Autumn Daze



So, it happened. The entire month of October went by without a post. My excuse: I would have been too tempted to write about the nauseating election we’ve been suffering through for it seems like forever. May our national nightmare soon fade from memory, as a technicolor Fall fades into a grayscale Winter…

The Wisdom of Marley


…Marley Dias, that is, possibly the most precocious 11-year-old on the planet, and apparently one of the best-parented.

Marley 1

Marley recently started a book drive using the hashtag #1000BlackGirlBooks, because she was tired of having to read books “about white boys and their dogs” in school. Given how hard it can be to convince my college students to read their assignments, I’m all for any movement that seeks to make reading more relevant and enjoyable for children, so they can form the habit before it’s too late. Here are some nuggets from her recent interview on Charlie Rose:

[After Rose remarks that she seems remarkably comfortable being on television]
MARLEY: “It’s easier to be yourself than to be something you’re not.”

ROSE: “Is she [your mother] your hero?”
MARLEY: “Yeah-”
ROSE: “One of them-”
MARLEY: “No, I like attributes of people instead of specific people because everyone messes up.”

ROSE: What do you like most about yourself?”
MARLEY: “That I like myself.”

Even if these are just lines that she’s had drilled into her by her mentors (which I doubt), she delivers them with more panache than should be be legally allowable for someone so young. To see what I mean, check out her interview at around 44:00, unless you want to sit through a long segment on the battle between Apple and the FBI over unlocking the San Bernardino terrorist’s iPhone. Unfortunately it’s a Hulu video, so you have to sit through a 30-second ad before you can skip forward.

Let’s hope that growing up doesn’t dampen her enthusiasm.

A Dog, A Lake, and A Ball


One of those eternal plotlines, which some dogs seem to never tire of… On and off the south shore of Lake Geneva…

The soundtrack here is Gareth Pearson’s “Run SB Run” from his excellent album, “Urban Echoes”.

Terrasses Mystérieux


Okay, so I’m pretty sure that there is a very simple answer to this question, but I didn’t think of asking anyone while I was in the neighborhood, and Google has been of little help. But, clearly, there are either terraces cut into, or walls set on to, the granite peak of this mountain just outside of Martigny Switzerland. The question is: who put them there, and why?

Update: a Swiss citizen who should know told me that those are actually large wooden structures that are intended to prevent avalanches. Fair enough, but there seems to be no one living on the slope beneath to protect… Maybe the Swiss just generally disapprove of avalanches, and stop them whenever and wherever they can?

Terraced Mountainside Martigny 4

R.I.P. Chuck Silverman: A Keeper Of The Flame


I just learned that an old friend of mine passed away unexpectedly last May: Chuck Silverman, a man whose life-long obsession was drumming – particularly Afro-Cuban percussion. Along with a couple of other aspiring musicians, Chuck and I shared a house high up in the Hollywood hills in the late ’70s. When he wasn’t at a gig, he was almost always at the house, but rarely seen: he would practice literally all day in a narrow walk-in storage closet he’d (somewhat) sound-proofed, using headphones to play along with his favorite latin tracks. After that household dissolved in the early ’80s, we largely lost track of each other until he emailed me a few years ago to catch up. In addition to having studied ethnomusicology at UCLA, he’d become a successful teacher and writer, authoring several highly-regarded books and columns, teaching at the Musician’s Institute in L.A., and introducing anyone who would listen to Afro-Cuban rhythms. At the time of his death, he was trying to complete a documentary film on a style of Cuban music he feared would soon be lost. As a memorial to Chuck, and in the now perhaps dim hope that his film will eventually be finished, here’s a short video he made about the project (before his initial filming began in 2013).

“Keepers of the Flame” Documentary Film Fundraising Video

You Know It’s Spring When…


So, every Spring for the last ten years I’ve witnessed the return of this beautiful bird, as I did driving back from Madison today-

An Audubon Society Photo

An Audubon Society Photo

And every time I’ve witnessed its return, I’ve idly wondered what sort of bird it is. I’ve asked local friends, but they’ve never given me an answer. Of course, it looked like some sort of blackbird (duh!). But how to describe its colorful markings? It’s not a red and yellow wing-tip. It’s more of a red and yellow wing-shoulder… But I’ve always been reluctant to describe it that way, since it’s certainly not in any anatomical sense a shoulder. Tonight I finally googled “red-winged blackbird” just to see if that inaccurate, misleading description might narrow down the choices. It did: surprisingly, this bird is generally called (in English) a “red-winged blackbird“. Officially, it’s called agelaius phoeniceus. This is its mating territory, and in a month or so it will be literally everywhere you look; wisely, it winters down in Baja California and northwest Mexico.

More aptly, its French name is “Carouge à épaulettes”. ‘Épaulettes’ means “shoulder pads” (which is at least more accurate here than ‘shoulder’ would be), but ‘carouge’ does not show up in any of the French dictionaries I’ve checked. It does contain the word ‘rouge’, which means ‘red’. Apparently, there is a single village in Europe named Carouge, and in an interesting twist of fate, it’s on the outskirts of Geneva, only a mile or so from where I stayed for a week last summer. Carouge has been called the “Greenwich Village” of Switzerland. I’ll be returning to the area next Fall to do some research at the Université de Genève, and will be sure to visit. Stay tuned for further reports on this bizarre coincidence.

In the meantime, welcome back, red-winged blackbirds! Happy breeding! You’ve been missed.