Tuesday, July 30, 2013

La Habana, en versos libres: V. Dias Cinco

Not quite late, but nearly
—even so, time enough
to roll the dice
with the coffee machine;
guess who won?

To class, to class, to class!
—the last one
in which we attempt to learn
the most complex genre of dance.

The eyes,
the mind,
the heart open;
so this is the truth:
when they took the drum away,
on the continent,
The People were robbed of their language.

Expected to capitulate,
The People on the continent,
nevertheless invented a new language.

But the islands regained the drum,
by way of the invention of the clavés;
the culture survived,
even flourished,
despite unintended changes,
via telegraph and telephone,
that brought a blossoming,
a renaissance,
to the tropical paradise
of song birds
walking trees
and rum.

This is a true story
[though, from his library in Argentina,
Borges would have observed
it is a true story
just made up;
this would be both
right and wrong]:
There are two birds in the forest;
both are holy beings.

One bird desires
union with the other,
to achieve the basis
that is universal:

The male plumps his colorful plumage,
while the female demurs.

Though the female seems plain,
she is the Queen of
sky, sea and forest;
it is she who is mother of all.

The male, the Fourth King,
he who enjoys a good party,
he knows the Queen is best,
so he reaches into the sky,
calling on Thunder and Lightning,
pulling their power
deep into his gravitas,
placido y not.

The Queen,
she can have anyone.

The King,
is he worthy?

Right now, what can he achieve?

Is this the opportune moment
and portal
for encounter
and engagement?

Can this be love,
or merely convenience?

And what will happen next;
what are the consequences;
will the cosmos be changed?

Harmony is a coordination
of chant,
and movement
—one language,
heard and understood
in all times and places;
call and response,
with an outcome,
is a complete revolution,
a return to stasis and rest,
that resets the stage
for a new play.

“The more things change,
the more they stay the same”
is not true;
this drama kicks forward;
the revolution is really an evolution,
but only when the ritual is
correct and also unique;
there is no empty repetition
if there is blessing,
but blessing only comes
when being is engaged.

This is why the true language,
composed of thought,
expressed as rhythm,
is not a trinity,
but one expression,
that is being,
only when being is fully engaged.

There is no emptiness in being,
nor is there perfection;
there is only engagement with possibility.

If you believe,
if you know,
you realize the future imperfect
need not be tense;
there are no winners or losers,
there is only change,
even growth,
perhaps even understanding
and healing,
if all goes according to what is possible,
while maintaining the integrity of being one.

This, my friends, is rumba.

© 2013 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Sunday, July 28, 2013

La Habana, en versos libres: IV. Dias Quatro

Mi título al nacer puso en mi cuna,
El sol que al cielo consagró mi frente.
Yo sólo sé de amor. ~ José Martí, from “Vino de Chianti”

The maracas bird
and the electric one, as well,
rattled the sleepers awake,
but no rush, this morning,
just mission:
writings of José Martí.

Verses simple and complex,
exploring the human connection;
Annette and I had planned,
already, for months,
this excursion,
though we did not know
what being here would be like.

No hurry, this morning;
time for breakfast,
time for coffee,
a decent cup—
I’ve got it covered;
I’ll make my own,
with help from
Our Lady of Seattle.

First, however,
to the cadeca queue,
for old world monetary transactions
in silver fiats:
heroes are moneda nacional
monuments are for the touristas.

No credit, no cheques,
it is cash, cash, cash.

The lines start before opening,
 and the guard lets each in
one at a time;
if you are lucky, the cadeca
is on the shady side of the street
—even so, the ladies
have their fans out,
beating them furiously.

Cool inside;
a long day for tells,
even with the long lunch break.

Once at the counter,
I present Canadian Dollars,
much better in exchange
than the taxed American.

I ask for Convertible Pesos,
then, further, for moneda nacional;
the teller smiles,
thinking perhaps:
la yuma,
she will spread her money
among The People.

Traveler’s alert:
count and organize your money
while still inside the cadeca;
safely stow it away before you leave.

We (Annette, Michael and I)
make our way along Obispo
toward the sea,
stopping at the guayabera shops
and bookstores,
but the stores do not yield Martí,
at least, not in the forms we desire.

We continue forward,
to Plaza de Armas;
nestled in the shade of the trees,
the portrait artist wanders,
tracing the image of Michael
across a clean white page,
and it is then we discover Martí.

Ah, Martí,
no mere revolutionary;
the vision and memory,
the myth, even,
of a romantic man
who saw the truth,
that was all around to be seen—
the corruption, the inequity,
the prices paid, and by whom
—and felt as powerless
as any patriot might
at the old world’s stranglehold
on the new.

the revolutionary of love—
before learning and liberty,
the greatest of these is love,
amor con amor se paga,
love must precede and supercede
all action that love,
like the sun,
inspires and sustains.

the friend
who laid down his life
for his friends,
but those three bullets
did not end the revolution;
the seemingly unfinished monument
can only testify to your continuing legacy,
as do the books we carry away.

We cut across to
Plaza de la Catedral,
to see the music cast into stone,
and to pray in air-conditioned chapel
for reconciliation,
for healing,
and for peace
among the nations.

Chicken sandwiches,
with beer and coffee
at nearby El Patio,
are surprisingly good,
though the service is slow
—we are there at the sleepy time of day.

After paying la cuenta,
we retrace our steps,
picking our way over the cobblestones,
dug up and piled everywhere,
making way for new cable
to modernize and expand
the ancient electrics,
returning to Hotel Plaza,
quickly passing through
the district of fortune tellers,
casting cards or cowries;
our immediate future
is already known:
we must quickly prepare
for our first concert.

We assemble in the lobby,
then the bus appears on cue
to take us to
Teatro Nacional de Cuba,
where we meet Ensemble Vocal Luna
to launch our mutual life’s blood:
love by way of song.

We sang apart and together,
braiding our vibrations,
sending them out
Plaza de la Revolución,
to meet the memory of Martí,
honored in his monument,
bringing one circle to a close
with the sharing of Guantanamera.

Later, under a full moon,
standing at the parapet of
la Cabaña,
as the canon is fired,
seeing the skyline of Habana
beyond el
I am reminded
that beauty can be found
we are willing
to make the effort
to see it,
to engage it,
and to be inseparable from it.

© 2013 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

All Those Expendable People, Where Do They All Come From?

In the wake of the court decision in the Florida case of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, I wish humanity could “wake up” and realize that all people are in need of and deserving of respect, no matter where they come from, what they look like, how intelligent or not they may be. The planet is not likely to survive very much longer, unless respect is bred and nurtured so that all people know they are needed and wanted.

There are so many people of various religious or social orders who feel they can say they are better than other people and that people who don’t believe what they believe or who don’t come from where they come from are outsiders, even worse, people who are no better than dogs. Such people are the vilest of hypocrites.

You are to treat the resident alien the same way you treat the native born among you—love him like yourself, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.  (Leviticus 19:34)

We all live on a fragile planet that would work for us better and longer if we were good stewards. The place to begin is for us all to realize that all life is integral, and perhaps even more symbiotic than the material lifestyles we fret about and foster.

Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 22:21)

Since the beginning of human existence, there has been injustice and inequity. Throughout the ignoble and iniquitous social history of humanity, women, children, the aged and ill, people with varying preferences of all sorts, foreigners and travelers, the highly intellectual, the mentally incapacitated and those who have been crippled or maimed, have each been over-run exploited, exiled, oppressed, trafficked or enslaved. In these cases, race might or might not be a factor, but most certainly, domination, generally by power hungry males of the species has been the common factor involved.

The LORD watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. (Psalm 146:9)

The same moral dilemma exists now, as ever. Is it right to oppress and suppress any group of people? Rhetorically, we know the answer to be NO, OF COURSE NOT. Every exemplar throughout time has advised that it is better to be good. Every monster throughout history has laughed in that person’s face and sentenced that person to death, invoking the “I can do anything I want because I am stronger than you are, so I don’t have to be good” logic of the sociopath.

If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the LORD gives us. (Numbers 10:32)

How can it be explained to controlling people, unscrupulous dictators, corrupt business leaders, hypocritical gurus and demagogues that human beings are the biggest natural resource on the planet? And in no way do I mean in terms of expendability. This is the cardinal error of the control monger, the bank executive, the authoritarian, the mob boss; the common thread of thinking, based on common actions and the results of such actions, is that people are expendable, that it is okay to use them, abuse them, even to use them up and dump them.

…when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are an expendable, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.; I changed “a Negro” to “an expendable” and added emphasis.)

Here is a truly radical statement: If we each cared about ourselves enough to extend that caring to everyone and everything around us, the entire world would be better off.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world... (Imagine, John Lennon)

Simplistic? A Pipe Dream? Or could it be an environmentally sound economic plan?

Right now, there is an amoral rationale among a jockeying and ever smaller group of people we might call “the Elite”—certainly these people think of themselves as such, and all the power they have and the decisions they make that affect your life and my life and the lives of people all over the world—who don’t seem to be related to us by anything other than an overwhelming powerlessness—follow the formula that says: use it up, use it all up, now and until there isn’t anymore. This is the formula of expendability. Natural oil reserves, once gone are gone forever. The drill, baby drill and frack, baby frack ethos has created a daisy chain of natural disaster waiting to happen—doesn’t anyone remember that the liquids in the ground are like joint lubricant? Pump it out, use it up, it's gone.

By the same token, we are sold and fed foods that are bad for us, so that we become unhealthy and in need of expensive medical care and drugs that frequently have known or unknown side-effects and unforeseen consequences. We are taxed on income and further taxed on homes, on transportation, infrastructure, indeed we are taxed because we are alive. This is more in the unbroken chain unsound economics; once we are pumped out, used up and gone, what next? Homelessness and worse is the answer to that question for a lot too many people.

I could be a bit in the nutty side—I’ll just go right ahead and admit that—but I think that we could build a better and more equitable community if we work the stewardship angle, where we do the very best we can do for ourselves and other people. If we keep the water clean, and make it available for everyone; if we grow natural food and make it available for everyone to purchase for their families; if we educate people for the sake of educating, rather than money; if we develop urban farming and new housing alternatives, not just here (wherever “here” is for you), but everywhere, we can create jobs that help the environment. Heck, even if all we did right now was to hire people to answer phones, we would improve the quality of life.

Do you see where I am headed? Right now, it is all about shooting down, cutting, eliminating, taxing, spending, expending, ravaging and stealing, diminishing, extinguishing.

Maybe the world would be different if we understood economic growth to be about all people equally (and responsibly) engaged in creating, making, growing, educating, earning, upholding, maintaining and sharing. If such a model were to emerge, it must work top-down as well as bottom-up; all need to be willing, invested and engaged. People: This is how you maintain your tax-base as an infinite resource, not just for earnings and for upkeep, but for GOOD!

If we lived in that kind of world, a man like Zimmerman might not have felt threatened or tweaked by the presence of a man named Martin, and we would be celebrating life, rather than arguing and rioting over laws that do not protect, legal decisions that allow people and governments and corporations to kill and steal, a way of life that makes us all expendable.

… time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity. (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now is, and has always been, the time; not just here, but everywhere.

If not now, when?

© 2013 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

La Habana, en versos libres: III. Dias Tres

No maracas bird, this morning,
to raise an alarm,
and the set alarm did not go off!

No time for breakfast,
neither for badly needed coffee.

Ah, the dream of coffee!
The lingering memory
of last night—the singing of
our friend Luis, the dinner,
the music,
dancing and dessert: flan—and
beautiful, rich coffee!

But the memory must suffice,
along with dried fruit:
time for class.

The intricacies of rumba
are the study of a lifetime;
a fluid language
of thought, word and deed,
of clavés, song and dance,
rising up out of the source
in exuberant expansion!

The Masters teach us
about the bembé,
and its unity of
batá, cantando and rumba party.

In the sacred batá,
the drums speak Lucumi,
the timeless language of friendship;
the drum toques call the orishas,
voicing six tones rhythmically
from three drums,
the Iyá, which is the call,
the Itótole, which is the response,
and the
Okónkolo, which is the time regulator.

But this is already too complex;
it is best just to remember
that drums, singing and dance
speak as a single voice.

How can the uninitiated
gain the key to this mystery?

The Masters, they know best;
they are patient and gentle;
to learn about the role of each drum,
they teach us clavé,
the timeless syncopated
two plus three,
or three plus two
pulses of son or columbia forms;
with their guidance,
the clavés transform
from hardwood in our hands
to heartbeat.

The crashing of our small victory
attracts the attention of passersby,
who press their faces against the window:
these songs, we know them well,
but who are these that try to sing them?

The granddaughter of Jesus
does the dance with us,
but has much better form.

This does not dim the joy of our progress;
the sun is bright on the Alameda
as we take our leave
—we feel we have earned our lunch!

Lynne, Dale, Amelie and Elisabeth
decided on the top floor
of Los Nardos;
there we split mixed grill platters,
reveled in the plantains,
delighted in the flan,
and the coffee.

Rushing back to the Hotel Plaza,
we gather our wits,
along with our music;
the tour bus has magically appeared.

To school we go,
in a neighborhood near La Rampa;
there we are met by a motorcyclist,
whose sidecar holds
a keyboard electric.

The instrument once assembled,
the singers assemble also;
we mingle with the young ladies
of Ensemble Choral Luna.

For them, we sing Barasuayo;
for us, they sing Java Jive,
with a Spanish accent;
then we sing Battle of Jericho,
and they sing a fantastic piece
we would love to learn!!

We rest for a moment,
the room warm,
yet cooled by a cross-breeze
through the open windows;
even so,
there is the snap
the cooling swish
of fans,
ancient technology from Spain,
by way of China
[few people, least of all Cubans,
know there is a Hand Fan museum
in Healdsburg, California].

We end our engagement
by mixing to share

The keyboard is disassembled
and returned to its origin
via the sidecar on the motorcycle;
both groups enter the bus,
and we are conveyed to Hotel Nacional,
where the ladies have an evening concert.

Coconut palms tower over coral stone
pavements: we walk on fossil record,
feeling cool breezes off the Caribbean Sea.

What more could we do today?

Ah, but there is still dinner to be savored.

© 2013 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

batá: set of three ethnic, sacred drums ceremonially used in the Santeria faith; these drums have their cultural origin in Yorùbá.
bembé: a Santeria ceremony that includes drumming, chanting and dance.
cantando: song.
columbia: a clavé rhythm also identified as a style of rumba
clavés: two hardwood sticks that beat the 2+3 or 3+2 rhythms key to the rumba polyrhythms
iyá: the largest of the batá drums, the “mother” drum
itótole: the middle sized of the batá drums, the “father” drum
lucumi: a Yorùbá dialect and the liturgical language of Santería
okónkolo: the smallest of the batá drums, the “baby” drum
orishas: a spirit or deity reflecting a manifestation of God in the Yorùbá spiritual system
rumba: a variety of Afro-Cuban dances
son: a clavé rhythm also identified as a style of rumba
toques: rhythm suites played during Santeria rituals

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

La Habana, en versos libres: II. Dias Dos

Soon after the late night cabaret,
sooner than sleep, a mere dream,
sooner than rest can hold
the slumbering heart,
morning arrives.

Few people realize
there is a bird
that makes a sound
very like maracas,
but there it is,
in the second floor courtyard
of the Hotel Plaza,
making sure all sleepers awake.

Some of us stagger upstairs,
where breakfast and sun can greet us,
but not coffee.

Then we run
down the very same streets
as yesterday,
to a small restaurant;
we are here to learn
a truer nature of song:
song is
rhythm is
dance is
música folklórica
is one,
divine act
--this is, of course,
a revelation.

rushing to find lunch,
with all the people
rushing to find lunch;
rushing to find water
with all the people
rushing to find water
--these take much of the day;
I prefer the agua sin gas,
por favor

A smaller walking tour,
to find reliable shops
and cadecas
takes longer than expected,
but we should all know better
--we are on Habana time.

Rushing into rehearsal,
we reinhabit
our soul journey songs.

The Spirit of Possibility
flies through one open portal
and out another,
a blessing on our efforts;
She is a songbird, of course,
and all the windows of Cuba
are open to Her.

The compositor de la música
has come to hear us
as we sing his music;
he is very formal,
but he did accept
our dinner invitation.

A shower of watery joy
bursts upon the terrace
and on all the city,
when the practice is done,
but we must run again,
to dress for evening
and catch the tour bus
that will take us
to meet our evening plans.

Under gathering storm clouds,
and rumbling thunder
immediately overhead,
the tour bus swallowed us up,
just as the rain begins again.

To Casa del Amistad
we go, for more,
but no mere music,
greeted as we are by
Orquesta Enrique Jorrin,
the legacy left by
the inventor of the cha cha cha.

A storm ensues,
perhaps a sign
that Changó
has joined the party.

Dinner, chicken or fish,
attracts a few stray cats,
who become beneficiaries
of a surreptitious largesse.

The ubiquitous mojitos,
followed by agua con gas,
Cocacola and bottles of Havana Club,
mix as you will.

We sang and danced
under storming skies,
we ate and drank;
the best parties
are those where
the stray cats are fed and
the servers also dance
to the magic of the music.

The storm passed,
the sunset was glorious,
and so was our evening,
our exchange of joy
in celebration
of musical meetings,
however fleeting.

© 2013 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen

La Habana, en versos libres: I. Dias Uno

Sharing gum on the plane,
preparing for sweetness,
drinking Fanta in the sky.

Applause erupts
as the wheels touch down;
“Thank-you for flying Sky King”,
Welcome to Habana.

The Chinese made tram,
carrying us from tarmac to terminal,
is new and smooth,
the Aeropuerto Nacional
is old and worn.

One guard only
scans the luggage
and shrink-wrapped goods,
but two guards
mind the spaniels on duty;
maybe petting is not allowed,
although they seem friendly.

At the Hotel Plaza,
mojitos await at the counter,
but the rooms are not ready
until after four o’clock.

A walking tour ensues
over La Habana vieja,
footsteps treading over footsteps
in this place bursting with sound
and with color
in the fluid heat.

Opulence interrupted,
this city has been alive;
though the faces and facades are worn,
vital blood and sugar still flow,
likewise the rum,
sold through open window shops.

The staccato of the tongues
and car horns
is like the beat of ageless drums;
this old town is kept new
by the child
beating on the drum
for our pleasure,
corazón of our corazón.

Lunch at Hotel Inglettera
incurs petty robbery loss,
while the salsa plays
and the Buccanero flows;
opportunities overflow
even in the most crowded room.

Transports from other ages
race all over town;
the racket and the fumes,
with the heat and humidity,
they roll over one,
as they settle on each edifice
and make their mark.

More to see,
more to do,
more to say,
but first to sing,
in this place
of unending song.

© 2013 by Elisabeth T. Eliassen