Leonard Cohen is coming to town

cohen ticketsPledge drive week here, but I’ve been listening to NPR anyhow, and barely caught the message that Leonard Cohen will be in concert here Thursday.  Not to date me or anything, but the last concert I went to was the late Jerry Garcia when he was touring by himself.

Since my bank account got decimated on my two summer trips, and my hours have been cut, concerts aren’t high on my budget list right now, but I sort of want to go this one.  It’s at the Rosemont Theater, a 4400 seat theater.

I’m certainly not used to these prices.  A $65 ticket gets you a seat on the side way in the back (or in the balcony). For more reasonable acoustics close to the center you have to pay nearly $170, and to get close up in the “orchestra pit” (?) will cost more like $250.  He just played in Chicago last May, at two sold out concerts at the historic 3,600 seat Chicago Theater.

cohen seatingWhen I first ran into Cohen’s name on a thread somewhere and checked him out, his music at first seemed a bit maudlin, too sentimental and navel-gazing, like Rod McKuen, but then it started to grow on me. The poetry does something.  When I listened to a few of his tunes on YouTube the other night, I had tears in my eyes.   I like this one, Hallelujah.

How many 74-year-olds want to go on concert tour?  Cohen has had some recent financial troubles and lawsuits, and probably needs to replenish his retirement funds. Who knows how long he will want to continue to perform.  Maybe I should just go for it.

Here’s the Trib’s review from the May concert, including a set list.

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“Machiavelli was not Machiavellian”, said Salman Rushdie today. “His writing has levels of irony and sarcasm that we have lost.”


Case in point: Machiavelli was imprisoned and tortured repeatedly, so when he wrote about whether a ruler should be kind or cruel, he (ironically) recommended cruelty, since everyone remembers cruelty but no one remembers kindness.

This might be the passage here in Chapter XVII Cruelty and compassion; and whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse:

So on this question of being loved or feared, I conclude that since some men love as they please but fear when the prince pleases, a wise prince should rely on what he controls, not on what he cannot control.

Rereading various passages of The Prince as irony, it really is quite snarky. From the chapter on “how flatteres must be shunned”:

…the only way to safeguard yourself against flatterers is by letting people undertand that you are not offended by the truth; but if everyone can speak the truth to you then you lose respect.  So a shrewd prince should adopt a middle way, choosing wise men for his government and allowing only those the freedom to speak the truth to him, and then only concerning matters on which he asks their opinion, and nothing else.

Too bad they didn’t have emoticons back then so Machiavelli could have made it clear which parts were supposed to be  sarcastic.

More Rushdie nuggets:

  • When you read a book: “a curious act of intimacy between strangers”.
  • Why he stopped writing the NYT syndicated column  1) he’d rather be “putting my energy where I wanted to put it which is making shit up.” 2) the idea of having to have a strong opinion once a month–it’s the nature of the column.  People like Friedman and Dowd who can have opinions he admires, but the column format doesn’t have room for nuanced ideas. “What they want to read is WRONG! RIGHT! YES! NO!” 3)The world’s attention span is short, you can’t write a column ahead of time because the subject is dead.  He would write his column the day before the deadline, looking in the paper for that day to find something current to write about (but a good exercise to learn this type of writing.)
  • Why Rushdie is so hard on his characters (they get tortured and die a lot) and in particular why no one has good love relationships: “Boy meets girl, they live happily ever after, the end.  There’s nothing there to write about.”
  • Writing explicit sex: Henry Miller and Philip Roth could write explicit sex without being embarrassing. Rushdie has always had his sex scenes take place off camera, but in his latest book it’s explicit, because of the explicit nature of the cultures he is writing about.
  • Dickens-admires Dickens very much, because his “surrealist elements grow out of closely observed reality“. More examples of closely observed reality: “100 years of solitude” (?) a railway train that takes forever to go past a town. The “Circumlocution Office” a government agency that exist to do nothing. (Emily Dickinson?)
  • How to finish writing a book: “if you keep beating your head against it it will probably give in in the end.”
  • The Two great tests of when book is finished: embarrassment and exhaustion 1) you’re not embarrassed to show it because you already know it isn’t right 2) you’re not making things better, you’re just pushing them around and making them different.  It’s not going to be perfect–perfection doesn’t exist.
  • The latest book The Enchantress of Florence, is based on “early crossings of what was then called ‘the ocean sea’; if you could avoid the leviathan, which you couldn’t, but if you did you would run into mud; if you could avoid the mud, which you couldn’t, but if you did, you would fall off the end of the earth.” Not written through a “narrow perspective like is it feminist or not”.  Original witches/enchantresses were old and ugly, idea can be taken from Durer painting.  Then going back in history found Circe, a beautiful enchantress, in Renaissance the enchantress was also a seductress.  Both physical beauty and the believed ability to do actual magic increases her power.  Of course, getting accused of witchcraft wouldn’t be a good idea, so she walks a fine line…
Posted in Middle East. Comments Off on Machiavellian

Save a Mongolian student from leukemia; listen to Mongolian music

The fundraising effort for Urangoo Baatarkhuyag, the Mongolian with leukemia, has now gone viral. Her story is here, you can donate here.  In the Mongolian community, the word is being spread by the website MongolDuu.com, where you can also hear some genuine Mongolian music and also try out the blogosphere’s only Mongolian translate tool.

The websites are from “read”, a Mongolian who knows Russian and likes to read Asian literature classics, but she doesn’t have her own blog–yet.  She says if you  click on the link ‘burtgegdsen bukh duu’, there are 6000 mp3s you can listen to.  It’s in the main menu on the left, the fifth one from the bottom.  It’s in Cyrillic though:

Бvртгэгдсэн бvх дуу

It opens to a numbered alphabetical list of the tunes.   Here are read’s recommendations:

beginning from 209-212 Adarsuren, love his songs
213 Agiimaa i like her videoclip, i’ll post later when i find it
beginning from 729 Badruugan i love his songs too, 859 Bayasgalan Botgon duu is a nice song
1125 Bolormaa – Namrun ongo orloo eejee is my favourite

Here are my comments, along with more links:

  • 209-212 Adarsuren to me sounds traditional, maybe with an eastern scale (?)  The intervals don’t sound western at all, but too bad the sound quality isn’t better on this one. He seems to be a popular karaoke artist, but I think this one is actually him, also this with a title Алтай хангайн уулс. Дуучин Адарсүрэн.
  • 213 Agiimaa’s “Lonely night”, the title portion sung in English, has a club sound that reminds me of the Amman dance club scene.  (Here‘s the video.)
  • 729 Badruugan’s intro sounded like it was going to be like “Stairway to heaven” but turned into a 60s folk sound, an unpretentious string instrument that sounds like guitar backing up his solo voice. (Here he is in concert with better sound quality singing Улаанбаатарын үдэш, Б.Бадрууган “Ulaanbaatar evening”.)
  • 859 Bayasgalan Botgon–the video is a delight not just for her lyrical voice but also for its  country setting and its furry frolicking double humped camels. (See embedded YouTube below.)
  • 1125 Bolorma is a female singer backed with a very full sounding orchestra. Here is her Х.Болормаа “Намрын өнгө”. “Color of Autumn” on Youtube.
  • Here is haunting Mongolian throat singing, that reminds me somewhat of the Buddhist dual tone throat singing in India.

Oh, and if you mouse over one of the song titles you will get a “message of the moment”.  Sample messages:

“Triumph–umph added to try”

“We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once.”

The Mongolian dictionary didn’t go as well. The translation choices are Mongolian-English, English-Mongolian, German-Mongolian, and Russian-Mongolian.  I tried looking up the only two phrases on this page.  The phrase  “burtgegdsen bukh duu” means something like “songs in mp3”, but the dictionary does nothing.  The Cyrillic form of the phrase, Бvртгэгдсэн бvх дуу, goes a little further:

1. Бельгиbelgiumдуудлага cонсох – shine utga oruulah
2. Библи сударbibleдуудлага cонсох – shine utga oruulah
3. Боливиboliviaдуудлага cонсох – shine utga oruulah
4. Бразилиbrazilдуудлага cонсох – shine utga oruulah
5. Британbritian – shine utga oruulah
6. Болгарbulgariaдуудлага cонсох – shine utga oruulah
7. Бирмburmaдуудлага cонсох – shine utga oruulah

That’s still not any of the the words.  All right, how about just “бvх”?  that gets me 30 different words, none of which mean anything.  Now I try “дуу” and get 120 words.  The second meaning however is “2. дуу чимээний, дуу авианы, сонсохын, дуулдцынacoustic“, so I think this is the “audio” part of the phrase.  Maybe that one was too hard.  Let’s try the song title “Улаанбаатарын үдэш” or “Ulaanbaatar evening”.  The first word has to be the place name so the second word must mean evening. but when I plug in the word, it tells me, ” АЛДАА: Та Монгол-Англи гэсэн орчуулгын чиглэлийг сонгоод, хайх vг талбарт Монгол vг оруулсангvй.”  If I’m trying to translate into English, you would think it would give me an English message, but I can only conclude that the thing is very unhappy and that it’s not ready for prime time.

For Bayasgalan Botgon in a larger format, here it is on YouTube:

Posted in music. 4 Comments »

Book binge

I should be transplanting stuff–last night was supposed to be a big frost night but this area is too near the lake to have been affected much, oh, maybe a touch on the more exotic varieties of impatients, so I don’t have a lot of time left if I want to move some plants.

Instead, I have just found out about a book sale, a 20% teacher discount at Half Price books, no doubt in honor of Leif Erikson Day. When I was in Minneapolis last month, I was introduced to Half Price Books. Everyone recommended it. Oh, sure, I thought, I’ve seen those half price stores before, overpriced factory seconds of stuff no one wants to read. Fortunately I postponed my book shopping until I was almost ready to leave, or I wouldn’t have visited with anyone at all. The bookstore turns out to be a used bookstore, better than Dinkytown’s university strip bookstores, and better even than Chicago’s Powell’s and the little rare book store next to Florian’s near the U of C. And it’s a chain with stores in 17 different states. Yes, there are 5 in the Chicago area, and the closest one is about an hour away from where I live.


What can I do?

strunk and white and kalmanUPDATE: After poking around the bookstore, I am in a slightly better mood and no longer snarking about tomorrow’s Columbus Day holiday. I have now taken possession of, inter alia, an Arabic dictionary, Freya Stark’s 1939 The Valleys of the Assassins and, a book I have been searching for for a long time, Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Not only did I find several copies of the third edition and one of the fourth edition, but the copy I finally obtained has Maira Kalman’s illustrations. Now I can see for myself what all the linguists’ prescriptivist/descriptivist fuss is all about. And yes, I did just end that last sentence with a preposition. And that last one too.

From the introduction to the Stark book:

An imaginative aunt who, for my ninth birthday, sent a copy of the Arabian nights, was, I suppose, the original cause of trouble.

Unfostered and unnoticed, the little flame so kindled fed secretly on dreams.  Chance, such as the existence of a Syrian missionary near my home, nourished it; and Fate, with long months of illness and leisure, blew it to a blaze bright enough to light my way through labyrinths of Arabic, and eventually to land me on the coast of Syria at the end of 1927.

Here, I thought, all difficulty was over: I had now but to look around me, to learn, and to enjoy.

And so I would have been had not those twin Virtues so fatal to the joie de vivre of our civilized West, the sense of responsibility and the illusion, dear to well-regulated minds, that every action must have a purpose–had not these virtues of Responsibility and Purpose met me at every step with the embarrassing enquiry: “Why are you here alone? and: What do you intend to do?”

I may confess at once that I had never thought of why I came, far less of why I came alone: and as to what I was going to do–I saw no cause to trouble about a thing so nebulous beforehand.  My sense of responsibility was in effect deficient, and purpose non-existent.

When excessively badgered, the only explanation I could think of for being so unwantedly in Asia was an interest in Arabic grammar–a statement rarely accepted in that candid spirit in which I offered it to unconvinced inquirers.

I came to the conclusion that some more ascetic reason than mere enjoyment should be found if one wishes to travel in peace: to do things for fun smacks of levity, immorality almost, in our utilitarian world.  And though personally I think the world is wrong, and I know in my heart of hearts that it is a most excellent reason to do things merely because one likes the doing of them, I would advise all those who wish to see unwrinkled brows in passport offices to start out ready labeled as entomologists, anthropologists, or whatever other -ology they think suitable and propitious.

I do think I’m going to enjoy Ms. Stark’s company.

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Swedish Buddha

Sometime during the Migration Period, this Buddha made it as far as Sweden.
The bronze figure is 6th or 7th century and is from northern India, Kashmir, or Afghanistan. It was found on the Swedish island of Helgö, a trading and manufacturing center in Lake Mälar near Stockholm.

More speculation to add to the Norwegian stavkirke/Thai temple mystery, and the genetists’ question of migrations.

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Sustained and comforted

A bit chilly these days–time for baked apples, the recipe based loosely on the Old Testament reference to “Sustain me with raisins, comfort me with apples” as well as the comment in this post.

comfort ingredients

Today I don’t have bananas for the recipe, so I’ll use sweet potatoes.  The family Thanksgiving sweet potato recipe uses apples, sweet potatoes, brown sugar, and a little butter (these days probably a butter substitute). I have a bag of Granny Smith apples–usually too expensive for baking but after doing the math, the bag came out to 39¢ a pound, as opposed to 69¢ for whatever was on sale.  The brown sugar sounds a bit heavy for the delicacy of the cinnamon/raisin/Australian port/lemon peel combination, and I’m almost out, so I’ll just use a few tablespoons and use honey for the rest. Looking for nuts, I have also found some ground walnuts left over from making qatayef at Ramadan.  And what spice might be delicate enough to go with cinnamon? I have some maHalab (the label says “mahlab”) that was used for some middle eastern pastry, expensive but delicious, and I can grind the round, clove-sized seeds to powder in the coffee grinder.  Raisins of course.  A half a lime for juice, but lemon for the grated peel. Some of the apples get cored and stuffed with the raisin/walnut/spice mixture, and the rest are sliced with the sweet potatoes.

comfort ready to bake

I pour a shot glass of good Australian port over the finished product.  A shame to use it for baking, really, I think to myself, and pour myself a small libation. It tastes of orchards in the fall sun, exotic kisses, and other things mostly harmless.

comfort baked apples

I have no idea how long I baked it; I was trying to fix my new mp3 player that flaked out on me when I tried to delete one of the demo songs that came with it. (Yes, I finally got it to turn off and reinitialize itself, then I downloaded the new software from the website, and now it seems to be fine.)

The seasoning was absolutely perfect. The apples I scored around the middle first, and they held their shape while baking.  I can’t decide if I like it better when they disintegrate or not. The sweet potatoes were firmer than I’m used to even though they seemed fully cooked; maybe they should be baked in a larger pan where they can sit in the bottom and simmer in juices, or maybe they should be microwaved briefly before baking.


This tastes really great with Australian port.

A toast to absent friends.

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Finally it stopped raining. Also I just received my new mp3 player, a Sansa Fuze, in the mail and have loaded it with the Pimsleur’s Arabic CD that I got on my Minneapolis bookstore spree.  Time for a walk to the lake and elsewhere.

These guys are terminally cute, even though they do nothing but bark stupidly.

walk dogs1

walk dogs2

They say owners look just like their dogs.  As I started walking down the alley, a guy came out of the house and gave me a stare exactly like the dogs.

Onward to the lake.

walk ducks

Marsh grass, silver and rustling in the wind.

walk marsh grass

Picnic tables, but no picnickers.

walk picnic tables

Outhouses.  There is a building with flush toilets (and cold running water) but sometimes it’s locked.

These are always open.

walk outhouse

My new sneakers aren’t broken in and after an hour of walking my feet rebel, but it’s too nice to go in, so as dusk approaches I head for the residential area.  In the alley someone put out a sunflower head to feed the squirrels.

walk sunflower

I find the hole in the fence and climb up the embankment by a hidden path to an old abandoned railroad track where you can get a good view of the surrounding industrial area.

walk barrier wall

In the west, sunset.

walk sunset

To the south, an alley with those square black plastic trash cans that keep rats out and striped rumble strips across the alley to keep cars from going too fast.

walk alley

O little town of south side Chicago, how still we see thee lie…

In the east, a full moon rises.

walk moonrise

And it’s time to descend before it gets any darker, through the secret hole in the fence…

walk hole in gate

All this time I’ve been thinking about Australia, so after the walk, which turned a bit chilly, it will be time to cook some nice hot Granny Smith apples I have tucked away in the fridge.