Thursday, September 22, 2005

Tropicalia e saudade

Very quickly, because I am running out of time at the library. During my last two semesters as an undergraduate, I took Portuguese as my foreign language because it was considered an "exotic" language and was offered in two 5-credit hour semesters, thus allowing me to fulfill my foreign language requirement and graduate.

Years later, at the Rockford Public Library I came across a collection of Brazilian music compiled by David Byrne, Brazil Classics Vol. 1, Beleza Tropical. I loved that album so much that I burned it for myself and went on to get solo CDs by many of the artists featured on it, including Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and Tom Ze. The more I look into this highly politicized genre of music, the more I realize how rich it is, primarily because it is a chronicle of a poor, polyglot culture that historically is beat down by a reigning power elite. Can any of modern America's pop divas match tropicalia for desperate, heartfelt feeling. Gotta go. More later. enjoy

Brazilian Tropicalia

In 1967, singer/composers Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso introduce a new sound in Brazilian music, inspired as much by Jimi Hendrix and Chuck Berry as by mellow bossa nova. Along with rock musicians Os Mutantes and Tom Ze, they produce a startling collective record, Tropícalía ou Panís et Círcensís (Tropicalia or Bread and Circuses), that mingles traditional Brazilian rhythms with electric guitars and psychedelic flourishes. Their often humorous lyrics poke fun at Brazil's consumer society and other aspects of the contemporary culture.

Many Brazilians see the music as an adulteration of Brazil's musical birthright by an American aesthetic. On occasion, Veloso performs to so many boos, he stops midsong. Nevertheless, over the next year, the Tropicalistas develop a cult following that begins to spread to an entire generation inspired by their music and spirit.

Brazil's military government distrusts the Tropicalistas, who dress in the feathers and velvets of the hippie movement. Veloso's 1968 tune, "E Proíbído Proíbír" ("It is Forbidden to Forbid"), which takes its title from a slogan of the May student protests in Paris, provokes officials further, and they label the musicians a political threat and a decadent influence who will corrupt Brazilian youth.

In December of 1968, the military government consolidates power. They then arrest Veloso and Gil, jailing them without charge for several months, and then recommending they leave the country. The artists remain in exile for four years, spiriting compositions with veiled lyrics from London to Brazil for others to record and perform. Others in the Tropicalismo movement are less fortunate; several undergo torture or forced "psychiatric care." One Tropicalisto, the lyricist and poet Torquato Neto, commits suicide after such treatment.

Gil and Veloso are able to return to Brazil in 1974 and rebuild their careers. Military rule in Brazil ends in 1985 with the election of a civilian president. By then, tropicalia musicians gain worldwide attention, influencing such North American performers as David Byrne and Paul Simon.


Saudade is a Portuguese word generally considered one of the hardest words to translate. It originated from the Latin word solitate (loneliness), but with a different meaning. Loneliness in Portuguese is solidão, also with the same word origin. Few other languages in the world have a word with such meaning, making Saudade a distinct mark of Portuguese culture.

In Portuguese, this word serves to describe the feeling of missing someone (or something) you're fond of. For instance, the sentence "Eu sinto muitas saudades tuas" (I feel too much "saudade" of you) directly translates into "I miss you too much". "Eu sinto muito a tua falta" also has the same meaning in English ("falta" and "saudades" both are translated for missing), but it is different in Portuguese. It also relates to feelings of melancholy and fond memories of gone-by days, lost love and a general feeling of unhappiness.

In his book In Portugal of 1912, A.F.G Bell writes: "The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness."

Saudade is also the title of the Cape Verde Fado singer Cesária Évora's most famous song; French singer Etienne Daho also produced a song by the same name. Fado, and Saudade are two key and intertwined ideas in Portuguese culture, "Fado" meaning "Fate" or "Destiny". It is, in part, the recognition of this unassailable determinism which compels the resigned yearning of Saudade, a bittersweet, existential yearning and hopefulness towards something over which one has no control.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Cheap eats and entertainment

Esther and I went to The House Tuesday after I got home from class and whipped together a fantastic quick dinner of fried pork and vegetables over ramen noodles. Check out this easy recipe: On medium heat, in a tablespoon of sesame seed oil, add one diced pork chop, a cup of chopped broccoli, one onion diced to any size you like, and one green pepper. After about five minutes of heating with the lid on the pan, uncover, add many dashes of curry spice, lemon pepper, onion salt, hot sauce, a dollop of peanut butter, and one diced portobello mushroom. Stir it all together, replace lid and cook for another 5-10 minutes, depending on how crispy you like your veggies. Throw this bodacious concoction over a bed of ramen noodles and top with cashews. Time from prep to cook to eat: 25 minutes. Call this dish "Raru's porknut delight."

So, afterwards, we went The House and lucked in on a jam session with Fareed Haque on guitar, George Brooks on sax and piano, Alejandro Fernandez on bass, Shira Zette on drums and NIU instructor Robert Chappell on piano and percussion. This session was tight. They moved fast and fluently through the changes, improvising an Indian-inspired raga from the beat of Chappell's hand drum. This was the kind of jazz that transports you off to another state of consciousness. The kind of momentary magic which inspires my love of the form. And all this happened not a stone's throw from home, My House to The House. No cover. I feel fortunate to have such a cool, inexpensive venue to frequent. And apparently this goes on just about every Tuesday, under the guise of the NIU Jazz Jam. Though this is the fifth or sixth time I've come out and the first I've seen Haque perform. I remember Haque from Sting's "Nothing Like The Sun" album (1987). Haque was one of many guitarists, including Eric Clapton, on the track "They Dance Alone."

Check out George Brooks' site. Little did I know how big a player he is in jazz circuits. His signature way to end a tune is to breath a vibrato non-note through his sax. DeKalb is lucky to have Haque, who sometimes brings his A-list friends to his "home" stage for some memorable jams.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Esther photos

Here are some pictures of a pregnant Esther. The top one is from Sept. 5 and the bottom is from a week earlier, Aug. 28. Thanks to Esther's sister Dorothy, for taking the pictures with her digital camera. Our digital camera got dunked in the Rock River and my old Pentax SLR didn't work the last time I tried to use it. Ah, the perils of technology. It's time to get a new camera.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Quotes from Sartor Resartus

I've recently finished reading, for a class, of course, English 562, 19th Century English Prose, Thomas Carlyle's "Sartor Resartus," which means, in Latin, The Tailor Re-Tailored. The subheading of the book is "The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdrockh in Three Books."

Carlyle wrote in a very convoluted style, a mark of Victorian prose. But amongst the veritable onslaught of verbage are some choice nuggets.

"While I -- good Heaven! -- have thatched myself over with the dead fleeces of sheep, the bark of vegetables, the entrails of worms, the hides of oxen or seals, the felt of furred beasts; and walk abroad a moving Rag-screen, overheaped with shreds and tatters raked from the Charnel-house of Nature, where they would have rotted, to rot on me, more slowly!"

"Society... is founded upon cloth."

"Nay, if you consider it, what is Man himself, and his whole terrestrial Life, but an Emblem; a Clothing or visible Garment for that divine ME of his, cast hither, like a light-particle, down from Heaven?"

"I say, there is not a red Indian, hunting by Lake Winnipeg, can quarrel with his squaw, but the whole world must smart for it: will not the price of beaver rise? It is a mathematical fact that the casting of this pebble from my hand alters the centre of gravity of the Universe."

"Yes, truly, if Nature is one, and a living indivisible whole, much more is Mankind, the Image that reflects and creates Nature, without which Nature were not."

"Innumerable are the illusions and legerdemain-tricks of Custom: but of all these, perhaps the cleverest is her knack of persuading us that the Miraculous, by simple repetition, ceases to be Miraculous."

I learned a new word from reading this book that I want to cast, like a pebble, onto the blogosphere.

sans-cu·lotte n.
  1. An extreme radical republican during the French Revolution.
  2. A revolutionary extremist.

[French : sans, without + culotte, breeches.]

The main character in Sartor Resartus, Herr Diogenes Teufelsdrockh (Trans: Mr. God-formed devil's dung), refers to himself as a sansculotte. In researching this word, I discovered that the French aristocracy called the revolutionaries, derisively, by this name, which, of course, they adopted as their rallying cry. Just think if the aristocracy called them a bunch of stupidheads. "Vive Le Stupide tetes!"

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Rock River Three

It is a sunny summer Saturday afternoon in Hustisford and people flock to Riverside Park to enjoy the weather. There is a party in a picnic shelter, children jump and scream on the playground. Above the dam, a jet skier pushes off from a dock. I want to put in below the dam. A steep incline leads to a shallow, rocky pool.
Better to delay such effort and enjoy a picnic. I walk up East Griffith Street to Radloff Cheese and wait in a crowded lobby to buy a bag of cheese curds. A tour is about to begin. The unmistakable, quintessentially Wisconsin scent of fresh cheese fills the air. Tours are also offered Monday through Friday between 8 and 10 a.m.
In “The Antiquities of Wisconsin,” published in 1855, Increase Lapham wrote that Horicon and Hustisford held a veritable plethora of ancient Native American mounds.
“At this place (Hustisford) there are the remains of a number of lizard mounds by the mill race, and also on the point opposite, on the east side of the river. There is a mound only two feet high… which is said to be the place where prisoners of war were tortured or sacrificed by the Indian inhabitants.”
I survey the shoreline, but see no definite shapes. I confess my observational skills are no match to Lapham’s. Nothing about the setting suggests any hint of past violence. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Mayville, the Effigy Mound culture lived in the area between 500 and 1400 AD. In Horicon alone are supposedly more than 200 mounds, many of them underneath existing buildings.
Back on the water, just beyond a small island below the dam, the rocky shallows force me to get out and drag the canoe. The dry weather this summer has made these wading portages a regular occurrence. The carp are so abundant they churn beneath my feet as I approach. I almost slip as I step on one.
I worry that the river will be shallow like this all the way to my take out at Davidson Road, but the channel quickly deepens and my canoe does not scrape bottom the rest of the way.
I keep a lookout for Wolfs Point, a spot along the river a couple miles below town that, Lapham wrote, was the site of an Indian battle and “here Black Hawk made a stand against his white pursuers in 1832.” Chief Black Hawk and approximately 1,000 Sauk and Fox Indians were pursued by American soldiers from the mouth of the Rock River at Rock Island, Ill., as far north as Horicon Marsh from April through August 27, 1832, when Black Hawk was captured at Prairie du Chien. He signed a treaty to forever settle west of the Mississippi.
The Blackhawk War was the last great Native American confrontation in Illinois and Wisconsin. A trip down the Rock River provides an opportunity to see many landmarks related to this confrontation. Wolfs Point is one of them. This journey from source to mouth will follow the war in reverse, from ending to beginning.
Unfortunately, like the mounds in Hustisford, I can find no sign of Wolfs Point. There are no shoreline markers or other signs of its location.
The river on this stretch feels much wilder than any stretch I’ve been on before. There are no houses, and a thick forest canopy obscures anything more than 15 feet inland. The only signs of civilization are stray tires, plastic water bottles, fence posts, a deer stand, and the distance sound of cars and airplanes. Four hours on the water and I saw more bald eagles than people.
The river is lazy and sinuous, with no apparent current. Twice blowdowns stretch across the entire channel. At one the surrounding bank is steep and I have to tug on dead branches to pull myself over it. At another I am able to push down floating logs with my oar. Such is the price of solitude.
The take out at Davidson Road is difficult. The only way that doesn’t require bushwacking through thick brush is a steep rock embankment. Cows moo in a barn across the road. Cicadas hum. A rottweiler dog stands alert on a house porch, curious about this huge creature emerging from the river side. Thankfully, there’s a fence between us.
On Riverview Drive between Elmwood Road and State Highway 109, I look again for a sign of Wolfs Point, but no luck. Today’s river experience felt, for a brief time, like a time warp to the days of Black Hawk, and my search for Wolfs Point is a vain attempt to preserve that anachronistic feeling.
After Black Hawk’s surrender, he was taken to Washington, D.C., and, depending on the account, paraded around civilized society like a celebrity or a caged zoo animal. He returned west and settled near Fort Madison, Iowa, near the Des Moines River. According to an account given by Burlington, Iowa, resident W. Henry Starr, Black Hawk gave a speech at a July 4, 1838 celebration.
Starr reported Black Hawk said, “Rock river was a beautiful country—I liked my towns, my cornfields, and the home of my people. I fought for it. It is now yours—keep it as we did—it will produce you good crops.”
It is still beautiful country. And, at least on the river, it still looks wild.

Rock River Story 2

Here's a copy of my second Rock River article. It will probably appear in some modified form in the Watertown Daily Times.

My Rock River journey from Horicon to Hustisford is a study in contrasts. The last time I was on the water, the river was narrow enough that a couple times deadfalls covered the entire channel. Here, the river is wide. Last time I got sunburned and it was hot. Now it is cloudy and cool.
I put in at River Bend Park in Horicon after a thunderstorm. The air is cool, a stiff breeze blows from the north, and low scuttling clouds threaten more precipitation. But I’m not worried. The breeze is to my back and cool air is a respite from the 90-plus degree temperatures. The river is wide and deep. Life is good.
Six double-breasted cormorants look like large black “Ws” as they perch, wings outspread, on the protruding branches of a deadfall. They take advantage of the wind to dry their wings because, as I later discover, they don’t have very well-developed oil glands. One at a time they take off into flight, leaving one last reluctant stray splayed out in fearless defiance. Later, I see one nosedive into the water after a fish. Cormorants are in the same family as pelicans (Pelecaniformes), but their gullets are not as noticeable.
Summer homes dot the shoreline. Many have picnic tables, fire rings, docks and overturned canoes on the shore. No one is out enjoying the cooler weather. It is a Thursday. I’ve got this vast immensity all to myself.
Cattails and sedge grasses vie for open light on the shoreline. Swamp milkweed adds a reddish hue to the mixture of brown and green. Weeping willows look like a still-life portrait of a waterfall. Their tendril branches touch the water and the backs of the leaves show bright green with each gust.
About three miles east of Juneau, at the end of Club Grounds Road, is a small boat landing and a row of cabins. I take a lunch break on a small grass lawn and prepare for the inevitable storm. Birds scuttle and squawk. The wind carries the scent of wet asphalt. Just as a push off into the water, the storm kicks into gear. I hear the rain before I feel it.
After about 10 minutes, the storm abates. I’m miserable now, cold and wet, but options are limited. My bike is about three miles downstream, on the other end of Lake Sinissippi, and my car is three miles upstream in Horicon.
I push on, but am quickly rewarded. I see a flock of pelicans. Most of them take off when I get closer. Wow! These are big birds. Again, like their cormorant cousins, a few brave pelicans hold their ground and refuse to budge until I’m almost upon them. I’ll never forget the sight of these majestic, bright, snow white birds against a backdrop of dark clouds.
Lake Sinissippi wasn’t a lake until John Hustis built a log dam across the river in 1845 to power a sawmill. Water quickly filled in the marshy bottom lands and the drumlin hills became islands. The lake’s gone through many name changes, from Cranberry Lake to Hustisford Mill Pond and Lake Hustisford. “Sinissippi” comes from an Algonquin phrase, “sin sepe,” meaning, quite aptly, “lake-like river.”
It was foolish of me to tackle this section of water without a map. The lake has a series of inlet bays and promontories. After rounding an island, I come to a dead end amongst shallows choked with water cabbage. The wind that once aided now works against me as I struggle to make headway around the next point. I break through the white caps and successfully avoid the many boat docks.
The sun peeked through, and by the time I make it around Steffen Point all the gray clouds are blown away. The punishing wind remained and I was utterly lost. Dare I attempt to go down the next inlet? I saw a man pushing a lawnmower and waved him down.
“Is this the way to Hustisford?”
“No, you’ve got to go around the next two points, then it’s a couple miles to town.”
I waved and turned the boat around. I felt so small and helpless on the windswept, choppy water. Paddling almost due east, the wind tried to push me back down the inlet and every once in a while an ill-timed wave swell washed over into the boat.
Around the second point, heading south once again, I still could see no sign of Hustisford. My shoulders ached, a dull hunger gnawed at my abdomen. What if this was another dead-end inlet? Would I have enough energy to make it to the bike and then ride another 40 minutes to the car? I rounded Koch Island and saw two water towers, landmarks of town. What a relief!
Koch Island has no permanent homes, but many small docks and what looks like shanty cabins, some no larger than an outhouse. Larger Anthony Island has only one dock and a trail snaking off to a clearing in the woods. It looks like a good place to camp.
I rode back to the car, returned to Hustisford, and loaded up the canoe. I drove to Memorial Park, now entirely in shadows, and checked out the original house John Hustis built in 1851. The park also showcases a replica of the Roethke Shoe Shop, a two story band stand, fire bell and cannon.
Leaving town, I stopped on top of a hill and took one last look at Lake Sinissippi, its waters an orange glow in the setting sun. This day had tested me like never before, but now, labor done, blessed fatigue upon me, this was my sweet reward, a calm ending to a stormy day.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Little Louie, circa 22 weeks

Here's the latest ultrasound photo of "Little Louie," taken on Aug. 30. Esther is 23 weeks along and grows bulbous with each passing day. To help decipher the rather Rorschachian ultrasound photo, picture Louie lying on his/her side with an arm raised and hand covering an ear. See the arm and little fingers at the top of the photo? The outline of the head below that? The roundish blob on the left side is his/her stomach.

We've watched the video of the ultrasound three times and, wow, what a thrill it is to see our child move. The imminence of parenthood really hit home when I saw this. "Louie" was very active in the video, kicking those future hiker legs and flailing arms. Monday morning he/she kicked so hard I saw my hand move on Esther's belly.

But the best news from the ultrasound is that the baby is developing on schedule with no complications. Even though the baby's kicking knocks Esther off guard from time to time, she said she feels great. She still rides her bike three miles to work three times a week and spent the weekend canoeing with me on the Rock River. In her typical competitive fashion, Esther's bound and determined to show her Sisu unflappability in pregnancy. We'll see if her determination to see this through without pain medication holds through labor.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Katrina's wrath

The unofficial word is catastrophic loss of lives in the wake of hurricane Katrina, though the official word is not so dire. Only time will tell what the real toll is in human loss. I don't think it's in the thousands, like the headline in today's Chicago Tribune proclaimed. Remember what happened in 9/11? Preliminary reports were 30,000+ plus dead. Turned out to be less than 3,000. It won't be too long until the number of American soldiers dead in Iraq totals the loss of life in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

John Peters, president of Northern Illinois University, sent out an e-mail with links to reputable charities. Our cajun compatriots are up to their necks in trouble and need help. Any one of these organizations provide a reputable outlet for assistance.

A Partial List of Federally-Approved CharitiesProviding Hurricane Katrina Relief Efforts (The Red Cross) (Federal Emergency Management Agency - this site contains additional links to federally-approved charity sites) (This national food bank provides fresh and preserved foods through a variety of relief agencies) (The Humane Society of the United States) (Building supply lines & providing disaster relief) (Serving meals and providing basic necessities) (This website provides a searchable guide to all charities involved in Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief)

Lyle, Kaszubes and Jones Island

I recently heard Lyle L. tell a story about going to Jones Island with his father in the early 1940s and eating fresh caught fish in a shanty saloon. He said those good times ended when the Kaszubes, who had no deed on the land, were kicked off the island. Below is some more information I culled from and

Apparently, Jones Island and the Kaszube are also mentioned in the novel, The Turk and My Mother, by Mary Helen Stefaniak.

Jones Island A peninsula located underneath the Hoan Bridge, began as a fishing village populated by Polish settlers from the Kaszubes region in 1870. Having never officially obtained a deed for the land, they were considered squatters by the City of Milwaukee and evicted in the 1940's to make way for a shipping port. This is where MMSD and United Water Works have the main water treatment plant.

The name Jones Island came from James Jones, who once had a ship building business on the island.

It's hard to imagine, but, years ago, this was a bustling fishing village populated mostly by the hard-working, hard-fishing and hard-living Kaszubes (pronounced and sometimes spelled Kashubes), people of Polish and German descent who emigrated to Wisconsin from the Baltic peninsula of Hel and settled on Jones Island building a shanty village on land they never owned and living on what Lake Michigan provided. At its height, from 1870 until 1943, there were 1,800 people living here and there were 12 saloons.

The Kaszubes created a commercial fishing village. They were squatters, but nobody wanted the land at the time. The Kaszubes were evicted from the island by the city of Milwaukee in the 1940s, and many moved to nearby South Side Milwaukee neighborhoods.

In 1974, a tiny "Kaszube's Park" on the northwest side of Jones Island was dedicated as a city landmark. It's the last tangible piece if history that the descendants have on the island.

Today, in addition to housing the city's sewage treatment plant, the industrial Jones Island has oil tanks, big piles of salt for spreading on icy city streets, and lots of old railroad cars and tracks.