Monday, April 1, 2013
Saturday, August 4, 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.
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.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
|Killer Pig by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar|
Sunday, May 13, 2012
|Killer Pig by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar|
Friday, December 2, 2011
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.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Thursday, November 24, 2011
As always the rails and wheels argue when leaving the station, pulling past the crossovers and the ties, wrapping the air in friction. Metal on metal. The air is cold. Wet. At 0940 precisely the glide begins, discernable only because the light glistening on the window changes. Basel slips into view. You’re always almost somewhere else in Switzerland. Arrive to Geneva airport (I had a few days earlier) and you’re presented with two choices: exit to Switzerland or exit to France. At Gard du North, the other train station in Basel (there are two as I found out by going to the wrong one for a 1430 meeting Friday) it turns out that at some moment in time INSIDE the station you’re somehow in Germany, not Switzerland. Not really sure how that happens, but, hey, its fun to say you were in Germany for about 60 seconds – especially when you had no earthly idea that, you know, you had been.
I had wanted to see mountains. It’s Switzerland after all. The day before, Saturday, at the conclusion of a long walk along Lake Geneva after a conversation about art, environment and collaboration inside one of Lausanne’s most intriguing theaters I said, somewhat randomly to the consultant with whom I was working on our planned Company E tour to Switzerland in April, that I wanted to find those legendary mountain passes through which the trains roar, darting into and out of tunnels, over trestles, spanning ravines of glacial melt-water.
“No problem,” was Philippe’s reply. A five minute metro ride straight uphill (everything in Lausanne is uphill or downhill because it all leads to the lake) and we were standing at the ticket window at Lausanne station and Philippe and the ticket agent were merrily engaged in an impromptu “lets go through the mountains” discourse.
It wasn’t so much that it was possible; that you sort of figure. It was that every few seconds the guy behind the glass was printing out these itineraries on what looked distinctly like old computer flat cards and that, on these papers, were itineraries that involved not just trains, but trams, buses, and funiculars, and that the schedules involved the WALKING distance from the train to the tram, the tram to the bus and the bus to the lift, and the times were separated by minutes – as in “the train arrives at 1420. You walk two minutes to the tram. The number 6 leaves at 1425 so its easy to get to. Then the tram arrives to the transit bus at 1431. You change – there’s a bus at 1434. Then the funicular leaves at 1445, which is easy because the bus takes 5 minutes.” Ummm. I’m from America. You know, where there might be a bus and if you’re really, really lucky you might catch your train which every third Thursday arrives on or reasonably close to on time. Oh, yeah – and what’s a tram?
Now, in the end I ended up by-passing the mountains in favor of searching out places to perform in Basel. But the whole experience told me why no one is ever in a hurry in Switzerland. The streets are almost empty of cars. The trams and buses run constantly and as a result everything happens when its supposed to happen. I tend to be pretty casual about leaving early for things, but in Basel? It seemed like I was constantly worrying about missing some form of transport when really the only variable was how fast I was walking. Other than that, it just got done. It just drives home how much of our stress is induced by automobiles. We think we’re free, but the reality is that the choice to drive, as opposed to be driven, to mangle public transportation systems instead of expanding them, turns the whole daily stress level upside down. When you know you’re going to get somewhere on time, and that you’re not responsible for getting there on your own wheels, it all just gets – simple. And it calms everyone, and everything, down.
The 0940 pulls into Zurich Airport. The schedule says it arrives at 1058.
Count on it.