Caring for the Soul of Syria

Windows of the Soul, Damascus

I can’t write about Damascus without feeling jasmine climbing upon my fingers…

I can’t utter its name without tasting the juice of apricot, pomegranate, mulberry, and quince…

Can’t remember it without sensing a thousand doves perched on the wall of my memory, and another one thousand flying…

I am haunted by Damascus even when I am not residing there…

Its ancestors are buried inside me, its neighborhoods intersect above my body…
Its cats love, marry, and leave their kittens with me…

Do not ask for my identity card, I am a hundred percent Damascene, like wheat, plums, and pomegranates. Like brocade, Aghbani and Damasco. Like copper pitchers, and the armoires decorated with mother of pearl; all of which are part of my history and the trousseau of my mother…

A tree of Arabian jasmine that my mother left on my window, its white moons grow every year…

by Nizar Qabbani

The magnificent, deeply douching poem, Windows of the Soul, Damascus, was written by the great Syrian poet, Nizar Qabbani (1923-1998). The video in the above link is a reading in Arabic of the poem. The photography is truly uplifting.  It was published by a group of Syrian students on their website called Syrian Students for a better future studying at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

I heard part of this poem quoted by the inspiring Ghada Alatrash on the podcast, Saving Syria – Keeping War-torn Culture Alive by CBC Radio’s Ideas. This podcast was produced by Naheed Mustafa. I was hooked by the podcast’s introduction, featuring Maamoun Abdulkarim‘s heroic fight to save thousands of irreplaceable Palmyra treasures from Islamic State destroyers and moved to tears by the music, poetry and stories of tragedy and hope that followed, from contributors Ghada Alatrash, Alia Malek and the music of Aya Mhana.

Oh, how a special place like Syria, in so many present, ancient and artistic ways, shows the best we can be as a gifted, precarious, human “episode” of the history of Mother Earth – a true reason to keep hope alive.

Newfoundland 2005.7 “God Guard Thee, Newfoundland”

The Arches Park, n. of Rocky Harbour
Tuesday, July 26: Englee, Arches and back to Rocky Harbour

Englee is a beautiful little community about 2 1/2 hours south of St. Anthony on the east coast. The drive from Englee to Rocky Harbour is another 4 1/2 hours. St. Anthony to Rocky Harbour is 4 1/2 hours, so our Englee visit added about 2 1/2 hours of driving to our Tuesday. If you climb up the long steps on Barr’d Island, you’ll be treated to one of the most beautiful views in the world – i.e. it was worth the extra driving.

We then drove back to Rocky Harbour, stopping at Arches Provincial Park for some more beautiful scenery. Our last, since we were flying home from Deer Lake on Wednesday at 15:15. We visited the Cemetery and the Lighthouse in Rocky Harbour before we left for Deer Lake Airport, about 55 minutes from Rocky Harbour on NL 430 South. Returning the car at the airport was very smooth. Boy, did we get our money’s worth out of that car!

Wednesday, July 27: Home to the GTA

One more heartwarming story about Newfoundland. We checked our bags at the airport. Then security noticed my Swiss Army Knife on my person. I thought, “I’ll be sorry; I’ve had it for a long time.” But they offered me the chance to put it back in my suitcase, which meant retrieving it from the storage area.

Now, a real treat for reading down to the bottom. A Newfoundland language lesson!!! With Mark Critch, Candice Walsh and Travel Yourself.

I will return there. That’s a promise. Note: I kept my promise, returning there in 2014.

God guard thee, Newfoundland!

Ram Goat Liver

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Leighton “Pluto” Shervington

Born in 1950 Jamaica, a talented bass player and songwriter, Pluto Shervington, had this really big hit song, Ram Goat Liver, in the mid 1970’s. It is one of my favourite Jamaican songs and I occasionally do it for some of the people I sing for in the local hospital. It gets anyone within earshot moving and, if they know it and some do, singing and smiling along.

The song’s “singability” (making its composition seem deceptively effortless) and Shervington’s gift for telling a superb, hilarious, naturally colloquial story, set it apart for me.

It took him a week to write, after getting the idea from a fellow Kingston songwriter, Ernie Smith, who had already had a couple of hit songs of his own. On his way to the old Federal Records studio Ernie had watched a minibus hit and kill a goat on the road.  A fellow observer said, casually “All we need now is a pound of rice…”

Verse one really pulls me in:

Sunday gone I jump on a minibus; I really late but it’s not my fault

An as we nearly reach by de terminus, I feel the bus come to a halt…

‘Ee lick a ram goat down by de roundabout, an’ just as if dat would not, suffice

A bredda run through de bus an’ start to shout

You shoulda dead mek we buy a poun’ of rice!

Then the chorus:

Ram goat liver good fi mek mannish water.

Billy goat teet’ mek de earring for your daughter.

Curry goat lunch put de bite in your bark;

It mek your daughter… it mek your daughter walk and talk.

Like many songs from the West Indies, there’s some double entente in the chorus. For example, mannish water is considered a male aphrodisiac.

Anyway, in the song a cook-up actually occurs, and the storyteller ends up suffering some discomforting embarrassment after consuming some of the pot’s contents:

Before too long you no ha fi ask – a runny belly like a Judgement Day…

You can find the YouTube version with lyrics here.

Another hilarious song from Pluto: Your Honour. In it he is in court for “fooling around” in the wrong bedroom. His defence:

Me two hands dey was occupied: me shirt in me lef’ an’ me pants in me right!

And why not check out his 1974 hit, Dat, about a poor Rasta who could only afford to buy pork at the butcher shop but has communication problems because he will not let the forbidden word pass his lips…

The Autumn Leaves

As a three-year-old, I can remember sitting on the floor in the living room near my dad’s old Montreal-made Willis upright piano, while he played one of his very favourites, Autumn Leaves.

Here is Eric Clapton doing a sweet, sweet version. The photos were taken this morning before I raked the back yard to give our overseeded lawn a little more sunlight. The maple, shown here, will produce more. I’ll mulch them later.

Penny Lane

Always looking for fun, upbeat songs for my hospital volunteer work. The Beatles’ Penny Lane qualifies as upbeat, if a little quirky and tricky in parts. The lead sheets below will play along with this YouTube video if you put a capo on fret 2. Hope they help.

I had fun putting this together. The typed in chords will fit well with David Mason’s weird Bb piccolo trumpet bridge. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto (who knew?) was McCartney’s inspiration for adding the tiny trumpet, which, for me, just consolidates the Beatles’ (and producer, George Martin’s) outstanding, if occasionally “sloppy,” pure inventive genius!

Have a blast! Let me know if this helped you…

Kraków, Ancient Capital – May 7

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How to Kill a Dragon Named Smok:

The old story is told that Kraków was founded in 350 A.D. by a bloke named Krakus. He had a beautiful daughter, handy if you want dangerous work done. Let’s call her Jo. Worried by Smok, who lived in a cave under Wawel Hill (see model above), Krakus offered Jo’s hand in marriage to any man who could snuff Smok. Many tried, but when they cut off Smok’s head, he grew two more instantly. It was a bloody, dragon-head-filled while before one chappie whom I’ll call Pawel figured out that cutting off one or more heads just made things worse. He poisoned a goat and left it in front of Smok’s cave. Poison worked. Pawel won the damsel, Jo’s dowry and a lifetime supply of Grey Goose.

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We had a lazy morning, since we had opted not to opt for the optional tour of the Salt Mines.There were many stairs down even after the elevator. Going down a ton of stairs is hard for Anita. We still had 9 days left in our trip; not a time to risk your mobility! I opted to stay at the Sheraton with her, tying up some loose ends… where to eat lunch, what museum(s) to see after lunch, and how we might fit in a walk to the 14th C. Kazimierz neighbourhood… until our Salt o’ the Deep Earth group got back. The Salt Mine, and its beautiful acoustic space and sculpture, is a World Heritage Site. Kinda wish I’d gone…

Wawel Hill:

Anyway, when the salts, old and young, returned and had been hosed down with Perrier and rubbed up with aloe cream, we walked up Wawel Hill. Our local expert took us through its cathedral. Most of the royal bodies are kept there, so it is still the most important cathedral in Poland. Continue reading “Kraków, Ancient Capital – May 7”