Mezzo Mezzo in Astoria, arriving around 1:15 AM. Of course, the band was still going strong, the dance floor was packed, and I was surprised we could get a table. We danced until our food arrived, and then chatted with the various band members who came over to our table to say hi.

I'm home.
Sun, August 19, 2007 - 12:52 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

My Brain Weighs 3 lbs
I'm back from Pennsic, and I was planning on waiting until I was fully recovered and rested before blogging, but I don't know when that will be, so I'm blogging now.

Before I forget, a totally non-Pennsic related thing: The amazingly talented Pete List features me as a guest on his latest CD:
I'm playing mijwiz on track 5. Check it out.

Now, back to Pennsic. We all already know that it was amazing and fabulous and all that. But a couple of things struck me in particular this Pennsic. One is how much all the musicians I remember from years ago have been improving. Musicians who were great years ago have gotten even better, musicians who were pretty good are approaching greatness, and even musicians (well, drummers in particuar) who used to be downright annoyingly bad have actually gotten tolerable, even enjoyable in some cases. Of course, there's always a fresh crop of musicians (well, drummers in particular) who are filling the "annoyingly bad" niche, but now that I have the perspective of a few years, I realize that I can look forward to hearing them improve too.

And another thing: There were a whole bunch of discussions on the SCA busker's tribe about how we can attempt to get along better, and solve the many problems that inevitably arise in such a crowded and stressful situation at Pennsic. All these posts about problems were getting me worried. Problems? I didn't really recall all these problems, but there they were on the internet, so they must be true.

I got to Pennsic, and of course the supposed problems never materialized. All this about merchants hating buskers and telling them to leave? My only problem with merchants was that they complained that I didn't busk in front of their booths often enough. And maybe they overfed me.

As for sharing spots with other buskers, there were no problems there either. We worked out a simple scheduling system for sharing the prime spots, which worked perfectly. My only problem was trying to get other buskers to take over my spot when I felt like taking a break. They insisted that they wanted to keep listening to me, while I insisted that I wanted a chance to listen to them. There were a lot of great musicians there, and I really enjoyed their performances.

There weren't even any problems with CD sales. I arranged through one of the vendors to be a wandering merchant, and sold my CDs perfectly legally. Then I handed over the sales tax to the state of PA, all legal and proper, and with no trouble at all.

And the parties! Man. This may have been where I left my brain. (The human brain weighs about 3 lbs, which is exactly how much weight I lost over Pennsic. Maybe I should have checked the lost and found before I left.) Anyway, I love improvising a melody over a really good drum circle. It's actually much more pleasurable to just accept whatever a drum circle has to offer, rather than trying to impose my will on it so that it plays the correct accompaniment to some structured tune I know. I used to waste a lot of time on that, but that was just an exercise in frustration. Now I know better, and I enjoy drum circles a lot more.

As something different this year, I particularly enjoyed the European dance classes and balls, and playing music for European dance. I really wished I had a chromatic set of hurdy gurdies, though. The European dance musicians play so many tunes that I know, but I can only play them in G on my hurdy gurdy, which usually didn't help. Of course I could play them on fife or tinwhistle, but there was usually so much treble in the band already from all the recorders that there was no point. It was good to have an excuse to take out my xaphoon, though (which I could have told people was a renaissance chalumeau if I were less honest) since that filled in the lower registers better. And I got a chance to play percussion in the bands, which was a lot of fun. I hardly ever drum these days, although I really enjoy it.

I also enjoyed taking some European dance classes, and dancing in the evenings, in the well-lit, non-muddy, non-smokey dance tent and barn. Knowing the dances, I understand the music so much better. One complaint, though, is that the European dancers just don't dance enough. They seem to spend most of their time standing around, and then an enormous amount of time teaching dances, and then maybe two minutes actually dancing. Then the cycle repeats. Now, I have nothing against milling around and chatting, but I think that can happen just fine around the edges of the dance floor, while most people are dancing in the middle of the dance floor.

Also, European dance music culture in the SCA seems to consist of flipping through a phone-book sized stack of music, then playing a tune you've never even heard before, for dancers to dance to. Now, I suppose there are musicians who can do this well, but they are very, very rare, and there did not seem to be many of them at Pennsic. Instead, there were a lot of musicians who, when they encounter a new piece of music, can sort of kind of struggle through it, not nearly well enough for a public performance. I count myself in this category of musician. That's why I would not presume to perform all this music I'd never heard before, without practicing it a great deal first, preferably with a band so we can work out arrangements. Alas, this was not usually the case at the dances.

I missed too many classes that I'd been looking forward to, but I did manage to get to a class on how to make one of those beautiful gothic fitted gowns, so that's my project for next Pennsic, in addition to learning a whole bunch of new music. If I could learn all the tunes in that phone-book-thick pile I'd be all set to play the European dances next year. Or maybe I should just hang out at drum circles, where the music is always flowing.
Tue, August 14, 2007 - 1:08 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

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See you at Pennsic
I'm leaving for Pennsic Sunday. My garb is not much better than it was two years ago. I have work to do. This is all the blog you'll be getting from me until after Pennsic.
Thu, July 26, 2007 - 7:08 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Sequins of the Animal Kingdom
Bob and I spent part of this beautiful day in Cornell Plantations. Here's a very flashy solitary bee. Photo by Bob. Styling by Darwin.

I'd better finish my popcorn, since we're off to play the Syracuse contra dance tonight.
Sat, July 21, 2007 - 2:52 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

What's going on in Manhattan?
My sister, who works in Manhattan, just called me saying there's tons of smoke, sirens, and confusion there. She's running downtown with everyone else. What's going on? I can't find anything on the news yet. Tribesters, turn on your radios.
Wed, July 18, 2007 - 3:18 PM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

The Last Sound I Ever Heard
I just got back from a fabulous show by Raquy and the Cavemen, and Djinn. It's a good thing it was so fabulous, since it was the last sound I ever heard.

The sound guy there is deaf. There is no other explanation. He'd be on stage with us, and I'd be shouting at him to turn this or that down, and he wouldn't hear me. I am Melissa the Loud, dangnabbit. When I want to be heard, my voice can be heard by any person with working ears. Ergo... And he was doing his best to ensure that everyone around him also went deaf as soon as possible.

Except for the terrible pain my ears were in, I think our set went well, and our new material was well received. That's kind of like saying, "Except for the wolverine that gnawed off my left foot, the party went well."

Oh, and Sera and her Solstice dancers were amazing. Then I shimmied more than I've shimmied in months to the music of Raquy and the Cavemen, who also had a couple of amazing dancers perform with them.

Then we jammed, and things got even louder. This was just ridiculous. The bass, for example, didn't even sound like a bass, it just felt like someone repeatedly kicking me in the chest. That's not my idea of fun.

I was theoretically playing hurdy gurdy in the jam, but I couldn't hear myself. I had no idea if I was pressing the right keys or not. So I got off the stage, and surveyed the crowd as to whether they could hear me either. The answer was unanimously, "What?!" But if I managed to get my question across, the answer changed to "You were playing hurdy gurdy?"

So, I went outside, where a brass band, with a drummer, was playing on the sidewalk. They were really good, and it was a relief to hear something as quiet as a brass band. But then the Galapagos doorman shut them down, since they didn't want to get a noise complaint.

I just absorbed more decibels than I did all of last week, which I spent at Nordic Fiddles and Feet:
an absolutely delightful dance and music camp. I got a whole week of seljefloyte lessons, which I sorely needed, and learned some wonderful new dances, as well as enjoyed thrilling dance and music parties every single night. And, (and this is the important part) I retained my sense of hearing. I was apparently saving it for tonight.
Wed, July 11, 2007 - 10:52 PM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Men & Chocolate
A pretty good day busking. I played Columbus Circle, a popular spot for tourists for some reason. Maybe some guidebook told them that that's the place to go to get a pedicab ride, or maybe the pedicabs gather there because that's where the tourists are. Anyway, it seemed that the tourists all go there so they can take pictures of each other standing next to a hurdy gurdy player.

It was hard finding a spot at first. When I arrived, there was a noodly sax player at one end, and an electric guitar at the other. I don't understand these noodly sax players. I can never tell what meter or key they're supposed to be playing in, so how can I tell if they're playing whatever they're playing correctly?

I tried the less prime busking spots further into the park, but quickly encountered another noodly sax player. So, I decided to have lunch and see if conditions improved. Ah, the exciting life of a busker. I hear about people being hungry at the same time every day, and that just seems weird to me.

After lunch, the first noodly sax player had vanished (no, I did not have him for lunch) so I appropriated his spot. It was right next to where all these pedicab guys enticed tourists to get into their cabs. I generally try to avoid being annoying to large groups of muscular men, so I hoped they wouldn't find my music too annoying.

Instead, they loved it! One guy said, "Is that Turkish music! I'm Turkish! I love Turkish music! It's great to hear Turkish music, we never get that here." So I played lots more Turkish music for him. Then another guy said, "Is that Macedonian music? It sounds sort of like it. I'm Macedonian. We never get Macedonian music here." So I played him Macedonsko Devojce, and he was so delighted. As were the pedicab guys from Serbia, Bulgaria, etc. They all came up to me, delighted that I was playing music from their various homelands, so I searched my brain for customized tunes for all of them. Unfortunately, all those tunes are stuffed into one big folder labeled "International Folkdance." I need some subfolders.

They all were delighted with my assorted tunes, even though I didn't remember which Balkan country each tune or guy was from in particular. To be a pedicab guy, it seems that, in addition to having ripped, muscular legs, you also need a pleasant disposition for enticing tourists into your cab and taking them on an enjoyable tour of the park. It really made me wonder why I spend so much of my time playing music for female belly dancers, when I could be playing music for sweet-tempered, muscular men in shorts.

Then there are the Godiva people. These are people in chocolate-colored t-shirts who give free Godiva chocolates to random people in Columbus Circle, as a publicity stunt by the Godiva company. With all the muscular guys and the chocolates, Columbus Circle was starting to seem like Mistress Isabella's Ladies Night Out party at Pennsic, except it wasn't raining.

I don't like sweets, but I accepted a chocolate bar anyway, with the plan of passing it along to someone who would appreciate it. What Columbus Circle really needs is scantily-clad muscular men handing out some sort of extra-hot curry. That'd scare away the tourists.

The pedicab guys, in addition to being better looking than the tourists, were also better tippers. Maybe the tourists just didn't think of it, but it seemed a bit rude to me that they were always posing next to me for pictures, but rarely tipping me. I hope the tourists tipped the pedicab guys, since they really earned it, hauling those large Midwestern tourists around the park.

Still, tips were decent, and I was having a pretty good day. As I was playing Rompi Rompi, I noticed a young man, dark and handsome enough to be a pedicab guy, listening to me intently. He had what looked like a doumbek case with him. So, I asked what was in the case, and he said, "A darbuka" with the sort of accent that suggested that he knew exactly what to do with that darbuka.

On a whim, I invited him to jam with me. Now, asking random drummers to sit in is a dangerous thing, since the average random drummer is awful. But in this case, my instinct proved correct, as this guy was actually really good. He didn't know rhythms by name, but I'm increasingly convinced that the names we American musicians use are just recent American inventions, that are not used in the actual Middle East or Balkans. But I could tell this guy to play any rhythm (in doum and tek form), and he would either be familiar with it already, or he'd pick it up really fast, and then be able to improvise around it, and come up with little breaks and solos as the various tunes required. Sevens, nines, two-by-three polyrhythmic sixes, he caught everything I threw at him.

A Lebanese man wandered by and asked him where he was from, and if he taught doumbek, since this Lebanese guy really wanted to learn that authentic Arabic sound. He's from Chile. Go figure.

The two of us sounded pretty darn good, certainly much better than I did solo. It was therefore inexplicable to me that we made significantly fewer tips that I did solo. Maybe when I'm performing solo, people are amazed that all that music can be coming from one musician, whereas when there are two musicians, people just think, "Oh, a band. I've heard bands before, nothing new to see here." I don't know. Or maybe it was that the sky got increasingly dark and threatening, which discouraged people from lingering out in the open when they could be running for shelter.

Clouds or not, the sudden drop in tips did coincide with this delightful drummer's appearance on my pitch. This was a test: Am I in this for the fun or the money? I decided that I'm in it for the fun, so I kept jamming with this drummer. I asked him to give me some rhythms of his choice for me to improvise over, so he did, and I came up with some great improvisations if I do say so myself. I didn't care that I wasn't making money, as I was having fun.

It slightly diminished the fun I was having, that I kept having to bring up MY HUSBAND in casual conversation with this drummer. The picture of me on my CD is beautiful? Well, that's because my very talented HUSBAND did the CD cover art. But still, he kept telling me I have beautiful feet, etc. Well, I guess that sort of casual flattery is standard in some cultures, and even in parts of this culture, so I tolerated it fine. I gave him the chocolate bar, saying I don't like sweets. He said I probably preferred more natural snacks, like fruit. He said that as soon as he saw me, he had this urge to give me a banana. And here I'd been thinking he'd been admiring my mastery of 9/8 time.

It did make me wish he could redirect some of his Latin charm to the tourists, where it might have done us some good.

The day ended with a wimper as the sky got increasingly ominous, and we gave up on enticing any of the passers-by to pause to listen to us as they scurried for shelter. We split the tips, and I left and called MY HUSBAND, and talked about our trip to Greece that we're planning this fall. That'll be fun.

It's getting too late to come up with a convincing way to casually sneak this into conversation, but MY HUSBAND bikes to work almost every day, up a very long, steep hill. He'd be more than qualified to be a pedicab guy.
Mon, June 25, 2007 - 11:29 PM — permalink - 5 comments - add a comment

Nomadic Summer Spirit
Today, I slept. I don't know what made me so tired, but that's all I did.

Yesterday was fun. Djinn played at Nomadic Summer Spirit in Hartford, CT. The space was beautiful, an old synagogue that's been turned into an arts center. The community of musicians and dancers there is great. It reminds me of the scene in Ithaca eight or so years ago, when a whole bunch of us were learning Middle Eastern music and dance together. I'm actually pretty far out of the loop, so I don't know what the Ithaca scene is like now. When Djinn played in Ithaca last, I was surprised to see some tribal costumes, since there was none of that when I was more involved with the Ithaca scene years ago. I'd somehow assumed that the Ithaca scene would stay just as it was, but of course it's progressing without me.

I'm just rambling all over the place, aren't I? Anyway, the CT scene is full of fun drummers and dancers, and a guy who plays a instrument I've never seen before, which is pretty rare these days, since I think of myself as knowing all about all sorts of obscure instruments. But this guy, whose name I'm blanking on, played a fiddle from far western China, with a name I'm also blanking on. It was shaped like a small lute, with a bunch of sympathetic strings like a gadulka. It sounded beautiful when he played it.

I took Carmine's drum workshop, and really enjoyed it and learned a lot. It's sad that just about the only time I touch my drums now is for performances by my bands Jiggermeister, Mockin'bird, or Svraka. I pretty much never practice, which means I'm just coasting on the skills I once worked so hard to develop. I might even be backsliding a bit. I think my sense of rhythm is developing further, but as for what my hands are supposed to do with that sense of rhythm, that's another story. I'm getting better at various rhythms on hurdy gurdy, if not on doumbek. I've recently gotten much better at playing in 9/8 on hurdy gurdy, which believe me is much harder than playing in 9/8 on doumbek.

But anyway, the most important stuff I leaned in Carmine's workshop is how to teach a really good drumming workshop, perfectly tailored to the needs of the students. That's the information I hope to retain.

n particular, I liked how he started the workshop by playing simple phrases for the students to listen to and repeat back to him. This was great for getting everyone into the habit of listening, which can be difficult for a teacher to do.

In this case, it worked great on all but one drummer, who seemed content to keep playing the same old things he was used to playing, and not learn anything new. I don't understand why someone would go to the trouble to attend a workshop, and then resist learning anything in it, but that's what one drummer did. Everyone else, though, seemed to get a lot out of the workshop.

There was also a vendor of many wonderfull musical instruments there, but I managed to resist buying anything. I have so many instruments already, I really don't have the brain power to add anything else without dropping something out of my set of skills. But he had some nice gongs. It doesn't take a lot of skill to play a gong, right? I resisted anyway, since who wants to lug a gong around to shows?

I showed off my seljefloyte, and of course the vendor said that he needed to get some of those.

Then I enjoyed the performances by the fiddle player's band, and some beautiful dance performances, and then it was Djinn's turn to play. We tried out our new material, which we plan to put on our next CD, and it went pretty well, I think. But we do need to practice them more before we're ready to record them.

Then we had a fun jam with the drummers, and guess what tune Carmine had them play along with? Burning of the Temple, which I wrote! It's becoming a standard. I can't wait to see it listed somewhere as a traditional Middle Eastern folk tune. Anyway, most people there actually knew the breaks. It was awesome to hear that many drummers playing it.

For other parts of the jam, I played my C tinwhistle, which was convenient for playing in D minor, which was a good key for the fiddle. (There was also a flute player there, but I couldn't figure out what key or maqam he was in.) Anyway, my tinwhistle was great for soaring clear above all these bassy drums, and the electric bass. In jams like that, it's important to play an instrument that occupies an acoustic space that's available.

One highlight was when everyone was playing solos by turns, and Brad , with a perfectly straight face, played a taksim on lobster squeaky toys.

Anyway, I got home around three AM, and I've pretty much been sleeping since. It would be stupid to have jet lag from a trip to CT, so I'm going back to bed.
Sun, June 24, 2007 - 10:39 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Too much to report
As usual, I have too much to blog about. My wedding reception went great. You put a whole bunch of friends and relatives in a dance hall with a bunch of great bands, some food, and a box of kazoos, and how could it not be great? One highlight: when Rima the violinist balanced a bottle on her head, while doing foorwork, while playing her violin. I should post some pictures.

But in other news, my CD is available various online places:

MELISSA KACALANOS: Tunes From a Strange Land

The payplay link is new. They sell mp3s, without making you download software like itunes. Enjoy.

Now, it's time to go busk. The weather has been gorgeous, so I've been playing in parks. Life is good.
Fri, June 22, 2007 - 8:50 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Just preregistered for Pennsic
Pennsic, here I come. I just preregistered, after much agonizing over whether I want to stay in a fun, loud, party camp, or whether I want to stay somewhere I can actually sleep, and just visit the party camps. Sleep won out, since sleep is a rare commodity at Pennsic, whereas loud fun is readily available. But I see that I can change my mind about where I camp until June 30, so I can agonize some more.

Of course, I still don't have a ride there. I thought I had one from Ithaca, but that car just died, so I'm back to square one. I'll get there somehow.

In other news, I'm leaving tomorrow for DC, as Jiggermeister has some gigs there. My DC fans should check the Jiggermeister website for details:

In other other news, is there anyone who would like to come to Bob's and my long-awaited wedding reception, near Ithaca June 16, but whom I've neglected to invite? If so, this is due only to my disorganized nature, and is not meant as a slight. Let me know if you'd like more details. It will, of course, feature several different fabulous dance bands.
Tue, June 5, 2007 - 3:01 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Sxip's Hour of Charm
Wow. Djinn just played at this variety show at Joe's Pub, and I have to say that this was possibly the most amazing show ever. You know that band I was complaining about yesterday? Everyone at this show tonight was the exact opposite of that.

I started off just hanging out in the green room with Sxip, who said the Luminescent Orchestrii would like to collaborate with me sometime, which would be fabulous. He likes my singing voice, and it's true that I haven't been making enough use of it recently, since I've gotten all distracted by instruments. I pointed out that I feel awkward singing in languages I don't know, since I'm sure I'm mangling the pronunciation. Then I told the story of how someone asked me what language I was singing in, when I'd been singing Old Joe Clark in English. So, either I should feel awkward singing in English too, or I shouldn't worry about it at all. (Or should I work on my pronunciation in English? Nah.)

Then Sxip played harmonica and jammed with me on hurdy gurdy, which was great. Then the harmonica player from the Wiyos came by, and you know, I really should learn harmonica. I just don't play enough instruments already.

I happened to have my seljefloyte in my hurdy gurdy case, so I let Sxip try it, and you know, he's got to rank as the second best player I've ever heard, even though he'd never played it before. That puts him right behind Toby Weinberg, the master from whom I got my selefloyte. That also puts Sxip ahead of me, I'm not going to admit by how far. Sxip just really knows how to breathe.

So there was all this great hanging out, during which I got introduced to a plethora of amazingly talented, cool, interesting people whose names and faces I don't remember, since there were just so many of them, and they were all so worth remembering, my brain blew a fuze. And this was all before the show even started.

Ah, the show. To save myself some time, everyone on this list:
was stunningly amazing. The contortionist, for example, contorted himself not just with freakish poses, but with grace and style, which I've never before seen in a male contortionist. Also, his freakish poses were really cool and freaky. Like he could lie on his belly, and slowly, gracefully, raise his head, and shoulders, and torso, until he was folded in half backwards. Now, I've seen flexibility like that, but he could do this just with the strength of his back muscles, not pushing himself up with his hands. It was like a sit-up, backwards. He had some serious muscles, which I've never seen on a contortionist before. Afterwards, hanging out, he said that he hadn't been born with any unusual flexibility, he'd just worked at it, starting in his twenties.

The Wiyos were similarly amazing, except at, to quote their website, "Vaudevillian Ragtime Blues, Hillbilly Swing and Old Time Country."

Oh, and I have to mention the amazing sound at Joe's Pub. This was the only venue I've been to, like, ever, where I didn't feel that I had to wear earplugs, and I could hear everything perfectly. The sound guy even managed to get the Wiyos to sound like an old wax cylinder recording of themselves, which was perfect.

And Sxip and Adam Matta! How could merely two musicians sound so full, particularly when all they were doing was beatboxing and playing tinwhistles, harmonicas, and little toy instruments like that? And some serious pedals, which helped. I have to get some pitch-bending delay pedals for my tinwhistles now, and for my harmonicas when I learn how to play them.

I traded my CDs for those of Sxip, Adam, and the Wiyos, and I suspect that I got the better part of the deal.
Tue, May 29, 2007 - 12:14 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

"Gypsy Celtic Medieval"
I just sat down at my mother's computer here in New Paltz, all offended. This isn't the best state to blog in, especially considering how great things are going, but I have to get this one offensive thing off my chest first. Then I'll blog about all the good stuff.

As my mother and I were strolling through charming downtown New Paltz, we saw a chalkboard advertising live "Gypsy Celtic Medieval" music by a "Traveling Band of Gypsy Nomads." Well! That's right up my alley, so of course we poked our heads into this quaint little esoteric bookstore/boutique/upscale headshop.

Inside, a woman in a bodice was banging monotonously and slowly on a thoroughly modern drum. Bang. Bang. Bang. Etc. She was accompanying a recording of, well, mosly of reverb. It was that noise they play in movies when they want the audience to feel a sense of awe and forboding. Instead, it always gives me the sense of way too much reverb. If you want to instill a sense of awe in me, you'll have to work a lot harder than just playing some canned reverb at me.

I decided to give them a chance, so we listened for a while, which got increasingly difficult. The first drummer was joined by a second drummer, who played faster and louder, but nothing more interesting. We stepped outside, where the volume was at a more comfortable level.

After some more of this, we continued our stroll through charming downtown New Paltz. We passed a hippie with a djembe, who didn't bother me at all. He wasn't advertising himself as a "gypsy celtic medieval" musician. Actually I don't know, maybe if I'd asked him, he would have claimed that he was playing Elizabethan madrigals with Breton influences and a Croatian twist on his djembe, but I'll give him the benefit of the doubt that he wasn't that pretentious.

What is it about the words "gypsy," "medieval" and even "celtic?" I'd think that anyone with sufficient interest in the words to label themselves such would also have enough interest in the musical styles to actually play them. But this is just the latest, and possibly most extreme example I've seen, of these words being applied to bands that have nothing to do with the actual styles those words represent. Words have meanings, and it's very confusing when people use them without regard to their meanings. I don't go around claiming to be, say, a mackerel, no matter how cool I think the word sounds. Or if I really wanted to call myself a mackerel, I would at least learn to swim first.

When we walked back a while later, the reverb machine was still pumping out its canned awe, and the two "musicians" were still banging monotonously on their plastic drums. I thought about going in, finding the person in charge, and (No, not chewing them out for the false advertising on the chalkboard) giving them my card, in case they ever wanted to have some actual medieval, or some pretty close to authentic Celtic or Rom music in their store. But that would have required enduring the drummers and reverb at close range, so I kept walking.

There. Now that's off my chest, so I can blog about the good stuff.

I'll start last night, at the Tribal Jam. Pete and I played as a duo for this, since Brad and Carmine are at Middle Eastern camp, learning Middle Eastern music, which justifies our claim that we play Middle Eastern music. That's how it's supposed to work, you so-called "Traveling Band of Gypsy Nomads." OK, I'll shut up about them.

I think Pete and I came up with some really great new improvisations, that I hope we can remember well enough to work up into tunes later. That's how it always works: playing for great dancers inspires great improvisations.

Then, Next Tribe took the stage, and I really enjoyed dancing to them. They've got a touch of flamenco, a touch of Indian, and a whole lot of danceability. They were just inherently talented musicians, so they didn't have to puff themselves up with a whole bunch of fancy borrowed words like some bands I could mention.

I don't have time to write about how great that party was, since I spent so long complaining about that misadvertised band. I guess I mismanaged my blogging time.

Anyway, I was talking to Bob on the phone today, and I raved about how much fun this party was. I said that I should find a group of musicians this fun to jam with in Ithaca. This was not the nicest thing to say to Bob, since I'm in three bands with him up there. Mockin'bird, which plays Southern and New England contra dance tunes, gigs fairly regularly. Svraka is playing Balkan dance music next weekend. And the Cornell University Klezmer Ensemble is full of extremely talented musicians. So what's missing?

The thing is, all these groups play traditional music pretty much straight. Bob regards that as the strength of these groups. Now, I love traditional music, don't get me wrong. But it can also be really fun to compose new tunes in traditional styles, or even compose new tunes by combining elements from different traditions. Last night, for example, I was having a lot of fun improvising belly dance music, but in traditional Hungarian scales, to Pete's Middle Eastern/hiphop beats. I haven't found a group in Ithaca that's interested in doing that sort of thing. Then again, I haven't been looking.

OK, I know some Ithaca musicians who would certainly be capable and possibly be interested in doing that sort of thing, like, say, Max and Dara and Mark. Maybe I should ask them if they'd be interested. Then I'd have to actually schedule some rehearsals and stuff, in our copious free time.

The trouble is, of course, it's only a matter of degree, not of kind, between the Egyptian/Hungarian/hiphop music Pete and I were playing last night, and the drum kit/canned reverb that "Traveling Band of Gypsy Nomads" was playing today. Their, say, "Celtic" music is a lot less authentic than mine, but I certainly can't claim that I play totally authentic Celtic music. (Come to a Jiggermeister show and hear me rock out on tinwhistle, or play Scottish bagpipe tunes on hurdy gurdy, to hear what I mean.) I mean, can I really hold myself above them?

I've given this a lot of thought, and I've decided that yes, I can.
Sun, May 27, 2007 - 6:22 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

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No Hallucinogens Required
In an earlier blog, I described the experience of shopping in NYC, so here's the post on shopping in Ithaca, NY.

First, you have to imagine the wide aisles, wide enough for actual shopping carts to actually pass each other. You also have to imagine smiling, relaxed, calm people. If you're reading this in NYC, you probably can't imagine this without the help of mind-altering substances.

Tonight, Bob and I went to Greenstar. As I was filling a bag with organic pumpkin seeds, who did I see but Max Buckholtz, whose name should be in boldface, since he's the best violinist I've ever heard. I don't mean to slight any other violinists, but man. This is a musician who can improvise beautiful harmony parts to my random tootlings on my freakin' mijwiz, and I don't even know how to play mijwiz. And I remember this one solo improvisation he did, where I could swear I saw demons flying around the stage.

No demons were visible in Greenstar. Max had several flats of seedlings in his cart. If he gardens like he plays violin, those plants are going to grow up to be jungle trees, bearing opulent flowers whose scent causes all passers-by to swoon.

We chatted about our upcoming gigs at the Ithaca Festival, and the master's degree he's getting. An odd thing about Max is that even when he's not playing, his eyes seem to glow as if they can't quite contain the energy seething inside him.

OK, I'll shut up about Max, but you really have to hear him, OK?

Once we'd stocked up on nutritional yeast and organic popcorn, we went to Wegmans, to get more ordinary things like canned mackerel. I was soon greeted by a man-about-town who always greets me, although I've only seen him on the street, not in an actual business establishment before. He used to wear a button that said, "I'm a wandering outpatient and I vote." He knows everyone in Ithaca.

He said that the Ithaca festival people wanted to contact me. I said that they had my name, rank, and serial number, so why didn't they contact me? That's kind of mysterious. As far as I know I'm playing Friday and Sunday, so they should let me know if anything's changed.

Then Bob and I were enticed by a cutting board made very prettily out of of bamboo. Our old wood cutting board is falling apart. This one was sort of expensive, though. When we saw that it was labeled "Panda Safe" that convinced us, though. (It pled the fifth when we asked it whether it had harmed any dolphins.)

A friend of mine once said that every once in a while, you have to look back on your life and ask yourself, "What the hell was I thinking?" I had one of those moments in Wegmans, when I saw this guy I used to know, sort of. He bore a remarkable resemblance to Capt. Jack Sparrow, but without the mascara. So you can kind of understand the appeal, but still. What the hell was I thinking?

Bob and I wheeled our mackerel, cutting board, and melons to the checkout, and got in line behind a pale young man in black whom I can only assume is a gentleman assassin. There was something about the way he didn't accept a bag made of either paper or plastic, but instead neatly placed his block of tofu inside his black briefcase.

We carried our groceries out to the car, and noticed that tonight seemed to be the night for women in spike heels, black patterned stockings, and black hotpants to buy groceries.

So, that's Thursday night grocery shopping in Ithaca for you. All the weirdness of NYC, none of the smog.
Thu, May 24, 2007 - 8:43 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Puffy can?
I dreamed last night that I ate something out of a puffy can. The dream wasn't really bad, but when I woke up, I was very sick, too sick to busk. I don't know what I could have eaten to have this effect on me, unless I was sleep-eating things out of puffy cans.

However, I dragged myself out to rehearse with Djinn. Our rehearsals are going great! We're working on a lot of new material for our next CD, and it's all very exciting, original stuff. I showed up early to learn some new (to me) standard tunes from Carmine. They're great tunes, and it's about time I learned them.

When I showed up, Pete was there already, giving a beatbox lesson to Karim Nagy!
I feel like I should be typing everyone's name in boldface. Yes, celebrities like this regularly show up in Carmine's living room.

Pete and Karim traded beatbox and riq lessons, as if they didn't both have enough talents already. Then we grilled Karim on whether various songs are in the public domain. The standards I've been learning, predictably, are not, so we'd have to license them if we want to use them. I'd just as soon not bother with licensing, and just record more original stuff. Our new original material is hot if I do say so myself.

Once Brad showed up, we got down to rehearsing. We played some of our originals for Karim, who jammed along perfectly, catching all the breaks, which either means he's a fabulous musician or our music is too predictable. Or both.

I don't know whose idea it was to play Iron Man. Karim, who is, after all, a traditional Egyptian musician, didn't play along to that one. Instead, he got up and danced, declaring that this was a perfect tune for Egyptian stick dance. But we should put it into the maqam saba, with quartertones. Did Carmine have a stick he could swing around? No, but he had a practice sword, would that do? Soon, Karim was decapitating houseplants and asking where could he get a sword like this. It was made of many strips of bamboo, which made a very loud sound whenever Karim whacked it against the floor or the piano, and especially the cymbal. Man, that man can dance. It's such a joy playing for dancers, especially great dancers like Karim. (I will take this opportunity to say, "We need more male dancers!)

I told this story to Bob, and Bob said, "This was the guy with rubber feet?" since Bob remembers taking a dance class from him at Folktours camp. Actually, I think Karim's feet are made of flubber. Bob is a wonderful dancer himself, by the way, and I'm heading to Ithaca tomorrow to dance with him Friday night and all day Saturday at the Fiddlehead Frolic. Hurray! I'm happy I managed to snag one of those rare male dancers to myself. (Especially one who doesn't smoke. Will everyone please tell Karim to stop smoking? We all want him to last for a good long time. He might as well be eating out of puffy cans for all the effect smoking has on his health.)

We don't really know how to play Iron Man, so Karim put down his stick and picked it out on the piano for us. We all remembered little bits of it, but finally Carmine dredged it up on his computer. If we do one cover song, maybe rather than a predictable classic like Zeina...

Oh, and we also jammed with Karim, a jam that was so great we wanted to get out the mics and record it right then and there. Seriously, we'll try to schedule a recording session and redo that jam the next time Karim's in town, since it was just so... I don't want to give too much away. Hint: Karim doesn't play any percussion on it. That's all I'll say.
Thu, May 17, 2007 - 10:20 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Straight Narrow Rectangles
I would not have thought it possible, but I had a great day today without once touching my hurdy gurdy.

It started at Pete List's entertainingly linear Brooklyn apartment. I think of this as a distinctively Brooklyn style, where they sliced a few normal apartments into lots of little slivers of apartments, all a normal length, but about six feet wide. It made me wonder how Pete finds the room to do his yoga. It also made me think that Bob and I need to learn more about decorating, since Pete has somehow managed to make his apartment look more spacious than our whole house.

Pete played me a great drum composition he's been working on, and I improvised mijwiz parts for it. Then we'd listen, and pick out the best bits of improvisation to build tunes out of the pieces. Pete is going to assemble all these pieces into a composition, and then I'd better learn how to play it straight through, since we can be sure dancers are going to request it.

It was interesting playing mijwiz for so long. I haven't really played it much in the last few years, since I've been distracted by my other instruments. I pretty much take it out at parties to be an occasional break from hurdy gurdy, then put it back in the box. I never practice it, which is a shame, since it's a great little instrument.

I still haven't learned to circular breathe on it, which is really the proper way to play it. I fake it by just taking really deep breaths, and playing for a very long time on one breath. Today I found out that breathing like that for a couple of hours straight does odd things to one's brain. I can't say I recommend it.

Pete also has a mijwiz , that he bought in Egypt. It's odd, since one half of it works fine, but the other half has a tiny little reed on it that is clearly meant for a much smaller instrument, so it produces nothing but squeaks. People have asked me where to get a quality mijwiz, and I don't know what to tell them, since there are so many flawed ones like this. Maybe you just have to get several, and assemble one working one by cannibalizing parts from all of them. If anyone in Egypt is reading this, please realize that there's a market for quality instruments.

After my brain had floated into some other dimension, we went out for a vegan dinner. I got a some disturbingly fish-like soy protein. Pete had some disturbingly chicken-like soy protein. It was so convincing, we might as well have been eating real dead animals.

I think someone needs to open a restaurant that specializes in fake vegetables made out of meat.

Then I headed off to Cafe Figaro. The audience contained quite a lot of my friends, so I knew I'd be well received no matter what happened. I was pretty confident that my dancing would be fine, for a musician, so the audience would be satisfied. But I'd never performed in this costume before. I was a bit nervous about that.

It's a gorgeous costume, but it required a lot of work to get it anywhere close to fitting me. I folded the bottom of the skirt up about five inches, since it was meant for someone taller than me. I added a drawstring to the top of the skirt, since I don't trust mere elastic to hold up all those heavy glass beads. Then there was the whole bra issue. I have adjusted everything that can be adjusted on this bra, so I think it fits as well as it can fit me, but still, I can't get around the fact that it was designed for someone with a ribcage that measures more that 26 inches around. I moved the hooks to take it in in back of course, but now it looks like my breasts are growing out of my armpits, since there was no way to take it in in front.

Whatever. It's a pretty color.

So I was a bit nervous, but I thought of the many great dancers I have seen, and tried to channel their various talents. In particular, I was thinking of Kristina Melike, who always has such a beautiful smile. I can't do all her great moves, but smiling is within my abilities. Of course, it's easy to smile when you're in a room full of friends, and the band is playing beautiful music.

I think it must have worked, since everyone seemed to enjoy it. I certainly had a good time, and frankly, I probably couldn't have stopped smiling had I tried. I saw a lot of smiles around the room, or maybe they were all just channeling Kristina Melike.

As a special treat, Melissa from Pittsburg sat in with the band a little, playing her clarinet. I can't really say she "sat" in. She doesn't just sit there, she actively projects this vibrant and compelling stage presence. I've said in before and will say it again: her playing gets better and better every time I hear her. I was over at Carmine's a while ago, and he started playing some music, and I was like, "I should probably own this recording, to help me learn that authentic Turkish sound," but it wasn't a Turkish band at all, it was Melissa and friends jamming in Pittsburg.

I didn't get to see the first dancer since I was busy getting ready for my performance, but the third dancer, Safiya, was wonderful. I also really admired her costume. I asked her later where she got it, and she had of course made it herself. I realize that I'll have to make my own costumes if I want them to fit me., but making really gorgeous professional ones is a lot of work.

Another thing I like about playing music is that you don't have to tailor your instruments to fit you exactly.

Afterwards, I received many kind compliments on my dancing, and many people said that my costume was a pretty color. However, I also received and appreciated the constructive criticism that my bra didn't quite fit. I guess my smile wasn't sufficiently distracting. It's time to figure out how to make my own costume, which has got to be easier than trying to adjust these ready-made ones.
Sun, May 13, 2007 - 10:55 PM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Dancing and Mijwizing
I'm not just a musician, you know. I've been dancing a lot longer than I've been playing music. Tomorrow, er, later today, I'll prove it, by dancing at Le Figaro, at 9. Details below. This will justify the fabulous cabaret costume I bought way back at Rakkasah East.

But before then, I'll be laying down some mijwiz tracks for a recording that the fabulous Pete List of Djinn is doing. Everyone check out this amazing video of him beatboxing in Egypt with Said El Artist:

I think I'm going to stop bragging that I've worked with Meryl Streep, and start bragging that I work with Pete List.

May 13 (Sun): Arella, Melissa "The Loud" Kacalanos, Safiya at Figaro
08:00pm-10:00pm Every sunday there three dancers. Live music by Scott Wilson on the baglama hydra, (the rest of the band changes up- Umut Yasmut on kanun, Rami El Asser on Riq, Raquy Danziger on doumbek, Carmine Guida on bass doumbek, and guest artists). Café Figaro: Greenwich Village184 Bleecker St. (corner of Macdougall St. and Bleecker) info:(212) 677-1100. $20 minimum at tables.
Sat, May 12, 2007 - 10:58 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Savage beasts
Great day today. I got a call from Inspector Reeves of NYC Parks Enforcement, a perfectly intelligent, knowlegeable, polite person. He apologized for any inconvenience those two officers may have caused me Tuesday, and assured me that he would be educating the force to prevent such problems from recurring. He said that they've hired many new officers recently, and they might not know all the rules yet. He also pointed out that those officers may not even have been parks officers, but regular NYPD officers, who may have wandered off their beats and into the park, where they didn't know the rules (or possibly even the way back home.)

That resolved, I decided to give Inspector Reeves a day to educate his new officers, and busk in the subway instead. Easier decided than done. Every possible platform had a musician on it already. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, as many of them were quite good. There was this fabulous band with three cellos and a djembe, than I listened to for quite a while (and tipped of course.) (The djembe was a little too loud, though.)

Then there are the plastic bucket players. Now, I concede that some of them play very well, but no matter how well it's played, it's still a plastic bucket. It's just not a pleasing sound.

Then there's the weird plastic bucket player. He sits there quietly, hunched over his bucket, not making a sound. I saw him using it as a desk to draw on once. Then whenever another busker tries to set up anywhere near him, he gets his sticks and bangs on that thing as loudly as he can, in no rhythm, just making a horrible noise to drown out the other busker. Then when the other busker stops playing, he stops too, and goes back to drawing or just slouching. I have no idea why he does this, but he hogs many prime busking spots.

I finally found an unoccupied platform. It did have a guy sitting on a bench, with a closed guitar case propped up next to him. I looked at him to see if he was about to take it out and start playing, but no, he was just talking to some young woman on the bench.

So, I set up and started playing, and immediately this guy came over and said, "What am I, chopped liver?" which I didn't think people actually said anymore. He was extremely angry at me for setting up on him. I explained that I hadn't known that he was busking on this platform, since he hadn't actually been doing any sort of performance, and he didn't have any sort of case for people to put money into, so how was I to know that this was his platform?

He kept saying that this was his platform, he'd just been taking a break. He'd been playing a lot that day, and it was now 8:00, so he deserved a break, but it was still his platform. Also, he had only one tooth, and it was approximately the same color as his hair. He didn't say that part in words, but the point came across very well.

I looked at my cell phone. It was, in fact, 6:00. I'd left the house around 4:00, which meant I'd been looking for a spot for two hours, slugging my CD, folding stool, and diminishing water bottle up and down stairs through the humid heat, and riding countless trains. I was getting pretty tired of this, and just wanted to sit down and play.

I apologized to the one-toothed man for encroaching on his spot. This calmed him immediately. Then I asked him to let me know when his break was over. I would hold this spot for him until then.

Diplomacy worked. He was happy. He told me he'd be on break until 8:00. He'd just told me it was 8:00 right now, but whatever. He said he was going above ground, so did I want anything? I declined, bid him adieu, and played some more music. I was very happy.

That was one fabulous spot. The audience was extremely appreciative, and I seemed to be playing unusually well if I do say so myself. I was practicing for Djinn's new CD, and I can honestly say that it will be pretty darn fantastic if it sounds anything like I played today.

All too soon, the one-toothed man came back. "It's 8:00," he said. I looked at my cell phone. It was, in fact, 6:45. I argue with cops all the time, since we're all supposed to be following the same rules. I don't know what rules this guy was operating under. I packed up and left.

Wander wander wander through the heat, and it's not even summer yet. The air conditioning is on in the trains, which means that when the trains are in the station, the air conditioners are venting all that heat out into the station, where it sits. They should turn off the AC when the trains are in the stations, since the train doors are open anyway. It's not like they're creating coolness, they're just moving the heat around, and burning electricity to do it, which turns to more heat. They don't ask my opinion on these things.

Some guy saw me wandering and asked me why I wasn't playing, since he had often enjoyed my music. I told him that I couldn't find a free platform. He didn't get the concept. "Why don't you play here?" What, and kick off this poor flute player? I have too many teeth to stoop to that sort of behavior.

Wander wander wander. I finally found a great platform, a fabulous, delightful platform, a platform such as is promised as a final reward to those buskers who are very good in this life. One end was so crowded with people, that they actually would have been tripping over me, so I went to the less crowded middle part. When cops complain about musicians blocking the platform, they don't realize the great care I put into selecting a spot that is popular, but not inconveniently crowded.

The only problem with this particular spot was that someone had spilled some fries or something on the floor, but whatever, one doen't expect cleanliness from a subway platform. I set up and played. I was very happy. I sounded awesome if I do say so myself, and the people on the platform clearly thought so too.

One tries not to look at the various unsightly objects on a subway platform, but I couldn't help but notice at one point that the fries were moving. This was rather startling. But yes, a colony of tiny ants had discovered them, and were slowly, laboriously taking them home. I was amazed to see ants down there. While I often see rats, I never see any insect life, and I've wondered at its conspicuous absence. I mean, if the subway is so toxic that even roaches can't live down there, what effect is it having on me?

So, after a bit of thought, I was happy that these ants were here. Not only did they prove that life underground is possible, but they were removing trash from the platform, which certainly no one else was going to do.

I moved my bag further away from them so they would have room to work.

Then I decided, and this has nothing to do with any sort of prejudice against ants, that this might be a good time to move to the more crowded part of the platform. The part I was on was getting less popular, unless you counted the ants, as it got to be later in the evening.

I bade the ants adieu, packed up, and hurried to the other part of the platform, before some other busker mistook this for an unoccupied platform. I set up near most of a hamburger. I wished I had some way of communicating its location to the ants, as I'm sure they would have enjoyed it, and I would have enjoyed its removal. Well, I trusted them to find it eventually.

I played, and wow, that must have been some of the best playing I've done. I could hear this in my music, and also in the reaction of the crowd. I got many bursts of thunderous applause, and even some ecstatic shrieking. I came up with some wonderful new improvisations. I started making up a new tune, dorian mode in 3/4, that not only has potential, but sounded great even then, in its first experimental noodling.

To what could I attribute this musical brilliance? I was pretty well rested, and well practiced, and, I don't know, I ate some grilled octopus last night and fish is supposed to be brain food, but do octopi count as fish?

Then I realized the true answer. Humidity. My hurdy gurdy just automatically sounds great in hot, humid weather. That's the weather I detest, but what the hurdy gurdy wants, the hurdy gurdy gets.

I made myself stop playing when my hands started to ache, and I couldn't wring another drop from my water bottle. It's getting into two-water-bottle-season.

I packed up to go home. As soon as the train went aboveground, and my cell phone worked as more than just a watch, I called Carmine to discuss band stuff. But then a guy with an instrument case I'd never seen before got on the train, so I told Carmine, "I'm hanging up on you. I think there's a theorbo on this train."

Indeed, it was a theorbo. The guy had had a lesson earlier in the day, and then gone to this early music concert I'd been thinking of attending, if I hadn't been enjoying busking so much. He said the concert had been great, and I'm sure it was. But I count this as an evening very well spent.
Thu, May 10, 2007 - 11:34 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Bird Brains
Bob says that one of the charms of spring is hearing the birds learning their songs. They sort of babble in baby talk until they figure out how their adult songs are supposed to go. Surprisingly, it's not just the young birds learning to sing in their first year of adulthood. In some species, their brains shrink over the winter, then regrow, so they actually have new brain cells learning things for the first time, every year.

The same phenomenon apparently occurs in police officers. Do my loyal readers remember all the trouble I went to last year to educate the cops in the parks department? I went way over their heads, and had some high-ranking person send out a memo to every single parks enforcement officer, telling them that musicians are allowed to play in the parks. Do you remember those blog entries? If you don't, you may have lost part of your brain over the winter, like a canary or a police officer.

I apparently have to go through all that trouble again. Two cops in Union Square Park were confused today. To start at the beginning, it was a gloriously beautiful day. I got to the park, and didn't hear any musicians, although I did see two impressive contortionists. I went to the area where artists display their art. I said hi to the guy who makes small origami frogs. He (remembering me from last year, unlike a canary or a cop) was very happy to see me, and asked me to play near him.

As I played, some other artists came over and told me how much they enjoyed the music. As a courtesy to them, I made a point of not repeating tunes, although I confess that I played a few of my favorites twice, although in different arrangements.

Of course, in addition to the artists, the passers by enjoyed my music, and many of them put money in my case. They did this entirely of their own initiative, as I am never so crass, not to mention criminal, as to ask for tips. I just sit there playing, and occasionally chatting with people. This is perfectly legal, as the memo that went out last year to all parks enforcement officers explained.

OK, maybe I'm being too hard on the cops, since they haven't forgotten all of the memo. One came up and told me that, while it was legal to play music (He remembered!) , I wasn't allowed to have an open case. I explained that I wasn't asking for money, therefore wasn't engaging in illegal soliciting, but he said that it didn't matter if I was asking for money, I still wasn't allowed to have an open case. I asked him to call the parks department number I had to clarify this, (since they gave me that number for just these situations) but he said he didn't want to call a number. Then he ran away before I could get his badge number.

Whatever. I closed my case. People of course put money on top of my closed case. I occasionally stuffed it down inside the case so it wouldn't blow away, since that would be littering.

I became aware that another cop was watching me like a hawk, or pehaps like a canary with innocent new brain cells. Whatever. I kept doing my perfectly legal thing. When two people put money in my case in quick succession, this cop swooped down on me, and started yelling at me in a much ruder tone of voice than the first cop, telling me I wasn't allowed to accept money. I tried explaining to him that I wasn't allowed to ASK for money, but I really had no way of preventing people from giving me money. Then this one ran away too, before I could get my point across, or get his badge number.

Whatever. I kept doing my usual law abiding thing, until it was time to go rehearse with Djinn. Oh man, I still have to blog about how great Spring Caravan was. Um, later.

As I was busking, I was distracted by thoughts of how the heck I was supposed to prevent people from giving me money. I mean, I have to have a case somewhere near me when I play, since I carry my hurdy gurdy around in it, and how am I to prevent people from putting money on it? Am I allowed to play as long as I play so badly that no one gives me money? Maybe I'm allowed to play well, but if anyone puts money in or on my case, I have to stop playing, put my hurdy gurdy down, chase after them, and throw their money back at them? Or maybe when anyone gets near me, and I suspect that there might be a slim possibility that they might be enjoying my music enough to want to give me money, I'm legally obligated to tell them to fuck off? Will any of these tip-prevention methods make the park experience more pleasant for park visitors? Seriously, how is this supposed to work?

Anyway, I'll call the parks department tomorrow to get this sorted out.

It was still a great day overall, especially when you add in the Djinn rehearsal. Our first CD was so well received, we're getting ready to record a second one. Man, at Spring Caravan last weekend, it was so amazing to see all these wonderful dancers dancing to our music. Playing music for dancers is like plugging into a huge great-sounding amplifier. Or it's like you're bicycling, and when you shift into this certain gear, you're suddenly flying.

I have more to write about Spring Caravan, but I don't have time tonight to do justice to the many beautiful, talented dancers. Someone will put video up soon I'm sure.
Tue, May 8, 2007 - 9:44 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Too much fun
Since my last post, I've done a lot of great busking, went to a fun birthday party at Hungarian House with a whole bunch of good bands, saw the stunning Samira dance at Mezzo Mezzo, performed with my band Jiggermeister in Ithaca, Binghamton, and Owego, gave a hurdy gurdy lesson (sign up for yours today!) to the talented Laurie Hart, performed with the Cornell University Klezmer Ensemble, danced my feet off at NEFFA in Massachusets, and learned some new (to me) tunes. Now I'm off to Buffalo to perform all day tomorrow with Jiggermeister, before returning to NYC to do some more busking, rehearsing with Djinn, and preparing for Rakkasah Spring Caravan.

So that's all the blog you'll be getting today.
Fri, April 27, 2007 - 8:48 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

I wrote this yesterday, but tribe was down.

I got a call from Lt. Gleeson of the NYPD today regarding the complaint I made on February 7, about the two cops who were confused about the laws governing subway musicians. The wheels of justice grind slowly.

Lt. Gleeson just asked to hear my story again, so I told it to him. He didn't really say much. He seemed to agree with me that the cops, (if my version of the story was true, which he wasn't committing to) were confused about the definition of panhandling. As you may recall, these cops said that playing music was defined as panhandling, whether I was asking for money or not. I pointed out their own rules to them, which say that artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations, are allowed. Panhandling is a different thing entirely, since that's defined as asking for money, which is not just illegal, but crass. I never panhandle. These cops didn't know the difference between annoying panhandling and an appreciated artistic performance. (And man, the people on this platform were appreciative. It totally sucked to get kicked off it by a couple of confused cops.)

I also complained to Lt. Gleeson that one of the cops hadn't allowed me to read her badge. I was disturbed by the fact that he didn't seem to think that this was a serious issue. That seems pretty serious to me. My father said that in the protests he attended in his youth, you knew which cops planned to do illegal things like beat up protesters for no reason, since they were the ones who had put masking tape over the identifying marks of their badges. Those badges are their for a reason, and that reason is not that they look pretty and shiny, it's that cops have to be held accountable for their actions, and they can't be if they're anonymous.

I pointed out that these two cops, after having this exhausting argument with me about the definition of panhandling, and doing this whole song-and-dance of trying to prevent me from writing down a badge number, and hearing many protests from my audience, finally said that it was a safely issue, since I was blocking the platform.

Now, I am all for safety issues. If someone on a platform is creating a dangerous situation, I want the cops to rush in there immediately and put a stop to it. They should not dilly-dally. They certainly should not waste time discussing of the definitions of words, or practicing yoga in a way that conveniently happens to hide their badge numbers from observers.

So, if these two cops saw a dangerous situation, and wasted all this time before ameliorating it, we have a problem. If (more likely) they saw a perfectly safe situation, but felt like breaking it up for no legal reason, we also have a problem.

Anyway, Lt. Gleeson said that he's familiar with that platform, and they try to discourage musicians from playing on it, especially during rush hour, since it's sort of narrow, and it's a transfer point. The next time I busk on that platform, I'm going to take a photo of it, so you can judge for yourself how narrow and/or crowded it is. Maybe I'll bring a tape measure. And as for it being a transfer point? Sheesh, transfer points are practically the only places anyone busks. OK, sometimes, when all the prime busking spots are taken, I've stooped to busking on a minor, non-transfer point station (which are always available, since hardly anyone ever busks there), but this is rare.

Now the odd thing is, he didn't say that it's against the rules to busk in these places. He just said that it's discouraged. It sounds like they're trying to make up their own laws again, just in a fancier way. Something is either legal or illegal. Saying, "Well, sure it's technically legal, but you can't do it anyway because I said so," gives cops way too much power. This reminds me of a cop I saw in Ithaca, who threatened a woman with arrest unless she put more clothing on. She was dressed perfectly legally, so this cop had no legal reason to threaten her, but he persisted in intimidating her until she put more clothing on. In another Ithaca incident, a cop threatened to arrest a friend of mine for kissing his boyfriend in public, even though this is also perfectly legal. Do we really want cops going around ordering people to do anything they want?

Anyway, on the subject of subway music, Lt. Gleeson said that it's perfectly acceptable for musicians to play downstairs, in the tunnel that links the uptown track to the downtown track, since there's plenty of room there. Um, yeah, there is plenty of room there, since no one ever goes there, except maybe people who fell asleep on the train, missed their stop, and are now late for their appointments, so they're running to catch the train headed the other way. That's not a very large or appreciative audience.

Lt. Gleeson concluded by saying that he was going to call these two cops and get their side of the story. At least, what they remember of an incident that happened Feb. 7. Good luck to him.

In other news, it's spring! I'm finding it very hard to leave Ithaca, since it's so beautiful here, and while it's perfectly legal for me to spend my time in a stinking dark rat-infested subway playing music, well…

I went for a walk through Cornell Plantations. By Beebe lake, geese couples are guarding their nesting sites amid the emerging daffodil buds, and honking at everyone who walks by.

Every spring, I go visit the hellebores. You know all the charming, tiny, adorable little flowers that mark the arrival of spring? Hellebores aren't like that. Hellebores are big, bold, often outrageously colored flowers, that look like they should be in some steamy tropical rainforest, not poking up through snow. I can't understand why they aren't more commonly grown.

I have googled hellebores, and found many websites run by people who admit they are obsessed with them. There are message boards about them. There are tribute pages dedicated to the great hellebore breeders who have gone before us. I do my best to resist this obsession, since I have plenty of obsessions already.

But, every year, I go visit the hellebores at the Plantations, and ever year I am cheered by their outrageous boldness. Pink! (Both pastel and hot.) Magenta! Fuchsia! Deep gothic maroon! White, just for variety! I need that beauty after an Ithaca winter, or after too much time in the subway for that matter, but I haven't found a place in NYC to get my hellebore fix. Well, the greenhouses at the Botanic Gardens are gorgeous, of course, and contain plenty of beautiful flowers. I should visit them more often.

But this year, I got an even bigger dose of helleboreishness. The Plantations has a new garden, the winter garden, that is at its best in winter, which is most of the time here in Ithaca, so it makes sense. This new garden has a patch of brand new hellebore varieties, including colors I've never seen before! This might not seem like a big deal to you, but in my past life, before I became a musician, I was a grad student pursuing a Ph.D. in genetics, with a focus on plant breeding, so a new color of hellebore is a big deal. Just take my word on this, all right?

They now have a hellebore that's simultaneously magenta and orange. You've seen fabric that's one color when the light hits it one way, and the other color…? Like that. Seeing that outrageous thing poking up out of last year's dead leaves was, I don't know, maybe you had to be there. They also had one with squiggly magenta and white stripes scrawled all over the petals. And one with flowers that were such a dark purple, they were practically black. Ugly, but in a cool way. The bees seemed to like it.

An odd thing about hellebores is that they make lots of seeds, and then they dump them all straight down onto the ground below the parent plant. Maybe the reason they aren't more commonly grown is that the seeds have to be planted pretty much the moment after they're dropped. Put them in a seed packet for just a few weeks, and they die.

Maybe in the wild they have some ecosystem partner who distributes their seeds for them, but if so, that partner does not exist in Ithaca. So, the seeds just get dumped, so around each of these amazing plants was a lawn of thousands of tiny struggling seedlings, each doomed to a short, stunted existence, never to have the space to bloom. Unless, of course, some kind passer-by rescued them from their sad existence, arbitrarily selected a few of the thousands, dug them out of the mud with her fingernails, and planted them at home. But of course, that would be theft, which is illegal.
Tue, April 3, 2007 - 8:42 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Mockin'bird played the Ithaca contra dance last night, and it went very well if I do say so myself. Not practicing together seems to be the key.

There weren't enough mics to go around, but that was no problem to me, the Loud, on doumbek, riq, and hurdy gurdy. When we run out of oil and return to the dark ages, I'll still be playing to big dance halls packed with happy, shouting, stomping dancers. Just hit the drum harder, or put some more rosin on the wheel, and I'm good to go.

Today, Bob and I tried to find gardening work to do, to justify being out in the sun among the brilliant yellow and purple crocuses. I've already planted peas and radishes, and started some tomatoes and basil on the windowsill. The seeds are very old, so it will be just as well if hardly anything comes up, since there wouldn't be room for everything if it did come up. Bob wants to move to a house with a bigger living room, so we could have bigger jams and dance parties, while I want to move to a house with a bigger garden, so I can grow more plants. But househunting is a job, so we haven't really started yet.

Once we picked up the very few pieces of trash that the melting snow had revealed, we ran out of things to do, so we went for a walk, and admired other people's crocuses, snowdrops, irises, aconite, Siberian squills, and what do you call those things that are intense blue like Siberian squills, but have more flowers on each stem, smaller, and facing out, not down? Anyway, we admired them all. Ithaca is beautiful.
Sat, March 31, 2007 - 3:00 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Chicken Police
I've been in Ithaca for only about a week, and already I've gotten sucked back into the Cornell University Klezmer Ensemble (CUKE). Two rehearsals, and bam, I was ready for their performance yesterday. It went very well, I thought. I love Middle Eastern music, and I love traditional European music, and klezmer straddles the fence between them very well.

In completely unrelated news, I find this video hilarious:
maybe because of my own experiences with the police.
Fri, March 30, 2007 - 8:38 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

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Squid and Courtesy
Another great day under and in NYC. I started off in a pretty good spot, and busked to happy people for a while, but then I got hungry, so I decided not to be greedy, but yield this spot to my fellow buskers, and go get some lunch.

I found a great restaurant, Nha Trang One, in Chinatown. It had lots of reviews in the window that praised the food, but said that the service felt kind of rushed. I don't know what the reviewers were complaining about. I had but to twitch one eyebrow in the general direction of a waiter, and he would rush to my aid. I count that as a good thing.

The menu was vast and overwhelming. I asked the waiter if the curried squid (a mere $5!) came with vegetables, and he said that no it didn't, but if I liked, they would add vegetables for me. Now that's service. I accepted his kind suggestion, and about 43 seconds later, a gorgeous plate heaped with squid and vegetables, redolent of coconut, curry, and cilantro, was paraded from the kitchen to my table. The squid were artfully carved into floral shapes, and the baby bok choi was a brilliant green. Its travels did not go unnoticed. A fellow patron, admiring this dish, twitched his eyebrow at his waitress, who rushed to his side. "What's that?" he asked. "That looks great. I'll have that."

The waitress looked at the dish, and furrowed her brow in thought. I could tell exactly what she was thinking. "It looks like curried squid, but what's with the baby bok choi?" She was a professional, and would not be stumped by this, but would serve her customer to the best of her ability. "Curried squid," she finally decided.

"What?" said her customer.
"Curried Squid."
"No, squid."
"Squid? Ew! No, I won't have that after all."

The waitress took this remarkably well.

Well-fed, I headed underground again, and found that my spot had been taken by a Chinese flute player in my absence, which was not surprising. Well, there are other squid in the sea, so I found another spot, which was even better than my first spot. I played to more happy people. At seven, a nice young woman with hair the color of yellow # 5, and an amplifier, asked me how long I would be in this spot, and I told her I'd leave at 8, so she took her leave. It took me a moment to realize that this was the same busker I've complained about before, who has set up on me numerous times in the past, deafening people with her karaoke machine. But today, she was perfectly courteous, abiding by busker civilities.

I played for another hour, then made myself pack up and leave for the sake of my left hand, although the crowds were still quite appreciative. I hopped a train, and switched at a known great busking station, where the aforementioned karaoke busker was busking, singing Madonna covers into her mic. She wasn't even quite as painfully loud as she's been in the past, or perhaps I'm deafer. I waved to her in passing, and even considered giving her a dollar to reward her for her newfound courtesy, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. She was singing Madonna covers, after all.

She stopped to say hi to me, just as another busker stopped to ask her how much longer she'd be in that spot. I tried telling this new busker that the spot I'd just left was free, but she told him no, she'd be heading there herself, so he could have this very prime busking spot. I guess she's figured out that a busker can wear out a good spot, so it's good to rotate.

So, she packed up, the new busker set up, I went home, and everyone was happy. Except the squid I suppose, but you can't have everything.
Tue, March 20, 2007 - 7:44 PM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Me, in a church.
My hurdy gurdy and I just got back from Electric WIlburland, which is a recording studio made out of an old church. What better use for a church? Anyway, this is where I recorded my solo CD a couple of years ago, and it's high time I put out another one. Stay tuned.
Thu, March 15, 2007 - 3:04 PM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

I feel so privileged. In the mail today, I got my Qatar Airways Privilege Club card, which I applied for in, let's see, November, 2006. Bob also got his today. He applied for one in 2005. They mailed these things from Qatar, rather than from an office in the US.

Basically, Qatar Airways has a slow, clunky frequent-flier-miles program, which does not inspire trust in their airplanes.

Anyway, this inspired me to go surfing on www.qatarliving.com, and then run screaming back to tribe because of stuff like this:

So here I am on tribe. Here's a blog I would have written about February 28th, if I'd had time:

I took a Pilates class with Lissa:
I'd never tried Pilates before, and knew just about nothing about it, except that it's supposed to be good for you. I see why. First, Lissa explained very clearly what my various bones were supposed to be doing, then she helped me get them to do that. I really need this, as I tend to contort my body in uncomfortable ways when I play music, which is often. Really, the pain in odd little parts of my back and shoulders and hands is the limiting factor in how long I can play, and I'm sure that developing more strength and stability, and playing in a more ergonomic way, would enable me to play for even longer. Too bad, fellow buskers who want my spot!

Then I got to play on some official Pilates monkeybars, which was oodles of fun. I think I spent most of the time thinking about what I was supposed to be doing, so it was more of a mental exercise than a physical exercise. But the rest of the day, I felt some interesting soreness in my back (a good, post-exercise soreness) so I'm sure I got some of a physical workout too.

It was very interesting when Lissa told me to expand my back when I breathe. I'd never thought of that before. It made breathing feel very different. I instantly recognized the muscles I was using, since they're the ones that ache terribly when I have a really bad cough, like I had last winter. It brought back so many bad memories to feel those muscles again. Well, now I'm reclaiming those muscles, so they'll be muscles not just of sickness and pain, but of good healthy breathing. Unless I'm just strengthening them so the next time I have an uncontrollable cough like that, they crack my ribs. It felt like they were almost strong enough to do that last winter.

With my new improved breathing and posture, I set off to busk, and found a very good spot on my first try! I set up and played to a happy appreciative audience. Shortly, Sean the vibes player came by and asked how long I'd be in that spot, so I told him, and he took it well. He headed off to another spot. He makes me appreciate how light and portable my hurdy gurdy and folding stool are. Man, his vibraphone, with all those metal bars, must weigh more than he does.

After a goodly amount of busking, I packed up, and walked in the direction Sean had gone. Sure enough, he'd set up in the spot I would have gone to, when I find the other spot occupied. I offered him my old spot, but he said he was fine where he was. So I just sat and listened for a while. Wow. He sounded so aetherial, so angelic, so pure, it took me quite a while to realize that he was playing some very creative two-by-three polyrhythmic improvisations on Hotel California. He can be sneaky like that.

After transferring some of my tip money into his case, I headed aboveground to the belly dance meetup dinner at a Gama, a Korean restaurant on St. Marks. It was great to sit and chat with all these wonderful dancers. We talked about various venues, so it was a great networking event. And would you believe it? There are actually some dancers in NYC who haven't yet heard Djinn. We have to get some more gigs and enlighten them.

This is tricky, since Carmine doesn't want to play any place that's too expensive for our fans, who are generally artistic folk like ourselves. I can see his point, but I also am happy to play for rich people who can afford expensive drinks and dinners. I'll play for everyone, rich and poor. If any rich people are reading this, would you please have your people email Carmine and tell him to stop turning down gigs at ritzy venues?

I think we concluded that everyone would be happy if we just found a place to play, and dance, in some spacious venue with a nice dance floor, that doesn't even need alcohol, so we'll be looking into renting yoga studios and such.

Much of this discussion was held without the distraction of food or drink, or even any distracting menus, which was fine from a conversation point of view, but my throat got pretty dry eventually. I resorted to drinking water out of the bottle in my backpack, while looking longingly at the waitstaff who kept hurrying by. I don't know where they were going, as the restaurant was almost empty.

Eventually, a more forceful belly dancer than me managed to extract a few menus from a waiter, and even some water. Then we kept trying to get someone to take our order, which took a lot of persistence. I considered running a tripwire between two tables to try to snag a waiter as he went running by, but these waiters were clearly so experienced in the art of evasion, I'm sure they had a strategy to escape from snares like that.

It reminded me a lot of places I've played in NYC, where the management later said that our fans weren't ordering enough food and drink, while our fans told us that they couldn't manage to extract any refreshment out of the aloof waitstaff. I've seen my own dear Bob chasing after a waiter, trying to get someone to seat him at a table and hand him a menu. In fact, I've been to places in NYC just for the band, that supposedly have some high minimum order, but I can't manage to get a waiter to take my order at all. I think that Carmine's concern is misplaced. He wants to save our fans from pushy waitstaff who demand that they order lots of expensive stuff, but our fans are more at risk of suffering from hunger, thirst, and neglect in a lot of venues.

Anyway, our table did eventually manage to snag a waiter, and I pointed to the description of the particular combination of kim chee and tofu I wanted. Then, after some more pleasant conversation, the waitstaff plunked a bunch of dishes down on the table and left us to sort them out. I identified a pile of kim chee and tofu as probably belonging to me, and ate some. The kim chee was quite delicious, very savory, kind of chewy. Then I hit bone. It was, in fact, a piece of pork. Now, if I were a vegetarian, this would have upset me, but I didn't mind. No one else at the table had ordered a dish fitting this description, and it did consist of mostly kim chee and tofu, which I had ordered, so I figured the menu description was just incomplete. Or maybe the chef had gotten confused and thrown in some pork accidentally.

When we got the check, I saw that the waiter had in fact gotten my order wrong, and charged me for an expensive pork, kim chee, and tofu dish, not the cheap kim chee and tofu dish I had ordered. Now, I could afford the difference in price, but it was the principle of the thing. I set up the trip wire, snagged the waiter, and politely pointed out his error. He did not take it well. He said that I should have sent the dish back without tasting it, since I should have known it was the wrong one, since this particular agglomeration of kim chee and tofu looks totally different from that one. I answered that I had no idea what any of these things looked like, since I'd never eaten at this restaurant before (and probably won't again, although the food was very good.) He eventually came around with a different check, charging me for the cheaper dish I had ordered but not received, and not the expensive one I hadn't ordered, but had eaten. Justice was served, predictably late.

The next day, after more great busking, I went to Chinatown and wandered around, looking for dinner. In front of the Singapore Cafe, two guys were standing out in the cold, calling to passers-by, handing out menus, trying to entice us to come in and eat. Now, normally, I might dismiss this sort of thing as too pushy, but after the night before, I was desperate for a restaurant that would actually consent to serve me some food, and even show some enthusiasm, so I let myself be dragged in. I was very glad I did. Not only was my seafood curry delicious, it was actually served to me. Now that's what I want in a restaurant.
Thu, March 8, 2007 - 6:58 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

My hero is a 16-year-old boy from New Jersey.
Have you all heard about this? Young Matthew LaClair, a student in a public high school in New Jersey, stood up to his history teacher, David Paszkiewicz, who was teaching biblical myths as if they were true. This teacher even had the cruelty to tell specific students in his class that they belonged in hell because they weren't Christian. (Threatening children: your taxpayer dollars at work, if any of my readers live in that part of New Jersey.) When LaClair complained to the teacher's supervisors, Paszkiewicz denied saying such things, so LaClair pulled out some very incriminating recordings he'd secretly made of Paszkiewicz's lectures, revealing that Paszkiewicz had not only said those things, but that he'd lied to his supervisors about saying them.

How did the school respond? They now prohibit students from recording lectures. Paszkiewicz is still teaching. Google their names to find out the latest in this case.

LaClair has gotten a lot of harassment over this, so I just wanted to post my support in a public place like this blog, not like I expect him to be reading my blog, when he has teachers and school officials to educate. His No Teacher Left Behind program seems similar to my No Cop Left Behind program. I believe that we can eventually educate these people, although it takes a lot of work.

It just occurred to me that someone might read this and think,"What's`wrong with a teacher in a public school telling non-Christian students that they're going to hell? That's where they're going, after all, so they deserve to be told." Dear reader, if you're thinking that, please substitute the word "Muslim" for Christian, and ask yourself if you'd like your tax dollars to pay a Muslim teacher to tell your Christian children that they're going to hell. The separation of church and state prevents problems like this, or at least it does when it's followed.

It now occurs to me that the abovementioned hypothetical Christian reader of my blog might be thinking, "Well, that's why only Christians should be allowed to get teaching jobs, or live in this country, or on this planet for that matter," and I don't want to fill up my whole blog arguing with hypothetical people.

In other news, I attended a really great classical Indian music concert Monday. Cornell has so many wonderful free concerts. This time, Shashank and his ensemble played, and you know how I was complaining that music from Quebec is in 1/4 time? Carnatic music definitely doesn't have that problem. These rhythms were so sophisticated, I got lost a lot of the time, because I'm not as sophisticated as the music. They started off with a piece in a slow 8-beat rhythmic cycle, and I was like, "Yeah, a plain old 8, been there done that," but man, they were syncopating all over the place. You know how soloists trade fours all the time? This flautist and violinist were trading threes, against the eight. There was syncopation piled on top of syncopation. It was beautifully intricate.

Then they played this piece in a slow 18, and whoah, I thought Balkan 18s were complicated. I had no idea. For one, these musicians felt free to split each of those 18 beats into as many subdivisions as they liked. At one point, at least one of the musicians was splitting each of those 18 beats into five equal parts, so it was really more of a fast 90-beat rhythmic cycle. Then they syncopated THAT. My head was spinning.

Those are only a few examples that I managed to understand, but the vast majority of the music was over my head. I enjoy trying to understand it, though. It's very cool when the musicians do something that feel so beautiful, and I, or at least my conscious mind, has no idea why.

I think that one of the things I like about Indian classical music is its use of drones. For this concert, the role of the tambura was played by a mac laptop, which produced a buzzy drone through the whole concert. (I think I might have preferred a real tambura, but I can see them not wanting to pay another musician.) European music used to use drones too, but mostly lost them when Bach and his ilk changed musical conventions. That's a big loss. Well, with my trusty hurdy gurdy, I'm doing my part to keep the droning tradition alive in Western music.

After the concert, I left the auditorium, and looked at the door to leave the building. There were a lot of people looking at the door. The window to the outside world looked like static on a TV. We bundled up very carefully, and opened the door into the screaming storm that is the Ithaca winter. I literally couldn't see. The wind was driving sharp shards of ice at high speeds into my eyeballs. If I closed my eyes to protect them, my eyelashes quickly froze shut. Then it was a job to remove the ice from my eyelashes, to try to open my eyes again, but there was hardly any point, since the air was pretty much opaque anyway.

But the true horror of my walk home was that for some reason, after all that beautiful, intricate music, I had "It's a Small World After All" stuck in my head the whole time. I have no idea why.
Wed, March 7, 2007 - 10:56 AM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

1/4 time
I have too much to blog about, but I'll start with Le Vent du Nord, who played here in Ithaca this weekend. They're such excellent players of the traditional music of Quebec, that I was motivated to attempt to overcome my prejudice to that kind of music, and I pretty much succeeded.

Traditional music of Quebec sounds a lot like music from Ireland, Scotland, England, France, wherever, but it all seems to be in 1/4 time. There's a strong steady beat (often stamped out by the musicians, with loud shoes, as they play various instruments) but these beats are grouped into musical phrases with no mathematical regularity that I can detect. They'll have a phrase of three beats, then a phrase of five beats, then a phrase of eleven beats, then a couple more phrases of three beats, and then I give up trying to listen. Which is a shame, since each of those phrases is a beautiful thing, particularly when played by such excellent musicians as this. They're all great singers, too.

Maybe the problem was that I kept trying to listen to this stuff from a Balkan standpoint, where measures might have, say, 18 beats in them, but they stick to that 18 time, dangnabit, no matter how syncopated they get. But this music seems to have no measures to syncopate from, which feels like cheating.

They played for a "contra" dance Saturday, which was odd, since everyone was expecting New England contras, where you dance to the phrases of the music, but they called Quebec contras where you just dance to the beat. It was interestingly different.

Sunday, they taught workshops, which were great fun. I played my wooden flutes, which I haven't played for a while, but somehow still remember how to play. I've been practicing today and having a lot of fun with them.

One of the musicians, Nicolas Boulerice, played hurdy gurdy fabulously, so I didn't care what meter he was or wasn't in. Also, he had the most tricked out hurdy gurdy I've ever seen. It had four melody strings. It had three buzzing bridge strings, some with capos, and with buzzing bridges stacked on top of each other on little platforms. It had four bass drone strings, some with capos, and, coolest of all in my opinion, these strings ran over a fretless fingerboard, like a violin, so you could play swoopy slidey melodies on them, as well as conventional melodies on the keyboard. It had at least twelve sympathetic strings. It was an electric-acoustic, with five different knobs for controlling the electronics. It basically had every possible bell and whistle that could be added to a hurdy gurdy, if cost and sanity were no object.

My hurdy gurdy, however, is a heck of a lot louder, and that's what counts.

Today, I looked in at Petrune, which is to vintage clothing stores as Nicolas' hurdy gurdy is to conventional ones. Have I blogged about this store before? They sell clothing that looks like it should be in a museum. I tried on a genuine Victorian-era dress that fit perfectly. You'd think it would be ridiculously uncomfortable, since that's the reputation of clothing from that era, but actually, it was fine, a lot more comfortable than some belly dance costumes. Could someone please tell me that I don't need a genuine Victorian dress? It's $185, but Petrune is having a sale where things get cheaper and cheaper, going down to 50% off. Um, my hurdy gurdy is of a sort of 1800's style, so maybe I could say that the dress matches it... Nah. I'd better save my money to spend it on more instruments, and workshops, and music camps.
Mon, March 5, 2007 - 1:12 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Back in NYC
My trusty hurdy gurdy and I are fresh off the bus, back in NYC, and looking forward to busking.

It was hard to drag myself away from Ithaca, though. Last night, Pamela Goddard sang, and Kitchen Chair played, at Bound for Glory, and I couldn't miss that. I just tried to write a few sentences describing Pamela's voice, and I always had to backspace it out, since she's indescribable. She sounds totally authentic, as if every emotion were absolutely genuine, although if it were, she wouldn't be able to sing, since she'd be weeping. She sings traditional folksongs, which means that the body count is always pretty high. Anyway, she always sings several songs that make me say, "I must learn that song!" This time, that list included a rousing traditional English folksong called The Female Drummer. How come I don't know this song yet?

I also wanted to get to NYC to see my father. Some of you may have seen a blog post I put up very briefly yesterday, for an hour or so, in which I said that my father was missing. This is because my sister and my father's girlfriend had me in a panic, since they hadn't seen him for days.

So, in desperation, I wrote up a blog post with a picture of him, so that some New Yorker who read it would look more closely at, say, some man lying in a pile of snow, to see if it was my missing dad who needed help. The corollary to that, of course, is that if said 73-year-old-man-in-snowpile wasn't my dad, my readers should have felt free to just walk on by him on the way to, say, their Pilates class.

Of course, my father did turn up, and he just walked in lugging a massage table and some huge houseplants, which is the sort of thing he does. It's good to see him.

Speaking of Pilates, I've signed up for my namesake Melissa's Pilates lessons Wednesday, which I'm very much looking forward to, since I've heard great things about her. We'll see if I get there in time, or if I get caught up in some NYC distraction on the way.
Mon, February 26, 2007 - 7:41 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Silly beatbox video
Sun, February 25, 2007 - 7:27 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

No Cop Left Behind update
I just got a letter saying my complaint has been referred to the Office of the Chief of Department (OCD) of the New York City Police Department, which "has jurisdiction to investigate...the competence with which police officers perform their general duties..." or incompetence as the case may be. Stay tuned for the next exciting update.
Tue, February 20, 2007 - 4:24 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

I am sitting on sore muscles.
I'm back from the Dance Flurry, and sorry if these festival reviews are getting repetitive, but I just have to say "Wow." Contra dance is still the most energetic dance form I know. Wait, I have to modify that. Contra dance is the most energetic dance form that doesn't tend to result in permanent crippling injuries. Actually, I did see a lot of knee braces and at least one arm in a sling out there on the dance floor. With bands like The Sevens on stage, it doesn't matter how much your muscles are aching, you MUST dance.

I realized that I have to modify that further, since the zwiefacher session may have been even more energetic than the contras. To those of you who have been living in such isolation you've never even danced a zweifacher, I will explain. A zweifacher is a dance that alternates between a lively waltz and breakneck pivots. This results in you clinging to your partner as tightly as you possibly can, as you go whirling around the room as fast as you possibly can. For some reason, this roller-coaster of a dance is done to campy old recordings of brass band oompah music, and I don't mean fiery Balkan Rom brass band music either. I mean truly cheesy oompah music, that inexplicably keeps switching meter so it sounds like the CD is skipping. I think someone needs to write some new zweifacher tunes.

Another delight was Trouz Bras, playing dance music of Celtic Brittany on bagpipes, bombard, fiddle, electric bass, and of course, doumbek. The bagpiper, Ray Price, would put down his bagpipes and very quickly teach very simple, fun dances, then hop back on stage and play. I think this band would be a great addition to Pennsic. Wouldn't it be cool to have those huge Pennsic crowds all dancing authentic dances to this great authentic bagpipe and doumbek band?

The Scandinavian fiddling of Laurie Hart and friends did not include a doumbek, yet it was still quite enjoyable. Go figure. She'd announce some dance by name, and I'd remember that I'd done it before, or at least seen in done, or heard of it, or perhaps ordered it in the Norwegian restaurant at Epcot Center in Disney World, where I'm sure it was very tasty. Anyway, whatever it was, it was quite useless to try to remember which foot I start on, and which way the turns go, and if my right arm is supposed to go over or under. Much to my surprise, I managed to do many of these dances anyway, at least with the help of Bob, who has enough brains for at least two people. I was also very proud when Bob hopped on stage, by Laurie's invitation, and played a telegangar on his munnharpa. A munnharpa is a very quiet instrument, but man, once that sound guy got a hold of it, it made the whole room bounce.

Oh, and I can now proudly say that I can do the Charleston and Collegiate Shag. If I ever need to look really, really goofy, I now have the resources.

I didn't manage to get to the class on Texas Two-step. (There are 16 stages, which all have different events running from 9 AM to 1:30 AM, so I missed a lot more than I hit.) This is a pity, since at a dance here in Ithaca, a band announced that the next dance was a Texas two-step, and all the dancers looked confused. Bob and I, however, decided that a) we wanted to dance whether we knew how to or not, and b) we don't have good associations with people from Texas. So we made up the goofiest dance we possibly could. Much to our amusement, people around us started looking at our feet and carefully trying to imitate us. Maybe we should teach a class next Flurry in authentic Ithaca-style Texas two-step.
Mon, February 19, 2007 - 6:44 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

I am typing with arms rippling with muscles.
I should make a workout DVD: "Get fit shoveling snow!"

Anyway, I just had to let down, gently, someone who wanted me to drive 45 minutes each way (through who knows how much snow) to do an hour-long belly dance performance and workshop, for $50. She seemed to think it was outrageous that I would want more money than that.

I have various things to do, like learning new tunes and updating my website, on these little breaks I take from shoveling snow. But if you want to look at a more recently updated website, Andrew, the hard-working accordion player in my band, Jiggermeister, has set up this page:

Wed, February 14, 2007 - 12:29 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

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Back in Ithaca
Saturday, Djinn played the Johnson Museum here in Ithaca, NY, and we rocked the house. It's kind of surreal to see my two worlds, NYC and Ithaca, colliding, and getting along just fine. Also, it's shocking to see my Ithacan dance friends incorporating modern tribal fusion elements into their costuming and dancing, since there was none of that in the Ithaca belly dance scene a few years ago. I'd kind of imagined Ithaca as frozen just as it was when I left it, but of course it's developing just like any other thriving cultural center develops.

Of course, other parts of Ithaca are literally frozen, as shown in this picture of me at Ithaca Falls, which is just a few blocks from my house.

I was impressed as ever at Sera's wonderful dance teaching. Last night, I made Bob do the 30-minute warmup and drills of her DVD with me, and he didn't complain too much. But he did say that maybe a DVD that catered to a man's limited flexibility might be more useful to him. Today, I did the DVD myself, and I have to say that being a woman does not automatically enable me to move like Sera.

Many thanks to Anita for organizing that wonderful weekend! Everything went smoothly.

Oh, and I think that a few blogs ago, I may have badmouthed that laser hair removal place more than they deserved. It's taken longer than expected, but at least some of my hair is now falling out in mangy patches, which I have to take as a good sign. Unless that's a symptom of frostbite.
Mon, February 12, 2007 - 3:49 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

My first complaint
Yestarday morning, I stubbed my toe very badly, and I've been walking with a limp since. That was very unfortunate for the two cops who chose to harrass me. It is never wise to annoy me, and even more unwise to annoy me when I am already in a bad mood.

I wrote up this very dry description of the incident last night, just after it occured, to make sure I had all the information in a stable form:

Today, Wedneday, February 7, 2007, I was busking in the 96 St. 1, 2, and 3 station, at 7:00. Several people were gathered around me on the platform enjoying the music, but it was not so crowded that the people blocked the platform. I did not have an amplifier, as amplifiers are not allowed on the platforms. I had not been there very long, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes.

I was approached by two uniformed police officers. One, a man, had a badge that said MEJIA 30071. The other, a woman, had a badge that read NEGRON 24139 (although I didn't make a note of this until later.) They both looked fairly young, but I didn't take note of their physical characteristics in particular.

The two officers told me that I wasn't allowed to play music or accept donations on the platform, so I had to leave. I pulled out my copy of the MTA Rules of Conduct that I had printed out from the MTA webite, which state in part, "The following non-transit uses are permitted... artistic performances, including the acceptance of donations..." I handed these rules to officer Mejia, but he didn't really read them, just kept insisting that I wasn't allowed to play music, in flat contradiction to the rules I was showing him. He said that, since people were putting money in my case, I was panhandling, and panhandling wasn't allowed.

I explained that since I never ask for money, I'm not panhandling. I simply accept donations that are given to me, which is explicitly permitted by the MTA Rules of Conduct. At this point, a woman on the platform told the officers that she'd been listening for a while, and hadn't heard me ask anyone for money. This woman put some money in my case to demonstrate to the officers that the money in the case had been freely donated, unasked for, but the officers did not seem to understand the distinction.

Perhaps because the officers were starting to wonder if their panhandling accusation was on shaky ground, they then started to claim that I was blocking the platform, which was a safety issue. In fact, I was not blocking the platform. This was a very wide platform, and it was not very crowded. I had my back to a pillar in the middle of the platform, and wasn't taking up much more room than the pillar itself. There were several people clustered around me, enjoying the music, but it was still easy for anyone to get by. For example, the two officers had walked up to me easily.

I asked the officers if they could show me an example of a person who was inconvenienced or blocked by my presence on the platform. When I asked them this, several people on the platform told the officers that they were not inconvenienced by my presence at all, and had in fact been enjoying the music. No one told the officers that they were right, and I was blocking the platform. If this had been an actual safety issue, I'd think that the officers would have raised this issue first, instead of first telling me I wasn't allowed to accept donations, which is not a safely issue.

Although they hadn't given me a legitimate reason to do so, the officers kept insisting that I leave. I agreed to leave, but informed them that I was going to file complaints against them, so I would need their badge numbers. The man, Officer Mejia, allowed me to look at his badge to copy the number, but the woman, Officer Negron I believe, kept twisting her body out of the way whenever I tried to read her badge. I asked her several times to stop twisting like that, as I needed to read her badge, but she told me that I could read it fine, which was a lie. However, whenever she twisted away from me, she did of course twist towards other people on the platform, who read her badge and shouted out the numbers for me to write down. Due to the awkward technique required to read her badge, it's possible I copied the information incorrectly. Once people on the platform had shouted out her badge number to me, she stopped twisting. I can't think of any other reason for her to have twisted like that, except to prevent me from reading her badge. She started twisting as soon as I started trying to read her badge, and she stopped as soon as I was done.

I packed my instrument and went home. Once home, I called 311, which transferred me to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, where I filed a complaint over the phone through their automated system. I have two complaints against these officers. First, by making up a rule that I wasn't allowed to play music, they violated my first ammendment right to freedom of expression. Second, by attempting to prevent me from reading her badge, Officer Negron clearly was attempting to escape the consequences of her mistake, which I presume is against the police code of ethics.

So, that's what I wrote up yesterday, and pretty much what I recited into the automated telephone system. ("If you have been injured by a police officer, press one...") Now presumably, a human being will review my case and make an appointment to talk with me in person. From what I've heard from other buskers, this is a straightforward procedure, which will result in the officers being reprimanded. These two looked pretty young, so it was only a matter of time before some busker did the work of educating them, and it happened to be me. The annoying thing is, the city isn't paying me anything to train their cops for them. And my toe still hurts.
Thu, February 8, 2007 - 8:37 AM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Busking, Djinn, Lasers
Another great day busking in the subway yesterday. You know, I think my hurdy gurdy skills have improved since last winter. The hard part about playing hurdy gurdy is keeping it in playable condition in all types of weather. I am very proud of myself that I set up my hurdy gurdy to sound fine, even great, in the subway, wich was probably about freezing. I could see my breath, anyway, and there were lots of icicles, which would form in the train tunnels, get snapped off when a train came through, then slowly form again.

I alternated wearing a fingerless glove on my left hand, for slow tunes, and taking it off for fast tunes. This worked fine. I might ultimately be able to play even fast tunes while wearing this glove, but I actually didn't need it, since I'd dressed warmly enough that I didn't feel that cold. What I can't do, however, is wear a glove on my right hand, since it interferes with playing too much.

After about three and a half hours, though, I started feeling tired, so I abandoned the happy appreciative audience, went upstairs, and got some soup. Then I still had some time to kill before Djinn rehearsal, so I went back down and busked a bit more, again to happy appreciative audiences. Breaks are a good idea, and I should take more of them, but it's hard to stop when I'm on a roll.

Then I went up to Carmine's apartment, which was of course terribly overheated, and man, it took a lot of work getting my hg to sound good in those very different conditions. But I actually managed to do it (brag brag) and we had a great rehearsal, tidying our old material, learning new (to us) traditional tunes, and composing another Djinn original that will totally blow everyone's mind.

So, most of my life is great, and I will now spend the rest of this blog complaining about a tiny little pet peeve. Feel free to stop reading now, particularly the guys out there, who would probably rather not know about this sort of thing.

My beloved Bob, as I may have mentioned before, is a dedicated environmentalist. He recycles, he walks to work, he gives generously to various environmentalist charities, and, in a further demonstration of his commitment, he buys me bikinis that use very little of the earth's precious natural recources. He also buys me miniskirts, short shorts, skimpy little tops, in short, a whole extensive wardrobe that consumes less raw material than, say, one frumpy sweatshirt. For even more environmental efficiency, some of these garments could double as dental floss.

On the one hand, this is great, as my new wardrobe takes up very little storage room, is easy to pack, and is comfortable to wear, at least in summer and in overheated buildings in winter. On the other hand, Bob, being a guy, didn't think of the environmental impact of giving these garments to someone of my undisclosed but vaguely ethic ancestry, which is the increased us of environmentally unsound plastic razors and cans of shaving cream.

But just as in real life (not) technology has stepped in with the environment-saving solution. Bob offered to pay for laser hair removal for me.

It required some thought to decide if I should accept this offer or not. I still remember the guys in Ithaca (which, being a very liberal town, contains a wide variety of hairstyles) who would drive by me in the summer, lean out their car windows, and shout, "Shave your legs, bitch!" presumably because if I shaved my legs, I might then have a chance of getting a date with such charming gentlemen. A few experiences like that were enough to make me swear to never shave my legs, and to get leg hair extensions if possible.

Despite not following the advice of these well-meaning gentlemen, I managed to find and marry an even more charming guy, namely Bob, who would love me even if I turned into a gorrilla. But I am now mature enough to stop basing my decisions about my appearance on what will most annoy doofuses who give drive-by advice on how to be attractive, despite their clear lack of qualifications.

When I'm not trying to annoy doofuses, I think I look better with bald legs etc. It's not like humans have nice fur, like cats or something, so we might as well go hairless, like newts.

Had I been born a newt, this would be a very easy look to accomplish. However, I was born into some sort of vaguely ethnic family, related to newts only very distantly. Whatever other benefits my genes confer to me (and there are a great many if I do say so myself,) ease of hair removal cannot be counted among them.

If I shave in the morning, I get a 5:00 shadow by noon. If I shave every day, all my hair follicles gradually turn into ugly red ingrown-hair zits. If I wax, I look great for two days, and then every single hair folicle turns into an ugly red zit simultaneously. If I use those hair-melting creams, (which are covered with warning labels saying, "You absolutely must not let this cream remain on your skin for more than six (6) minutes, or truly horrible things will happen to your skin, we mean it, you really better not try it!") for about twenty (20) minutes, which is the amount of time it takes for these creams to even start doing anything to my hair, then I look OK for about a day, then the usual zits that result from shaving start to appear.

So, laser seemed to be my last option. Out of all the ads for laser hair removal in NYC, I picked what seemed to be one of the cheaper options, with the cheesy name of Beauty and Youth Spa. I went in on Thursday, consulted with the nice Russian lady, and blew over $500 of Bob's money on what was to be the first of six treatments.

According to the websites that seem to know what they're talking about, hair cycles between growing and resting phases, and the laser destroys only those hairs that are actively growing. So, someone undergoing laser treatment should come back for another treatment once their hair starts growing again, that is, after about six weeks, because that's about how long it takes for the next batch of follicles to enter their growing cycle.

That's how it's supposed to work. However, I now know that I can add "immunity to lasers" to the list of marvelous traits that my genes have confered to me. Maybe it's a superpower.

My stubble was growing back just like normal later in the day after the treatment. I tried to convince myself that it wasn't really growing, I just hadn't shaved very close, but no, it's all growing back exactly like normal after a totally normal shave, ingrown-hair zits included. The nice Russian lady assured me that lasers do not cause ingrown hairs, but then again, she also said that lasers do cause hair removal, and I now know that that's not the case.

She also didn't charge me tax or give me a receipt, since I paid cash. I'd like to think that cheating the tax man and cheating your customers are two different things, but maybe they go together.

I'd suspect that the laser that the other large Russian woman zapped me with was just a fake, but I don't think a fake would have hurt so much, or burned one of my birthmarks black. It's a little scab now. I don't know if it will come back or not, or if it will be replaced by a scar. I had no great sentimental attachment to that birthmark, but before the treatment, I had asked the first Russian lady specifically if the laser would do anything to my birthmarks, and she assured me that it had no effect on them. She also said that the laser didn't hurt at all. In fact, I can't recall anything she said that later turned out to be true.

Turning my birthmark to a cinder didn't hurt nearly as much as when the technician turned her laser onto a very, very sensitive part of my body. I don't know why she would even be pointing her laser there, since that part of my body doesn't have any hair on it at all. What it does have are a lot of nerve endings, which did not appreciate being burned. This hurt for about a day. I have not ruled out the possibility that this "spa" is actually a fetish parlor, where sadists pay the management to inflict pain on unknowing victims, who foolishly also pay the management.

So. Considering that this is just about the only problem in my life, and it's a pretty small problem, this is not a big deal. But if anyone can recommend a laser hair removal place that might actually remove some hair, please let me know, and I would be much obliged, as my life would then be perfect.
Wed, February 7, 2007 - 10:59 AM — permalink - 5 comments - add a comment

A tune called "Melissa the Loud"
More good subway busking today. I've found a very good spot, and no, I'm not going to tell you where it is. It's always been available when I've tried it, unlike other great spots with are almost always taken, and sometimes have musicians lining up to take over the next shift when the current musician takes a break.

Rather than give too many clues about my great busking spot, I will be a very lazy blogger and copy-and-paste an email exchange I had with some random person who must have googled me:


i went to a contra-dance tonight that Wild Asparagus was playing. i asked
about this tune that David Cantieni played on bombard and he just called it
Melissa the Loud. any ideas of what tune that is, or where i might
hear/learn it?
All I can recall is that it was a major jig and that it fit within the
bombard range...



Ha! That is so funny! I think I know the tune you mean. There's a long story behind it, though.

My band, Jiggermeister, played a festival, Almost Heaven, with David's other band, Swallowtail. That's where David learned this tune from me. I think Jiggermeister is the first band to play it for a contra. I loosely based it on the renaissance dance tune Petit Vriens, AKA Petit Riense and probably a bunch of other spellings:
except the tune as originally written is very, very crooked, not a contra dance tune at all. I did a lot of work squaring it off. I also added some syncopation, because Jiggermeister likes that sort of thing. I did most of this modification at Union Square Park in NYC, so I've been trying to call it Union Square, but I don't know if I really have the right to give it a new name like that, since I didn't really write it, I just modified the heck out of it. If David wants to call it Melissa the Loud, I'm flattered. I'm glad to hear that he's been putting it to good use. I plan to record it on my next CD, but that doesn't help you now. I guess I could write it down, but I'm only marginally literate. Let me know if you need it written down, and I'll see what I can do.

Sun, February 4, 2007 - 9:59 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Beware of Mousse
Very short blog, as a warning to others. I'm in Ithaca, which means I've been dancing most nights and shoveling snow most days. At last night's dance and potluck, someone brought a chocolate raspberry mousse. They even had an ingredients card, so I could read it and confirm that it actually contained nothing I'm allergic to, which is extremely rare. I ate some. It was mind-boggling. I ate some more. I scraped the last little bits out of the bowl with the serving spoon, then stole the serving spoon. I realized, "This is what chocolate is all about. It all makes sense now."

Last night, I didn't sleep a wink. Apparently, the main components of this mousse were intense, true chocolate flavor, and caffeine. I don't do caffeine. I'm a zombie today. Yet another case of musicians destroying their lives with drugs I suppose.
Sun, January 28, 2007 - 7:46 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Golden Fest
Well, I'm just about recovered from the Golden Fest last weekend. It didn't help that I actually had to wake up the next morning, just a few hours after going to bed that morning, to catch a ride to Ithaca.

As usual, the festival was gloriously overwhelming. The talent of the musicians and dancers was so amazing, it made me want to practice a lot more. How can I do justice to this fabulous music and dance with a measly blog entry? To single out one moment out of very many wonderful moments, there were some really great Hungarian dancers this year, whom I don't think were there last year. They did lots of flashy kicks and stomps, with fancy footwork sort of like Irish stepdancing, but with a nonchalant swingy looseness, sort of a lindy hop attitude. For music, there was one bagpiper who was just jamming in the Green Room with the drummers of Djinn, and a very talented tambourine player. Anyway, this bagpiper displayed a level of virtuosity that I'd previously only heard from clarinet and violin players. He turned off his drone, which enabled him to modulate to different keys, which he did brilliantly. He also did this thing where he stopped the end of his chanter, so he could play individual notes separated by dead silence, which is not the usual way of playing a bagpipe. Sheesh, I can't write about this and do it justice. You just had to be there.

Actually, many of you were. I was regretting advertising this event so much, since it was very crowded. This meant that, very often, I'd be dancing to one fabulous band, often a fabulous band I remembered from previous years, but I'd be thinking to myself "There are two other stages with bands I've never heard before, which are probably also fabulous. Maybe I should go check them out." But that involved shoving through throngs of giddy people, many of whom stopped to greet me by name. I vaguely recognized some faces. Names? Sorry, I've allocated a large portion of my brain to hurdy gurdy, so I don't have much left for remembering people's names.

No matter how great each band was, they each got a poignantly short set, so you could blink and miss it. This included Djinn's set. We set up, we played a few tunes, we left. It felt pretty strange, actually. Maybe because it was 3 AM, and I'd been dancing since 6 PM.

I really think this festival has to be longer. Also, I need more ears.
Tue, January 16, 2007 - 7:53 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Get your new Djinn CD right here!
I finally set up my website so people can buy the new Djinn CD on it, in addition to buying my other CDs: www.melissatheloud.com/recordings.html

I still have to do stuff like post Djinn sound samples, but you can hear those on the Djinn website anyway:

Sat, January 6, 2007 - 12:40 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

I'm Playing at Golden Fest!
Some of my loyal readers might remember my feverish ravings about last year's Golden Fest:
Well, if you look at the schedule for this year:
you'll notice that my band, Djinn, is playing there! Yay! This means we have truly made it. True, we're scheduled for 2 AM, but performing at this festival at all is such an amazing honor, I'll take any slot we can get.

You're all coming out and dancing to us, right? As well as to some of the 40 or so other amazing bands. I don't care if you live in another city. Take a bus, take a plane, just get to NYC next weekend somehow, and you won't regret it.
Sat, January 6, 2007 - 9:21 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

I'm on CDBaby
At least this is a short blog, for all my patient readers who suffered through the last one. I'm on cdbaby!
This is meant to make it easier for me to sell CDs online when I'm adventuring off to Oman or wherever, and can't get to a post office to mail CDs myself. And if anyone wants to write a review of my CD, you can post it there.

When I'm not adventuring, my CDs are still available from my website:
Thu, December 28, 2006 - 3:57 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Witchcraft in Bahla, Oman
Here's a belated blog entry I would have written on Dec. 6, if I'd had time.

We checked out of the Qurm Beach Hotel and drove to Nizwa, listening to bagpipes and drums on the radio. Yes, Gulf six-by-something polyrhythms, on bagpipes. I heard one tune that seemed to be mostly major, but then it occasionally had a minor second, like hijaz. Then there were tunes that definitely had a quarter-tone in them, but it was the Scottish bagpipe quarter-tone. Then we heard a tune that turned into Greensleeves. Then the radio took a break from bagpipes and played a cheery vocal number in five, then what sounded like some classic Egyptian film music. I wish we had a station like this at home, or in Qatar for that matter, since I'll be back there next year.

We drove into the Western Hajar Mountains, and the scenery kept getting more and more amazing. These are some seriously huge mountains, stark rock jutting out of the earth at precarious angles. They're nibbled by long-haired goats, as a change from the camels we saw in Qatar. Camels could not keep their footing on mountains like these. Tucked into the crannies between the mountains are wadis, streambeds full of lush green palm plantations. They're quite beautiful, especially in contrast to the harsh mountains around them.

We checked into the Majan Guest House, a simple no-frills place, like a Super-8. The guys at the desk greeted Bob. I told them we had a reservation, but of course they didn't hear me because I was a woman, so I went off to look at some trinkets they had for sale and left Bob to check in. So Bob started to check in, but when I heard the price, I had to go back and tell Bob that we had a reservation, so Bob could tell the clerk that we had a reservation, so we could get the price I'd been quoted over the phone. I don't know why they could talk to me over the phone when I was making reservations. Maybe they assumed I was a guy over the phone.

We checked into our neat clean room, and decided to drive to the nearby town of Bahla. (Say the "h" like you're clearing your throat.) Bahla is famous for its witchcraft, according to the guidebooks. Some more bagpipes and mountains later, we saw an odd thing: in the desert around Bahla, very many of the ordinary desert rocks were standing on edge, not lying flat like they do everywhere else. They made strange shadows. There were also crumbling old mud walls winding up and down the mountainsides all over the place, and watchtowers on top of many of the mountains. I don't know what the watchtowers originally watched over, but now they watch over boys playing soccer. (That is, "football" to everyone but Americans.)

There are walls all over Oman. We saw some new houses being built. First they build the wall around the property, and then they build the house inside the wall. I'd think that would make it hard to move construction equipment in and out, but that's how they do things.

We parked in downtown Bahla and strolled around. I'd heard that the interior of Oman is more conservative than cosmopolitan Muscat, so even though it was hot, I was modestly dressed, in a long-sleeved baggy shirt and baggy jeans. I had assumed I could look around at what local women were wearing, so I could see if I'd dressed modestly enough, and maybe modify my modesty level, or even buy some local clothing to fit in better. I quickly realized how stupid that assumption was. I couldn't see any local women, although the place was just bustling with local men. Local women, apparently, do not go out in Bahla. The fact that I was out in public, doing touristy things, instead of staying home where women belong was immodest enough, so I don't know if it even mattered what I was wearing.

I can report on men's clothing, if anyone cares. Omani men, just about all of them, wear long, simple, graceful floor-length shirts, usually white, sometimes other colors like tan. There's a tassel in front that is perfumed, I hear. There certainly was a lot of perfume in the air. The backs of these shirts have a triangle of doubled fabric that draws attention to their manly broad shoulders. They also wear charmingly embroidered colorful caps, and sandals. A beautiful national costume, I must say, and it looks fairly comfortable too.

It was similar to the Qatar men's costume, but interestingly different. In Qatar, this shirt looks more like a Western men's shirt, in that it has a stiff collar that looks like it should have a tie, and cuffs at the sleeves that are closed with expensive cufflinks. Also, it has a few pleats, always crisply pressed, that run from the shoulders to the ground. On their heads, they wear white cloth running down their backs, secured with thick black cords, and decorated with two tassels hanging down the back. In other countries, where they don't wear these tassels, these Qatari tassels are referred to as "liptons" after the tags on Lipton tea bags.

So, we strolled through downtown Bahla, noting an unusually high number of barber shops and coffee shops. Also, there were lots of little nut and sweet shops, just like on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. How much coffee, candy, and nuts can a population consume? Does such a diet make hair grow really fast, so they need all those barbers? I really missed the produce stands you see all over Chinatown, all over NYC really.

We were soon deafened by the call to prayer blasting out of the local mosque's speakers. We figured it would be impolite to press our hands over our ears, but it's really quite deafening. Unlike every other place I'd heard the call to prayer, many of the local men actually seemed to be heading for the mosque. I don't know how this works. Are they supposed to head to the mosque five times a day, or can they just pray where they are? I'd think they could just pray where they are, but then again, I'd think a lot of things.

To save our hearing, we headed away from the mosque, towards the fort, which is the big tourist attraction. There are forts all over the place in Oman. This one was huge and imposing and closed for renovations. It had scaffolding over part of it.

Near the fort was a beautifully green patch, with water running neatly along a canal, presumably watering various gardens. So we walked along this very pleasant path, in the shade of the palm trees, stepping on the layer of dates that had fallen on the path. I'd think someone would have harvested them before they fell, but what do I know? I wasn't going to volunteer to climb these very tall trees.

The path led to a honeycomb of crumbling mud brick buildings, with streets between them so narrow they were more like twisting tunnels. These buildings were amazing, and we got lots of photos. Then we realized that they weren't all abandoned. Some of them had laundry hanging in the yards, or chickens or goats. At least one had an air-conditioner sticking out of the mud wall.

Bob started to get spooked. He said that it was impolite for us to barge into this neighborhood and take photos, so we should leave. I said that there weren't any walls keeping us out, and in fact there was a beautiful path leading to this neighborhood, so as long as we didn't go looking in windows and taking pictures of actual people, we were probably OK. Besides, this neighborhood was right next to the fort, which was a tourist attraction, so what did people expect living right next to it? Although to be honest, we hadn't seen any tourists besides ourselves since we'd left Muscat, and hardly any even there.

Since Bob, fearless harasser of snakes and scorpions, was getting scared here, I figured it was probably better to err on the side of caution and leave. So we walked through this neighborhood and out the other side, past some boys playing soccer in what looked like the fort parking lot, and wound up right next to the fort, on a very steep slope. There was a little path around the fort, which would have been considered a liability issue in the US.

We walked, looking up and to our left at the imposing fort, out and to our right at the imposing mountains and long crumbling walls that snaked over the mountains, and down at the neighborhood we'd just left. There were some actual women in it! Unlike the women I'd seen in Muscat, they weren't wearing abayas! Instead, they seemed to be completely covered in layers of very bright, loose fabric, with just their faces and hands showing. They had some children with them. They looked up at us in surprise and excitement. This caused some more alarm in Bob, but it seemed to just be a "Hey, there are people up there!" sort of excitement, not the "Pa, get the shotgun!" sort.

We continued around the fort until we got to the end of the path, which opened onto the sidewalk. It had a "Do Not Enter" sign on it (with its back to us, of course.) We hastily got onto the sidewalk. Fort? What fort? We don't know anything about a path around a fort.

To get back to our car, we walked through a pedestrian subway, which is a tunnel under the busy street. Such a tunnel in NYC would have stank, but this one was perfectly clean.

Stay tuned for my next exciting adventures, or not. How come I'm not getting any comments on these Oman blogs? What, like if it's not in NYC it's not interesting?
Thu, December 28, 2006 - 3:35 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

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Muscat Sewage Treatment Plant Adventure
This is yet another belated blog entry from my Oman trip. I'm back in Ithaca now, have unpacked, and am attempting to find places to display the seashells. I strolled around downtown Ithaca today doing errands in the falling snow, and confirmed that downtown Ithaca is a very practical place for anyone who needs to buy an 1800's cape trimmed with real monkey-fur. Fortunately, my shopping ability was exhausted by the souks of Qatar and Oman, so I managed not to buy anything in exotic Ithaca, not even the antique helmet with gold spikes. (It's too easy to justify any weird garment as performance-wear.)

Anyway, here's the blog I would have written on December 5, if I'd had time:

Driving around Oman can be confusing, since things seem to have perfectly clear signs telling you where to go, until suddenly there aren't any. Whatever, it doesn't matter if you're lost, so long as there's great bagpipe and drum music on the radio.

The Lonely Planet guide to the Arabian Peninsula said that the best place to see wildlife is at the city of Muscat's sewage treatment plant, so we got into our monstrous 4-wheel-drive and drove into the desert. Unfortunately, the very precise directions in the book are now obsolete, as there's a huge wall blocking the way, and a new military installation with keep-out signs in both Arabic and English, so we couldn't even pretend we didn't see them.

So we drove around until we found a track into the rocky, hilly desert, and followed that for a while, until we saw a patch of green. The sewage treatment plant! There were ponds and a stream surrounded by lush trees quite full of all sorts of singing birds. It was a bit of paradise in the desert.

Bob and I explored for a while, seeing all sorts of species we'd never seen before. We didn't have any guidebooks, so I don't know what anything was. There was a tiny brilliant green bird, like a jewel. There were also tiny lizards, some type of gecko, Bob says, with red and white spots on blue skin. They were only about 1.5 inches long. There were huge red dragonflies. There was a peculiar melon sprawling over yards of land. The leaves looked like watermelon leaves, but smaller and more desert-adapted, and the fruits looked just like small round watermelons. I cracked one open, and it was white inside, but with lots of ordinary black ripe watermelon seeds. I don't normally eat things I find in sewage treatment plants, but what the heck. I touched my tongue to just a bit of this juicy white flesh. It was the bitterest thing I've ever tasted, the same sort of bitterness as the bumpy light green bitter melons you get in Indian stores, but even more so. I left the rest of the melon to whatever masochistic desert creature eats these things.

Then we climbed some rocks near there, and once I figure out how to get the photos off Bob's computer, I'll post them, and you won't believe I went to a real place. You'll think I've been mountain climbing on the moon. These rocks are very peculiar. They have holes in them, like Swiss cheese. (Which reminds me that I have to write my Switzerland blogs too.) I even found one rock that had two eyeholes and a nose hole, just like a skull. Bob convinced me that I wouldn't want to lug it back in my luggage, and he was right, but it would have made a cool souvenir.

As we were walking, Bob, who was slightly ahead of me, startled a snake without noticing it. It slithered away from him (that is, towards me) extremely fast. I was quick to alert Bob to the presence of the snake. Bob found my method of communication hilarious, but really, how's a person supposed to react when there's a two-foot long extremely fast snake speeding towards her?

Once Bob stopped laughing, he ran in pursuit of this snake to photograph it. It was a really amazing snake, pale grey-blue, and even though it was very long, it was only about as thick as a pencil. I've never seen a snake like that, even in zoos. And it was lightning-fast, always slithering away before Bob could focus his camera. I ran after Bob, reminding him that we had no guidebooks to tell us which snakes were poisonous and which weren't.

The snake eventually decided that it couldn't outrun Bob, so it adopted a new strategy of hiding under rocks. Bob, who up until this point had always impressed me as a very intelligent person, kept turning over the rocks that the snake was hiding under! He assured me that this was safe, because he was turning them with a stick, rather than his hands. Now, we'd already established that this snake was extremely fast. I'm sure that if this snake wanted to, it could have sprung at him and bitten him, whether he was holding a foot-long stick or not. This snake had already tried two strategies, fleeing and hiding, and I didn't want to find out what its third strategy might be.

But Bob kept picking up rocks, and the snake kept slithering away as soon as he did so, long before he could get his hands on his camera. But he kept trying, until finally he joyfully exclaimed, "Wow, and there's a really pretty scorpion under this rock, too!" Yes indeed, the blue snake had happened upon the home of a dark maroon scorpion, probably to the alarm of both of them, as well as of me, but not of Bob.

The snake was soon off, and Bob never did get a picture of it, but he did take some pictures of the scorpion. It looked like it had just molted, since there was an empty scorpion shell next to it.

Will Bob survive the rest of this vacation? Stay tuned for the next exciting episode.
Wed, December 27, 2006 - 1:24 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Belly Dancers of Oman
This is the first entry of my belated Omani blogs. We took notes, so, while not exactly fresh, these observations should at least be well-preserved. This one is from December 4, 2006. This particular entry might start slowly, but it has belly dancers later, so be patient.

We took a taxi to the airport, and, true to form, the taxi driver didn't know where the airport was. We told him to drive along the Corniche, which is pretty much the main drag here, but he didn't know where that was either. So Bob directed him, and we got to the airport fine. Then presumably this taxi driver picked up some fresh-off-the-plane person and took them who-knows-where.

The plane from Doha to Muscat went over Dubai, so we could see that artificial island shaped like a palm tree. But the really interesting thing was that the light was just right so I could look deep into the water, and it looked like a lush forest of sea plants down there, quite a contrast to the desert.

We arrived in Oman, picked up our huge monstrosity of a 4-wheel-drive rental car, then found the hotel. Bob may have made a mistake in booking this vacation for us. Here I was just getting used to how interesting and different Qatar is, and realizing that I could spend some time here and get to like it, but then Bob goes and shows me how much more interesting Oman is.

For one, it's lusher. Sure, they're both deserts, but there are different kinds of deserts, some dryer than others. I could see the difference from the plane. Both have extensive gardens (conspicuous consumption of fresh water) but while Qatar goes for the huge flat expanses of monochrome petunias, Omani gardeners have a lot more creativity and taste, in my opinion, using a much wider variety of plants, including all sorts of species I've never seen before. I even saw several gardens that used desert plants, which you'd think would be an obvious choice when gardening in a desert, but I haven't seen any gardens like that in Qatar.

As Bob and I pulled into the hotel parking lot, we were greeted by a chorus of tropical birds. There are big old beautiful trees all over Muscat, with birds flitting from tree to tree. We looked up, and saw not a bird, but a huge bat, eating fruits out a palm tree.

Once we settled into our entertainingly quirky room in the Qurm Beach Hotel, we went for a walk, and the air was perfumed by all sorts of sweet white night-blooming flowers that arched over the walls of people's gardens. We walked along a beach which was not littered with trash! This was quite shocking after Qatari beaches. This beach had coconut palms planted along it, each with its irrigation hose.

Then we found a seafood restaurant, where we ordered the octopus, which was a plate of tiny little bite-size octopi, and the squid, which was a plate of huge slices of thick white flesh, that looked sort of like huge French fries. Both were with unusual spices, including cumin and garlic, and some other stuff I couldn't identify. We also got rice, which turned out to be Basmati rice cooked with saffron, and served with parsley, flavors I don't usually find together, but which worked very well. This didn't taste like typical Middle Eastern food at all, but it was really delicious.

We strolled through the flower-scented air back to the hotel, where we heard terribly loud music thumping out of the hotel bar. We opened a door, and were in a little lobby. We would have had to open a second door to be in the bar proper, but we couldn't, because as soon as we'd opened the first door, we'd been in great pain from the terribly overamplified synthesizer/drum machine, and this was with earplugs. The music sounded Indian, rather than Arabic. I peered in through the glass, and could make out two or three young female "dancers" in saris swishing around a bit, but not doing what I would call any particular sort of dance. Not Indian classical, not Bollywood, not belly dance, not MTV bump-and-grind, just a sort of listless wandering around.

We watched a little of this, then decided that this experience was not worth losing our hearing, so we left.

This hotel had a symmetrical sort of layout, so I wondered what was in the bar on the other side. Bob was tired, so he went up to our room to sleep, but I wanted to investigate this. So I went over to that side, which had different music thumping out of it. It wasn't quite as painfully loud as the Indian music, so after I opened the first door, I was able to stand there for several minutes observing the scene through the glass. This music was of the keyboard with drum machine Arabic pop variety. There were three dancers that I could see. I was very excited to make a discovery, something I never thought I'd see: dancers who were actually more dull and listless than the Indian dancers on the other side of the hotel! They were each standing in one place the whole time, with their backs to me, not turning around or traveling at all. All they were doing was shifting their weight from one foot to the other (this is the key) without moving their hips in any particular way. They combined this with a slight bobbing up and down, which they got by bending both knees at once. Layered on top of this was an arm movement, which consisted of swinging their arms a few inches forward and back. None of this was done in time with the painfully thumping beat of the music. I had several minutes to observe this, so I think I've mastered the technique. Any dance festival organizers out there want to hire me to teach a workshop in this authentic Omani dance form?

At least they had nice costumes. They had long spandex skirts, fitted-and-flared like a morning glory, with simple coin belts or coin hip wraps, I couldn't quite see. They wore matching spandex crop-tops, with much more coverage than a bra, but still baring a bit of midriff.

At the end of the song, all three dancers slouched away to sit by the door, with their backs to me. They didn't take a bow or anything.

As I've been watching, Omani men had been coming in and out and giving me weird looks. What the heck was a woman doing at a bar? So I left, rather than stick around and see what the dancers did next.

I can understand that the local audience might not care at all how the dancers dance. These dancers were attractive (that is, plump by American fashion magazine standards, but rather thinner than the average American) presumably fertile young women, who weren't wearing abayas and headscarves, and that may have been all the audience was there to see. But I'd think that just for their own entertainment, these dancers would have put some more thought and effort into their dance. They were clearly so terribly bored, actually dancing would have at least been something to keep them occupied.

Thu, December 14, 2006 - 4:35 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Cultural Events
As you know, "blog" stands for "backlog." I'm back from Oman (back in Qatar, that is) and I have lots to say about Oman, but first I want to get some Qatar blogging out of the way.

Al Zubara Fort, pictured in my last blog, was interesting, sort of. It was a big fort made of mud. Presumably, it was very historic, but I wouldn't know, because there were no signs in English. Neither were there any signs in Arabic, not even identifying the fort. There were some bits of broken pottery in the fort. They may have been historic, or then again, they may have been the remains of someone's picnic, since picnickers in Qatar litter any place that's the least bit scenic.

I'm here at a busy time, since the Asian Games are going on. That's like the Olympics, except with fewer countries. Loyal readers of my blog know how many words I devote to sports, but there were also supposed to be cultural events going on, so I figured I'd check those out. This was difficult, because there are no schedules. OK, there are sort of programs, but they say things like "Exciting music and dance events are happening all over!" without getting any more specific.

But the Sheraton Hotel, near our apartment, has huge (like three stories tall) signs advertising "Cultural Events" so I climbed over the piles of construction rubble all over the sidewalk and darted across traffic to check it out. I tried all different entrances of this huge hotel complex, which meant going through the metal detectors repeatedly. I asked all sorts of people behind desks, and no one knew what I was talking about. Finally, a guy directed me to an entrance way over there, which had a sign about one foot square advertising "Cultural Events." I went through the metal detectors again, and found an exhibit of Mughal jewelry. Wow. Emeralds inches across, gold, diamonds, stuff that makes the flashiest Indian jewelry you've ever seen look discrete. Everything was beautifully displayed in glass cases with spotlights in a dark room, and even signs in English. I was the only one there, except for several eager employees (volunteers?) who asked me to sign the guest book, and gave me a sturdy bag advertising the Qatar museum (which is closed) filled with a pen and clock and stuff. No Mughal jewelry, alas. They also gave me a book filled with big glossy color pictures of every piece of jewelry in the exhibit. This is the sort of book for which the Met would charge $40, but here in Qatar, it was free as a prize for managing to find the exhibit.

Down the hall was a similarly gorgeous exhibit of traditional costumes from Qatar. The fabrics are stunning with embroidery, beading, and sequins (Yeah, a lot of the "Old" costumes were from the '50s, so they had plastic to make sequins.) But the clothes are all basically rectangular. All the interest is in the fabric, not the cut. It reminds me a lot of early medieval European clothing, before the late medieval period when they started making clothing form-fitting.

For special occasions, rather than rectangles, Qataris wear clothing that's not just rectangular, but square. It obscures not just the wearer's torso and legs, but also arms.

There was also some great jewelry in this exhibit, like this bridal headdress from Oman. Note the foreshadowing here, since I was about to go to Oman.

Of course, the costuming exhibit people gave me another gorgeous book to reward me for finding them. It's like a textbook on traditional costume.

In another room was an exhibit on dinosaurs. I'm not sure how dinosaurs are cultural, but they are really cool, and very well displayed, with scary growling noises in the background and informative signs. These weren't local dinosaurs, but American ones that the Qataris bought.

After the other two exhibits, I was like, "And where's my book?" but no one offered me one. Cheapskates.

Then I walked to Heritage Village, which was just like a renfaire, but Qatari, rather small, and with no schedule of events. There was a big stage set fort that had blown over in the wind. There was supposedly traditional music and dance in this venue, but I didn't find any. I watched craftspeople make things out of palm fronds, and weave carpets. When craftspeople want to sit comfortably, rather than make chairs out of wood (Where would they get wood? They're in a desert.) they dig holes in the ground and sit in those, and rest their work at ground level, as the ground is at table height for them.

I watched some little girls in bright traditional costumes play their version of duck-duck-goose. On the other side of the fairgrounds, boys in white thobes were playing some jumping game.

Two young women in warm coats and headscarves came up to me and said hello. I blinked at them. I'm a New Yorker. New Yorkers do not come up and say hello to each other, at least not without telling some sob story and then asking for money. When I got over my shock, I said hello back to them, and we chatted. I asked them when the music was supposed to start, and they said it would be starting later than usual tonight, as the children's games were before the music. They also introduced me to a man who explained a lot of the crafts to me, which was great. Then they asked me if I would like to go have tea with them, in the free tea place over there. I said yes, as they were cold and clearly needed some hot tea, while I was perfectly comfortable.

So we went over to the Qatar Guest Center, which was all done up like a traditional home, where a nice young man offered us dates (tea wasn't ready yet.) These dates were the very syrupy kind, all smooshed together in a mass of goo and pits, so you couldn't distinguish one date from another. I don't even like sweets. I tried to refuse this blob, and then I thought, what the heck, I'll go for the whole experience, so I pinched off a fingerfull of this goo and ate it (with my right hand of course.) The gooey dates are good, if inconvenient, I must say. These hospitable people gave me tissues, which are what Qataris use as table napkins. The goo was very effective at gluing the soft tissue to my fingers.

Then I chatted with the young man, who explained more of the crafts, and the traditions, and the dress, which was all fascinating. He brought out a container of perfume, which the young women assured me was really wonderful, because it was so strong, and lasted for so long. I let the guy put a drop of this stuff on my hand, and man, they were certainly right about it being extremely strong and long lasting, and they never actually said that it didn't smell like skunk, so they were perfectly honest. I made use of more of the tissues, and reduced the damage a bit.

The young man gave me a CD, which I haven't had a chance to listen to yet, and a box full of yet more goodies, to go with my goodies from earlier in the day at the Sheraton. These final goodies of the day are mostly religious tracts, which makes sense of all the friendliness, although actually, these friendly young people were much less annoying than their Christian equivalents I've encountered in the US.

Theses tracts are really great, actually. Bob and I were quite moved by them, particularly the postcards that explain how so many of the findings of modern science were actually predicted centuries ago by Mohammed, if you interpret his writings just so.

The tract on Women's Rights was particularly interesting. First it says that a woman is a jewel, and then it says that a woman is a rose. Nowhere does it say that a woman is a human being. You know, I'm really glad that Bob doesn't treat me like a jewel or a rose, but like an equal.

Anyway, one of the nice young women let me use her cell phone to call Bob at work, to let him know how interesting all this was, so he could come meet me. So he did, and we had fun wandering around, waiting for the music to start. Oddly, the seats for the audience were on the sides of the stage, not in front.

It was getting colder. Eventually, maybe twenty drummers piled onto the stage, each with their mic. But the keyboard player soundchecked first, and man, he was painfully loud, and the soundguy clearly wanted it that way. He checked every sound on his drum machine, and he clearly meant to use them. It kept getting colder, and windy. Bob seemed to be getting my cold. A drum machine and synthesizer band was not worth waiting out in the cold for, so I took Bob, my delicate rose, home.

So, I think I've got most of my Qatar blogging out of the way. I'll try to catch up on Oman blogging soon. Stay tuned.
Tue, December 12, 2006 - 1:47 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Off to Oman
I'm off to Oman for a week, and too busy to blog about Qatar, but here's a pic of me in Al Zubara fort to tide you over.
Sun, December 3, 2006 - 9:07 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

No ants were harmed in the writing of this blog.
Bob and my cold and I have actually managed to go out and see some sights. From our apartment, we walked through the construction rubble down to the beach, and found lots of beautiful shells mixed in with the litter. There's a lot of litter. I assumed that it had washed up with the shells, but no, much of it was still laid out in picnic-like arrangements.

Walking along the beach, we saw a fast-flowing river of fresh water racing to the sea. It was full of bright green algae. We followed this to its source: very many pipes, I guess one from each construction site, pumping the ground water out of the ground to make construction easier. Should a desert country really be pumping its groundwater into the sea, for the sake of some skyscrapers?

We also went for a drive from here on the east coast out to the west coast, which is a distance of about seventy kilometers. There's not much room for East Coast/West Coast rivalry here.

The desert is actually not nearly as barren as I had imagined. There were lots of plants, shrubs, and trees, being grazed by camels. It looked sort of like Arizona.

We went to a couple of other beaches, which had lots of different beautiful shells, and much the same pattern of garbage. These are the most littered beaches I've ever seen. We collected some shells, and Bob, sweetheart that he is, threw back any shells he found that were still occupied.

We were on the road towards the Umm Bab jetty, when we decided to pull of the road to take some pictures of the sunset. We were on some tracks that a lot of vehicles had clearly driven on before, and were maybe 10 meters off the road. Bob got some pictures of the sunset, then he noticed some ants on a small shrub. They were swarming, meaning, they'd raised a special generation of winged ants, to fly away and create new colonies. This was a fairly cool thing, so he started taking pictures of those too, when a vehicle drove up, and two guys in tan military uniforms got out and asked us stuff in Arabic. Unfortunately, we don't know any Arabic, and they knew no English. Bob indicated that he'd been taking pictures of these ants, and that resulted in them scrutinizing the ants and the bush they were on, and having quite a discussion about this in Arabic.

Then they asked my husband for his "ID card." Bob showed them his Qatari drivers licence, and his ID from Cornell, and his registration for his rental car, and even his American drivers licence, but none of that satisfied them; they kept insisting that he show them his "ID card."

They scrutinized his various papers very carefully, and copied stuff down off them, and made several phone calls. They asked if we were married, and we said yes. They figured out that Bob is a doctor, but he tried to explain that he is not a medical doctor, but a college professor, and that resulted in some more confusion. (He later told me that this was because he didn't want them to ask him to cure them of anything.) They didn't ask me for any ID, oddly. I had my American passport with me that I could have shown them if they'd been interested, but they weren't.

Eventually, a policeman in a policecar showed up, kissed the military guys hello, and went through the long pattern of greetings with them. Then the miliitary guys explained the situation, so it was the policeman's turn to scrutinize Bob's various papers, and the ants, and the papers again. He eventually told us, in a friendly way, that we could go. So we got back on the road and drove the very short way down to yet an other beach, where a family was having a picnic and some people were hanging out enjoying the remains of the sunset. It really didn't look like the beach was near any sort of top-secret military installation. It's a very pretty beach, with lots of wild date palm trees, and interesting seashells amid the trash. The seashells on every beach are different. I guess the beaches are segregated, like the schools.

You know, I'm glad I've had my various experiences with cops in the states, because otherwise, I'd think this sort of thing was Qatar-specific. These cops were actually rather more polite than many I've dealt with in the states.
Fri, December 1, 2006 - 10:27 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Third Day in Qatar: An Apology
OK, I admit it, I'm actually still in Queens, and I'm making all this up. Qatar isn't even a real country. I can't believe I had all of you going there.

No, actually I have a different apology. I now have to admit that I can't blame the shisha smoke for my cough and stuffed-up head. I have a full-fledged cold, so no matter how interesting thing are out there, I'm not doing much, so this blog will be boring for a while. Dang dang dang. I stayed at home and worked on some sewing projects last night rather than face the shisha smoke and blowing dust of the coffee shop again, even though they had another live band that probably would have been interesting.

I did some googling, and found that the beautiful fabric I saw on my shopping trip the other day is indeed assuit. Maybe I'll buy some, but I want to get an overview of all my souvenir options first. There are lots of beautiful things.

I did lug my coughing aching body across the street (which means, over piles of construction rubble, through blowing dust and sand, and across speeding traffic) to the mall yesterday, to buy some groceries at Carrefour, a French chain of hypermarkets. Not supermarkets, hypermarkets. It was the hugest grocery store I've ever been in, and I only managed to cover about half of it before I got exhausted. I think it might extend into other dimensions. You have to remember that Qatar is only about 20% Qatari, and the rest are all foreign workers from everywhere else, and they all want their foods from home. Carrefour attempts to provide them, and does a reasonably good job.

I spent a lot of time in the huge produce section, not only gawking at all the exotic species, but also trying to translate riyals/kilo into cents/pound. OK, the South African oranges are 10 riyals/kilo, so that's $1.24/ pound, but the Jordanian tangerines are 3 riyals/ kilo, or 37 cents/pound, so I'll get some of those, since they're probably better anyway, being closer to local. And they are really good, too. I'm enjoying loading up on vitamin C.

Of course, I did what I do in NYC, and buy species I've never had before. Fresh herbs were 1 riyal a bunch, or 27 cents, so I got a bunch of something magenta and something green I've never had before. I got some species of local fish that was very tasty last night. Oatmeal, inexplicably, was prohibitively expensive, and they only had the wimpy quick-cooking kind anyway. They had rice only in huge sacks, and no brown rice, and we're not going to be here that long anyway, so no rice.

They had an olive bar where the guy gave you samples of everything before buying, and the ones you eventually wind up buying are hardly more expensive than the free ones. All the olives have pits, as do all the dates.

Their Indian pickle section was sadly limited. Where was the chili pickle?! I can't live without chili pickle! Instead they had a few of these wimpy mixed pickles that just aren't hot enough. Bob tells me there are Indian neighborhoods where I might find hotter pickles. There better be.

Then they had a section labeled "International." It was small, and contained, if I'm remembering right, small jars of mild Old El Paso brand salsa.

Before I came here, Bob was scaring me with warnings of how boring I would find it here, since I'm used to the excitement of New York City. He had nothing to worry about. I'm having a great time. I can't wait to get rid of this cold so I can have an even better time. Would one of my loyal blog readers please find a cure for the cold? Thank you.
Fri, November 24, 2006 - 11:20 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Second Day in Qatar: Music and Dance
The guy at the musical instrument shop the other day was very helpful. There was indeed great traditional music last night, in front of one of the coffee shops in the old souk. Bob and I had no trouble finding it, since it was very amplified. Good thing I'd brought earplugs for both of us.

There was a very talented female singer from Bahrain, an inaudible oud player, a keyboard player, and at least six drummers, four on frame drums (some with bells inside) one on a tall drum hit with sticks, one on sort of clay bongos hit with sticks. Here I thought I was such an expert on Middle Eastern rhythms. Baladi, saidi, malfuf, no problem. The rhythms on the MTV-like channels on the TV in the apartment here are all familiar, pan-Arabic rhythms I hear all the time in the US, in fact over-familiar. It turns out that I know squat about traditional Gulf rhythms. For one, they're very polyrhythmic, so they really needed all those drummers. Each drummer was doing something totally different, but it all fit together somehow. They rhythms were mostly sort of a three, or maybe a six, but they were composed of many individual very syncopated rhythms. One of their pieces, I couldn't even figure out what meter it was in. First I told Bob it was a three, then I changed my mind and said that it was a seven, then I gave up and admitted that I had no clue, so he should not be looking to me as an authority. Maybe it was some sort of three-by-seven polyrhythm. At least, maybe that's what two out of the six drummers were playing.

There were a lot of carpets laid out in front of the band, which made me wonder if people would dance. Around the carpets were some benches, most occupied, mostly by what looked like actual native Qataris (who are a minority here in Qatar, so it's a treat to see so many of them.) There were mostly groups of men, including men taking their young children out for a night of culture. There were also groups of women, in their black-sequined abayahs, with face veils. A few women had kids with them. Except for two or three other clearly western couples, there were no other mixed-gender adult groups like Bob and me.

Most people were standing, as there weren't enough benches for the few hundred people who were there. But we eventually got a comfortably cushioned bench with a good view of the band. Then a waiter came over to ask what we wanted. As usual, when I go out to hear music, I'm there for the music, not the refreshments, but I wanted to order something to support the band, so Bob got a pineapple juice and I got an orange juice. I assumed this would be some syrupy sweet juice drink that I would hold to prevent other waiters from bothering me, and would leave on the little table when I left.

Imagine my delighted surprise when the waiter, after several songs had gone by, delivered a glass of freshly-squeezed perfectly ripe tangerine (?) juice, with a few seeds in it. I have to say it was the most delicious drink I've ever gotten in a bar situation like this. At least it was, until I tasted Bob's pineapple juice, which clearly consisted of perfectly ripe fresh pineapple that had been put in a blender to order. Wow. It's proof of how much Bob loves me that he was willing to share this drink with me. Our total tab for this night on the town came to 16 riyals, or $4.38 American.

As delightful as this was, we knew that we'd be able to hear the band from some distance away, so we got up to wander and soak up more of the scene. The drummers took frequent breaks, which we saw was so they could tighten their drum skins over a very small charcoal fire by the side of the stage. They like their frame drums really, really tight and high, here.

We went to thank the guy at the music store who had recommended this band, and he said that if I had gotten there a bit earlier, I would have met a bagpiper who could have advised me about the bagpipes in this shop. I'd just missed him. Dang. I'll have to go back and try to catch him again.

By the time we got back to the band, people were up and dancing. There were what looked like three non-Qataris doing vaguely belly-dance moves, but there eventually were about twenty Qataris doing totally different dances I'd never seen before. They had many different patterns of steps and jumps, and did hardly anything with their hips. These weren't line dances, but some were done in couples, moving in unison, turning in the same direction and dancing across the carpet, then turning and dancing back. They had one shoulder move that I'd never seen before, that I really liked and will try to learn. It was basically a shoulder shimmy, but extremely fast, small, and tight, very different from the shoulder shimmy I'm used to.

There were more people in the audience by now, so Bob and I had to work pretty hard to find a good viewing spot. We eventually found a spot, that we later realized was blocking the view of a Qatari family (men and children.) Now, if you're a Qatari family, and you're out for a night of culture, and then these two awkward tourists get right up in front of you and block your view, what do you do? Also, you're out with your son's pet falcon, trained to attack, perched on his wrist.

They offered us chairs so we could sit down, and not block their view. Their generosity extended to sharing their second-hand shisha smoke with us. Most of the people sitting down were partaking of not only beverages, but also shisha, those water-pipes with sweetly scented tobacco. It smelled much nicer than plain old cigarette smoke, and it was outdoors, so I figured it wouldn't be much of a problem, but man, today as I write this, I have an awfully sore throat and stuffed up head.

Anyway, there we were, watching this great dancing, and being confused by watching the drummers' hands, and I had a moment to reflect on a pet peeve of mine, which I will share with all my blog readers, since blog readers obviously have nothing better to do than be subjected to rants about bloggers' pet peeves. I don't like it when American belly dancers call their dance "Middle Eastern dance" out of some squeamishness about the term "belly dance." What's "Middle Eastern Dance" supposed to mean? That's like saying "American dance." Do you mean Appalachian clogging? Lindy hop? Breakdancing? America is a big and diverse place, so no one dance form can claim the entire title, "American dance." Same for the Middle East, to at least as great a degree. End of rant.

So, we enjoyed watching all this great dance, most of which had nothing to do with belly dance (except for those three dancers who were clearly not locals.) All these dancers were men, of course; this was a public event. I have no idea how to get into a private party where women might dance. Maybe I'll try to find some female shopkeepers and chat with them. The trouble is, I hear that Qatari women generally speak even less English than Qatari men, and I know virtually no Arabic. Well, I'll give it a try.

Bob is going so native here, he did just like the locals did, and took some pictures. Most of them didn't come out very well since it was dark, but here's a photo of the musicians.
Fri, November 24, 2006 - 12:58 AM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

First day in Qatar: Shopping
So, the flight from London to Doha, Qatar went just fine. Much to my surprise, they served me a ham sandwich as an afternoon snack. I mean, I'm on my way to a strictly muslim country here. Why would they assume I would want a ham sandwich? If I required pork products on a regular basis, I wouldn't be heading to Qatar.

I was so stuffed from the huge steak they'd served me just a few hours before, I couldn't possibly eat this sandwich whatever my religion, so I put it in my jacket pocket for later. Only as I was loading my bags into the machine to be X-rayed (they make sure no one smuggles any alcohol into the country) did I stop to think that smuggling in a ham sandwich might not be a good idea. However, they didn't seem to notice (and didn't have any pork-sniffing dogs) so my sandwich and I got in to the country safely.

The woman who stamped my passport was wearing what I now see is the standard Qatari outfit. She wore a black abayah with a black head scarf, so only her face was showing. Actually, I can't honestly say that any of her face was showing, since she was wearing so much makeup. It would have looked good on a belly dancer, performing on a large stage very far away. She had bright purple eyelids and thick black eyeliner that swooped down alongside her nose, and swooped up at the outer corners of her eyes. Pretty cool.

I asked her if she needed to see my visa that I'd laboriously gotten online, but she didn't say anything, just blinked at me, clearly confident that she could express anything she needed via her eye makeup.

They say that the women cover up here, but to be honest, they don't wear any more than the men, if you don't count makeup. The men wear floor-length white gowns basically of the same design as the women's black abayahs, and the men also wear white head coverings secured with black cords, that hide almost as much of their heads as the women's veils. That's what the guys stamping passports were wearing.

It was great seeing Bob at the airport, although annoying that I couldn't legally run up to him and hug him. He drove me home through very fast traffic, past lots of neon signs and skyscrapers, and we shared the ham sandwich. We got to sleep around 11, and I woke up all bright and perky around 4 AM. That was 8 pm New York time, when I would have been busking or soundchecking somewhere.

I had to be out early anyway, since Wednesday was the day that the apartment-cleaners came by around 8 AM. So, Bob gave me the keys to the apartment, some Qatari rials, and all the maps I could want, and headed to his office. I headed across the street to the mall, but couldn't find the money-change place. I did, however, find at least two Starbucks. Almost all the stores at the mall were closed anyway, since it was so early, do I just headed out and took a walk.

Now, Bob had told me that there was a lot of construction going on, but I had no idea what that meant. I'd thought, "Oh yeah, I know what construction is like" but I really had no idea what "a lot of construction" meant until I came here. If you're reading this, and you've never been to Doha, you have no idea what "a lot of construction" means either.

It was actually kind of difficult to get out of our apartment building, since they were tearing up the street. Then it was hard to cross the street to get to the mall, since there are no traffic lights. (At least there's a median, so you only have to cross one half of the street at a time.) Then when I left the mall, there was sidewalk for a little ways, then it was covered with construction debris and roped off with orange stuff, so I crossed to the other side, where what might have been sidewalk wasn't covered with, but was actually composed of, construction rubble and loose sand, and parked construction vehicles, for blocks and blocks. However, at least it wasn't roped off like the other side.

I eventually got to the Corniche, which is a long pedestrian walkway. To my left, I had a clear view of the still blue sea. To my right, there were pristine green lawns and big patches of petunias, marigolds, and Madagascar periwinkles, and lots of palm trees. I saw several species of birds I've never seen before. Past this strip of park was speeding traffic, and past that was more construction. It was very loud. A helicopter delivered a big box of something to the top of a building, and that was even louder. The skyscrapers going up are pretty.

The Corniche looked like it might have been a good place to busk, sort of like the Promenade in Brooklyn Heights, but almost no one was there besides the workers in uniforms watering the plants and cleaning off the benches. Maybe it's more popular at other times of day.

I eventually got to a dock that had all these cool old wooden ships, so I looked at those for a while. They were really beautiful, in a very simple, functional way, with no frou-frou, just the natural beauty of the wood in graceful hydrodynamic shapes.

Across from this dock was an honest-to goodness traffic light, with a walk sign, so I crossed, and wound up in the souk district, which was fascinating. I headed to the oldest-looking buildings, and found stores much more interesting than I'd found in the mall. I saw doumbeks in the window of one shop, so I walked in, and they also had oodles of great-sounding frame drums, and a few ouds, and lots of these one-string Bedouin fiddles that I suspect are touristy wall-hangers, and some mijwizes (I didn't like them as much as my mijwiz, but trying them out seemed to attract people to the store) and a cool mizmar (I didn't even want to try) and several sets of bagpipes. The bagpipes had mijwiz-like pipes. I tried one set, and it seemed to have a leak, not that I know anything about bagpipes. I asked the shopkeeper if he knew of any bagpipe teachers in Doha, and he didn't know, but he gave me the number of the guy who owns the store, and said that he might know. Also, I asked him if he knew of any good live traditional music, and he said that Thursdays and Fridays there's live music at the coffee shop up the street, so that's where Bob and I are headed tonight.

He was a very helpful salesperson, and his English was much better than my Arabic. He said that if I was interested in ouds, I should check out the store down the block, where a guy made ouds, so I headed there. There was indeed a guy making ouds in one room of the shop, and four guys hanging out on couches in the other room, with a lot of ouds and such on the walls. They kind of looked at me when I came in, and I tried to explain that I was interested in trying some musical instruments, and also possibly getting music lessons, and also hearing some live music if they knew of any shows. I think most of this didn't really get through. They figured out that I wanted to hear some music, so they teased each other for a while until one of them lost the argument and had an oud handed to him. The oud was in tune, unlike the ones in the other shop, suggesting that it's played regularly. He played beautifully, a soulful taksim and then some tune I didn't know. It was very short, though. Oddly, his oud had a shiny, polished soundboard, which I've heard you're not supposed to do because it's bad for the sound, though it sounded fine to me. I wasn't totally blown away by the instrument or his playing, though.

It was frustrating that I couldn't communicate very well, so I headed out, and didn't enter another shop until the shopkeeper greeted me with a cheerful "Welcome" in English. So I entered his shop, and his employee hurried to get me a glass of tea, which I accepted, since I've heard this is a standard thing.

The shopkeeper who'd greeted me was hammering gold (real gold? A very bright gold metal, anyway) onto a brown cloak, and it looked beautiful, and very traditional and old. It would look great at an SCA event. I asked him who the garment was for, and he said that is was for special occasions, "Like your Chistmas parties." I asked if this garment was for men or women, and he said this particular one was for men, but he had ones for women too, so he got up and showed me some. It looked like anything for women was black, with gold or silver trim. He had me stand in front of the mirror while he draped various garments over my shoulders. It occurred to me that this could be an opportunity for a sketchy guy to steal a grope, but no, this shopkeeper was perfectly respectful and professional. It occurred to me that, if I let a strange man touch, say, my hair, while Qatari women normally don't let men even see their hair, does that count as a grope, to him if not to me?

I figured I wouldn't let it bother me, since the clothes were so gorgeous. The fabrics, in silk and, I don't know, maybe camel hair, drape beautifully, and the gold and silver ornamentation is very rich. I asked prices, and some seemed much more expensive than others, so I asked why, and he explained that some things in his shop were the real, hand-made, genuine thing, while others were cheap machine-embroidery done in India, and once he pointed it out, I could really see the difference. (Sadly, if he hadn't pointed it out, I might have been satisfied with the cheaper stuff, but now that I know what to look for, I feel like I might want the quality stuff instead. I almost wrote "need" in that last sentence.)

One particular ornamentation technique involved, not embroidery, but little pieces of silver metal hammered onto a sheer mesh fabric in pretty patterns. I'd never seen anything like it. It looked like bright stars in a night sky. He said this garment was a thobe, and that rung a bell, and then he said it was used for dancing, and I remembered reading something about this. But if I buy the thobe, then I'd have to buy the matching head scarf that he says goes with it, and then I'd have to learn the dance. I'm still mulling this over.

He also said that the clothes I was wearing under the thobe (which was quite sheer) didn't go with it, and I could certainly see that myself without him telling me. I was wearing somewhat baggy jeans and a very baggy button-down shirt, in an effort to be modest, and it did not go with the glamour of this thobe at all. Frumpy as I was, I still felt kind of awkward in this souk, since almost all the women here (though there were hardly any women at all) were wearing not just the abayah and head scarf, but also a face veil, so only their eyes were showing. It's a rather graceful outfit I must say, but I kept thinking about how hot they must have been. No one seemed to take offence at my shamelessly flaunted face, though.

The shopkeeper was making smalltalk the whole time I was trying on clothes. He asked if I was married, and I said yes. He asked if I had children, and I said no. He asked if this was because I was on the pill or took injections, and that seemed to be rather a personal question, so I wasn't sure how to respond to it. I tried telling him that we'd just gotten married a few months ago, but I'm not sure if that got through the language barrier. Anyway, I figured I'd better ask some questions before he came up with any more of that nature, so I asked him where he was from, and he said he was Qatari (which is pretty rare, since almost everyone here is a foreign worker like Bob. Not that anyone's really like Bob.)

He kept harping on the fact that I was wearing the wrong clothes under this thobe, and I assured him that I knew that, and asked him what I should be wearing under it instead. Whatever it was, it seemed to be something that wasn't in his shop, or I figured he would have tried to sell it to me. Then he worked very hard to get across the point that this thobe was not an every-day garment, and not to be worn out in public, but was special, and possibly was only to be worn in a certain room, in private, with my husband. He may have meant that it was lingerie. Maybe he was prescribing this use of the thobe as a way of ensuring that Allah would grant me children.

This was all very fascinating, but I wanted to get an overview of the souk before I bought anything, so I thanked him for his time, and said that I'd be looking around at more things, and would probably be back. He seemed to take that well enough.

So I wandered around some more, until I heard another "Welcome" in English from another store that seemed similar to the previous one, except rather larger. So I walked in, and the first thing I noticed was that the quality of the garments was like that of the lowest-quality garments in the other shop, and even lower. So I was going to leave, but the salesman rushed to drape some robes on me and tell me how great and authentic they were, and I couldn't actually leave with these things draped over me. As he was draping one over me, his hands seemed to stray in a way that was borderline to what even a shameless American like me would interpret as a grope. Well, maybe it was an accident, so I didn't say anything. Then he draped another one of these cheap robes on me, and it's pretty unlikely that the same accident would happen by chance twice in a row, so I hurredly extricated myself from the snaps and Velcro of this ugly thing, threw it back at him, and left in a huff. He kept trying to drop his prices as I left.

Then I went into a more mall-like souk to find a ladies room, which was rather different from the ones I'm used to, but functional. There were clothes in this souk that may have been what these Qatari women wear under their black abayahs. Man they were gaudy. They were still fairly modest, but they were in outrageous color combinations. A few shops were clearly in styles that teenage girls wear to annoy their mothers, which is a similar look the world over.

I'd had enough shopping for the day, so I headed back along the Corniche. It was hard to get into the apartment building, since even more of the sidewalk was ripped up.

One of Bob's co-workers was surprised that I'd taken such a walk, since she said it was about 10 miles roundtrip. Hey, that's nothing to a New Yorker. I wasn't even schlepping a hurdy gurdy on my back, which felt good.

All in all, I had a good day. It kind of reminds me of NYC here, just in different proportions. I see veiled women in NYC, there are just more of them here. I see unveiled women in NYC, just fewer of them here. The only thing I've seen here that I haven't seen in NYC has been men walking down the street holding hands.
Thu, November 23, 2006 - 7:41 AM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Hey, I'm in London
I'm on my way. I've never flown Businesss Class before, and it's an experience. Bob's employer, which is basically the royal family of Qatar, apparently can't conceive of sending their employees or their employees' families by any lower class. So here I am on a three-hour layover in London, taking advantage of a complimentary computer.

I got to JFK very early, considering how short or nonexistent the lines were, so the extremely polite and helpful British Airways employees directed me to the lounge (which is sort of hidden off to the side, where the commoners can't find it.) I wandered around with my eyes bugged out for a litle while. Space! Big comfy leather couches! A quietly burbling fountain! Fresh fruit and other snacks laid out, with no prices on them. I asked one of the extremely polite and helpful employees if these snacks were complimentary, and they tripped over each other assuring me that everything was free, the food, the alcohol, some relaxing spa treatments, a shower, my every wish was their command.

Then I found the buffet. Thankfully, it did not seem to feature British food, but instead food from various countries that Britain conquered or tried to (probably so they could have a good dinner.) Lamb with apricots, eggplant with coconut, a salad bar with very green greens, genuinely good tomatoes, and real olives, a fresh fruit table, the works. The fish was a bit overcooked, but the braised fennel and mashed celeriac that accompanied it were delicious. I'm sure I provided lots of ballast for the plane.

You know, I have to say that it feels nice to have all these people fawning over me. I felt like a baby being cared for. Freakily, these people did not seem to be resentfully reciting some script about how they were at my service, they actually seemed to mean it. It reminded me of the Ladies Night Out parties at Mistress Isabella's at Pennsic, except the guy trying to tempt me into accepting some chocolate had an adorable Scottish accent, and also, was wearing more clothing. Other than that, it was pretty much the same.

Much to my suprise, I actually managed to sleep a bit on the plane, and woke feeling refreshed. The bed was almost perfectly flat. Then they fed me a tasty breakfast of cereal and fruit, and gave me Scottish water in a plaid bottle. Sadly, I discarded the remainder of the water and the bottle so I could get through security in London and get to this lounge. I guess I'll use my exotic Poland Spring bottle in Qatar, and try to snag some other exotic bottle on my way back to use in the US.

The sunrise over London was lovely. I don't think there are two roads that meet at a right angle in the whole city.

My next blog will be written in Doha, Qatar, unless something really interesting happens here in London. Stay tuned. I also still have to fill you all in about the show last night at Makor, which was great. Maybe if I get bored here in Heathrow, I'll write about it, but I should probably go for a stroll instead.
Tue, November 21, 2006 - 12:50 AM — permalink - 4 comments - add a comment

I realize I haven't made a plain old busking blog entry for a while, so here's one.

It can take a lot of wandering to find an good, yet unoccupied spot. Today, when I set out, I was going through my usual thought process: "Should I go all the way to what I know to be a really good spot, only to almost certainly find it taken, and then have to go somewhere else to a less good but at least available spot, or should I save myself the time and go directly to the less good but probably available spot?"

Today, I decided to go look at the better spot first. Of course, there was a singer-songwriter guitarist there already:
(It's one of those sites where the music plays automatically, which I find annoying, but you can click the music off at the top of the page to hear him talk in the videos, since he says a lot of interesting things about his adventures in cop education.)

I hung out for a little while listening to Theo and chatting with the guy who sets up huge posters for people to write comments on. Then I wandered closer to Theo, and what did he do as soon as he saw me? He offered his space to me! I told him I couldn't possibly take his space from him, but he said he was leaving anyway, so I accepted his generous offer. As he was breaking down and I was setting up, we chatted about our No Cop Left Behind program. He's been working to educate cops for a lot longer than I have, 11 years, he says, but there's always more work to be done.

He also had a very interesting story about the artists who sell their own art in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He said that they were all arrested a while ago, so they sued, and the conclusion was that artists are allowed to sell their own art, as part of their first amendment rights. This was news to me, but if that's what the courts say, I'm happy about it. If the courts see a difference in artists selling their own work (like paintings or CDs of their own music), and vendors selling t-shirts and knockoff handbags, then that's fine with me. In that case, musicians don't need vending permits to sell their own CDs. But then you might have vendors defining their wares as art, and who's to say, for example, that a pretzel isn't edible art?

Well, OK, I'm sure that the pretzels vendors sell on the streets are mass-produced in some factory somewhere. But what if the vendors of these mass-produced pretzels keep having to pay for vending permits, while crafters of artistically hand-knotted pretzels are allowed to sell their edible art without paying for expensive permits? Now that would start to level the playing field, and the hand-crafters might stand a chance against the factories, economies-of-scale be damned.

Anyway, as I was mulling over these utopian fantasies, and playing hurdy gurdy to a predictably huge, happy, and generous crowd, the vibes player came by and politely asked how long I would be in this spot. I considered yielding it to him, as it had been so generously yielded to me, but sorry, my utopian ideals go only so far. I told him I'd be done with the spot at 9. It was about 5:30 then. All right, that might seem like a long time to hog a spot, but I wanted to make good use of this spot while I had it.

A little while later, a guitarist came by and asked the same thing, but he was grumpier when I told him I'd be hogging this spot until 9. "Don't be greedy," he said. Sheesh, if I were greedy, I'd be hogging it until 11. Then some guy with a folding stool came by, and I told him "9" without him even having to ask. Then an accordion player came by, and was more polite at hearing the news, and even kissed my hand in a chivalrous way that went perfectly with his old-world waltzes. Then a guy with a huge remo djembe-esque drum came by, and got the same news. He took it well enough.

I'd been planning on staying until I felt like leaving, but I'd told all these people I'd be there until the stroke of 9, so now I had an obligation. Besides, I wanted to see what would happen when all of these musicians converged on this one spot at the stroke of 9. My left hand started to ache a bit around 7, but I was careful to take lots of little breaks and stretch it, so it didn't really get any worse.

Then, it was 9. There I was, surrounded by a huge crowd that applauded after every tune. Where the heck was my replacement shift? I considered waiting around for them, so I could graciously yield my spot to some fortunate soul. But I'd decided that four hours was plenty of stress for my left wrist to endure, so I packed up. The crowd complained. One guy who'd just gotten to the platform asked me sweetly to play something, since he'd never heard a hurdy gurdy before. It would have been just too cruel to pack it up in front of his eyes like that, so I played another tune. Then when the train sucked everyone off the platform, I made my escape.
Mon, October 23, 2006 - 10:00 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

101–110 of 174
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Best Hurdy Gurdy Busker
Hey, I'm a celebrity:

That just goes to show that there was no category for Worst Hurdy Gurdy Busker.
Fri, October 20, 2006 - 4:11 PM — permalink - 4 comments - add a comment

Bragging about my man
Since my husband doesn't blog, (although he could write a really interesting blog if he had time) I'm blogging about this for him, copy-and-pasted from an email from him:

I got a nice piece of news by email just now - I won the
"educator of the year" award from the Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, presented at the Society for Neuroscience meeting that's going on right now. The email (from Bruce Johnson, who I've taught with over the last 15 years) had the subject "congrats!", so my first thought before opening the email was "that's odd, I'm sure Bruce already knows I got married, why is he writing a congratulatory email now?"

I'm so proud of him, even though frankly I've never heard of this award. I've asked him what designer he's going to have design his ball gown to wear to the awards ceremony. I recommend Madame Abla, since my new belly dance costume from her workshop is totally fabulous.

Now I'm off to buy some matching thread so I can move the hooks, and maybe fabric for a matching veil, in the garment district.
Tue, October 17, 2006 - 12:35 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Rakkasah East!
I'm back from Rakkasah East, and man, we had such a blast. Sorry if this blog is incoherent.

We got a chance to play for many wonderful dancers, for open dancing, performance dancing, and at the after-party jams, which went until early the next mornings. I even got a chance to do some informal dancing myself, and play my zills, which had been sitting lonely in their zill bag for far too long.

I even had the very flattering experience of having another dancer ask me how I did a certain move. I know it as a Turkish Drop, but she called it a knee-hinge drop or something. I told her the exercise I've been doing for the last year, that I got from shira.net:
that gave me the strength to do this move. It's nice to be able to pass knowlege along.

It's just such a joy to play music for dancers. It's like plugging your instrument into a huge amplifier with lots of cool effects pedals.

The ink they stamp your hand with runs, so now it looks like I have some sort of skin disease on the back of my hand, but that is absolutely the only thing I can find to complain about. It was an extremely well-run festival, with everything fitting together beautifully.

Man this is an incoherent blog. I probably need food and sleep and stuff. I bought a belly dance costume there, and I hope it still looks as gorgeous to me when I'm calm and rested tomorrow as it did when I was sleep-deprived and excited.
Sun, October 15, 2006 - 9:26 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Contra Dance Rhythm Page
I've taught a few contra dance percussion workshops, which led to a lot (er, where a lot "a lot" means a portion of the contra dance drummers I've met) of requests for a contra dance percussion webpage. Here's an early draft, which is very incomplete, since it covers only jigs so far:

I have too much else to blog about, too, like Melissa the clarinet player's visit to NYC, which was fun. I got a chance to jam with her at the Cloisters Medieval Faire, which to be honest didn't seem any more medieval than your average folk/hippie/pagan gathering, but was a lot of fun.
Mon, October 9, 2006 - 9:57 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Blooming Passion
So, Bob and I got back from a lovely trip to visit his folks in Massachusets, and what did we see as soon as we pulled into the driveway? A blooming passionflower. We'd wondered what that mysterious weed in the amaryllis pot was. Good thing we didn't pull it up. We have no idea how it got to our driveway. And today, I noticed that it has fruits on it too. I hope the plant-sitter enjoys them when they finally ripen.

As if that weren't good enough news, I just got an email from a music contractor for a revival of Les Misérables, which apparently needs hurdy gurdy this time around. I wouldn't be playing live, since all the music is in impossible keys, he said, and I've had enough of that sort of thing. But they want to record me, and then splice tunes out of the recordings later. As long as they're not advertising it as the authentic hurdy gurdy sound, that's fine by me.

And, for my little jaunt to Qatar this fall, I found a talent agent interested in working with me. He seems to have a lot of work in Dubai, rather than Qatar, but that's the closest I've found to Qatar, so I'll take what I can get.

And, so many people have been demanding a CD from my band, Djinn, we're finally going to record one. Rakkasah East is our deadline, so we'd better hustle. What am I doing writing this blog?
Wed, September 20, 2006 - 2:50 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Belly dance banned in Qatar hotels
So, I'm looking into Qatar gigs to the best of Google's ability, but this is all I've found, and it doesn't look good:

Well, that still leaves my musical career, but hm, finding a band to work with takes time. And I somehow doubt that busking is allowed there, besides the fact that it just doesn't seem like good busking habitat.

suggests going through a talent agency, but I haven't found any agencies for that area. I've found a ridiculous number of talent agencies that have "Qatar" as a keyword hidden somewhere on their websites, along with the name of every other country in the world in alphabetical order, but that doesn't convince me that they actually have any contacts in all these countries.

Of course, there might be some thriving music and dance scene in Qatar, that just doesn't have much of a web presence, but I'm not going to count on it. The search goes on.
Thu, September 14, 2006 - 11:54 AM — permalink - 4 comments - add a comment

Intolerable Pit of Cheeriness
My life just keeps getting better and better. I apologize if this makes my blog descend into an intolerable pit of cheeriness, but I can't help it. My circumstances are such that that's all I can do.

Here's a little appetizer of good news, to ready my readers for the entrée later: The Jiggermeister reunion tour was great. Four cities in four days: Rochester, Ithaca, Binghamton, and Albany. Never practicing together is apparently the secret of our success. Musically, we're all growing in different directions, but when we get together, all our different styles just make our sound richer and more interesting.

Now clear that plate aside and make room for the entrée: Bob and I got married Saturday. Yes, you weren't invited, but don't take it personally; no one was. We just did a totally minimalist filling-out-of-paperwork, since he's leaving for Qatar in, goodness, less than two weeks, and we're both way too busy to throw a party now. We'll be doing a proper wedding reception later, when we return from Qatar. Details TBA.

OK, it wasn't totally minimalist. We did write our wedding vows in limerick form. Bob is great at finding rhymes, and I'm pretty good at making syllables scan, so we're a great limerick team if I do say so myself:

Melissa, my soon-to-be wife
It's great having you in my life.
When push comes to shove
Please depend on my love.
I'm sure that we'll live without strife.

Bob, I fully and truly love you
So to all of that, I say "Me too."
Now let speeches be brief
So for comic relief
Here's a march on Jew's harp and kazoo.

And then, of course, (Is that a kazoo in your pocket or are you…) Bob pulled said instruments out of his pocket for a Mendelssohn wedding march duet. It's great marrying a fellow musician. Bob would be worth marrying for his Jew's-harp-playing ability alone. Also, to anyone reading this who is planning a wedding, it is vital that at least someone in the wedding party have pockets. I don't know what they do at nudist weddings.

Then came the ring ceremony:

Our planning is lacking, it's said.
We mostly just want to be wed.
So instead of two rings
We're tying these strings
To remind us of shopping ahead.

Then we tied the knot, literally, with a couple of short pieces of string. We intend to get proper rings sometime soon. If we do gold, I like gold that really looks like gold, like Indian jewelry is made from, but Bob says anything that bright looks plastic, so he likes more subtle gold. I think we're going to compromise by looking for rings made of two shades of gold intertwined. Is that romantic or what? I'm afraid to even start googling, though, since I'm sure there are way too many choices. Any suggestions from all my artistic friends out there? I think it would be cool to get our rings in the Gold Souk in Doha, Qatar. Whatever ring I get, I'll have to get a chain too so I could wear it Frodo-style, since I know better than to wear it on my finger while drumming, but I want to wear it somewhere.

My googling efforts now are concentrated on looking into Qatar and nearby countries. As Bob's wife, I get a free ticket, so I'll be joining him there for at least part of the time. Maybe for the end of his teaching gig, around November. I should see if there are any gigs for a musician and/or dancer around there. Then Bob and l will do some touristy traveling from there before returning to the states, probably in late December. This is so exciting!

Had I know how good being married would feel, I would have done it sooner. Bob is totally wonderful, and the more I get to know him, the more great things I discover about him. He's a delightful dance partner, he plays in several bands, he loves the outdoors and adventures in it frequently, yet he still somehow finds time to work very hard researching and teaching neurobiology, enabling him to donate to worthy charities. (Inspiring me to do the same. Let all my liberal artistic friends reading this chip in to the ACLU. Our constitution needs all the help in can get.) Politically, Bob and I are in perfect agreement, and we're even the same religion (Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.) Bob's intelligence, his wit, his balance, not to mention the adorable shape of his nose, all make me love him. And now he's mine, all mine! And it feels really good being his, all his.
Mon, September 11, 2006 - 7:09 PM — permalink - 9 comments - add a comment

I am a sprig of parsley.
Well, the reviews are in. I haven't read all of these, but the general impression I get is that Meryl Streep is amazing, which I knew already. Her performance is a big juicy steak, and the rest of the production: all the other actors, the stage set, the pyrotechnics, the costumes, and we musicians, are just a little sprig of parsley at the edge of the plate. It's relaxing to finally realize this.

But in my humble opinion, everyone involved in this production, not just Meryl, is wonderful. They might even count as a side salad. It's an honor and a pleasure to work with such great people. You know the one thing they all have in common, aside from the fact that they're all amazingly talented? They're all truly nice, friendly, helpful, kind people. It's very educational to see that these are the kinds of people who succeed.

Some reviews:

Page of review links:

Funny conservative review:
Thu, August 24, 2006 - 10:15 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

I wrote this blog days ago, when we had all that rain, but only got around to posting it now. I don't know if it still counts as a blog, since it isn't very fresh anymore, but it still seems perfectly good, so enjoy.

With all the rain today, I didn't know if the show would go on or not. It was raining about as much as it could possibly rain: thunder, lightning, the works. We huddled in the little lunchroom area and theorized about how long the rain would last, and how much rain it would take for the show to be canceled. The rain cast its vote in our discussion by penetrating the ceiling and dripping off the light fixtures onto our heads.

It was very crowded in there, with much of the crew and cast, so we musicians sprinted through the mud to our tent. Now, out tent has walls and a ceiling of surprising integrity, but what it doesn't have is a floor. Instead, it has a sort of scale model of the Mississippi or some other meandering river which deposits rich sediments on its shifting banks, enabling agriculture to thrive.

The inner walls of our tent are made of some very absorptive material, which means that, although only the bottoms of the walls were actually sitting in mud, through the miracle of capillary action, they were soaked most of the way up, as was my costume that was hanging on one of these walls. Fortunately, mud doesn't make my costume look any worse.

We huddled in this tent and wondered what the union had to say about all this.

Then, it was show time. When the announcement was made that the show would indeed go on, we heard a huge happy roar from the crowd that had been standing out there in the rain for hours, hoping for a chance to get in.

But first we had to get up to our platform. The whole stage was muddy, as only a stage that has been carefully designed by a theater set designer to be, under ordinary conditions, authentically extremely muddy, can be. These were not ordinary conditions. The mud was deep. Jeanine Tesori herself took off her shoes and squelched around, shoveling relatively dryer soil on top of the mud, to give us musicians a bit of dryer ground to walk on. Now that's a musician's composer. I will now stop complaining about the fact that she doesn't know how to compose for hurdy gurdy.

I will also stop complaining about our precarious perch. Larry and I probably had the driest seats in the house. The musicians below us at ground level were sitting in a puddle, and also had water dripping down onto their music stands, mics, and instruments.

There were actually some empty seats tonight, which is extremely unusual for Shakespeare in the Park. But you know? They were the most appreciative audience yet. They laughed the loudest, clapped the hardest, and generally seemed the happiest. They even got an extra laugh in during the rain scene, when the sprinklers go on to make it look like it's raining on stage.

I'm proud to be a part of this, I must say. We put on a great show.
Wed, August 16, 2006 - 11:23 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Eating New Species
Well, the dress rehearsal for Mother Courage went pretty well, I think. Of course, Bruce was handing us new sheet music up until right before the dress rehearsal, but whatever. Oh, and a funny thing, Jeanine keeps handing more drums up to Larry and me up on our platform. Finally, she handed me some big Chinese drum, and there was not only nowhere to set it up, there was nowhere to set it down. I just stood there at the ledge, unable to move anywhere without knocking something over. Then Jeanine said we were playing some song, so everyone get ready, but I kept saying that I couldn't play anything, because if I let go of this drum, it would roll off the platform and crush someone below. Jeanine said to just set it down somewhere, but I couldn't get across that there was absolutely nowhere to set it. Finally, a crew member came to my rescue and zip-tied it to the slender roof supports, so it's hanging over my head like the sword of Damocles.

Anyway, we were finally done with all the setup, and ready for the dress rehearsal, which went pretty well, I think. The actors did their thing, the sound people did their thing, the stagehands moved things around on time, the pyrotechnic guy ensured that the explosions were impressive but safe, and the lighting guy plunged the orchestra into total darkness whenever we were supposed to play anything. Maybe this was on some theory that blind musicians play better, but dang, we couldn't see our sheet music at all. OK, sometimes I could see mine silhouetted by the light behind it, which was aimed right at my eyes. I could barely see all the instruments I had to keep switching between.

This will supposedly be all sorted out by the preview performance tomorrow night. Then again, this was all supposedly sorted out before the dress rehearsal.

I had the day off today, so Bob and I went to Chinatown to see how many new species we could eat. Here's a picture of the remains of a dragon fruit, which is a species of epyphytic cactus from Central and South America, which was really tasty, sort of like a kiwi with tiny little crunchy seeds, and outrageously magenta flesh. We also got some muscadine grapes, which I've never had before. They're much more intense than other grapes, very tangy and flavorful, and solid, not watery. They grow only in the southeast US. How come I have to go to Chinatown to get these delicious things? Also, we got some fresh lychees, since they were very tasty and reasonably cheap. And for dinner, we got a skate wing steamed in a banana leaf. It had an amazing texture, with perfectly parallel, linear muscle fibers, and a layer of cartilage that we weren't sure if we were supposed to eat or not. It also had a peculiar sinus-clearing flavor. We couldn't tell if it was from the sauce, or from the fish itself, but we'd never experienced it before.

We also went to Aji Ichiban, which everyone must visit, since it's so much fun. They sell all different kinds of snacks, and have little samples available, so you can go around grazing on shredded spicy cuttlefish, preserved Buddha's hands, these peculiar black herbal cubes, and all sorts of intense things before you buy anything.

Tomorrow, it's back to work for the preview performance. I feel very well rested and well fed.

I thought that Shakespeare in the Park
Would just be a bit of a lark.
But I'm playing in keys
With flat Fs and sharp Es
and doing it all in the dark.
Mon, August 7, 2006 - 8:27 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

111–120 of 174
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Various annoyances, and some good stuff.
You know what? I'm annoyed for various reasons, and this blog is going to bear the brunt of it. Once I get it out in a blog, I'll be perfectly pleasant in person.

Larry the percussionist and I have been trying to set up on this tiny little platform, but it's a very tight squeeze even now that the dangerous marimba has been removed. I sit near the window (having just crawled through it) and feel the sun on my back, and man, it was hot yesterday. NYC is having another heat wave, and it was way too hot even in the shade.

The only place to hang the huge taiko drum is right by the edge, where for me to play it, I have to get up from my seat, put my hurdy gurdy, um, somewhere, creep around my cumbus, doumbek, and riq, not to mention music stand, cymbal, and something called a brake drum that the percussionist was supposed to play, but that got assigned to me instead, since he told them it was impossible for him to play it on top of everything else he has to do. They have no problem with giving me all the impossible assignments. Anyway, here I am creeping around a six-inch ledge, except where they've sawed away the floorboard that was most obviously broken. There the ledge is narrower. So I'm trying not to step on anything or knock anything over the precipice to land on the musicians bellow, and I finally manage to reach the taiko drum. The head of it extends beyond our little platform, so I have to lean out and swing my arm in to play it.

At this point, Jeanine decided that this wouldn't work, and I really can't say what made her pick that point, and not any earlier point. She said that I had to approach the drum from the other side, and hit the other head instead.

Now, the other side contained Larry the percussionist, and all of his stuff, which was considerable. Also, the only place for me to stand after climbing over Larry would have been on the glockinspiel, and it would have been tricky to do that quietly.

Sometime around this point, Larry spilled his coffee into the tuba below, which resulted in Red declaring that no beverages but water were allowed in our perch. That's all I drink anyway, and I keep it in a bottle, but still, if even someone as careful as Larry knocked something over, it's inevitable that more things will be knocked over before the end of the run.

Larry's great, and he's picking things up very fast considering how late he was thrown into this project, but I kind of miss Carlos, the percussionist who left. I understand how Carlos felt, though.

Larry said that he dealt with a similar issue in another show, and he just got a very, very long drumstick, so he could hit a drum from afar. So he got someone to bring him a tape measure to see how long the stick would have to be, and I was holding one end while Larry was holding the other up to the taiko drum, when a few pixels on the tiny little black and white image of Chris the conductor must have flickered, since suddenly it was my cue to come in, and I didn't even know which page I was supposed to be on. Then Jeanine shouted up to me that it's important to some in strong at that particular point, and not be timid, but sheesh, it's also important to have an instrument rather than a tape measure in my hands.

My devoted readers already know the issues I've been having with the music they expect me to play on hurdy gurdy for this play. The brilliant idea about managing to play some of it by cranking backwards had one of the effects I'd been warned about: it unwound the cotton from my strings. I recottoned my strings and vowed never to do that again. I'm really going to have to have a sit down with the orchestrator and ask him what to do about all these unplayable passages, which is virtually all of it. Maybe these people really just want a violinist, since that's what all my hurdy gurdy music seems to be written for. Not only are they asking my hurdy gurdy to do things that are impossible for it, they're forbidding it from doing all the things it does so well.

But that's just the hurdy gurdy. I haven't said a thing about the one song they've asked me to play on cumbus (or "banjo" as they call it.) I hadn't actually been practicing it much, since the hurdy gurdy assignments have taken all of my attention, but I finally got around to working on the cumbus part, and was pleasantly shocked to find that it was quite playable. It fit under my fingers fine, and while it didn't sound like much by itself, I could see how it would make a lovely harmony to the singers. The only trick was keeping track of all the ritards and fermatas and meter changes and such, which make the rhythm confusing, but I figured that would be obvious once I was playing it with everyone.

Yesterday, I played it with everyone, and the rhythm did confuse me a bit, since I can't really hear the rest of the orchestra from up in my perch, and it's taking a little getting used to to watch the conductor on a tiny screen instead of in person. But I thought I was doing reasonably well until Bruce climbed up to my perch and told me that I should be playing it as written, that is, an octave up from where I've been playing it.

Apparently, when I showed Bruce my cumbus, he took down the range as going from my lowest string to the very highest note I can play on my highest string, which is pretty darn high. He wrote only for the very top of the range, where I never play. If I had frets it wouldn't be such an issue, or frankly, if I were a better cumbus player it wouldn't be such an issue, but man, I never go all the way up there, and I certainly can't jump all the way up there accurately. We're going to have to have another talk about this. Maybe I should be playing it on my mandola, which has a much shorter neck, and is actually meant to play those notes up there. Not to mention frets.

After what felt like a pretty unproductive rehearsal, in which I spent most of my time trying not to step on things or knock things over, and in which I burned my arm by touching a cymbal that was in the sun, they finally let us go.

I went to Union Square. I saw a cop harrassing a couple of musicians, so I quickly pulled out my letter from the parks department and educated him, which took a bit of work, but was effective eventually. That was satisfying. They were good musicians too, on upright bass and sweetly quiet steel drums.

I busked for a couple of hours, in the shade, and not on any sort of high splintering sunny perch. I played music that is actually meant to be played on hurdy gurdy, and which sounds good on it. It was still too hot, but man, it was such a relief to be back in my natural habitat.

In the play, Kevin Kline sings a dark and bitter song that I think is supposed to be about the horrible life of a street musician. I'm sorry, these people might be celebrities, but they're totally clueless.

Then I took the L to Williamsburg for Djinn's gig at My Moon, which we totally rocked. We even played live for Sera's dance class, which was a lot of fun. I brought my seljefloyte to experiment with, and concluded that it works great for belly dance music.

Sera is such an amazing dance teacher. She compained that people often don't give up seats on the subway for her, which she thinks they should, since she's over five months pregnant. But to the credit of New Yorkers, she has a much smaller and firmer belly than most women who aren't pregnant, so how are people to know? I would wish that I could be that fit if I got pregnant, but sheesh, I'm not even that fit now.

So the night seemed to end well. I said goodbye to Carmine, who's off to Pennsic, where no one will make him play in weird keys, and he'll perch on splintering platforms only if he wants to.

Then I went home, which was tricky. It's never a good sign when you get to your subway platform and half the people are sitting down on the grungy platform and slouching hopelessly. A train came eventually, but it took ages. Last night was so hot, the sleepy me overcame the environmentalist me, and as I rode home, I decided to turn the air conditioning on in my bedroom so I could get some sleep.

Then I got back to my Astoria apartment building, and found that I once again live in a 14th floor walkup, since the power is out again. I don't know if this is just my building, or more of Astoria. It was a very hot and tiring walk up through a dark and airless stairway to get to a hot and airless bedroom. This may be gross, but I'm including this detail for the heck of it. I noticed that my clothes from yesterday actually have a white crust of crystalized salt all over them, since I was sweating so much, mostly on that perch and subway platforms I think, but all day really.

Here I am blogging from the library, but I'll have to head out soon, since rehearsal, blessedly, has been postponed to 7, so we should be spared the brunt of the sun. Wish me luck as I try to have a talk with Bruce. I'm not sure what the best outcome would be.
Thu, August 3, 2006 - 1:07 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Good Old Mud
I wrote this last night when my neighbor's wireless was off. Now it's on, so here's the blog:

We set up in the Delacorte Theater today. I got there early, since I wanted to leave extra time to find the place in Central Park.

When I got there, the platform I was supposed to set up on was still being built, so I hung out and practiced hurdy gurdy and cumbus. Of course, all the people working on the set had to come over and see what the noise was, and I did my explanation, with the additional comment that since these people had built this set, they could probably build a hurdy gurdy too if they wanted.

It was a really nice place to practice, shaded by trees, by the milkweed blooming at the water's edge, looking across Turtle Pond to Belvedere Castle, which actually doesn't look as impressive as it did when I was a child, but I was smaller then, and I've seen more castles since. It's still nice, though. For that matter, I've seen nicer ponds, but hey, for NYC, it's a great pond. There were birds in the trees, and not all of them were sparrows. There were butterflies fluttering amid the milkweed. And scurrying underfoot was a cute little rat, which I have to say has much better taste in home décor than the subway rats.

Some of the music they've written for me, which I initially said was impossible to play on hurdy gurdy, might actually be possible with some creativity. For example, there are the places where they want me to play a bunch of Es in quick succession. Normally, to make each note sound like a distinct entity, I'd separate them by lifting my finger to let the open string, D, sound very briefly. But they don't want that here, since we're in the key of E, and D would sound awful. OK, so then I'd normally play a little buzz at the beginning of each note, so that the rhythm is clear. But they've made me turn off my buzzing drone string. So I've been trying to play them as distinct notes by just starting and stopping my wheel very fast, which wasn't really working. It's very hard to do that fast enough and in the right rhythm, and the notes wound up blurring together anyway.

But then Bob, a man so smart he could play hurdy gurdy, but doesn't, suggested that I crank backwards! The sudden change in direction separates the notes. This isn't standard practice, as I've heard it can unwind the cotton or even unscrew the axle from the wheel, but it seems fine so far.

While I was doing all this useful practicing by the pond, this huge team of enthusiastic young stage set builders was working on building a platform for me. I realize that I won't miss Pennsic at all. They've trucked in a huge load of mud, and have spread it carefully on the stage. I wonder if Cooper's Lake sold it to them. Then they built a war-torn city on it.

These are fun people to hang out with. But no sooner had I taken a liking to them that I heard that one of them had just been hit in the head by a marimba. I'm not sure which one it was, but I hope he's OK.

My platform, when it was finally ready, made me a little nervous, as it didn't look nearly as sturdy as, say, the minstrels' gallery at Casa Bardicci. But these people are professionals, so I'll take their word for it that it's safe. One thin floorboard cracked under people's weight almost as soon as they built it, so they sawed off the cracked part. I'll just have to remember not to step there.

Red remarked how amazing it was that they built all this for a mere month of performances. I didn't say anything.

I'll be sharing this platform with the percussionist, who set up first, taking up all the space. Then when he was done, it was my turn to look at the six inches or so he had left around the edge, and contemplate falling over the edge, (which has no guardrail or anything) and into the bell of the tuba below. They've stacked the musicians in two levels for some reason, and I'll be watching the conductor on a little screen. To get to my platform, I climb up a ladder and through a window of a wall that has very convincing burnt brick stapled to it.

There was so little space left for me, it was decided that the percussionist's marimba had to go, so they began the complicated process of getting it down. I'd been warned about this marimba, so I got the heck out of there and went back to practicing down by the pond.

It was getting late by this time, and various people, including the other musicians, said goodbye to me as they left. I eventually wandered back to my platform to see if there was any room on it yet for me, but people were still climbing all over it, this time trying to figure out how to suspend a huge taiko drum from a ceiling that really was not sturdy enough to support more than a triangle. I asked them if they really needed me for this, or if I could just come a bit early to the next rehearsal and situate myself up there then. I explained that I needed a good bit of room, since I didn't just play hurdy gurdy, (which they could hear me practicing from afar) but I would also be playing cumbus, and doumbek, and riq, and a cymbal, and a triangle, and that big taiko drum up there. I pointed up to the platform, and a large blue dragonfly immediately landed on my outstretched finger, which impressed the crew. They'd thought I just played hurdy gurdy.
Tue, August 1, 2006 - 9:53 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Soldiering On
I wrote this blog up last night, but then my neighbor turned off the wireless internet, so I couldn't post it. It's back on now, so here's the blog.

I sound pretty negative in my last blog, don't I? Well, the most important thing to convey is that this music is amazing. It's beautiful, it's raunchy, it's violent, it's hauntingly sweet.

Rehearsals are moving right along. Rehearsal ended at midnight last night, and we were back at it at 9 this morning, and ended at 7. I now realize I didn't have time to eat lunch. We were working pretty solidly all that time.

I'm getting along with the sheet music a bit better, but still, that strategy of telling me only the number of measures that go past before I come in, without telling me how many beats are in each measure, does not work when the music changes meter this often, and has all these fermatas. So I'm just memorizing my cues, or trying to. Then Jeanine changes the music, and I have to rememorize. We'll all have to memorize all the music eventually, because we won't be hiding safely down in an orchestra pit with our music stands, we'll actually be scrambling around the stage, and I've heard that at one point at least I'm supposed to climb out a window and down a ladder. At least I'm used to memorizing music. The rest of the orchestra is used to never memorizing anything, just reading all the time. They're about as happy about memorizing as I am about playing in the key of E on a G hurdy gurdy.

It's great to see Jeanine work. Much of the music has fun straddling the fence between a sleazy carnival sideshow, and a rousing battle march. Then the moments of tender beauty that glimmer through the cracks of this fractured caricature of war seem all the more haunting. Jeanine puts so much thought into the emotional impact of every musical possibility. Everyone in the room is amazingly talented, and it's an honor and a pleasure to be there.

Also, I didn't know what Meryl Streep was a singer. Here I thought she was an actress or something. That shows you how much I know about pop culture. Anyway, she certainly proved that she's a great singer tonight at the sitzprobe.

But dang, I'm still wishing they'd actually written some hurdy gurdy music, instead of writing violin music and telling me to play it on hurdy gurdy. We went through the music, and I tactfully explained that all the dynamic markings they'd carefully put all over my sheet music might as well be bug droppings for all the good they do me, since hurdy gurdies do not really have dynamics, particularly if I have to turn off the buzzing bridge, which at least normally lets me switch between very loud and even louder. All the places where I'm supposed to play quietly, I just sounded horribly loud, and there was nothing I could do about it, so we took those parts out. Oh, and yesterday, we got a whole sheaf of new sheet music to learn, and one song had eight measures that actually worked pretty well on hurdy gurdy! I was even allowed to use my drones. I looked at it and played it right away, reassuring myself that I actually can both read music and play hurdy gurdy. It sounded great. Everyone looked at me in shock.

I'm still working on my No Composer Left Behind program. Bruce the orchestrator noticed that I seemed to be playing a little grace note, D, between a lot of my notes, so would I please stop that? It just didn't go with the keys we were in at all.

I explained once again how hurdy gurdies work, and how it's inevitable that my open string, D, will sound between the notes sometimes. That's why hurdy gurdy is never, ever, played in the keys that these people are asking me to play in, because it has effects like that, which make it sound awful. The open string is usually used to great effect in the key the instrument is supposed to play in, but in these keys, this feature turns into a bug.

We worked on yet another new piece of music we got yesterday, but the page was blank. Jeanine told me to do my thing. I gave her the deer-in-the-headlights look. But yes, she actually wanted me to play my hurdy gurdy like a hurdy gurdy, not like some bad imitation of a violin. I had to make the music up myself, though. Chris the conductor gave me a stormy open G chord in a Moroccan sounding 6/8 on the piano, and I cautiously asked if they thought that dorian mode was appropriate. Jeanine asked me what that was. I spend so much of my time there looking shocked, they probably all think that's just the way my face is shaped. Anyway, I came up with a great improv if I do say so myself, and improved my mood a great deal.

Note to all my Middle Eastern music friends reading this, who might not know this: Europe used to have a system of scales much like the Middle Eastern maqam system, called the modal system. They even have some scales in common. For example, phrygian mode is the same as the maqam kurd. This system was pretty much destroyed in the renaissance, when fashions changed, and orchestral music like Jeanine's came in, and hurdy gurdies went out, because they just don't work with this newfangled style of music. Parts of the modal system survived in a few isolated backwaters like Irish folk music, just as a few hurdy gurdies survived in the backwater of Hungarian folk music. It's like there are a few isolated plateaus where dinosaurs still roam, even though the rest of the world is overrun by mammals. Dinosaurs kick ass, man, and if it weren't for that asteroid, we'd still be running the world, and you mammals would still be just a little annoyance we'd have to occasionally pick out from between our toes. Anyway, a lot of great rousing marches are in dorian mode, so it seemed an appropriate choice.

Oh, and I met with the costumers, who dressed me up in a sort of Great Depression/Third World refugee outfit that they seem to have stolen from several different homeless people. The orchestra will look like a ragtag bunch, let me tell you. But we're sounding awesome.

Oh, I'm illustrating this with a picture of the pelt of a wild chia pet that Bob and I hunted down and killed in the wilds of New Paltz last weekend. OK, it's some moss, but I thought it looked cool.
Sun, July 30, 2006 - 9:28 AM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

B sharp?
I've been practicing reading sheet music, to prepare me for Mother Courage. Every day, I earnestly studied my books of traditional Hungarian tunes, traditional Irish tunes, traditional Turkish tunes, whatever I had on hand, to improve my music-reading skills. And you know what? It didn't do squat, since all the traditional music I play is apparently written in a totally different language from the language that orchestral musicians use. OK, not totally different, but it was probably like trying to speak German when you know only English.

Our first rehearsal was tonight. They gave out the sheet music, and I looked at this menangerie of alien symbols and went, Huh? What is the thing that looks like a half note but with a diamond-shaped instead of a round head, and three perfectly straight forward diagonal slashes through its stem? What's the thing that looks like the logo for Kampgrounds of America? I understood the repeat sign, but then the tuba player next to me helpfully leaned over to my music stand and scribbled it out, since apparently they'd changed that bit while I was busy trying to decipher all these hiroglyphics and realizing how different this was from that campground in the Florida Keys.

I think a lot of the hiroglyphics were dynamic symbols, so I felt justified in ignoring them. Hurdy gurdy is either on or off. It does not have dynamics, unless you use the buzzing bridge, and they had me turn off my buzzing bridge string almost all of the time, not to mention my bass drone string, since my hurdy gurdy is in G, and no piece of music is in G in the whole play. One tune is in D but then goes to G for a little while, so I'm allowed to turn my drones on then. I'm to lean over and turn both drone strings on and off very quickly with my third hand while playing the tune. Also, while playing riq (arabic tambourine) simultaniously with my other two hands, but I managed to cure them of that delusion at least. I only have three hands, according to most of this sheet music, and I'm not agreeing to learn any music that requires more hands than that.

Then there are the rests I'm supposed to play on my melody strings, while buzzing my buzzing bridge. So now I'm supposed to lift the melody strings off the wheel for half a measure while playing? Well, I guess it's possible, and it's good to challenge myself.

This was all done in a room that was extremely air conditioned, so I could hear my gut strings shriveling up and going sharp, and my July-grade hard rosin giving up the ghost, resulting in a wheel that was so slick, it produced mostly whistling high harmonics. This rehearsal was only four hours long, 8-midnight, so my tangents didn't have time to dry up and start spinning, destroying my intonation, but it's only a matter of time. The noon-to midnight rehearsals that are coming up are going to be interesting. I'll have a different instrument in my lap every hour as the dry cold sinks into it.

The cold was sinking pretty deeply into me too. I started out with goosebumps, but progressed to some serious shivering, including tooth-chattering. Then my hands started to go numb, and one of my fingers did that thing where it goes a very pale yellowish white. While busking outdoors in winter, it's my policy that when one of my fingers goes white, that means that it's time to go inside and warm up, but there was nowhere to go here. The tuba player next to me marvelled that when he drained condensation from his tuba, it didn't come out as ice cubes. I'll remember to bring my down coat next rehearsal. Unfortunately, that won't help my hg. I can't even change its setup so it's playable in cold like this, since our performances will be outdoors, and I don't plan to do my solo practicing in a meat locker.

Anyway, back to my kvetch about the sheet music. As I mentioned, nothing is in G. In fact, I can barely figure out what key things are in, since they're written in some insane way where notes go by pseudonyms all the time. For one, they do that thing where the key signature, for example, has a G flat in it (Yes, a G flat. That's an F sharp to us normal folks in folk music world) but whenever there's a G in the music, it has a natural sign in front of it. Well sheesh, why bother making it flat in the first place if you were just going to change your mind?

This music is just filled with old familiar notes in alien guises. B sharp? E sharp? Why not just say C and F? Those are notes I know how to play. The singer was extremely nice about this, and came over and translated my music into a form normal people could read, after rehearsal was over.

And then there's the way they try to write drum parts! Fortunately, I think my percussion parts are all extremely simple, but they're very awkwardly written, since these people are attempting to cobble together something out of all these bizarre hiroglyphics of theirs, but haven't even figured out a way to distinguish doums from teks, not to mention pops and snaps and all that. Drums are either on or off to them.

Take this measure, for example, which I'm supposed to play on riq. This measure contains a rest, and then a shorter rest, and then a shorter rest, and then two close-together forward-leaning slashes at the top of the staff, and then another little rest. I'm supposed to play this measure "Piu mosso, agitato."

Oh, and I'm supposed to switch between doumbek and hurdy gurdy instantaneously. Come on, I have only one lap. I can see that five hands might be useful, but I think that one lap is plenty, and I have no plans to grow a new one.

So there I was with this sheet music in front of me. The conductor (who had his back to us, since he was facing his piano) nodded his head, and then the whole orchestra started up, playing everything perfectly. Well, almost the whole orchestra.

Part of the problem was that my sheet music had only my part written, so I had no idea when to come in relative to what other people were doing. For example, one piece of my music has a staff with no bar lines, and a heavy line with the number 2 over it. Then there's another staff that says "Colla voce" with a heavy line with the number 8 over it. Then there's a staff that says "(+ Bs. Cl., Tpt.,Tbn.) with a heavy line with the number 8 over it. Then my part starts. This seems like a relatively easy to decipher code. The conductor nods, I wait 18 bars as various stuff happens, and then I come in.

But this composer keeps switching time signature, so bars can have significantly different numbers of beats in them. It does no good to tell me how many measures there are, when I don't know how many beats are in a measure.

There's probably more to kvetch about, but that's plenty for now. The most important point to convey is that the music was beautiful. I would not put up with the abovementioned hassles if it were not for the exquisite beauty of the music, which I am really looking forward to learning how to play. Oh, and it has to be perfect by this Saturday, since that's when the sitzprobe is scheduled. That sounds kind of kinky, but I googled it and it actually isn't.

Everyone involved is extremely nice, and they even stayed late and recorded my bit for me, and emailed me mp3s, so I can learn by ear like a normal person.

Then I went home. It's never a good sign when you get to your subway platform and there's a smell of smoke and pulverised rock in the air, and the track has lots of workmen walking around on it, operating loud smoky concrete-shredding machinery. They always schedule these repairs when normal people like me have someplace to go. They should do repairs at 8 or 9 in the morning, when normal people are asleep.

But a train came by eventually, and I'm home now, although I have a sore throat and I seem to be coughing up bits of subway track. Goodnight.
Fri, July 28, 2006 - 1:32 AM — permalink - 7 comments - add a comment

Porcupine, etc.
I'm still catching up on my blog backlog. Last weekend, I escaped the Astoria blackout, (which turned my apartment into a dark, 14th floor walkup for days) and visited my mother in New Paltz. Conveniently enough, my band Djinn had a gig there.

At the gig, it rained. The frog splashing around on stage was pretty happy, but the dancers splashing around on stage weren't. I hid my hurdy gurdy in the dryest place I could find and played my more water-resistant wind instruments, which was probably a good thing, since I need to practice them anyway. I came up with a little tune in mixolydian mode on fife that worked very well for a basket dance if I do say so myself.

But for the rest of my visit, it mostly didn't rain, and I went on some really great hikes with my mother and Bob, who came to visit. Here's a picture of a porcupine we saw right on the hiking trail. It was so close we could have reached out and touched it, if we were really stupid.
Wed, July 26, 2006 - 10:51 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Squawking Peacock
"Blog" is actually short for "backlog," since man, I have so much to blog about, I have no time to actually blog. Here's an attempt to catch up.

The composer and orchestrator of Mother Courage understandably feel a bit limited by the fact that my hurdy gurdy (like just about all hurdy gurdies) has drone strings, which limit the number of keys in can play well in. That's why hurdy gurdies went out of fashion a few centuries ago, when Bach and his ilk started this fad of changing key all the time. I'm still waiting for this fad to blow over.

A second hurdy gurdy would double their key possibilities, but where could I find a hurdy gurdy that wasn't going to Pennsic? I set out for the crypt of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, to see about renting a hurdy gurdy from Early Music New York.

First I had to find it. The cathedral is surrounded by many smaller buildings, which nestle in gardens filled with brilliant flowers and white peacocks. Now, I'm no racist, but I prefer ordinary multicolor peacocks to white ones, and when I have my own cathedral, I'll instruct the goundskeepers to include both kinds.

After much searching, I found an unlabled door that looked cryptlike, so I descended into the crypt.

Now, when I say "crypt" you probably imagine someplace dark, with rough stone walls cut directly from the bedrock, and a coarse floor of stone and earth, and damp, clammy, mildewed air. You'd be absolutely right. You might not have thought to imagine the sheets of moldering plywood that someone had unevenly laid over the rough stone/dirt ground in an attempt to make some sort of walkable surface, or the scraps of moldering red carpets that someone had thrown on top of the plywood.

I finally found a door labeled "Early Music. This door must remain closed at all times," so I opened it, entered, and found myself in total darkness, for which the mere dimness of the rest of the crypt had not prepared me. I groped around in the darkness for a while until I found another door.

It opened on an enormous chamber filled with all manner of wonders. What appeared to be genuine medieval tapestries hung from the walls. They were partially obscured by a great many things, including statues of assorted nymphs and angels, a harpsichord, and an urn of dusty white (and ordinary multicolor) peacock feathers.

Fred, Director of Early Music New York, brought out three hurdy gurdies for me, and I spent a lot of time with them. They gave me even more of an appreciation of my own hurdy gurdy.

One, after some tuning and cottoning and shimming of strings, turned out to be a very nice little instrument, rather quiet, and with no buzzing bridge, but with an ingenious sliding capo mechanism for one of the drone strings. The capo design was so clever, I wish it could be adapted to my type of hurdy gurdy (the big loud kind) but I don't think it would work on thick tight strings.

Next was a diatonic instrument with medieval-style long tangents for tuning to different scales. It just didn't have as nice a sound, managing to be at once quiet and scratchy. I think with more work it could be a decent instrument, though.

But third was a hurdy gurdy that looked so beautifully made, it was tragic how bad it sounded. It was one of those French 1700's-style froufrou-covered instruments, with a lady's head carved on the pegbox, multicolor inlay, a lute back, the works. It was the hurdy gurdy equivalent of a flashy Egyptian oud, or possibly a flashy Eqyptian belly dance costume. The crank was very difficult to turn, and it made a truly horrible squawking noise even (get this) with all the strings off! It looked so good and sounded so bad, I hope the meaning of the title of this blog post is now clear. (It took a lot of work to change the title of this blog from the default setting, "Tales From the Crypt.")

It's past my bedtime, and I haven't even told about the porcupine yet. Next blog.
Tue, July 25, 2006 - 10:31 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Nordic Fiddles and Feet
I don't have adequate time to blog about this, but last week, Bob and I attended Nordic Fiddles and Feet:
and had a wonderful time. Now, many of my friends reading this might be mainly interested in Middle Eastern music and dance, but believe me, Scandinavial music and dance is about as beautiful. Want quarter-tones? Want really odd syncopated rhythms? Want hauntingly beautiful, soulful, creative fiddling? Scandinavian music's got it. Plus, you get to dance in couples, gliding about the dance floor feeling like you're floating. In some cases, you actually are floating. Many Swedish dances, like the flashier varieties of Swing, include a lot of aerials, but unlike Swing, make these moves look magically easy, as if it were the most natural thing to float up into the air in slow motion like a puff of thistledown and then drift back to the ground a few beats later. Making it look easy is hard. Dancing doesn't usually tire my arm muscles out this much. Actually, all of my muscles were feeling this dance camp.

And then there's Norwegian dance! A lot of it is remarkably like lindy hop, with the fun leader-follower interaction and the wide variety of moves. But it's done to some of the most bizarre and beautiful music I've ever heard. I spent the week listening to these tunes, and I still can't tell you what meter they're in. Maybe pi. Maybe e. Definitely not an integer, I can tell you that.

They imported a Norwegian fiddler, Magne Haugom, whose music kept me delighted and confused for the whole week. He played both new and old tunes from Roros, Norway. The new tunes, one could almost imagine were in three, or nine rather, but the old tunes were in some non-integer meter. By the end of the week, I felt reasonably confident that I could tap my foot to them, but I still don't understand them. "We could play them in three, like this," said Magne in his exotic, muscial accent. He then proceded to mockingly demonstrate on his fiddle that was perfectly capable of playing a tune in 3/4 time like a normal person. "But we are not machines!" he insisted, and he went back to playing in a way that would be impossible to program into midi.

Magne seemed a bit irritable, which might have been because he missed his herd of reindeer back in Norway. He's a reindeer herder for his day job, and he clearly enjoys it. Note: it is impolite to ask a Sami (the Scandinavian equivalent of a Native American) how many reindeer he owns.
Wed, July 12, 2006 - 7:12 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Mother Courage
Well, it's decided. I'll be skipping Pennsic for the first time in many years, because I accepted a gig that conflicts with it. I'll be playing hurdy gurdy and various other instruments in Mother Courage:
starring Meryl Streep, who will forever after brag to everyone she meets, "I was once on stage with Melissa the Loud."

The music is being composed by Jeanine Tesori, who wrote the Tony-award winning Throughly Modern Millie, and a whole bunch of other broadway musicals and movie soundtracks and such. I met with her, and she seems really cool. She took my vocal range, and she's now writing songs that fit my range.

This is all very wonderful, but yes, it's sad to miss Pennsic.

I have a lot of other stuff to blog about to, but that will have to hold you for now. I haven't forgotten that I was tagged a while back. I was looking for an excuse to tell the story about how I was kicked out of a bar, but that will have to wait, at least until I tell about the Norwegian reindeer herder from last week.
Mon, July 10, 2006 - 8:51 AM — permalink - 6 comments - add a comment

Technical Difficulties
I know, you've all been hovering over your computers, eagerly awaiting my next blog. Well, you'll just have to wait some more, because my laptop has been annoying, and I only just now figured out how to get around it. My shift key is stuck! Not physically stuck, but it acts like it is. Try entering your passwords when you can't use numbers. Try blogging when you can't use periods or commas. Try doing copy-and-paste when your shift key is stuck down. (Seriously, try it. lt will put any other annoyances in your life in proper perspective, and you will gain a new appreciation of how wonderful your life usually is.)

But l just figured out how to call up something called an on-screen keyboard, and I planned to type something very concise on it using the mouse, but somehow the act of doing that seems to have partially fixed my shift key, so here I'm typing with almost my usual verboseness, using mostly the physical keyboard, and only sometimes the on-screen keyboard. For example, I still can't type a capital I for some reason, so l have to click the mouse on the little picture of the l on the little picture of the keyboard on the screen. l might just be lazy and use a lowecase L. Some other keys are acting up too. l haven't spilled anything on the keyboard, really l haven't.

Any geeks out there with advice? l know, l should just get a new computer, but it just irks me to spend money on something that's guaranteed to be obsolete as soon as it's out of the box. lnstead, l'd much rather spend my money on a new hurdy gurdy, a bass one with an amazingly deep drone that makes your brain melt, and a new capo design so l can jam with people in different keys. A hurdy gurdy will never be more obsolete than it already is.

l've spent too long on the computer already, so that's all the blog you're getting tonight. Goodnight.
Tue, June 27, 2006 - 11:18 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Skip Pennsic?
I just got offered a gig that would be really great, if it didn't conflict with Pennsic. What should I do?

This raises the discussion topic, which I post here for all my performing, Pennsic-going, tribe-surfing friends to answer: How good would a gig have to be to be worth skipping Pennsic for?
Sun, June 25, 2006 - 10:10 PM — permalink - 4 comments - add a comment
121–130 of 174
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Lafayette Grill
Djinn played the Lafayette Grill last night, and man, we so rocked. We've been doing a lot of practicing recently, and it paid off. I love this band!

Brad is getting brilliant at theremin. He got some effects pedals for it. It used to just sound like space aliens, but now it sounds like space aliens with advanced booty-shaking abilities.

This band, featuring hurdy gurdy and theremin, spans the rise and fall of civilization. Maybe I should get a new instrument, a couple of rocks to bang together.

I also had fun with my new toy, a spring drum. It sounds sort of like a theremin, but acoustic. Someone in the audience asked me afterwards how I was getting distortion from my hurdy gurdy. My hurdy gurdy has acoustic distortion, and my spring drum has acoustic effects pedals. No electricity required.

It's great to have Brian back from his tour with Raquy. It's amazing to think that not very long ago, he was just a generically well-rounded percussionist. Now he can sound specifically belly-danceable.

Similarly, Pete, while he's certainly still got the funk with that beatbox, is sounding more belly danceable too.

Carmine and I have been egging each other on to learn new tunes and perfect our old tunes, and it's working.

And that's just how fabulous the band is. Then there are the dancers! Sarah Locke, Darshan, Sera, and Susan Frankovich performed, and they were thrilling. I'm glad I've been practicing playing without having to look at the keyboard, since it's so inspiring to watch the dancers as I play. I come up with my best improvisations when watching dancers.

And those were just the performers. The crowd that got up and danced was beautifully inspiring too. One gripe: why do so few guys dance?

And that was just the people. Have you been to the Lafayette Grill? There's a huge, beautiful dance floor! That's right, no squeezing between tables and dodging waiters. It takes a lot of the challenge out of belly dancing, actually.

Which brings us to the staff. Maybe all restaurant staff and management would be this nice if they weren't being whacked in the head all evening by whirling swords, but the good people of the Lafayette Grill were really unusually good to us. Of course, they must have been happy that we packed the place with customers on a Thursday night. We were a little bit worried about what they would think of our music, since the Lafayette usually plays more traditional stuff, but they seemed to really like us. They asked us back for July 13. Mark your calendars now.

Someone in the audience asked me if this was a weekly event. I told him to ask the management that. Maybe all our fans should ask the management that.
Fri, June 16, 2006 - 8:55 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Squash Blossoms
I've let too many topics go by, so now I'll try to smush them all into one blog.

A few days ago, I was wandering for ever looking for a good busking spot, but every spot had at least one musician in it already. I eventually settled for a fairly desolate subway platform, where the first tip I got was a bunch of fresh rosemary and a huge box of squash blossoms, imported from Israel via airplane I assume, since they weren't even wilted. We live in a society that not only can afford to support street musicians, but can afford to feed them the most rare and exotic delicacies, flown in at any expense from all corners of the earth.

The squash blossoms were delicous, and the rosemary is not only delicious, but it improved the usual smell of the subway. This was a huge improvement over the candy that sometimes gets tossed in my case.

Oh, and on Friday, I played at Park Cafe, which was a lot of fun. That's the photo. Left to right, Antonis Tsimounis on bouzouki, Haig Manoukian on oud, me on doumbek, and Petros Mendonis on guitar. Man, it's such an honor as well as a pleasure to play with these musicians.

And Djinn rehearsals are going great. We're getting revved for our Lafayette Grill gig this Thursday, as well as planning what to put on our CD. Oh, and we have not one, but two new secret weapons that we plan to pull out at the show. We're very excited.
Tue, June 13, 2006 - 10:24 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Ithaca Rain Festival
Ithaca, NY has proved once again that we can put on a fabulous festival no matter what the weather. Highs in the 50's and constant rain did not put a damper on the Ithaca Festival at all.

My hurdy gurdy performance Friday was well attended by warmly-dressed fans, even though the schedule had me conflicting with Hilby the Skinny German Juggle Boy on the next stage. I'd be playing some haunting tune, and then there would be a huge gasp and cheer as juggled flaming unicycles 50 feet into the air or whatever. Even I thought I might rather be watching his show than performing mine.

Saturday, Svraka's show was very well attended, perhaps because we were in a tent, so the dance floor was one of the dryer places at the festival. We managed to fend off the sound guy, so we played unamplified, and we were plenty loud. It was so much fun to see the dancers snaking around in their line dances.

A bagpipe band was on after us in the same tent, but they didn't manage to fend off the sound guy. I don't need to hear bagpipes buzzing out of some damp distorting amplifier.

I'd been looking forward to the Hogtie Sessions show pretty much all year, since they are the most amazingly fabulous band, but was disappointed to see the band reduced to two: Max Buckholtz on fiddle, who I believe is not only the best fiddler ever, but the most talented human being on the planet, and Dara Anissi, the only guitarist who could keep up with Max's inspired fiddling. They played jigs, reels, bluegrass, Romanian folk tunes, rock, classical, and their unique avant garde insanity, as I did the umbrella dance.

Afterwards, I asked where the rest of their band was, and they said that one member was in Turkey. Well, maybe he's coming back with more tunes. All the cool kids are learning Turkish tunes these days.

Sunday, Bob and I just camped out in the dance tent, where we watched performances and took lessons in Greek and Armenian dance, Chinese dance, West African dance (from a teacher from the Ivory Coast), Sevillanas, and Indian classical dance. You know, NYC may have a lot of interesting cultural events, but I maintain that Ithaca has more per capita and per square foot. Man, that dance floor was crowded, and I mean NYC crowded, for the West African dance class. These are dance moves that require a lot of space to flail your arms and legs around, but there was not a lot of room to be had. The Ithaca Festival should set up a bigger tent next year.

In the dance tent, the dance teachers had to wear a headset mic to be heard over the generator that provided the electricity to power the headset mic. I'm very glad I brought earplugs.

Then Bob schlepped his cello to a different pavilion and played as part of the Cornell University Klezmer Ensemple, and they sounded fabulous too, in a rather interesting and unusual way. The sound guy decided to crank the bass and cellos up to 11, so these 18th century tunes sounded like some modern techno dance mix. I think that that actually helped people get up and dance. That, and the fact that it was just too cold not to dance. The musicians later said that their fingers were going numb, but they sounded great regardless. I danced so much, I had to take off both my sweaters. Now I wish I'd thought to go drape them over Bob's shoulders as he played.

Next year, bring on the snow. Ithaca can take it.
Mon, June 5, 2006 - 10:33 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Almost Heaven
I'm still glowing from my fabulous weekend, and it's Thursday already, so I should blog about it.

No, I didn't go to Middle Eastern camp as so many of my musical friends did. Instead, my band Jiggermeister:
performed at Almost Heaven:
a dance camp in the beautiful mountains of West Virginia. And man, we so totally rocked. The various members of Jiggermeister are scattered all over the place, but we get together for frequent reunion gigs, and we sound better every time. We try to squeeze in a rehearsal here and there, but mostly, we've just kind of been making up arrangements as we go along, and everyone in the band is so good, this actually works. It's also interesting to hear how the different band members are growing in different directions musically, but we still somehow fit together.

Sadly, this time, our bassist Greg couldn't be there, so Kendall drove up from Texas to fill in on bass and keyboards. It gave us quite a different sound, but still good.

And the dancers went crazy! They were screaming and applauding wildly! After every dance, dancers would run off the dance floor to change into a dry t-shirt, but it would just get totally soaked with sweat in the next dance anyway. OK, the weather was also pretty hot, but I think that Jiggermeister can take much of the credit for that sweat. That's how you measure the quality of a contra dance band: in liters.

I even got to dance with Bob a bit, and admire his dancing as Jiggermeister played. And he took some nice photos like this one. But the schedule had us working pretty hard, performing and teaching workshops much of the day. The other contra dance band at camp was the famous Swallowtail, and wow, what a delight they are to dance to! They don't have as many freaky gimmicks as Jiggermeister, but they're all virtuosos at playing traditional contra dance music, and they prove that a band doesn't need gimmicks to be great. They also play beautiful harmonies, which Jiggermeister doesn't usually do. They sounded almost Baroque sometimes. That's a gimmick we should steal.

As a grand finale, Jiggermeister and Swallowtail played together, and wow! There's no way to blog about it. You just had to be there. I think maybe the sound guy recorded it, and I really hope he did, since we sounded so totally fabulous I'm still high from it.

Figuring out what we were going to play was tricky. Our performances and workshops had been scheduled so that we never really had a chance to hang out with each other, but we managed to sit at the same table at lunch right before our grand finale performance and figure out what we were going to play. The musicians in Swallowtail would say something like, "Let's play [the traditional Scottish tune] Mairi's Wedding," and we'd say, "Yeah, but let's do a reggae version, and then do a West African drum break, and then medley it into the Cantina Tune from Star Wars played on kazoo," and their eyes would bug out. Not in a disapproving way, just in a, "We're allowed to do that?" sort of way.

This was a particularly stressful time for me, since the winds player in Swallowtail plays bombard beautifully (a bombard is the medieval French version of the Turkish zurna or Arabic mizmar, if that helps) but neither of his bombards was in a convenient key for playing along with my hurdy gurdy, and we had to do a hurdy gurdy and bombard duet, since it would just be so incredibly fabulous. So I had to quickly retune my hurdy gurdy up from G to A. That's not as simple as just tightening the strings and hoping they hold. I also had to redo the cotton and rosin and shims, and then keep re-tightening the strings, which kept wanting to return to G.

Those of you who have heard my hurdy gurdy have heard it in G. It sounds relatively quiet and mellow in G. Balazs Nagy, who built it, said that when tuned down to G, it sounds as sweet as a young girl singing. (This finally made sense to me when I heard a CD of young Hungarian girls singing in the traditional style. Maybe the point is to have young girls blow out their vocal chords when they're young, so they grow up to be quiet women.)

Anyway, that's how my hurdy gurdy sounds in G. When I tune it up to A, it's louder and brighter. I really don't know why the sound guy bothered pointing a mic at it. The winds player, who miced his flute and sax and all that, just stepped away from the mic and aimed his bombard directly at the dancers, who, of course, stomped their feet and screamed in response. They sounded like young Hungarian girls singing.

On hurdy gurdy and bombard, we played Atholl Highlanders, a traditonal Scottish march that I'd leaned to play a few days previously, during Jiggermeister's hurried Thursday night rehearsal. We're not sure how to pronounce "Atholl." We had fun complaining that we were thurounded by atholls. We sounded gloriously traditionally Scottish, until we came in on the rock and roll drum kit. Then we sounded gloriously something else.

We also played my version of Petit Vriens, a 15th century Italian dance tune that I've turned into a contra dance tune. The parts are the wrong length to be a contra dance tune, so I've rearranged it. Swallowtail had never heard it before, but they loved it, and picked it up very fast so they could play it with us. They're such excellent musicians, even though they didn't learn the tune note-for-note in the brief time we had, they learned enough of it so they could add beautiful ornaments and accompaniment to it, so it sounded like we had a well-practiced arrangment. They even (this is such a thrill) recorded it off me afterwards, since they wanted to take the tune home and play it themselves. I taught the great and famous Swallowtail a tune! A tune that I semi-wrote, since I was the one who turned it from an Italian renaissance dance into a contra dance tune.

I also taught them Bourree de Brand, a traditional French tune, and they liked that one enough to record it too. The next time you dance to Swallowtail, if you hear them play Petit Vriens or Bouree de Brand, you know where they got them.

I traded CDs with them, so I can start stealing their tunes too. I love their harmonies. I should work on harmonies more, since that's one part of my musical education that I've pretty much neglected, except for a bit of Balkan singing. I've just been focusing on rhythm and melody.

For example, in our combined band, we played the modern standard contra dance tune, Catharsis, (which, for any Middle Eastern drummers who have bothered to read this far, is really cool because the melody is playing the Wahad Tawia rhythm, so the drummer has the choice of playing that rhythm along with the melody, or playing some other rhythm like ayub as counterpoint to the melody.) When I hear this tune, I'm totally wrapped up in the beauty of the melody and they rhythm. But when the combined Jiggermeister and Swallotail band played it, we had harmony parts on sax and trombone that were just thrilling, and I have no idea what they were. I hope the show was recorded, so I can listen to what those guys were playing and try to figure out why it sounded so amazing.

So, that's a blog that proves once again that a blog isn't nearly as cool as the stuff I'm trying to write about. Lunch, similarly, isn't as good to write about as to eat, so I think I'll go eat it.
Thu, June 1, 2006 - 10:50 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Fifteen dollars of fame
You know, my blog being farked, and some 34,000 people reading it, resulted in one CD sale. So that's not just my fifteen minutes, but also my fifteen dollars of fame. Whoop de do.

I also learned that the reading comprehension of farkers is not much better than that of the cops I blogged about. Click this link only if you want to see how bad other online communities are, compared to tribe:

I have better things to blog about, so I'll put them in a different post.
Thu, June 1, 2006 - 9:33 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Parks Dept. update
Gotta write fast if I hope to do much busking before band practice, but I have important news: The Parks Dept called me, and apologized for their officer making up laws. They've retrained every parks enforcement officer in Manhattan, telling them all that unamplified music is legal. Even instrument cases open for donations are legal, as long as we don't ask for donations. Woo hoo! Now as long as every officer actually learned this and remembers it, parks in NYC should be much safer for buskers.

I deserve a percentage out of every NYC busker's case.
Tue, May 23, 2006 - 12:48 PM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Reading Incomprehension
I had another great day today. I practiced a bit of cumbus in the morning, then busked in the subway to a very appreciative audience, then took a break to do some Balkan singing with the multitalented Willa, then headed back to the subway and busked some more to another very appreciative audience. It took me a while to find a good spot for my second round of busking, though, and therein lies a tale.

The first few good spots I checked were taken, so I settled for a spot that didn't look very good, since there was hardly anyone there. But I figured more people might come later, so I set up anyway. I had only played a tune or two when two cops came up and told me that I needed permission to play music in the subway.

I explained that, in fact, I didn't need any special permission, and I backed this up by showing them the rules, in two formats. One is the new rule pamphlet they have all over the place, which says that I'm not allowed to use an amplifier on the platform, but makes no mention of an unamplified instrument. He pointed out that that was just a short pamphlet that didn't list all the rules, so I showed him the much longer rules that I printed out from the NYPD website, here:
Which states, "Artistic performances on transit facilities are permitted." (I'm doing copy-and-paste, not typing this, because I'm lazy.) It then has a bunch of rules, saying I'm not allowed to perform on a subway train, within 25 feet of a token booth, yadda yadda yadda. I was obeying all of those rules.

Then, rather predictably, without admitting that he was wrong about hurdy gurdies being illegal, he went on to say that the hurdy gurdy case was illegal, since someone might put money into it. This was deja vu, like that Parks & Recreation officer a little while ago. (I still haven't gotten the letter I requested from the parks department, by the way.) Now, I've pored over the subway rules, and not only do they not say that instrument cases are illegal, but they come right out and say that they are legal, right here in paragraph 12:

"12. You may accept donations for your performance, but you may not use your performance as an excuse for active, aggressive solicitation. For example, you may have an open instrument case into which listeners may place donations, but you may not walk through the audience with a container asking for payment."

I asked the cop to read paragraph 12. He got pretty testy at this, saying, "You're telling me what the law is?" Well, in fact I was showing him, and much more politely than he was telling me about the laws he was making up. But I finally got him to read paragraph 12, and this is how he read it out loud to me: "It says right here, 'You may not have an open instrument case into which listeners may place donations.' There, you see, it says right here in the rules that you can't have an open case."

I asked him to read it again, and he read it the same way again, inserting the word "not" between the words "may" and "have." I gently took the paper out of his hands and pointed out the relevant part of the sentence, and asked him to read it slowly. After working on him for a while, I did finally get him to read it correctly. My No Cop Left Behind program is going great.

Inexplicably, he did not seem to feel that joy of personal accomplishment that should come from learning to read. Instead, he got even grumpier. However, he clearly had developed a newfound interest in reading, since he carefully studied the rest of the page.

As this cop was reading, the other cop was looking for some way to get rid of me that did not involve having to learn to read. He asked me how I expected him to believe that those were the real rules from the real NYPD website. I could have just made them up. (And making up rules is the job of police officers, I know.) I asked him if he had internet access, and invited him to look them up himself. He didn't respond to that. I think there's a real need for an information literacy project here. Cops not only don't know what the law is, but they have no means to find out, unless some hard-working busker with a mission sets out to educate them. (Now that I think of it, it's particularly disturbing that these cops felt that they had no way to check what the law was. I mean, if I asked them to round up my escaped slaves for me, would they believe the law was on my side?)

A third cop had wandered over by this point, but chose not to get involved.

Eventually, the first cop found what he was looking for in the rules I'd handed to him. He hadn't had to go very far from paragraph 12. Paragraph 11 reads in part: "Some station platforms are so narrow that any performance will always interfere with passenger movement... Performers should use common sense before choosing a location in which to perform, and in all cases must comply with the lawful orders and directives of police and Transit employees."

The cop was overjoyed to discover this paragraph. "You're obstructing traffic!" he cried happily. "And you must comply with my directives!"

Now, considering that I'd almost rejected this very wide platform as too desolate to be worth busking on, it was a bit of a stretch, but hey, I wanted to validate his newfound interest in reading, so I thanked him for making an effort to enforce an actual rule. I asked him if he could suggest a spot where I wouldn't be blocking traffic, but he didn't have any suggestions. I told him I'd move to a different spot where I wasn't such a hindrance to pedestrians. He wasn't happy about that, since he would rather I just stop playing completely, but that was his problem. I took my rules back, packed up, and hopped the next train. It took me to a much more popular platform, where I entertained a delighted and appreciative audience.

Now I'm wondering if I was right to take my rules back. I really hope those cops, at least the one who had developed a new ability and interest in reading, can find another set of the rules somewhere. Oh well, I did what I could.
Fri, May 19, 2006 - 11:48 PM — permalink - 19 comments - add a comment

Too much to blog about!
My life is too wonderful and exciting to fit it all in a blog! But my fans have been complaining about me neglecting my blog, so I'll make a half-hearted attempt.

I had a great Florida trip with Bob. Insanely tangled mangroves! Alligators! Feral chickens roaming through downtown Key West! A tree showering pink flowers on our tent like some ceremonial blessing! And we found the skeleton of a wood stork, which was really cool. Do any of my faithful readers have step-by-step instructions for making a neanderthal-style flute out of the wing bones of a very large bird? I googled it, and of course, there are lots of pages with pictures of flutes made by Neanderthals on up, and there's even a recording of music played on an acutal 9000 year old Chinese bone flute, but I haven't found instructions yet. What, didn't Neanderthals have websites?

It will take forever to finish this blog at this rate. Moving right along, then Djinn played the last of our weekly gigs at My Moon. It was our best show ever! (This does not reflect at all on the fact that Brian couldn't make it, since he was touring with Raquy. We missed you, Brian! But we put on a great show anyway. So there.) We had this great telepathy going, so our arrangments were tight, and our improvisations were wild yet solid. I love this band!

And tonight, er, this morning, I just got back from Sami's birthday party. Sami is a brilliant Arabic violinist, and very many of his friends are similarly talented musicians. Qanun! Santur! Oud! Trumpet! Singers! Mosquitos! No wait, that was Florida.
Mon, May 15, 2006 - 12:23 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

I got a Seljefloyte!
I'm back from NEFFA:
which is 7,000 people all having a fabulous time with music and dance. I'm pleasantly exhausted in mind and body, so I don't know what I'm blogging about. But I have to say that the Chinatown bus to Boston is a good deal.

My hurdy gurdy performance was well attended by an enthusiastic crowd, even at the early hour of 10 am Saturday. Who's awake that early after dancing Friday night?

My contra drum workshop was well-received. I totally lucked out, because a mandolin player showed up and played melody so my rhythms made sense in context. Then the first two rhythms I taught went perfectly with the A and B parts of the first tune she played. We couldn't have worked it out better if we'd planned it ahead of time. People took notes, which made me realize that I really should have provided handouts. I promised people I'd put more info on my website, so that's another item for the to-do list.

But here's the really exciting news: I got a seljefloyte! Now I just have to learn how to play it, which promises to be very difficult. The notes seem to be in a totally non-linear arrangement, which is ironic for such a linear-shaped instrument. Toby Weinberg, who taught the seljefloyte workshop, said that he can play it only because he was in a cast for a while and unable to play fiddle or do much of anything, and he had to do something, so he learned seljefloyte. I hope I can learn to play it without losing my ability to play hurdy gurdy.

Anyway, my fans can expect to hear more soon, unless they have really, really good earplugs.
Sun, April 23, 2006 - 11:39 PM — permalink - 4 comments - add a comment

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New tunes, new computer
I just got back from an amazing rehearsal with the melody section of Djinn, that is, Carmine and me. We listened to recordings of some of our earliest performances, way back in December. We've improved a lot since then, both individually and in terms of our communication with each other, but there was still some stuff in those recordings that made us proud.

So we picked out the best parts of our improvisations, and pieced them together, and arranged them, and boom, we had two original Djinn compositions! They're stuck in my head, so they must be good. Carmine also asked me to teach him one of my compositions, Burning of the Temple, which is on my solo CD. It would be fun to work up a Djinn arrangement of that one.

Now we just have to get the whole band together to practice. Everyone's so busy, our performances have been the only time we all see each other. Oh, and our website is looking good, and has some sound and video samples:

I'm blogging from my new (to me) laptop, courtesy of the Amazing Carmine, who salvaged it from some clients of his who were throwing it away. He even put a wireless card in it. Hurray, hurray, I now have a computer of my very own!

It turns out that I can just sit in this apartment and pick up a faint wireless signal from somewhere. It will be very difficult to leave the apartment. But, there are always more cops to educate, so I'll head back to the park tomorrow and continue my No Cop Left Behind program. (See my previous blog entry if you don't get that.) I'm still armed only with my old letter, but I hope to receive a fresher one soon.
Wed, April 19, 2006 - 12:30 AM — permalink - 4 comments - add a comment

I'm writing a letter to the NYC Parks department. Here's my current draft, with as much snideness removed as I could manage. I'd appreciate any suggestions for improvements:

April 17, 2006
Adrian Benepe, Commissioner
The Arsenal
Central Park
830 5th Avenue
New York, NY 10021

Dear Mr. Benepe:

I am seeking clarification of the rules about playing music in city parks.

On the afternoon of April 13, 2006, I was playing unamplified music in Union Square Park. A Parks officer, O. Malcolm, shield 1036, approached me and told me that I wasn't allowed to play music without a permit. I showed him the letter, (enclosed) which I received from the Parks department, which states, "No permit is required to play music…" He told me that the letter was old, and might no longer be valid. I asked him when the rules had changed, if they had, and he said that he didn't know.

Today, I looked up the rules on your website, §1-05 Regulated Uses (d) Noise; Musical Instruments; Sound Reproduction Devices, paragraph 3, and they don't seem to have changed since your office sent me the enclosed letter. Despite this, could you please send me another letter with the current date to show to your officers, to prevent misunderstandings in the future?

After reading the letter, Officer Malcolm reluctantly conceded that music might be legal, but he said that I wasn't allowed to accept donations. I told him that I never ask for money, since that is not only illegal, but crass, but he said that it didn't matter whether I asked for money or not. He said that it was my obligation to prevent people from giving me money, and the way to do that was to stop playing music.

Could you please send me a letter which states that I am allowed, not only to play music in the park, but to passively accept donations? I agree that begging is annoying, and never do it myself. However, I don't believe that I'm required to prevent people from giving me unasked-for donations.

For example, this rule from the New York City Police Department clearly states the difference between passively accepting donations and active, annoying solicitation: www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/ht...ansit.html#NY
"You may accept donations for your performance, but you may not use your performance as an excuse for active, aggressive solicitation. For example, you may have an open instrument case into which listeners may place donations, but you may not walk through the audience with a container asking for payment."

A letter from the Parks department stating something similar would be a great help in preventing misunderstandings with your officers. Thank you very much for your assistance. I have enclosed a SASE for your reply.
Melissa Kacalanos

So, that's the letter so far. It started out a lot snider, I assure you. When I tried to get him to read the letter, Officer Malcolm told me that I was making him angry, which would just make things worse for me. Like it's my problem he has anger management issues when someone calmly clarifies the law for him?

He also kept telling me that I was "solicitizing." I asked him if he meant "soliciting," but no, he meant "solicitizing." He apparently enjoys making up, not just new laws, but new words.

I told him that I wasn't soliciting, since I wasn't asking anyone for money. He said it was my obligation to prevent people from giving me money. How, by playing really badly? What, like bad music is legal while good music is illegal? I closed my case in an attempt to make him happy. People put money on top of my closed case. He came back and threathened my with vague but presumably terrible punishments if he saw one person putting any money in or on my case. I put my case aside and slightly behind me, so I couldn't see if people were putting money on it, or taking money off it, or stealing the entire case for that matter. If I couldn't see people giving me money, how was I supposed to prevent them from doing so?

Despite his threats, he didn't do anything besides harrass me, and write down my name off the "old" letter from the Parks Department that I had, with difficulty, gotten him to read. I was surprised he didn't ask if that was still my name, since the letter was so old. (Dated July 22, 2004.)

He also said that there was no reason to play music except to make money, so I was obviously engaging in commercial activity. (This suggests an image of MBAs sitting in the park playing folk music out of sheer greed.)I pity a man who can't think of any other reason to play music in the park on a beautiful spring day.
Mon, April 17, 2006 - 12:33 PM — permalink - 8 comments - add a comment

Visiting DC
I've been computerless and thus blogless for a while, so I've actually gotten stuff done recently instead of just websurfing. But heads up to all my DC area friends and fans: my band, Jiggermeister, will be playing this Friday, tomorrow, at the Glen Echo contra dance:
so put on dance clothes that you don't mind getting sweaty in and come out and dance.

I'll also be in the DC area a few days afterwards, practicing for Jiggermeister's next gig and doing touristy things.
Thu, April 6, 2006 - 10:59 AM — permalink - 4 comments - add a comment

The Secret of Music
The secret of music is this: never practice with your band. That seemed to work just fine Friday, when my band, Mockin'bird, met for the first time in I don't know how many months to play the Ithaca, NY contra dance. I've been in NYC, Bob's been in Qatar without his cello, Greg's been doing his usual globe-hopping, and Steve's been sitting at home wondering where his band went. But Friday, we actually managed to all be in one place at one time, and I think it was our best performance yet. The dancers were certainly going crazy.

My standard cast-aluminum doumbek is in NYC, so I borrowed Bob's ceramic doumbek, and it reminded me of how much I really prefer the sound of the ceramic ones to the modern aluminum ones. It just had such an earthy yet very crisp tone. Also, it was plenty loud enough to play unamplified, and competed just fine with the amplifed accordion, six-string electric cello, amplified guitar or mandolin, and about eighty stomping and shouting dancers. Bob recorded the whole show on his latest toy, a cute little digital recorder, and I think I sound like the loudest instrument in the band, which isn't good. No one complained at the dance, but I think I'll try to play quieter next time.

In other news, Bob and I went on a beautiful walk along Lick Brook, where we practiced for the Spring Olympic sport of mud-skiing.

In other other news, after much thought by this conspicuous non-consumptive, I mail-orderd Suhaila's set of four belly dance workout DVDs, since I read so many reviews saying they were really challenging. I travel so much, I can't keep a regular schedule of teaching dance classes, or even a regular schedule of taking dance classes, and I miss them. I figured DVDs might make a fair substitute.

Hm. I've done the buns one so far, and found it interesting, but not all that challenging. I'll see if the other three are any better. Anyway, it motivated me to say, "Hey, I know exercises that are much harder than that" and then do them, so at least that was something. What I really want are videos of the Belly Dance Boot Camp classs that Zafira, the dance troupe, taught last Pennsic. That class was so good, I ached all over the next day.
Sun, March 12, 2006 - 2:23 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Moonlight is Hot
Another great show at My Moon last night. There were a whole bunch of dance performers, including Sera and Davis fire-dancing. We musicians could feel the heat from the fire from where we were, so it must have been even hotter for the dancers. There also was what I think of as "real" tribal dance, a beatiful improvised duet by Mimi and Sarah, who lookd like they were sharing the same, very talented brain.

My Moon is a great place for people who are bad at remembering names, since it seems like half the people there are named Sarah or some variation thereof.

Djinn's new bassist, (Named, um, not Sarah, John?) is fabulous, and fits in perfectly. Now I don't know how we got along without him. His bass has frets, though, so he can't do quarter-tones for really authentic traditional Middle Eastern music, but hey, that's not what we're doing. It's not like I'm qualified to criticise, since I haven't tuned my hurdy gurdy to quarter-tones for a while.

But bassists always want me to turn off the drones on my hurdy gurdy. It's just a different style, to have ever-changing jazzy chords, instead of a drone. They are pretty much incompatible accompaniment styles., since playing them simultaneously clashes. I should probably concede this point at least sometimes when playing with bassists, particulary bassists as good as John. But a hurdy gurdy without drones or buzz is basically an inexpressive violin, and what's the point of that?

So anyway, I'd start out playing a taksim in some Hungarian scale, and Carmine would look at me funny since he doesn't know from Hungarian scales, he does authentic Middle Eastern stuff. So he'd play a taksim on his cumbus in good old hijaz instead. Then Pete would beatbox some Turkish rhythm like chiftetelli, and make his weird noises. Brian and Brad would play some funky breakbeats on doumbek or riq, and John would lay down the jazz chords that accompay lydian mode or whatever jazz scale he thought I was playing.

And you know? It worked surprisingly well. For one thing, it helped that we took turns a lot, so the different combinations of musicians resulted in us sounding like a whole jazz/funk/world music festival. We were, by turns, a medieval-Arabic, Turkish-funk, Hungarian-jazz band, and more. The dancers went crazy. Once the scary fire-fans went out, the dance floor was packed with a huge happy crowd. It was very inspiring to play for all those great dancers.

Of course, I woke up very late today. Enough blogging. I have stuff to do.
Thu, March 2, 2006 - 9:21 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

The Creator is a belly dancer
You know how I blogged a while ago that the world was created by the Flying Spaghetti Monster? Well, I now realize that it was instead created by a belly dancer. Cabaret or tribal, I'm not sure, but I know that her taste in color combinations is, well, bold. For proof, just go to the orchid show at the New York Botanical Garden like Bob and I did today. Wow.

Photos by the multitalented Bob. (Cabaret on the left and tribal on the right? It's open to debate.)
Sun, February 26, 2006 - 7:21 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Psychedelic Contra Dance
Saturday, my band, Jiggermeister had another reunion and played the contra dance in Binghamton, so that's what I'll blog about, even though I have quite a lot of other stuff to blog about too.

We were worried that no dancers would show up, because the weather forecasters were giving dire warnings about snowstorms. We decided that dangnabbit, we were going to play somewhere even if the dance was cancelled, because we had all traveled great distances to get there. The band members are scattered from DC to Buffalo, and we get together too infrequently, but when we do, it's always magic.

We hadn't played together for a while, so this was a matter of concern. We got together at Bill the fiddler's house before the gig to rehearse. Bill's been getting more into that haunting, aetherial Scandinavian fiddling style, while Andrew's accordion seems to be getting more psychedelic and reggae. Michael's trombone, didgeridoo, and hammered dulcimer playing haven't changed style per se, but he's gotten even better. I've hardly drummed for months, and when I have been drumming, I've been playing slow 9/8's from Asia Minor, which aren't very useful for accompaying jigs and reels. Greg couldn't show up at rehearsal because he was busy, so when he showed up at the gig, he hadn't heard all of the rearrangements that Andrew had been doing in rehearsal, and Andrew does some mighty strange arrangements, let me tell you. More like derangements.

But it all went fabulously! First of all, the hall was packed with dancers, who had all laughed at the storm warnings and shown up anyway. And then the old Jiggermeister magic came back. I love this band! There were a lot of moments, like when I was playing the old Irish standard, The Road To Lisdoonvarna, on Hungarian hurdy gurdy, and Andrew turned on his flanger pedal and all these psychedelic accordion improvisations started swirling around the room, when I was just in ecstacy. I was in ecstacy most of the time anyway. The dancers loved it too.

It was all over too quickly, as the various band members had to get back to their respective homes. But I'm feeling pretty confident about our upcoming gigs in PA, MD, and WV, which, by the way, are listed on my website:
and on Andrew's website:

Now that's more than enough blogging when I have stuff to do, like playing with my new cell phone. I'm going to use a mijwiz riff for my ringtone.

By the way, in this picture, yes, I am playing a spiral-bound book with a spatula. This isn't my instrument, it's Michael's, and he's better at it than I am. It's great to be in a band with not just one, but two weirdos. At least.
Mon, February 13, 2006 - 11:10 AM — permalink - 5 comments - add a comment

Another influential blog post?
Well, every musician in NYC and surrounding suburbs must have read my last blog about how great busking is in the subway, because man, my fellow buskers were out in force today. All the decent plaftorms, and even many indecent ones, had musicians on them. I was wandering for literally hours. I even heard someone playing sax on the last L stop in Manhattan, and what kind of location is that? Sure, it's the L, so you'd think it would be full of music-loving hipsters, but come on, it's the last stop! There's no one waiting on the platform, because there's always a train sitting there. People get to the platform and run to get a seat on the train. That's what I did. As I sat in my hard-won seat and listened to the sax, I recognized that he was playing, not ordinary noodly jazz, but something Balkan. I think it was the same Balkan sax player I heard before. I really enjoyed the little bit of music I heard before the train doors slid shut. I even wanted to get out of the train so I could stay on the platform and listen to him some more, and give him a well-deserved tip, since he is really good, but the car had filled with people by then, so I couldn't get myself and my hurdy gurdy up, through the mob, and through the doors in time.

I finally found a free platform, but was soon annoyed by a muddily amplified bass thumping through from the mezzanine above. These officially licenced MUNY musicians really take full advantage of their right to use amplifiers. I don't see how they expect their fans to get close enough to them to tip them, since they're so painfully loud.

So I wandered away, and found another platform after some searching. Although there weren't a lot of people on it, I set up. Then I realized that the announcements over the loudspeaker weren't the usual warnings to report terrorist activities, but the only-slighly-rarer announcments that some trains weren't running, so people should take an alternate route. This posed a moral dilemma. I could drown out these anouncements, thus leaving people blissfully ignorant of the fact that the trains they needed weren't running. A captive audience would build up on the platform, and they'd have to listen to my music. Or I could leave. I left.

I finally found what I wouldn't normally consider a good platform at all, since there was almost no room to set up without tripping people, but it was free of buskers, and I was desperate at that point, so I set up and played. What people were there were very receptive and delighted, maybe because they don't get musicians there very often. I'll probably go back to it. But you know, my hurdy gurdy was getting cranky by then. Maybe it didn't like being jostled so much. I mean, it's normally jostled a heck of a lot, but maybe all this platform-hunting was too much for it. I messed with the rosin, I changed the cotton, I shimmed the strings, but my bass drone persisted in either changing pitch, or not sounding at all. There's supposed to be a point where the sound is stable, yet still audible, but that point was just unattainable. I felt like apologizing to the happy crowd around me, and telling them my hurdy gurdy normally sounds much better than this. They didn't seem to care, though, and I should be grateful for that.

Finally, it was time to call it a day and go to the Lafayette Grill to hear Sami's very Arabic band. They were fabulous! The singer, Gaida Hinnawi, had the most beautiful, expressive voice, the sort of voice that violins and clarinets try to imitate. There's nothing like dancing to great music to shake the annoyances of the day away. And the two performing belly dancers were very talented of course, but the really notable thing is that the second dancer had two costumes so gorgeous, I want one in the very same style. They were beautifully sleek, simple, and elegant, not cluttered with excess ornamentation. I'll have to ask her where she got them.

There was theoretically a $15 minimum, but I couldn't even get a waiter to give me a menu. They were all too busy carrying plates of food, redolent of lamb and rosemary, past me. I left a dollar tip for the waitstaff to thank them for saving me $15. After today, I felt spending my money on rice and beans at the supermarket.

Now it's not even 2:00 yet, so I think I'll go to bed early.
Thu, February 2, 2006 - 10:53 PM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Polite Buskers and Challenging Greeks
(I wrote this blog entry early this morning, after getting back from my gig that ended at midnight, but I couldn't post it since tribe was down. Here it is.)

Another great day. I set out for the subway as usual, and the very first place I checked, a truly prime busking spot, was free of musicians! So Iset up and played, and had a great time, as did the crowds on the platform. I worked a bit on "One World One Sky." My friend Michael the goth is covering this electronic song with actual instruments, and he's hiring me as a studio musician. He's right; it sounds surprisingly good on hurdy gurdy.

After a little while, my keen busker senses detected that a fellow busker was near. A young man with something big in a case, and bandaged fingers, stood around for a while and listened, so I was right. He asked me how long I was planning on playing on this great platform, so I told him until 5:15, which was a couple of hours away. This very polite young man accepted this, and asked me to hold the space for him.

Now, this sort of thing has happened before, and it sometimes works. But I still feel awful about what happened once, months ago. (This is the flashback sequence. Imagine it in black and white.)The really great vibes player asked me how long I would be occupying this very same great platform. I told him, and he asked me to not give up the platform to anyone else, since he'd be back on the dot. But not long after, I heard an extremely loud karaoke machine, a few yards away
from me on my platform, blasting lite pop. This singer had set up right near me, clearly with the plan to vanquish me through sheer decibels. I resented this for many reasons: I don't like lite pop, I think it's cheating to busk with recorded music, amplifiers are illegal, she had poached my spot, and she was damaging my hearing. But mainly, I felt bad that the polite and talented vibes player would return to this platform and find it occupied by this, this--

That's enough flashback sequence. Anyway, I told this polite young man with the bandaged fingers that I'd hold the spot if I could, but I couldn't promise to hold it against overwhelming force.

He hung around for a while, until his partner showed up. They put a dollar in my case to ensure my loyalty, which wasn't necessary of course, and went off somewhere. I worried about being able to hold the spot for them until they got back. What would I do if the karaoke machine showed up again? (Note how I add dramatic tension to the storyline here. This is one of the reasons I'm a great writer.)

I played for the happy people until 5:00. At one point, I had a huge crowd of children around me. They must have been on a class trip or something. Some of them started dancing, and they put some candy in my case. Do any of my readers want some candy? How come I often get candy in my case, and never something good like chilies or squid snacks?

The two polite young men came back just as I was getting tired. You know, this scheduling system is a good way of avoiding injury, I think. The crowd was still enthusiastic, and I was still enjoying playing, so I was ignoring the slight pain in my left hand, which I know is a really stupid thing to do. But here was an excuse to stop playing, so I took advantage of it and packed up.

These two set up. The guy without bandaged fingers put another floor on the floor, maybe a yard square, and changed into tap shoes. The guy with bandaged fingers took a wooden-box-that-you-sit-on-that's-actually-a-percussion-instrument out
of his case, and sat on it. He also tied bells to one ankle, and a shaker to the other foot. They commenced jamming. And hot damn, they were good. The box player kept the bass going, but he was doing much more interesting things than the usual beats I hear on the subway. Then the tapdancer played the most intricately syncopated riffs on top of that. I mean, it was based on a 4/4, but there were some wild polyrhythms layered on top of that. And it didn't hurt that he was fun to watch.

I was surprised that two pros like this didn't have any seed money in their case, so I put a dollar in for them. Then they persisted in being great, so I put another dollar in. I could have stayed there listening for a while, but I wanted to get ready for my gig tonight. As all my percussion instruments are still in Ithaca, I had to go borrow a doumbek from Carmine, to go with the riq I borrowed from him already. Pretty soon, I'll have all his instruments in my posession, and then I'll wrest control of NYC from him.

Anyway, this was my first time playing at Cafe Bar, which isn't a very catchy name, I think. Anyway, it's in Astoria. I'd never been there before. I was expecting a traditional Greek place, but instead, it was full of young hipsters who had all apparently shown up to enjoy traditional rebetika and smyrneika music from Greece and Asia Minor. Maybe they meant it ironically?

Anyway, I was very nervous about this gig, because I hadn't rehearsed with the band before. I hadn't even met two of the musicians before. For that matter, I'd never played rebetica and/or smyrneika music before, and haven't even heard much. Also, I've barely touched a drum for many months, as I've been playing hurdy gurdy almost exclusively.

I've enjoyed Haig Manoukian's oud playing before of course, and even taken his oud lessons at Middle Eastern music and dance camp. He's one of the greats. Never in my most ambitious dreams of moving to NYC in the pursuit of my musical career did I think that I'd be playing with great musicians like this so soon after my arrival.

The other musicians, who I hadn't met before, were great too of course. Antonis Tsimounis is a bouzouki virtuoso, and also a fine singer. I would have liked him to sing more, but he was sick with the cold that's going around. He also played an adorable widdle bouzouki, called a baglama I believe. It looked like the body was made out of half of an avocado. it sounded like a mandolin but even more so.

Vassilis Sideris was nice and steady on guitar, which was good, since Haig and Antonis were egging each other on to wilder and wilder improvisations, so it was challenging for this poor drummer to keep track of the beat.

Ah yes, the beat. We played a lot of zembekikos, those very slow, slinky nines that fool you into thinking they're ordinary fours, until suddenly there's an extra beat where you least expect it. But different tunes stick the extra beat in different places! I hadn't known that. And, a lot of the tunes had breaks, some of which required fills, although most didn't. So they'd start a tune, and I'd figure out what kind of nine it was and where the extra beat was, and then Antonis and Haig would go careening into the stratosphere with their extremely syncopated, often straight-out arhythmic improvisations, and I'd have to keep my hold on the beat, no matter how much it was buffeted by Haig and Antonis. Then they'd go back into the tune, and I'd have to remember
where the breaks were. Whoah. It was so much fun! I lost it completely only once, and then Haig helped me find it again. I wasn't catching all the breaks in time, but I think I'll do better the next time I hear these tunes. I can't wait until next Wednesday. Or maybe even this Saturday, since Antonis said that some friends of his had asked him to recommend a drummer for a gig, and he's going to recommend me, since he likes my playing. Wow. I'm feeling very proud of me. And
Thu, February 2, 2006 - 6:54 AM — permalink - 5 comments - add a comment

Maqam lesson
There are so many great opportunities to learn music! I just hope my brain is up to the task ahead.

Yesterday, I took a class in maqam (the art of improvising in those beautiful scales) with Arabic violinist Sami Abu Shumays:
I was, of course, overwhelmed, but I learned a bit anyway. I borrowed Carmine's cumbus, because I needed something that could play microtones. I mean, I've been playing nothing but a keyboard instrument for months, and here I was learning (or at least trying to learn) about all the different shades of B flat and when to use them. It's not as simple as saying, "This scale has this particular B flat in it." Oh no. The same scale uses slightly different varieties depending on the flow of the melody. It sounded gorgeous on Sami's violin.

We worked on the maqam hijaz, which was one I thought I knew, but I learned that I didn't know diddly about it. I already knew that the E flat was supposed to be a little bit sharp, and the F sharp was supposed to be a little bit flat, and I'd heard that there was something funny with the B flat, but there was a lot more to learn about that. And I also learned a totally new thing, that you could rock between the F sharp and a slightly flattened version of the G, in a yearning way that somehow breaks your heart just hearing it.

We also explored the various things that hijaz can turn into, if you change the top tetrachord a bit, and also if you change which note you're thinking of as the tonic. What's that called, modulating? This sort of reminded me of some Celtic and medieval and renaissance music, actually, the way the modes relate to each other, like how some tunes seem to be sometimes dorian mode and sometimes major, for example. There are a lot more notes in Arabic music, though, so it gets that much more complicated.

Today, my cold and I stayed home and practiced playing along to the music files that Sami gave us. Lacking a cumbus, I played fife, which can produce any microtone I want, and many I don't. Wind instruments are not ideal for people with colds.

Now I'm taking a break by blogging. Maybe I'll lengthen this break by adding a link to Sami's website to the links page of my own website, with a proud proclamation that he's my maqam teacher.
Tue, January 17, 2006 - 7:44 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

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Zlatne Uste Virus Exchange
Wow. I'm just about recovered from Zlatne Uste's Golden Festival. As usual, I wanted to tear myself into thirds, so I could hear the music on all three stages, but I didn't even have the energy to run frantically between stages, because I have another cold. I had no energy to dance! And you know that means I had no energy to do anything.

All my friends were running up to me and hugging me, and I'd tell them, "I just gave you my cold." They'd laugh and say that they already had a cold. Then why didn't they look as miserable as I felt? Answer me that.

It was impossible to be miserable for long at Golden Fest, because all the bands I managed to hear were great, and I wish I could have heard them all. Seido's bands (although Seido seemed to be in half the bands there) Romski Boji and Bogomila were thrilling. Now, lots of drummers, including even me, can drum in all sorts of odd meters. 7s, 9s, 11s, no problem. But Seido can get so insanely syncopated, I get disoriented, but he always knows exactly where the beat is, even as he's drumming playfully everywhere but on the beat. And then he comes down hard exactly on the beat, to prove that he knew where it was all along.

As usual, I was also extremely impressed by the clarinet players. George Stathos and Souren Baronian, for example, get notes out of those things that I think can't be produced by any other instrument. I mean, I've picked up a clarinet, and I can play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on it, and I can even see how with practice, I could even learn to play the fast part of Three Blind Mice, but how on earth do they get a clarinet to sound like it's weeping, screaming, and laughing maniacally? A clarinet has an awful lot of shiny metal keys and things on it. Is there one button you press that automatically gets the dancers' hips to quiver?

Bowed strings make me wonder the same sort of thing. The Hungarian and Romanian band that played last in the Golden Room was mind-boggling. I could understand the bass line. Take a great big bass, that only needs three strings on it, and saw away at those strings with a big fat bow. It seemed to require a very strong right arm and a good sense of rhythm, and I've got that from playing hurdy gurdy, so I think I could handle that.

The viola player's part looked more complicated, but still within my mind's ability to comprehend. But the violin! That violinist played with such consumate skill, such expressive passion, such exquisite virtuosity, he sounded exactly like a chicken. I suppose that even something with the brain of a chicken can manage to sound exactly like a chicken, so it can't be that hard, but still, I was very impressed.

Loretta Kelly's hardingfele didn't sound much like a chicken, but was beautiful nonetheless. She sounded more like a cold wind sighing over icy mountains. I couldn't not dance to her music, so Bob and I did get in a few telespringars.

I also quite enjoyed Megan Weeder's violin playing in Ansamble Mastika. I haven't heard her before, but she can make a violin weep and sigh more than a hunk of dead wood has any right to. It amazes me to think that the same instrument in the hands of that Hungarian/Romanian violinist could instead produce the above-mentioned chicken sounds.

And Phaedon is back in NYC! He's back from Turkey, he's back from Iceland, he's back from wherever else he's been, and of course he plays as beautifully as ever. He probably plays even more beautifully than ever, but his skill level was already far above my ability to comprehend, so I wouldn't know. Anyway, I unfortunately didn't hear him on qanun, and I even missed his kemence performance because the schedules got out of synch, but I did manage to hear his new instrument, listed in the program as a "bass kemence," which is actually a new thing invented by some crazy dude in Australia. It's like a cross between a kemence and a yayli tambur. Now let's not waste any time imagining the mechanics of how these things were crossed on what I assume is a ranch in some isolated part of Australia. It must have been like crossing a chihuahua and a great dane. Anyway, the end result has a loooong neck fretted in microtones like a yayli tambur, but a much prettier body made of wood like a kemence, which contains a fragile cone like a stereo speaker. This instrument must be the product of a threesome involving some electronics equipment.

You know, I have to say that despite this bass kemence's gorgeous looks, I think I prefer the sound of the metal and plastic body of the yayli tambur. It might look like a device for making popcorn over a very large, very hot bonfire, but it has an otherworldy sound you just don't get from wood instruments, even ones with speaker cones hidden inside them.

For a more traditional musical experience, I checked out Eletfa. I so rarely get a chance to hear Hungarian music. I got there early, and saw a guy teaching Hungarian couple dance right near the beer line. It was pretty crowded, as you might expect from a place offering free beer, and became even more crowded, because more people, including me, were trying to watch the lesson.

The teacher was wearing a white peasant shirt with bright embroidery on it, so he must have known what he was doing. He was grabbing people and throwing them around in what he assured us was the traditional Hungarian way, and was dissatisfied with what slow learners we were.

He grabbed me and threw me around, but criticised the way I held on to his shoulderblades. I confess that I may not have been giving his shoulderblades the attention they deserved, because most of my attention was engaged in trying to minimize the damage I did to the people and chairs he kept hurling me into. I suppose I wasn't knocking over chairs in an authentically Hungarian style, but that probably comes with practice. All in all, I wasn't too upset at the thought that I had just given this guy my cold.

With this preparation, Bob and I boldly took the dance floor and faked our way through several dances. We must not have been doing them right, since we didn't kick anyone or knock over any furniture, but we had a great time nonetheless.

Souren Baronian's band played after that, and I so wished I had the energy to belly dance or line dance or anything, but I was pretty darn exhausted after the Hungarian band, so I just sat down and just listened.

Let's see, what else was remarkable? Romashka is a great Russian/Romanian gypsy band, that almost has a punk/ska sort of sound. The dance floor was packed with people who clearly agreed with me, as there was all sorts of boisterous jumping and flailing going on. Occasionally the dancers would coalesce into a cocek or something, but then would break up again into a frenzied mob. Again, I couldn't sit down, but had to dance. I bought their CD. I'm afraid to play it until I have the energy to dance properly to it.

The a cappella group Yasna Voices sang in that gorgeous, and ear-splitting Balkan vocal style. You know a singer's good when you need earplugs for their unamplified concert. It reminded me that I don't sing much these days, and I should.

To end the evening, or rather morning, since it was about 3:00 by then, I danced to Raquy and the Cavemen. Raquy runs a tight ship, I must say. She gets her drummers to do things that approach the complexity of Seido's improvisations, but they do it in perfect synchrony. I was also delighted to hear Daphna Mor, whom I've never heard before, play two recorders at once, to haunting and thrilling effect. It's funny that with all these gadulkas and zurlas and whatnot at the festival, I could be so impressed by a couple of recorders, but that's how well she played them.

Raquy also played what she called an Iranian kemenche, but you know, judging from the style of the carvings on the wood body, I'd say it was clearly made by the same Australian who made Phaedon's bass monstrosity, so I suspect it was pretty different from the traditional Iranian instrument. It sounded great. I danced, and used up the last dregs of energy I hadn't known I'd had.

Today, I slept. I should probably do more of that.
Sun, January 15, 2006 - 11:37 PM — permalink - 4 comments - add a comment

A Tale of Suspense
I'm back in NYC! Sorry to all my faithful readers who were eagerly anticipating my reports from the frozen north, but it was just getting way too bleak up in Ithaca. Once I finished chopping the ice off the sidewalk, there wasn't much to do. Yes, I could have sat at home and learned new tunes, but I kept thinking about all the fun I was missing in NYC, so I'm back. I'm at my sister's place in Sunnyside this time. The family that offers-family-members-crash-space stays together.

My Moon was great tonight. There was a special guest jazz trumpeter, so
we had trumpet, hurdy gurdy, and cumbus trading solos and backing each other up, while we were all riding the waves of these well-trained drummers. It made me think about what I can do with hg as accompaniment, not just lead all the time, but more interesting than just droning. I think there's a lot more I can do with this. Then My Moon fed us lamb and rice. Yum.

It was a bit of an adventure getting back, because the L train, which is the only train groovy enough for Williamsburg, wasn't running at all, so I and other L-train riders had to walk all the way to the G train, through the drizzle. Then I had to get out of the subway system and walk a few yards outside through more drizzle to transfer to the 7, all the time wondering: would my metrocard remember that I'd just taken the G, and give me a free transfer, or would I get charged again? It was very suspenseful. It turned out that I got a free transfer after all. I'm impressed that a system this complicated works at all.
Wed, January 4, 2006 - 11:19 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Zlatne Uste Golden Festival
I'm really looking forward to the Zlatne Uste Golden Festival:
Dear reader, if your tastes are exotic enough to enjoy my blog, then you'd probably enjoy this festival too. Two long nights of dance music from the Balkans and Middle East, with the odd Scandianvian fiddler thrown in for variety. Plus ethnic snacks that you will burn off very quickly by dancing. What could be better?
Thu, December 29, 2005 - 12:26 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

All My Fault
As soon as I stop busking in the NYC subway, all the transit workers go on strike. I had no idea they were such devoted fans. I hereby offer my sincere apologies to all the New Yorkers I've inconvenienced.

Don't worry, I plan to return to NYC soon. I had such a fabulous time! My blog entries got a bit sparse there for a while, but that was because I was having too much fun to write about it. Now that I'm back home in Ithaca, I have time to write. Actually, I should be out in the bitter cold, chopping through the ice in front of the house, trying to find the sidewalk, but I've done hours of that already and my muscles are sore, even in my hurdy-gurdy-thickened arm. I keep expecting a polar bear to surface for air through one of the holes I chop through the ice.

But as for NYC. Where to begin? Well, busking in the subway was great. It's so wonderful to see the surprise and delight in people's eyes as they hear me, and even see dancing break out spontaneously on the platform.

Then there was the nightlife. I made a habit of walking to Mezzo Mezzo every Thursday to dance to Jerry's exquisite qanun playing, (and heckle him for his hackneyed shtick)
and enjoy Dick, Ismail, and Rami's great electric oud, accordion, and doumbek playing, respectively. They also feature a very talented belly dance performer every week, who always humbled me with her skill. I mean, in Ithaca, I'm thought of as a good belly dancer, but there's so much more I can learn just from watching these great NYC dancers (and then practicing their very difficult moves.)

Mezzo Mezzo is a small enough place that everyone there has gotten to know me, and greets me happily when I show up. (Including the sketchy guy, but he seems harmless.)

On the walk back from Mezzo Mezzo, I noticed a place that advertised live Greek music on Tuesday nights, with bouzouki played by a George Somebody and keyboards played by a George Somebodyelse. I'm not a big keyboard fan, but I figured that it might be worth checking out anyway, since it's in the neighborhood. Oddly enough, this poster was illustrated by a picture of two bleached blondes with lots of black eyemakeup. Neither of them looked like a George. Then I noticed that the sign was on a strip club. Maybe I should direct the sketchy guy to this establishment.

And that's just the local Astoria entertainment. I also made a habit of going to My Moon in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Wednesdays, where the cutting-edge belly dance band, Djinn, plays. I ate a delicous grilled octopus salad, then partook of the free belly dance lesson by the amazing Sera. She keeps the class moving the whole time, and doesn't waste too much time explaining things. I really like that style, and will use it if I start teaching belly dance again.

Then there's open dancing, during which time the rest of Sera's students sit down, leaving me all alone on the dance floor. What's up with that? How can anyone sit still to the fabulous music of Carmine, Bryan, Brad, and special guest Pete? It's cumbus, oud, doumbeks, djembe, and looping beatbox! What's not to like?

Then Sera and another special guest dancer perform. Wow. Sera's tribal performances are amazing. Now, I thought that tribal dance requires, like, a tribe, but she performs solo at My Moon. Whatever, it's great. She looks like the high priestess of the cult of the snake goddess, performing the ceremonial dance.

After a few dance performances by Sera and another dancer, which included the amazing Kaeshi and Sarah, the audience can't sit still any longer, so finally everyone gets up and dances. I don't know what takes them so long.

But wait! There's more! Djinn asked me to sit in with them on hurdy gurdy the last two Wednesdays, and at the hafla Friday! That's right, a cumbus, oud, doumbek, djembe, looping beatbox, and hurdy gurdy band. This is, of course, the traditonal music of the snake-worshiping people of Outer Doumbekistan. The dancers loved it. And man, it was so much fun to get to jam with these great musicians. Djinn is one tight band, that can improvise breaks and changes in telepathic unison. I've felt this kind of teamwork in my other band, Jiggermeister, and I've missed it, since Jiggermeister has reunion gigs infrequently. It's a good feeling. Also, it was a nice change to be able to improvise, backed by the support of these great drummers holding down the rhythm. That freed me from my usual musical responsibilities that I have when I'm playing solo, so I could experiment and get much more creative. (Always staying true to the musical traditions of Outer Doumbekistan, of course.) One question: if I'm playing taksims in Hungarian scales, how come people keep saying they like my Celtic music?! If people keep saying this, I'm going to start playing actual Irish jigs at belly dance events, and then they'll be sorry.

Then we played Andrea and Carmine's hafla Friday, and that was lots of fun. Melissa the Clarinet Player showed up all the way from Pittsburg.

Dang, running out of time on this library computer again. To be continued.
Wed, December 21, 2005 - 12:09 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

"Extra Cash for Writing Your Blog?"
Some of my faithful readers may have noticed that I mention various products in this blog, like mora pulp, origami, hurdy gurdies, etc. I want you to know that this product placement has nothing to do with this:
Is that scary or what?

Now I think I'll have a nice cold bottle of S'nipple, (tm), "Made from stuff on earth, and other natural flavors," manufactured by Peace and Love Groovy Hippie Products, a division of Acme Pet Foods, Industrial Adhesives, and Nuclear Waste Disposal, a subsidiary of Halliburton. Ah, the kiwi-mora flavor is so sweet and refreshing.
Sat, December 3, 2005 - 5:43 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Frozen Mora Pulp
I'm back in NYC, having a great time busking in the subway, yadda yadda yadda, you know the routine.

But I wanted to take this blog opportunity to write about how much fun it is to go grocery shopping in NYC. I like to buy a new species or two on every shopping trip.

The little supermarket on the corner has all sorts of exciting things. The fresh produce is amazing, I think because they cater to immigrants who haven't yet lost their taste for fresh fruits and vegetables as most Americans have. The collard greens are always fresh, and they have all these fresh herbs I've never seen before. I think I'll google the herbs before I buy them, since I don't even know if they're edible, or just meant for perfume or something.

And then there are all the things in jars. I got a jar of "Siwe Green Olives in hot souc" that taste like what you'd get if you tried making saurkraut out of olives and hot red peppers. Yum! I'd like to take a jar of this stuff back to Ithaca, but it would be such a disaster if the jar broke, I don't dare.

But today, I braved a part of the supermarket I'd never entered before. The innermost chamber of this temple of food is guarded by two whole creatures, possibly goats, who have been stripped of their skins and hang by their ankles from the ceiling, baring their teeth and staring at passerby with accusing, lidless eyeballs. They're enough to turn one into a vegetarian.

But today, I bravely charged past these guardians and discovered the frozen food section. They have frozen mora pulp! I have no idea what mora pulp is, but, working on the assumption that it must be good if someone bothered to freeze some and ship it all the way here from whatever country it's from, I bought some. I bought some frozen guayaba pulp while I was at it. (And, I'm almost ashamed to admit, some ordinary frozen peas.) The pulps had recipes on the back for making shakes with ice and sugar, so they apparently don't require any cooking. I broke off some hunks of frozen pulp and ate them, and they were very flavorful, well worth shipping all the way here. I can see adding them to yogurt.

I googled mora, and it almost defeated me. I finally found a forum where people were asking each other what it was, and the general consensus seemed to be that it was something in the blackberry and raspberry family. It tastes intense like a berry. It must be full of healthful antioxidants.

If this is my last blog entry, you'll know why.
Mon, November 28, 2005 - 7:58 PM — permalink - 5 comments - add a comment

Too Hot for Buffalo
I just got back from Jiggermeister's "Too Hot for Buffalo" tour. Hot damn it was fun. We played for three days, in three towns (Skaneateles, Buffalo, and Owego) at three dances. Those little towns didn't know what hit them. We still have old magic, even if we haven't practiced together since our DC tour back in August.

Michael, the newest Jiggermeister member, is weird enough to make me seem normal. He played exquisite, crystalline hammered dulcimer, then switched to raunchy trombone or mind-altering didgeridoo, and made the dancers scream. Lots of bands have one weirdo, but now Jiggermeister has two, which is even better.

Greg's bass playing is get-down funky. Bill's fiddling keeps feet moving. And Andrew... Everything that comes out of Andrew's accordion boggles the mind, even his mind sometimes. He has way more than his fair shair of talent.

It's great to hear Andrew call out jazz chords to Greg, and hear Greg catch them instantaneously, when I know that almost any other musician would just say, "What? An diminished minor seventh augmented eleventh E flat? In an old-timey fiddle tune in D? Are you out of your mind?" Or whatever. Not that I know jazz chords, or any chords for that matter, since I deal exclusively in percussion, drones, and melody. But I'm pretty sure that Andrew was calling out some mighty strange chords, since I've been in bands before, and I've never heard any mention of an eleventh, augmented or otherwise, except from Andrew.

But Greg caught all these chords instantly, and then threw back to Andrew the rhythm to play these chords in. Those were some mighty strange rhythms, too. Not Balkan strange, but as syncopated as a 4/4 or 6/8 could get.

And I got to drum! I've hardly touched my doumbek or riq since, well, since our DC tour in August, but I still had my chops. I didn't bring any percussion instruments to NYC for my busking trip, and I missed them.

I haven't been practicing fife either, because they require breathing, and I hadn't been doing that too well recently. I could tell that what chops I'd had on fife were fading fast. Well, at least my bronchitis seems to be over now, so I can get back to practicing winds.

My hurdy gurdy playing was great, if I do say so myself. I've certainly been doing lots of practicing. It felt so cool to hear my renaissance tunes supported by these jazz chords. Not "authentic" by anyone's standards, but it sounded fabulous, and that's what counts.

Now, if only I could convice the rest of the band to quit their day jobs and tour full time...

I'd planned to return to NYC today to busk some more, but decided to spend a day resting, shoveling the pile of mail that accumulated during my NYC trip, raking leaves, etc. I'll return soon, though.
Mon, November 21, 2005 - 4:57 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Dancing Underground
I had a pretty good day today. I surfed a little in the morning looking for interesting music tonight, but I couldn't find venues with open dancing, just some live Middle Eastern bands with belly dance performances. That can be nice, but watching other people dance is sort of like watching other people eat. It's not as much fun as doing it yourself.

It was chilly and threatened rain, so I did the subway, mostly W4 St, which was too hot, but had lots of friendly people and no other musicians.

The guy with lots of buckets came by and said hi just as I was getting tired (I'd played for 6 hours, hardly realizing the time was flying by) so I gave the space to him. He set up, and he was great. Some bucket players just sit there playing drum-machine-rhythm-number-one, but he was creative, yet solid, thus very dancable. So I stashed my stuff next to him and danced for a little while. It was perfect, just what I'd been looking for: live dance music. Best of all, there is no official proper traditional way to dance to bucket music, (that I know of) so I just did whatever I felt like. There was a little Irish and a little Brazilian in there. I always like it when people dance to my music in the subway, and the bucket player did too. He said I looked like Riverdance.

A woman said she really enjoyed watching me dance. I invited her to join me, but she didn't. Oh well.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned, it was very hot, which wasn't ideal for dancing, and also, I'd run out of water a while before. My throat got really sore and I started coughing again, so I had to stop dancing and go home in a hurry to get some water. Well, I've been in worse clubs.

Today isn't the perfect example, but despite that, I was thinking on my way home how much I really enjoy this. Every day is different, but every day I make people happy, while making myself happy. What could be better than that?
Tue, November 15, 2005 - 8:00 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Flamingly Fruity
I'm back! I busked in Union Square Park today, and the whole universe conspired to make the day as wonderful as possible.

Friends are an essential part of a good day, so the universe provided them. As soon as I got to the park, an origami artist (an artist who makes origami, not an artist made of...) who remembered me from before invited me to play next to him, so that was a welcoming start to the day.

Then my friend Carmine came by on his way to the Farmers Market to buy honey for meadmaking. As usual, Carmine told me about all sorts of fabulous music and dance happenings. I hope I can make it to some of them.

My hurdy gurdy was perfectly in tune after all that inactivity, and I played it well if I do say so myself. The crowd, which seemed to include an unusually high percentage of adorable little children, loved it.

Then a very polite young man came by, and introduced himself as a fellow street performer, of the juggling variety. He asked if I would mind moving to a different spot, since his show requires a large area, like the one I was in, while my music doesn't require such a large area. When I asked, he even scouted out a different spot for me, and came back with the news that it was available.

Now, that's like a textbook example of the way buskers should behave. I was happy to give up my spot for one that was just as good for my purposes, in order to give him a spot that was much better for his purposes. I went to the other spot and did just as well there, entertaining the adorable children etc.

After a while, my hands got cold, and also, I seemed to be coughing up pieces of lung that I might need later. This bronchitis is not giving up easily. So I packed up and headed back to my first spot to see how the juggler was doing.

He was just starting a show, and making good use of all that space. He had a huge crowd circled around him, for good reason, as he was fabulous with a capital fab. He was also doing some illegal things, using fire and a microphone and amplifier, but he was putting them to good use, so I didn't mind. Amplifiers are like nuclear power or bagpipes or anything of that nature: they must never be allowed to fall into the wrong hands. In the right hands, they can be a force for great good.

His amplified voice had an accent that he hadn't had when speaking to me earlier. It was partly Italian, but all performer. He said he was from the United Socialist Republic Kingdom of Where People Live. I might steal that.

He did the usual things: careening around on a two-meter unicycle while juggling a flaming torch, a machete, and an apple, while eating the apple, that sort of thing. He did them very well. He also had great shtick, most of which I'd never seen before. He pulled a lovely assistant from the audience to hold his torches for him, then had her boyfriend, in a fit of jealous rage, kill him with a banana. Then the boyfriend had to sing along to Queen's "Mama, I just killed a man..." which was coming out of the amplifier. The boyfriend had absolutely no inclination or talent for theater, but that made it funnier. Maybe you had to be there. There's a promo video on his website:
but he's better live, of course.

After his show, and after he passed his hat (he needs a bigger hat) two cops came up to him, disturbingly. Sure, he had broken laws, but, well... I would much rather have the cops harass the busker who'd set up a little ways away from him during his show. It was that lite pop singer with the yellow #5-colored hair and the painfully loud karaoke machine again. Her amplifier seems a lot more dangerous than his fire, since it can really damage people's hearing.

But all the cops did was ask for his ID, and then they let him off with a warning that fire is dangerous. He probably knew that already, so no harm was done.

Also in the crowd was that throat singer I'd met in the subway a while ago, so we renewed our acquaintance, and he invited me to play with him at a club on the 22. That'll be fun!

After all this excitement, I considered busking more, or dancing to Bruce Sagan's beautiful fiddling at a folkdance in Brooklyn, but I decided to take my bronchitis home for the night and give it some tea. If tomorrow is anywhere near as wonderful as today, I want to have energy for it.
Mon, November 14, 2005 - 5:20 PM — permalink - 3 comments - add a comment

Grumble grumble
This post isn't worth reading, it's just an explanation of why I haven't been out and about and writing interesting blog entries about my exciting adventures. My cough is sure taking its time about leaving, and it would look pretty darn pathetic for me to be out there busking with an awful cough. I googled it, and it sounds like this is no ordinary cold, but in fact, acute bronchitis. It's probably viral, so antibiotics wouldn't do me any good. I'm doing what the websites advise, resting and drinking lots of fluids. This does not make for interesting blog entries. Sorry. Go read someone else's blog.
Thu, November 10, 2005 - 9:50 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

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Latest Illegal Dance News
Here's a precis from Paul Chevigny, the lawyer who's trying to legalize dance in New York City. It looks like all it depends the New York State Supreme Court at this point, since the city is not backing down.


Dancers Sue for Dance as Free _Expression, to End the Cabaret Law Restrictions in N ew York City

For almost eighty years, zoning and licensing codes in New York City, known as the "cabaret laws," have restricted the places where people can dance with one another. Originally, in 1926, the codes restricted both dancing and live music; it was all part of an effort to keep down the good times, especially in the Harlem clubs, where people danced to live music. After more than sixty years, at the end of the eighties, the courts finally declared the cabaret restrictions unconstitutional as applied to live music. The free _expression rights of the musicians under the First Amendment, the courts found, were more important than the cabaret restrictions. Following that decision, the zoning authorities in the city acted to free live music from most restrictions, while clamping down even tighter on social dancing. Only a few zones, mostly in isolated places, are available for social dancing. That is the reason that one so often sees dance clubs in isolated, forbidding places that are deserted at night; those are among the few zones where the city will allow dancing.

At the same time, coincidentally, in a 1989 case from Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to recognize a First Amendment expressive interest in social dance. The Court purported to distinguish social dance from "performance" dance for an audience. Unfortunately, lower federal courts occasionally picked up the suggestion and continued to hold that social dance has no First Amendment protection.

In the nineties and in the new century, dancing became increasingly popular in the city, just at the time when the Giuliani administration was cracking down on all violations of law, however minor. Some of the fines against the clubs for unlicensed dancing were enormous, as they still are; as much as $10, 000 for a second summons. And the clubs are often padlocked by the authorities, to make the penalty for allowing dancing even more draconian.

The crackdown provoked protest from social-dance enthusiasts, including protest dances in the streets, as well as horror stories about the economic and legal problems of the clubs. Since the tragedy of September 11, 2001, night life has become more quiet, and the protest has died down a little. But under Mayor Bloomberg the crackdown abated only slightly. Places that allow dancing without a license are liable to be shut down and suffer a crushing fine.

Dancers have finally decided to strike a blow for the freedom to dance. In June, 2005, four social dancers and a non-profit club that sponsors dances brought a case in state Supreme Court to enjoin the zoning and licensing restrictions on social dancing under the city's cabaret laws. The dancers are John Festa, a well-known swing dancer who sponsors a weekly West Coast swing dance in local clubs, Meredith Stead, a ballroom dancer and formerly a dance teacher, Byron Cox, a house dancer, and Ian Dutton, a Goth who helps to sponsor a monthly dance important to Goth culture; the plaintiff club is the Gotham West Coast Swing Club.

The case is brought under the free _expression provisions of the New York State Constitution, and not under the federal First Amendment. In the past, the New York courts have found that the protection for _expression is broader under New York law than it is under federal law, and the New York courts have never passed upon social dancing under the state's Constitution. The plaintiffs are asking the state court to see what is obvious to dancers: that social dancing is extraordinarily expressive for the dancers, that it is an ancient and basic form of human aesthetic _expression. In addition, the dancers point out that music as we know it would not exist without the inspiration of social dancing, and that the same thing is true of dancing on the stage. Well-known stage dancers and choreographers, such as Peter Martins of the New York City Ballet, and the choreographers Lynne Taylor-Corbett and Mercedes Elllington have come forward to testify and support the case. Well-known musicians, musicologists and dance-historians have also given testimony for the plaintiffs.

The city is not giving in. After the plaintiffs moved for an injunction, the city moved to dismiss the case; the plaintiffs' lawyers, Paul Chevigny, Norman Siegel and Stephen Hyman have answered that motion and are waiting for further papers from the city. At the end of November, the case will go to Justice Michael Stallman to decide whether it ought to be tried.

This is a case of the most dramatic importance for those who love or even care for social dance. The federal courts have taken a wrong turn. We are in danger of a legal situation in which it will become accepted law that there is no free _expression interest in social dance. It is essential to act, at last, to turn the tide so that the expressive importance of dance is recognized. Finally, it is important to create more free space for dancing in New York City, so that the dancing spirit of New Yorkers as well as visitors can flourish. It is a scandal that, in a great city of a country that prides itself on being a free society, there should be antiquated, puritanical restrictions on a basic form of human _expression.
Mon, November 7, 2005 - 2:37 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Forbidden Dance
I've been moping around the apartment with a cold, with little to do but cough, websurf and get indignant about things like this:

Basically, any form of dance is illegal in almost every venue in NYC. I'm not making this up. The cabaret law, written in 1926 to prevent interracial dancing, is still in effect, and occasionally enforced. I emailed the NYU law professor who's working to get this law off the books, and it is for real.

As my earlier blog posts show, I'm usually a stickler for the letter of the law, but I've got to be an outlaw when it comes to this. At least, I will be an outlaw, when I'm less contagious and capable of going out dancing again.
Fri, November 4, 2005 - 4:35 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

"You don't look like an American."
I haven't blogged for a while, so now I have this backlog of stories. But tomorrow, I'll be sharing this apartment with someone who is even more of an internet addict than I am, so if I have something to say, I'd better say it now, since I don't know when I'll next get on the computer.

The main thing I have to say is that busking in NYC has been wonderful. New Yorkers are so friendly, curious, and delighted to hear me play, and they've also been so interesting and talented themselves, it's been an almost perfect experience.

Almost. The rest of this post will be a kvetch. Sorry. When something is this close to perfect, I compulsively want to fix the one thing that's wrong, and maybe if enough people read this, that will help fix it.

Many times a day, people ask me where I'm from. I always tell them the truth, Queens, because that's where I was born, and also where I stay when I visit the city.

Often, they accept that, and move on to other questions, like "Where did you learn how to play this instrument?" and we have a conversation.

But very often, they say, "No, I mean what country?" and I know that the conversation is doomed. I have this conversation many times a day, every day I'm out in public, and no matter what I say, I can't seem to stop it from ending badly.

I'm aware that not everyone is well versed in geography, so I gently inform my questioners that Queens is a borough of New York City, which is part of the United States of America. They never like that answer. They ask, "But what country are you from?"

Not everyone is trained in logic, so I gently explain that I was born in Queens, and Queens is in America, therefore I'm an American. They don't like that answer either. Once (and only once, and in Iowa) someone actually said, "But you can't be an American; your skin's too dark."

That was Iowa, but just yesterday, in Manhattan, someone said almost the same thing: "But you don't look like an American."

That was just too tempting. I asked her, "What do Americans look like?"

She just said, "Well, you know," as if everyone knew what Americans look like, and it wasn't even worth explaining why I clearly wasn't one. She just persisted in her question, asking what country I was from, and persisted in not believing me when I kept telling her the truth.

I thought of saying, "You callin' me a liar?" in a cowboy movie voice. I thought of asking her if she spoke English, since she seemed to be having trouble understanding me. I thought of explaining that my father was born in Manhattan, and my mother, although raised in New Jersey, was born in Brooklyn. But I've tried that sort of thing before, and it never does any good. To some people, it doesn't matter where I was born, rasied, and vote, or even where my parents were born, raised and vote. No one who looks like me can possibly be an American, and nothing I say can convince them otherwise.

In the past, my questioners just get more and more angry and insistent. After all, from their point of view, I'm not only a foreigner, I'm also lying about it, so I'm obviously up to no good. I sometimes tried to placate them by tracing my ancestry back until I got to somone who wasn't born in America, and they always victoriously cried, "Oh! So that explains it!" where "it" refers to the music I'm playing, the dance I'm dancing, what I'm having for lunch, or the shape of my eyebrows. Naming the country of origin of one ancestor completely satisfies them, and they say something along the lines of, "I knew you weren't an American. But you know, you do speak English surprisingly well." Then they walk away before I can list a different ancestor from a different country. I never feel that that's a satisfactory conclusion to the conversation.

But yesterday, I didn't have to attempt any of those futile arguments, because I had a big loud hurdy gurdy in my lap! Man I love my hurdy gurdy. Just try to ask me a question over that racket, I dare you.

But not everyone has a hurdy gurdy, and I'm sure I'm not the only one being pestered like this. Do blonds get this all the time too? "You can't be an American, because you're too pale. You must be a Viking." I shouldn't assume I'm being singled out when I haven't done a survey or anything.

I played for a while longer, and then I had a delicious Vietnamese dinner with my friend Baraka, and then we researched what Americans look like by watching the Halloween parade. Americans, apparently, have enormous fake boobs.
Tue, November 1, 2005 - 8:21 PM — permalink - 8 comments - add a comment

Festively Fried
This blog entry won't be as interesting as some of my previous ones, because there are no cops in it.

I took two whole days off, and didn't even touch my hurdy gurdy. My left hand has been bothering me, for variety. Once upon a time, when I first started playing, my right hand was the limiting factor. I couldn't play for more than a minute, literally, without my hand giving out. Then my hand and wrist got stronger, so I could play for several minutes, until my upper arm gave out. It took a while to get my arm this thick, and then various obscure muscles in my right shoulder and back were the ones that got tired. Now the pain has worked its way all the way across to my left hand. I'm looking forward to the day when I can shoot pain out of my left fingertips like a superhero.

I spent those two days off seriously loafing. I went out to see a belly dance performance, and learned a very important lesson: Make sure your skirt is tight enough that it doesn't keep sliding down. This is particularly important if the top of your skirt is V-shaped in front. Not that I'm using some Taliban rulebook that mandates that women must be covered at all times, but that sort of costume is more apropriate for a different dance.

I also went for very long walks, WITHOUT a hurdy gurdy on my back, through interesting neighborhoods (although many shops are closed during daylight hours, I suppose because of Ramadan). I saw a sign advertising live Greek music on Tuesday nights, played by George Somebody on bouzouki and George Somebodyelse on keyboards. I'm not too into keyboards, but I thought hey, it's close, so it might be worth checking out some Tuesday. Oddly, this sign was illustrated with pictures of two bleached blonde bimbos with lots of black eyeliner. Neither of them looked like a George. Then I realized that the sign was on a strip club.

I wasted too much time on tribe, and also banged my head against the computer, trying to get my website back up. Aargh. I had my site on a host called Fatcow, which, aside from the stupid name, made it awkward to upload sound files, for fear I was pirating music. So I decided to move the registration and hosting of site to a different and cheaper host, with the only marginally better name of Godaddy. Then all hell broke lose. Somehow, Fatcow dropped my site without Godaddy picking it up. Now I have no site, so all the business cards I've been handing out aren't relevant to anyone who wants to contact me. Grumble grumble. Godaddy and Fatcow are supposedly working on this, but I think they're just hanging out together and sniggering.

It's raining again, so today I shouldered my hurdy gurdy and burrowed underground. And you know, my hurdy gurdy threw a fit. I think it resented the two days of neglect. I spent the first fifteen minutes just trying to get the thing to sound decent. I'd start a tune, attract an interested crowd, then stop and shim scraps of paper under the bass string. Start another tune, stop and change cotton on the chanters. Start another tune, stop and adjust the tangents. I was pretty proud of myself for getting it sounding good eventually though, and man, people were loving it. It was a whole festival down there in the subway. A churro seller settled down just a few yards from me, crying "Churros churros churros!" whenever there weren't cops around. Fried food isn't the worst thing the subway can smell like. Also a few yards from me, a woman laid out a blanket and covered it with DVDs, as a form of art I suppose. It was like an outdoor festival, on a really, really overcast day.

Once I got going, I really rocked. I think I played much better than I did before I took my days off, and if the tips I was getting were any indication, the crowd thought so too. I was taking more risks than usual, having fun trying to play tunes I've never played before, with mixed success. Some klezmer tunes sound like they were made for hurdy gurdy.

After four hours, my left hand was complaining, so I very grudgingly stopped playing and went home. I feel like there's a lot more work to do on these klezmer tunes, but I can wait until tomorrow I suppose. I really hope this pain that's been moving to the left leaves soon. I'm being more careful now than I was back when the pain was on my right side, because playing hurdy gurdy is more important to me now, and I don't want to risk losing the ability because of some stupid injury. My fans would never forgive me.
Sat, October 22, 2005 - 6:36 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Shake it up
I started in Union Square today, but I've been playing there a lot, so I've been thinking I should try someplace new. I was helped along in in this decision by a brass band at Union Square today. A drum kit, four trumpets, two trombones, and a tuba, and man, they were as good as they were loud. They're called Hypnotic, they played all original material, and they were really energetic and together. I bought one of their CDs.

But they were occupying all the auditory space, so after listening for a while, I headed south a few blocks to Washington Square Park. There were only a few guitarists when I got there, so I set up pretty far from them, and got an enthusiastic crowd. Then a guitarist/singer with an amp started doing Beatles covers. He was far enough away that he didn't prevent me from playing, but close enough to be annoying. I thought the brass band playing loud originals was way cool, but amplifying a guitar to play covers of old pop tunes just seems like cheating twice.

But none of this is the most interesting part of the day. The interesting part was when a cheerful orthodox Jewish-looking guy, carrying a festive maypole-like stick, and a very large lemon, asked me if I was Jewish. Looking back at that sentence, it seems sort of confusing, but whatever, I'll tidy it up when I put my memoirs in a book.

So anyway, the Jew, not the lemon, asked me if I was Jewish, so I said no, and he went away, taking his maypole and lemon with him, so I changed my answer and said yes. He came back. Once he ascertained that I was right handed, he put the stick in my left hand and the lemon in my right, and had me repeat some Hebrew after him. It had those fun throat-clearing sounds. Then --get this-- he turned the lemon upside down in my hand, and had me repeat some more Hebrew. Then (this is the best part) I got to shake the stick! It was actually mostly a young palm frond, so all the leaflets unfolded and folded with a rattling sound as I shook it. I shook it to the left, I shook it to the right, as the Jew sang "Shake it up baby."

He may have been making the whole ceremony up. But of course, someone made it up at some time.

Afterwards, he went around asking everyone in my crowd if they were Jewish, so mispronounced Hebrew and rattling palm fronds really added a lot to the atmosphere as I played. It was way cool. I played the one klezmer tune I know, and then some Arabic and Turkish stuff, which I figure is close enough.

But he went away eventually, and a sax player and a drummer started up very close to me. They were both playing free jazz, I guess you could tactfully call it, so I couldn't tell if they were playing together or not. I packed up and wandered around to see what the applause on the other side of the park was about. A good poet was reciting, accompanied by a guy who was half playing flute and half beatboxing. That was cool, but I was getting hungry, so I left. The city will still be interesting tomorrow.
Tue, October 18, 2005 - 5:36 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Yet another cop story
I don't have a thing for men in uniform, really I don't, but a lot of the most interesting events in my day involve cops. Here's one from today in Union Square.

A cop was lurking around, making me sort of nervous. But when he came up to me, his only question was, "How are you bending notes on a keyboard instrument?" So I showed him, and he was fascinated.

He came by again several hours later, and asked what note my drones were playing. He's a guitarist, and he's recording an album, and he's thinking of writing a song that will include hurdy gurdy. I gave him my card.

I should write about more than just cops. There was a little old lady in the park yesterday slowly dragging what I swear looked like a furry caterpillar on a leash. She was quite literally dragging it, because if this creature had legs at all, they were so short as to be useless.
Mon, October 17, 2005 - 6:31 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Cop education
I don't want to write in this blog only when I'm being hassled by confused cops, because that would give the wrong impression. Today, I busked in Union Square, and had a great time. The only "problem" was the fact that there were more musicians than spots, and I hardly call that a problem.

There was a phenomenally good vibes player. I'd never seen one live in the wild before. His instrument was a total workout, because first he had to cart the huge heavy thing around, to build up muscle mass, and then his arms danced over it, darting all over incredibly fast, for the aerobic part of the workout. Sounded great too, with sweet aetherial tones.

I talked with him as he was setting up, when he was looking around nervously to see if there were any cops. Apparently, they'd harrased him a lot before. I can't imagine why. Now to be honest, I know that my hurdy gurdy is not to everyone's taste, so I can understand people asking me to move along, but his vibes sounded so sweet, I couldn't imagine anyone taking offence at it. Maybe the cops listened only to death metal, and couldn't stand anything sweeter.

But somehow, cops had harrassed him before, so he'd slunk away, and was nervous now. That was just wrong. I showed him the letter I got from the parks deparment, clearly outlining the rules. I keep it handy in my case, to whip out if a confused cop tries to harrass me.

The vibes player was greatly cheered to read it. He said he'd get his own, to show to the next cop who harrasses him. Buskers politely educating cops helps all of us.
Sat, October 15, 2005 - 7:38 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Confused Cops, Drummers
Much to report! I had a great time at Mezzo Mezzo last
night, dancing to the fabulous music of Carmine, among

I got a late start today, then busked accompanied by
Michael, a goth, on percussion. He did really well for
someone who didn't know a jig from a reel when we
started. He listened, and we were sounding great by
the time his recently-broken thumb gave out.

So I soldiered on alone, spreading joy throughout the
subway platform, when two cops came along and politely
said that I wasn't allowed to play on the platform.
This was news to me. I had a printed copy of the MTA
and in legalese here:
and interpreted here:
in my case, but it was under both my coat and a huge
pile of money, and I didn't think that it would
improve my relationship with these cops to let them
know that I was making more money than they were.

So I smiled and nodded, and waited for them to go
away. They went away. My crowd pleaded with me to keep
playing. They'd let several of their trains go by
without them, so they could stay and listen to me
play, and it only seemed fair to return the favor by
staying and playing for them.

But this spot was too valuable to defend. The strains
of an accordion signalled that it was time to go, so I
wandered, but dang, it was impossible to find a
platform that didn't have at least one musician on it
already. This is the wander: take a train to get to
another station, then go up and down stairs to
investigate all the platforms in that station. When
you find they're all full, take another train to
another station. This gets tiring, especially when
lugging a hurdy gurdy, a folding stool, a damp coat
and a dripping umbrella. I guess the other option is
to plunk myself down on a platform and try to drown
out the indigenous musician, but that seems so rude.

So I wandered. One platform had a singer-songwriter
with an in-tune guitar and lovely voice, competing
with an out-of-tune fiddler with an amp. Where are the
cops when you need them? That amp was clearly against
the rules. The out-of-tuneness was legal I suppose.

I heard a sax in a corridor, and I was going to
dismiss it as just another noodly free jazz player,
but I listened, and discovered that he was in an
actual key, and an actual meter. He was, in fact,
great. I put a dollar in his sadly empty case.

He recognized me, I guess from the Golden Festival,
and we chatted. His name is Greg, and he's playing at
the upcoming Gypsy music festival:
I mentioned that I don't do well in corridors, because
everyone is running to get to the platform. It's on
the platform that they're standing around bored, and
want entertainment. He agreed, and said that he'd been
on a platform, but a pair of cops had told him he
wasn't allowed to play there. He'd been ticketed for
this once before, and had to go to an office to get
the thing dismissed. It had been easy to get it
dismissed, since he hadn't broken any actual rules,
only the imaginary rules made up by cops, but it had
been a hassle to have to go to an office, so he didn't
want to get ticketed again.

But this was too much talking, so I asked him to play
again, and he played a great tune in 7/8. A guy with a
djembe wandered by, and I mention that he was black
only because it's relevant later in the story.

The drummer was excited by the sax, so he started
banging on his djembe in some meter other than 7/8.
Now, 7/8 is a hard rhythm to hear if you're not
expecting it, and also, Greg was getting very
syncopated and ornamented, not making it easy for
anyone. So I tried to help the drummer out by clapping
out just the important beats, but that didn't help. So
I told him the rhythm was a seven, and he proudly
said, "That's a nigger rhythm. All rhythms come from
us," and strutted away. Well. What an honor to meet a
man who can take credit for all rhythms from all

Greg's playing made me wish I'd brought my drum, but I
hadn't, so I continued my wander. I eventually found a
musician-free platform. I had just opened my case when
a different pair of cops came by, and told me I wasn't
allowed to play there.

After all these warnings, I was ready. I whipped out
my copy of the rules, which don't mention that I'm not
allowed to play on the platform, although they do say
that I'm not allowed to play on or within: a subway
car; an omnibus; any area not generally open to the
public; twenty-five (25) feet of a token booth; or
fifty (50) feet from the marked entrance to an
Authority office or tower...

The sight of all these rules seemed to soothe the cop,
but he still insisted that I wasn't allowed to play on
the platform. I asked him if he had that written down
anywhere, because I, as a law-abiding citizen, love to
know what the rules are.

He rummaged through his ticket pad until he found a
checkable box that said I wasn't allowed to play a
radio on the platform. We then had a debate about the
definition of "radio." I also mentioned that my dear
old friend Greg had gotten a citation for playing his
sax on the subway--
"There, you see?" said the cop conclusively
--but this ticket had been dismissed, because it's
legal to play unamplified music on the platform.

The cop concluded the convesation by saying that he
was letting me off with a warning this time, but I'd
better pack it up anyway because the next cop might
not be so lenient. I think that's as close as cops get
to admitting they're wrong.
Fri, October 14, 2005 - 10:24 PM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Subway fun
Here I am in NYC. It hasn't stopped raining since I got here, and the wind is howling like a pack of wolves, but the subway is still a fine busking venue. Grey, dingy, and damp, but packed with people who enjoy a distraction from the grey dingy dampness. I even met another hurdy gurdy player, but he says he plays with his trompette turned off. Humph.

Yesterday, one fan liked my music so much, he sat on the floor right next to me for quite a while. He handed me several soggy dollar bills, said he loved my music, and made himself at home. He pulled a soggy cigar out of his soggy clothes, got it lit after several tries, and puffed away. Then he pulled out half a six-pack, tossed the plastic holder aside for his servants to pick up, and started swigging beer. He knocked over his beer can, flavoring the pre-existing puddles on the floor, but that was OK; he had two more cans.

He kept waving a soggy ten-dollar bill in the air and promising it to me. He said he was very rich, and would give me "cash money." I suppose, if you can afford a cigar, and enough beer to spill on the floor, and live music, and servants to pick up your trash for you, you are pretty rich.

One of my other fans, after giving me a dollar, gave another one to my rich fan on the floor beside me, and my rich fan promptly gave it to me. Where would we be without these wealthy patrons of the arts?

My hand got tired eventually, so I abandoned my wealthy patron, much to his disappointment. Leave 'em wanting more, as they say.

In other news, here's some sheet music that I think would be lovely arranged for hurdy gurdy:
Thu, October 13, 2005 - 9:06 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Off to NYC
I'm off to NYC today, where the powers that be have thoughtfully built a huge underground network of tunnels, just so buskers would have a performance space. Last winter, the denizens of these tunnels were very grateful that I was there to entertain them, so I'm heading back to entertain them once more.

The trouble is, when I spend eight hours a day or so in these dripping grey tunnels, I start feeling like one of those pale blind cave-dwelling creatures, some sort of newt or fish or ring-clutching ex-hobbit. I have to schedule some daytime trips to a greenhouse or something.

Hey NYC friends, send me an email if you want to get together.
Tue, October 11, 2005 - 9:54 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

161–170 of 174
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I'm on the (internet) radio
Is this cool or not? I'm actually not sure. Do people listen to internet radio? I guess people with fast connections do.

My new CD, Tunes From a Strange Land, is being played on:
the station that plays local bands. I've also sent CDs to a couple of local radio stations. This was at the prompting of the guy at Small World Music, a local record store that's stocking my CDs. He said that radio play helps him sell CDs.

This seems perilously close to the evils of The Music Industry, a monster with a bad reputation that I've decided to avoid. I think I'm safe as long as I don't start putting actual barcodes on my CDs.
Mon, September 26, 2005 - 8:01 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Surrounded by drummers
Here's the latest exciting episode of "What's That Noise?," the serial about the perils of busking.

So there I was on the Ithaca Commons again. The very nice folks at Shangri-La, a scarf and gift store, offered to retail my CDs for me. I'd sit outside and play, and direct people into the store to purchase my CD. Shangri-La gets a cut of course, but that's a lot cheaper than paying $200/month to city hall to sell them myself. Sheesh. This is quaint little Ithaca, not the most bustling of metropoli. For comparison, Cambridge, Mass charges musicians only $30/year or so to vend their CDs.

But anyway, the nice folks at Shangril-La not only agreed to sell my CDs for me, they also gave me a scarf, and not just any old scarf, but one made of real silk velvet. Have you ever petted real silk velvet? Ooooh.

Maybe this theme of people giving me clothes means I should dress better.

Anyhoo, I got to Shangri-La yesterday and found it mysteriously closed. Hmph. I busked anyway, attracting the usual crowd of happy listeners and suspiciously peering toddlers. I also apparently inspired this gothy punk dude to start hitting things with a couple of drumsticks. I didn't know drumsticks could be that loud without an actual drum.

Anyway, I tried to figure out if he was playing in some sort of rhythm, because he certainly wasn't playing in mine. I was not succesful. He seemed to be playing just as loud and fast as he possibly could, not playing an actual rhythm.

Then on the other side of me, this hippie dude started banging on a djembe or ashiko or something. This one at least had some sense of rhythm. He was playing THUD thud thud THUD thud thud THUD thud thud... etc. It at least was in the same meter as me (6/8) but that doesn't mean it went with what I was playing. I give him credit for listening enough to get the meter, but still, he wasn't listening enough to get the feel of the tune or catch breaks, or varying the rhythm to go with the different parts of the tune.

So there I was in between these two drummers, neither of whom was playing anything that went with what I was playing. Both of them were playing these completely filled-in rhythms, with no space in them at all. It sounded pretty darn awful, and I was losing my crowd.

I had to do something. As politely as I could, which I suppose wasn't very, I asked them to please go drum somewhere else, since I had gotten there first. The guy with the actual drum went off in a bit of a huff. The drumstick guy stuck around, but thankfully stopped whacking things with his sticks.

And peace prevailed in the land. After that, my hurdy gurdy sounded positively quiet. Mysteriously, no shopkeepers came out of their shops to thank me for getting rid of the two drummers. It's a thankless job, but someone has to do it.

When it was time to pack up and go home for dinner, I apologized to the the goth guy for stifling his creative expression, and he was cool about it. He said he's been meaning to get bongos or something. Oh dear. I wish I'd thought to recommend some drum teachers in the area. I'm sure I'll see him around again, so I can do that.

I let his spiky sister play my hurdy gurdy, and she treated it quite respectfully, not hitting it with sticks or anything. It sounded good and gothy when she played it. She discovered the joy of the diminished second and augmented fourth. She's looking forward to getting her own, but was discouraged by the prices I said were typical of decent instruments. She said she's saving her money. It looks like she's currently spending a lot of her money on spikes and leather, but maybe those are hand-me-downs from her brother.

Anyway, I'm glad there seems to be no ill-will there, at least. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to apologize to the hippy dude, who wasn't even as bad as the goth dude.
Tue, September 20, 2005 - 8:41 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Prize for rudest audience member
OK, I think I've found a winner: I was busking on the Ithaca Commons the other day, wondering if someone would say, "Hey, didn't I see you in the paper?" No one did. But I did get a nice audience, including several people who sat down to listen for a while.

So a good time was had by all, until a young woman came up behind me rather startlingly and said right in my ear, "Could you please stop playing? My kid is trying to sleep."

Of course, I said I would, and asked her where her kid was. I assumed this kid was in one of the apartments above me. This was about 4 in the afternoon, not a usual time for anyone to sleep, but I guess some kids like naps. The Commons would be an awful place to live if you're a light sleeper, since there's always something happening.

"Right there," the woman said, pointing to a baby carriage a few yards away from me.

I stared at the baby carriage for a little while. Like all baby carriages, it had wheels. I kept playing.

When I looked a little while later, the carriage was gone.
Fri, September 9, 2005 - 9:00 AM — permalink - 5 comments - add a comment

Thanks for that green silk dress
Here's a start at thanking people, in no particular order. I'd like to thank the woman who threw that green silk dress into my busking gourd at Pennsic. Now, the casual reader might not think that a dress could fit into a gourd, but this thing is made of such a delightful light silk, it hardly takes up any space, and could fit into a pocket. Imagine my delight as I unfolded it. In my youth, OK in my college years, I saw a simple green silk dress much like it in a store window and coveted it. Of course it was much too expensive for me to think of buying. Years later, it has appeared in my gourd!

The dress came with a charming note, but I can't read the signature, so the donor is perhaps more anonymous than she would wish. I would like to ask her some questions, like what era and country is it from? Also, as it's rather large for me, I hope the seamstress would not be offended if I hemmed it and perhaps modified the shoulders to fit me better. As my sewing skills are negligable, I would ask for help from a more talented sewing friend before making any alterations.

So, that's the beginning of my thank-yous. There are more to come.
Sat, September 3, 2005 - 7:37 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

In praise of a CD replicator
I don't have time to thank all the wonderful people who have helped me, so I'm thanking this soulless corporate entity:
did a great job with my CDs. They're cheap, the turnaround time is as fast as promised, and the CDs look and sound great.

I'd better start writing an entry thanking people, even though that will take a while.
Sat, September 3, 2005 - 7:18 PM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Back from Pennsic
Well, I've finally woken up from my post-Pennsic nap. Wow. I had such a great time, I wish it could have been longer. (Pennsic, that is, not the nap.) Now I have a lot to do as usual. People are actually visiting my website, since I put the address on my CD, which lots of people took home, so I'd better put something on my website worth viewing. I also want to ship CDs to my various relatives. But most importantly, I want to research other festivals, since having Pennsic once a year is way too infrequent. I'm open to suggestions.

I want to write details about all the wonderful things about Pennsic, but it's time to get groceries, as I have no fresh vegetables for lunch.
Tue, August 23, 2005 - 9:46 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

CDs sinking into mud?
I just got an email from cdcentric.com saying they shipped the CDs yesterday, and they were delivered this morning at 11:30! That's much, much earlier than the company had told me they'd be able to deliver them. Maybe they like doing the Star Trek Scottie thing, saying the engine will take hours to repair when it'll actually take only a few minutes.

Sheesh, had I known they'd be ready this early, I would have just had them delivered to my place, instead of straight to Pennsic. So now they're there and I'm not. I'm just stuck at home, worrying about all the fun they might be having without me. Are they being used as archery targets? Is some tribal dance troupe breaking them into shiny, clattery pieces for use on dance belts?

If anyone is reading this email at Pennsic, probably at Mystic Mail, would you pop across the way to Future Relics and see if some boxes of CDs are being used to hammer tent posts into the ground?

I worry too much. Maybe I should take up meditation or something.
Wed, August 10, 2005 - 10:46 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Newspaper story
While busking on the Ithaca Commons, I attracted the attention, not just of the usual toddlers, hippies and cops, but also an Ithaca Times reporter, who interviewed me about busking. So maybe I'll be in the paper. It's a small enough town that I and everyone else have already been in the paper several times already, but it's still nice.

In other self-promotion news, I've done a teensy bit of work on my website, so anyone who enjoys error messages may wish to peruse it:
The schedule, at least, is up, and that's the important thing. I tried to upload an mp3, so people can hear a bit of my CD in advance, but the host said I couldn't upload mp3s for security reasons. What, they think I'm pirating my own music? I'm working my way around this, though.
Tue, August 9, 2005 - 5:43 PM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

Intelligent Design?
OK, I have better things to be doing than reading hilarious websites, but everyone should check this out:
Wed, August 3, 2005 - 7:44 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment

It's easier to post to this blog that work on my actual website, so here's where I'm putting this important link:
That's the website of my band, Jiggermeister. You can order a CD through it, hint hint. Alas, the band members are scattered to the corners of the earth, but we have a couple of reunion gigs coming up:

August 26 Glen Echo, MD contra dance www.fridaynightdance.org/

August 27 Frederick, MD contra dance
Mon, August 1, 2005 - 7:59 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

171–174 of 174
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Busking in Ithaca
My beautiful home of Ithaca, NY, is a pretty good place for buskers, but I don't want to saturate it too much, so I spend more of my busking time elsewhere (like the much more profitable NYC.) But yesterday was so beautiful, I headed down to the Ithaca Commons with my trusty hurdy gurdy. No CDs, since the police here are extremely strict about the no vending law, and cracked down hard on a friend of mine. Don't you feel safer knowing that the police prevent hammered dulcimer players from making a living?

In my opinion, this no vending law serves to reduce the quality of musicians on the Commons, since the better musicians will go to more lucrative venues, leaving the hippy dudes with guitars, who know they won't make money anywhere.

Anyway, I set up near a silk scarf store, the owners of which love my music. I played for a while and was much appreciated. Then a young woman with a creative hairstyle asked me for a favor: would I play something suitable for her friends who were getting engaged a few yards away? So I played Sucacko Kolo, a wedding dance tune, and it worked, I guess; they're engaged now.

After an hour or so, a woman came out of a clothing store across from the scarf store and politely asked me to leave, so I packed up, much to the annoyance of one of my fans, who said he was homeless and had just given me his last dollar. He assured me that I had a right to play, and I told him that I knew that, but I was being polite and moving anyway, even though I didn't have to.

So I went to another part of the Commons, which was a pretty good spot, except I was within earshot of a bunch of caterwauling hippies with a guitar. My general rules of politeness would prevent me from taking up their acoustic space, but really, they were so phenomenally bad, I didn't think I was doing them much harm.

Things went well again, and I ran into a whole bunch of my friends. A young woman came by and said that it was great that I was doing so well, and clearly making so much money, so could I give her a dollar so she could have a party? I suggested she try singing and making some money, but she said that she and her friends had tried that already just a little ways away on the Commons, and hadn't made anything. I just wished her better luck next time. When she left, I stashed the money that had built up in my case.

There was a cop who was hanging out, listening for a few minutes, so I asked if he had any questions, as I often do to my fans. He very apologetically said that there had been a noise complaint, and even though I had a right to play there, would I mind picking a different spot? I said no problem and packed up again. Actually, I was thinking of calling it a day anyway, since it was about dinner time. The cop also asked me the usual questions about my hurdy gurdy, like did I invent it? He seemed to think it was very cool.

I could have sent the cop after the woman who'd asked me for a dollar, since that form of free speech is illegal on the Commons, but I wasn't feeling that spiteful.

My packing up made the homeless dude (who had wandered over by now) very irate. He said I had a right to play there, and I said I knew that, but was deciding to leave anyway. He also remarked that he and his friends had been singing a little ways away, and no one complained about them, even though they sucked. I'm not putting words in his mouth, that's what he actually said, quite accurately, I thought.

I wonder why this is. I have to say it might be spite or resentment on the part of the shop owners, who don't like that I can make a living having fun, playing music, while they're stuck in their shops. The people who are clearly not making money make them (the shop owners) feel good, since that proves that they made the right decision in leading their boring lives, having stifled whatever dreams they once had of being musicians or whatever. Of course, most shop owners are nice folks, and generally appreciate good music, but there are always a few who don't want to be reminded that other people out there are pursuing their dreams.

That's my pop psychology for the day. Of course, the other possible interpretation is that shop owners just like the melodious sounds of caterwalling hippies, and can't stand medieval and renaissance music. I have to consider that possibility.
Fri, July 29, 2005 - 8:44 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

CD is done!
After much agonizing over art, my first solo CD, Tunes From a Strange Land, has been sent to cdcentric.com for duplication. Excuse me as I do a happy dance.

If all goes well, I'll have them available at Pennsic. If all doesn't go well, and production is delayed for some reason, I'll at least have my band Jiggermeister's CD available at Pennsic, but that's more Celtic jazz than medieval and renaissance. Still good, though.
Tue, July 26, 2005 - 8:31 AM — permalink - 1 comments - add a comment

Fife Lesson
I got a couple of fifes back in April. I like the fact that they're small yet loud, like me, and are convenient to carry around. I've been tootling around on them on my own, but I decided it was time to get a proper lesson from someone who actually knew what he was doing. So I scheduled a lesson with Mark Wienand, the local wind instrument guru. My brain filled up in half an hour.

Last night, I dreamed that I was practicing, and I could easily play everything Mark played, and any tune I'd ever heard. Of course, if I actually practiced more, the dream could come true. Just keeping in practice to maintain my skills on all my instruments takes a lot of time, and actually learning new skills on new instruments would take even more. Well, I plan to live forever, so I'll eventually be a virtuoso on everything.
Thu, July 21, 2005 - 7:36 AM — permalink - 0 comments - add a comment

Hey, I have a blog?
I guess I can't avoid having a blog. Let's see, what's new? My solo CD is finally recorded, mixed, mastered, and ready to duplicate! I did it at Electric Wilburland Studio, in nearby Newfield, NY, which has the best reputation in the region for getting a realistic sound out of accoustic instruments. It was expensive but worth it, as I think the recording quality sounds great. The studio is in an old church, so it has great natural reverb, which they capture with expensive mics.

My liner notes are written. Now I'm waiting for the photographer, Bennet Mosse, to send me big enough scans for the cover art, and I'm twiddling my thumbs. I should probably be mowing the lawn instead of writing this, but it's hot out.
Tue, July 12, 2005 - 7:27 AM — permalink - 2 comments - add a comment




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