Monday, July 24, 2017

Nail on the head

Ever notice how sometimes someone will say something that is so on point, you just have to say, “Yeah. Wow.”

Recently, I heard someone say something just like that, that really just hit the nail on the head.

I had been watching a video on YouTube about the history of the Air Jordan sneaker. The documentary was very positive about the shoe, but some criticisms were shared too.

One criticism was that people had been willing to commit violence to obtain a pair of Jordans. 

The person who shared this criticism was Dr. Harry Edwards, a former professor of sociology at U.C. Berkeley.

What made Edwards' words so insightful was that he didn’t just address the problem superficially. He tried to describe the underlying issue with American and consumerist culture at large. 

Here is what he said:

“The tragedies that took place between kids -- the killings, the assaults, over clothing as well as shoes -- was an indication of what we had taught as a culture. [And unfortunately] wearing the right clothes, identifying with the right image became some kids' sole hook and handle on their own personal self esteem.”

That about says it, I think. Yeah . . . Wow.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Desert Island Discs

A few weeks ago, I was searching iTunes for podcasts that involved Paul McCartney in any way. After a few minutes, I found one. It was called Desert Island Discs. Desert Island Discs, I learned, is a BBC show in which the guests have to tell a host which 10 songs they would bring with them to a desert island. A Desert Island Discs from 1982 featured Paul McCartney as the guest. 

After finding this episode, I downloaded it and played it on my computer. At first there was a bit of banter between McCartney and the host, but after that the two got down to business. Some of the songs that Paul said he would bring with him to the "desert island" were “Heartbreak Hotel,”  "Tutti Frutti," "Searchin'" by the Coasters and "Beautiful Boy" by John Lennon. 

I found this show very interesting. But what I found the most interesting was this: At the end of the episode, the host asked McCartney which one of those 10 songs he would bring with him if he could only choose one. 

And McCartney chose “Beautiful Boy” by John Lennon. 


Here’s a link to "Beautiful Boy"; here’s a link for more info on McCartney’s appearance on Desert Island Discs.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

art exhibition

A mural at the exhibition of refugee artwork at Harburg City Hall.
If you ask Sly Kristicevic what is particularly special about the new exhibition of refugee art on display at the Harburg City Hall, he has a ready answer: the colors.

Kristicevic, who has been leading art-making workshops for many of Hamburg’s refugees for almost two years and brought the current exhibition to fruition, said that when the refugees first started making art with him, their pieces often showed scenes of war and were nearly always black and white.

But, Kristicevic said, the refugees have seemed to grow more hopeful, and even though some works displayed at the exhibition reflect the difficulties and sorrows of refugee life, many of the pieces indeed have color and have a positive spin.

“This painting is supposed to show that you can always go higher and achieve more,” said Mohin, 13, who came to Hamburg from Afghanistan, as he pointed to a painting of his, which was on display and showed houses piled on one another to form a skyscraper of sorts.

About 25 works by roughly 15 artists are displayed at the exhibit. Though sorrow surely infuses some of the pieces –  a mural at the beginning of the exhibit, for example, shows the silhouettes of broken-looking people in a queue surrounded by barbed wire fences and a white paper-machete "ghost ship" bears the names of over a dozen people who died while trying to cross the Mediterranean -- most of the pieces really do have hopeful flare.
Mohin, 13, an artist represented at the exhibit, explains the meaning behind one of his paintings.

Said Anes Aromdany, 26, of Tunisa, whose painting, which was on display, was filled with swirling colors, had an angel in it and all together looked like something Marc Chagall could have painted: “I wanted to show [with this piece] that despite war, there is beauty in the world,  there is harmony...and balance is incredibly important in our universe and must be respected.”
Some of the artists drew pictures on the life vests they used on their journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Because some of the artists had bad associations with these vests — after all, the floating devices reminded them of a treacherous journey and had cost high sums to obtain — they wanted to make something positive out of them. The vest pictured here has the Eifel Tower among other things drawn on it.

The exhibition, which is aptly called "Farben Wieder Sehen, Leben Wieder Sehen" -- "Seeing Colors Again, Seeing Life Again" -- will run until February 17 and is free. Fördern und Wohnen, a city agency that helps find housing for people in need, organized the event; Harburg was one of its sponsors.

Kristicevic, for his part, said he hopes to put on more refugee artwork exhibitions but he is really just grateful to be able to continue making art with the refugees. "For me, he said, "it is a great blessing just to see these people smile again and to hear their beautiful stories again.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A secret in the open

Sometimes, living in Germany, I experience some surreal moments. Here’s one. 

The other night I was sitting in a bar with two friends. I’m not going to reveal their real names, but let’s call them Hannah and Marie. Just so you know, I’m very close with Marie and, in confidence a year or so ago she told me that Hannah’s grandfather was, to use her words, “a very bad Nazi.”

Now, Hannah is very ashamed of this fact and would prefer that the fewer people who know it, the better. However, Marie couldn’t help but tell me, as she knows I am a WWII-history buff. Still, being the good friend she is, Marie told Hannah that she had told me. Now, Hannah and I have seen each other many times since Marie spilled the beans. But Hannah and I never openly discussed her infamous relative even though she knew I knew of his existence.

Well, we never discussed this relative of Hannah’s until the other night at the bar. What happened was, after having downed a few beers, the subject of Nazis somehow came up, and in the interest of just putting it all out there – and owing to the fact that I was a little buzzed – I decided to tell Hannah that I indeed did know who her Nazi relative was, that Marie had indeed told me.

However, I just wanted one slight clarification. “But this guy was your great-grandfather, right?” I said to Hannah, who was sitting across the table from me. I asked Hannah this question because Marie had always told me that Hannah’s grandfather was the culprit. But after having learned about this man, I had done a little googling and had discovered that Hannah’s grandfather would have been too young to fit the bill.

“‘Great-grandfather’ is ‘Urgroßvater' in German, right?" Hannah asked Marie, who’s English is better. 

“Right,” Marie said. 

“Then, yes," Hannah said, turning to me. "You're right."

There was a tiny pause. Trying to smooth things over and perhaps make the moment not as weighty, Marie turned to Hannah and said, “You shouldn’t feel that bad, though. I mean, my grandfather was actually in the Hitler Youth.”

“Yeah, but come on. The Hitler Youth,” Hannah replied, and in doing so gave me a look.  

Now, I gotta say, in this moment, this look that Hannah gave to me said everything. Essentially, with this look, Hannah was totally pooh-poohing Marie’s comment about her grandfather having been in the Hitler Youth because being in the Hitler Youth just meant that you were a tiny dot in the Nazi universe. 

Hannah’s great-grandfather, however, was something much larger. He was actually an SS commander and had been in charge of crushing a major anti-Nazi uprising, a task that resulted in the deaths of thousands of people. 

After Hannah made her “But come on, the Hitler Youth” comment, we all kind of dropped the subject. But, really, I can't emphasize enough how much had been revealed in that 
quick look Hannah had given me. It was like she was trying to convey this: The Hitler Youth? That’s nice and all, but if you actually looked up exactly what my great-grandfather was responsible for, well, maybe you’d be singing to a different tune.

And then we all ordered another drink at this nice trendy bar in Hamburg.

I’m telling you, some very trippy experiences you have here in Germany sometimes.

Friday, January 20, 2017

I Just Emailed to Say...

One thing that my mom and I have in common is that we both like words. She was an English teacher and has a master's in American Literature and just really appreciates the well crafted poem, story, sentence. So sometimes, I write to her, telling her things that I like and asking her opinion on them and then we discuss it. Sometimes, I hear things, songs, maybe an article, that she likes and then point her in the direction of it. Anyway, below is an email I wrote to her recently, telling her about a song I've rediscovered and a section of it that I thought she would particularly like. I thought the email was interesting enough to post. I hope you do too.

Hi Ma,

I just wanted to write to you because I heard something the other day that I thought you would like too.
Because I've been very much into song writing lately, I've been very conscious of how songs are structured/their lyrics.
Anyway, did you ever realize how nice the song "I Just Called to Say I Love You" is?
What's interesting is that for the entire verses, he's saying reasons why he is NOT calling. For example: "No New Years Day to Celebrate ...  No first of spring ... No flowers bloom," etc. I thought that was a nice paradoxical twist.
But I'm actually brining this song to your attention because I thought you'd particularly like the second verse, which starts, "No summer's high."
I'll reproduce the rest of the verse here, but I suggest you listen to the song first, then look at the lyrics. 
Let me know what you think!
No summer's high 
No warm July
No harvest moon to light one tender August night
No autumn breeze
No falling leaves
Not even time for birds to fly to southern skies

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A bit of untangling

You know those songs that just get you every time? The ones you never get tired of listening to? For me, Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” is one of those songs. I hardly ever skip it when my iPod cues it up; it’s that beautiful. The melody, the lyrics: “If I could save time in a bottle/The first thing that I’d like to do/Is to save every day/'Til eternity passes away/Just to spend them with you.”

The lyrics are great and really force you to think about life and how you’re spending your time. But there has always been one set of lyrics in this song that I could not get my head around, so I figured I’d parse them here for fun.

Around the middle of the song, Croce starts singing about his wishes and dreams that have and haven’t come true. It is these particular lyrics that lead to some confusion. Croce sings: “If I had a box just for wishes and dreams that had never come true, the box would be empty except for the memory of how they were answered by you.”

Uh, what? You know, one tenet of writing is avoid using negatives, especially double negatives. For example, it’s bad form to write, “That’s not something I don’t like.” Such a sentence causes unnecessary confusion.

Well, if that’s true, then Croce definitely violates some rules with his lyric. I mean, “If I had a box just for wishes and dreams that had never come true? The box would be empty except for the memory of how they were answered by you”?

Every time I've heard this lyric, I've been like, “Wait...what?” But to be honest, it sounds like Croce is trying to convey something beautiful and deep, so let’s see if we can deconstruct the line. OK, so, first off, “If I had a box just for wishes and dreams that had never come true, the box would be empty...”

All right, I think I get that. If Croce had a box that contained both wishes and dreams of his that had never come true this box would be empty. That means all his wishes and dreams have come true. Yippee!  

But wait. In the next breath, he actually says that this box of wishes and dreams that had never come true “would be empty except for the memory of how they were answered by you.”

OK, so in my mind, at the end of the day, all the lyric essentially means is this: In my imagined box of wishes and dreams that have never come true, there is just one “item," and that's the memory of how my wishes and dreams were answered by you. This memory of my wishes and dreams being answered by you would be in this box of "wishes and dreams that never came true" because I don’t have this memory. I wish I did, but I don't.  You never answered, or fulfilled, my wishes and dreams, woman!

Basically, I got all I wanted in life, but I didn’t get what I wanted from you. Crazy, line, huh? I guess the bottom line is this: Avoid writing in the negative.

If I had a box for wishes and dreams that had come true, the box would be nearly filled, but the one thing missing would be the memory of how you answered these wishes and dreams of mine.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Bombing of Hamburg

You know, it’s interesting how we sometimes perceive things differently after having learned a little bit.
For example, many times when I would be walking around Hamburg, especially in residential areas, I would see these particular metal plaques on the facades of some red-bricked apartment buildings.
The plaques would read something like, “Destroyed 1943/Rebuilt 1955” or something like that. 
And every time I would see these plaques, I would mostly think to myself, “Yeah, well, of course... Hamburg was bombed very badly during the war. Of course some houses got destroyed.”
But I recently read just how bad this city on the Elbe was actually bombed. A few weeks ago I picked up “Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg, 1943,” and holy crap.
Usually, most people think that Dresden was the city most devastated by Allied bombings. 
But the number of people killed in the Dresden bombings was somewhere between 18,000 and 25,000. The number of people who died during the Bombing of Hamburg, however, was about 42,000.
Shockingly, though, what makes the Bombing of Hamburg so terrible is not just the high casualty count. See, during the Bombing of Hamburg, which lasted about a week, from July 24 to August 3, 1943, the city was bombed nearly every single day.
But on the night of July 27th, the weather in the city was so dry and the Allied bombing so concentrated and accurate that a firestorm was created. 
A firestorm is a humungous inferno that consumes everything in its path and is beyond human intervention. These blazes, which create and sustain their own wind systems, are so intense and suck up so much oxygen that the currents feeding them are as powerful as hurricane force winds.
As a result, after the Royal Air Force planes dropped their payloads that night, nearly every single building in an 8-square-mile section of the southeastern part of Hamburg burned. 
According to “Inferno,” in this ground-zero zone, fires raged until the horizon in every direction, asphalt streets were turned into “flaming rivers of melted tarmac,” and fuel from destroyed ships spilled into canals, setting them alight, too.  
And the human toll. Thousands of residents who had taken up shelter in their cellars died when smoke and poisonous gases from the fires outside poured into the supposed safe spaces.
Those lucky enough to have decided to try their luck on the streets had to brave blazing temperatures, dodge falling masonry and battle against storm-force winds as they tried to reach the city’s parks, the only refuge. Many people who allowed themselves to be pushed along by the winds, or couldn’t battle against them, were eventually swept into the fire.
As one Hamburger who, with this family who made the “good” decision that night of braving the streets to seek shelter in one of the city’s parks, recounts in the book:
[Once we got out onto the streets], we saw the first people burning, desperately running figures, who suddenly fell, and as we approached, were already dead. [Out on the street, on the way to the park], we had reached the first crossroads. Here we saw a building whose roof had, exceptionally, only just caught fire. In the entrance to this building we took shelter for a few moments from the storm, the heat, the whipping whirl of sparks and the glowing mounds of phosphor . . . Although we had only traveled a short distance, our lips were already badly swollen. Our throats were incredibly dry. Our legs felt weak . . .
 All around, people fled from the burning buildings. Some came out with their clothes already alight; others caught fire outside from the sparks, the blazing heat or the phosphor. Again and again we saw burning people suddenly start to run, and soon after, to fall. After this, terrible cries were to be heard, but they, too, grew rarer. I saw many burning people who ran and collapsed in silence.
Though the raids continued on for a few more nights, with the British even again coming to bomb Hamburg as a thunderstorm raged over the city, on no other night were the bombings as intense as they were on the 27th.
In fact, a year after the war was over, Major Cortez F. Enloe, a surgeon in the United States Air Force who worked on the United States Strategic Bombing Survey, which sought to gauge just how effective the bombings in Germany had been, said that the fire effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki "were not nearly as bad as the effects of the Royal Air Force raids on Hamburg on July 27th, 1943." 
So do I take a little more time nowadays to think about what exactly I’m looking at when I see one of those memorial plaques on a redbrick apartment building in the city? 
You bet I do.