I love how Sharman Apt Russell uses short punchy personified paragraphs. Here are the concluding paragraphs before the chapter "Metamorphosis" begins. page 40:
The larva of the Large White can distinguish between fourteen and a half and fifteen hours of light. When internal conditions are ready, and when there are more than fifteen hours of light a day, the caterpillar will become a chrysalis that produces a Large White butterfly in less than two weeks. ...
The blood of the caterpillar is counting time.
You are biding your time until, after two weeks or two months or two years of life, you change color, void your gut, and begin a brief stage of wandering.
You start to mosey.
You amble onto a front porch.
You crawl restlessly across the path.
Something important is about to happen.
In a chapter "Butterfly Matisse", descriptions of sets of ways the beautiful markings on butterfly wings are useful each conclude with a short, pithy statement about the role "art" plays. For example, pages 71-72:
Males use color to avoid each other. For a male Orange Sulphur, the wing of another male reflecting ultraviolet light is repellent. The sight of such an ugly wing inhibits the approach of Orange Sulphur males, as well as that of males from a related species such as the Common Sulphur. These males don't want to get to know each other. They don't want to waste time swooping down to court another male.
Art is communication. Art is the flare gun of possible sex. Art is a nasty memo between guys.
"Personal ad #24: M seeks F, 23-35, no pets, no parasites, no kinky hobbies, must like kids and nectar."
Why do we love butterflies?
I think we have a physical response to color.
Flowers evolved color to attract the bee, the hummingbird, and the butterfly. Flowers, passionately, want to receive and send out pollen. Come to me, the flower shouts. Yellow is language. Purple is advertising.
The Chawla family is interested in getting their son, Sampath, married.
It is necessary at some point for every family with a son to acquire a daughter-in-law. This girl who is to marry the son of the house must come from a good family. She must have a pleasant personality. Her character must be decent and not shameless and bold. This girl should keep her eyes lowered and, because she is humble and shy, she should keep her head bowed as well. Nobody wants a girl who stares people right in the face with big froggy eyes. She should be fair-complexioned, but if she is dark the dowry should include at least one of the following items: a television set, a refrigerator, a Godrej steel cupboard and maybe even a scooter. This girl must be a good student and show proficiency in a variety of different fields. When she sings her voice must be honey-sweet and bring tears of joy to the eyes. When she dances people should exclaim "Wah!" in astounded pleasure. It should be made clear that she will not dance and sing after marriage and shame the family. This girl should have passed all her examinations in the first division but will listen respectfully when her prospective in-laws lecture her on various subjects they themselves failed in secondary school.
She must not be lame. She must walk a few steps, delicately, feet small beneath her sari. She must not stride or kick up her legs like a horse. She must sit quietly, with knees together. She should talk just a little to show she can, but she should not talk too much. ... Her mother should urge: "Eat something. Eat a laddoo. My daughter made these with her own hands." And these laddoos must not be recognizable as coming from the sweetmeat shop down the road. The embroidery on the cushion covers ... and the paintings ... should also be the work of her own hands. They should be color-coordinated, with designs of fruit and flowers.
She should not be fat. She should be pleasantly plump, with large hips and breasts but a small waist. Though generous and good-tempered, this girl should be frugal and not the sort who would squander the family's wealth. A girl who, though quiet, would be able to shout down the prices of vegetables and haggle with the shopkeepers.... Talk of husband and children should so overcome her with shyness and embarrassment that she should hide her face, pink as a rosebud in the fold of her sari.
Then, if she has fulfilled all the requirements for a sound character and impressive accomplishments, if her parents have agreed to meet all the necessary financial contributions, if the fortune-tellers have decided the stars are lucky and the planets are compatible, everyone can laugh with relief and tilt her face up by the chin and say she is exactly what they have been looking for, that she will be a daughter to their household. This, after all, is the boy's family. They're entitled to their sense of pride.
But the family could find only one prospective daughter-in-law. ... "Like a crow," said Kulfi and Ammaji [the mother and grandmother] indignantly when the first photograph was shown ... "You are trying to marry poor Sampath to a crow."
Sampath has taken up residence in a tree and will not come down, even to meet the one prospective bride they find for him. So they send the prospective bride, nicely dressed, up the tree to meet him.
"Climb up, daughter," the girl's father urged her. "Climb up. Come on, one step. Just a step."
The devotees raised the girl's rigid, unwilling form into the tree. "Up," they urged, and slowly she began to climb. She was encased in layers of shiny material, like a large, expensive toffee. ... Her gold slippers slipped with every step. Her sari was pulled over her head and she held the edge of it between her teeth so as to keep as much of her face modestly covered as possible. It seemed an eternity before she neared Sampath. It was clear that this girl would not take well to life in a tree. She paused and looked back down for further directions. Nobody knew quite what to expect, or how she should proceed. ...
"Touch his feet," someone finally shouted in a moment of inspiration.
"Yes, touch his feet," the rest of the pilgrims cried, and, extending a single timid finger, like a snail peeping from its shell, she gingerly poked at Sampath's toe. Her finger was as cold as ice and moist. Sampath leapt up in horror. In an equal state of distress, the girl let out a faint cry. Losing her balance and her gold slippers, she tumbled indecorously towards the ground, accompanied by the more robust cries of the pilgrims and her family, who rushed at her with arms outstretched. But they failed to catch her as she fell and she landed with a dull thump upon the ground.
The signs for marriage were not auspicious.
Sampath's sister, Pinky, is smitten by the man who sells Hungry Hop Kwality Ice Creams out of a van, and names him "the Hungry Hop boy" or, simply, "Hungry Hop". In her nervousness to approach him, she instead bites his ear. In convalescence, he is guarded at home by his family. Pinky decides to send him a note.
"I am so sorry to have bitten your ear. But it was done only out of affection. Please understand, the sight of you filled my heart with so much emotion, but it unfortunately came out in the wrong way. Here's wishing you a speedy recovery." ...
She arrived at the Hungry Hop residence, still calm. ... Although the men were out at work, the Kwality Boy was being kept closely guarded by the women of the family. They were all seated outside ... it looked like a good-tempered, leisurely family scene ... but Pinky was aware that if she was spotted and identified, these women could transform themselves into a formidable army. ...
She slipped into the back alleyway. ... There - oh wonderful life! - looking wanly from the bathroom window, she saw his face.
Once more her spirits were caught up in their dervish-like tumble and her sense of calm, so solid a minute ago, vanished like vapor. The same compelling influence that had held her in its rabid rush the last time she had seen him in the bazaar engulfed her again. Helpless before it, knowing she had to do something quick, she picked up a stone and, her nerves in a thrum of she knew not what emotion, she fastened her note to the stone with an elastic band from her hair and threw it, with deadly aim, straight at Hungry Hop, who was absorbed in staring dolefully out over the rooftops into an empty patch of sky.
He had not even noticed her ... below and starting from this bullet that flew out of nowhere to hit him squarely on the jaw, he staggered back ... [and] collapsed onto an upturned bucket against the wall. When he realized he was not dead and when the black sheet that appeared before his eyes as if to signal his end had disappeared altogether, he picked up the missile that had inflicted the painful blow.
P.J. and his friends Joe and Strom have arrived in the central Syrian town of Homs and have their first experience in unhygienic lodging.
Full of falafel, we set out to find a place to sleep, and eventually settled on our first third world hotel: a cheap ($3 each) yet dirty collection of rooms on the fifth floor of a crumbling concrete building. Every room was empty except for ours, and one other that appeared to have permanent residents.
The communal toilets at the end of the hall were the hole-in-the-floor variety ... the bathroom had not been cleaned in a while, and piles of human waste (from people missing) surrounded the hole .... On the wall next to the hole was the equivalent of toilet paper: a small faucet and a can - properly used by rubbing water into ones backside. Nearby was a small pile of used toilet paper, indicating that someone did not care to use their hand, and that the sewer was not made to handle toilet paper.... Splashing ... is apparently a more sanitary solution than toilet paper - assuming that one immediately washes their hands with soap.
The bathroom of course had no soap. Nor did it have water. In fact no water ran from the faucets at any time during our stay....
The hotel's beds consisted of broken wooden frames holding stained foam mattresses. To avoid getting bedbugs or strange diseases I placed my ground cloth over the single provided sheet, and used my own sleeping bag. We moved one of the beds up against the door, lest someone try entering at night. The room's window consisted of uncovered, open rectangles in the concrete wall, through which the pollution and noise from the streets below drifted all night.
Their next night in a Damascus backpacker's hostel was a little better.
The hostel had ... an interesting collection of dorm-style accomodations: rows of foam pads on the rooftop, with a large tarp for a cover. Although a western-style (sit-down) toilet existed, no toilet paper was provided. The shower, which was only hot during a couple hours in the morning and evening, had low pressure, and was nothing more than a faucet sticking out of the ceiling directly over the toilet. When the shower was on, the whole bathroom got wet, and one could easily use the toilet and the shower at the same time.
The rooftop sleeping arrangements had us inhaling fresh exhaust and listening to blaring horns all night. Our intermittent sleep was broken around 5 a.m. by a loudspeaker chanting something in Arabic, making me fear that war had started. Then another loudspeaker came on chanting the same thing, then others, until the same chanting surrounded our rooftop bedroom. ... I realized that it was the morning call to prayer.
P.J. and his friends introduce the term "chicken bus" as they travel from Gilgit in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Pakistani Kashmir through Pindi and on to Lahore.
The bus to Lahore again picked up anyone who waved it down, and often did not even come to a complete stop. It was similar to an American school bus, with bench seats to be shared by at least three ... An acrobatic bus employee collected fares from the densely packed passengers, and climbed up and down from the roof to manage luggage, all while the bus was moving. ...
As the bus filled, people started sitting and standing on our bags, until at one point Joe noticed that a family of five was standing on his bag alone. A couple people even boarded the bus with live chickens ... the ride fit he definition of a "chicken bus," a term used by backpackers worldwide to describe any uncomfortable third world tranportation used by the locals.
P.J. relates his experience with Chinese trains as he takes a 28-hour sleeper train from Guangzhou to Shanghai.
Chinese trains have three classes: hard seats, which are not actually hard; soft seats, which are quite soft; and sleeper, which is a dormitory-like railcar of three-high bunk beds. The bottom bunk costs the most and is an inviting day seat for passengers of the other two bunks ... the top bunk - where I ended up - is inches from speakers that blast deafening Chinese music from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. sharp.
P.J. introduces his friend to "fast travel" as they explore southern and eastern Africa. They travel by bus from Nairobi, Kenya to Arusha, Tanzania to see Zanzibar and then Victoria Falls in Zambia.
The landscape in Kenya and Tanzania's Rift Valley region consists of Serengeti grasslands. Termite mounds rise taller than a man ... Kilimanjaro ... often looms in the distance ... most interesting, however, are the Masai people.
The Masai tribes people have a reputation for being warriors. They are tall, thin and muscular; have menacing facial experessions; are usually dressed in what looks like red sheets; have large discs in stretched holes in their earlobes; frequently carry spears and shields; and are often seen solo in the middle of nowhere. Their culture has not changed in eons. ... As part of the [coming of age] ritual, boys wearing black robes and white face paint are expected to spend time roaming the countryside.
Seeing boys dressed like goblins and men with spears was discomforting at first, but eventually they seemed like a normal part of the landscape. We watched the acacia, termite, and Masai scenery roll by from the debatable safety of our ... bus, and within a couple hours, had reached the Tanzanian border. An overworked official collected $50 per visa and took notes with carbon paper, while a Masai man - with spear and shield - sipped from a bottle of coke at a mud hut restaurant nearby.
The author comes to Japan for the first time to teach English as part of a year-long faculty exchange program. It is her first day at Kansai Women's University (a composite fictitious name).
I browsed through the mail that had accumulated in my box. ... There were a number of notices in Japanese that the secretary told me not to bother about and then a brief note in both English and Japanese announcing that 'everyone should please try to have the health examination before the beginning of classes.'
I was puzzled. We didn't get memos at Michigan State that told us 'please try' to do things. And what kind of health examination? My doctor had given me a complete physical before I left the United States. ... I ... suspected that the vague wording in the memo might be an example of tatemae, the form of a polite suggestion masking the substance (honne) of an explicit order.
'I guess I should take this health exam, shouldn't I?' I asked one of the secretaries who spoke excellent English.
She nodded agreement and told me that it was being given right now in the auditorium. ... I thanked her, bowed, and headed off for my first all-Japanese experience.
The room was filled with students, most of them from the high school and junior high that are also part of KWU. As far as I could see, there was only one other faculty member present. I wasn't at all sure what to do, but took heart when I noticed that the youngest girls, probably away from home for the first time, seemed every bit as bewildered as I. I smiled at them and drew startled, wide-eyed expressions in return. It occured to me that some of them had probably never been this close to a foreigner before. ...
There were no private changing areas ... I was going to have to slip into my hospital gown out in the open, in a room filled with curious Japanese schoolgirls. Still worse, as I unfolded the gown, I saw that it was intended to fit a Japanese junior high girl, not a tall gaijin [foreign] woman.
[I] noticed that the Japanese were disrobing differently. Somehow they managed to get out of their clothes and into the hospital gown without revealing an inch of extra flesh. It was impressive to watch: a flurry of arms and voila! The gown on, the clothes off, the underwear zipping out from underneath to go folded neatly, with everything else, into the mesh basket.
She gets through some of the physical, then is given a cup to give a urine sample in.
I foresaw, with despair, what was going to come next. The medicine I was taking for a minor bladder infection happens to turn my urine an exquisite azure color. ...
'Aoi! Aoi!' (Blue! Blue!), I heard whispered as I walked through the packed auditorium in my minigown and carrying the plastic cup. The well-bred young students ... made like hooligans, popping in and out of various lines, attempting to get a look for themselves, then joining in chorus 'Aoi! Aoi!' Never had I been the subject of such wonder and awe.
'You know, you didn't really have to take that physical,' one of my new colleagues ... said when I slunk back into the English Department office a few days later. 'Nobody does.'
'You've heard?' I asked her.
'Cathy, this is Japan. Of course I heard - we all did. ... This is a village of 120 million people. There isn't much you can do here without everybody finding out.' ...
I asked why the department secretary hadn't told me that I didn't have to take the physical. My colleague explained that, especially at a place like KWU, one of Japan's most elite women's colleges, status and politeness mean a lot and it is very awkward for a secretary to tell a sensei (teacher) what to do or not to.
She told me about a visiting foreign teacher who, on a train platform, had asked one of his students, 'This is the train to Osaka, isn't it?' and had been told yes, even though it wasn't. It would have been rude to tell him that he was mistaken. If he had asked, 'Excuse me, please. Could you tell me which is the train to Osaka?' he would have been answered very differently. ... I was a sensei and the secretary would have felt presumptuous telling me that I had been wrong to assume I had to take the physical. Nor could she tell me the notice did not mean what it said. It was an official notice; the university was doing its job by providing annual physicals; the students obeyed ... but most of the faculty just threw the notice away.
Cathy and her husband Ted visit Paris and have some interesting intersections with Japanese tourists.
pages 193-201: I never felt more nostalgic for Japan than when I first visited Paris. ... What I hadn't counted on was the extent to which living in Japan three times in the last ten years had changed me. When the French customs official asked me a question at Passport Control ... the words that leapt from my lips were Japanese. He repeated his question in accented but perfectly comprehensible English. I tried again to answer him. Still Japanese.
Hazukashii!! [ashamed, abashed, embarrassed] I muttered ..., turning to Ted for assistance.
'We have nothing to declare, sir,' my husband answered....
The find a hotel concierge having problems communicating with a Japanese tour group.
'Vely solly. We do not speak Flench,' one of the Japanese students answered politely. 'Would you speak Engrish prease?'
Ted and Cathy save the day then, as well as surprise a group of Japanese tourists waiting in a long line to see the Eiffel Tower.
We wait, surrounded by Japanese. They are talking freely because they assume the gajin [foreigners] don't understand ... shopkeepers here aren't nearly as friendly or helpful as they are in Japan, they say.... One young woman says people have been so rude to her that it is making her nervous, she's afraid she will develop a complex, something (I know) that the Japanese worry about a lot. I've been told that in Japan they've set up an emergency counseling service - even a telephone hotline - for Japanese suffering culture shock due to a visit to Paris.
After surprising the Japanese with a word of sympathy in Japanese, Cathy encounters a Japanese woman in a bathroom.
I stop to use the women's restroom. There is a small rap on the ... stall...
'Chotto matte kudasai' (Excuse me a moment, please), I blurt out in Japanese, automatically, even involuntarily, and then feel silly, realizing that I'm still stuck in my 'foreigner' mode.
When I leave the stall, I discover that the woman who knocked is Japanese. Her mouth drops open in astonishment when she sees a tall 'Frenchwoman' exit the stall. I wash my hands quickly and flee ... it's too complicated to try to explain to a stranger why I, an American, have excused myself in colloquial Japanese in a restroom in Paris. The Japanese woman doesn't even try to cover her embarrassment. 'Hazukashii!' she mutters quietly, and enters the stall. I am certain that she spends the rest of her trip trying to ascertain what, precisely, about her way of knocking had tipped off a Frenchwoman .... I tell Ted ... and he predicts ... that there will soon be a spate of Japanese newspaper or magazine articles about proper comportment in international public restrooms.
Finally, as a last extended quote from their Paris trip, they visit a café.
The waiter gives us a conspiratorial wink. ... We peer around the restaurant. Except for us, every patron ... is Japanese. Their umbrellas are neatly folded shut and placed in the stand at the entrance, the handles all facing the same direction. There are too many coats for the rack, so some are folded into neatly squared bundles and stacked on a chair. ... Two rows of bulging designer shopping bags are lined up like soldiers against the wall. Although the café is full, these Japanese are so quiet one would barely know they are there. They talk and laugh in whispers, their gestures efficient and contained. ...
'You will see,' the waiter confides to us in English. 'They will all order the same thing, exactly.'
When, one by one, they each order a café au lait, then a croissant, the waiter can barely control his mirth. ...
The waiter comes to take our order.
'Café au lait and a croissant,' Ted says, an edge in his voice.
'I'll have the same.'
The waiter doesn't even notice.
It is Japan, four is an unlucky number, and Cathy Davidson, on her fourth visit to Japan, faces some personal tragedies of her own, as well as sadness in the lives of some of her Japanese friends.
There are times when I love Japan's silences. Away from the din of urban Japan, deep in a bamboo grove, the ground thick with leaves, I swear you can hear the stillness. ...
I've had moments exactly like that with some of my Japanese friends. Ishin denshin, wordless heart-to-heart communication: there's nothing like it.
At other times Japanese silence is a prison. You know there's someone inside, desperate to break out, but language, culture, and tradition are powerful jailers. The most you will see is a scrawny arm waving desperately from between the bars.
... there are often awkward silences as [Japanese friends] try to describe what they are feeling. Some linguists insist that it's easier in English than in Japanese. Our language is unusually precise in the fine distinctions it makes among different levels and degrees of certainty, intuition, feeling, and insight. Even psychoanalysis, ostensibly a way of delving into the irrational ... is firmly rooted in the rationalist assumption that articulation can uncover the cause of particular emotions or behaviors. ...
Contemporary Japanese psychology ... derives from very different philosophical traditions, including meditative ones in which ego, rationalism, and articulation are devalued (and sometimes condemned). Such popular Japanese psychotherapists as Naikan and Morita emphasize meditation, gratitude, and humility. In Morita therapy, feelings are considered less significant than will. Indeed, one can will a change in behavior regardless of one's feelings.
For many Japanese, the analysis and expression of personal feelings do not come easily. From early childhood they are schooled not to inflict themselves on others. To tell your problems is to demand attention. ... Psychologists in Japan are just about as rare as lawyers and possibly for similar reasons since both professionals rely on clients who are willing to spend time and effort expressing themselves and voicing their demands. ... The very concept of 'humanism' is regarded as both arrogant and naive.
William Zinsser, in his story "Siena Revisited", recounts visiting Siena during WWII when he had a 1-day leave during the time that Germany was expected to surrender soon.
We began to think about heading back. Just then we noticed a stone stairway ... to a panoramic view .... Our stairs, spiraling up and up, deposited us on top .... From that catwalk we could look down on the entire city. The time was around 4:20 .... We were startled when the bells in the campanile began to ring. It was a jubilant, spread-the-news kind of ringing, and suddenly it dawned on us ... the war was over!
Below us the city exploded into life. Men and women and children came running from every direction down the streets that emptied into the Campo. We scrambled down to join them .... Now, seeing four GIs, the people of Siena hugged us and shouted 'Viva America!' and lifted us onto their shoulders and carried us around the square .... Darkness had fallen by the time we got back to our jeep. But we weren't allowed to leave; little bands of musicians and revelers kept falling in ahead of us and behind us ... finally we broke away ....
The night was black and the countryside was asleep. But the villages were awake, and when the people heard our jeep they ran out to shout 'Viva la pace!' .... We saw a bonfire on a hill ... from there we could see another bonfire on another hill, and when we reached that bonfire we saw still another one, far away. Only after three or four bonfires did we make the connection: the country people were spreading the news.
In the story, "Resisting Florence", Lucy McCauley describes her first visit to Italia, traveling by herself. Inspired by E.M. Forster's A Room with a View, she decides to explore Firenze (Florence) by just exploring and not following a map, letting "the city take me where it would."
My only agenda: to find the Piazza della Signoria, where Forster's young heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, fainted into the arms of George Emerson .... But after a long day wandering ... I instead found myself pausing along the banks of the Arno River for a rest. I gazed at the jumbled perfection of the Ponte Vecchio, its nestled buildings in myriad sizes, shapes, and hues of gold that somehow created a harmonious melody. After a while, I pulled out a sketchpad and began to draw.
An old man suddenly appears and implores her to "come, come" ... "no, no, you must come! Perseo, Pereso ... now is an important moment", pointing toward the nearby courtyard of the Uffizi Gallery. Keeping her guard up, she ignores him but then curiosity takes her to the courtyard - the Piazza she seeks is just beyond anyway, she knows.
In the crowd, I looked for the man's black cap but couldn't pick it out .... The people all stood with necks craned .... It was then that I saw the greened-bronze statue of Perseus, his winged shoes lifting him heavenward. An enormous crane suspended the Rennaisance sculpture in the air, inching it slowly toward a doorway in the Uffizi Museum. A woman beside me said that Perseus was going in for restoration and would be out of public view for perhaps a decade ....
With each movement of the crane, the crowd alternately gasped at the threat of the sculpture crashing down or applauded at the sight of Perseus suspended in midair .... For an hour I stood with the crowd, mesmerized by the sculpture's slow, pendulum-like swing. I thought how only Italians would do this, turn out by the hundreds to watch this transition in the life of an artwork.
Writer John Walsh in "Stolen Beauty" talks about the English fascination with Italy.
What takes them there is, alarmingly, the feeling that the place is somehow theirs ... in this (perfectly sophisticated) region of Italy, British people can fantasize about a simple life that is, somehow, their heritage .... The spirit of E.M. Forster's characters, appreciating everything about Tuscany except its life and soul, is shamefully detectable still in our attitude .... We like to play at being aristocrats here, the big-shot lords of the falling hillsides, surveying the magical valleys of Florence and Lucca with fond familiarity. And that's why the classic British holiday in Tuscany has to involve a villa.
[We] are entranced by a single image: a white plastic table and eight chairs overlooking the olive groves ... where we dish up sliced tomatoes ... and crush nectarines and apricots and gorgeous, honeyed melon slices against our teeth, and drink far too much orvieto and pinot bianco; and it's a scene repeated day after day because nobody can think of anything better than it.
The experience of driving on Tuscan hills[:] as you flog your rented Opel Cavalier up gradients of one in three and worse, finding at the top of a virtually sheer incline that there's an even worse one...; when you're inching your way round a molto pericoloso unfenced corner on the outside edge of this Tuscan Matterhorn, swerving around just inches from a 900-foot drop to certain death on someone's terracotta roof, and a villager in a Fiat Panda passes you on the inside making hand-flapping "keep over" gestures - well, you have to conced that these mountainy chaps have learnt to be cool about their vertiginous backyard in a way you cannot share ....
Private epipanies over lunch; the smell of history in the afternoon. These things may not be in the brochure, but they're guaranteed in Tuscany. No wonder we can't keep our arty, inspiration-hunting, colonizing hands off the place.
The author describes the cultural artifacts left of ancient dwellers, known as the Anasazi or Ancestral Puebloans, in Chaco Canyon and the "Four Corners" region of the Southwest, and how contemporary Navajo feel about the tourism to view the ruins.
I like to imagine those poeple ... coming into this area ... their journey ended here, on the high desert plateau.... They began to tell stories of their emergence from the earth at a mesa called Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle, just north of Chaco, and to think of their homeland, outside of which most Navajos still feel uncomfortable, as an area demarcated by four sacred mountains....
I often wonder what the early Navajos thought of the abandoned pueblos, the ghost towns, they found in the canyon. Apparently they regarded them with suspicion from the beginning, because they didn't move into them, didn't settle anywhere near them in fact. Even today, because of their strong beliefs about the dead, most Navajos keep their distance from the ruins. In the traditional Navajo world view a dying person's spirit journeys to subterranean afterworld inhabited by powerful, dangerous beings called ch'inde. The ch'inde can return to the earth's surface to harm the living, and an individual's ch'inde often returns to the place where the person died. There, like a deadly microbe, it waits to infect those who disturb it....
For that reason the local Navajos rarely visit the Anasazi ruins, which they know contain human burials, and most view the canyon itself, with its concentration of ruins, as a malevolent place.... [They] regard those of us who live in the canyon by choice with a great deal of suspicion, feelings reinforced by what history has taught them....
Robert Eaton leaves early one morning after spending a weekend at an isolated monastery.
My car cranks and warms slowly, and I begin the long drive back to Albuquerque. The road is frozen and deserted ... as the road emerges from the canyon and crosses the new culvert over the arroyo [dry desert gully], I remember again the cool, damp September morning seven years ago when, coming the other direction, I stopped my car and got out to investigage the stream flowing across the road in ... this same arroyo.... I was on month-long furlough from my job in Chaco, feeling young and unemcumbered, on my way to visit friends in Colorado. As I stood on the embankment, in the process of deciding not to continue, a brown Honda Civic station wagon pulled up and stopped behind my car, and I turned and walked back to the driver.
She rolled down her window as I approached. She was a pretty woman in her early thirties, with creamy skin, green eyes, and shoulder-length hair the color of oak wood. And wearing a dark green wind parka, a beige turtleneck sweater, and blue jeans. Her car was packed full, with boxes and clothes piled in back.
We began to talk, first about the road and the prospects for making it to the monastery, and then about other things: the monastery itself; Chaco ...; the fact that she was leaving that morning for Montana after having spent the summer in Santa Fe. Moving back, she said. And something about a man - either leaving or returning to him. She spoke vaguely, and I wasn't sure which.
"I try to come out here every Sunday," she said. "Sometimes I take mass with the brothers, sometimes I just wander off by myself. I think this is my favorite place in the world. I come out here when I need to think things through."
She looked down and smiled self-consciously. "I need to get to the monastery this morning."
Soon after we began to talk, she turned off her car's engine. In the mouth of the canyon, with the sandstone walls looming over us, the morning was suddenly very quiet and still, sepulchral. As I stood in my sweatshirt beside her car, I kept my hands in my pockets to warm them, and as we spoke, our breath left wisps of vapor hovering momentarily in the damp air. The smell of sage enveloped us.
There was something intimate about our surroundings and our conversation, and something vulnerable about her. Her cheeks were downy - a child's - her voice quiet and brittle. But she wasn't afraid of me, wasn't apprehensive, as she had a right to be, meeting a strange man on a deserted road. On the contrary, she seemed to sense, as I did, that there was something mutual between us, a preexisting connection. And that somehow our meeting wasn't merely accidental.... She looked me in the eyes as we spoke, and I thought about leaning down and kissing her, brushing the down on her cheek with my lips.
We talked for twenty or thirty minutes before our conversation lulled. I asked her then if she was going to continue up the road. Yes, she said, staring distractedly through the windshield, she needed to get to the monastery.
Then she turned her head toward me partway and looked up shyly. "I have a tow rope," she said, smiling. "Let's go together. If we get stuck, we can pull each other out."
I looked up the canyon, considering what she said, and for a moment the world was full of possibility, and I almost answered yes, yes, of course, let's go together ... But I was due in Boulder that evening, and I had bad feelings about the road ahead.... So I told her I wasn't going, that the venture seemed too risky, but that I would wait to make sure she got across the arroyo before I turned around. And I smiled at her then, sharing the promise of the moment.... [she slowly leaves] As she accelerated up the opposite embankment, on her way, she leaned out of the window and looked back and waved. She smiled and shouted something to me. She smiled and waved.
"Piece of cake," she said.
In the Introduction, the author sets the stage for the importance of this music. page 10:
Charting the cross-currents of American racial politics since World War II, Higher Ground follows Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder as they grappled with the enduring dilemmas of race and democracy. Like the movement itself, their personal stories mingle trouble and triumph. Each overcame obstacles that would have broken the spirits of most ordinary people.... Each survived to create art of transcendent beauty. But despite their success in changing America's musical landscape, they failed to realize the dream at the center of the gospel vision. Far too many people remained stranded on the platform when the freedom train pulled out of the station. The movement won the cultural battle but lost the political war.... However bleak the picture, the struggle hasn't ended. The black southerners who forged the gospel vision in the fiery furnace of slavery and the fleeting hopes of Reconstruction wouldn't have been surprised by the return of the hard times.
Aretha Franklin's grandfather is described as a man of strong character who overcame tremendous discrimination. From page 17:
Born January 22, 1915, in Sunflower County, Mississippi, C.L. [Aretha's father] lived the harsh reality that echoed through the music of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. Unwilling to accept his place in the Jim Crow South after returning from World War I, C.L.'s father had abandoned the family.... As he grew up, C.L. witnessed white supremacy's relentless assault on his stepfather's sense of self-worth. The intensely intelligent youngster perceived the obvious injustices of Jim Crow: the inadequate schools and the way the white farmers cheated his stepfather each year when the price of the cotton never quite balanced.... He raged at the everyday indignities that constantly reminded blacks of their place on the fringes of humanity. Decades later [stepfather] Franklin rankled at the memory of being intentionally sprayed by bus drivers taking white children to school while C.L. and his friends trudged along the muddy spring roads.
Chopping cotton alongside his father in the fields next to Highway 61 and the Illinois Central Railroad line, Aretha's father dreamed of a better life as he waved back to blacks driving cars with northern plates. Walking the tracks, he hailed migrants aboard the "Chicken Bone Special" headed for the promised lands of Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit.
Curtis Mayfield reminded African-Americans that they must be responsible for charting and working toward a positive and self-determined future for themselves and not just blame others. Page 144:
Keeping the faith, Mayfield knew, wouldn't be easy.... [In the late 1960s, some songs would] deal witht he practical complications of holding to the gospel vision in the face of increasing racial tensions.... The keynote comes in "Choice of Colors." Playing off one of [arranger/producer Johnny] Pate's finest string arrangements, the song shimmers like a dream slipping ever so slowly away. Mayfield calls his brothers to account, observing wryly that some would rather make a fuss than work for a better world. It doesn't make sense to hate white teachers, he says, and turn a blind eye to the backbiting within black communities.
Werner has an interesting analysis of the disco movement in the mid- to late- 1970s on pages 216-217:
When disco first appeared, it was just another part of the black dance mix that made no distinction ... [among] funk, soul, and the imported novelty records that took their name from the European discotheques where they had first been played. But before long it became clear that disco represented a deliriously illogical extension of the fundamental premise of gospel soul. Gospel music sang about salvation through God; soul music sang about the power of love. Taking the progression another step into the secular world, disco translated "love" as "sex". Churchgoers who shook their heads when Ray Chalres and Sam Cooke testified to the redemptive power of romantic love howled in dismay over Donna Summer's orgasmic marathon "Love to Love You Baby" or transvestite diva Sylvester's "Save My Soul."
The best disco, much of it created by black women who looked to Aretha as their elder sister and role model, underlined the music's gospel roots. Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and Sister Sledge's brilliant trilogy - "He the Greatest Dancer", "Lost in Music", and "We Are Family" - reasserted the gospel vision of unity at the precise moment Jimmy Carter's dismissal of UN ambassador Andrew Young ended his administration's honeymoon with black America.
He goes on to describe, on pages 239-240, hip-hop in the early 1990s:
Hip-hop created a major generational split ... while both Aretha and Stevie made hit records ... neither artist occupied a central position in the consciousness of the nation, black or white.... It didn't help that soul, which had emerged from R&B sometime in the sixties, had given birth to eighties R&B. As Nelson George observed in The Death of Rhythm and Blues, the eighties marked a watershed in African American music; for the first time the most popular forms of black music did not appeal to both young and old.... [There was] unprecedented hostility directed against R&B by substantial numbers of hip-hop fans for whom the initials signified "Romance & Bull...." ... Venting antiwoman and antigay bigotry that scandalized those who shared the movement's commitment to universal human dignity, hip-hop impresarios claimed an authentic blackness (young, male, ghetto) while dismissing R&B as the feminized voice of middle-class wannabes. It didn't help that more than a few of the R&B stars who inherited the gospel-soul tradition from Stevie, Curtis, and Aretha seemed content to wrap themselves in a cocoon of silky ballads and new jack beats without paying much attention to the world outside the bedroom walls. In short, the rappers had a point - and missed the point.