Monday, September 11, 2017

BZZZzzzzz: The Humble Hornet

Throughout this life, The Leopard has had an interesting & complicated relationship with hornets. The little critters seem to have turned up in different stages of my development - boy to adult. It’s like they somehow know me and come back, again and again, to let me know what’s what.

When I was about 9, my friends and I were playing in my backyard. One of our fvorite games was to pretend we were real-life GI Joes. One pal was the “Land Adventurer”. another, the “Air Adventurer”, and I was of course, the “Black Adventurer.”  In our imagination, we were all battling the evil henchman of some super-villain when, as we we jostled around, I fell directly, butt first, on a hornet. The thing about hornets, of course  - is that they don’t lose their stingers, like bees. They just keep stinging you.  - And it did. Also, they release a noxious venom that burns like hell. I remember running around my little yard like a maniac while my little pals stared at me, stunned and totally perplexed of what I was going on. Playtime was apparently over.

My next round was when I was in my 30’s.  A group of us went to the Catskills for a  weekend jaunt when as we hiked through some bushes we disturbed an enormous nest. Everyone ran in different directions and got out themselves harm’s way, except me - I awkwardly tripped over a log and fell forward onto my palms, buying my face in the dirt. As I tried to lift myself up, I was stung in several times on my cheeks and lips as well as along the length of my right leg for day I resembled John Merrick.

Finally, a few years ago I was visiting a museum in Pennsylvania my girlfriend. Behind the main building was a picnic area, with a tiny a bridge that crossed a small brook. Even though it was blocked off, I stupidly (and stubbornly) tried to climb through protruding shrubbery to walk across it. And, you guessed it – ran into a small cloud of hornets that proceeded to sting me my outstretched fingers.  Then and there, I finally learned my lesson. I am no match for the humble hornet. For now on, I steer clear.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Spirit Voice: Paul Simon

We sailed up a river wide as a sea
And slept on the banks
On the leaves of a banyan tree
And all of these spirit voices rule the night

Some stories are magical, meant to be sung
Songs from the mouth of the river
When the world was young
And all of these spirit voices rule the night
- "Spirit Voices"

I have been a fan of Paul Simon’s music as long as I can remember, starting with Simon and Garfunkel and all throughout my young life into the present (Like many folks, I first heard his music on the soundtrack of film The Graduate and it was like a gut punch). I have always felt as if Simon’s voice and lyrics were my spiritual conduit - whose music and art spoke to me in the deepest ways. I’m not sure what I have in common with him as human beings, (I’ve read many interviews over the years and he does seem to be as neurotic and insecure as I. I certainly can’t think of an artist whose work feels closer to my personal sensibilities.  His lyrics, whether they are about love, relationships, or even political ideology seem to mirror my own thoughts. I always felt as if he had a window into my head. Of course his poetic lyricism is far, far beyond what I could ever articulate.

The smartest people in the world
Had gathered in Los Angeles
To analyze the love affair
And possibly unscramble us
And we sat among our photographs
Examined everyone
And in the end, we compromised
And met the morning sun
-  "Think Too Much"
Despite the hit songs everyone knows (Bridge Over Troubled Water, Still Crazy After All These Years, You can Call me Al, etc.) on many tunes he is capable of some the most introspective words I’ve ever heard. And I think that’s where my love of his art comes from: from the very beginning, he’s never been afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve. And for me, that’s about as courageous as it gets.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Chester Himes

I didn’t start my young adult reading required classic writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, or Harper lee rather my entry into the literary world (at least in the case of novels) was Chester Himes. I first began reading his novels while still in Jr. High School. My young mind was stimulated with tales of hookers, pimps, drug dealers and violent, corrupt cops in the set mythical kingdom of 1950’s Harlem. There was something salaciously mysterious about this dark, scandalous world. I remember sometimes looking over my shoulder while reading a particularly explicit sex scene, or an explicit burst of gory violence while in class.  
Chimses’ flawed heroes, like
Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, stoked my curiosity and stimulated my need for excessive violence and unscrupulous practices.
In adult years, I took in his later work, (mostly written after the disillusioned writer emigrated to Europe) finding an even more savage Himes, such as the brutal Plan B, where the author murders many his most famous characters in one fell swoop in an orgy of violence that makes American Psycho read like The Little Prince. The apocalyptic story, tells the story of an all out race war that begins in Harlem and later consumes the entire planet. And Yesterday Will Make You Cry, a frank, powerful account written as a novel about the author’s experiences in prison. One of the best ever written in my opinion, an even stronger gut punch than John Cheever’s prison novel, Falconer.

Himes will probably never go down as one of the greats in literary history on the level of a Cheever, but his colorful stories and tough tales will forever be an inspiration to me.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Jacques Yves Cousteau - King Of The Sea

When the Leopard was but a cub, one of my childhood heroes was explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher Jacques Yves Cousteau. I came to know from his TV show in the late 60’s early 70’s The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. I never missed an episode. 

I remember buying, with my own money from my paper route, a plastic model kit of his famous vessel, The Calypso (Immortalized by the John Denver song of the same name) (!).  I worked so hard on this thing, and felt so proud. It had a tiny helicopter and a teeny yellow sub (partially designed Cousteau himself) included. I also went the library and took out his first book, packed with pictures,
The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure. Don’t think I ever returned it. Here's hoping the New York Public Library never track me down.

Friday, June 23, 2017

A Touch Of Sin

Wu Jiang as Dahai
The Leopard was mesmerized by the film A "Touch of Sin" a 2013 Chinese drama directed by Jia Zhangke about violence and relationships in working class culture. It revolves around four threads set in vastly different geographical and social milieus across modern-day China, ranging from the bustling southern metropolis of Guangzhou and Dongguan to the more rural townships in Jia's home province of Shanxi. It has so many stunning, beautiful, strange and macabre images: A bloodied woman, knife in hand, strolling down the center of a highway; beautiful young girls marching like patriots in uniform to the amusement of male clients; A man casually stands in the darkness, pet monkey on his soldier;  mountains, vistas and twisting roadways.
You get a small sense of the sad and tragic lifestyles of working class community in China within these four unforgettable vignettes.  

Sunday, April 9, 2017

O Peixe

Click image to enlarge
At the New Museum Of Comtemporary Art in the Lower East Side in New York, there's an extraordinary video exhibit by the Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade, called “O Peixe,” or, in English, “The Fish". It is mesmerizing. 
Here's description by the New Yorker writer Vinson Cunningham :
"A fisherman, dark-skinned and shirtless, sits in a boat on a quiet river and, before long, catches a fish. The fish gasps for air and the fisherman holds it to his chest until it dies. This sequence—performed by a series of fishermen, of various ages and using various styles of capture—is the spine of the work, interrupted by passages of quiet natural beauty; one shot is a steady, stately pan through scores of trees and empty air behind." 
There's something existentially beautiful and strangely compelling about seeing these men calming the fish as if a child (or a lover) as they twitch by carefully stroking it until finally calmly and slowly it succumbs to death.
(click image here to see excerpt)

Monday, April 3, 2017

Steely Dan

Click image to enlarge
Despite all the diversity in 70’s pop radio, Steely Dan always stood out. In the hands of founders Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, there was something about the seamless mixture of jazz, rock and R&B. First, there was Fagen’s wildly distinctive voice, which always seemed on the edge of disappearing off key. And of course, there was the flawless musicianship and state of the art production. This is music created by intellectual college geeks, but what really drew a in a listener as the melodicism and the underlying soulfulness. The duo wrote of mysterious tales of misfits: gamblers, junkies, burnouts, and losers. It’s far-reaching, dramatic music.

With tunes like “Peg”, ‘Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, ‘Aja”, and so many other undisputed classics, and the band's sound was totally beyond category. It’s just Steely Dan.