Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The pleasure of our gardens, part 21

The fading beauty of our first First Prize rose of the season.

It is said that true friendship is like a rose. We can't realize its beauty until it fades.

Fortunately, most of our new roses bloom for about a week ~ sometimes longer, occasionally less ~ before their beauty fades. Luckily, their memories live on through my photographs of our beautiful flowers.

Although half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination, so it has been said, I am happy to inform you that our flower beds are full of color as we near the middle of spring.

First Prize rose

White rose

Pristine rose

In little more than a week, thanks to our recent surge in sunshine and warmer temperatures, we have welcomed first blooms of our First Prize, Pristine, white and orange roses in our backyard garden of our San Francisco Bay Area residence. And, our iris bed has produced more than a dozen beautiful purple and white blooms, too.

Purple and white iris
Soon, we expect to greet our first Mr. Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth and All That Jazz rose blooms, too.

Indeed, I am a believer of this bit of gardening wisdom, courtesy of Robert Brault: "I cultivate my garden and my garden cultivates me."

Yes, my dear friends, it's a very exciting time to be a gardener.

All photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2012. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Art of poetry: Keeping a poem in our pockets

A basket full of Pocket Poems
The fifth National Poem in Your Pocket Day is April 26, and I'm ready to celebrate.

Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, April is designated as National Poetry Month across America. And, it's a great opportunity to become acquainted ~ or re-acquainted ~ with poetry and to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. According to the Academy of American Poets' website (http://www.poets.org), the concept of National Poetry Month is "to widen the attention of individuals and the media ~ to the art of poetry, to living poets, to our complex poetic heritage, and to poetry books and journals of wide aesthetic range and concern.

"We hope to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry's ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated."

Such as in the wonderful environment of a delightful independent bookseller, located in a vibrant neighborhood that happens to be near a distinguished place of higher learning, the University of California Berkeley.

Muddy Feet Danced On This Table /
A pocket poem by Amanda Nadelberg
As it happened, last Friday I walked into Mrs. Dalloway's Literary & Garden Arts bookshop on College Avenue in Berkeley's Elmwood neighborhood to browse at books after dining nearby. And, lo and behold, in prominent display in the center of the shop was a basket displaying hundreds of beautifully written "pocket poems" printed on nice stationary that could easily tuck into one's pocket to share with friends and family.

How clever an idea ~ and these "pocket poems" featuring many different San Francisco Bay Area poets, includes Amanda Nadelberg, whose "pocket poem" contribution is entitled "Muddy Feet Danced On This Table". I picked hers at random from the basket and look forward to reciting it on April 26.

Mrs. Dalloway's has encouraged its customers to come by their bookshop and pick up a "pocket poem" anytime during the month and share it on National Poem in Your Pocket Day.

Indeed, it's a simple idea and anyone can create their own pocket poem: Select a poem you love during National Poetry Month, then carry it with you and share it on April 26 with friends and family. Even your co-workers might appreciate the gesture, too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

On "Miss Sarajevo"

Sarajevo is a city that is historically famous not only for hosting the 1984 Olympic Winter Games, but also for its traditional cultural and religious diversity. There aren't many places in the world where adherents of Islam, Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Judaism have coexisted for centuries. Thanks to its its long and rich history of religious diversity, Sarajevo has often been called the "Jerusalem of Europe".

Scene from the documentary
Miss Sarajevo
And, yet, it's not too far in the past that this leading social, political and cultural center of the current Bosnia and Herzegovina, was entangled from 1992 to 1996 in the Bosnian War.

The Siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege in the history of modern warfare, resulted in large scale destruction as thousands of Sarajevans lost their lives as a result of the constant bombarding and sniper shooting at civilians by Serb forces, whose goal was the creation of a new Serbian State of Republika Srpska that would include a portion of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Nearly 12,000 people lost their lives during the Siege of Sarajevo, including over 1,500 children. Additionally, 56,000 people were wounded, including nearly 15,000 children.

Thanks to the passing of time, today, Sarajevo has become one of the fastest developing cities in southeastern Europe. And, yet, I was reminded recently, thanks to hearing Scott Simon's homily entitled "Bosnia Remembers When the World Looked Away" on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday, last Friday (April 5) marked the 20th anniversary of the start of the Bosnian War.

"The world saw the 'ethnic cleansing' of Muslims and mixed-ethnic people in vivid color. But Europeans looked and saw the ghosts of World War I. Americans saw the ghosts of Vietnam. We changed channels," said Simon, during his NPR commentary.

U2's "Miss Sarajevo" played in the background at the conclusion of Simon's commentary. Hearing this somber tune piqued my interest. I searched the Internet to find a video of the song and to further read about its background and use in the Bill Carter documentary film Miss Sarajevo.




In the words of U2's Bono, he said: "The camera follows the organizers through the tunnels and cellars of the city, giving a unique insight into life during a modern war, where civilians are the targets. The film captures the dark humour of the besieged Sarajevans, their stubborn refusal to be demoralized and suggests that surrealism and Dadaism are the appropriate responses to fanaticism."

Carter's goal was to expose people to the individuals living through the war. "The war is just a backdrop, it could be any war," he said. "The point is the vitality of the human spirit to survive, (to) laugh, to love, and to move on, that is something we will be addressing always."

The song "Miss Sarajevo" not only protested the war in Bosnia. It also criticized the international community for its inability to stop the war or help those who were affected by it.

Bono went on to say that he felt the lyrics to the U2 song, "Miss Sarajevo", reflected what the people of Sarajevo were feeling at the time. It is sung with passion and conviction, and it also includes a solo by the great Italian opera tenor Luciano Pavarotti. The song's lyrics include:

... Is there a time to walk for cover
A time for kiss and tell
Is there a time for different colors
Different names you find it hard to spell

Is there a time for first communion
A time for East 17
Is there a time to turn to Mecca
Is there a time to be a beauty queen. ...

"Over 44 months of war, Sarajevans refused the appeals of governments and prestigious international groups to divide their country into ethnic enclaves," said Simon, at the conclusion of his NPR commentary. "I remember a Bosnian government minister saying, 'After all these centuries trying to build civilization, are we to go back to being tribes?' ... While the world looked away from them, Sarajevans dug a tunnel. They stood up for civilization."

And so, on an autumn night in 1995 in Modena, Italy, with Bono and the other members of U2 beside him, Pavarotti sang with a raw emotion:


Dici che il fiume
Trova la via al mare
E come il fiume
Giungerai a me
Oltre i confini
E le terre assetate
Dici che come il fiume
Come il fiume...
L'amore giungerá
L'amore
E non so piú pregare
E nell'amore non so piú sperare
E quell'amore non so piú aspettare


As I reflect upon this dark and somber period with the help of perspective, thanks to U2 and Scott Simon, one thing seems certain: Sarajevans indeed stood up for civilization.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Graceland at 25: Acclaimed and still influential

Graceland at 25/ Still rightly acclaimed and controversial, too

I read with interest recently the news of the 25th anniversary of Graceland, Paul Simon's groundbreaking album, that will be commemorated with musical and film celebrations this year.

On June 5, Graceland 25th anniversary editions will be released to commemorate the anniversary of the acclaimed and influential 1986 album that continues to inspire generations of music fans. Simon will headline the Hard Rock Calling festival in London July 13-15. A film, Under African Skies, which documents the story of the album and its attendant controversies, screens Wednesday in Toronto.

Peter Aspden, a culture columnist for the Financial Times of London, wrote two weeks ago about how Graceland was rightly acclaimed on its release in 1986. Yet, it was also dogged by political controversy, too.

Paul Simon
You see, in collaborating with a talented group of South African musicians that included the a cappella singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Simon was accused of having broken the cultural boycott against the nation's apartheid regime. As Aspden commented, "it was a mess of an argument and it continues to be so today."

Much of Graceland was recorded in South Africa and it featured many South African groups and musicians. And, while Simon faced accusations that he had broken the cultural boycott that was imposed by the rest of the world against the apartheid regime in South Africa, which at the time was in its final years, it was a view that was not supported by the United Nations Anti-Apartheid Committee. This was because the album featured the talents of black South African musicians while offering no support to the white South African government led by State President P.W. Botha.

As Aspden opined: "No one was in any doubt as to Simon's intentions, which were entirely benign. The album brought a relatively obscure musical tradition to the ears of the world (it sold 14 million copies). The South African musicians on the album went into the project with eyes wide open. 'We used Paul as much as Paul used us,' said the guitarist Ray Phiri, one of Simon's collaborators. This was not an obvious case of cultural exploitation."

According to Aspden, Simon had his detractors. They included Jerry Dammers, who wrote the political anthem "Free Nelson Mandela." While Dammers believed it was wrong for Simon to go South Africa in the 1980s, he said it's in the past. "It's the time not to forgive and forget but to remember and forgive." And, added singer/songwriter Billy Bragg: "He was on the wrong side of the argument despite his good intentions. The cultural boycott was part of the economic boycott that brought South Africa to heel."

In traveling to South Africa when it was not politically correct to do so, Aspden said Simon "found an artistic community that was tired of being ostracized and hungry for the outside world." He created an album devoid of anger. "Not because he didn't find any there but because he believed, in that time and place, in art's power to transcend politics."

Graceland became not only Simon's most commercially successful album ~ it reached No. 3 in the national Billboard charts ~ it also drew praise and accolades for its mixture of African polyrhythms, pop, rock, Zydeco and Tex-Mex as well as the South African Zulu isicathamiya and mbaqanga singing styles. Rolling Stone called it "lovely, daring and accomplished." And, Simon said he considered the title track the best song he's ever written.

"Actually, the achievement of Graceland and what it overcame was not a political thing," Simon told the Toronto Globe and Mail. "It was an artistic bridge that was new at the time. And that was really the achievement. But the other is a juicier story."

To read Peter Aspden's March 23 column:  http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/bc70acc2-7362-11e1-9014-00144feab49a.html#axzz1qlP2VYu1