Sunday, February 26, 2017

Cuban Fantasia

My most recent fantasy: live part-time in Havana and start an English-language walking tour, modeled after Brendan's Isherwood's Neighborhood tour in Berlin, retracing the sites and scenes of Reinaldo Arenas' last years in Cuba.

On the right you'll see the site where Reinaldo heckled world-famous novelist and sellout Alejo Carpentier during a public lecture. Around the corner--where the Santa Clara Cathedral stood until Reinaldo and his friends, in an act of charity for the artist and prostitute who lived next door and could no longer earn a living after her breasts fell, pulled it down after absconding with what post-Revolution valuables remained.

We'll walk from the Morro down the Malecón. We'll stop for ice cream at Coppelia, indulging in the flavors offered to the locals because we'll hire a Cuban national to buy them for us in CUPs. We'll tramp through Lenin Park where he read the Iliad while evading the police for months, visit the Monserrate Hotel, his home after his release from prison, and pass by the Episcopal church in the Vedado, the setting of many orgies during the mid-70s.

To end the tour, over a mojito or canchánchara, I'll read Reinaldo's suicide note as he's dying from AIDS in the US. His last written words: "Cuba will be free. I already am."

This fantasy makes me happy.

Monday, February 20, 2017


To all you Presidents of the United States of Love this Presidents Day.

And, lest we forget, the original:

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Top 10 Composers

According to the number of plays in my iTunes for all my music categorized under Classical, here are my Top 10 Composers:
  1. John Cage
  2. Karol Szymanowski
  3. Kevin Volans
  4. Samuel Barber
  5. Krzysztof Penderecki
  6. Arvo Pärt
  7. Henryk Górecki
  8. Witold Lutosławski
  9. Vladimir Martynov
  10. Sergei Rachmaninoff
As you can see, I have quite a liberal understanding of what "classical" means.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Monday Mix 011617: Lingua franca

I've studied language for most of life, even before I declared at the age of 10 that I wanted to be a writer. But decades later I'm unable to list all the languages I've studied, both formally and informally.

My go-to number is 14: I've studied, I speak 14 languages. It might be more, depending on how you distinguish among related languages, among vernaculars.

I'm going to attempt to list the 14 languages I know. (Though, perhaps, it might be more accurate to say the language that at one time I knew.)
  1. English
  2. Spanish
  3. Russian
  4. Polish
  5. Czech
  6. Japanese
  7. Ukrainian
  8. Latin
  9. German
  10. French
  11. Classical Greek
  12. ...
Hmm. Maybe it's only 11 languages. God, what a loser! This is why that stupid test I took told me I live in a bubble.

I've studied quite a bit of Sanskrit, a little Hebrew and Yiddish, and I spent a couple of months teaching myself Serbian, but I don't really count any of them.

The 11 languages listed above I consider my research languages: I can communicate in them (at least in a basic way), I can read them (though I never really developed literacy in Japanese, having only about 300 kanji under my belt), and I can translate from (most of) them, especially Spanish, Russian, Polish, Latin, German, and French.

The language I wish I spoke much better is Spanish. I adore Spanish. I studied for two years in high school, at least a year at the college level, and for a handful of years on my own or with a tutor. I'm always proud when my high school Spanish saves the day, which happens much more frequently in Germany for some reason.

Speak my language.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Monday Mix 01092017: Bowie

A year ago David Bowie died. It broke my heart. Though I never met him or saw him perform live, he helped define the context of my life and thinking, especially concerning the musical, the artistic, from an early age. I don't remember a time I didn't know about David Bowie.

The last day I spent in Berlin I took the U-Bahn to visit the former apartment he shared with Iggy during the 1970s. That was in October 2014. I had been listening to Low and The Next Day almost daily for a year. For the past year I haven't been able to listen to either entirely through.

Despite not having ever met David Bowie, his death affected me. Not in a superficial or celebrity-worship kind of way. I'm not that vapid. His artistry touched something in me that only makes sense when it's described as a soul. I was transcendent when I visited the Bowie exhibit in Berlin in June 2014, while I was living there and doing research over the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of communism in Central Europe. Bowie, for me, shaped and defined my experience of Berlin as much as Hitler and Stalin, as much as Benjamin and Grosz.

Here are my top 10 songs by David Bowie according to number of plays on iTunes:
  1. "Subterraneans" - though perhaps this isn't fair because some days I just put this song on repeat for hours at a time
  2. "This Is Not America"
  3. "Always Crashing in the Same Car" - for several months I had this song programmed as my morning alarm: "Every chance, every chance that I take, I take it on the road...."
  4. "Be My Wife"
  5. "Rebel Rebel"
  6. "Love Is Lost"
  7. "Warszawa" - the same goes with this song as with "Subterraneans"
  8. "A New Career in a New Town"
  9. "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)"
  10. "Breaking Glass"
"'Heroes'" doesn't show up until #12, but I have four different versions/covers of it that all make the top 50. (And don't get me started on people who forget to put the internal quotation marks around the title! It's ironic, you idiots!) "Lazarus" made #15. I remember last year after its release listening to this captivating track and naively musing, I wonder what David Bowie's next album will sound like, since I loved The Last Day and Blackstar so much.

Three classics that I still (can) listen to almost daily include "Stay" at #33, "Wild Is the Wind" at #34, and "Word On a Wing" at #44.

Bonus track: "Within You" from the Labyrinth soundtrack would've easily made the top 10, but I don't have it on iTunes.

What are your favorite David Bowie songs?