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jeudi 14 juin 2007

Gracias Hermanos Mexicanos

Today I had spent a considerable time discussing spiritedly how to improve the care of chronic illnesses such as Diabetes among the Indians who live in these desolate plains in the middle of this country, USA. Very lucky to have colleagues with whom I can bounce off culturally specific ideas of health care. A nice sensation of being able to contribute to the welfare of other people.
The Reservation is at a distance from any town of any size, so i was quite surprised that a new mexican restaurant had opened just this past week at this small village of the Indians. We decided to have lunch there.
Immigration reform makes no sense here. In these parts of USA, the whites have left their responsibility and gathered up their decaying moralities and moved on elsewhere, leaving the large unproductive fields and buildings from the last century. This village is a hundred years old and most of the buildings are from the first part of the 20th century.
The majority of the inhabitants are Indians, almost all of them belonging to one particular tribe.
So, it was heartening to see an enterprising Mexican had the courage and vision to open a restaurant in this village, to be of service to the Indians living here. Mexican food is popular among the Indians, so are the mexicans even though there may be some unresolved issues between them. mexicans were all indians once upon a time and once upon a time they were looked down upon and discriminated and that pain is carried over to their present contact with the Indians. In general there is a good enough mixing between the two races, and a majority of inter racial marriages of Indians are with Mexicans.
When you travel through the decaying centre of this country, you will come upon villages after villages revived by the mexicans, who come here to work in jobs that the whites do not want, contrary to popular belief, they dont take any jobs away from any one.
So hermanos mexicanos, thanks for the meal this afternoon. I am not fond of american food of mexican origin for other reasons, since i am a fan of the unpolluted food of mexico, the kind I am used to in merida mexico or coahuila in the northen part of that neighbouring country.
And buena suerte para ti, mi amigo mexicano..

jeudi 7 juin 2007

A Dream Dreaming of Itself..Musings from Paris

Friday, 1 June 2007

A young Arab French girl with a visible bulging belly and her hair dyed blonde serves me a glass of house wine. As happens in the evenings, a pianist is belting romantic, moody melodies on his piano in the hallway surrounded by restaurants of these very modern office complexes, La Defense. Friday evening. 7 pm. I have my baguette ready, so what if I am not home yet, I can wish you all a Shabbat shalom. Next Friday night, 8 June, I hope to be lighting the candles at the home of Sister Jackie in Miami, on 16th June, I will be with sister friend Dar in Yakima, Washington and on the 23rd, as the sun goes down with the Havdalah Service, I will be flying from Houston to Paris, and by the next Shabbat or thereabouts I should be on my way to the most Buddhist of the countries, Myanmar. Such is the life of this modern day wandering Jew!
Paris is a delight to the eyes. I am not talking about the classic and modern architecture. While my little island of Cuba offers, along with Brasil, the most sensuous of human beings, Paris has an elegance I have not seen elsewhere, not even in my beloved Buenos Aires! This city has the best dressed black people on earth, lithe and dignified; eat your hearts out, Cape Town, London and New York!! People are more overweight than before, but the French are the least overweight of all Europeans (20% compared to 45% in the UK and around 65 % in Australia and USA), but it cannot be Calories, Fat content or the extra alcohol. Lunch today was two pieces of steamed fish, Merluza, with a citron sauce on a bed of steamed vegetables, a salad of Leek in cheese, rice with thick sauce, some haricots, and then a healthy chunk of Roquefort cheese, to be consumed BEFORE, mind you, eating the fruit salad. Minimum time for lunch is one hour, but it usually stretches into two, perhaps there lies the myth of calories and overweight, the French take time over their lunches, in the USA, at some of the clinics where I work, they allot a mere 30 minutes for lunch, enough time to gulp down some preserved food, fatty and highly toxic!! I believe, it is not what you eat that matter, how you eat it, with whom you eat with, how slowly you eat your food and the relaxation at the table. If you don’t have time to eat, don’t eat, but don’t use it as an excuse to gulp down poorly prepared food! In fact, for one of my patients, I wrote down a prescription, One hour for Lunch to be permitted, if she wishes her to remain healthy. I think of the many delightful meals prepared by my younger brother friend Shimon... Always a pleasure, schmooze, endless chatter, glasses of wine, conversation and a good coffee to follow. Always a pleasure, Shimon… I look for ward to the Chupah, you and Avital in Haifa, with your parents Shmulik and Nava, in October...
I am thinking of the person that I have continuously known for the longest period of time, my younger brother Ricardo. How I wish I was sharing this Shabbat with him in Sde Bkr, in Eretz Israel. Soon enough, Brother. My brother Eliyahu’s eldest daughter, a classic mizrachi American beauty, 11 years old, is counting the days she can set off for her first international trip without her parents, to Paris, nevertheless, arranged by the French School she attends in Portland. My brother and his wife would pick her up at the end of her stay, at the end of this month, my Asian brother who is far more comfortable in Kobe or Cambodia will have to be finding out for himself the beauties of this city...
Reading a wonderful book at the moment, currently devouring Indian literature in English, Pankaj Mishra, Amitav ghosh, Terun Tejpal and this author, Shashi Tharoor, a former UN undersecretary, of Cochin origin, born in London, now lives in New York. This book is a positive analysis of he character of his country INDIA (the title of the book as well) of which he is so proud of. (He speaks perfect French, I saw him on French TV when he was in Paris to celebrate, the Indian Book week). I highly recommend this book as it explains, from a very liberal point of view, what it means to be an Indian, not the hollow bombastic, narrow minded hollers you hear in the writings intended for the west. The other books by Indian writers in English, recently read include
Pankaj Mishra The temptations of the West Excellent chapter on Indira Gandhi and her mishandling of the corrupt political establishment of India.
Terun Tejpal The Alchemy of Desire. This has to be one of the more exquisite romances from India, human and passionate
Amitav Ghosh The hungry Tide. Exciting story set in the Sunderbans region of Bengal. Having a doctorate in Anthropology, Ghosh weaves into his tale, bits of information, lying deep in the archives. Typically, how did the Irrawaddy Dolphin get its name?
Reading shashi Tharoor’s explanation of cultural identity, following that, I have claim to Malaysian and Australian Nationalities (but only hold Australian nationality), I could define myself thus for others (sine they an Indian when they look at me!)
An Australian Jew of Malaysian Malayalee Origin who calls Baracoa, Cuba home but lives in Paris, France, works with the Indigenous people of America.
To that I add,
The above person cares about you, who will be reading these notes of a wanderer, as this quiet Shabbat begins, sitting at Paradis du Fruit, a post modern café in Paris, where the waiters are remnants of Algeria, Pondicherry and Jaffna and Saigon..
I miss my little island, Cuba, very much, and the untold genuine affections there, can’t call them or chat with them on line or enter into regular communications with them by post, but the tenderness is there.
On this Shabbat, welcome to some new friends from Ljubljana and Warszawa, hello to my friends from the Malay peninsula and the islands, my Kickapoo and hocank sisters, an old friend LMS, other friends in Miami, San Antonio, BA, SP, La Habana and elsewhere, our circle of love grows bigger and bigger…
So, dear friends, brothers, teachers, sisters, lovers and others…
Welcome to this world within a world, we are living a Dream, dreaming of itself (said the Jhu!huasi from !tsumkwe in the Kalahari)…

mercredi 6 juin 2007

The Nightingale of Zanzibar

On my first visit to Zanzibar, I had journeyed there from South Africa. At the end of a long flight from Atlanta to Cape Town, my good friend was waiting at the airport, who had arrived a few days earlier.
We both had read in the inflight magazine of South African Airways about a nearly forgotten relic of Taarab music, the native music of the Swahili speakers of the coast. We made a mental note about Bi Ki Dude.
After the initial excitement of Stone Town and staying an extremely cosy hotel in old town and savouring the arab atmosphere of the unique island of Zanzibar, we asked around for Bi Ki Dude. Every one has heard about her, but no one could give us the exact location where we could find her.
It was good to visit the art gallery and meet the photographer Jaffri, well known locally and with some international following. He suggested an itinerary of the other coast of the island, Unguja as it is known in Swahili, also to take in a taarab show at the hotel, built with the aesthetics of the former east germany..
The music, Taarab, is infectious and we were swaying to the beat and trying to understand various nuances of singers and dancers on stage.
Mohammed was the name of our driver, smoking thin cigarettes, with a cap on his head, he walked in crooked steps , scissor steps in medical parlance because of a congenital anomaly. He gave us a tour of the island and were quite happy with his directions and descriptions. We thought Mohammed might have heard of Bi Ki Dude, he was delighted at our question. If you want, I will take you to her house. We jumped at this opportunity, soon we were going through narrow alleyways of a township. We came to a small concrete house and from it emerged, a frail lady with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth. We entered the house with her, and sat down amongst memorabilia of her life, including a plastic suitcase with a luggage tag still attached of her last trip to Europe many many years ago.
What a lovely afternoon it turned out to be. Bi Ki Dude regaling us with her hilarious past, rather savoury considering the Moslem nature of her community and country. The presence of alcohol was betrayed by the various cheap bottles. All in all it looked liked a place, a souvenir of a glorious past but as the conversation proceeded, Bi Ki Dude was anything but of the past. Close to 80 years old, she was vigorous in her energy, remembered clearly her many lovers including some well placed officials in Oman and also her travels. There was a small tape recorder which could play some of the tapes of her music, which we devoured with love and respect.
Today is 17th May 2007. I am sitting in front of the computer at the residence in the UmonHon Indian Reservation, and listening to BBC Radio over the Internet when a news item about Bi Ki Dude came over the waves. A documentary has been made and it would be soon released.
That bit of news item, took me back to the summer days of a year past, the stone town, gujerati stores, walk along the beach and the omnipresence of dhows and their demand on our memories and nostalgia.
On an impulse I opened the iTunes web site and looked under Bi Kidude, sure enough they had three CDs of her songs and I downloaded a few of them and listened to them. Her nightingale like voice,was the same I remembered, in that stone cottage ..
A little pleasure in this gift of a life…
Bi Kidude
Bi Kidude is an institution on Zanzibar, and remains East Africa’s greatest living musical legend. The doyenne of Zanzibar taarab, she also plays other musical styles including more ngoma-based unyago and msondo. Kidude started out her musical career in the 1920s, and learnt many of her songs with Siti bint Saad. As Bi Fatuma binti Baraka (Bi Kidude) herself says, “How can I stop singing? When I sing I feel like a 14-year old girl again.”
This intriguing and inspiring woman is a repository and leading exponent of Swahili culture. Bi Kidude’s shows last year at the Swiss EXPO were a national sensation. Her artistic talents were acknowledged by ZIFF at the second festival in 1999, when she was awarded “Lifetime Achievement Award for Contribution to the Arts.”
Recordings: ‘Zanzibar’ (Retro Afric), ‘Machozi ya Huba’ (Heartbeat Records)Contact: Tel: 0747 475001

Maqroll El Gaviero Judio

A tale of a wandering Jew. Dedicated to Maqroll the Gaviero, an imagination of Alvaro Mutis.
Though his life was devoid of danger, unless you call fifteen foot waves in the open seas off the coast of Funafuti smooth sailing, his desire to accept only his longings as his home made him dangerous to women who were always dreaming of becoming someone else’s wives. Once he casually asked an Ecuadorian who had relentlessly pursued him what her plans were for the morning, the suppressed fury of rejection in this Andean from a port full of black sands was to destroy his social standing all along the rugged pacific coast. He dined with the diligent bourgeoisie who carefully nurture the deliberate, mean spirited hypocrisies of their convictions. In reply to a question of a customs agent in the island of Hispaniola , he could not codify for them his imprecise profession and was suspected of running drugs while the actual purpose of his visit to the island was ignored. Abandoned by a mother who specialized in making others loose their power of speech, thus made a vagrant at birth at a distant corner of the Portuguese empire, he had traveled by trains along so many rivers as an adolescent. The forces of water pushed him into a period of wanderings among the small islands that dot the pacific ocean. He quoted about the frivolity of life, the morning after reading his favourite Norwegian author, the village was gulped in a wave that caused the island nation he was visiting to declare itself homeless. Attraction to the seas continued, now to different islands where steep mountains touched gently the fervent oceans. He toyed with the idea of becoming decent in one of them but by then he had become addicted to business class travel. Serrated mountains, irregular lands, angry seas, late model aircrafts, long discussions on most obscure topics became his passion. He tried in vain to master the dialect of St. Cristobal where ear shattering din is confused for happiness. After contracting illness along desolate road near Andhra Pradesh he was thrown out by some vague, somnambulistic protodravidian official who could not pronounce his Hebrew name, into the comfort of the lounge of the Airlines of the island of Singapore at an airport so modern that he thought he had settled down for good, samosas and curry puffs with freshly squeezed orange juice will be served everyday for the rest of his life by illiterate Indonesian maids brought over with false promises. During the moments of fever, a sense of siege overtook his body and he shared the pain, paralysis and potentially dangerous impotence of the island of his little girl. On receiving a note from the Malabar coast that home of an aging Jew was about to be passed on to him, he imagined himself ensconced there, waited on by thin Malabari Moslems who questioned their faith, with his traveling companion, the Prince of Palms and the little girl who loved him so much that she continually adoringly attached herself to other lovers in faraway lands she dreamt of visiting with him. Making vagrancy a profession young people all over the world could aspire to, he plans to convert the 700 year old synagogue, when it is not in use, of course, into a Museum of Vagrant Peoples where others may find refuge from the restriction imposed upon them by their fear of being alive