Sunday, December 28, 2008

on the fourth day of christmas....

my phone still does not work; but at least the internet does.
there are no partridges to be seen, let alone pear trees.
the calling birds seem to be coyotes in the distance.

did you see the planets dancing this evening? the moon BELOW mercury, then jupiter, and then mighty aphrodite. what a display!!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

christmas eve in santa fe

is there anyplace else in the world where people set up fires on christmas eve so the ChristChild can find His way to their homes?

i had forgotten how beautiful these luminerias are! my camera did not capture them well, but use your imagination to re-construct the real world from these psychedelic shots...

did you notice that the bottom shot shows luminarias arranged in a giant peace sign?

Sunday, December 7, 2008

ahhhh, the magic functions well

i confess i was having doubts whether westcoast potions and spells could work their magic here on the right coast. but double double all's swell what ends swell.
the revels is the revels is the revels, as gertrude stein once said in a place where there WAS a there there. mayhaps revels is a place like brigadoon, which magically pops into existence once a year, but this brigadoon spell has its manifestations in ten places at once! all the people who dedicate so much of their time to this mid-winter celebration of light: well, it seems that energy seeks it own level. the community of revelers really transcends cities and theaters.

this is me with steve who played gaston (the lead voyageur, who makes the pact with the devil) for the DC production. he brought a lot more singing to the part, so his gaston was a man driven by a desire to sing with his friends-- a noble reason to make a diabolical deal. steve is a folklorist at the library of congress, and his specialty is french canadian folk song. he was consulted about new songs to add to the mix, and he got drafted to play the lead role!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

REVELS provides context and meaning

OK, i admit it: i am a confirmed habitual Reveler. this strange amalgam of theater and pagan ritual has provided a backbone of community and spiritual succor to me for fifteen years or so. this is part of my little Revels family: my wife and our youngest daughter. we also have two teens: a boy and a girl. maybe i can find a photo of them sometime soon....

we are doing a version of Revels set in 1820s canada, when groups of men would voyage out into the wild wild west to hunt beavers to earn some good money. i played in the oakland version of this play two yeas ago, when i was cast as one of the voyageurs; this time i get to stay in town with the civilized folks and enjoy the simple pleasures of the stable community. i also get to sing some of the great choral songs which i missed last time because i was flying around in a magic canoe!

Friday, November 14, 2008

code pink peace caravan

i spent all day yesterday with the amazing crew of code pink, visiting the embassies and non-embassies of the "enemy" states of cuba, syria, venezuela, bolivia and iran.

see the photos at

there are a LOT of photos archived here: look for the set posted on november 14 to find photos of our tour.

here's the best one showing me with the iranian (non-) ambassador:

Thursday, November 13, 2008

final form of the costume: election night eve

these young ladies asked to take a picture with me, but they didn't have a camera: so i sent them this....

so much fun! everybody loved the fact that Uncle Sam supported obama.

Friday, November 7, 2008

obama won: postpartum depression

i was downtown at a teachers' union hall watching the results come streaming in. it was my third visit of the day to an obama HQ, where i went to thank the troops for all their efforts. there were four big screens against the four walls, each broadcasting a different version of the same story. at first the polls were showing mccain leading: several of the southern states were quick to report. then the new england tallies started coming in, and the inertia changed. by the middle of the evening they had called pennsylvania and even VIRGINIA as obama victories. the scene at the union hall was quite happy, but not quite boisterous enough for me: i was deliriously happy, and i needed some more intense venue to express my high-bubbling joy.

i had heard that there was to be a gathering at a snazzy hotel around the corner: all rich DC elites. i was told Uncle Sam would fit right in ; and that i would be most welcome.

it was too dull. a bunch of folks dressed too nicely to be comfortable standing around, and there they were-- standing around and holding their breath. a little cheer would burble up when some new election results were announced....

i had received a text message from a friend : "drum circle at 14th & U" so i drifted up to there. MAN-o'MAN what a contrast! these folks were dancing, hugging, shouting, singing, chanting, SMILING big & wide, crying tears of joy.

these were my peeps!

i danced and hugged and posed for "uncle sam loves the USA" pictures for hours before shimmering off-stage and climbing the little hill back to mount pleasant, which seemed even more pleasant than ever.

the gentle rain told me that even the gods were crying tears of joy.

but now i feel empty. i am reacting like a mother who no longer carries her precious child within her. although we american voters just said "yes, we can" to committing ourselves to a new path, i feel rudderless. where am I going? what am i doing?

we won! but that means the game is over.

or is it?

i have decided to take advantage of the break in my teaching "career" to go back to st john's college and finish the master's degree in asian literature.

is this a justifiable reward? or am i abandoning the worldly processes to be selfish and self-indulgent? or both?

i actually feel sad today. maybe it is mostly a reaction to the JOY of three days ago: what goes up must come down.

maybe it is in recognition of the herculean task which president obama will inherit: he will be blamed for the problems which fester, and want lancing and cauterizing.

but for me: i have to solve the strange problem: what to do with my days? where do i go? follow the river! where do i go? follow the gulls! is there an answer in their sweet faces?

Where do I go
Follow the river
Where do I go
Follow the gulls

Where is the something
Where is the someone
That tells me why I live and die

Where do I go
Follow the children
Where do I go
Follow their smiles

Is there an answer
In their sweet faces
That tells me why I live and die

Follow the wind song
Follow the thunder
Follow the neon in young lovers' eyes

Down to the gutter
Up to the glitter
Into the city
Where the truth lies

Where do I go
Follow my heartbeat
Where do I go
Follow my hand

Where will they lead me
And will I ever
Discover why I live and die

Why do I live (beads, flowers)
Why do I die (freedom, happiness)
Tell my why (beads, flowers)
Tell me where (freedom, happiness)
Tell my why (beads, flowers)
Tell me why (freedom!)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

uncle sam joined by clara barton

this is donna from revels. i had invited her to come down to the white house and play political theater; so she created a costume and poster dealing with the heroic creator of the Red Cross. we got into more cameras as a team than i was managing as a solo gig. many europeans came by and expressed support for their "socialist" health care, and dismay that in the USA people still make PROFITS on others' illness.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

blessing the White House

this is a wizard who arrives every afternoon at 3:30 on the north side of the white house to conduct a magic ritual. he seems to have a good heart. his discipline is amazing. every day at precisely 3:30 he begins, and times his final segment to land spot-on at 4:00. he draws pentagrams with his umbrella, then walks around the white house to return to the same spot, where he gets out a wooden magic wand to replace the umbrella.

then he draws more pentagrams in the air, walks a smaller circle in lafayette park north of the white house, and then marches off.

he is obviously NOT doing this ritual for the crowds: this is a private affair between him and the spirit of the place.

i am always deeply moved by his focus and dedication.

just behind him you can see the encampment of concepcion and her colleagues. they have had a 24/7 vigil there across from the white house since 1981... really: for twenty-seven years somebody has been at their vigil site twenty-four hours per day! they are trying to make people aware of the dangers of uranium, both as bombs and as a source of energy. their site is full of scary photos of uranium-caused birth defects and wounds.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

MRI test: what i actually did

this looks scarier than it really was. it was crucial that i not move. i got real fidgety after an hour.... some folks get claustrophobic reaction, but i was OK with the tight space. the worst part actually was the hour and more of sentences i had to react to:
the boy is chasing the girl, who is hiding under the desk. the man is listening to the woman tell about her day. the boy whom the girl is chasing is hiding under the desk. the man who is talking to the woman is eating ice cream. and so forth for over an hour....
i had to listen to the sentence and then choose which of the photos i saw portrayed the content of the sentence. the investigators are looking at "embedded" structures and how they are processed.
anyway, when i was done, my brain hurt! and i don't think the magnetism had anything to do with it...

so jed and his cohorts will analyze the pictures of my brain while i was processing this kind of linguistic data, so they can see what is different in the brains of those who suffer speech loss.

and i will get paid a bit for my participation... not much, but it will be more than busfare.


this is my buddy jed standing in front of the MRI machine just before my session. it is LOUD in there! and it is quite a challenge to remain motionless for an hour and more....

Saturday, October 25, 2008

early diwali in DC

to celebrate the inauguration of a new exhibit "garden and cosmos" the Sackler museum (part of the smithsonian museum group) sponsored a series of concerts featuring a fabulous bunch of musicians from rajasthan. i went to four of their concerts in a 24-hour period. what high energy!

the photo in the dark is from a diwali celebration which the musicians performed in the courtyard of the freer museum next door. they played a paripatetic set as if they were strolling from house to house in a village.

the photo on the steps is a mini-puja invoking ganesha's blessings on the artshow and all participants.

Monday, October 20, 2008

an article for a dutch magazine about PEACE

Promoting peace in Washington DC

I have been engaged in a campaign for the last four weeks to convince the voters of the USA to elect Barack Obama as our next president, because he supports dialogue and full diplomatic relations with Iran, while John McCain has threatened military attacks in response to the fear that Iran might be developing nuclear weapons as an extension of their nuclear power project. Obama also favors a quick pull-out from Iraq, and the eventual elimination of ALL the world's nuclear weapons. There is a stark contrast between the promises of the two main candidates for president of the USA with regards to nurturing peace versus threatening war.

My campaign consists largely of my dressing in an Uncle Sam costume and standing in front of the White House, where tourists visit in great numbers with their cameras in hand, ready to take each other's photo. Seeing this festive colourful outfit, many of the visitors take a photo or two posing next to me, so my sign gets recorded into their camera. I urge the tourists to send copies of the photos to all their friends, so many people see the image of Uncle Sam holding a sign supporting Obama, and prominently displaying the "peace sign".

Let me say a few words about the so-called "peace sign". It began its life in 1958 as the symbol of "nuclear dis-armament". In fact it is based in semaphore portrayals of N.D. Holding the two semaphore flags down at 45 degree angle represents the letter "N". holding them straight up and down represents "D". turning the peace sign upside-down invokes the semaphore letter "U" instead of "N" so it calls for UNIVERSAL disarmament, which I think is even better than calling for merely dismantling the nuclear weapons. The man who invented this symbol based it in an image of despair: a Goya engraving of a man about to be executed. Some time after the introduction of the symbol he realized that it ought to be used upside-down to evoke a figure of hands raised up in a gesture encouragement rather than dejection, resignation and despair.

The appearance of the "upside-down peace sign" often invites a brief conversation about the relationship between peace and dis-armament. Many people are pleased to learn about the history of the "peace sign", and of course many are pleased to get the message that Uncle Sam supports peace. I also make a different version of the "peace sign" in every photo I pose for, with two fingers upraised in a V shape. This is a variation of the old "V for Victory" but in this post-modern context, it always means "may PEACE be victorious!".

When people ask me why I support Obama, I reply that my support is based on plans for peace and justice. My first approach to the issue of justice involves a return to the taxation system which was used during the 1950s, when rich people paid more income tax than they do today, and the federal budget was balanced as a result of a just system of taxation. If people are willing to engage in longer conversations, the sub-topics of justice appear: reducing the emphasis on prosecuting recreational use of soft drugs, solving the Palestinian/Israeli problem, environmental justice through green energy programs etc. But first and foremost my support of Barack Obama is based in the peace movement, because if there is a nuclear war, all other issues become moot; and as long as the USA spends more than a third of its economy on military projects, this nation can do little for useful projects.

There are many others in Lafayette Park next to the White House who also campaign for peace and justice using other methods and focusing on other aspects of these issues.

There is one group which has conducted a vigil 24/7 since 1981. Somebody has been in their little encampment every day and every night for twenty-seven years, drawing attention to the dangers of nuclear weapons, "depleted uranium" bullets, and nuclear energy. They, too, are often photographed and their message generates many conversations based on reports of returning tourists.

There are several groups and many individuals who come to the White House simply to pray for the president and the nation. Many hold signs which invite passers-by to pray with them, often requesting prayers for peace.

Quite a few people just wander around Lafayette Park and nearby with signs saying "impeach Bush" or "arrest Bush" or "impeach Cheney first" or the like. One lady plays her shofar in the direction of the White House, and lectures passers-by about how the economic collapse was caused by the USA urging Israel to return part of their land to the Palestinians, and how it is the sacred duty of the USA to protect Israel during the coming Final War. Fortunately rather few people pay attention to her message.

During the past two weeks, the financial crisis has sapped away almost all media attention from the other issues: people are more concerned with money than with foreign policies. During the televised debates, the candidates are asked important questions about foreign policy, but they merely supply stock answers and return to the next round of blame and empty promises relative to the economy.

Fortunately the economic collapse seems to be having a positive effect on the projected outcome of the presidential election, and even many of the Congressional seats. Since the economic policies which produced this financial catastrophe have come mostly from the Republican party strategies, the Democrat party is gaining converts, especially from the wealthy people who have seen much of their fortune evaporate in the collapse of the stock market and related institutions. Current forecasts are for a large gain for the Democrat party, so president Obama will have full co-operation from the legislative branch.

I am personally encouraged by the results of my theatrical vigil: most people smile and say approving words. Many have specifically thanked me for dedicating so much of my time and energy to this project. It is clear that most Americans are ready for a change; most Americans are ready to give peace a chance and turn away from foreign policies based on violence and the threat of violence. It is also clear that the economic crisis is forcing Americans to re-consider the cost of our military interventionism from a purely financial viewpoint, which will also invite more reflection on the immorality of war and the blessings of peace.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

some of my colleagues here in DC

this guy named sam sees it as his duty to come down to the white house every weekend and call for congress to do their constitutional duty: to call a trial of the chief executive for various high crimes and misdemeanors.

these "veterans for peace" staged an occupation of part of the federal archives building. the media reported on their action. no arrests were made. no change in policy. the people practice their freedom of speech; the government practices their freedom to ignore the people. the sign reads "defend our constitution; arrest bush / cheney: war criminals". these guys are serious. they are VETERANS who have experienced the wars first-hand and are calling for justice through criminal prosecution.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

national institute for health wants my brain

starting today I will be participating in an exploration of brain function at the National Institute of Health, where an Esperanto buddy works. actually this is Jed's project: a study of brain function of people who have suffered brain injuries through strokes or concussion. I will be part of a "control" group with normal brain function. this will include a general physical exam and a thorough MRI scan of my brain. then they will investigate all manner of details about my brain function with regard to language processing.

uncle$am in the native american museum

a few days ago i had been working the corridor between the Congressional office buildings ad the Capitol, because the Congress reps have to pass there often. traffic had stopped: the reps had all voted their last vote for the day and had all gone home early. so i wandered down to the Mall, which is where all the Smithsonian museums are. the first one on the path from Capitol hill is the Native American museum. i went in and ascended to the top floor, where there are several exhibits of various tribes and their way of life, especially revealing their spiritual values and cosmology. the recurring theme was "we are still here; our people and our culture have survived". at first i was filled with admiration and wonder at this accomplishment: that so many cultures managed to dodge the bullet of western genocide and suppression; but in the Lakota exhibit, i saw my reflection in a glass, and saw uncle sam here surrounded by artifacts and statements related to this noble people. i suddenly felt a wave of grief and shame. i started crying as a representative of the US which did so much to kill these people and snuff out their culture. i thought about wounded knee and all the battles and massacres which preceded the killing field there. i mumbled "i'm sorry. i'm sorry" although there was nobody there to absolve me of our sins. i wept, and continued to cry as i drifted out of the museum past the display of swords which had been used to hack up native americans in south america, and past the exhibit of all the types of guns which settlers used to hunt and kill the original inhabitants of the New World. my heart is still aching. i don't know what to do about it.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

my media appearances

pretty slim so far...
a radio show (and maybe newspaper articles from the same interview) in kenya.
a local university TV interview.

some vague assertions ("newspaper in denmark" etc)

mostly the picture of uncle sam supporting the VOTE (for obama) campaign is getting into over a hundred cameras every day.

my friend giridhar suggested i re-frame the name of my game: i am planting MEMES, rather than viruses by my campaign of having tourists photograph my sign....

sure, why not?

it is a better word, but i like the reference to jello biafra and william burroughs, both of whom used the word "virus" for this kind of phenomenon....

but, hey, why not be accurate? memes they are and thus shall i call them!

UncleSam got a new hat and met a former student

max was a student at black pine circle five years ago. he did a double-take when he saw me in front of the white house....

sorry for its sidewaysification: the software that SHOULD rotate photos does not function....

st pauli girl (the original)

for those who didn't get the reference in the last post, here is the logo of the german beer from hamburg.

Friday, September 19, 2008

oktoberfest at the brewpub

some days i need to wet the whistle after a long day of preserving democracy....
yesterday was the premiere of the special oktoberfest bockbier. a friend snapped this photo with me and the barmaid dressed as a st. pauli girl.


i had a long and amazing discussion with an air force pilot who had just returned from a tour of duty in afghanistan... i will try to summarize his POV.... but not right now....

Sunday, September 14, 2008

where i stand so far: progress of the virus

so the police are OK about my performing my UncleSam routine in front of the white house, but i can't ask for money, and i need to keep on moving, so i can't even put out a hat to SILENTLY ask for money.

the project has been a rollicking success: hundreds of viruses have been implanted in cameras to be taken back home to the "heartland" of the country, where people reviewing the trip photos will ask each other "why does Uncle Sam support Obama?"

and there is a sub-virus: a virus within a virus.... the sign invites the question "what does mean? what does mean?" i hope that many enquiring minds will want to know...

i might still stand in some part of the city where i am not required to keep moving, and put out a hat there as a money magnet. i am not sure if it will be worth the trouble, and whether i will be distracting myself from my own project by chasing dollars....

Friday, September 12, 2008

too good to be true

I suppose it was too good to be true... the police next to the white
house have told me I cannot ask for money. they call it solicitation. i was earning around $15 per hour before they shut me down. i could live on that!
so I asked whether I could play music with a hat proffered to welcome
tips. i waa told that I could busk if I get a street musician's
permit. so i hurried crosstown to the DC gov't center. I arrived at
4:40, which seemed to give plenty of time to apply, or at least to get
the forms. but, no... the permit office closed at 4:30...
tomorrow I will know where to go.

[next day]

so i just went there, and i was told by the first guy that i had to see a different bureaucrat in a different office downstairs. the first guy handled permits of platforms and booths; the other guy handled licences for vrndors. i was asking for permission to charge money for a service, you see, so that is vending...

the second bureaucrat sent me cross town to the DC police, because there was no "permit" required, but i might need clarification of regulations from the local constabulary. so the sergeant said i could not ASK for money, but i could put out a hat or a can near to where i was playing. but the white house police won't let me stand still: i need to keep walking back and forth, so i cannot place a hat out....

so i will either earn no money by posing for tourists' photos, or shift my "stage" back to the city streets away from the white house and ALL THOSE TOURISTS.

still fine tuning...

where to live? how to live?

still looking for a place to live here in DC. I just had a charming
interview with a couple of women who will be leaving their apartment
at month's end and seek a temporary roommate. should I take a short
term place and then have to look again or rather still keep on looking
for the perfect living arrangement...

well it turns out that the two ladies made the decision for me: they
offered me the large-ish quiet room... if they had offered me the
room with traffic noise, I would have refused... but it is all
decided: i will move in on Sunday right after the hurricane blows over.

the place is a MESS. but it reminds me of being a grad student and crashing in temporary digs. what the heck: who cares?! pass the wine and let's keep talking about things that matter in words that must be said.....

what am i doing in WASHINGTON DC????

so I am now in the capitol city: DC! the belly of the beast...

I bought the materials today which I will need to build my "Uncle Sam
wants you to vote" sign. so I have not yet been out in costume, but I
am close to ready. I have scouted out some nice areas to settle in as
Uncle Sam: a sculpture garden right next to the smithsonian natural
history museum is shady and coolish. it seems that there are plenty of
tourists wandering about with cameras, so I think I will have no
problem sending images of PEACENIK unclesam back to the heartland.

en route to my first stroll through the mall as uncle Sam. I feel the
same excitement as I feel on opening night of regular play, although
there are no lines to rely on and no rehearsals to build up
confidence. I am still confident nonetheless and go out into the world with high expectations of fun and the weird contentment of
contributing to a worthy cause.
may peace prevail on earth.
my sign says simply "VOTE" and then in smaller letters and
the latter is in green letters: can you solve the riddle?
so as the day progressed, I had to tell several folks the answer to
this little riddle and also help others solve a different riddle: why
is the peace sign upside-down?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

what's next?

i have a ticket to washington D.C. where i will be doing street theater: VOTE!

holland? california? india? DC? where are we?

i can hardly tell...

so we left india on friday and sunday was the beginning of a week-long renaissance workshop at sonoma state. we stayed a night at some esperanto buddies' house in oakland, and then headed off (still jet-lagged) to rohnert park. we arrived, checked in and went off to our first session: sight-reading renaissance music while our brains were still a half-continent away.
and what a week of excellent music!
then off to miwuk for a few days, then to oregon for a week, including quick visits with randall & family, trudy & family, chela, shari & family... and the oregon country fair... i am exhausted just thinking about this whirlwind visit....

but we already had tickets to holland, so we had to head to the olde worlde before hansa's birthday.

and of course there was the world congres of esperanto, right there in rotterdam, about a mile from hansa's apartment.... amazing to see so many of my long-time buddies in a brigadoon-like time warp.

i stayed in holland riding my bike and/or skating every day for several weeks until it was time to come save the world from FOUR MORE YEARS of war and deficits.

is the summer almost over already? REALLY???

i can't believe that i have written nothing for months...

and yet the sumer has been FULL of events:
a week-long renaissance music workshop
several days with mom & dad in miwuk
a quick visit to yosemite to see friends from india
a week in oregon visiting family and going to the oregon country fair
a great pub-sing with revels buddies on bastille day
world congress of esperanto
postkongresa ekskurso in maastricht
family picnic with hansa's HUGE extended family
trip to friesland
wednesday night skate in rotterdam

but will i ever write up any of this?

will i post pictures????

stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

multi-cultural day bollywood dance

this is a piece from the recent hit movie "jhoom baraber jhoom" which the faculty performed during a day of all manner of amusements and art. we were the finale act. kids loved seeing their teachers up on stage!

Monday, May 19, 2008

back in december we were in munnar.... VIDEO

this is at the durga temple, the dancers are warming up the crowd for the BIG ACT to follow....

Monday, April 14, 2008

narasimha: the fourth incarnation of vishnu

this is a great statue, but i was especially intrigued by the belt around his legs, like a kind of yoga device... carved from a single block of stone, which ABOUNDS in hampi.

bathing pool in hampi

the level of architectural prowess in Hampi was amazing. this aquaduct carried water to this public bath.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

stones on top of stones

the style of hampi's architecture was clearly influenced by the surrounding boulders. some of these boulders were simply carved into idols right where they lay; others were carved up into building blocks and turned into temples, palaces, market stalls etc. the whole region is a massive quarry of good quality granite.

monkeys outside of hanuman temple

at the hanuman temple just outside of hampi, there are monkeys in great quantities. hanuman was the king of the monkeys which helped rama win a few important battles. it turns out that the monkey armies came from the region around hampi, and that hanuman was born in a cave on the mountain right below where the temple is.

it was quite a climb up (two hundred steps or so) and the sun was beating down on us mercilessly.

the tropical sun is MUCH higher and hotter than in the temperate zones! a friend here tells me that the sun will be DIRECTLY overhead on april 13. no shadow from a flagpole.... or even from our peace pole...

Friday, March 28, 2008

so we wandered among the ruins in the blazing sunshine

notice the boulders which frame every scene in hampi.

swimming pool with no water

we spent two nights on the north side of the river, because the weather was HOT, and we had read about the lakshmi golden beach resort with their BIG swimming pool. but we were not warned that the pool has a season! it is only filled and ready for swimmers from november through february....

holiday in hampi

back in the 15th century hampi was the center of south indian culture and commerce. but the invading muslims pretty much wrecked all the architecture and especially the "infidel" temples. the ruins are still amazing: this was a city of half a million people. and the landscape all around the town is spectacular: giant boulders stacked on top of one another.
(does anybody know how to rotate an image for this site? i have rotated it in "preview" but it still shows up unrotated...)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

about my school and its students

several people have pointed out that i have written almost nothing about my school and all my experiences there.
perhaps it seems i am on some sort of holiday?
no... i just feel like my work-a-day world is just what i do, and that blog-readers will have little interest in a little school in the suburbs of big bad bangalore.
so forewarned is thousand-armed (as they say in india). anybody not interested in details about teens and colleagues ought to skip this post...

the students are a deeply international lot: around a quarter are korean, about a quarter indian, and the other half are widely spread, with more than a handful from france, germany, japan, australia, brazil, holland, singapore, USA, australia, etc etc there are even a few canadians! it is actually surprizing how few canadians there are here, because i am teaching at the CANADIAN international school of bangalore. the photo shows one of my seventh grade classes. notice how small the class is. my eighth grade classes are a little bigger: 16 each.

the kids are great, for the most part. just like in any collection of teens, there are a few lazy kids, but nobody is mean nor openly disrespectful. it is a weird challenge to teach math to a group of kids knowing that a third of them cannot understand the language, and that their biggest challenge is learning english, not the subject matter itself.

i am reminded of how far advanced asian curricula are in math compared to the US norms. the canadian math curriculum is even SLOWER than the US!! in the eighth grade we are just introducing the basics of algebra, while koreans got a pretty thorough dose of algebra in grades six and seven. so for them there is NOTHING new in the normal course of studies; it's all about language-learning... and wild & crazy enrichment provided by yours truly.

my colleagues are also widely international, but with a greater concentration of canadians. they are a great group, but i usually like teachers!

during multi-cultural week a few weeks back, several teachers got together and did a bollywood style dance routine. i was a big hit in the revue: to think that an old white guy can actually do those moves! it was great fun. i might be able to find a photo of that later. in the meantime, here's the trailer of the film whose title track we danced to. notice how much i look like the big star amitabh bachchan (called the "big B"). so i was indirectly cast as an aging hippy!

i think you'll have to cut and paste this, or do a search for jhoom barabar bachchan or some such.
it's great music and a fun dance style.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

fire at the wedding

no indian ritual is complete without fire: AGNI blesses and purifies....

wedding continues

later on the groom places the bride's feet on a little carpet of rice and spice and flowers to welcome her into the new realm of her responsibilities. their new home is now THEIR new home (but the cooking and cleaning is all HER responsibility). shortly after this, they walked to the hotel room of the groom's parents to formalize the fact that she now belongs to HIS family, rather than to her former family.

indian wedding

a colleague invited us to her wedding. there were hardly any foreigners there, and the locals were nice enough to explain the rites we were seeing. the wedding invitation said the event would start at 7:56 in the morning, supposedly because the astrologers specified that this would be the best time to enact these events. this photo shows the parents washing the feet of the new groom (son-in-law) as a sign of humility and welcoming.

after this and a few other rituals were done, we had breakfast, then moved on to the next round of rituals....

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

i made a poem: based on local observations

Fading paint

At first it was full and complete- a finely painted picture:
The dearly loved doctor, the champion—all the down-trampled untouchables
Hailed him as hero, as savior, as saint, this high-minded speaker
Whose face has now faded—only red lips remain of famous Ambedkar.

And what can we say of Sandino? His revolution still strong
In his homeland and hither and yon. His heart a hardy beacon
For peasants and poets and people all over the planet
Who hate oppression. But where is HE? Thank God we have his hat!

See where even God in his grandeur—Lord Govinda with his gopis—
Must suffer the same slow fading. Even Krishna’s sweet self
Is not what once it was. Where are his wisps of hair?
Nought but nipples of his lovers and mellifluous notes remain.

As time and tides conspire, eroding and erasing tinting paint,
Still spirit will survive, even if its symbols must grow faint.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

another visit to the dance village

a few more photos and commentary about nrityagram are at:

a wee bit of info about one of the foremost dancers in india, whom i have had the fortune to see several times:

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Durga Dance

When we arrived there were three professional dancers and a singer performing a kind of warm-up act. The two female dancers wore sequined tops and short skirts. One had black tights which protected her ankles from the Morris-like bells they wore; the other female had socks to protect her ankles, and her legs were bare. The male dancer was all in gold: he could have been a back-up singer for the James Brown Revue, or a Brazilian Carnival celebrant. They danced with moves that looked more African than Indian. The girls’ head-dresses also looked quite African. After a quarter of an hour of non-stop high energy soul music and bump’n’grind dancing, the horn section took over and kept the beat happening. The dancers got bawdy, simulating sex and popping a balloon between a man and a woman. After another quarter hour or more of frenzied dancing, the crowd began moving to re-assemble in front of the temple. The professional dancers stopped dancing and some old locals started dancing. Quite soon it was obvious that two of the dancers were possessed by Durga. One woman stuck out her tongue and kept it out non-stop for the better part of an hour. She blinked in time with the drumming, and spun slowly around, making deep eye contact with everybody there. Her eyes were WIDE open, big white circles like we see in “primitive” temple paintings.
One man held two burning logs pressed to his chest while he danced around, his eyes fluttering madly, his chest dripping with sweat and grease.
Three goats were tied near the temple gate: they were eating juicy leaves and colourful flowers which people were feeding to them. An old fellow went over and untied one of the goats and led it to a spot right outside of the temple where Durga could clearly see it. The dancers gestured to the drummers to pick up the pace, so the rhythm became frenzied fast. suddenly a man moved over to the goat and raised a half-meter-long curving blade and held it swaying and bobbing high over the goat’s head. He brought it down swiftly onto the animal’s neck, killing it instantly. The goat drifted down to the earth and lay motionless—no quivering nor jerking. The drummers burst into chaotic hammering away at the skins of their instruments. The dancers gyrated and flapped their arms. The woman with her tongue hanging out stared at the sacrificial beast and shook all over. A couple of men picked up the dead goat and wrapped it in a bright red cloth with a gold border. They held it up high in the air, showing the limp carcass to one and all, blood running down their arms. Then one of the trance dancers stepped up to the headless bloody animal and thrust his head under the cloth. The drummers resumed their pulsating beat; the entire crowd glued their eyes on the man under the red shroud. The rhythm grew faster and faster, until finally the man’s face re-appeared grimacing, eyes bulging, his tongue thrust out and downwards, dripping with blood. His whole face was lathered in blood. His face was matted with fresh red blood which flowed down his beard and all over his shirt. His eyes darted all about, his face a mask of wide white eyes and hideous red tongue. The two men who had been holding the goat carried the limp dead thing away behind the temple to a small bunch of people who began to remove its skin. Another fellow poured several liters of water over the blood-drinker’s head, cleansing all traces of the deed. Minutes later the ritual was repeated with another goat, another red shroud, another bloody face with its tongue obscenely extended, dripping with the stuff of life and death. Soon a chicken was brought out and the scene was repeated with chicken blood dripping from the mouth of the frenzied fellow whom Durga had possessed. Some of the guys directing the crowd cleared a path from the scene of the sacrifice out to the steps leading to the street. The headless chicken was quickly brought over, still wrapped in its red shroud, and released in the direction of the road. It flew a few meters, spewing blood from its neck, then ran around a few more seconds before falling to the ground, its wings fluttering and sputtering a bit more until it lay still in a heap, looking like common roadkill. By the time we looked back at the crowd, the last of the blood-drinkers had been cleaned up and the scene was innocence itself: just some drummers and dancers moving together in pulsating rhythm. The crowd’s energy quickly dispersed and many turned their backs on the scene and nonchalantly strolled towards their cars or other vehicles parked nearby. They had seen the Goddess in her hideous form, but now She was gone: time to get back to the mundane world.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

vacation report (more to follow)

we just got back from two weeks in kerala, on india's west coast. the state slogan is "god's own country" but i thought G-d lived EVERYwhere... well, things certainly is be-you-tifull in kerala....

we flew into kochi and went straight to *fort* kochi, a touristy region settled and built by dutch traders (18th century) and british colonialists (19th century) which has lots of colonial-era charm. there is a section of town unabashedly called "jew town" because many jews lived there for several centuries, before they all emigrated to israel. we took a little boat trip (see photo above) in the backwater region. slow and peaceful...

after five days of wandering around kochi, we went to the hill station called munnar, the center of india's tea industry and also the site of many herb farms and even wildlife parks. the mountains are magnificent, especially in contrast to the plains of bangalore and the flatlands of kochi.

our final five days of real vacation were basic beach relaxation, with plenty of sleeping and swimming in the warm ocean. the seafood in all the restaurants was amazing: fresh marlins, tuna, barricudas, etc which we could point to and say "gimme a slice of THAT one!".

and now i need to gird my spirits for a return to the "real world" of teaching math according a rigourous schedule, rather than swimming or hiking as the whim strikes me....