Monday, July 25, 2016

From Roscoff to Amritsar

[Swarna-Jayanti Express, Indian Railway]

I was on a jet plane coming back from France, in 1977 I think it was. There was a chunky red-faced American next to me, maybe from Texas but who knows at this late date. He was claiming that everyone in France spoke perfectly good English, but just weren't willing to be helpful to Americans, and after all “we'd” done for them in World War II. We'd played a little club in Roscoff, which happened to have been near a German submarine base in the war, and Americans had bombed the hell out of Roscoff. There were mostly new high-rise government built apartment buildings, which looked strange in France, although these days the web page for Roscoff features pictures of quaint seaside buildings, so either some of the old Roscoff was left, or they've managed to rebuild with historical accuracy. Some of the patrons of the place we played thought we had a lot of nerve being there, but fortunately our banjo player was a former tackle at Florida State and tended to have no problems with disgruntled folks. I watched him shrug his shoulders at Galax one time, and flip a drunk who'd tried to climb on board several feet out of the pickin' circle. Aside from Roscoff, I never felt like the French were sandbagging, and I always tried my best to order in French. Often after my efforts caused a wry smile in the waiter, I was told to just order in English. On the other hand, it was easy enough to point at the line in the menu, particularly as in France you were in little risk of getting served a poor repast.

This was my first encounter with the cliché of the Ugly American. Of course it's easy to find ugly Americans in America, then and today. They might be a majority. But the cliché was pointed and remarkable at the time. Why would people who speak their native language all know some other language, or want to speak it. We sure don't. Who comes up with some theory that it's all a French joke on us? There's a certain lack of self-awareness at work, which is part of the definition of Ugly American anyways.

So here it is, blazing hot summer of 2016. We're living this summer without air conditioning—so far. The little window air unit we put in is about five years old now, and seemed to be fading last summer, and we're also wanting to get an electrician to come out and upgrade our service. Fans do kinda work, and I felt oddly at home watching “Tough Trains: India” Saturday night on the Globe Trekker show on PBS. The host was Zay Harding, a guy who looks just like Dustin Johnson and probably putts just about the same. He rode a number of trains across the northern part of India with an unseen camera crew that likely stretched Indian patience quite a bit. All of the trains were so packed with people that sometimes our host and many other riders sat in the luggage racks above the seats, and people rode for hours standing on the steps and holding on to hand rails, entirely outside the car.

At one point he stopped in a city where Ramadan was in progress. During Ramadan, muslims fast all day and then feast after sundown. A muslin friend invited him to participate in the feast part. At one point the friend said “the fasting is easy if you believe, and it helps you appreciate those without.” Our American host picked up a big bite of rice and meat and said, “Dig in,” surrounded by hundreds of equally voracious participants in the nightly fast-ending banquet.

The host also did little historic pieces on India in colonial days and at independence. There were terrible massacres of both muslims and hindus along the rail line we were traveling, due primarily to a great fear inculcated by the passive-aggressive fashion in which the British left, creating a partition no one understood between India and the new country of Pakistan. Some administrator from Britain had come out and just drawn some lines on a map, known as the Radcliffe Line, even if the lines went straight through rivers and cities. No one on the ground could see these suddenly crucial lines, or knew for sure which country they lived in, of if someone was going to take their land and stuff and murder them for being suddenly in the wrong country. So they murdered each other, and even now India and Pakistan face each other across this mythical border with nuclear weapons at the ready.

This past week the GOP just nominated the Ugly American for President. I saw a poll this morning that some 60+% of white men are for Mr. Trump. He speaks to their ethnicity; he speaks, as he claimed, “for” them. He wants to ban muslims. The guy who shot up Munich on Friday wanted to ban muslims too, and most of the people he killed were muslims. It took a couple of days for the news to get to our news media that although he had some connection to Iran (he was a German-Iranian), he hated muslims and idolized the Norwegian mass-killer of a couple of years back, Brivik.

At another spot on our train tour we were taken to a lovely park. In April, 1919 there had been a big market going on in the park, in Amritsar, with thousands of people, and a small peaceful demonstration was also happening. The British military administrator of the city, Col. Reginald Dyer, ordered troops to fire on the people in the park until their ammunition was entirely exhausted. Many bullet holes are still in evidence in brick walls around the park, marked with squares of white paint. Over a thousand were killed, some 1500 casualties in all (although Great Britain still officially disputes this number as does the Daily Mail). They counted the spent cartridges to come up with that calculation. This massacre is viewed as one of the two crucial moments leading, eventually, to Indian independence. Churchill hated Gandhi.

These days a great deal of the press, all of one major political party, and some of the other, encourages all of us to see muslims as the fearful “other.” There is almost no depiction of muslims as simply people, just exactly like us. With each turn of this screw, muslims in our midst are put even more at physical risk. Just last year in, of all places, Chapel Hill, NC, three young muslim graduate students, all from my home town of Raleigh, were murdered by a middle-aged red-neck who lived down the parking lot from them in an apartment complex. He liked to brandish his pistol when he complained to the students about their parking space usage. He'd appointed himself parking lot monitor, and enforced his own private rules. People claimed afterwards that it was not religion or ethnic background but parking that motivated his crimes. His trial still awaits. The three children are buried, gone, entirely lost to their grieving parents, who are even forced (this being NC) to publicly dispute whether this was in fact a “hate crime.”

In the past couple of weeks eight policemen have been assassinated by two different black men who snapped, perhaps because there was, in their mind, one too many headlines recounting the shooting of a black man or woman in trivial and harmless circumstances—circumstances which even on the same day do not lead to similar shootings when the civilian happens oddly enough to be white. Republicans tend to say that it's the headlines, not the facts, that are the problem. That's an idea Herr Trump would surely support.

There are over a billion muslims in the world. Close to a billion people, just trying to get along, in large majority living in circumstances which most Americans would find daunting in the extreme. They do not yet blame us for the heat, or the floods, though in time they may. Everyone still wants to ride, be it a Mercedes or a scooter. Perhaps Mr. Trump's supporters have some dim inkling of these deeper connections, which are like the misguided 2nd Amendment supporters at the initial constitutional convention, who in fact feared the slave uprisings that might at any time explode, no matter what their theological apologists might preach on Sundays in Richmond and Charleston, Savannah and Biloxi. The last viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, who appointed Cyril Radcliffe to draw the lines in 1947, was in 1979 blown up in his yacht in Donegal Bay, Eire, by the Irish Provisional Army.

For now they ride the trains, muslims, hindus, sikhs, enduring the heat and the crowds of fellow passengers. It is enough to make it through the day. There was a lovely shot at one point in the documentary of several women walking with parcels on their heads, across an empty trestle. Mr. Ailes takes his retirement. Ms Kelly is said to be getting a brand new show, which is compared to Oprah's. I have been assured by political scientists that Trump needs a political apparatus which he has profoundly alienated in order to actually succeed in his quest this fall.

Trump's Democratic opponent, meanwhile, seems not to grasp the alienation she also generates. For all his Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. Obama also operates a drone assassination air war, and in Turkey last week a possibly fake revolution was briefly televised. As of today Wasserman-Schultz is gone, which both removes a red flag and implies shenanigans were accomplished. A pure-hearted abstention this fall is a vote for Herr Trump. It's enough to make a person spend the day carefully learning a new fiddle tune. Speaking of which (more or less), Digby featured a post yesterday about a free health clinic at the Wise Virginia County Fairgrounds. That's the very place the guy threw the sno-cone at Jack Herrick during his trumpet solo, back in '77, right after the plane trip with the Ugly American. We were playing Ralph Stanley's bluegrass festival on the way home. Hillbilly sharia I guess it was, like when they killed Ralph's lead singer, Roy Lee Centers, a few years previous. Ain't no trumpets in bluegrass, you get that? What goes around I guess, whatever that means. It's probably something Trump would say to end a sentence, amirite?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

5th of July

[The Lewis Gun was manufactured by British Small Arms, better known as BSA. They also made great motorcycles, including a single cylinder model called the Shooting Star which I rode for a few years in the late 1960s. I'm hoping that BREXIT will bring back the BSA, complete with its vertical block seam, its dripping oil and limited life span, and its utter beauty. Take that BMW, and Yamaha.]

On Fathers Day, while I was driving back from Johnson City, Libby's dad was in Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro getting some high grade surgery to repair a shattered lower arm, wrist, and hand. They put in metal plates and screws, and he'll have some issues getting on planes now, except he's unlikely to ever do that again anyways. He also broke his upper arm when he fell after getting up in the mid-night to check his outer door for some reason, something he was never supposed to do, but couldn't remember not to do, the old head-of-the-house routine still there floating around in the old cranium, clear as crystal but unmoored to some extent, while the new stuff, the every day realities, seem more like dreams or imaginings. He'd had a very happy reunion with much of his family, and everyone drove home thinking how well he was doing, all things considered. You have to add that phrase. He's 92. He'd spent the second half of '44 in France and Belgium, and the first half of '45 in Germany.

Last night I was looking into a little cardboard box labeled WW II Memoribilia in black scripto, sitting in his lift chair in his old room where he fell. He was hopefully asleep in the rehab facility a couple of miles away. The family doesn't see him being able to come back to the room, so Libby and I--mostly Libby--were sorting through things. In the little box were a few aluminum German Mark coins. Back in '43 the Germans were making coins out of aluminum because there was no available steel or copper beyond the ravenous war manufacturing machinery. There was also a little horseshoe thing from Rocky Mount Tire--aluminum with a copper penny in the center. I couldn't read the inscription too well, but it seemed like Rudy had possibly gotten that around the time he got on a troop train in Rocky Mount, NC. I figured maybe he kept it in his pocket all through his European travels. Who knows.

There was also a packet of cards and notes Rudy and his wife Lucille had exchanged through the 50 plus years they'd been married, love notes, cards, sweet exchanges of sentiments like "it gets better and better to live with my very best friend." Both of them wrote each other lines like that, start to finish, at the bottom of birthday cards and mother's day cards and father's day cards. Libby shed some tears looking through all of this, these very little bits of a whole life, her mom and dad's life. "This is the last little bit left," she said to me. Lucille died in 2000, a quick unexpected stroke after a happy church event. She woke in the early AM, said to Rudy that she had a terrible headache, then collapsed. She died the following night, having seemingly waited for Libby to arrive from Ocracoke, a long drive with a ferry trip. Among the bits of paper we found a newspaper interview with Libby and I in the Island Breeze, about our CD and our music life on the Outer Banks, from about that time, the turn of the Millennium. What a pretentious concept. I wrote a song about it on my song CD. They even named Budweiser "Mellennium Bud" for a little while (right now they're calling it "American" I think). I quit drinking Bud some years ago, not that I wouldn't take a cold one if I was sitting out in left field in any ball park in this great land of ours.

We're looking for a nursing home for Rudy that will be much closer to home here. Libby's going out this early afternoon to check on a place that's 8 miles away instead of an hour drive. It'll stretch our fleet of 1999 pickup trucks. As we rode back in the deep night last night we were speculating on the current dizzying election cavalcade spinning by like a merry-go-round while we watch from a wood bench that needs some painting before winter. Could it be, we said, that Bill Clinton snookered Trump into running, thus tossing a spanner into the spokes of the already thread-bear Republican Party--the very same Party that had succeeded in actually impeaching him for an absolutely justified Imperial Blow Job that absolutely everyone gets whenever they like--comes with the room Sir. It must be of some delight to the Clintons that Lindsey Graham is in a state of conniption. He was the prosecutor in that Impeachment I believe. Meanwhile, it's reported that our current Attorney General, North Carolinian Loretta Lynch, may well stay on in the post in the coming Clinton Administration. Continuity, continuity. We are also reassured that firebrand Lizzie Warren tells us almost daily that Hillary is a "good listener." That's a good character component surely, and a nice contrast to a guy that apparently listens to no one.

Summer, which simply is, is most definitely here. It's a wet one relatively. All the tick species are thriving, and seem to care little for the mists and sprays we apply to ourselves. it's time to mow the grass again. That seems to keep the critters down. We've got to get some trees felled before the hurricanes arrive in September. Or August. I wrote another song about going to the DQ in the middle of the summer. We don't have a DQ here in Siler, just a Sonic. I never go to the Sonic, but I do think their endless ads are pretty funny. In my song, about a trucker who stops at a DQ, the trucker relates: "It was the middle of the day it was the 6th of July, they was families on vacation and they couldn't decide." All those voters, cones dripping on the floor, blizzards clogging up their straws and their arteries. There should be some Platonic quote to end this, about the fundamental character of democracy. Takes yo pick, good listening grifters or candidates for Emperor. Which wooden horse do you want to ride next? A century ago exactly we were in the middle of the Battle of the Somme, according to Nick Faldo, on the Golf Channel. He said nearly a million people were lost in that battle, which lasted a quarter of a year he related to Terry Gannon, former N.C. State quarterback.

Apparently he was short by a half-million,or possibly he was just talking of Allied losses. The carnage was at any rate indecisive. There's a lesson too.