Thursday, March 20, 2014

Don Andino and the Day They Set the World on Fire

Along the Baker River
March 18 2014

Don Andino was four the day they set the world on fire. “The smoke was so thick all day the sun looked like the moon. At the end everything was covered.” The year was 1948 and Don Andino lived up the valley over the Baker River as it made its ferocious, glacier driven way to the Pacific.  His father, a Policeman, bought land from the Federal Government as an investment. First 800 Hectares, then another 3,000, which he rented back to the Government, a good cyclical earning for his investment. Now his nephew runs the family farm. The Chivarria’s were Basque people before they became Chileans, and they brought their independent streak with them to the end of the world. 

The Native Americans had been cleared out by then, the Mapuchas, the indigenous tribe, lived closer to the Coast.  “They were civilized Indians, though.”

Approaching his 70th birthday in September Don Andino is the polished bronze stereotype of a life-long outdoorsman. His hair is still streaked with black, with the gray lighter than his skin, framing his face in silhouette. His skin is taught save under his chin, and age only betrays him in a bend in the spine. He sits, right leg over left, wearing a black felt beret which would easily have placed him in Paris in the 1950s. A short sleeved shirt shows arms which have worked every day of his life, strong, lean, sinew-ed.  A sheathed Brazilian steak knife is tucked into his pants, with the handle tipped towards the right. “In Chile, if you don’t have a knife you don’t eat,” they say here. To outside eyes the intent is at first more sinister than a ready-blade for a bit of lamb. 

Don Andino is the senior hired hand on this farm in the Valley of the Baker River, the man “they trust to keep the house safe and open when they are out.” He had been something of the foreman, but now he is sick and cannot work. “Bad liver,” he says.

Don Andino’s legs seem spindly thin beneath blue workpants. In between his shoes and those pants he’s sporting white, black and red argyle socks, betraying his working-man’s demeanor as a bit of a dandy, too. Between the beret and the socks its clear he takes his appearance seriously – never too old to look good.

He smokes long hand-rolled cigarettes, which he keeps between the index and middle finger even as he tips the tin kettle atop the coleman stove ( Fabrica El Yhunke – Cocina A Leña – calefaccion combustion tentat – Lauratro 855 Coyhaique, Chile)  tel : 23 3255– the source of heat in the house here in the valley – and pours another cupful of water into the Maté cup. Maté is the drink of choice. Here, and refusing it for coffee is somewhere between a lack of good manners and a lack of good taste.

Don Andino offers guests at the farm thickly-sliced white bread and guinda jam preserved on the farm. As a cook for the military in the early 1970s he was known for his baking talent. The bread, best served after a turn atop the wood-fired stove, is his, something he takes a bit of time, but an ample amount of measured pride, in telling you.

When Allende was overthrown in the ’73 coup that brought Pinochet to power they pink-slipped Don Andino and sent him on his way. Cooking apparently is as political in Chile as it is in the fine dining of Paris. No word about the quality of bread served the Chilean army in the years since.

Between sips and refilling the cup, he talks about that day he still remembers even though at four few things are available to memory. “They set fire to the forest as high as the snow-line, which was the only thing that stopped the flames.” 66 years later the land is still filled with the husks of 200 year-old cedars, many of the trunks  standing straight-tall just as they did that day in 1948 when the fire came. Cedar gives itself back to nature slowly, and the gray-white of the fired trees are everywhere, and elephant’s graveyard of ancient deciduous timber that had filled the valley since the end of the last glacial period. In some parts the forest is making a comeback, saplings and younger trees populating the plain. But for the most part it’s scrub grass now. All the better for the free roaming cattle which dot the landscape and leave enormous piles of scat everywhere, fouling the otherwise untouched air. Sheep dash about, staying just out of reach – perhaps knowing that a human caress is the first step to the dinner table. The cows, as they are wont, just stand and stare at you as you walk by, like attendees at a parade, watching from the stands.

Just then the father of the family farm comes through the door, if anything darker than Don Andino himself. Behind him trails Reneé, our host of the last three days and a gifted wrangler. Reneé is our ride back to Cochran. Before we can leave, though, he has to give some help to the farmer. One of the largest, strongest and, apparently meanest bulls on the farm has got loose and needs to be corralled and returned to a place safe both for him and for others.

Don Andino, approaching 70 and “too sick to work” tosses his knife on the table by the door and dashes out the door with the gait of a 20 year old in search of a mad bull.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Searching for the end of the world - part one

Coyhaique, Chile
March 13, 2014

The pursuit of the end of the world has begun. Not prosaically, but in a practical, increasingly exercised search for bus tickets out of town. And considering that we just got to town it should tell you something about the town.

Actually, it's a settling, easy on the spirit sort of place. Low to the ground  - like the people. The only humans over 5'6" are wearing Patagonia jackets, high slung backpacks and looking everywhere but in front of them. For my part It marks the first time I could be invited to play center. Some of the street dogs are taller. Seriously. These aren't Dickensian dogs. Think Steven Segal with fur.

After a 22 hour push ever southward, from Baltimore Washington International Airport, with a Double stop through airport security born of a determination not to lose my fedora before the journey even started and a realization steps from the gate that as I stood gate side it sat atop the Delta self-check-in. That hat has been many places, securing sand in Wadi Rum, misted mornings climbing Mach Picchu and provoked endless "are you from Texas" conversations on airplanes, boats and cafés. Often it was the sum total of the English exchanged. After that it was gestures, with a special series of thumbs up's and Indiana Jones whip-slash body English. After all that that hat wasn't going into the rubbish bin at Delta. Loyalty has to start somewhere. Besides, how many hats have a genuine Starbucks flavor to them. There's enough Pike's Peak saturated into that felt to squeeze a cup of coffee out of with a good dousing of hot water. So add caffeine addiction to loyalty. The order of priority subject to change.

The air on the road to the end of the world is in constant motion. All the stories - fables more than stories really - short cut its actual presence. It's not air so much as spirit, willful, dashing through tree and teenage waist length hair, thick Southern hair, jet black and fluid hair. Whipped about like $2,500 an hour photo shoot with wind machines hair. Who knew you could get the same 24/7 on the road to the end of the world.

The teenagers are teenagers. They entangle on the knobby park benches in the central square and nuzzle in that breathless steeped in innocence way first love allows but can never be found again once it comes crashing down. Unless it doesn't. Sometimes on a street corner, or the center aisle of some supermarket, or in a furtive noticing through a car window you catch the amber light of a first love that never faded, set in the touch of one vastly wrinkled hand to another, a glance filled with 65 years and 65 seconds; that look that says that really the world is whole in two pairs of eyes.

On my second cappuccino and first wedge of lemon merengue pie, angled forward on a slightly too high bar stool which left the step down calling to mind first lessons on riding a two-wheeler in my grandmother's Katonah lawn in Westchester, a first love candidate couple in their early 70s walked up to the floor to ceiling window of the town square site of the Red----- cafe. Wind tossing them about ever so slightly they looked inside in a way that made me feel a bit like a glass enclosed zoo animal in the Great Apes exhibit in the zoo below my house in DC. Come see the pie eating gringo - get a free mug - sort of look. Whether it was my appearance that kept them walking in I'll never know. I know I'll never look at the orangutans again in quite the same way though.

Above the other corner window the small, remarkably efficient speaker threw out a high tech re-mix of 10 years worth of Pop hits, from Justin Timberlake to John Legend, a string of English-only 20-something boys filling the Chilean cafe with that slight thump that goes when the bass on the mix is set to overload. Next to I, hung left to right we're a white polo helmet, a traditional blue and white cap that looked like it came from crown of a young Tajik woman and a slightly psychedelic-ly painted Moai. 

Francisco -- the leader of our two-man expedition - hangs up his Nokia. "Our guide can meet us at 8. We can head back to the B&B before going to see him to make our plans for tomorrow."

The search for bus tickets has come up empty. Day one yields it's first lesson - plan to re-plan. With no buses out of town Friday for Corcoran, our next point south, we set to the map, and to the B&B.

And all the while the wind dances.

Monday, April 1, 2013

¿Quién era antes?

April 1, 2013 - Washington, DC

Noemi stands maybe 5 foot 2. Her hair is henna rinse red, but her eyes, shocking green still in what seems likely to be her mid 50s, are entirely her own, missing nothing, gentle and warm but completely direct. “I’m next in line,” she says gently, but as firmly in that gentility as one would expect of a Mother talking to a truant son (that would be me in the moment). They’re her first words to me, but come with a familiarity, and courtesy, that suggest an intimate comfort.

Around us both, standing, sitting, crouching, holding toddlers and propping up elders, people mill about in an oddly calm quiet. It seems that there is absolutely no order in the room, but the only person exhibiting even a hint of unease is me. I, clearly, am the only person with no idea of what is going on.

“I’m sorry,” I say to Noemi, whose name I won’t learn for another 10 minutes. “I have no idea how this works.”

She smiles. “You may go in front of me.” The thickness of her accent is like honey, sweet and slow flowing. While the Spanish inflection is easy, it's the distinct musicality of it that says its Cuban. That would follow given where we’re standing.

Over my shoulder, in this tiny, crowded room, a voice in distinct mid-western English comes. “You need to ask who was before you.”


“You need to say ‘¿Quién era antes?’ – who was before. That’s how it works. The Cubans are very polite people. They have wonderful manners impeccable manners. So when you come into a room like this you ask ¿Quién era antes? That’s how you know the order of who is next.” He smiles. “Incredible people.”

For a moment, I think somehow I’m already in Cuba. The traditions, it seems, have followed them from their country to this one, and they’re playing out in this room where the Gringo is the only person who has no manners. All during these moments the room is watching, listening. If I needed a primer for what’s to come in a week, I couldn’t have come to a better place.

That place would be part of the only Cuban soil in the US – the Cuban Interest Section of Castro’s Cuba – the proxy Embassy of a government we haven’t recognized for over 60 years.

All this takes place a five-minute walk from my Mount Pleasant home in the heights of DC. I’m used to hearing Spanish in my neighborhood. There’s hardly a native English-speaking owned store on Mt Pleasant street. That Spanish, though, is Central American – Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Guatemalan.

Here, in a building that is every bit as small and bunker-like as your imagination of a Cuban Interests Section would suggest, with a three-foot poster of Fidel dominant behind the plexiglass that separates the Cuban Government from its Expat people, all of whom, having left, are waiting for visas to go back to visit, its still Cuba. The plexiglass divider, like that of an 80s bank, makes it impossible to hear the person on the other side. There are no microphones or anything to amplify voices, and so you lean down as close as you can to the cut opening through which you pass your documents and listen to the bald, utterly polite, civil servant on the other side.

Over his shoulder, in the working room behind him, through a 30 inch hollow-core door, a photo of Ché dominates. Fidel is good for visitors. Ché is the guy they keep close.

“Are you going to Cuba?” Noemi asks.

“Yes. Next week. Assuming we get our visas.”

“You will love it,” she says.

“Did you?”

“I left 23 years ago.”

I think of 1980.

“Yes. In the Mariel Boat lift.”

Between mid April and the end of October 1980, in the middle of a presidential election in the States that would end with Ronald Reagan in power, as many as 125,000 Cubans fled their country for Florida by boat. As many as half of them settled in Miami.

“Where do you live now?”


Noemi still has a Cuban passport. “I live in America, but I am Cuban.” She had flown to Washington the night before, not to get a visa for herself, but because her friend, who sat quietly nearby, needed a visa to Spain, and needed her passport updated. She came all the way from Miami just to help a friend get a visa to Spain. They were getting on a plane back to Miami at seven that night.

The consular officer behind the plexiglass, in front of the poster of Ché, took my documents. Looking through them he glanced up at me a couple of times. ‘A visa to Cuba” I thought. “This will be interesting.” I thought of all the questions that could come – its Cuba and the US after all.

“It will be a minute,” he said through the portal.
20 minutes later, walking out of the Cuban Interests Section with my visa in hand, I saw Noemi and her friend outside the 10 foot-high wrought iron gate. It had taken a week at minimum to get a visa to Kazakhstan. To Cuba, 15 minutes. Go figure.

Noemi was waiting for me, it turned out.

“So? You go to Cuba?”

“It seems that way.”

“We’re going to the White House now. We want to send a picture to my parents in Havana. They won’t believe it.”

I know how they feel.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

On the Afghan Border: July 11, 2012

July 11, 2012

All that separates us from Afghanistan is a rushing, frantic river; 30 yards of water and the pitch dark of a moonless night. Including the one emanating from my screen I can count 16 lights, single 60 to 100 watt incandescent bulbs in my entire field of vision. All are on the Tajik side. Afghanistan, so close, is utterly black.  When we arrived there were no lights at all. Electricity is a capricious thing in this hamlet, appearing when if feels like it and vanishing with equal impishness. The river’s rush is a constant companion, along with the trills of night birds and amphibians, insects and mammals.
I know Afghanistan to be there because I saw it all afternoon across that one wicked body of water – wicked because it separates us from setting foot in Afghanistan, a lunatic desire our hosts at the US Embassy have tried deeply to dissuade me from realizing. “You have a single entry visa, so, good luck getting back in if you figure out how to go across,” has been the common source of discouragement. More effective: “we had someone determined to set foot in Afghanistan earlier this year. He walked across the bridge from Tajikistan to Afghanistan. The Afghans turned him away. When he went to come back to Tajikistan they wouldn't let him in because he’d used up his single entry visa. Took six hours, the Tajik KGB, the Afghan Foreign Ministry and the head of Consular Affairs in Dushanbe to get him admitted again to Tajikistan. All that time he stood in the middle of the bridge, the river running under him, with nowhere to go. He could have been there a month.”

I seem to have settled on getting within 30 yards and no closer. I like bridges, but…

We knew we had reached the point where Afghanistan sat on the shore to our right not because of a sign, or a designation. No, we knew it to be there because it was our first sighting of entire villages of mud brick – villages completely and totally abandoned. No one in the fields. No one on the banks. Empty. Tiny towns of mud-brick, with glassless openings for windows and not a soul in sight.  


An occasional donkey foraged, yet if it had anyone tending it, it was at distance. The domesticated animals had been left to their own devices, solitary beasts of burden munching on pale green grass as though they were the last inhabitants of earth. You wondered, when winter came, would anybody return to claim them, to shelter them, to feed them in the dead cold and deep snow of the high mountains?

At points a good throw of a solid stone would have landed on its shores. 90 feet away.
Overhead the Milky Way shines deep, a band across the night sky I have seen perhaps six times in my life. Such it is to grow up in the era of electricity and the thick haze of burnt fossils, and to be from Manhattan, where a cloudy night produces an orange sky more like a blanket than a void. To see the Milky Way stops you in the careful walk along the dirt road running through the village in which our guest house lies. That road is the often one lane path between Dushanbe and the South along the Afghan border.

Its name is the Pamir Highway. It is high, to be sure. And it is the only way to get where we’re going by land. Beyond that any resemblance to the word as we understand it in the States is purely coincidental.
The Pamir Highway runs, for much of its length, along the Tajik bank of the river, the river separating Tajikistan from Afghanistan here in the Tajik southwest. A map shows it to be in the panhandle of Afghanistan – the part which juts out east in a sliver of land, separated from the chaos of the heart of the country by deep cut mountains and, its seems, but spirit.

The river funs with such force it sounds like a strong steady wind through thick forests, even 100 yards from its banks. Cars pass by perhaps every 15 minutes. Other than that, at 10:30 at night, the sounds are solely those of creatures of the night and of the river.

Earlier, along the first mountains in the climb from Dushanbe to here, the landscape was easily the most tortured I had ever seen. Tortured not by man. By nature. Mountains folded in on themselves as though rolled – like slices of cheese you bend. Deep folds and 45 to 90 degree thrusts – a geologic wonder that is almost impossible to describe. 

The sheer geologic power of the Indian Subcontinent slamming into the Eurasian land mass, bending the flat earth into thick folds which reveal layer upon layer of sediment, at one time buried under the sea floor, now bent like so many slices and hurled up thousands of feet into the sky. In places volcanic rock, magma which had poured out millions of years ago, lay dolloped on top of the sedimentary rock, so much topping on the land.

Driving that landscape, dwarfed by it and at any moment tumbling down into it if the road gave way (which seemed all-too likely), the sense of being small within the geologic combat yet going on in these mountains, was everywhere. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tel Aviv Journal: The Real Opening Night

Ben Gurion Airport
Tel Aviv
May 15, 2012

Waiting for the call for UA85 to Newark, with a precious few hours of sleep, its almost possible to take in what the last few days have offered.

A dance company less than a year old doesn't get the chance to dance Paul Taylor, Sharon Eyal & Gai Behar in front of a sold-out 800+ seat theater for its opening night in Israel. On top of that, it never gets the chance to dance in that same theater for four nights consecutively, all sold-out. In all of CityDance's life we had only one four-night engagement ever, at DC's Dance Place, capacity 160. And we couldn't fill it. 

Killer Pig by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar
Here, Company E took a step we could never manage at CityDance, with work which is simply a dream, and the Company took home on the bus to the hotel the love of an entire auditorium. Amazing. 

As always, it seems, the craziest challenge was in the program order. Call it the curse of a repertory Company-- what piece goes next to what other, and where does intermission lie. We were still "talking" about it 90 minutes before curtain. 

But we got it right.

Not in too many places could you open with a work like "Last Look." At home we never could, but here, the audience comes in ready and they absorb the full impact of it right from the start. And to see if come alive with this cast was rewarding in indescribable ways. Milan, taking the final solo, is finding the soul of it, and you can feel it in the audience as he does it that they are moving with him. And it will only get better. 

For our presenter, the Bimot Agency, to take a chance on a complete unknown, and to give it nine concerts in six cities, and to have those houses full, is really simply a dream. 

I head home for two days for an engagement at the Department of State's training institute, the Foreign Service Institute, and Don Quixote programming meetings, and then head almost immediately back to Minsk. The Company stays in Israel, dancing and absorbing an amazing experience. 

Doesn't get better than this. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Tel Aviv Journal: "Opening Night" (almost)

Tel Aviv
May 14, 2012

Tonight was supposed to be a quiet dress rehearsal evening as we prepared for opening night at the sold-out 800 seat Herzliya Performing Arts Center just north of Tel Aviv Monday night. But when the chance to let "a few" people from the northern Israeli community of Carmel by the Sea see the Company E program presented itself we said, "sure." The house seats 600 and at least 500 of those seats were filled for that "informal" dress rehearsal. 

Killer Pig by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar
The program of Paul Taylor's "Last Look," Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar's "Killer Pig," Kate Weare's "Scorched" and my "Falling" were all Israel premieres -- or "almost-premieres." And to have the audience keep applauding the audience to more and more bows was an amazing, amazing moment. 

Presenting Mr. Taylor's "Last Look" in a country that knows him so well, and to be the company that premieres it here is an honor that's hard to describe. And this is an audience that knows its dance. 

The entire company was ready tonight. Fantastic to watch from the back of the house and also fantastic to realize that, less than a year after the Company's founding, we're here in Israel on a nine-concert, six city tour through the first private presenter ever to pick up either CityDance or Company E. And that's after a two-week tour in Switzerland and Germany that ended just a few days ago. Kathryn and Alicia have done a great terrific job leading the company. 

More on the real opening night tomorrow, but what a great, great beginning.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Shanghai Journal: Landings

Shanghai journal
Friday, December 2, 11

Sometime within the next 36 to 48 hours I will become a rice ball. This much is certain. We have been here a shade over four days and my consumption of the many and varied (albeit delicious) forms of rice has overshadowed virtually all other sensory impressions of this time in China thus far. 130 pounds of ambulatory, verbally challenged rice inside various wrappings from Hudson Trail Outfitter
s or Hugo Boss navigating the startlingly cold streets of the French Concession in Shanghai. Jasmine scented rice. Brown rice. Saffron rice. Rice with tofu. Rice at breakfast. Rice at lunch. Rice at….

And I like rice. Really.

How it is possible for a nation of 1.4 Billion to grow enough rice to feed itself boggles the mind. There are vats of it, seemingly endless vats of it everywhere. Bags of it in various weights dot the small street-side shops abounding here. Stacked, stuffed, packed and shelved from the street to the back of the diminutive rectangular notches cut into the low buildings which have stood since the 1930s in this part of the city under the linden trees planted by French colonialists who carved their enclave in Shanghai and required the Chinese themselves to obtain papers to enter parts of their own country for the privilege of working for people from Europe.

And we wonder why revolutions happen…

Even in the cold December air the smell of food dominates. Open-air preparation abounds, the scent of wok oils sizzling, the sound of stir fry flipping, cooks and their beans, tofu, onions and sprouts slipping in and out of sight through the steam of water and sesame oil. Hot coals on a fog-thick night turning heavy air red as the bicycles slip by and the occasional bone-rattling heavy truck bores a hole in your skull.

China, it seems, is always hungry.

At four am on a jet-lagged sleepless night walking down deserted streets the only things open on Shanghzi street is the 24 hour Japanese sushi stand (which makes great cappuccino) and McDonalds. The rain comes and the air clears and you smell, faintly, the sea after the water absorbs the dust and the carbon monoxide and the almost touchable dirt in the air. Beyond being hungry, China is every bit as polluted as it is reputed to be. You smell the food, but you taste the air before the rain.

Yet when the air clears the taste is sweet, the air so pure. It makes you long for it, and draws your awareness of what we sacrifice in pursuit of “modernization.”

A colleague told a story the other day of Shanghai. He said that he went out of the country for a week on business. When he returned he had friends arriving from overseas. To meet he chose a popular, delightful restaurant not so far from his house. When he arrived, not jus the restaurant, but the entire block was gone. Razed. Vanished.

In a week.

He thought he’d lost his mind. “That’s China” he says.

On Shanghai’s east side entire neighborhoods, the size of cities, just spring into being. The Green Tree Hotel where we found ourselves on our first night was in a neighborhood that didn’t exist a few years before. “This – all this was vegetable gardens.” Re-bar loaded trucks, stacked metal - like old kindling - fill at every corner as history vanishes in days, replaced by towers erected willy-nilly everywhere. The city grows and people have to have places to live, and so the charm of two stories surrenders to the necessity of 40. Elevated roads out your sixth floor hotel window layer like some madman’s cake and you see, from that window, the old lady sipping tea as behind her the traffic clogs the elevated. Gardens spring up in the areas underneath the tangle of traffic exchanges and thick vines crawl in spyrograph-like patterns. Plantings drip over the highest elevated roadway, and you feel like you’re looking at a fantasy.

The US feels small, New York modest. Its like Los Angeles was supersized in a McDonald’s patterned-world. Come across the largest bridge in Shanghai, the carotid artery between East and West and you are so far up that you have to spiral down to the ground in three consecutive 360 degree loops, a hot wheels track run amok. It takes minutes to spin to the bottom and spill out into the semi-dark of the underpasses and “old” Shanghai.

Yet, in the end, it is magical. Shanghai is magical – a city spinning in multiple centrifuges at the same time. Shanghainese are clearly proud of their city, their enchanted city locked in the embrace of central planning and controlled infrastructural chaos.

Down the street a wok turns, the coals glow and the food turns in deep elegant twists from a skilled arm. The sound of traffic fades, the sound of mandarin rises in the laughter of a late night meal, chopsticks clicking and laughter spilling over into the night.

Monday, November 28, 2011

102 Below

It's pitch black over the North Pole. Peeking out the portal over the shoulder of a dozing Chinese businessman (he’s in textiles) we’re moments from what is literally the top of the world. Due south Prudhoe Bay and Alaska lead to Honolulu. Other than that its blue water or white ice till the Antarctic ice shelves – more ice, just ice covering a landmass. Really, you could come up on Africa without ever seeing land before the coastline came into view. An entire globe covered in salt wet water and solid fresh water; the domain of great blue whales and marine life capable of circumnavigating the planet.

The dateline is about 20 minutes away and, over the equator, its high noon. But winter is in force below – out the cabin window its 102 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) – a temperature I’ve never seen before.

At the Bearing Sea, for a 30 mile stretch, its just water to Antarctica. No a spit of land for 10,000 miles; for an entire half the earth.

Nightfall is over the East Coast. Its 5:44 and dark in DC on Thanksgiving weekend Sunday. At 3,400 miles traveled we’re less than halfway to Shanghai. The 8-inch view screen shows you a globe made so very, very small, tickling you with the Chuckchi and North Bearing Seas. Morning has come to Tokyo and all of Australia is in broad daylight in mid-summer. Nightfall will be close by the time we land.

Somehow all of that is visible real-time on this tiny monitor pulling its signal from a GPS satellite 17,000 miles above us (GPS satellites are in geo-synchronous orbit 22,000 miles above the surface, so were about a quarter of the way there) in this metal and plastic machine burning a form of kerosene (a uniquely gifted substance with a stunning greenhouse gas signature) hurtling 36,000 feet over the ice sheets on a black, black night. Yet if you could look up the stars would probably blow you away. And what the Hell is Agana and what’s it doing on this map?

What we do routinely now was impossible until 50 years ago, when jumbo jets capable of flying over the North Pole came online. Of course in those days we didn’t fly to China. We’d fought a real war with them in Korea in the 50s and something of a proxy war with them in Vietnam is the 60s and 70s. And it wasn’t till Nixon in 72 that we even started down the path we walk (or fly) now. Yet today (or yesterday since we crossed the dateline about 5 minutes ago and so now its Monday morning not Sunday night) Francisco and I left for Shanghai on one flight out of Newark, Kathryn, Rob and Amanda on another out of O’Hare and Christian left LAX on still another all bound non-stop for Shanghai and all landing within 60 minutes of one another – every seat sold on all three.

There’s nothing like 13 hour time-difference jet lag where you leave your house at 5 in the morning on one day and get to your destination at 3 in the afternoon the next day. You can’t quantify it. And I’d say you just have to experience it but……

Beth SMS’s me just before we left Newark asking when we could trade lives.

The trip to Shanghai is a dream come true for an endless array of reasons. For me, in this moment, the biggest is Friday afternoon at 3pm. In China there’s an instrument, a one-stringed thing that bears a minimal resemblance to a violin (essentially because it has a string and a bow) and which makes the most exquisite sounds I think I’ve ever heard. In 15 years of choreography I’ve never stopped wanting to collaborate with someone playing one. Friday I get my wish. At a program of senior Shanghai officials and some of the team from the US Consulate General in Shanghai we dance “Falling” as a part of the Opening Ceremony of the Festival. With an erhu placer as our soundscape.


On stage.