Friday, December 19, 2008

Travlin' Music

I was in college when I first started traveling frequently by plane, between Florida and the Northeast on Delta or the defunct MetroJet by USAirways. This was the late 90s and my musical horizons, already broad for having grown up with a band directing father and a soprano-singing mother, were being expanded even further beyond R&B and Miami bass by the international students I interacted with on my internship program in DC, and by a good buddy who studied in Boston and put me onto his own discoveries. Now, electronic (particularly drum-and-bass and lounge/chillout) and world music have become the staples of my aural diet.

One of the first groups to catch my ear and have a permanent space on the playlist was Sade's band, Sweetback. Their self-titled first album dropped in 1996, chock full of songs originally written for their Afro-British muse but sung on this CD by neo-soulsters like Maxwell and Amel Larrieux. Two instrumental tracks, however, have a special transportative power and, when listened to on an airplane, seem to progress at the same speed as the plane traveling over the Earth. "Chord" gives you daytime Atlanta-to-DC while "Walk of Ju" takes you over New York and Philly at night. Ignore the videos and just listen.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


So, in spite of an intense desire to my last US home base amidst the radiant energy of a socio-political paradigm shift, and a $550 ticket from Colombia to NYC (close enough) for the occasion, I have concluded that it's probably in my best (financial) interest not to go to the inauguration in DC. I would have had to borrow money or be sponsored to every event I went to, mooching off of my very hospitable friends, but still starting 2009 in debt, which is never a good idea. My Brazil trip can't be cancelled because I'm going with friends and taking advantage of that cheap airfare would mean taking four days of unpaid leave from my job to comply with the flight dates. Like I said in the comments on my "Decisions" post, the cold or the crowds weren't reasons to stay fact, I was looking forward to being squeezed on the Metro with thousands of other people - Americans of every ilk - excited about a new chapter in our country's history, smiling from excitement and shouting "Yeah!" and "Yes We Can!" and "Obama!" before even exiting the station. I was looking forward to the parties and the conversations and the old and new friends I'd meet and the job offers I'd get (truly) and the photos I'd take and witnessing political anticipation buzzing through the proletariat. But, like this year's Olympics and Sade's last concert (waaaaay back in 2001), I'll have to chalk up missing the inauguration to another instance of not being able to do it all.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

From the AV Room: Rio de Janeiro

No, they don't show the crime and poverty; you can watch City of God for that. Just look, listen, absorb. When I see the people waving at the end, I always get a lump in my throat and find myself smiling. That's saudade.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


So, the plane ticket to the inauguration of our noble president-elect, Barack Hussein Obama, costs around $800. If I spend it, I'll miss out on:

-Three days of work, unpaid.
-Either a Buenos Aires or Salvador da Bahia add-on to my end-of-the-year romp in Brazil.
-A trip to Cuba in February with some of my best friends from the States.
-New York for Spring Break.
-A new digital camera (the one I have now is very "first generation").
-A new iPod (well, an iPod, as I currently don't own one and this Discman is looking more and more like an 8-track player every day).
-Possibly Mexico in March with another one of my cool peeps.

Now, I know you're thinking that all these things couldn't possibly be worth $800, which is true when considering the individual price of each item. However, when taking into account the accrued interest, fees, and surcharges that go along with robbing Peter to pay Paul, the end amount spent becomes compounded.

If I do go, I'll be making a long-overdue and much-needed visit to Washington, where I lived as a sometime political operative before moving to Colombia. I'll be amongst virtually all of my very best friends in life (and get to see my undergrad university especially represented since our band, the world-famous Marching 100, has been invited to perform). And we'll be witnessing the one and only time that the first black president of the United States is sworn into office. I mean, I'm the history teacher for chrissakes...shouldn't I be there for this one and only history-making life-changing event?

I have to decide by next week.


Note: If this post sounds strange and flighty to you, then you should know that I am indeed a sufferer of vagabond neurosis.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Faces of Tragedy

On November 12, 2001, American Airlines Flight 587 from JFK to Santo Domingo crashed in a residential area of Queens, killing all aboard and five on the ground. On October 23, 2006, a fire ripped through a packed city bus in Panama City, Panama, killing eighteen people, mostly women and children. I was reminded of these two events by this post on writer Lara Dunston's cool travel guide. In the post, Lara talks about her stay at Mumbai's recently-attacked Taj Mahal Palace Hotel years ago, having lunched and shopped at some of the places that are now the scenes of incalculably inhumane carnage. Having seen people engage each other, going about the banalities of daily life in these places, tragedies like last week's attacks or the 2001 plane crash or the 2006 bus explosion become much more visceral; you can relate to the people because you've seen their faces.

For me, September 11 was an abstract event, seen from Miami on the same TV screens where violent video games and action flicks and cop reality shows parade incessantly. I processed the events cerebrally and intellectually. After all, I was literally a thousand miles away, knew no one who worked in or lived around Lower Manhattan at the time, and had already confirmed the safety of the few friends I did know then living in New York. I was angry and scared and insecure like most people, and I had seen pictures and footage of the victims on the news. Still, I had no real connection to the event because I had no clue of how the towers looked from up-close, how the air smelled, how the doormen or cleaning ladies would smile or snarl at the secretaries as they entered the building just before or just after their bosses. I couldn't relate.

But I had been on a flight to the Dominican Republic by the time Flight 587 crashed just after take-off three months later. I had been on several, enough to notice a large number of children on every flight heading to the island to visit grandparents, cousins, friends, sometimes involuntarily. The first thing I thought when I heard the news of the crash were cherubic, tanned faces framed by dark Dominican curls, grinning gap-toothed smiles and speaking Noo Yowak-accented Spanglish. A good portion of the people on that flight were kids, I knew instinctively. And that hit me hard.

When I visited Panama over the Christmas holidays back in 2006, the citizenry was still in an uproar about the bus explosion, which occured in the middle of the street right in front of my hotel. The legal mechanisms of the country weren't moving fast enough to implicate the responsible parties, and old, faulty, "refurbished" American school buses were still being used for public transport in the city. And when the desk clerk at the hotel told me about the explosion, about how all but one of the eighteen people killed were women and children (this is unconfirmed, but I took her at her word), I immediately thought about the legions of plump grandmothers and aunts and church ladies in flowered dresses who would never have the energy and the strength required to scramble out of an inferno. At school and church back home in Florida, there were legions of grandmothers and aunts and church ladies who looked like the ones I saw walking the streets of Panama City, and I had to assume that these were the same types of ladies who burned to death on that bus. I couldn't shake the image from my mind.

In an age of media desensitization and relative human safety (compared to previous centuries of war and disease and saber-toothed tiger maulings), it's very easy to live most of your life looking at tragedies on the news and, as pointed out in Hotel Rwanda, say "what a shame" before turning back to your dinner. But you can't do that as easily when you've seen their faces.

This New York Times opinion piece puts another face on Mumbai.

Monday, December 1, 2008