Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hey Hey My My

There are times when I'm actually quite proud to live in this odd little place.  The other night, for only the second time in my life, I actually was able to see Neil Young in concert.  It was the first time since I saw him on a bizarre one man electric show during one of his experimental periods in the early 80s.  This was also, unbelievably, his first performance in Vermont in his long and unmatched career.  He seemed remarkably happy to be here, and a lot of this relates to the unabashedly liberal politics of the state and the fact that VT is leading the fight against GMO - hence the name of his album The Monsanto Years.  He gave $100,000 from the proceeds of the concert to back Vermont's legal fight.  In the end he is a man of principle, and that's odd in the today's world of media whores.

Here's a playlist, which I wanted to get down before it faded away.

After the Gold Rush
Heart of Gold
Long May Your Run
Old Man
Mother Earth (Natural Anthem)
Out On the Weekend
Unknown Legend
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
From Hank to Hendrix
Harvest Moon
Wolf Moon
Looking' For A Love
Moonlight in Vermont
A Rock Star Bucks a Coffee Shop
People Want To Hear About Love
A New Day for Love
Country Home
Down By The River
Workin' Man
Monsanto Years
Love And Only Love

Random reflections.  The experience is still too unsettled and raw for the construction of a unified essay; plus, I"m taking time away from grading and my own research/writing, but maybe I'll revisit this later.

I got really emotional as soon as soon as he appeared on stage and started singing After The Gold Rush.  Yes, I cried.  Growing up out in the middle of nowhere in southern Indiana he meant everything to me.  It was having someone out there who completely got the sense of alienation, but also oddly hope, that I felt.  I've listened to songs like Helpless probably tens of thousands of times, and they still give me goosebumps.  To see him, for what may be the last time (neither of us are getting in younger) was practically overpowering.  I just feel that for years his music kept me focused.  I think my mom was afraid that I spent way too much time listening to depressing music, but it actually had exactly the opposite impact.  It taught me that its OK to be sad, and that sitting in the dark quietly reflecting on the absurdity and cruelty of life, is actually a very healthy thing; and that in the end it gives you a greater love and appreciation for the inherent beauty of life.

Young can still bring it.  He's 69, and spent three hours thrashing with Promise of the Real, and a bunch of guys who are thirty or forty years younger than him.  Their versions of Down By The River and Love and Only Love were incendiary.

Before the show Kelly and I were enjoying some fried dough when Daryl Hannah walked up and asked us questions about it, mainly whether ir was sweet or savory and how it was made.  The best part of the experience was that Kelly clearly had no idea who it was, and when I told her after Hannah walked away she initially didn't believe me.  I had one of those odd experiences where within about seven nano-seconds I had three contradictory experiences: shit, that's Daryl Hannah; wait, that can't be Daryl Hannah; oh, yeah, that makes perfect sense, it's Daryl Hannah.  My only regret is that I didn't offer her some of the fried dough.

I had a great time with the excellent Kelly Thomas.  She's quite the Neil Young fan herself, which I discovered a couple years ago and I left her in possession of some of my NY CDs when I took off for the UAE for a year.  I thought for a long time that she really detested me (as many people do, quite appropriately), but now we've become great friends.  She's a good, gentle soul.

He played several songs that I would not have bet a tired dime that he would actually play in concert.  I liked that he play Words (Between The Lines of Age).  It's a song which I love a lot more in its rough form (a couple of his albums replicate twenty minute versions where he is tinkering with it, which better displays the complexity of the song) as compared to the final polished version.  He also played Lookin' For A Love.  It's rare to hear a song off Zuma other than Cortez the Killer.

I actually sort of liked the new songs from the Monsanto Years album.  They're a bit preachy, but you have to admire the fact that at 69 he's still passionate about things and won't back down.

Doubtless, more later, but it was an amazing night.  It made me feel that at 55 I can still accomplish things, and that, to paraphrase a line from one of his new songs, it's a bad day for doing nothin'.

The excellent Kelly Thomas on the way to get fried dough, and face mysterious destiny.

Kelly's great friends Chris and Carolyn.  I didn't get to spend enough time with them, but they seem like great folks.  I did get to chat with Carolyn about Young and Lucinda Williams, and these are obviously essential foundations of an excellent person.

It was odd, in some ways, to have the concert at the Fairgrounds, but we're a small state and this is our biggest venue, which may also explain why Young had never made it to Vermont before the other night.  It was a night that threatened storms, but in the end only provided a wonderful backdrop to an amazing concert.  The lightning in the distance made the end of the concert even better.

A terrible picture, but an amazing moment.  Neil's first song was After The Gold Rush, with the requisite replacement of "in the 1970's" with "in the 21st century."  I cried as soon as he started singing.  It's hard to express what his music has meant to me over the decades.

Monday, July 20, 2015

My Actual Night in Wadi Rum

In a previous post I discussed the amazing night we spent in the Wadi Rum, and, truthfully, I will never forget it.  We're already discussing our next trip to Jordan, which will have to include at two nights, hopefully more, in the Wadi Rum.  However, I didn't actually get to sleep in that lovely little desert hut that was reserved for me.  As is well documented, I have profound sleep apnea, which would mean that trying to sleep without my CPAP machine is almost impossible - I definitely wouldn't sleep much, and my extraordinary snoring would assure that no one else would get any sleep at all.  Still, I had warned the students and Cyndi, and positioned myself as far away from others as possible, and just decided to cowboy up and accept that it was going to be a bad night (and brutal next day).  However, we were sitting in the large communal tent when I noticed a plug-in, which, I discovered, was fueled by solar power.  I asked if I might be able to sleep on the floor in the tent, and the Jordanian who ran the camp, as one would expect from a Jordanian (famous for their hospitality) immediately set up a little bed on the floor - and they even went out of their way to be quiet and prematurely shut down the party of a group of German tourists in the other part of the communal tent.  And, so, here is my bed, replete with my CPAP machine, which has toughed it out and traveled all over the world with me, and once again helped me pull through what might have been a bad night.  It ended up being a great night, and I rose, a little achy, but prepared to tackle Petra.

Not a bad set up, all things considered.  They dragged a slight mattress and a large pile of blankets, and I survived the cold desert night just fine.

My Summer with Proust, Eventually

Recently I was making the point, actually, quite honestly, that I was hoping to get most of my research (an impossible task) for the epics project done by next summer that I could devote the time to reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past.  Not surprisingly, I was immediately attacked, albeit gently, by my friends because the statement was either immeasurably self-serving or the absolute definition of something a nerd would say.  My supposition is that it is probably about 10% of the former and 90% of the latter, although I may be cutting myself too much slack.  That said, I have been thinking about reading Proust (I think I made it through most of the first two books, but that was around twenty years ago), and the notion of setting aside an entire summer to focus on it seems like a wonderful way to spend one's time (sadly, and appropriately, the only person, besides myself, who thinks this is an excellent idea is my great friend Sanford Zale).  Part of the project would be finding someone to meet once a week for coffee so that we could discuss Proust (the picture below is truly representative expression of the responses to my proposal.  Secondly, I'd like to write every day, probably in this blog, on my reflections on that day's reading, and then tie it to deeper explorations of Proust's ideas and how they related to my own life and memory (as Proust reminds us, the memory of a particular image is just regret over a particular event).  So, I'd reflect on the words of Proust, and then tie them to a specific memory of my own.  And then just see where it takes me, either in the direction of an introduction to Proust or a novel.  So far, no takers on the coffee front, but I'll keep plugging away.  Now, all I need to do is get this book on the epics completed . . .

My excellent friend Heidi Steiner-Burkhardt.  The look on her face tells all you need to know of her response to my proposal that we meet weekly in the summer to discuss Proust.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ride of Heroism

Normally once we start biking we try and eventually work our way up to a big ride late in the season.  However, we've essentially screwed ourselves because Andy and I, on one of our first rides, embarked and successfully completed a heroic 62 mile bike ride.  Now, to be fair, we weren't actually be supposed to go that far, but, per usual, my sense of direction is so profoundly bad that I ended up tacking on another twenty miles because I wasn't even close on my mileage calculations.  Our initial goal was to take off and cross the causeway to go as far as Allenholm Farms, but we made it there so quickly and effortlessly that I proposed we might consider heading up to Hero's Welcome, which, in my words, "couldn't be another five miles."  Well, technically, I was right, because it was actually 14 miles.  I thought Hero's Welcome, which is a great store and post office and pizzeria and sandwich shop was on the southern tip of North Hero Island, and, typically, it was on the north tip of North Hero Island.  It did give us a chance to eat three meals along the way, and still feel good about it.  However, and cycling back (no pun intended) to the original point, we're now talking about tackling a 100 mile ride.  I'm such an idiot.

Meeting Andy at our usual spot at Waterfront Park.  Little did we know the heroism that awaited.

The causeway, which runs miles out into the lake, and which, amazingly, I've never driven my bike off.

The bike ferry, which, a few years ago, was a very small deal that only ran a couple weekends in the height of the summer.  Now it runs every day all summer, and sometimes the queue is so long that you have to wait a turn to board.

And why there has to be a bike ferry.  We decided that Andy's idea of saving money by putting the bikes on our shoulders and swimming across needed more analysis.  We have purchased the year pass so now we can cross whenever we want.

Yes, a hero's welcome at Hero's Welcome.  It was fun until we did the calculations and figured out that it was 31 miles back home.  Doh!

Our last break for snacks - corn dogs and milk shakes at Seb's, next to the ruins of Ebeneezer Allen's tavern.


Oh, and, of course, on the way back from the CFL game we had to stop at Tim Horton's for Timbits, which we have thoroughly mythologized (which, to be honest, we do with most things).  I can even tell you which stop on the New York Thruway (Angola) has the Tim Horton's.  On the way up Andy and I were trying to figure out why we don't come up to Montreal more - and then sitting in traffic for an hour and a half at midnight on a Thursday night we remembered.

I hope some students come late for class tonight and bring me some Timbits as a propitiatory offering, although I'm not too certain of the logistics since there are no Tim Horton's in Vermont.


I don't know why it took us so long to drive up to Montreal for CFL games.  As I've discussed before, I've actually been a fan of the CFL for a long time, but it certainly took an almost equally long time to rally to cross the border.  Last year we went to our first CFL game and this year we're shooting for two, and then next year we'll take advantage of the discounted three game ticket package.  There was some talk this time of a larger contingent heading north, but conflicting schedules - and the fact that Mike Lange was not back from his sabbatical away in Newfoundland (why he didn't just swing by on the drive back and meet us in Montreal is still a bone of contention) - meant that only the excellent Andy Burkhardt and I made the trip (which is really OK, because we're the biggest CFL fans anyway).  We attended the Montreal Alouettes home opener this season when they were playing the dreaded Ottawa REDBLACKS, who were an expansion team last year (getting the CFL back up to nine teams).  Andy likes them, and they may be his favorite team - or it may be the Calgary Stampeders (I can't mock him because I have three favorite CFL teams, so a third of the league) - because one of their alternative jerseys features plaid.  I like them because their team name is completely in capitals, which I'm pretty certain is a first in professional sports.  Truthfully, if I thought they had chosen REDBLACKS as an homage to Stendahl then they would probably be my favorite team (they did have great fans).  Sadly, and typically, the Alouettes lost in heartbreaking fashion, but it was fun nonetheless.

The Alouettes were led out by number 19, S.J. Green, who really tried to fire up the crowd, which made him Andy's favorite player.  We decided that his career was based on the notion that if you can't afford A.J. Green - and don't really need catches from your wide receiver - then sign S.J. Green.

We bummed around in the tailgating area before the game, which was pretty cool, although we thought more would be going on.  As is well known, the western conference CFL teams (Montreal is, naturally, in the east) are better at tailgating.  Andy wore his plaid shirt to show his support for the REDBLACKS.

We stopped at a quiet little bar for a couple beers before the game and had the place to ourselves, which was weird because all the other bars near the stadium were packed.  It probably didn't help that the ATM and credit card machine was broken.  A nice guy came in to fix it while we were there, and apparently was using a jackhammer and a drill.  Still, they, like all Canadians, were incredibly nice and we'll definitely revisit.

To me, a well known gourmand, the high point of the trip was the smoked meat at Schwartz's Deli, a short walk from the campus.  We're discussing the very real possibility of going back just for a trip to Schwartz's and tailgating, and not actually going to the game.  However, we love the CFL, so that's just crazy talk.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

What a Bad Picture

I just stumbled across this picture from a million years ago.  It was snapped on my first trip to Dubai in the UAE, so it must have been around 2003.  I was travelling with a Champlain College team visiting our branch campus and we were dragged to one of those tourist desert trips complete with jeep rides (which I don't love but can handle) and the requisite belly dancers, usually Russian prostitutes (as my friends can tell you, I have a complete aversion to belly dancing and this is inevitably when I drift away into the desert).  This is my old friend Peter Straub.  We were dragooned into putting on the "traditional" garb, which is doubtless why we look so uncomfortable.  It's something that first-time visitors to any region are pushed into doing as a means of showing empathy and understanding for a new culture, but that somehow ends up having the exact opposite effect.  As a person who has grown to love the Arabic world for some reason I find that this picture makes my skin crawl (although, truthfully, I'm not certain exactly why).  However, as a historian, I felt the need to include it anyway.  I'm also amazed at how elephantine I was in this picture, which was me at my heaviest (shortly before I started going to the gym every day - not that it ever seems to do any good).  Annoyingly, Peter looks exactly the same, and I just continue to age dramatically.

As Steve Wehmeyer always opines, I am one of those "desert-loving English," although I don't love this picture.  We both look tangibly uncomfortable, not because of the Arab connection but because we were being pressed to "play Arab."