Saturday, November 14, 2015

Turning Locust

Normally the desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) lives the peaceful solitary life of a tantric Buddhist monk. He chants, eats, drinks, and even has sex in slow, purposeful, meditative moderation. But if you rub him up the wrong way by overcrowding him and touching the back of his thigh too many times, he and his cronies—all former monks in the monastery—will renounce this life of cooperative loving kindness. They’ll exchange their soft green robes for a black and yellow uniform and turn into one of the nastiest, greediest, most obnoxious gangs on earth: a plague of locusts.

In humans this switch from nice to nasty is a gradual process. It comes from losing confidence that our descendants will have the resources they need to survive. If another tribe is doing better than us—even if it’s our own fault we aren’t doing so well—we feel scared our descendants won’t have enough; if they are doing worse than us, they feel scared their descendants won’t have enough. Sometimes we’ll attack them and other times they’ll attack us. The cost of war is so great, though, that we would have evolved a much better way to build confidence, like we did with farming, if the spiritual leaders hadn’t taught us that waging a war against evil, greed, cruelty, hate, and jealousy is the highest duty. Because of this, as we evolved we came to think of war as a fight against evil instead of a way to obtain the resources we need to build confidence. But what you think is evil depends on the stories you hold in your ancestral memory. If you go back far enough you’ll see that sometimes your ancestors were right and sometimes they were wrong. If we want to heal the world of war, we need to find ways to build confidence in the collective consciousness so that we don’t turn into locusts in the first place.
Deborah June Goemans The Amaranth Bloom

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Cathedral of Junk

The Cathedral of Junk in Austin, Texas, is exactly what one might expect to find in Austin. Something different, decidedly odd; certainly disturbing. It is what its name implies: A cathedral entirely made from bits and pieces of junk.

I asked the artist about his vision for the cathedral. His response was snarky. “Would you ask Van Gogh what his vision was?” And then he pointed to a side room where newspaper clips and photographs described his journey from his childhood in Santa Fe where he started collecting crap, to his home in suburban Austin, where he has created this, well, the newspapers didn’t speak about a vision, but let’s call it his “Starry Night,” his insane obsession.

The Cathedral of Junk brought to mind a story related to me by a good friend. Like all good folk tales and urban myths, my friend had read the story written by someone who had heard the story from a friend, who had heard the story from someone, who had heard the story from William Butler Yeats himself. Yeats had apparently spent a day with an old woman, Mrs. Connolly was her name, who knew all the old Irish folk tales and was kind enough to share them with him. Dipesh Chakrabarty wrote about the encounter in his book called Provincializing Europe.

One day, in the period of his extensive researches on Irish folklore in rural Connemara, William Butler Yeats discovered a treasure. The treasure was a certain Mrs. Connolly who had the most magni´Čücent repertoire of fairy stories that W.B. had ever come across. He sat with her in her little cottage from morning to dusk, listening and recording her stories, her proverbs and her lore. As twilight drew on, he had to leave and he stood up, still dazed by all that he had heard. Mrs. Connolly stood at the door as he left, and just as he reached the gate he turned back to her and said quietly, “One more question Mrs. Connolly, if I may. Do you believe in the fairies?” Mrs. Connolly threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, not at all Mr. Yeats, not at all.” W.B. paused, turned away and slouched off down the lane. Then he heard Mrs. Connolly’s voice coming after him down the lane: “But they’re there, Mr. Yeats, they’re there.”

Truth be told, I did feel a mystical presence in the Cathedral of Junk. It was not unlike the itchy unworthiness I always feel amidst the incense-dusted air and the leaded coffin prompt of the organ keys in the grand cathedrals of Europe. Here in this homage to the outgrown, the unwanted, and the unloved, the washing line of crucified smurfs hanging in the doorframe holds the promise of malevolent volition, or even soul snatching, come nightfall. A toilet bowl filled with dirty-yellow rubber ducks, a chalice of the forgotten and outcast. The soft tread upon the rubber tire steps up into the belfry creates an oddly spectral feeling of floating into stark revelation. Inside the upper room, a canopy of re-purposed wire and throwaways juxtaposed against sky and cloud, claims you into circle of the rejected, the unforgivable. Like Mrs. Connolly, you know they’re there, the wicked creatures—every mistake, the dark and ugly and broken within and without.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Scott's Delicious Beef Stew

Scott's Recipe for Beef Stew (figure out your own quantities of everything):

Go to Wegmans and buy stewing beef or chuck, fresh rosemary and other herbs, garlic, onions (one big one to chop and brown, and a few whole baby onions), baby potatoes (ones with different colors, if possible), organic carrots, parsnip, beef stock, red wine.

Slice beef into cubes.
Dredge meat in flour/salt/pepper and herbs.
Heat some oil in potjie, add sliced onions and caramelize them, add crushed garlic and cook gently for a minute or so.
Add meat, and brown gently on all sides.
Stir in rest of herbs/flour mixture, then add stock and wine.
Simmer on low flame for one hour, stirring every fifteen minutes.
Add sliced carrots and parsnip, whole baby onions and potatoes
Simmer with lid on for an hour. Check every now and then.
Before serving, check seasoning.
Serve with garlic bread and applesauce.

My Recipe for Scott's Beef Stew:

"Hey, love," I say, "it's getting chilly, let's have a stew tonight."
"Good idea," he says.
A few hours later he calls me for dinner. Beef stew served with garlic bread and applesauce. It really is the easiest thing to get him to make. And delicious!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Thalia Laughs and Melpomene Weeps

My father always used to say I either love or hate—there is no middle ground with me. He might have thought that was an insult but I take it as a compliment. And it’s true; I have the dramatic masks Thalia and Melpomene painted in bright colors on either side of my face. Call me bipolar, call me spirited … for me, like or dislike is the dirty dish water of life—the taste and colors of the meal are there, but not in any form I can enjoy.

But living in the two-faced bright zone is exhausting; anxiety wraps itself around me like a coat of arms, rage builds a nest in my hair, tears bubble like mud boils, laughter uses all three sets of abdominal muscles, and joy howls at the moon. Sometimes I see stars as in a cartoon concussion just from the very act of living out loud.

I realized recently that Cape Town, my mother city, is a lot like me. She is two-faced hate/love: the Cape of Good Hope and the Cape of Storms.

In the Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain—a giant dining table lifted from the ocean as if from Aphrodite’s dining room—invites us to take big bites of her floral kingdom. Her sky is sapphire, her clouds pillow white, her oceans lasciviously lick the salty toes of lovers frolicking within her basin. Should pestilence dare trouble her land, she huffs it away with a healing wind, and when heat withers the earth into an old crone, she offers a gentle mist to soften the summer air into spring fever. She is full heart open flower under a full moon

This is the Cape Town of the tourist and the wealthy: voted the best city in the world to visit. In this city, the chefs are world class, the shops are upmarket, the fruit is plucked sun-ripened and juicy, and the wine flows ripe from the vine. Just when you think it can’t get any better, Cape Town’s diet doctor, Tim Noakes, blesses you and says “You can eat fat!” Pile on the bacon, folks, and don’t spare the cream.

But, beware the Cape of Storms. Unsuspecting visitors who have endured the kerosene-fuming sky journey above land and ocean to the Fairest Cape in all the World, may arrive in winter and at the wrong time of the month. Then, the Mother City’s oceans crash and pull and murder by shark-shaped tooth, her winds moan and bitch and bite at the very bones, and even Aphrodite’s table, the looming grey giant, disappears behind a cloak of mist for weeks at a time as if by a magician’s spiteful hand. At the airport, tourists awaiting their return ordeal scratch their heads and wonder if they’ve been duped. “What mountain? It’s a fraud! They told us Table Mountain was huge but we never even saw it.”

Like the disappearing mountain, the Cape of Storms is the hidden city, where poverty and crime and rape and corruption and ineptitude affects everyone living there—the rich and poor, black and white. Those living in the two cities simultaneously can find themselves in a bipolar existence—rage and delight; fear and comfort. The power outages and noise from generators in rich suburbs are as disruptive as the sounds of partying going on in the squatter camps. The rich run for exercise alongside the working poor rushing to catch their taxis, and as they run, both the rich and poor fear for their lives.

But there is also grace and kindness in both sides of this city I love/hate. The legacy of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu continues in the hope presented by our determined provincial government and South Africa’s fierce and fearless public prosecutor, Thuli Madonsela. Many rich people pay for the schooling of their domestic servants’ children and even hire laundry services so their aging housekeepers whose families depend on their having an income don't have to do the laundry. There are caring churches and organizations working to uplift the poor and suffering. There is a hunger for education among the youth and an abundance of creativity and ingenuity found in both large corporations and in small businesses and those selling their crafts at the traffic lights.

I urge you to visit this beautiful city at the tip of Africa. South African Airlines is offering a special rate. Take a break from winter and go in February or March and bring your American dollars or British pounds. Spend lavishly in the Cape of Good Hope. You will have an unforgettable visit. But before you return home, give a thought to those struggling each day in the Cape of Storms and the winter that will soon arrive, and give to them too. Here’s a good place to start: The Safe House Trust—a safe house for those who have suffered from sexual abuse