Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Booker T. - Potato Hole

Went on and on about this great release back in the early part of the year, when life seemed awfully gloomy.  Mr. Jones showed me some light.   Having Neil Young in on some of the fun was the recording stroke of genius for this year, IMHO.   Repeated listening failed to quell the enthusiasm of this album.


Kansas City Soundtrack

Olu Dara on cornet.   Nichlas Payton and James Zollar on trumpet.   Curtis Fowlkes and Clark Gayton on trombone.   Don Byron on clarient.   Don Byron (he is most talented, isn't he?), James Carter, Jesse Davis, David "Fathead" Newman, Craig Handy, David Murray, and Joshua Redman on saxophones.   Russell Malone adn Mark Whitfield on guitars.   Geri Allen and Cyrus Chestnut on piano.   Ron Carter (The DEAN!), Tyrone Clark, and Christian McBride (The Assistant Dean) on Bass.   Victor Lewis on drums.  Kevin Mahogany on vocals.  Simply an incredible collection of young players enjoying each other's company and musical repartee.   This album was released in 1996 when Robert Altman's film, Kansas City, came out.   As a pseudo-live recording, it's hard to top the energy and joy of this recording.  The 7 minute 24 second version of "I Left My Baby" (Jimmy Rushing's signature song), with Kevin Mahogany letting it all out is worth the entire CD.   But, the other 11 songs are equally persuasive in keeping you hooked to the speakers.  Rot-gut, shambling, can't-sit-still, rambling movement of energetic notes and nuances.   This music will wake the dead and keep them dancing.   I latched on to this CD because of Mr. Chestnut, who released Spirit in 2009, an album for a future discussion.


Favorite Musical Discoveries* of 2009

2009 is closing out quickly.  It's been a year that most of us have eagerly waited to see in our rear-views.   Economic bad news seemed to accompany the morning alarm buzz.  What a way to start one's day!??

Fortunately, there was always "new" music this past year to calm the wild beast and lift up one's spirits.  In the next few posts, I'll be opining on music that I came upon this year.  Discovery is asterisked in this blog's post with good reason.  Personal discovery, for me at least, involves books or music that is never hemmed in by the year of publication or release.  New items may sometimes be quite old.  A perfect example is Ference Karinthy's Metropole, a book I "discovered" this year by reading the lovely Bookslut's entry about this almost 40-year old novel.  So, while the world out there had already been reading Mr. Karinthy's truly excellent (and terrifying) novel for a while, it was a newly discovered shore I'd come upon.

So, the following album mentions' entries may be about CD's you're already quite familiar with.  Please excuse my late arrival to these wonderous lands.  Some albums you may have not come into aural contact with and I hope my writeups are enough to at least persuade a listne or two.  Still other musical treats may have been lying on my shelves begging for a re-listen; my first run-through may have been a negative reaction due to timing, impatience, lack of an open spirit, or simply a Bad Ear day.   Lastly, other albums may be ones that you are quite familiar with AND quite exhausted with.   Please excuse my over-wraught enthusiasm in these cases.


Monday, December 28, 2009

A Gotta Have

The Carharrt J162 Waterproof  Breathable Jacket

In your advancing years, do you ever get the warm tingles reminisicing about a certain piece of clothing, say, a pair of jeans, a shirt that was THE shirt, a pair of shoes, or even a t-shirt that seemed to be an extension of you?   You felt the most like yourself when you were wearing any of these items.   They were your second skin, your protective armor against the cold, cruel, and disinterested world.  Those items seemed to be indestructible until, unfortunately, they were.  And then.....?  Well, at least for me, there were times of regret that I hadn't acquired a standby supply of these precious commodities as they never were obtainable after passage of time and of deterioration.
Why was I holding on to those hole-y jeans and shirts and flapping shoes?  Because I was holding on to my self or, at least, my self-deluded semblance of self.

I'm having similar thoughts these days as regards a jacket I acquired back in early April, 2009.  The weather in the Middle Atlantic states was measured in inches.  Precipitation of all varieties and me with no jacket with water-proof qualities.  Water-resistant, yes but the level of resistance was worn down quickly by the torrents of rain.  So, with previous experience with Carhartt's products, I thought I'd give this jacket a try; the place I purchased it from had a generous return policy so risk was minimal (and the price wasn't bad ,$110 v $130 on Carharrt's own site).

It's December now and this jacket has been worn in the rain, the snow, the sleet, and even in those most vicious of conditions, the fashion standard capital, a.k.a. Paris.  It came through with nary a scratch nor a leak nor a snear.   Great stitiching, ample qty of pockets (all well-placed...though the jacket definitely leans toward right-handedness), taped seems, drawcorded hem, easy to clean fabric.  Very important element was this jacket's design which made movement easy and unconstrained.   I've worn this jacket most every day from April through May and then mid-September through December.  The color and fabric condition have held up quite well; the black color gives the coat a "dressier" quality that broadens the scope of where you can wear the jacket.
And, as advertised, the jacket is most definitley water-proof.

So, I'm at a decision point.  Do I buy another jacket as a backup, simply hanging it in the future wear closet?   Or do I take my chances that this gem will not wear out or, if it does, the same model (and quality) is available?   My "Click to Buy" finger is getting itchy; I'm reflecting on future happiness.

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Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry to All

Quick-moving Santa on 12th Street in South Philly on Christmas Eve.   SLOW-moving photographer with side window pulled down driving through sludge with one hand on wheel and other hand manipulating a camera.  Santa was in full cheer and regalia, toting what seemed to this one-eye-on-the-road-one-eye-on-the-SouthPhilly-Santa an Extra Large plastic trash can filled with possible non-goodies.  SouthPhilly Santa, complete down to his black patent leather Catholic nun shiny boots, heaved some Ho-Ho's our way but was not in the mood to stop and pose....which was a good thing as the driver on my bumper was throwing me some definitely non Ho-Ho's while I was slowing down to capture a glimpse of SouthPhilly Santa for posterity.

A typical South Philly window exhibit with noted matching scarved penguins serving to center a replcia of the garbage bag toting SouthPhilly Santa glimpsed above.   Wish I had a bit more time to skulk about the neighborhood to provide additional evidence of Christmas cheer.  From each house, a lot of noise wafted out to the fairly quiet and dark streets.

The carbon footprint last night in Phily was a Iggles Offensive Lineman shoe size 18.  Much spirited discussion at a party centered around the need to bring back lighting that twinkled softly like stars pasted in the sky as opposed to the deer-in-the-headlight blinding on-off-on lights that set off catatonia.

Merry Christmas to All the passerbys through this site.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Aging & Eating

How is it that with aging comes the brittleness of bones and yet also the affection for the hardness of the cookie?   Is there a ying-yang flow of balance happening?  My inner is getting breakable so my intake has to be of a non-breakable sort?
This question comes up for pondering each end of year holiday season.  As cookies are brought in by fellow employees or gifted to us by some vendors, I find my fingers rove to the piles my eyes lock on.  The double-baked concreteness of a biscotti cookie now holds pre-eminent interest while the soft stuff and the filled pile of baked goods are only glanced at.  The latter are, like beautiful young waifs, pleasing to the eye but they hold no crunch, no chewability to gnaw on.  The biscotti are a treasure-trove of life's hard experiences to be enjoyed in little nips, followed by a chewing and mulling over.  To the biscotti you must bring your own liquid, coffee, tea ,or your mouth's juices so you can wear down time's hardening of things gone past.  The madeleine?  A young man's cookie, malleable and without the hard inner core of substance.   It is the elemental biscotti, flour, eggs, water (o.k. an almond or two for additional mulling over), that serves le penseur best.   Time and heat.  Twice.  That's what life, aging, and cookies are all about.

O.K., perhaps a touch of chocolate.  Bitter chocolate to be sure; I am, after all, receding to the Bitter Valley of my years.


The Creche for Modern Times

From Moderately Confused, a site run by Jeff Stahler, award-winning editorial cartoonist of the Columbus Dispatch.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Tyranny of Tradition

As I was happily shoveling snow this Saturday, I was humming the "Tradition" melody. Two steps back, arms tilted back, one step forward, powering the feathery snow unto the spade, I shouted "Tradition!' "Tradition!!". A great song (from one of my all-time favorite musicals) for this, one of the most tradition bound and gagged of holidays.
After 20 minutes of light work (living in the city, among other benefits, means short work with snow accumulation), I pulled out the ladder to finish up the outside Christmas decoration. Yes, it was snowing. Yes, it was a tad chilly so putting up lights with gloves was a hassle. Yes, the wind was blowing so the light's wires were soon as stiff as gefilte fish.
But, you know, it was tradition.

Our porch was in need of a serious paint makeover this summer, so we decided to engage the services of "alleged" professional painters. Seems that whenever yours truly painted the porch, it had to be re-painted within 3-4 years. All that scraping, sanding, researching paint quality online seemed to be a waste of time. Three years rolls around and I'm on the porch floor with an electric sander.
This time around, it would be different. Professionally different. The male ego, at least that compartment associated with doing-it-yourself, took a serious hit. I whimpered off to that corner Real Men delegate those who wish they were. The professionals stepped in, three strong, to polish off the job in one day, about 5 days faster than I'd ever been able to finish said task.
Then, a week later, the guys showed up again as there seemed to be some "issues" with their professional work efforts.

Three weeks later, they tromped onto the porch again, their Real Manhood in serious jeopardy. Again, they had to re-do major parts of the job as quality was lacking.

By the fourth time that they had to re-visit the place of their work crime, I was coming out of that relegated corner and almost, almost, had a tug of empathy for them. That was soon replaced by a self-justified exhaling of tense breath. I was back into the enclave of Real Men. Their efforts in the Sisyphean porch painting were even more short-lived than mine! If there was RealMenanizing to be done, it was by me, it seems.

I approached the porch this wintry day with a slight hitch in the pants knowing the job in front of me was doable. Then I looked at the door. The trim work was still nicely painted and all of the staple holes from previous years' light mountings were filled. The wood was smooth, daring me to damage it with those miniscule staple holes, each prick an additional insult to the re-painted surface.

I paused, knowing that the traditional door lights will result in a summer full of pinhole filling, sanding, and painting. I looked across the street and saw my neighbor, carefully tying balsam pine roping and lights together as he draped his fence with holiday cheer. Trudging through the 8-10 inches of snow still on the street, I yelled to him requesting advice. This fine guy has been a member of Wilmington's finest for over 20 years. He's had to deal with every member of the Criminal Element Chart. He's faced down some nasty folks and defused all and any situation without anyone getting hurt. This guy was not afraid of anything. So, when I did the minor moan about putting up lights and damaging my door and considering not doing the deed this year, I was stunned by his reaction.

A look of panic and fear came quickly over his face.
"Darko, you can't! I mean, you can't not do it. You must do it!"

"But, "I protested, "this tyranny of tradition is getting a tad tougher to deal with as I get older. Who's even looking or bothering with this stuff that we do anymore?"

He blinked once. Then, once again to emphasize that his view of me was getting closer to associating my character with one of those Criminal Element Chart members.

"Darko....", a long pause "This is what Real Men do. We recognize the Tyranny of Tradition, as you put it, and we soldier on. "

He turned his back to me and continued with his roping. His lovely wife noticed us talking as she worked on the decorations inside their house. She stepped out and in her beautiful sing-song voice offered to me that "(she) was so glad to see me putting up the door lights. It was such a beautiful tradition to look over from (their) house to (our) house and see the hospitable lights, inviting us all into (your) home".

Her husband slightly turned his head and let a barely perceptible shrug shiver from his shoulders. My shoulders, in response, bent forward. I quick-turned back to my house, humming Tradition as I climbed the porch stairs, surrendering to the tyranny.

NB: I have a special affection for the film version of "Fiddler on the Roof" as it was entirely filmed in a few villages just outside of my original home town, Zagreb, Croatia. Those houses? Nothing made up about them; they're still there looking just the same.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Outdoor Dining

Where to Eat

A Package?  Pour Moi?


Sunday in the Park with....

One last look before....

..the forks attack!   And then...

..tout est finit!

Click! on any image for a larger version.  Bring a napkin along, just in case.

N.B.:  Miss Manon is the bakery from which these items were exchanged for a pittance of Euros

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Monday, December 14, 2009

One Woman. One Bullet.

It's admirable to read, in these economically trying times, that even personal disputes are being treated with an eye on thriftiness. Seems some trouble ventured into by a woman in Missoula, Montana required the dispatch of hot lead (or whatever is used these days when the environment has to be taken into consideration when settling personal disagreements) to settle the matter. Usually, in any passionate situation, pecuniary considerations are thrown to the wind. What with banks paying back their U.S. Govt. Bailout emergency loans (and NOT lending out, as hoped for, money to homeowners), it's good to see that even alleged criminals are keeping their personal economic situations in mind when (allegedly) committing crimes (of passion, IMHO, in this case).
One bullet, two guys? I'd say that should be an addendum to the woman's loan application. As to the definitive one bullet-two men decision, I guess we'll wait to hear from Arlen.

In other Missoula, Montana news, limo drivers should re-consider being designated drivers for bachelor parties. You simply can't claim to be an unassuming bystander. Wonder if the potential bride is having second thoughts of lifemate choices....

Having been to Missoula, MT recently, I regret to say that I missed out on all of this excitement. Perhaps summer days brought a languor to the need for violent possibilities. It struck me as a town where being laid back was de rigueur behaviour and excitement was on the low down gear, lest you stuck out as a non-Missoulian.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Le Cimetière de Montparnasse

Located in the 14th arrondissement, Cimetière de Montparnasse is just one of the many cemeteries in Paris that invite curiosity-seekers, cemetery tourists, and folks in need of a quiet respite from the brouhaha of constant people motion. With limited free time, I picked this particular place simply because it was in the arrondissement I happened to be poking around in. Well, not all true that. Unlike other folks obsessed with Jim Morrison's or Oscar Wilde's grave site, Jean Paul Sartre and Samuel Beckett's were my dead-'n-gone fixations and Le Cimetière de Montparnasse contained both. The same cemetery also was home to Man Ray's, Eugene Ionesco's, and their respective spouses' resting places.

Man Ray is buried with his wife ("Together Again") Juliet Man Ray in a grave marked with "Unconcerned but not Indifferent" etched out in a loose handwritten style on one of the two headstones. Empty plastic film containers along with some flowers were placed near the headstones.

The guide maps that are given out free at the main entrance were accurate enough to get you to the general area of the cemetery where you then meandered up, down, left, & right in the vicinity until you came upon your searched site. Or, like me when it came to finding Man Ray's grave, you could ask one of the helpful cemetery workers for assistance. Each of the fellows I put my inquiry to was extremely patient; I just wish my French ear was sharp enough to catch and comprehend their little asides they threw out as they left me by each site. I'm sure these pithy remarks would have made my Montparnasse memories more vibrant.
Samuel Beckett's grave site was simple with clean lines. I moved a bouquet of flowers to allow a camera shot of his name (To prevent any spiritual backlash, folks, I immediately placed the flowers back in the EXACT SAME SPOT (No Beckettian JuJu on me!)). At the foot of the grey-white speckled marble, a pamphlet written in dedication to Beckett, in Italian, was laid out, open to a page that the author signed with a "For You, Sam" salutation. Suzanne Beckett is also buried with Samuel Beckett, as is Rodica Ionesco with her husband Eugene Ionesco. The joining together in death all made sense to me for these people.
...But...Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir being together surprised me. Actually, not the being buried together part, but the actrual act of being buried at all, specifically Sartre's body. Somehow, I assumed that being the Ultimate Existentialist, Sartre would NOT be buried at all.
Not being an Existentialist but being a royal Pain in the Ass (a condition that covers many philosophies), I barked on through that day and the following to anyone within my yapping as to "Why is Sartre the Existentialist even buried?" My daughter's fellow students quickly learned to skeedaddle upon espying me entering their domain. I was the verbal equivalent of the beggars parked at most Metro entrances, preying on your loose1 or 2 Euro coinage. With Sartre, I'd expected a casting of ashes to the wind, flecks of existentialism forever riding air waves in and about Paris. The finality of a sealed box 6 feet under at Le Cimetière de Montparnasse seemed so....uhmm...anti-existentialist. The interesting location of the grave (it's the grave closest to the main entrance/exit (depending on one's viewpoint) of the cemetery) suggested to me that perhaps he was still waiting to escape the walls of his confinement.

The day that I happened to be walking in and around the grounds of the cemetery were mainly overcast with an occasional shaft of sunlight shotting through. Perfect conditions for soul-searching and gravestone-gaping. When not bugging the workers in the cemetery for locations, I had a Nano plugged in with Tortoise's TNT on constant replay. "I Set My Face to the Hillside"? A perfect song for the rumination.

One last note, Cesar Baldacinni's grave was amazing. The 12 year old site was remarkable in the weathering that it's gone through, the sculpture's sharp edges still holding up to the Parisian rain crying down on it.

Click on any image to see a larger version

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sunday, December the 13th

I'll be doing my last show for 2009 this coming Sunday, the 13th. So, if you've got time to kill and mind to expand, tune in to Morning After on WVUD, 91.3 FM if you're within 20-30 miles of Newark, Delaware. Otherwise, hitch a ride on the Internet to to listen in.

On tap, some Christmas music, tending toward the jazzy-bluesy end of things with some fairly new album releases to boot. Some new Tom Waits, Loudon Wainwright, Joe Henry, The XX's, Matthew Ryan (All your existentially inclined singers) to set the pensive tones. Not excessive depressive/cheery/mood-enhancing songs but enough to get you through the ealry morning.

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Le Caveau des Oubliettes

With only a week to enjoy the infinite possibiliites of Paris, a choice had to be made as regards a night out in the jazz vein. Amongst the choices, Le Caveau des Oubliettes came out on top. Caveau de la Huchette, Franc Pinot Jazz Club, and Le Baiser Salé Jazz Club were other possibilities, but Le Caveau des Oubliettes (Cave of the Forgotten Ones) was too tempting with its unearthly title and history. What started as a gang of five afficionados going to the Wednesday "Latin Swing Jam" night ended up as a solo visit by yours truly. Oubliettes is located in the 5th arrondissement, across the Seine from Notre Dame and two Metro lines away from my rented apartment in the 11th arrondissement, a short ride there but a guaranteed longer walk back home if I missed the last Metro at 12:30 a.m. The club is located in a touristy part of the city, but once 10:00 has struck, the tourists tend to depart and the area is occupied by locals.

Stepping through the door of the premises, I did a quick stop. A huge flat screen was the center of the patrons' attnetion. It was the night of the (soon-to-be) infamous France-Ireland World Cup qualifying match. Aside from Thierry Henry's "Hand of Gaul" goal, there did not seem to be any hands of Jazz on hand. I proceeded to the back of the bar, where one man out of many stood out as he was the only one not paying attention to the game. It seemed to be safest to pose the "Ou'est le Jazz?" to him; I feared bodily harm and suspicious glances if I asked such an inquiry to anyone else. A perfunctory up-and-down scan was followed by a slight nod to the right. Turning away from the packed bar upstairs, I descended some steep stone stairs to what appeared to my still adjusting eyes as a basement, a cellar recently used to store coal or other soot-emitting material. Lighting was minimal, stone was maximal, drink prices were astronomical. With no cover charge, 8 Euros ($14) for a beer encouraged a drink-nursing behaviour. But, one wasn't paying for the beverage; it was the atmosphere that required the high bottle rent. The jazz club was divided into two slim but long sections. One was for sitting, drinking and talking. The other was for sitting, drinking, and listening. The musician's gear was stacked at one end of the 100 ft long space, while tables and chairs were laid out in the balance of the room. I arrived 15 minutes early for the 10:00 o'clock show, which probably would have started fairly close to that time, save for the football hysterics happening upstairs.

The band, nameless as far as I can tell, was young and was part of the World Cup intensity. So, the first set began close to 11:00, only 1 hour and a half before the Metros closed down for the night. Composed of an electric piano player of good form, a 6-string bass player and spokesperson, and the tallest drummer (must've been 6"8', easily) I'd ever seen, the band was energetic and more than willing to play the 10-15 minute songs, eschewing brevity for langorous intensity. The drummer was especially action-packed, figuring that speed and strong strikes of his sticks would hide his lack of subtlety. The crowd was between 18-30, with one or two of us oldtimers sprinkled in, so youth ruled both from the band's repertoire and the
audience's desire for the same. The Oubliettes' acoustics were phenomenal; clarity and power without reverberation. Highly recommended with the additional note that it would be a good idea to have a rental car for the night, so that you, unlike yours truly, could stay for the second set.

Oh, and the $14 beer? Yep, I was able to nurse it through 2 hours of absorbing, sitting, and listening.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Shakespeare & Co.

Looking around from the peaks of Notre Dame Cathedral (IMHO, still the best place to see all of Paris...yeah, yeah, I know you Eiffelites are barely holding yourselves back in insisting your vantage point (allegedly because it's higher) is better. To this I ask, "Which is at the center of Paris, the Cathedral or the Tower?"), I concentrated on the lower buildings on the left bank of the Seine, staring, rudely at times, until the store came into view. Like

Shakespeare & Company is all it's made out to be, the cathedral of English print books in Paris. It is a mecca but it is not a tourist trap. Were there other idiots like me, mouth agape and itchy finger on a digital camera, there? Absolutely! But, to the credit of the staff and of the other customers there, we were not treated like pests or neophytes. There were occasional chuckles dripping in my direction but not even a slight mote of sarcasm was detected. After a good 2 hours in the store and a (mightily) self-controlled purchase of only one book (Richler's "The Incomparable Atuk" ), I felt at home, my pulse back down to a steady unhurried beat. If there is a place of comfort more soothing to the soul than a tome-packed non-chain bookstore, then, folks, please let me know of such a nirvana. Shakepeare is crammed to the gills with books and yet one doesn't feel hemmed in at all. Lighting is minimal but it isn't dark inside, almost as if the contents of the works are illuminating your way through the alleys of verical, horizontal, and pyramidal stacks. All of the books on the first floor are for sale and for one's perusal. There was no bum's rush behaviour evidenced by the folks working there; one felt acknowledged to be there in the presence of gob-millions of words.

In the back of the first floor, by the right corner, a narrow staircase took you to the next floor. The painted stairs were well-worn with a carefully placed stack of books took up each step's wall-side end. Pictures and drawings took up the balance of the free wall space as you slowly ascended the stairs, stopping at almost each step to give the once-over to the books and the wall art. Folks were very patient with each other as they ascended/descended the stairs, not rushing to each other's destination, simply enjoying the trip.

The second floor had three sections, defined by their use and not any fine demarcation. There was a children's section, centered around a small "cave" of a secretive place where 3 walls and a ceiling were plastered with pictures and notes of people who'd laid down for a read and a nap. Another area had an upright piano (not sure if it worked as it was loaded up with books) as its center piece, with packed bookshelves all around as sound-deadeners. In the front part of the second floor, with windows looking out toward Notre Dame, the Seine, and the book/art/postcard/souvenir sellers along the wall of the Seine, was a working/sitting area where authors and poets did the occasional reading. Up here on the second floor, all the books were for reading. On the premises. No books were for sale up here; they were parts of the permanent charm of the place.

(Click on any picture to get a larger view.)

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