Friday, July 31, 2015

#ROW80 – THE DEATH OF CECIL THE LION AND THE BANALITY OF EVIL


Like everyone in the world this week, I have been saddened and hurt in a way that I had to work through and try to decipher just WHY I hurt so profoundly and so deeply over the death of a cherished and favorite lion, named “Cecil” who lived in the Zimbabwe Animal Reserve and was lured out of the park, by trackers who have had trouble with poaching laws previously, then, shot with a bow and arrow and tracked for forty hours before being shot to death with a rifle, then beheaded and skinned. The person who was responsible for these actions is an American Dentist out of Bloomington, Minnesota, named Walter James Palmer and his supposed “hobby” is big-game hunting. He paid $55,000.00 American dollars for the rights to commit this heinous action. The two trackers who lured Cecil out of his safety zone, illegally, and were arrested, arraigned and paid 1,000.00 each for bail and released the same day, will still have turned a profit for their company, and the country of Zimbabwe, presumably. But, I'll get to that in a moment.


Lions are the most companionable of all the big cats. They tend to live in prides, and families, when the females no longer breed. This batch lives on a preserve in Russia and is quite large. They are part of a larger group; Russia has worked harder and India have worked longer and harder than anyone to preserve and turn the loss of the big cats around and are actually seeing small increases in their tiger populations.

Never mind the fact that there are fewer than 20,000 fewer African lions living in the wild. Never mind the fact that there are fewer than 3200 tigers living in the wild. Never mind the fact that Jaguars and Panthers, ALL of the big cats are on the endangered list; some more than others. Never mind the fact that, yes, this man spent his money his way, and it was his to do with as he wished. I've heard no compelling argument about wildlife management, since this happened. The fact is, that Cecil left behind many cubs, which will be killed by any competing males, and I understand that as few as six or as many as twelve cubs – exponentially, that's a huge loss – were fathered by Cecil. I did hear one man complain about his name, as in being named for Cecil Rhodes of Rhodesia, who was an enforcer or apartheid. I asked him, “Would there be more outrage if the lion's name were “Nelson” like, for “Nelson Mandela”? A ridiculous and stupid question, and it did nothing to answer my question about why we are so upset and traumatized over this.


Lion Rampant; the national symbol of Scotland. A male lion in the wild is expected to live an average of 13 to 15 years. In captivity, from 15 to 20 years. Regardless of this, the hierarchy of the Pride dictates that the reigning male must be able to fend off all challengers and by all accounts, Cecil was a healthy, adult, male lion. With three lionesses and six to twelve cubs, the Pride was extremely healthy. Any of the "cousins" or other adult males around, will most likely kill the cubs to pass on their own genetics, but, in the end, we're all poorer for it, as there are fewer than 20,000 African lions in the wild.

One scientist has stated that it has to do with the fact that humans don't relate to many animals, which very well may be the case, but I've stopped people from being cruel to supposedly unfeeling creatures such as fish. So, I don't think that's the case, and have stopped a man here beating his dogs, which any right-thinking and sane person would do. After I scared the absolute shit out of that guy, I called the police. I think he was glad I did. It's not the first time people have been happier to deal with the police than with me. But, what I think the absolute mind-boggling rage is over is how utterly plain and banal this guy is. He's us. I'm not the first person to make this connection, but we forget. When we forget, we get things, like Auschwitz, waterboarding, and we cross lines that are morally not acceptable under any circumstances.


In a bizarre moment of sch├Ądenfreude, I thought I was looking at Vladimir Putin, until I realized THIS asshole wants to BE ole Vlad. But then, I realized this guy looked like a complete milquetoast. I could kick his ass, easily, with one hand. Be careful what you wish for Dr. Walt. It sure sucks to be you, right now.

It's like when Adolph Eichmann was on trial for war crimes in Israel in 1962. He was the “Man in the Glass Booth”. He had been giving testimony and he was just this guy in a drab every-day man's suit. He looked like your accountant. Or an attorney. Just a guy. While he was giving his testimony, some man who had been in Auschwitz and was in the panel to give testimony against Eichmann, just keeled over and fainted dead away. Pandemonium ensued in the courtroom in Israel and the courtroom had to be cleared. When they got the witness back up on his feet, and got him some water, they asked him what had happened. He replied, “I just realized that what I expected to see as Evil wasn't. It was just this man. In a suit. He was just this petty thing. Banal.” Or, as Stephen King has called it “Evil” with a little “e”. That's what bothers me about this guy. 

Look around; we have Ferguson. We have the abrogation of our privacy; just cheerfully giving it away under the Patriot Act. Oh, I know the Act is supposed to be "dead", but when has the genie ever been put back into the bottle? It never happens. As Americans, we've had our III, IV, V, IX and XIV Amendments abrogated under the Patriot Act by the NSA and had our information willingly handed over by several large *cough* -- Verizon, I'm lookin' at you *cough* telecommunications firms and Microsoft to sift through our records and private conversations, using warrentless wiretaps. We have police on the streets who do not know how to protect the citizenry, much less themselves and committing murders and covering them up. This is just crazy. We need to really stop, and look and see what WE, as a human race are becoming and go back to what really worked. 

You cannot tell me that there is not a spark of divinity in each one of us and I am not here to argue religion. But to blindly follow a belief, or to throw money around and spend more than you need to on despicable things such as trophy-hunting is wrong. If you're a decent human being, your heart should tell you so. You don't need a priest or a rabbi or an imam to tell you this. If you are saying hurtful things to be mean, stop. If you are working an angle to swindle some other guy out of a few bucks, don't do it. Look at yourself in the mirror each day, and at least, AT LEAST, try to commit to making the world a bit better place. We seem to be heading towards some epoch of barbarism that makes no sense in a time, when we are better able to become enlightened, learn more and live longer, with less.


They say there is no love like a mother's love and I believe that to be true. These lionesses also have hearts as big as the outdoors. See what the lioness below does after she kills a baboon and discovers that baboon had a baby.

I truly think trophy-hunting should be stopped, world-wide and now! Stop. It! By doing this, we do encourage poaching, which then leads to stupid things like tigers ending up in wine. The ironic thing about this, is I am taking part in a 3-week challenge with my clan and it's for WWF, the World Wild-Life Foundation in bringing awareness to just how endangered all of the big cats are. Or course, it's not just the cats, but bears, musk ox, anything you can think of, but trophy-hunting is just evil and needs to stop. That $55,000.00 the Dr. Walter James Palmer spent on shooting this magnificent lion could have built schools, funded infrastructure, put people through college, or started a fund to protect endangered species. Just because someone has all this money to blow does not mean that they get to spoil the planet and kill resources that are already in peril. If we are going to spend money on this continent, it should be money spent, helping these people become educated, so the exploitation stops. It stops with the diamond mines of Kimberley and it stops with the minerals and other gems and big game. Just. Stop!


I understand the Obama Administration wants Dr. Palmer to call them for a little “chat”, which is a huge horse-laugh, because don't we have the crackerjack NSA with all their spying ability nonsense? Can't they just sift through their dailies for Dr. Palmer's GPS locations, like they do with every one else who ends up getting arrested. At the risk of getting off point, it just sounds to me like Dr. Palmer went dark, threw out all his iPhones, bought burners and got the hell off the grid.


Adolf Eichmann in the glass booth in Israel, in 1962. The picture in the corner shows him when he was a member of the Schutzstaffel, or SS. The Jewish man who fainted upon first seeing Eichmann in a plain business suit realized that Eichmann wasn't this monster and that he had focused on the uniform. "The man could have been one of us," the witness said. Eichmann was found guilty and executed in Ramla, Israel, 1 June, 1962

At any rate, who even knows if any good will come from this. Jane Goodall said that this may be a silver lining, and “wake people up”. I do think that Jane is a tad na├»ve here, because the bastards are everywhere. What CAN be done, is to make the fines so abhorrently stiff, or make any breaking of the laws, such as the Lacey Act, which Dr. Palmer is being invited to “chat” with the Obama administration about come with some prison time, and HARD time. Banal won't do very well in a super-max.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

#CHERISH – WOLF


We are writing about objects that we cherish and have so much meaning in our lives. Mine is my viola, named “Wolf” by his luthier, who cared for him, when I lived in Detroit, Michigan. Fine instruments are given names by luthiers; I am not sure why that is. I acquired Wolf when I was eighteen years of age, getting ready to start college, and my mother didn't want me to start on a “block of wood” as she termed it. The luthier in San Francisco who sold us the viola, bought “him” from an estate sale, of a woman who had died in her late 70s. She had developed something like MS or some motor disorder and had been a young violist in the San Francisco Symphony. Wolf was found in her closet after her passing.


The one time I don't want a picture of the cat, she sneaks in; the bow is German-made, by Richard Grunke, and at 72 grams is the heaviest viola bow made.

She had all of his papers and provenance, so there is no question that he is a Guidantus Florenus of the Bolognese school of violin making, not the Cremonese school, which turned out the lovely Stradivarius, Amati and Guarneri instruments. You can go on for days and days about different makers, houses, schools, blah blah blah. I have all the viola I need right here. When I first played Wolf, I could not believe the sound that came out of this small, unassuming looking instrument. It was huge! The lower notes were full and rich, the higher ones were sweet and piercing without stridency. I had to take this instrument to my professor to have him listen. There is an adage: "Don't buy the first instrument you play" and naturally, this was the first one I played!


Florenus had some odd little things that he would do with his instruments; here, he has managed to match up 2 pieces of maple so that Wolf appears to have "stripes" the length of his back.

I took him to my professor, the good and kind, late Dr. Jakey and we went to the concert hall. I played Wolf, while he walked around the hall and listened. He had me turn my back to him, because conversely, the viola's sound is projected through the back of the instrument, due to it's size, and not the f-holes, like the violin (probably more than you want to know, but there it is) and he walked up and down, back and forth. Then, he played and I did pretty much the same thing. There wasn't a false note on the instrument, no matter how high up the register, or high up you played on the lower strings. The viola was just solid and so rich. Wolf "plays easily" too. By that I mean, he's a dream to play. I had a viola once that I was trying to sell for a friend, and I felt like I'd been in a cat-fight every time I played it.


Another "hallmark" of Florenus' house (usually several members of one family worked on a "bench" or for a "house" - Antonio Stradivarius passed on his fiddle-making to his sons) is that his f-hole work looks like cavemen chiseled them out with rocks. Interesting, since he took such care with the backs, but then, wait until you see the scroll!

Before Wolf got his name, I had to have some work done on him. I took him to my luthier in Detroit, Michigan. I needed to have all of his pegs changed out to rosewood, his fingerboard was beveled as was the custom in the 18th century and needed to be smoothed out and evened, I wanted to have him outfitted with matching chin rest and end pin to match his pegs. He also had a tiny, tiny crack on the front and that needed to be fixed. The luthier, Peter, said he could do all of that, but would have to take the top off. I went into a near-frenzy. I think all players do that. He said, "relax, just going to put a tiny cleat on that crack underneath". 


Wolf is small compared to most violas; 15 and 7/8" inches, instead of 16 1/2, or 17 inches, but because he is "fat" between his front and his back, he is able to project the kind of sound much larger violas produce. He can pretty much out-shout bigger ones, but then I have a "heavy" arm and have had to learn to back off and play with a lighter arm, when necessary. Now, that I'm back playing symphonically and no longer a free-range violist, I actually have to pay attention to the dynamics. When I toured with rock 'n' roll bands, like Styx and the Moody Blues, no one gave a hoot about dynamics. 

He went off to do his voo-doo, while I paced around and fretted. Peter came back in a bit, and said, "come here, I want you to see this?" I'm thinking, "oh geeze, he's gonna tell me the thing's got termites." So we go back into his inner sanctum, and he's taken the top off of Wolf. First off, there's a dust bunny in there, that's been there so long and is so huge, it's viola-shaped. Just kidding. Peter shows me where he fixed the tiny crack and the set of pegs, chin rest and tail or end pin, that he's picked out for Wolf. Wolf is not a deep red, or mahogany; he's blond and his varnish is also a softer varnish. That's another thing string people yap about; varnish. For days. 


This is a true Florenus scroll. It's out of kilter. It looks like something that got left out in the sun and kind of melted. There is no symmetry and I laugh every time I see it. If I were to have no provenance or proof of Wolf's lineage, an appraiser would look at this, his f-holes and his back and go, "yep, Florenus". They're all horrible. It's like Florenus just didn't care, at least about the head-on part of it. 

Anyway, Peter is looking at Wolf's scroll and his front, deep in thought. He says, "Mary, I've seen this viola before." I'm like "Orly?" in my head. Peter goes to his catalogs. Luthiers have very, very expensive catalogs that are updated every so many years with notable string instruments. He hunts around for a certain year and pulls out this book. It's huge and it's heavy and he flips through it to the "F" section and there is my Florenus. I was pretty shocked. I told him I have the bill of sale. I had to have the instrument authenticated and insured, but Peter named him "Wolf" because of his huge, at times gruff sounds on his lower strings. Another weird convention: Wolf is a "him" because I'm female. This is not etched in stone, it is more a tradition that has gone on through the centuries, among luthiers and string players. 

Wolf and I have been a team now for nearly 41 years; that's longer than any of my marriages have lasted and longer than the time I had my father in my life. Wolf is by my side pretty much all the time, and we have had our adventures, and our disasters, although I make sure that if it's gonna get physical, I take the brunt of it, like falling off a stage. Ribs can heal; it's damnably hard and expensive to fix an Italian Aristocrat. This happened to a friend of mine; I completely understand his “tuck and roll” move.


I do have to give Florenus this much. When it came to the serif and the profile, there were few better. The sweep from the serif up to the crest is gorgeous. The only prettier one I've seen is on a Gofriller cello. All in all, Wolf is a spectacular instrument! I'm so fortunate to have him.

In an eery coincidence, several years ago, I developed a motor disorder and it was though that I would not play again. Understandably, this may have been caused in part by about 10 or 15 years of total hell – went blind, had congestive heart failure, during which time, husband got a girl friend, left his cheating ass, tried to buy a house with the settlement, lost it in econ meltdown of 2008, got sick AGAIN and HOMELESS, this time – and at one point, I just wanted to lay down in my traces like a tired old cart horse and not get up. But, that's not what we do in my family. We come roaring back, and are usually made stronger by whatever set us back on our pins in the first place.

But, the motor disorder, is in fact inherited and I had been displaying symptoms for many years. They just chose to become overt and I was unable to play. Well. Shit. After two years of fighting with a bunch of quacks who call themselves “neurologists” I was set up through the Parkinson's Foundation with a world-class neurologist, who had me diagnosed and out the door in well under 2 years. Understand, that neurological problems typically take from 6 to 10 years for a diagnosis. Within a year, I was playing again. I joined the local symphony and took it head-on. We started our season with Beethoven's 5th Symphony (Oh, I should mention, Beethoven is my muse, not just for music, but for life) and ended with Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony for Big Orchestra, and gave a seminal performance. I am so thrilled to be able to make music again on this level! It was just a dream, but to have Wolf? Icing on the cake and I'm making up for lost time!


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

#IWSG – JULY 2015 CHECK IN – ARE THERE ANY SECURE WRITERS?


Last Friday as I was doing my Tweet 'n' Sing-alongs, where I shout out the SONG OF MY PEOPLE to my followers, the delightful NikkiMcCormack stopped me in my tracks. She asked me “Are there any SECURE writers?” I really had no answer and had to stop and think. I haven't even PUBLISHED, although, my blog posts were stolen and posted on another site, and I had to threaten legal action to get the site to take them down, so they are apparently good enough to steal. But is any of my writing good enough to ask people to fork over their hard-earned money for? I'm too insecure to find out. 


My darling Nikki, gave me her consent to show the world, that she is in fact, a jumping spider whisperer. 

The legendary “jumping spider whisperer”, the afore-mentioned Ms. McCormack IS published and is a superb writer and I really don't even know how to get a quarter of the way to that point. I understand a lot of work, editing, gnashing of teeth and crying is involved. I have enough of that going on right now in playing the viola, after a long absence, due to a motor disorder, which a very excellent neurologist fixed, after 10 years of worsening symptoms. This does not mean that I can't pretend to be the “Renaissance Man” or woman in the 21st Century.

But, back to the secure writers, as opposed to the secure musicians? Musicians are hams, even when they're bad. Play it proud and play it loud, even when it's out of tune. I have a coffee cup that says “Tune it or Die” even though I don't drink coffee. I take it out of my case, backstage, when I'm warming up, to set up a perimeter. I have perfect pitch; you don't work on it or earn it, you're cursed with it, and boy howdy, is it a curse. Some of these cats need to find new jobs, use mutes, or play pianississimo, not fortississimo behind my back, when I don't know they're the. . . HOLY CRIPES ON A CRACKER! WARN A PERSON! IT SOUNDED LIKE A GARBAGE CAN LID! It hurts to hear things played out of tune; it also is weird to hear things played in different keys than they were originally written in, say for instance, the "Hallelujah Chorus" which was originally written in D Major and I played it once in C Major. It was just. . . odd.
I think perfect pitch is much like eidetic memory. I can go years without hearing a piece, or playing it, and I know exactly what note it starts on. I thought that was weird until, in college, my viola professor said, don't you know you have perfect pitch? D'oh.

I remember hearing a story about a rather well-known and very good writer, who went to another author's book release party. There were several other writers there as well. The first author greeted his host, got his drink and cowered behind a potted plant for most of the party, too afraid to mingle. Across the room, he saw several other refugees hiding out from the mingling part as well. He spent most of the party in his little hole, until he felt he could safely make his good-byes and left.


This cracked me up; such a downer that you know it's NOT true!

Actually, good musicians are so very critical about their own playing, but what musicians do is but a moment in time and then it's gone, as opposed to what a writer does is forever. We're constantly trying to perfect our technique, so that each moment is a gem, each one is memorable. The best we can do though, since we never truly master these beasts; the violas or violins or cellos, or whatever, is we learn to minimize the flaws and bring out our virtues. I've been told I'm really good at playing during the rests.


I don't know what I'm working on, as far as writing, at present. Back at the end of May, we finished our symphonic season with a superlative performance of Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5, for Big Orchestra. This symphony probably saved Shostakovich's life for it's stirring triumphant 4th movement, as he was in very dire straits with Joseph Stalin in 1936. We were still receiving congratulations on our performance two weeks after the end of the season, but it was a very schizophrenic time for me. My life partner, who had been ill for the past two-and-a-half years was dying, and we had Hospice in our home. I came home from that last concert, and never changed my concert black for the next ten days until he died on Wednesday, May 13th, 11:15 am. Not due to any symbolism, although it was fitting, but there was always something for me to do for him. His final coma was brief and his passing was so very peaceful; it was transcendent. I am just so very glad that he was able to pass away here, in his home, with me here. It is what he wanted.

Grief is a funny thing. We met in a homeless shelter 5 years ago, and I so wish that we would have more time together and I fought his decision to die (he signed a DNR) but that was HIS life, and as much as we loved each other, his pain was too terrible for him to bear, and going against him just made it worse. Once I accepted it, we made every day together as much fun as two people can under the circumstances. We said our goodbyes and "I love you's" a million times a million. When he couldn't speak, we said it with our eyes, until he was no longer lucid. My grief has been more for the things we could have done together, not in the things we didn't do. Before he fell ill and became sicker and sicker, we did lots together, so there are no resentments, no bad feelings. He is at rest and I am glad of that. I did something right and good, by helping a fellow human through his last days, and I would gladly do it again. I understand now why people become hospice nurses. I am over the deep grieving part and I have so many fond memories of him. Enough for the rest of my life.


Jim, talking to his best friend in Ohio.

I'll always miss him; he was so good to me, but I do him no honor by not moving on and playing and writing and doing nerdy computer things and gaming; the things I love to do. He knows that. So, this is a time for me to figure out where I'm going and what's next. Thanks for listening, #IWSG. And we're not really insecure; just monumentally confused, at times. But, dammit, writers are GREAT! (I'm not there yet, ever striving to be so!)