Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pass the Beret

Survision has been up in the blogosphere for almost one year! It's such a surprise to me that I've been able to do this, through a wild and woolly time, complete with sudden deaths, community-wide disaster, and ever more profound appreciation for this place I call home.

Blogging has been a wonderful, life-saving process for me. The feedback I've received from Survision readers has warmed the cockles of m' heart, as they say. What lovely souls you all are, thank you.

We're expecting an epic winter season, with mud-slides, flooding, and avalanches of rocks (check out this amazing "debris flow" You-Tube clip) thanks to the de-foliating power of the Basin Complex fire. Since I don't want to rely on unemployment, it feels like time to pass the blogging beret, so to speak.

Checking with the Big Sur Bakery, which makes the fanciest latté in town, I learned that the special local's price for this energizing libation is — $4.25.

So now, for the price of a once-a-month discounted coffee beverage, you can subscribe to Survision for ongoing news and whimsy from Big Sur!

Some of the topics I plan on continuing to develop include:

Profiles of our unique Big Sur children, their experience of growing up on the coast and where they're headed in the big bad world.

Our artists, painters, writers, sculptors, musicians and lovers: their inspiration, challenges and joys.

Big Sur Goddesses, some of the most awe-inspiring women around, full of deep wisdom and wild humor.

Celebrations of life in our majestic and sometimes demanding environment.

The beret sitting beside me on the Internet sidewalk is the bright yellow button to your left that says "Subscribe". It's just one tap of the mouse, there's that's it! Thank you.

Early morning fog tuck, Partington Ridge
Latté, Big Sur style

Aerial back country view post fire (the "O" marks our home)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Cricket in the House

In these last days of summer, I'm reminded of another reason (beyond the moon and the stars) that I live in Big Sur: the symphony of crickets that come out in the warm evenings to sing.

There's a huge community of serenading Gryllidae in our garden. Like La Tuna in Spain, they start up around sunset and go pretty much all night, chirping below our (imaginary) balcony.

I've always thought they harmonized beautifully: one group making a see-sawing chirp, the other a long, low hum. It's mesmerizing, soothing, the perfect lullaby for sleeping under the stars. The last time I listened to their concert this way, I saw a shooting star, truly one of life's great moments.

There's a tiny tribe that lives in the passion flower arch on our walkway. When we stand beneath it late at night, they give us an intimate performance, in surround-sound.

Last week, I cut some passion flower vines and put them in a vase above my bed. Late that night I was awoken by a lonely little green cricket, singing right next to me. It's considered good luck to have a cricket in your house in many cultures. It can mean the arrival of money (yes please!) or other good things.

So I did a little research on my insect friends. And, oh god, what did I find? (I should have known.) All those crickets are having sex (or crying out for it) especially this time of year, before the long, cold winter.

It's the males who sing, either to attract females (and repel other males) with the see-saw chirp or to broadcast their post-coital bliss to the heavens (the happy hum.) It's called stridulation, and they do it by rubbing their right forewing against the ribs on their powerful left forewing, kind of like playing a violin. Now that's exciting!

Where the crickets live

Monday, September 1, 2008

Be a Goddess

Or just move like one...

On my last day at Middle Eastern Dance and Music Camp in Mendocino this past week, I read this off the tiny skirt of the woman walking to breakfast ahead of me. I had to laugh. So that's what it's all about, moving like a Goddess, enjoying that siren song of immortal femininity. Moving like a Goddess will make you feel like one. It's true.

I'd accepted my dance teacher's challenge to spend a week in the Mendocino redwoods immersed in the scene: multiple classes a day, from Arabic singing to Persian dancing, with a full-tilt live music Middle-Eastern cabaret each night until dawn, no kidding. People of all ages and walks of life came to study dance, drumming, violin, kanun, zorna, nay, oud and more. My roommates were two little drummer girls from Santa Barbara and I felt like a shocked parent to hear them return each morning, usually, though not always, later than myself.

Watching Shoshanna, Ruby and Nadira dance the night away with their tribe of sisters, and joining in the joyous movement myself gave me some lovely, inspiring memories. Cabaret style belly dancers are truly the peacocks of the Middle Eastern dance world, and those of us transforming ourselves from ducklings to peacocks love the contact high of sensual, confident womanhood.

Men dance too! After Turkish dancer Ahmet Luleci's late-night cabaret performance, I teased him about his costume (or lack of one) "What, this Calvin Klein shirt's not good enough?" he laughed. While I may be a tiny bit biased, I don't think the men work as hard as the women at dancing...they strike magnificent poses, though.

"Translate the music with your body!" says renowned Arab percussionist and outstanding dance teacher Souhail Kaspar, (who reminded me a little of Yul Brynner in the 1956 movie The King and I.) "This is the way you can honor my culture." And of course, like learning a language, you have to learn it the way it's actually spoken by native speakers. To see the teasing between drummer and dancer was one of the best treats of my week. This kind of subtlety is lost when the dance goes completely fusion, with no consciousness of the art form's history, foundation or structure.

While American Bellydance specializes in a fusion of east and west, certain fundamentals of interpreting the music will always apply. That is, unless dancers want musicians to hear the metaphorical fingernails on the chalkboard when they perform in their luscious (and very expensive) Sheherazade costumes.

Dancers themselves are not necessarily passionately in love or more sensually fulfilled than the average Jane Doe. They face the same challenges as all women. But they are fulfilled in the dance, which is an expression of happiness within. They seem to live more in their womanhood. The body, after all, is often our greatest teacher. After much work and exploration, it is where our deepest truths can be found.

The real eye-opener (or ear opener) of the week was the beauty and power of dancing to live music. Lighthearted kanun player Hasan Issakut, with his million dollar smile (his friends say he's George Clooney's double) had no toys until he was 8 years old, when his gypsy Dad gave him a violin that became his “imaginary friend.” The first composition on his CD, "Joy Regardless" is titled, unabashedly, "I love you."

Lebanese-Palestinian violinist Georges Lamman, with his sweet pout and dour sense of humor, taught singing and violin. His students sang transliterated Arabic love songs, while he accompanied on his melancholy violin. A variety of drums kept everyone moving, the heartbeat of the week. The music is passionate, romantic, and festive. Passion, after all, is ultimately about pain, so much of the music is about lost love: I love you and I gave you my all, only to be scorned! Or dance and play now, these are the best times, when the Divine joins us on earth.

Yes, Middle-Eastern male musicians do have a well-deserved reputation. Not much drinking, but certainly a lot of focused appreciation for the feminine, fueled in part perhaps by all those ancient, seductive dance moves, mixed with passionate, joyous music. Find yourself in your body with the music and you will learn amazing things; about yourself, and about your community of fellow-travelers in this life.

A dancer, like an athlete, must do the work to create the high. It’s a practice art and even when the practice is boring, stressful, or disappointing in some way, we keep doing it. Through this work we reap the benefits of a healthier body and spirit. Constantly practicing the necessary mental and physical stength can eventually make the dance look easy. The true thrill is when that transformation takes place.

"Be a pretty martini glass," says Souhail's protegé Zeva, as we hit the downbeat with alternating feet, while Zajira of Black Sheep Belly Dance says she sees herself as one of those antique dolls with strings connecting rib-cage and pelvis. The pelvis hangs from those strings, which swirl around in our hip circles. The "urban tribal" dancers are the most committed in their way, with brightly colored hair and tattoos. It's a trance like form, with the leader guiding the troupe through spontaneous choreographies.

"What’s going on in my head is not always what’s really going on," says the beautiful Nadira, who gave a mesmerizing performance at the cabaret. Yet her internal state was quite different, critical, self-doubting. How funny! Standing in the bathroom, wrapped in our towels post-shower, we have a deep snippet of conversation about the nature of reality. Perception alone is not reality, instead it's a combination of perception and objective truth. The practice of this highly complex dance can lead one to think in these ways.

Dancers and musicians, like all performers, live most vividly in the Now, and understand that no one can do your work for you. This translates into a higher level of personal responsibility. While so much of what we achieve and learn happens in community, I alone am my pilot. No one’s coming to save me. Who'd have thought that this could be not only a liberating concept, but also an exciting one?

Gawahzee dancers of the 19th century
The divine Ruby
Ahmet in fine form
Ahmet & Hassan share a laugh
Souhail bangs the drum for Aisha
The lovely Janikea
Casbah stage
For more pics, go to my Flickr site!