Monday, September 18, 2017

The owls



I was walking on a quiet back street in the next town north. Some twenty feet up in the branches of a great oak that rose up next to the sidewalk I caught sight a family of owls — two parents, and a fledgling — then saw three more owlets sheltered in a hollow at the base of the tree, peering out at me as I approached. That the owls were visible in broad daylight was not as remarkable to me as was the fact that they were sharing their quarters with a comparably-sized family of cats, who played and curled up with the little owlets, tails and wings fluttering and shaking together as I watched, as if nothing could have been more natural.

I hadn't brought my camera with me. I ran home — a distance of some five miles — and when I returned again I took a wrong turn down a parallel street. A Frenchman approached, seeing my camera and indicating his own which he carried around his neck, and asked me a highly technical question regarding photography. As I am essentially an ignoramus in that regard I apologized and said that I couldn't help him, but as compensation I offered to lead him to the tree, where he was sure to find a promising subject for his lens. We walked the few blocks that remained, but when we arrived we learned that the health department had ordered the people who owned the cats to send them away, as their presence was deemed a threat to the vulnerable owls. There was nothing left for the Frenchman and I to do except shake hands and exchange our farewells.

Image by Toshi Yoshida.

Friday, September 08, 2017

The world is inside of nothing


It's funny how the world is inside of nothing. I mean, you have your heart and your soul inside of you. Babies are inside of their mothers. Fish are out there in the water. But the world is inside nothing. I don't know if I like this or not but you better write it down.
I just watched Bertrand Tavernier's 1986 film Round Midnight again for the first time in nearly thirty years. This scene, in which saxophonist Dexter Gordon, playing a fictional jazz legend named Dale Turner, philosophizes while a friend's daughter plays on a French beach, is one of my favorite parts of the movie. It's a bit hokey, of course, but that's show business.

I can readily understand why a black filmmaker like Spike Lee had issues with a film like this, and there's much that could be said regarding its rehearsal of cultural clichés about black men who are in one way or another damaged being sympathetically "minded" by whites, as well as about the portrayal of jazz musicians as oracles rather than as disciplined, skilled professional musicians (see Cortázar's "The Pursuer," which may have been one of the inspirations for this film), but on the other hand this is one of the few fictional feature films from the second half of the twentieth century in which jazz musicians are actually played by jazz musicians rather than by professional actors. In addition to Gordon, who reportedly contributed to the development of the script, the cast includes Herbie Hancock, Bobby Hutcherson, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, and other luminaries. The music is splendid (and plentiful), Gordon and co-star François Cluzet are splendid, and you have this scene on the beach, all of which ought to count for something.

Maxine Gordon (Dexter's widow) has written a nice appreciation of the film.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Support DACA



More information on DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, can be found here.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Lal Waterson: To Make You Stay



Mike Waterson's songs on Bright Phoebus, like the title track or "Rubber Band," which contains such whimsical lines as "just like margarine our fame is spreading," tend to be fairly jaunty major-key sing-alongs with simple lyrics. His sister Lal's compositions, on the other hand, are more brooding and cryptic (I can't, for instance, make much sense of "Never the Same," pretty as it is), and they're also odder musically.

"To Make You Stay," which seems to be addressed to a child, is one of the lovelier ones. I'm no musicologist, but the melody, with its chant-like descent and sudden swerve at the end of the verse, doesn't seem to fit conventional Anglo-American song styles at all, and that fact is a tribute to this "folk" artist's originality. (Lal's singing is also much stranger than Mike's, which is earthy and distinctive but nevertheless not unfamiliar.)
Dear, dear, dear, I once had a starling
Dear, dear, dear, a pretty little darling
Dear, dear, dear, but she flew away in the nighttime
From under me right hand
This unofficially posted version, by the way, is not the remastered one recently made available on CD from Domino Recording. The album as a whole is well worth a listen.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Coral Garden of the Forest



Coral reefs aren't doing all that well these days, and in any case there are none within range of a day trip where I live, but on the other hand we have these coral and club fungi, which seemingly mimic some of the same shapes and colors.


These species aren't particularly rare, but on the other hand they're easily overlooked. Most of these examples were found in one small area a bit off the trail. The deer, which are plentiful in these woods, seem to have stripped off the undergrowth from this particular patch of ground, which just makes the fungi easier to spot.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Public Service Announcement



Some practical advice for eclipse-watchers, from Peter Blegvad and Andy Partridge.