Stayin’ Alive

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Make sure your polyester shirt is wrinkle-free this Monday morning—you only have five more days to prepare for Saturday Night.

I always liked the scene where Travolta comes to Karen Lynn Gorney’s new apartment in Manhattan, and it slowly dawns on him that life is larger than his Brooklyn Bay Ridge neighborhood.

Thanks to YouTuber John Michaelson

ICE, El Hielo: La Santa Cecilia

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A heartbreaking song about undocumented immigrants, sung by the great La Santa Cecilia. Video directed by Alex Rivera. Stay through the closing credits…

Hielo is the Spanish word for ICE; ICE also stands for the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

More La Santa Cecilia at La Santa Cecilia

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Blogger cairaguas has translated the Spanish into English. Visit the excellent blog page to find out more about the video and the political and historical context of ICE.

Eva pasando el trapo sobre la mesa, ahí está,
Cuidando que todo brille como una perla
Cuando llegue la patrona que no se vuelva a quejar.
No sea cosa que la acuse de ilegal.

Eva passing the rag over the table, there she is,
Taking care that everything shines like a pearl
(So) when the boss comes, she does not complain again.
Don’t let it be that she accuses her of being illegal.

José atiende los jardines; parecen de Disneyland.
Maneja una troca vieja sin la licencia.
No importa si fue taxista allá en su tierra natal;
Eso no cuenta para el Tío Sam.

Jose tends to the gardens; they look like they’re from Disneyland.
He drives an old truck without a license.
It does not matter if he was a taxi driver over in his home country;
That does not count for Uncle Sam.

Chorus:
————————————————————-
El hielo anda suelto por esas calles.
Nunca se sabe cuando nos va a tocar.
Lloran, los niños lloran a la salida,
Lloran al ver que no llegará mamá.

ICE is loose over those streets.
We never know when we will be hit. [*alt. We never know when it will be our turn.]
They cry, the children cry at the doorway,
They cry when they see that their mother will not come back.

Uno se queda aquí.
Otro se queda allá.
Eso pasa por salir a trabajar.

One is left here.
Another is left there.
That’s what happens when you go out to work.
————————————————————-

Martha llegó de niña y sueña con estudiar,
Pero se le hace difícil sin los papeles.
Se quedan con los laureles los que nacieron acá,
Pero ella nunca dejar de luchar.

Martha arrived as a girl and she dreams of studying,
But it is difficult for her without documents.
They keep all the prizes, the ones who were born over here,
But she never stops fighting. [*alt. But she never stops trying.]

[Chorus: “El hielo anda suelto por esas calles…”]

 

Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This

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Monday, Mama Said: Carole King’s classic hit for The Shirelles.

There’s something about the bridge in this song that is quintessential Carole King. I wish I had the musical background to describe what she’s doing here. Anyone?

Nearer My God…

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Okay, so I’m probably the last person on Earth to have discovered comedian David Cross, but now that I have, I’m a fan.  He is probably best known as the character “Tobias” on the television series Arrested Development.

Cross revealed in an interview that he once roomed with Louis CK, and their mutual influence is easy to see. I think Cross is edgier though: he goes right up to the line, and just when you think he’s going to pull back, he reaches over and smacks you in the head. He’s what listening to Lenny Bruce back in the day must have been like.

Warning: Cross is savagely anti-religion; if you’re likely to be offended by such, pass this one by. Not Suitable For Work–lots of cursing and bad taste.

 

The Alexandria Quartet

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In my early twenties, I read The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, and now decades later, I’ve come back to it. I finished reading it again, and I have to say, I’ve spent the last two weeks hypnotized by it. But aside from the luxurious language, and the sensuous world created, the larger conception of the four volumes is audaciously ambitious and deals with themes that have haunted me for most of my life.

Durrell says the structure of The Quartet was based on Einsteinian principles: the three dimensions of space and one of time. Not in any literal sense, but rather metaphorically: the first three books describe a tale from three different points of view, and the fourth picks up the story later in time. In describing The Quartet, I’m about to give a kind of spoiler, but I think it’s necessary, because without a full description of the plan of The Quartet, you might be tempted to bail after the first volume. That would be a mistake. So…

The novels are set in Egypt, between the two world wars. The first volume, Justine, is told in first person by a somewhat struggling British school teacher and writer named Darley, whose circle of friends includes civil servants in the Alexandria Foreign Office.  Durrell’s Alexandria is a city of intoxication and deception: it’s a major character in the love story of Darley with the mysterious Justine, a Jewish woman married to a rich Arab banker. The story is told in exquisite language, and Durrell has an almost Dickensian ability to sketch characters who are distinctly humorous and memorable set within the city brought to life in all its frenetic, teeming activity.

But it’s not until the second volume that the larger plan of The Quartet begins to unfold: in volume two, Balthazar, the same story is re-told, but this time from the point of view of a friend of Darley’s, Balthazar. Balthazar sends a letter to Darley which completely upends Darley’s view of what had happened during his affair.

Volume three, Mountolive is told in third person; it too recounts the events of the first two novels, this time largely from the point of view of the chief British ambassador to Alexandria, Mountolive. Not only are the first two versions of the story completely upended, but the misunderstandings are now played out on the macro level, a result of world power politics of which the narrators in the first two books had no understanding. By the end of this volume, the true nature of The Quartet becomes clear. We are actors in a world of incomplete information and so, necessarily, the lives we live are fictional creations of our own construction.

The fourth volume, Clea, moves on in time. It is about six years later after the events of the first three volumes, and Darley, eventually learns most—but not all—of what really happened (even the reader does not get to know the complete story). But again he is forced to reassess the events again, and especially his own feelings towards Justine and the others. He returns to Alexandria, trying to pick up the threads of his life, and here the novel becomes a meditation on the confrontation of the past with the present, and coming to terms with what has changed and what has remained the same. This volume is slower, told more leisurely, with more asides.  I think this makes very good sense. The ending is very satisfying as the hypnotic spell is gently broken. I felt as if I had been in the meditation flotation tank; the music is slowly coming back on, gently waking me back to the present reality.

I don’t really know what the present reputation of The Quartet is among serious writers and critics of modern literature. Perhaps there is something old hat about it now. I don’t know. There is, definitely, a certain amount of casual racism, Orientalism, and British colonial attitude through much of it. But I know also that for two weeks I lived in a dream, not able to let it go, mesmerized by the intoxicating tale(s) of Lawrence Durrell.

 

Mr. Bass Man

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Wake up Monday morning to one of the great novelty songs of the early sixties.

It wasn’t until  years after I first heard this song that I realized the title was not “Mr. Spaceman.” I guess I thought that because of songs of the time like “One-eyed, One-horned, Flyin’ Purple People Eater.”

The song, written and sung by Johnny Cymbal, has the catchy (and, okay, ultimately annoying) bass line sung by Ronnie Bright who also appeared on Barry Mann’s “Who Put the Bomp (in the Bomp-Bah-Bomp-Bah- Bomp).” He later sung with The Coasters.

Thanks to YouTuber MrRJDB1969

City Lights

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Critic James Agee called the final scene of City Lights the “greatest single piece of acting ever committed to celluloid.” I much prefer Modern Times and The Great Dictator as complete Chaplin films, but I still do love the ending of City Lights.

The set-up: The Tramp befriends a blind girl (Virginia Cherrill), but she mistakes him for a wealthy man. The Tramp vows to raise money so that the girl can have an operation to restore her sight. He fails at a succession of jobs, but manages to help a drunken millionaire who gives the Tramp $1000 for the girl’s operation. He gives the girl the money, then leaves, the girl’s illusion of his wealth remaining intact.

The Tramp is arrested by the police who assume that he stole the money, and he is put in jail. Months later, he is released; the girl has had her operation and she now runs a small flower shop … you can pick it up from there…click on the video to play.

Thanks to YouTuber okonx

Floating Through Life

Bath-Floatation

About forty years ago, I spent an hour in a flotation tank. It was a coffin-like affair, filled with salt water, light-proof and sound-proof. The specific gravity of the water was set to a point that allowed one to float in the water without any effort at all, as if one were floating in the Dead Sea. The water was also heated to about body temperature, so that I became completely oblivious of the environment. The situation is such that without the distractions of the outer world, the only sensory inputs are the sounds of one’s own breath and heartbeat, along with the mental phenomena that the brain is generating.

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to do this again, coincidentally only a block away from the building where I did it the first time. But time marches on, and so it is with flotation technology. No longer does one go into an enclosed pod. Instead I went into a small bathroom-sized room with a shower. I took a shower and then opened up a door on one side of the shower into a smaller room, which contained what looked like a large bathtub. I could stand up in the bathtub which was filled with about a foot of epsom-salt treated water. The room was dark and soundproofed except for a light switch on the wall that could be controlled by myself. I lay down in the warm water, and because the dimensions of the tub were large enough, no part of my body touched any of the walls of the tub. And since I was floating, my body essentially simulated a weightless and suspended mass.

For the first ten minutes soft music was piped in, (it seemed very  soft, because beforehand, in the shower, I put in the supplied earplugs) and I reached out to the wall with my right hand to turn off the soft purple light, which left me in total darkness. There was a brief moment of panic, like What am I doing? Maybe I should just get out (no, there are no locked doors or anything like that), but that feeling quickly passed and I decided to just relax with it.

Now forty years ago, when my body was a lot more co-operative, I remember relaxing very quickly. In a few minutes back then, I was hallucinating without drugs, seeing color cartoons in the black space above my head. This time, I did not experience such phenomena. But I wasn’t in it for the tripping this time, instead, I thought that it might help with some back pains I had been feeling a lot more this year. The experience for me was really enlightening: I realized that in a way, I was in the same position as that of a patient in analysis. That is, in analysis you are presented with the blank wall of the analyst, and eventually you realize that everything you are surmising about the analyst is in fact the result of your own mental projections onto the blank slate of the analyst. So you begin to understand the prejudices of your own mind. Under flotation, a kind of analogous process happens: because there are no physical stressors on the body from the outside environment, you realize that the tensions you are holding onto in your body have nothing to do with say, coping with gravity, or the lousy mattress, but are in fact tensions that exist despite those factors.

And what happened for me as I was floating was this: I felt very little tension in my back, but very much in my neck, a lot of pain. I realized that this was the source of the pain I was feeling in my everyday world. The environment and gravity may have masked it and  transformed it into back pain, but in reality it was the neck that was the problem. I put my hands under my neck for a while, and it started relaxing. Soon, I felt a lot less neck and back pain. I then went into a deeper state of relaxation. It was not before too long though, that I heard the music being piped in again—a signal that my hour was about to end. It had gone more quickly than I had realized. I gently sat up in the tub, and turned back on the dim purple light. It surprised me how harsh the light now seemed; I had to shield my eyes as it seemed as bright as sunlight after an afternoon movie.

When I got dressed, I was told to sit down for at least ten minutes, and drink some water or tea, before I went back out into the street. I felt less anxious and calmer than usual, more focused and centered, and I had much less back pain. I read some of the literature in the office, and it mentioned that the first float is often about adjusting to the new experience, and that after subsequent floats, people tend to get into the relaxation state more quickly. I signed up for another session for a few weeks later.

The rest of the afternoon, I was quite relaxed and had little pain. But unfortunately I can’t say that the positive effect lasted more than the day. The next day was a very high humidity day, the kind of day that really aggravates my muscles, and the effects of the float were no longer apparent.

Will I have the same experience in float number two? I’ll let you know a few weeks from now.

Summer in the City

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Throw off those hot and sweaty bedsheets this Monday morning. There’s a hydrant out there for each of us if we hurry…

Thanks to YouTuber Jim Lane for the great accompanying video.

Sorry for the non-working audio before—it should work now.