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.

One Planet II

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
A photo taken in Sydney, Australia in 2008 – one of those used in my new One Planet video.

My 1983 pro-environment anti-nuke song that appeared less relevant a decade ago has gained new, urgent relevance with the relentless provocation of Russia by neocon-controlled “New American Century”  revivalists that, for some time now, have hijacked US foreign policy.

Back then the situation was so scary that I wrote two songs on the nuke issue. We seem back in perilous times.

I’ve replaced the old One Planet video with a much better video produced using new equipment and software. It is in new, HD photos taken by me with great quotations from female and male thinkers on world issues.

I call the video, “One Planet II.” It is also on the My Songs page in my header.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, author of the photo’s quote, is a brave, brilliant agricultural activist from India, known as the Seed Lady for her successful securing of seed banks of key, traditional plants against their extinction. Traditional seeds are now threatened by the patenting of seed for profit perpetrated by all-powerful corporations like Monsanto.

Pi’s Lullaby

This is a challenging piece to play and learn, but, if you have a good musical ear the chords aren’t hard. I dedicate this effort as an essay in hope.

The timing from line four on is 7 beats per bar. Once I figured that out the learning became easier. The song is in Tamil and sung by Jayashri Ramnath, one of India’s most hypnotic and drop dead beautiful voices. It is an example of Carnatic music in a classical south Indian style and does not easily lend itself to Western notation. I have sometimes indicated the timing of a chord using dots after the chord – three dots equals three beats, four dots equals four beats, etc. This is a common Carnatic usage, so I thought it appropriate. I have indicated the ornamented syllables by typing them in red. The song is in concert A flat major, so I have used the chords in the key of G and if you capo up one fret on your guitar you will be able to play along with this YouTube version from the soundtrack of the Life of Pi film based on the great book by Canadian, Yann Martel. The film’s music was the responsibility of the Canadian film composer, Mychael Danna, who interpreted this piece with wonderful sensitivity and skill. If you listen carefully you will be struck by the genius in the orchestration and timing that sets off “Bombay Jayashri”‘s magnificent rendition of her song.

By the way, I have used this piece to accompany my tai chi 24 method, which I combine with Tonglen meditation. It is the very best background for what I do!

I thank Metrolyrics for the Tamil lyrics. Enjoy! If you have any suggestions or just appreciate the job I’ve done please send my a comment or take the time to “like” this post.

Pi's Lullaby Lead Sheet
Pi’s Lullaby Lead Sheet

South America Trip.2

OK. Still not about South America yet, but I warned you last time. Anyway – if I hadn’t gone to teach in Trinidad in 1965, I probably wouldn’t have done the two month South America trip in 1967. So kindly bear with me, or, if not, feel free to skip to the end of this post or go elsewhere with my good wishes and abject apologies.
Boarding The Plane in September 1965
Boarding The Plane in September 1965

Our West Indies CUSO volunteer contingent (young adults with university degrees or special skills who had selected to serve in the sunny Caribbean over more distant sunny places like Malaysia, India or Tanzania – about two dozen of us in all) assembled at Ottawa’s international airport on a very chilly morning in early September, 1965. We climbed an outside ladder, waved to our loved ones and entered Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson’s Canadair North Star. This was not a jet, but a plane powered by four Rolls-Royce Merlin propeller engines. They were proudly termed “turbo-props,” whatever enhancements that meant. Still slow and noisy compared to modern jet planes. Simpler times. It took us 19 hours of island hopping before our 8-member Trinidad contingent arrived at Piarco Airport in Port of Spain, the North Star’s last stop. Continue reading “South America Trip.2”

Radiatin’ A-Bomb Blues

A not-so-scary Doomsday Clock
A not-so-scary Doomsday Clock approaches midnight…

Here’s a YouTube link to an old song of mine: Radiatin’ A-Bomb Blues – a crazy upbeat sort of blues piece that expresses the potential result of a really scary cold-war period we went through in the late 1980’s when the nuclear Doomsday Clock got perilously close to midnight, due to a game of nuclear chicken being played out between the, then two, nuclear superpowers.

Russia – closely surrounded by American nuclear missiles pointed at its major targets – astutely realized that no merely human Russian premier could decide quickly enough whether it was under attack in time to launch a counter-attack. So its boffins invented a computer-driven system that would quickly analyze radar results and launch a huge retaliatory strike at US and NATO targets if this non-human apparatus decided it was warranted. This system was dubbed “launch on warning.” Human judgement became a non-factor.

Pretty wacko scary on both sides, I thought, so I wrote the above song and immediately felt a whole lot better 😉

I will also post this on my My Songs page. Finding appropriate pictures to accompany my songs is the main holdup to posting the rest of them. I’m too parsimonious to opt for the WordPress upgrade.

Any suggestions on how to easily find photos that aren’t encumbered by restrictions on use?

Different Methods of Truth Telling

I guess my style of truth telling is pretty direct and “in your face.” It alienates some people, but gets quickly to the point (admittedly as I see it and thus imperfect).

A friend pointed out recently that there are gentler, artistic ways of presenting truth.

Louise Erdrich’s latest book, The Roundhouse,  is one major subject of her wonderful November interview with Eleanor Wachtel of the CBC Radio’s Writers and Company, aired every Sunday at 3 PM. Erdrich is a Native American writer who writes novels that build awareness of injustice towards native peoples. Here’s the CBC Podcast … Well worth a listen.

Video and music are other vehicles for building awareness. One very touching piece, John Trudell’s Crazy Horse, combines poetry, music and video.  I was gripped by its masterful, solemn  combination of these three native-generated media. Just a snippet from Trudell’s poetry:

Crazy Horse, we hear what you say.
One Earth, one Mother
One does not sell the Earth the people walk upon…

I know that all these types of truth telling have value and all are necessary.
I have used music and video myself. I have written 14 songs and have put three of them so far on my Songs page. I should really work on getting the other 11 up on this site.
I feel that the unprecedented speed of the resource-greedy, multinational, corporate attack on our planet creates an urgent necessity for the direct form of truth telling. There is no time left for a slow brew here.