Posts Tagged ‘Family’

Zone 4 Zest

Monday, March 8th, 2010

This posting is an unsolicited plug for my sister Faith’s new blog Zone 4 Zest: Growing and Foraging for Fabulous Food in the North. I don’t live in Zone 4, nor do I have a garden, so a lot of her stuff doesn’t apply directly to me, but I always appreciate her writing because she has a kind of philosophical bent that I have always liked.

For me, she meets Alan Watts’ definition of a philosopher as a slack-jawed yokel who stands in awe before things that most other people find obvious or too mundane for serious, extended attention. I remember one time during a visit to her home in Vermont, she took me out into the woods because there was one particular tree she wanted to show me. When we found it, she presented it to me with the exclamation “Isn’t he handsome!”

I’ve been a frequent beneficiary of the edible fruits of Faith & Eric’s labor, but she topped it all two Xmases ago when she gave me a worm-bucket. I am now an avid urban vermicompster, and have been sharing my worms far and wide.

Faith once said to me, “Civilization will finally fall, when there are no more people in it who touch dirt every day.” Thanks to my worm-bucket I touch dirt… in my kitchen… every day. So go ahead civilization. Do your worst. Make your iPads and Academy award ceremonies… Faith and I have your back.

Check out Z4Z. Let it inspire you.

American Tune

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

I am a person who bears the influences of four older siblings. I have always been happy of this influence. Profoundly happy. I’ve never been good at returning the favor, but I have selfishly sopped it up over the years. These were siblings who’s lives happened in eras that directly influenced mine. Their births span the years of the baby boom. As a result I have a strong connection to the culture and sensibilities of the boomer generation. I was born in 1964. In many accounts, that’s the last year of the post WWII baby boom. Malcom Gladwell’s new book spends some time identifying good and bad years to be born in terms of probability of success, and he cops to the fact that his own birth year, 1963, is one of the worst. I don’t like to consider myself a boomer, and although I am border-line in terms of the designation, I do draw from a cultural well that reaches into it. Bowie. Kubrick. Rauschenberg. Beckett. Groenig. Jobs. Wilson. Vonnegut. Cage. etc etc… These guys all come out of, or spoke most loudly to, that big bulge in the demographic curve that I’m surfing the edge of.

But the first of these, the voice that reached across the boundary that separated me from my older siblings, and talked directly to me, was Paul Simon. I am not entirely sure who I would be right now, if somehow a copy of “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Tyme” by Simon and Garfunkel, had not ended up in the weird carpeted LP box in our house in Toyota. I listen to this album now and I wonder what exactly I thought a song like “A Simple Desultory Philippic” was about when I was ten. But I do remember listening to it and thinking it made some kind of sense. I at least knew it was cool. And in subsequent years I chased down all those references. All those allusions. If nothing else, it is perhaps the earliest seed that led to the flowering of a view of my life that can’t really imagine not being based in New York.

Funny story about that album: I remember thinking it was really neat that these hip, cool guys had recorded a children’s nursery rhyme. Of course you can scour that record and not find a children’s song… unless of course you had a sister who taught you “The 59th Street Bridge Song” at a time when you didn’t know what cobblestones were, and sang it: “Gobble-stones.” (Insert image of my sister Faith laughing because she got the three year old Leon to sing “Feeling Groovy!” Meanwhile, the three year old is simply feeling groovy.)

The reason this all comes up now, is that I just got home from tech and Hulued (that’s a new verb about the act of watching a TV show on Hulu) last night’s Colbert Report. I don’t have Comedy Central in my apartment here in Boulder, so I have to get my Stewart/Colbert fix on the interwebs. Stephen’s guest last night was the aging Paul Simon. At the very end of the show Simon sings a song. And he happens to pick perhaps the one song that he wrote that is most precious to me. It is a song that I, perhaps inadvisedly, sang in a High-School talent show in Nagoya. But even as a seventeen year old, I resonated deeply with this song. It was not just that it was from the pen of the first of many personal poet laurites of my heart. I actually felt this way. Even then. The funny thing is that hearing this, now old man, sing this song tonight, I realized that I still resonate with it. More than ever. And that he chose to sing this, now, at this point in our country’s history, is not lost on me. I realize anew that part of the flame that burns in me, was passed on from the torch that Paul Simon has born for so many years. I have fallen in and out of love with Mr. Simon over the years. And I don’t know what I thought I was singing about when I sang this at seventeen, but I do know that it still makes me cry.

The song is “American Tune.” The lyrics are:

Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken And many times confused Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken And certainly misused Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right I’m just weary to my bones Still, you don’t expect to be Bright and bon vivant So far away from home, so far away from home

And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered I don’t have a friend who feels at ease I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered or driven to its knees but it’s all right, it’s all right for we lived so well so long Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on I wonder what’s gone wrong I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

And I dreamed I was dying I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly And looking back down at me Smiled reassuringly And I dreamed I was flying And high up above my eyes could clearly see The Statue of Liberty Sailing away to sea And I dreamed I was flying

We come on the ship they call the Mayflower We come on the ship that sailed the moon We come in the age’s most uncertain hours and sing an American tune Oh, and it’s alright, it’s all right, it’s all right You can’t be forever blessed Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day And I’m trying to get some rest That’s all I’m trying to get some rest

Seeing things and people in Tokyo.

Sunday, December 9th, 2007

So I’ve been in Tokyo for the last while. My time here has been extremely busy. No time for silly things like blogging. However, I have been thinking a good deal about this country and culture.

The one thought that I keep circling around is the idea that Japan is spending a good deal of energy and resources on innovation and development that is relevant only for the Japanese, and is still somehow failing to find ways to make their contributions resonate fully in the world community. I’ll try to come back to this point, but for now some vignettes of the week.

We spent the first couple of nights in Tokyo at the home of Yoji Sakate. Mr. Sakate is the artistic director of the Rinkogun company, and current head of the Japan Playwrights Association. I have known Sakate for about a decade now. We first met when I performed the simultaneous translation for a tour of Rinkogun’s Capital Of The City of the Gods. This was a significant tour for me in that it marked my first visit to New Orleans. I have since translated a number of Sacate’s plays and directed a reading of a section of his Attic. The last time I was in Japan was when I was here 6 years ago to create an adaptation of Moby Dick with RInkogun. So the first night we were in Tokyo, a bunch of the people who had worked on that show came over and we had about 17 tons of food and drink. It lasted late into the night. I had a long conversation with Mr. Furumoto, Rinkogun’s managing director. He’s from Toyota, where I grew up, so we have always had an interesting bond. It was interesting to hear how the funding situation in Japan is getting more and more severe. GOS grants that had kept the company alive for most of it’s 25 years, have simply gone away. Despite the fact that Rinkogun and Sakate have won just about every award available to them, and are arguably one of the most firmly established companies in the country, they’re still having to re-invent the funding wheel every year to stay afloat. There was a woman at the party that I did not know, who brought some food that she introduced as “macrobiotic”, informing us that it’s currently a big hit in the United States. This is a common trope, something that is barely on the radar in the U.S. is marketed here as a huge craze that is sweeping the United States. What struck me though was that she used the word “macrobiotic”. Now, I may be wrong about this, but my understanding is that the concept of macrobiotic food is based on “Shoujin Ryouri”, which is the food eaten in certain Japanese Buddhist monasteries. So there’s a perfectly good Japanese term for this stuff, which everyone in Japan would understand. “Macrobiotic” is, at best, clumsy in Japanese.

The next day, Akiko and I went down to Yokohama to have lunch with Akiko’s older sister and the elder of her two daughters. The ocean-front area of Yokohama around the new “Landmark Tower” is a futuristic architectural splurge with amusement parks, hotels and shopping malls arranged like the diorama of a theoretical cubist city. Post-modernism is alive and well in Yokohama. After lunch, Akiko and I went up to the top of the Landscape Tower (the tallest structure in Japan) on the elevator (the fastest elevator in Japan, although the certificate on display from Guiness said “Fastest Elevator” so I’m not sure if there’s a faster one anywhere). The view was spectacular. Even in Yokohama, which is technically past the southern border of Tokyo, the expanse of buildings is unending. You literally can’s see the edges of the city. It’s civilization as far as the eye can see, off past the curvature of the earth.

That night, Akiko went to see the dance company she used to dance with and Sakate met me at the Tokyo Public theatre to see Hanagumishibai’s new take on Chushingura. Hanagumishibai is a 20 year old company that has as it’s theme, the re-interpretation of Kabuki in a modern, unauthorized context. These guys (and yes, they’re all men) trained in the traditional techniques of Kabuki but are not part of the official Kabuki organization. I hadn’t seen their work in over 10 years, so I was curious to see how they were doing. I was a bit disappointed. Back in the day, the company had featured a friend of mine, the extraordinary Sasai Eisuke, as the principal Onnagata (specialist in playing women). Sasai was so compelling he became a kind of phenomenon all on his own. The times that I saw the company, the interplay between Sasai and company founder and director/performer Mr. Kanou was mind-blowing. These two guys were at the edges of their ability, weaving a totally new kind of cloth out of this ancient thread. Sasai has since left the company, and although Kanou is still really (and I mean REALLY) amazing on stage, the production as a whole felt safe. They have a lot of money now, the costumes look fabulous, the staging is gorgeous, but many of the very things that they began criticizing about official Kabuki are now features of their performance. It could have been because they were doing, perhaps, the most well worn play in the Kabuki cannon, but especially the first half was deadly boring.

The next day, Akiko and I moved to my brother Joel’s place for a night. After a beautiful walk through Tama Cemetery (resting place of Yukio Mishima, Edogawa Rampo, General Tojo and Admiral Yamamoto), we had dinner with Akiyo (an old friend from Toyota) and her two kids, so along with Joel’s family it was quite a crowd.

The next morning, with the help of Joel, I got a bunch of little fixes implemented on the blog. So if you haven’t noticed, things are working smoother and every-thing’s a bit prettier here at Leon’s blog.

Akiko and I then moved to a hotel in Ikebukuro, which was part of our old stomping grounds. That night we went to see Shiraishi Kayoko play the mother in Parco Theater’s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenan. For those who don’t know, Shiraishi Kayoko is the best stage actor in the world right now. I would qualify this as my opinion, but I’m not the only one who feels this way. She was Suzuki’s lead actor for the period of time when his work was important, and she was the progenitor of much of the so-called Suzuki Method. I was lucky enough to have my time with the Suzuki company and hers, overlapp by about 3 years, during which time we became quite close. She has toured to the United States twice with her “Hyakumonogatari” solo performances, and I have made a fool of myself on those occasions, distracting the audience with simultaneous translations. Aside from being a remarkable performer of the first order, she is also a fanatically loyal friend and one of my favorite people. The production was directed by a new up-and-coming 32 year old whipper-snapper of a director. It was solid, but not brilliant as a production. As is appropriate to the material, the style of performance was naturalistic. But this raises one of the most interesting points about the production; Kayoko is anything BUT a naturalistic performer. She is a monster on stage. A huge theatrical presence of titanic proportions, and to the very depths of every bone in her body, theatrical. So for her, acting “normal” on stage is immensely difficult. What this meant is that everyone else on stage is coming from a place of comfort within the daily-life body of naturalistic performance, and reaching towards theatricality. Kayoko is starting from a place of intense theatricality and reaching towards daily-life. Which one do YOU think is more interesting to watch? For me it’s no contest. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The character is a horrible, cruel, resentful hag of a woman. Kayoko makes her absolutely and terrifyingly vivid in all her ugliness and then makes you care about her. It was, in a word, stunning. After the show Akiko and I and Kayoko and her Husband went to Roppongi for late night Chinese. At midnight it became Kayoko’s 66th birthday so we made a deal about that. She was born the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. As she said, “…there’s always been something about me and America.”

The next day (Sunday), I met my childhood friend and ersatz guru Tom “Peach-fuzz” Eskildsen for breakfast. We then met up with Akiko, Ivar Eimon, Paul Hoshizaki and his wife Hiroko for lunch. These are all childhood friends of mine. We were eating at this really rather good “All the organic food you can eat in 90 mins for 1800 yen” place when another childhood friend who lives in Kobe, Loren Gilbertson called Ivar. It was about as close to a full-on reunion as I care for.

Ivar had to leave but the rest of us went over to the Ginza and walked around until Joel and Ruth showed up and we had Joel’s favorite thing to eat in the entire world An-pan fresh from Kimuraya. Kimuraya is a very old bakery on the Ginza and An-pan is a sweet bean-paste filled roll that originated there.

The party then shed those not related to the Ingulsruds and we went to big brother John E’s and after meeting up with Joel’s two girls, we had a pizza dinner surrounded by John and Kate’s 29th floor, panoramic view of Tokyo at night.

This morning we had to leave the hotel by 10 am leaving us the bulk of the day before our evening flight, so we went to Ueno (the Hard Rock Cafe spells it “Uyeno”), put our bags in a big locker, and went to Ryogoku; the Sumo district. The reason for this side trip was that we had not had any luck finding Tabi (Japanese formal socks with a bifurcated toe that we wear for Suzuki Training) in my size. For reasons that perhaps obvious to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the sport, the Sumo district is a good place to look for anything oversized you might want in Japan. Please insert here one or more jokes at my expense comparing me to a sumo wrestler.

And now I’m at the airport. The tabi and everything else is checked in and we’re checked into that international limbo of intercontinental air travel. This has always been an emotionally and philosophically loaded space for me. I used to write poetry on airplanes a lot. Then I stopped writing poetry all together and the world was a better place.

I can’t say that I’m ready to go back. There are certain things/people I’m looking forward to seeing. But on the whole, I wish I’d been here longer. This is leading to a sense that I want to get back as soon as possible, and for as long as possible. I don’t want to be an ex-pat. I find them sad. But I do love this place and feel a bond to it, even if it’s only one way.

Then again, I want to live a life with lots of places that I miss.

Melbourne 4 (Thanksgiving)

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

Thursday was a strange day.

My Godparents, the Vorlands, are former Missionaries, colleagues of my own parents. They had a distribution of children that was, although not identical, akin to the distribution of myself and my siblings. Most notably from my perspective right now is that their youngest son Andy was my age and we were very close childhood friends, and their eldest daughter Cathy was the same age as my sister Ruth and they shared a very close bond growing up. Cathy eventually grows up and moves to Australia. She marries and raises a family here in Melbourne. Seven or so years ago she is diagnosed with Cancer. It advances, and this last Saturday, she passed away. Her parents were here because they knew it was getting close, so I e-mailed them and found out where/when the funeral was. Appropriately enough the funeral was on American Thanksgiving day. Conveniently enough the church where it was to be held was so close to the VAC where Barney and I are working, that I could walk there from the theatre in three minutes. So I asked Barney to “take over” and I went to the funeral on Thursday morning.

Haven’t been to a funeral in a long time, but I do spend a good deal of time contemplating death. The odd thing here was to be contemplating it in public and within the context of Christianity. Now I don’t want to go too far out on this particular limb, because I don’t want to step on feelings which are inviolate and perhaps holy. But it is very odd to me that Christianity, which along with a lot of other religions, makes a claim to understanding and being able to explain death, doesn’t seem to eliminate the deep freak-out that happens when it occurs. My late father, who had experienced a lot of it, and was quite sober about it in my experience said to me once that “The only thing you can really count on in another person, is that they are going to die.” This is (pending radical breakthroughs in medicine or metaphysics) simply true. As I said, I don’t want to trample on anyone’s feelings, and I’m sure that I’m not above this personally either, but it does seem to me that the intensity evident in how we confront death hints at the fact that we at least suspect, that it is indeed the end. Full stop. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. As beings, non-being is the toughest thing to confront, and anything (within reason) that a person does to seek comfort in that moment is legit in my book.

So given this kind of musing, I’m not exactly the person you want at your funeral, but I was there at Cathy’s and it was a beautiful service. Her bereaved husband’s eulogy was eloquent, heartfelt and delivered with a dignity that I found moving. Andy, who is a photographer in Tokyo, sent a beautifully executed photo montage, set to music. One of the striking things about this was that the photos at the beginning all showed the much younger, elder Vorlands caring for the infant Cathy, and the shots near the end we similar situations of the same people care giving, with everyone 57 years older. Not to diminish any of the gestures and tributes that were given, the one that stood out for me was one of Cathy’s sons, who made a small speech before playing Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring on the piano. The speech was something he had written a number of days before, and although it was at moments, convoluted and a touch naive in it’s logic, the sentiment was the sentiment of a poetic soul confronting the finality of death. The central point, and I’m going to bastardize it horribly here, was that the pain of loss was the price we pay for consciousness, and that for him the twenty some years of support and kisses that he received from his mother was worth the price. He was reaching for joy. I don’t know this young man, but I recognized a fellow traveler. He then, as he put it, “Banged out some Bach.” It was sublime.

I had to get back to the work at the theatre. The elder Vorlands, were understandably not in a good place to meet or talk to. The middle Vorland son, Keith was there, and I talked to him for a bit. Here to was a person dealing with the situation with a grace and easy nobility that I found inspiring. From deep in my youth, I remember Keith having an upbeat disposition and an easy smile. Here’s the kind of guy you want at your funeral, I thought. I greeted Cathy’s husband, and left. I came away with two things. First and foremost, I came away wishing that I had known Cathy better. I spent an afternoon with her when I was here in Melbourne 15 years ago. This is my strongest most substantial memory of her. In fact it is close to my only memory of her. It is a testament to the love she inspired in others that was evident at her funeral, that I ended up feeling a loss for something I never really, in practical terms, had. Secondly and more bitterly, I was deeply affected by the evident pain that my Godparents were in. It was clear, despite his noble efforts to stay whole, my Godfather had been utterly shattered. And Keith said that his mother just kept repeating that “It’s not supposed to be like this.” I’m not someone who is going to win any medals for being a “good son.” And I’m not even sure if there are actual duties as a God-son that I’ve been missing. There probably are. But I don’t think I’ve ever loved the Vorlands quite as much as I do right now, and I’m not ashamed to say that out loud (are blogs “out loud?”)

All of this has made me reflect on a part of my life that I don’t reflect on very much.

So when I got back to the theatre it was composition presentation day, and we saw the work that the participants have been making in the afternoons since Monday. It was site-specific work. They presented pieces all over the environs of the VAC (Victorian Arts Center). They were fantastic. Some of the best sight-specific composition work I’ve EVER seen. The subject is John Cage, so I’m asking them to mess with the live dividing art from life anyway, but they really went there. It was like watching happenings from the ’60s. Both Barney and I were very happy. I’ll probably write more about this next week, but this group we’re working with here is really great. It’s allowing Barney and I to really experiment and work on our stuff. Follow our interests.

Laura Sheedy is the driving force behind setting up this program and brining us here. Her mother Mavis used to live in NYC, so she wanted to throw us a thanksgiving dinner. So Barney and I and a small group went over to the house that Laura grew up in and had a fantastic time. It wasn’t a sit-down dinner or anything tense. It was very relaxed, with a fantastic Ham as the main event, oysters, some excellent cheese from King Island and the Aussie specialty “Sausage Roll”. It was a wonderful way to round off a dramatic and somewhat wrenching day.

There was nothing traditional about this thanksgiving. And I discovered that this is the only tradition I’m interested in. The tradition of not having a tradition. Of inventing it all over again every time. Not of not having a good time, but not recapitulating past good times. I don’t want to sit around in the memories of other years. I want to create the new ones. That’s something I can feel some loyalty to.

Get in the habit of breaking habits!

Happy Neo-Thanksgiving.