Unknown but to God

What is it that makes people care for the graves of strangers?  Last week Canahan  paid a visit to the grave of a British soldier, Henry Charles Lucas of London, who is buried in a Commonwealth War Grave near his home in France.   He and his wife left flowers on the grave of someone they didn’t know.

Last weekend I visited a historic cemetery at Bishop Hill, Illinois, the site of an early Swedish utopian community.  At the back of the cemetery was a large uneven plot of ground with a marker in front of it announcing:

In this area a large number of early Bishop Hill residents are buried in unmarked graves.  Many perished from the hardships of establishing a new colony far from their homeland.  Others were placed here simply because they were poor or alone. Most are unknown but to God.

In front of the marker someone had left a planter of annual flowers, in memory of strangers who died in the 1800’s.

The newer part of the cemetery is unremarkable; it looks just like dozens of other midwestern cemeteries, with huge expanses of green lawn and grave stones of the variety that is easy to mow around.

The older section of the graveyard is more interesting.  Markers have a graphic design quality about them, the stones meticulously spelling out exactly how many years, months, and days the occupant of the grave was alive.  One stone is in Swedish. I have already outlived most of the people buried here.

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When I woke up without a fever yesterday, I knew would travel.  After class, defying a weather forecast that predicted a 50% chance of rain, I threw a bedroll in the car and headed west, towards Bishop Hill and the Swedish Midsommar festival.

By the time I arrived, the Swedes had already finished their traditional midsommar dance around the maypole–a Swedish maypole with circles suspended from the arms–but I was not too late to wait for the last set of the barn dance.

While I was checking out the maypole, a woman in a white dress and a man with a red beard were trying to get the old pump to work. When I returned, they had given up that effort and were working on non-verbal communication.

Humming Cosby Stills and Nash’s “Love the one you’re with”, I returned to my car and quickly changed into the apparent uniform for the event, long skirt, tank top, and sandals (not proper leather shoes that are easier to dance in, but way too hot for ninety-something degree weather) and went back inside the air-conditioned colony school.

The star of the event, hands down, was a hammered dulcimer.  The musician showed it to me later, saying it was a traditional colonial instrument, but lost favor because like a piano, it had to be re-tuned every time it was moved. Unlike a piano, it is only capable of playing certain keys.

As soon as I put some money in the basket to pay the musicians, a very nice man materialized out of nowhere and claimed me as a dancing partner. Not redhead, but bald, young-ish, and wonder of wonders, taller than me.

Will try to upload some video of a Virginia Reel later if I can recharge my netbook.


The Virginia Reel; a walkthrough to learn the moves.

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Fake anti-Muslim video identified

Over a year ago, I posted a link to a fairly obvious anti-Muslim (and anti-Obama) video of some children reciting something, titled “School Children Sing Praises of Obama”. The video “translation” subtitles claimed the children were saying:

The Kenyan Muslim
Will soon destroy the great Satan from within
He will speak of hope and change.
but the greedy Americans will be defeated!
Yes we can…


The video echoed around the blogosphere for a while and even got as far as Snopes without ever being identified.

Thanks to someone who left an anonymous comment, the content of the video has now been identified. Both children are reciting from the Koran. The first child is reciting the beginning of Surah al Mulk and the second child is reciting the beginning of Surah al-Tariq.  Here are the two verses in transliteration (pronunciation of the Arabic written in the Latin alphabet), in Arabic, and in an English translation by Pickthall.

Thanks, anonymous.


Sura al-Mulk 67:1-3 Sovereignty الملك

Bismi Allahi alrrahmani alrraheemi

1. Tabaraka allathee biyadihi almulku wahuwa AAala kulli shayin qadeerun

2. Allathee khalaqa almawta waalhayata liyabluwakum ayyukum ahsanu AAamalan wahuwa alAAazeezu alghafooru

3. Allathee khalaqa sabAAa samawatin tibaqan ma tara fee khalqi alrrahmani min tafawutin fairjiAAi albasara hal tara min futoorin

بِسْمِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

تَبَٰرَكَ ٱلَّذِى بِيَدِهِ ٱلْمُلْكُ وَهُوَ عَلَىٰ كُلِّ شَىْءٍۢ قَدِيرٌ ﴿١﴾

ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ ٱلْمَوْتَ وَٱلْحَيَوٰةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًۭا ۚ وَهُوَ ٱلْعَزِيزُ ٱلْغَفُورُ ﴿٢﴾

ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ سَبْعَ سَمَٰوَٰتٍۢ طِبَاقًۭا ۖ مَّا تَرَىٰ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ مِن تَفَٰوُتٍۢ ۖ فَٱرْجِعِ ٱلْبَصَرَ هَلْ تَرَىٰ مِن فُطُورٍۢ ﴿٣﴾


Sura al-Tariq The Nightly Visitor الطارق

Bismi Allahi alrrahmani alrraheemi
1. Waalssamai waalttariqi
2. Wama adraka ma alttariqu
3. Alnnajmu alththaqibu
4. In kullu nafsin lamma AAalayha hafithun
5. Falyanthuri alinsanu mimma khuliqa
6. Khuliqa min main dafiqin

بِسْمِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلرَّحْمَٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ
وَٱلسَّمَآءِ وَٱلطَّارِقِ ﴿١﴾
ٱلنَّجْمُ ٱلثَّاقِبُ ﴿٣﴾
إِن كُلُّ نَفْسٍۢ لَّمَّا عَلَيْهَا حَافِظٌۭ ﴿٤﴾
فَلْيَنظُرِ ٱلْإِنسَٰنُ مِمَّ خُلِقَ ﴿٥﴾
خُلِقَ مِن مَّآءٍۢ دَافِقٍۢ ﴿٦﴾

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.
1. By the heaven and the Morning Star
2. - Ah, what will tell thee what the Morning Star is!
3. - The piercing Star!
4. No human soul but hath a guardian over it.
5. So let man consider from what he is created.
6. He is created from a gushing fluid


Chopin score

Here is the full score for Chopin’s prelude in C# minor Op.45 (for following along to the audio in this post).  It is in the public domain and can be downloaded in PDF format here.

Click to enlarge.

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Modern slavery

“Modern slavery – be it bonded labor, involuntary servitude or sexual slavery – is a crime
and cannot be tolerated in any culture, community or country.
It is an affront to our values and our commitment to human rights.”
–Hillary Clinton, June 14, 2010

The 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report has been released, and I’ll cut to the chase.  The countries in Tier 3, the lowest tier, “whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so” are:

Congo (DRC)
Dominican Republic
Korea, North
Papua New Guinea
Saudi Arabia

It’s a long report; there is an index of links to specific sections, including the ranking by country, as well as a country by country narrative.  For example, here is the page for an extended discussion of the trafficking situation in Australia. You just gotta love Melbourne, where apparently the sex trade is legal:

In October 2009, a local council in Melbourne introduced an “Anti Slavery and Sexual Servitude Local Law” requiring brothels to display signs in English, Thai, Korean, Chinese and Russian providing information on the crime of slavery and sexual servitude, and on how to seek help for those involved in sex slavery.

I’m not quite sure how to think about this one.  There are so many layers to it, sort of like reading the health warning message on a pack of cigarettes.

But this one creeps me out:

In late March 2010, a Tasmanian court sentenced one trafficker to ten years’ imprisonment for prostituting a 12-year-old girl to more than 100 clients in 2009.

One hundred men paid to have sex with a child??!? In theory I guess I knew there were people in the world with such a warped sense of entitlement, but one hundred of them? On one small island?  What would it be like to actually talk to someone like that, to sit next to them on a bus?

Such things happen on the internet. On a prostitution discussion on one mostly female blog, where “personal is political”, one woman told of how horrible it had been to work as a lingerie model to pay for her education, while others said they would not date a man who was willing to pay a prostitute for sex.  A similar discussion on a mostly male blog had a homosexual male bragging about being victimized in prison, prostituting himself with a royal he didn’t particularly like, and then having sex with underage boys.  Like Jews who become Nazis, he had internalized his own victimization and become a predator himself.  The saddest thing about him was that any attempt to paint the situation as inappropriate was met with hostile accusations of  “ruining a nice thread” and vague waving away of the subject with references to the tradition of beardless boys in Arab homoeroticism–no one was offended either by the exploitation of children or the strutting braggadocio.   So this report airs out the stench in the internet for me and makes me doubly glad to find that I am not just an out-of-step anachronism for having worked in social services and approached these issues as a protector of the powerless; the sense of repugnance that for me is a no-brainer is also the norm in international law.

The report also has a Jordan element.  One of the heroes honored by the report is Jordan’s Linda Al-Kalash, of Tamkeen for Legal Aid and Human Rights. I first became aware of Jordan’s immigrant population’s problems when someone gave me a lost Bible in another language and asked me to get it to someone who needed it.  The language turned out to be Sri Lankan, and I passed it on to a pentecostal missionary (don’t ask) who was attending a Sri Lankan church and told me how desperate these women were and how much strength and comfort they got from attending religious services on their one day off.   Their wages were enough to  support their children, husbands, and parents–whole extended families–back in Sri Lanka.  Guest workers who got jobs with foreign nationals were usually treated compassionately, but those who worked for Arabs would almost certainly be sexually assaulted and/or beaten.  If they reported sexual assaults, they would be jailed, charged a fee for overstaying their visas while they were in jail, and eventually deported; there were typically 3 or 4 Sri Lankan guest workers per day showing up at their embassy asking to be repatriated.

For another truly bizarre story, but one with a happy ending, google mechanical camel jockeys and the story of the children who were sold for camel-racing, then starved to keep their weight down.

[Image: U.S. State Department]

Decay or endurance?

There is one house on my street that looks haunted, like the Addams Family could live there. Huge Victorian building, no lawn, peeling paint, cracked stained glass window at the top. But in spite of years of neglect, it is still easily the most impressive building on the block. Last week I met the owner and was invited inside to see his books.  Same inside. The ravages of the years had not been able to subdue the sense of solidity and sacred space created by the filtered daylight, massive walnut furniture, oriental rugs, and Victorian architectural details.

The same sort of impressiveness comes through in the photography of Chicago artist Eric Holubow. The owner of the Victorian house and I were both drawn to his booth at the Hyde Park art fair later that day and spent several minutes looking at the photographs. His website uses the language of  decay and disintegration to describe his vision, but being young he has missed the aspect of sacred space. In the most interesting of his photographs, once the building has been stripped of its cultural context, it still encloses, or maybe defines, or even creates a space that evokes…something. Something that defies time and transcends it.

He has also photographed a Gary, Indiana screw and bolt factory (see “Shirt Farm”) that was the scene of a scam involving a south side Chicago church that collected clothing to send to Africa. Instead, the clothing sits rotting in this abandoned factory.  More images of the factory on this YouTube video.

Chopin before work

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli playing Chopin’s Prelude in C# minor opus 45.

more later…

[Note, much later: I have found an absolutely breathtaking recording of the same thing here, with much better sound quality, but the one I embedded above before I dashed off to work, in spite of the scratchiness and audience noises, has a certain intimacy and freshness.]


Early this morning I found a CD in my mailbox: a Chopin recording by Italian pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (Amazon review).  I don’t know if I should say who it was from, I don’t really have permission, but thank you, thank you, thank you.

I haven’t listened to much classical music lately–usually it’s something more like Pancha and Shanti’s Chautari.

I put the CD in the computer and fired it up while I started tea in the other room.  At first it reminded me of my childhood, and Sunday afternoons listening to Mantovani and his Orchestra after Sunday dinner.  But it was very quickly obvious that Michelangeli was different, expressive without being sentimental, and I started listening more in the spirit of “the soundtrack of your life”, going about my routine with the music in the background.  Then the music sort of went under me and up at the sides, and I was listening in a different way.  I’m not a music critic, so I don’t know how to describe the sensation except as a physical shift. It was track 11, Prelude in C# minor opus 45 (the video above).

Michelangeli has sort of gotten under my skin today.  For something with better sound quality, I have found a free download of Michelangeli playing  Chopin’s Grande Polonaise brillante précédée d’un Andante spianato, op. 22 and Debussy’s La Sérenade interrompue, and to see his stage style, the video of Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 2, No. 3 mentioned in one of the Amazon reviews.

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Creole blues

From time to time I have had Creole speaking students in my class–and it has always been the fastest language group to drop out of my classes–but this year, since the earthquake in Haiti, there have been quite a few more. My Spanish is good enough for the Hispanic teachers to call me “compadre” and for non-bilingual administrators to freak out about my use of Spanish in the classroom, but trying to teach the Haitian students is a challenge.

For example, past tense.


I was

you were

he, she, it was


we were

you were

they were


j’etais [JZEH tay]

tu etais [TWETtay]

il, elle etait [il ETtay, el ETtay]


nous etions [news estseeYON]

vous etiez [vou zet stieeh]

ils, elles etaient [il ZETtay, el ZETtay]


Mwente [mwen TAY]

ou te [oo tay]

you te [you tay]


nou te [noo tay]

yo te [yo tay]

you tout te [yo too tay]

Notice the French nous with the silent “s” becomes nou in Creole.

So far so good, but the problem is that the Haitian students speak Creole, but they read French. Sort of. As far as I can tell, their dictionary skills aren’t good either, so there goes comprehension. And there’s no point in trying to look for a Creole dictionary, because they can’t read Creole, since it wasn’t taught in Haiti until around the 1980’s.

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Falling in love with love: Dostoyevsky and Rumi

I usually read in one of two rooms, the book room, or what other people might call a living room, when I’m trying not to nod off over a book, and in the bedroom, when I’m trying to get drowsy enough to fall asleep.  Yesterday, at the same time I happened to pick up Ergin and Johnson’s translation of The Rubais of Rumi: Insane with Love in one room, I finished reading Andrew MacAndrew’s translation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s 1848 short story “White Nights”  in the other. [text in English]  Both have a sort of meta description of how being in love can transform the external world.

Dostoyevsky’s character, described as “a dreamer”,  has his world changed by love, but it changes back again.  He is falling in love with someone  waiting to rendezvous with her fiancé after a separation, but the man doesn’t arrive at the prearranged meeting place.  The dreamer tries to describe to her how his world was transformed after meeting her:

Then I woke up.  About an hour before I was to meet you.  But I felt I hadn’t slept at all.  I didn’t know what was happening to me.  It was as if time had stopped and one sensation, one feeling would remain in me from then on; as if one minute was going to stretch out into eternity; as if life would stop and stand still for me.  I  was gong to tell you all this as soon as we met.  When I woke up, I was under the impression that some sweet melody heard somewhere long ago and since forgotten, had come back to me how, that for all these years, I’d been searching for it, l0nging for it, but only now–

[SPOILER ALERT] Maybe the title, “White Nights”, is some sort of clue to Dostoyevsky’s philosophy, since the white nights are the evenings when he meets the woman and walks around Petersburg with her.  At the end, when the original suitor finally turns up at the meeting place, Dostoyevsky’s character says “My nights were over.”

And when I looked out of the window, I don’t know why, but the house opposite turned dimmer too, the plaster on its columns fell off, the cornices became all grimy and full of cracks, and the walls, which used to be dark yellow, turned grayish.

Nights are usually thought of as dark, not white, so was the dreamer’s previous enamored emotional state simply an illusion?  Or is the actual illusion the newly grayed buildings of the out-of-love dreamer?

Rumi’s world also changes with love, but when he loses his Friend, his world does not change back.  He uses the experience to seek out whatever it is within himself that has been created by the experience.

a spark from your fire

fell into me

waters of joy fell from your words

into the river of my heart

but now I understand:

that water was mirage

that spark was like lightning

struck and gone

everything has been a dream

only memory remains

Ah, Rumi.

Jelaludin Rumi was a 12th century Sufi mystic who wrote 12-bar Persian poems on the same style of Omar al-Khayyam from a century earlier, a style that has been compared to the roadhouse tradition of the rhyming patterns and chord changes of Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

there is a plain beyond Islam and infidelity both

our love rests in the middle of that plain

that’s where the sage goes to bow down

because there’s no room there for either the

believer or the infidel


you are a volume in the divine book

a mirror to the power that created the universe

whatever you want, ask it of yourself

whatever you’re looking for can only be found

inside of you

Rumi went searching for his friend Shems (presumably murdered) as far as Damascus, a play on words, as the nickname for Damascus is Shems شمس (sun).  At Abdali bus station in Amman you can hear the cab drivers for Syria try to drum up business by calling “shem-shem-shem”.

From the translator’s comments:

…on a human level, how could you not fall in love with a friend who came into you life and sparked something in you that took you both to God? In that Rumi viewed the person of Shams as the actual link through which  he was able to reconnect himself back to the energies of God, the boundaries between real people and their divine counterparts are blurry ones indeed.

This looks like an interesting Rumi book to have: Rending the veil: literal and poetic translations of Rumi…short review: “This translation gives you a smooth English rendition, a beautiful calligraphic version, a structural, word-by-word English explanation, as well as a romanized version of the original language. “

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Rendell whodunit

After having Ruth Rendell recommended to me, I finally found a copy of one of her Inspector Wexford whodunits last week, An Unkindness of Ravens, published in 1985, and have finished it off.  Maybe I was expecting too much, another Sherlock Holmes with all the dashing about by horse-drawn taxis, or Fu Manchu with the bizarre and deadly Asian flora and fauna, or even something camp like Mickey Spillane with all the corny cliches–for some reason, just the macho-pretentious title “My gun is quick” sends me into a fit of hysterical giggles.  But Rendell was a bit of a disappointment.

Technically, she’s okay, on par with Ellery Queen, but probably not with Agatha Christie.  Still, the book was readable, and maybe someone who was more into the genre would enjoy it more than I did.  Probably the most enjoyably quirky thing about it was the continuous references to paint colors manufactured by the company that employed the first murder victim:

The main bedroom was like his own in size and proportions.  The walls were even painted in the same color as his own, Sevenstar emulsion Orange Blossom.  There the resemblance ended.

But even though I have been in England, the scenes just didn’t come alive for me. I couldn’t seem to picture the forests, the suburban houses, the streets, the characters… any of it.  Worse, Rendell is known for using psychological themes, and those were a disappointment as well.  They didn’t seem to be incorporated into the narrative, just tacked on to the end.  As someone who has both worked in psych facilities and social work venues, and racked up an embarrassing number of credit hours in the subject, it didn’t ring true at all.  Rendell seems to take Freud as gospel, which even in 1985  wasn’t that common, and uses the case of Anna O to discredit those who report sexual predators, a red light to anyone who has been a mandated reporter, even before the official coverup of priestly misdeeds became known.

The other psychological twist involves folie a deux, (at the very end, with no foreshadowing) which Rendell defines as “a kind of madness that overtakes two people only when they are together…you’ll always find one party who is easily led and one who is dominant.”  Interesting, but probably not worth reading the whole book to find out about it.  I should probably just stick with Graham Greene.

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