Monday, 3 May 2010

A kind of koan...

where I might normally have a mind to moan.
I was getting exasperated simply waiting the other day when i thought of this:
When are your lungs more empty?
When you breathe in, or when you breathe out?
The bus arrives much quicker with this in mind, I promise.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Those flocks of little green parrots

Are parrots a flock? It seems like a group of them should be called a “gaggle” or a “snaggle” or something ending with “aggle”.
It’s a strange city phenomenon over here in Europe. I first noticed them 4 years ago when I lived in Barcelona. I had just arrived in the city and was having a blissful all alone day pottering around and discovering, when a little ghost arose somewhere in my mind and began it’s lonely whimpering. I felt sorry for myself, I missed my friends and then out of no where, right above my head I heard a very animated conversation between about 20 little green parrots who had just landed in the trees above my head. I laughed out loud in a way that only a woman traveling alone can. I was missing my friends and out of the sky came this waggle of tiny parrot friends to gossip and sort me out. They were my welcome to Barcelona and I later learned rumour had it that a couple of parrots had escaped from the zoo and had become a fraggle of parrots over the years. It was a beautiful story and I believed it readily.
A couple of years ago I moved to Rome and several time since arriving here, I’ve seen a green parrot gang playing cards and drinking scotch in the palm trees. I’ve also seen them in Brazil, which is a bit more expected but very surpisingly I recently spotted them in Greenwich, London. So, what is going on? Either I am being followed because my parrot friends think I can’t be trusted to take care of myself and therefore they need to check on me periodically. Or there is a steadily growing parrot population in major european cities. Why have they chosen us? Where did they come from? What do they eat? What do they talk about so passionately and animatedly? I feel sure their discussion topics include the the Catholic church, who makes the best seeded batch loaf and post post-modern films – call it a hunch.  Nevertheless, my heart sings to see them and if you are traveling to Europe this summer, keep your ears open – you’ll hear them before you see them.

Monday, 19 April 2010

As I was saying...

Only just yesterday in a zen sunday mode, I wrote that being unable to go somewhere can be a kind of freedom. So it's as if God is laughing heartily now, because this evening I was all ready to go out to see a friend's concert and I got in the car which sputtered and refused to start. Am I being tested ? I don't seem to be able to get away with anything, ever - I was the kid who always got caught.
However I am also the kid who doesn't let others get away with stuff I don't think is right. I recently got quite cross with Mia Market. It's the posh organic little hole in the wall cafe on the street where I live in Rome. A couple of nights ago, feeling lazy but healthy, I went in to see what they had in the way of soups for dinner. I found a carton of home-made soup and asked the price which I was informed was 4 euro (about $6). So I bought the soup and went home. In the elevator on the way up to my flat I opened the carton and was horrified to find it less than half full. I kid you not, there was less than 200mls of soup in there - not enought to feed a baby! So I marched back in and announced that it was "half-empty" - note the deliberate choice of point of view here. I was informed that it was supposed to be that way. I gave them what for and here's what I said: this is 2 spoonfuls of soup, we're living in a massive economic crisis at the moment, soup is 90% water, the people who pay this price for something so small are as guilty as those who charge this inflated price because they are feeding the same system, I want my money back. Now, it is quite possible that in the history of Mia Market, no one has ever complained about the prices. They sputtered and stalled (much like my car this evening) and looked embarrassed and generally flawed, but I got my money back. My neighbourhood is pretty touristy which means it's expensive because the prices are set for the tourists not for the residents. And while I agree that" it was only soup Sylvie for Pete's sake" - I am glad that I learned to complain effectively from living in the US for 10 years. Americans are fabulous at customer service and getting what they want - something Italians know relatively little about in comparison. I may have been excessive but I am so glad that I stand up for myself.
PS I had an omelette at home instead, for those wondering!

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Clear skies over the volcano cloud....

Well folks, it's a strange thing, to look up and see not one white trail tail left by an airplane. I can't say I mind it. I have a vague suspicion that this is happening to teach us all something...I don't claim to know what exactly I'm supposed to learn from this (which incidentally makes the whole thing feel like a philosophy class) but it might have something to do with noticing things. Also with appreciation. It feels a bit like freedom, to not be able to move - let me qualify that statement. I am no longer obligated to go somewhere so I now just have to get comfortable with being where I am. Maybe I'm just feeling spiritual sunday about things - but isn't that a kind of gift? How often have I been given the opportunity to just get comfortable being exactly where I am without thinking about a) where I'm about to go or b) where I should be going?Being forced to accept something, initially feels claustrophobic but once I've scaled the wall of indignance/frustration/powerlessness, I am free to potter around and see what else is on offer in the land of acceptance. I'm not trapped somewhere expensive with 4 children to feed and house on a daily basis - this is very true. Still, I keep feeling that no matter how apparently stressful the initial situation is, it must also be freeing because all our carefully made plans have evaporated and we are left with space and time to fill and spend as we like. And as inconvenient as that may be, I am absolutely sure it's an opportunity if we hold it right. Breathe - you are online. xx

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Staying in touch was never so easy, sadly!

This is kind of dangerous isn't it? I mean the whole keeping in touch via the internet. It used to be that once you lost touch - that was it. Other than going to the embassy and sending out private detectives, if we lost each other we had to pray that we both made, and kept, that appointment to meet on January 2nd, 2001 in Trafalgar Square at 11.15am. By the way, I was there - where were you?
Now it's impossible to lose anyone - except perhaps ourselves. Infact, we could lose ourselves while staying in touch with everyone we know. Scary but possible.
Last week, thanks to this marvelous technology, I made one person happy and pissed one person off. The person I made happy was: myself. I did this by finding a long lost friend.
The person I pissed off is another dear friend (who may wish they were long lost by me right now but) who will remain nameless. I'm going with the philosophy that says: if you wish to keep your integrity, you can tell the name of the sinner, or you can tell the sin, but never both.
My chosen method of causing a friend's blood pressure to rise? I failed to respond to an email within 24 hours on saturday. The dearfriendemailsender was seriously pissed off. A word of background here: I found myself floating in London for a few days without computer but with a rather rusty old phone that I bought second hand from Shakespeare - read: it does not have emailing capabilities. Hence when I didn't check my email for 48 hours I was out of touch with the whole world. My point is this: other than the fact that I obviously need to renounce my tape recorder and pager and join "the future" - when did we get so impatient? I blame the humble text. Nothing has changed communication like the text message. OK, other than, the tower of Babel, the railways, the talking drum, the telephone, the internet and the invention of therapy -nothing else has changed communication like the text message. It is utterly and completely sudden as a form of communication. We read so much into the speed of people's responses, perhaps more than we read the substance. It makes me wish that my dear pissed off friend had chosen to text instead of email.
We live in a time when you can find everyone, all the time (except me when I'm on Shakespeare's phone).
Another way of saying this is that you can't lose anyone.
But we do have a choice. Yes or no to the "friend request". Not checking email for 2 days.
Chosing not to look up pictures of our exes, hoping to find that one photo where they have regret in their eyes becomes kindness to oneself. Alfred Hitchcock believed that 9 out of 10 people, when they saw a neighbour undressing through the window of the house opposite, would keep looking. Human nature. Now, with a little more effort and a lot less chance of being caught, we can find our neighbours/exes and look at their lives through the window of our computers. Hitchcock was right.
This week, I'm going to give the things I want get: patience and kindness.
By the way, Jim - if you're reading this, you owe me an espresso chocolate chip brownie.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

I wished I was a tourist today

Today for the first time, I actually felt envious of the tourists. Usually I pity them: lost faces, noses in maps, stumbling over each other among the ruins and being overcharged for their ice-creams and cappucinos - there's so little Italian "soul" in the Rome that they roam because it's all tourists just like them . Rivers of them streaming down the streets and flooding the ancient monuments. Tourists out-number even the pigeons, and they're pretty similar when you think about it.
But today I realised this little something: it must be so lovely to be ignorant of the difficulties of life in Italy. To come here and appreciate all the art, nature, wine, ruins, food and music and then to go home. To not have to worry about the politics and economics of the situation must be bliss. I really hope Rome does not become a city where the best possible scenario is to be a tourist, innocent and blissfully breathing in the past without knowing the present at all.
But something lovely did happen while I was wondering around feeling sort of blue Sundayish -
I was walking with my head down because I was thinking and I noticed at a certain point that I was walking next to a knee-high wall that stretched on for a whole block. On the wall, every few feet, an artist had placed a work of art with a title inviting the casual passerby to enjoy his/her work. The artist had even written little comments and titles on the displays. Right in the middle of the wall was a notice in Italian and English which read : "Saying that the city of Rome is nothing more than an open air museum is not good enough : it lives because we are here".
Every now and then, when you feel like shit, the universe doesn't mess around and give you veiled signs which you have to interpret - and for this, I am extremely glad.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Living in Italy Part I

Oh how I miss those polite, little birds. You know the kind - genteel, elderly ladies in their 70's and 80's - still "with it" - nervously pecking around, self-conscious, constantly checking to make sure they aren't in anyone's way. English women mostly, suffering from our national epidemic of embarrassment. I met one today: Australian, in line at the bakery. I let her go first. She was skinny and all angles jutting out to gesture what she wanted, spoke not a word of Italian. I loved her instantly. Green eyes and her dyed brown bob of hair. These kind of ladies don't exist in every culture. In a generalizing way, I have to say that Italian women have stolid meaty elbows to push the competition out of the way in line at the grocery store. They are not paranoid in any way. I miss that jumpy insecurity - that sensitive skin that is so aware of all those around them - trying to figure out who's next in line, not wanting to jump ahead of anyone. Italians don't care who's next - it's always them, as far as they're concerned. You notice it the moment you arrive at Fiumicino airport - someone will inevitably jump the queue at passport control. In Italy the queues form horizontally. They were right - that's why I let my nervous Australian bird go first, because no one else would . She had that lovely tourist attitude of not-wanting-to-offend-trying-to-get-everything-right. We could use a few more like her around here. I love those elderly birds and I miss their flutterings.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Senegalese food in Genova?

Yup it's true. There amidst the pesto and foccaccia, right by the port is a Senegalese restaurant. Our hero Pap from L'Orchestra di Piazza Vittoria (well from Senegal originally) took the orchestra out to eat there. It's pretty cool - he has this philosophy that all Senegalese are his brothers so wherever we're touring he seeks out a restaurant and goes there to check in with his community. (There are several reasons why the English people don't do this but that is a whole other blog entry, my friends.) The night we went there, Thiof was on the menu. Thiof is a long fish similar to cod - let's face it, which white fish that comes from the Atlantic is not similar to cod? It's quite delicious and the Senegalese girls also like to call a good-looking guy a "thiof" - the shape of the fish is key to understand fully the joke.
Anyway, we ate like princes and princesses and paid 4 euros each for the priviledge. It's a bit shockinginagoodway to eat that well for so little in Italy. So if you're ever around here and get sick of Italian food - which can happen if you're not used to eating pasta at least once a day - try some Senegalese food. Yum.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Following Mary Poppins who...

never explains anything. I wish I was that cool.
So far, I,ve been in a different city every Sunday of 2010. I,m currently in Paris where it,s snowing and I can,t find the apostrophe key on the french keyboard so I,m using commas instead, sigh. Such is life.
I just finished 3 nights of "The Magic Flute" with L,Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio. How lovely are French audiences and French hospitality? Very. To begin with, stuff here always works. Perhaps from my experiences traveling in wierd places (and living in Italy hem hem), I have learned not to expect that things work the way they promise to on paper, but here in France it,s all tickety boo (except for the apostrophe key which is undoubtedly my fault not theirs given the track records of both parties). The organisation is staggeringly thoughful and in conclusion Lyon et Paris rock... where,s the exclamation key? Oh well... it,s time to go, before I feel more silly than I already do.
I,m going to write a small post about places I stayed in Brazil because I think it might be useful to fellow pilgrims this week - when I get on an English keyboard. ´´ I just found it ´´´´ - 200 words too late. Still no exclamation point though... darn ´

Monday, 18 January 2010

Excuses, excuses...

It´s only my third blog and I´m a day late already. However I have good reason: I arrived in Salvador de Bahia yesterday having taken the overnight bus from Maceio. I defy anyone to sit down and write on their first day in Salvador. Just to give you an idea of what I mean by that, the street percussion began this morning at 9am - it´s Monday by the way and it´s not even carnival yet. This town has music running through it at all times, that´s what´s keeping it alive. It is a place of stark contrast, undoubtedly the most physically beautiful people I´ve ever encountered anywhere, shoulder to shoulder with homeless crack-cocaine addicts. It also has an extraordinary quality : during the day, the streets are full of tourists and armed guards on the street corners (presumably the one creates the other), then at night, guards and tourists go away and the streets become really dangerous.
I had lunch today in a Bahian seafood restaurant and there were a couple of cats hanging out looking hungry and hopeful. Normally I would feed them due to the Lewis family total weakness for felines. The difficulty that became tangible to me was the fact that, people here beg for food. How could I feed a cat when in the same street where there´s a homeless, pregnant woman asking for lunch? I´ve noticed something else about food here too - waste is a really western culture thing. I don´t feel comfortable leaving food on my plate here.
Like I said, stark contrast. I went to hear Carlihnos Brown yesterday night and Seu Jorge got up to sing with him. I really love the way Brazilian tradition is about sharing the stage. I also love that the audience sings along all the time while dancing. Singing and dancing should never have been seperated - they were the perfect couple - still are in some places in our world.
Right, I´m off to bed because it´s late and the drums are going to start even earlier tomorrow morning. Apparently Tuesday is the really BIG day of the week in Salvador - there´s a party each week on this day - and as far as I can tell, Brazilians could teach us all a thing or two about partying. I´m going to get my zzz´s so I can be a good student. Boas noiches.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Rio is not breathing today...

I must have noticed it last night at about 4am - not a breath of air is passing through Rio de Janeiro today. It's all pre-carnival happiness here. People eat a lot of meat. I went to buy a bikini and disovered that they come in 2 sizes - carioca and gringo. One means you belong and so you show your bottom, and the other means you will take your bikini back wherever it is you came from and after all is said and done, your bottom will remain a lighter shade than the rest of you. I'm finding it pretty curious that for all the wild sensuality for which Brazil is famous, it is frowned upon here to go topless... I still haven't quite figured out how to reconcile these things... perhaps I'm missing a Catholic background?
Meanwhile I'm co-writing some songs here with lovely musicians and eating fruit that has no name in translation... like saudade, which also has no direct translation. I'm sorry if this entry is a bit short and scattered... I myself am a bit short and scattered today. I'm traveling without a computer, because they are hot item for thieves here in Brazil, and so keeping my blog promise is challenging. But I made it to the internet point here in Copacabana - Barry Manilow doesn´t know what he's talking about by the way. However it´s interesting what a song can do for a place. "The girl from Ipanema" means the beach is very crowded with tourists, kind of like Notting Hill. I reflected that in the english version of the song, its the girl "from" Ipanema... which technically means she could have been walking on the beach in Brighton when dear Tom Jobim spotted her, or am I totally off here? Either way, I'm off to Recife tomorrow for some voodoo and forro... I wonder if they're topless up there?...

Sunday, 3 January 2010

The Somewhere Over The Rainbow Day...

Days come and go and so few of them are truly memorable. How many days from last year do you actually remember clearly? The fingers of my memory reach backwards seeking... here's one:
My friend Anna and I decided to spend a day listening to and watching as many different versions of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" as we could find on line. It started as a joke, but some kindly god of humility was laughing at us by the end of it. The quantity of cover versions alone tells you something about the quality of the song... then there are the artists: Eva Cassidy, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, Rufus Wainwright, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton... the list goes on. For me, as much beauty as this song manages pull out of everyone who performs it, Judy Garland's version is something beyond words. Not only because it is so closely linked to my childhood memories but also because you can hear the fragility in her voice... as if her voice knows that she's going to have a hard life and it's trying to say as much as it can before it is silenced.
Then I found Keith Jarret's version. In the video he's young young young, sitting at the piano all in profile. If you can find it on youtube, it's worth a look. And for anyone out there who can't find it or see it, I wrote this for you and for Keith, it's called "Jarret's Prayer":

Sideway on, I watch you spelling out the letters with your body, how young you were then, E, C, L, like a holy man, prostrating before the piano, kiss the keys with your fingertips - L, E, C . And I wonder; how could making love to you after this, not be a disappointment? You shine and sway and I cannot seperate you from what it is you are doing.
I think I love you.
I don't think, I love you.
I've heard you are cruel and difficult or, said more kindly, that you are exacting and hard on yourself - I would like to set you to music Mr Jarret - but you've already done that quite perfectly - so, I'll have to set myself to music and talk about you instead:
your invisible genius goes floating through the air... I breathe it in, and it goes straight to my heart...