Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Okay I’ve Become That Parent

(Last Thursday, before Anette came home from the hospital, Adinah and V. got into another World War 4. After I waded in and disarmed the insurgents, we sat at the breakfast table and I brokered a treaty. I asked the two of ‘em, “What rules can we have in this house to make things better?” Then I wrote down what they said, and made them both sign it. I signed the damn thing as well. V. decorated the rules with little stickers of panda bears and surfing lizards. Adinah translated the document into German, then made a big sign that reads “Unser Regeln (Our Rules).” We taped the entire declaration up on the refrigerator door. Here are our Rules.)

1) We can be more quiet when Mom is asleep.

2) We can ask Mom what she wants (to do, to eat, etc.)

3) We can clean our room when Mom or Papa asks us to.

4) We will not be screaming at Mom (or Papa) (at bedtime or any other time.)

5) We can disagree, but we can solve our problems by talking about them.

6) We need to be gentle with each other.

7) We will listen to each other better.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Another Exotic Saturday

I dropped by Prosi, Vienna's best international grocery, to buy some taco shells and refried beans on Saturday. The street outside had been blocked off and a stage set up for the Prosi Strassenfest Exotic Festival. I scanned the stands selling food from Zambia and Ecuador, coffee and tea from Ethiopia, and cookies from, um, Poland. I had formed my plan for the day.

I took the subway home, picked the kids up, and got back there as fast as I could.

Just as we arrived, a tiny Indian dancer swept onstage, twirling around in a classical style mixed with a few Bollywood moves and yoga poses. "Watch her hands," I said as I squatted next to Adinah and V. She spun and fluttered them like she was letting loose magic birds.

In short order, we saw a demonstration of a homegrown fusion of African and Shri Lankan dance, then a Viennese Samba troupe, and then a batch of belly dancers with huge, Theda Bara-style capes. V. loved all this boogie. Soon she was swiveling her hips, grabbing her crotch, and giving the world her best Johnny Rotten sneer. This is how V. rocks out. One day, she will be onstage with Justin Timberlake or Lady Gaga, whichever lasts longer.

For about the fortieth time, I asked the girls if they were hungry yet. Adinah gave me a barely enthusiastic, 'Yeah,' and we were off! I steered the posse to the nearest stall, which turned out to be Tanzanian. Adinah is usually a pasta-bread-rice gal, but she surprised me by asking for a spicy beef turnover. I snapped up a roasted chicken drumstick. V. just wanted the sweet vanilla fritters. Uh uh, real food first, I insisted.

We spun over to the Indian booth, and Adinah got her (curried) rice with chapati, which V. also nibbled. I got the spicy chicken and lemon pickles. Ouch. Then V. got those fritters at last.

Then it was henna tattoo time. At that stand, the girl in the sari, who looked like a member of the Upper Austria caste, explained that if she put a design on the girls' hands, they'd have to keep their hands still for two hours. HA HA HA! Also, she only had a dark brown henna, which didn't look like it would be visible on Adinah's chocolate skin. We did it anyway. And just as Ms. Sari finished up with them, it started raining.

We were afraid the rain would wash off the dye, so both girls covered their tattoos as we ran for the subway. Two hours later, Adinah and I scratched the henna off her hand. Underneath was a pretty brown rose.

Then we giggled as we climbed into V.'s bed, where she was already sawing zzzzz's. We scratched off her henna--somehow she'd kept it basically intact--and now she had a nice new rose, too.

It was a nice day.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Top Ten Cures for What Ails ye

(in no particular order)

1) Tenderness

2) Chocolate ice cream, preferably something of comparable potency with Ben and Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk or Chocolate Fudge Brownie.

3) A good comedy (I'm partial to Austin Powers I, Midnight Run and anything by Charlie Chaplin.)

4) Sea air

5) A walk around the block (or over to the barn, depending on your circumstances.)

6) Talking to a friend (with or without alcohol.)

7) Writing it all down in your journal

8) Music (sad, happy, loud, floatey, whatever you got)

9) Making something: a photograph, a cookie, a baby

10) Understanding

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

No Guilt Allmans

(This is a guest cross-post I wrote for Vampire Blues, a blog which my friend Steve also sometimes writes for. Thank you very much.)

I was a teenage stoner metalhead, and I was a Texas country punk devotee. I’d even listened to a Willie Nelson record or two, but I was never an Allman Brothers fan. No. Hippies with muttonchops “jamming” with the blues was a bridge too far.

Then I met Her. She was a Marxist history major with a bitchin’ bod. When she strapped on more than one gin martini, she was trouble. But before she left me to become a lesbian, she hipped me to the wonder and beauty of the Allman’s “Blue Skies.”

“Blue Skies” is basically two long guitar solos pasted together, with a Walt Disney-damaged lyrical chaser. Duane Allman’s playing would pierce the heart of a goddamn Republican. It is a gorgeous, utterly perfect piece of music.

And for many years after Her, I had no interest in hearing anything else by the Brothers.

Last summer, I was stealing some music from an old Austin punk rock friend, and some Allmans ended up on my iPod. My friend swore it wasn’t his, and blamed a mutual acquaintance who is a New York journalist and jam rock apologist. (I have heard that upstate New Yorkers love Southern rock in general, and the Allmans in particular.) Nevertheless, I vowed to give the muttonchops one more chance.

First I listened to Eat a Peach. I liked it! (Except for the nearly forty-minute “Mountain Jam.” ) I had always heard that this album was the Allman’s masterpiece. I had heard wrong. Peach was actually a stopgap odds and sods collection, released just after Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident as the rest of the band was still reeling from the loss. But it has “Blue Skies,” and it has “Ain’t Wasting Time No More,” one of the best songs ever about not feeling sorry for yourself. Also, Gregg Allman seems to be singing around a mouthful of chewing tobaccey. Somehow this pleases me.

I wanted more, so I got Beginnings, which is notable for being a repackage of two albums with really terrible cover art. The cover of Beginnings is even worse. But the music!

It’s a surprising set, if only in the way the songs shift between breezy and boozy. What really gets me are the headbanging moments, especially two spots where the Band seems to be literally nailing the groove to the inside of your brain pan. The first comes at the climax of “It’s not my Cross to Bear,” and the second, even more nailingly, at the climax of “Whipping Post.” These climaxes build and build until they overwhelm—two piercing, fuck-you-up guitars, two drummers wailing, the notes getting higher and higher. It’s no less slamming than certain Daft Punk tracks—the Allmans just kill with different tools.

As a matter of fact, you’ll probably find the sounds at the end of “Whipping Post”—and that feeling of something that is spiraling ever upward—in plenty of other, very different kinds of music. But I also like the fact that these are songs with a real End. “Whipping Post” climaxes like a Hitchcock film. Sure, non-narrative, ultra-abstract contemporary music with guitars, or electronics, can be good. But in these less-than-narrative times, the climax of “Whipping Post” is deeply satisfying.

“Dreams” is also really, really nice. Like a very hot summer afternoon. Put it on. Grow your own muttonchops.