Archive for April, 2007

Ball control

April 20, 2007

Travel the main street of any town in a foreign land, and struck with its novelty, you miss the ordinary – even banal, at least mundane – life beyond its edges. Today I tootled down the back streets of this middle-class Bavarian town into its ‘normal’ life, to see my friend Jonathan at his soccer

He is about to be six and is intent, nearly maniacal, about ‘fussball’. Clearly bored during the practice, he became a focused monster when the ‘game’ started. Using side and back kicks, throwing himself behind the ball to save it from going out of bounds, positioning himself properly for good plays as if seeing it from above, displaying mature lack of ego in giving the ball away – yet he scored all five goals by his team, careening away from each score to round toward the other end of the field, with only one quick look to us on the sidelines.

I stood with the mothers on the grassy verge, cheering the shots and chattering when the action moved away from us. It is one of the sadnesses of my life that I had no more than one child, and that parenthood – though I would not undo it for the world, Misty, my love – has been a journey studded with pain, absence, and separation. But standing on the sidelines with the women – a full-faced cheery gossip from Austria, talking without pause to the pinched mother of two who lacked the lineaments of satisfied desire, and Jonathan’s mom, I was feeling my way into “This could have been my child; this could have been my life” – standing on the edge of another field, another country, another game, but with the same dedication that my friend’s mother shows in going to all these events, watching the slow development of a child to an adult, of whom you must finally let go.

Perhaps the amount of pain in having a child and not having one are the same, though the joy a child brings balances the pain. But I wouldn’t have had the life I have, going from Japan to Russia and having the time to write myself silly with my little ideas. It’s not a choice – the choice has been made, but one can’t help but wonder what another life would have yielded.

I spend as much time with Jonathan as I can in the two days, both to connect and to give his hectic parents a few minutes for emails, laundry, a kiss. I wish I could give them a week, but they will never manage the life I take for granted – the ability to move freely, to follow the life of the , to write a blog and a book

I just heard that a friend is expecting her fourth child. A beautiful woman with lovely children, but I couldn’t help a brief feeling of revulsion – each of these children will use up the resources of seven Third World babies – isn’t two enough?

I call Quan to tell her I am satisfied with our life.

Still our Western society is very horizontally stratified, so that I must fight to keep the very young and the very old in my life.

Each choice eliminates a thousand others, but the Hindus say in the end we will live them all.


St. P #6 – Hermitage

April 20, 2007

This morning, as a last treat, we head for the Hermitage.  It would take seven full days to stand in front of each piece for a minute, and that doesn’t begin to account for the architecture around you, the grandness that puts even Versailles to shame, now harnessed to art.  We head for the Renaissance, cut through to Rembrandt (‘The Prodigal Son’ – just amazing light and faces, a series of portraits oif elders, full of sad confidence, as well as the vandalized and restored ‘Danae’), and then feast on the impressionists.

Matisses, Cezannes, and Rousseaus with no glass to protect them (though I did set off an alarm when my nose got too close to the brushstrokes), a room full of Gaugin, a wall full of Van Gogh, all eaten too fast, gorging the sensibilities.  A painter I didn’t know, Valtat., bridges impressionism and pointillism in a wholly original way.  A Soutine self-portrait.  Perhaps my favorite – as I had never seen any – were Picasso’s whimsical pottery – technically sketchy, but artistically so much fun.

I had to go back to see ‘Harmony in Red’ again – it’s the real thing, not a reproduction, and his dancing circle, and the Valtat, and the Rousseau tiger, and the Cezanne mountain road, and…

I almost missed my plane.

St. P #5 – Architectural feast:

April 20, 2007

The first night is wonderful concert at the Church of the Spilt Blood (a popular Tsar was murdered on the spot).  The ornate rococo-glorious too-much-is-not-enough tall red sanctuary spired with ice-cream cone onion domes, topped with gold crosses, chained against the wind.  During the Communist times, it used as a stable – a travesty as it is wallpapered with mosaics– the entire life of Christ up the walls and across the ceiling, now completely and lovingly restored.  Amazing acoustics support the choir’s dissonant program of Taverner-like modern sacred music.

Another church was turned into the ‘Museum of the Atheist’, now restored as a cathedral.

St. P #4 – Cyrillic:

April 20, 2007

I am loving the Russian alphabet – getting used to Bepa being Vera, and the other almost-Greek lettering and strange glottal pronunciations.  I am afraid that once again I am leaving with only a few words in Russian, and the tendency to have figured out what I have just read about 10 seconds too late.  Pizza Hut and KFC retain Western billing.  Starbucks isn’t here yet.  McDonalds (MkDohavdc) is recognizable from the golden arches, and Gasprom signs are prominently on display over the city – Putin’s friends.

On the Sunday of the workshop, there is an anti-Putin demonstration in the city.  Of course I hear nothing in the workshop, well away from the square, but later I hear that there were several thousand demonstrators, but only 700 allowed in the square by the overwhelming force of National Guard and elite troops (troops, not policemen – shades of Kent State) sent by Putin to control the protest.  Many were beaten up and arrested, the rest chased to the metro.  Meanwhile, Putin was actually in town, watching the Russian ‘no rules Fight Club’ team beat the Americans with Jean Claude Van Damme.  Irony definitely a requirement.

St. P #3 – The streets:

April 20, 2007

One looks at women with a new and different appreciation as one ages.  These streets throng with beautiful women – my favorites are the throwbacks to the 70’s – pointy shoes and big highlighted hair, as the modern versions with exposed bellies and tattoos and cultivated despair don’t emanate the same style, and seem imitations of their Eurotrash neighbors.  And lot sof young men on the make in the brave new sort-of capitalist world.  For sure there are the lumpen shapeless proletariat of both sexes toting heavy net shopping bags, but the city’s energy is upbeat, the predominant soundtrack techno, and a heady feeling of growth fills the spring air.

So is pollution in the air – like the Asian cities that I visited, the air pollution here is an irritating constant – smellable, palpable, sick-making, and humanly unacceptable.  On the one morning I took a walk – through a churchyard of a monastery, complete with beggars and decrepit tombs – one is hit with it as one re-emerges to a street.  Europe is bad, but this is worse.

Scene: Three huge black Chevy Tahoes parked on a side street, with nouveau riches on the sidewalk beside them, the men in black overcoats, the women drenched in furs, clearly working out some money laundering deal, against the background of large Soviet-style apartment blocks – though I never saw anything much worse than London’s council housing here.

One-way streets require us to spiral to and from the hotel and the venue – so we have seen a lot of the city – totally lost most of the time, but who cares?  The broad streets lead over canals, down, then by the river, away again – there are said to be over 300 bridges in the city.   On our first walk I touch the river water – my first touch of the Baltic for over 25 years – very cold and metallic.

Stately buildings everywhere, none very tall (no building was allowed exceed the height of the Winter Palace, but grandiosity spread horizontally very nicely, thank you. Long blocks of colonnades with graceful arches at intervals. One gold spire, thin as a mast, with the angel wind vane, stands as a lookout for the sailors from the old navy yard.  Round gloomy domes, large city squares, a blue-ribbed mosque (the most northern one in the world, I am told), columns and porticos and sculpture on a grand scale – both traditional and the blocky Soviet kind – everywhere.

The second night we board a canal boat, taking off at eight o’clock, but still in sunlight, turning the pastel buildings into Turner paintings, literally ducking under the iron bridges, including the one with four huge bronzes one on each corner, depicting the stages of taming a horse.  Julia is a non-stop tour-guide, but unfortunately I know too few of the references, and the information has rolled on again, not to be recovered for these pages.  But there’s a lot to be said about a city veined with canals, and everything looks different from the water looking back at the land, as in Maine.

St. P #2 – The Moskva Hotel:

April 20, 2007

The Moskva Hotel, on the banks of the Neva, matches somewhat the image we have of a Russian hotel, though I doubt I am being spied upon as I sleep.  The water is hot, and we have the BBC – even its reports on the anti-Putin marches in which Gary Kaparov, the chess-master, has been arrested.  The lobby is huge and ornate, the breakfast is lavish but nearly inedible – lardy pastries, dry cereals, strange-tasting coffee, and truly grotesque breakfast meats, but I have missed breakfast two out of the three days anyway due to jet-lagged oversleeping.

The elevators are slow, so one morning I make the mistake of taking the stairs.  Completely trashed, full of construction material – everything is thrown into in these cement corridors, so the front rooms look good. And there’s no way out, so I return to wait for the elevators.  God forbid there should be a fire.

Each night as Michael (my able assistant from Oslo) and I return, there is a group of congenial prostitutes lounging in chairs across from the elevators.  One sloe-eyed beauty accosts us in a friendly way in English, and in another life (a pre-Aids, pre-Quan one), I might have taken a chance with her, but the rest have the hard off-putting edge of belles-de-nuit everywhere.

St Petersburg!

April 20, 2007

Not having internet connection here, this is written after the fact.

Venice of the north, Amsterdam of the east, New Orleans with snow – St Petersburg is a vital European city in Russian overdrive, with an understandable but entirely unnecessary inferiority complex.  A mass of contradictions, historical, cultural, and economic – and my visit was too short to sort them out – so, a few impressions:

My workshop here, primarily with osteopaths, many with previous medical degrees, shows a level of osteopathy above what I have experienced in Germany, and just below that of England.  No surprise, in retrospect, as Russian osteopathy has deep connections with the British schools – Maidstone and the European School.  As usual, European osteopathy is a mule between two bales of hay – dedication to its holistic healing roots on one side, and the need for mainstream recognition (and thus procedures, verifiability, and bureaucracy) on the other.

The Russian students are argumentative, but in a friendly way – great dialogue.  The Russians are prepared to go deep in a way the Asians will find it culturally very hard to match, I feel.

More men than women, but Larisa – in looks she could have been a housewife from Cleveland, but was instead a powerhouse of questions and organization – used her new-found freedom to argue with my points on comparative anatomy to insist that the up-and-coming view was that the world was created in an instant.  What I would have regarded as a troglodytic arrival from Christian Kansas if I encountered it in Amerika was, in this context, her statement of faith in opposition to the oppressive atheistic culture she had grown up in.  I let it pass.

Translation, however, was a bit of a problem – the first day a Russian osteopath, Galina – a stately woman with a mobile face above a huge and ornate amber brooch, interpreted my ideas in terms of her own views of osteopathy.  The second two days were with Georgy, a pale, thin cardiologist, who does translating on the side to earn some money (even a specialist doctor in the Russian system earns only a few hundred dollars per month).  Georgy was quick with the medical terminology, but had trouble with the structural concepts.  Even so, the workshop was running very well by the middle of the second day, and a good time was had by all.  I even got a few jokes across, which is difficult in this culture, even though within their own language they have a ready smile and no small wellspring of irony, which is a strict requirement of Russian life.

My hosts, Julia and Dmitriy, have been working very hard to promote my ideas and get this workshop to happen. He is soulful, Russian, dedicated to osteopathy and healing, young and a bit unsure.  She is erudite, fun, and takes no prisoners. The daylight is long – though we are not yet in the ‘white nights’ of June and July – and I never make it back to the hotel before 11pm.


April 11, 2007

Empires are always successfully attacked by loosely organized groups, since an empire can easily control other organized governments through the use of armies and economic pressure. Ancient Rome had a very similar attack to 9/11 – and the consequances were startlingly and depressingly familiar. Read the whole editorial by Robert Harris in the International Herald Tribune with this link, but my edited summary appears below.

In the autumn of 68 B.C. the world’s only military superpower was dealt a profound psychological blow by a daring terrorist attack on its very heart. Rome’s port at Ostia was set on fire, the consular war fleet destroyed, and two prominent senators, together with their bodyguards and staff, kidnapped.

In the panicky aftermath of the attack, the Roman people made decisions that set them on the path to the destruction of their Constitution, their democracy and their liberty.

The perpetrators of this spectacular assault were not in the pay of any foreign power: No nation would have dared to attack Rome so provocatively. Like Al Qaeda, these pirates were loosely organized, but able to spread a disproportionate amount of fear among citizens who had believed themselves immune from attack.

What was to be done? Over the preceding centuries, the Constitution of ancient Rome had developed an intricate series of checks and balances intended to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual. The consulship, elected annually, was jointly held by two men. Ordinary citizens were accustomed to a remarkable degree of liberty: the cry of “Civis Romanus sum” – “I am a Roman citizen” – was a guarantee of safety throughout the world.

But such was the panic that ensued after Ostia that the people were willing to compromise these rights. The greatest soldier in Rome, the 38-year- old Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better known to posterity as Pompey the Great) arranged for a lieutenant of his, the tribune Aulus Gabinius, to rise in the Roman Forum and propose an astonishing new law, the Lex Gabinia (read: Patriot Act).

“Pompey was to be given not only the supreme naval command but what amounted in fact to an absolute authority and uncontrolled power over everyone,” the Greek historian Plutarch wrote. “There were not many places in the Roman world that were not included within these limits.”

Pompey eventually received almost the entire contents of the Roman Treasury to pay for his “war on terror,” which included building a fleet of 500 ships and raising an army of 120,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Such an accumulation of power was unprecedented. Once Pompey put to sea, it took less than three months to sweep the pirates from the entire Mediterranean.

Even allowing for Pompey’s genius as a military strategist, the suspicion arises that if the pirates could be defeated so swiftly, they could hardly have been such a grievous threat in the first place.

But it was too late to raise such questions. By the oldest trick in the political book – the whipping up of a panic, in which any dissenting voice could be dismissed as “soft” or even “traitorous” – powers had been ceded by the people that would never be returned. Pompey stayed in the Middle East for six years, establishing puppet regimes throughout the region, and turning himself into the richest man in the empire (read: Dick Cheney).

The vote by the American Senate to suspend the right of habeas corpus for terrorism detainees, denying them their right to challenge their detention in court; the careful wording about torture, which forbids only the inducement of “serious” physical and mental suffering to obtain information; the licensing of the president to declare a legal resident of the United States an enemy combatant – all this represents an historic shift in the balance of power between the citizen and the executive.

It may be that the Roman republic was doomed in any case. But the disproportionate reaction to the raid on Ostia unquestionably hastened the process, weakening the restraints on military adventurism and corrupting the political process. It was to be more than 1,800 years before anything remotely comparable to Rome’s democracy – imperfect though it was – rose again.

The Lex Gabinia was a classic illustration of the law of unintended consequences: It fatally subverted the institution it was supposed to protect.

Concerted effort on all our parts will be necessary to prevent going down the exact same road. History may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.

Oestrus 2

April 9, 2007

The Christians celebrate this springtime urgency as a triumph over death – Christ is risen; He is risen, indeed. This year, I celebrated twice: once with a sunrise service on a dramatic point over the ocean. Nearly 100 people made it this year, a thin line of cars wending down the peninsula, to gather companionably in the darkness, saying our yearly hellos quietly as we recognize each other under hats, scarves, and gloves – it is blowing 15 from the northwest, and it is still well below freezing. This is a service to the sun as it rises over Monhegan, in hopes that its growing strength will fill the land, melt the snow, ease the oil bill, and signal the start of our brief but glorious summer. Even though it is a Christian ceremony with a hymn and benediction, this feels like earth magic, and though I do not turn myself out of my warm bed every year, I feel no internal dissonance in attending this service.

Later, I go with my Mom to the small local church, where resurrection is in full force – people showing up (like me) who are never seen on any other Sunday. This fully Christian service – choir, old and new testament – grates my nerves – why should it?, it’s just a small town festival, even the same thoughtful and enthusiastic minister as the earlier one – but this triumph over death seems to mirror the human domination of nature. Our particular chosen religion allows us to escape death, so we are superior and therefor exempt from the cycle of death and rebirth that would require us to look at recycling, renewable resources and energy, the true cost of oil consumption and the rest of our wasteful practices.

Somehow this small church comes to represent – for me in this moment – all that is wrong and detached in our headlong rush toward planetary destruction and the denial of the truth of the body. I long for the delicacy of Ursula’s gender-bent planet, I welcome the ceremonies to the sun and connection with the natural world, but this organized balm for our sense of self-importance seems just wrong, and it is all I can do to sit it out in peace, stifling a protest would be totally inappropriate, self-indulgent, and completely misunderstood.

Of course, like all good stories, Christ’s resurrection can be interpreted in many ways. But any therapist or philosopher has to answer for himself the question: “Where did it all go wrong?” I have just returned from a non-Christian part of the world, but Asia is nonetheless infected with the Western itch for technology and domination of the natural world. I trace this tendency for domination 3.5 billion years back to the necessity for all living beings to eat and shit (and thus competition), 5 million years back to the advent of the bicameral cortex in humans that allowed the detachment necessary to separation (and thus sin), 70,000 years back to the Promethean taming of fire (and thus domination), and most recently 1600 years back to the interpretation of Easter as a license to flout natural law (the Tao) in our new-found divinity and victory over death.

I got news for the Christians: we’re all still dying, and we still don’t know what happens when we go. One person rolling away the stone (if it happened) does not mean that you have merited the same, even if you have accepted the baby Jesus as your personal saviour. The attitude that death has been vanquished is a very dangerous one, and should be handled with extreme care, lest we end up with leaders who count not the cost, and see themselves God-sent to vanquish sin (and maximize profit).

Oooops, too late!

Oestrus 1

April 9, 2007

Easter, Astarte, and Oestrus all come from the same base – the rising ‘heat’ of spring. In the ground, in the sap of plants, in the sexual urge of animals, and in the hearts of humankind, the vernal equinox is a time of renewal – and specifically a renewal of the energetic heat of lust (using the word deliberately, but in its German sense of passion, interest, energy, or the Greek ‘kefi’.)

‘In spring, a young man’s fancy turns to love’ – certainly true for the animals, and mostly true for the newly potent of all stripes. In fact, however, one of the defining characteristics of humans is their lack of an oestrus cycle. Our horses (along with other ungulates) are pawing the earth (three boys, too bad) and most birds, like the mated-for-life pair of greedy Canadian geese that just joined the throng of about 40 mallards indignantly waiting for grain in our small farm pond, are eager to mate on a yearly cycle that insures sexual interest at this time of year for their one annual shot at reproduction. The mating happens now, and we see the foals and ducklings and apples later in the spring and summer as the consequence.

In fact, we humans are on a monthly rather than yearly cycle (lots of animals, like rabbits and chickens, show similar periodicity), in terms of our ability to connect sperm to egg. As a man, I have never been able to detect any waxing or waning of my sexual urge connected to the cycle of the moon – and I’m a Cancer, supposedly ruled by her whims! Like most men, I am ready any time, thanks. But I have noticed such a waxing and waning in my partners – though women vary greatly in their interest in sex through the monthly cycle: Some have increased appetite during their period, for most it slackens. We would expect a rise in hormones halfway through the cycle at ovulation, as this would promote the likelihood of conception, but few women I have asked can detect this suspected surge in interest.

Evolutionists have traced this lack of a definite heat cycle to a change in purpose for sex among humans – procreation is allowed to be haphazard, as it seems to be happening often enough in any case – what’s important is the social and family bonding provided by sexual relations. Though it could be that we are just too out of contact with the natural cycles – artificial light has replaced moonlight, shoes keep us from contact with the electrical currents of the earth, and estrogen-imitating additives to the food keep us hormonally off-kilter – to feel the natural surge and ebb of a natural cycle of interest in coupling.

Nine months after any electrical blackout, there is a surge in maternity, suggesting an inverse relation between the desire to be hypnotically ‘hooked up’ with the social network of the larger world, vs. hooking up in its venal sense.

Personally, being not very tied to my gender, I long for the world created by Ursula Le Guin in her wonderful old book The Left Hand of Darkness, in which humans have no particular gender for most of the month; they hover between man and woman. But once a month they come into heat for a few days, and then manifest secondary sexual chracteristics – sometimes as a man, and sometimes as a woman, depending on whom they are with and the circumstances. (The children of the king that he has as a woman are closer to the throne than those children he sires as a man – love it.)

The ability to act as a man some months and as a woman others would be ideal to me, and to Quan too, I think, which is one reason why we fit together so well. In that book an ‘ambassador’ from our planet creates embarrassment for himself and others by always – every day, all month, how gauche – manifesting as a man. I find myself similarly embarrassed and wish I could manifest sometimes as a woman, or at least of neutral gender.