Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Reading List so far

Travels with Charlie - Steinbeck
I The Supreme - Augusto Roa Bastos
The Age of Wonder - Richard Holmes
Love in the Time of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Alchemist - Paulo Coehlo (Spanish translation)
Musicophilia - Oliver Sacks
The Adventures of Mr. Norrel and Jonathan Strange - Susanna Clarke
The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
Mountains Beyond Mountains - Tracy Kidder
The Portable Thoreau - editor: Carl Bode
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007 - editor: Dave Eggers
When You are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris
Born Standing Up - Steve Martin
At The Tomb of the Inflatable Pig - John Gimlette
The Final Solution - Micheal Chabon
Kafka by the Shore - Haruki Murakami
This House of Sky - Ivan Doig
The Power and the Glory - Graham Greene
The Art of Music - My dad`s old music text book from college

So I`ve gotten a lot of reading done, anyhow.

Ballad of my Ballads - part 2

"Music is the sole domain in which man realizes the present. By the imperfection of his nature, man is doomed to submit to the passage of time - to its categories of past and future - without ever being able to give substance, and therefore stability to the category of the present. The phenomenon of music is given to us with the sole purspose of establishing an order in things, including, in particular, the coordination between man and time." Igor Stravinsky

"I almost reached the point of putting an end to my life - only art it was that held me back, as it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt called up to produce..."
Beethoven - Heiligenstadt Testament, written as his deafness deepens.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Ballad of my ballads, or why I should have just brought some cds

Chapter 1
I prepare for leaving home for 2 years, fully intending to leave much of my current life behind and reinvent my self. I am sick of all the damn music on my computer anyhow. I pack only a small radio and headphones with a splitter adapter so that I could plug my headphones ino someone else`s ipod. I intend to discover new music, both Paraguayan and that of my American counterparts. I also manage to forget my small ipod in Florida at my uncles house a month before departing.

Chapter 2
I arrive in Paraguay disoriented and exhausted with the alien culture. I am desperate to listen to and escape with familure music. Paraguayan radio is often just the same endlessly repeated elctro-pop or reggaeton songs, with very little variety. I`ve heard the Barbara Steisand song about 1000 times. At best they play traditional polkas in Guaranì, but these can be hard to find.

Chapter 3
I buy black CDs to burn on other people`s computers. I am the only volunteer in my `G` that did not bring a laptop, so it should be easy to get lots of music. I also borrow my host nephew`s crappy little guitar which I love to play. It has a looseness and a twangyness that is perfect for the blues.

Chapter 4
My first attempt to get music from a fellow volunteer is a success. I burn a mix of Zach`s computer and enjoy listening to it on my host family`s small radio/cd player. My uncle sends my ipod to my father whom I beg to send to me in a package. I ask him to include a 1 to 1 cable so that I could plug it in to speakers and stereos.

Chapter 5
Further attempts to burn cds fail for a number of reasons. Many volunteers keep thier music on hard drives which they don`t bring out with them, Jaimee`s music was totally unlabled and unorganized because it had all been erased somehow before arriving, Johanna`s music had also been erased, I didn`t want anything from several people`s libraries, seemingly successful burns would yield still-blank cds. Also my family`s ghetto blaster was on the fritz and often wouldn`t even recognize cds.

Chapter 6
I received my ipod in the package from my dad! It`s only about half full with stuff that I wouldn`t have put on if I`d known I wasn`t going to be able to change it for 2 years. It turns out that I can`t find any stereos to plug it in to. I enjoy listening to it with my headphones in my bed. In a week I feel like I know many of the songs better than I had from months or years half interestedly listening to them in the states. I also manage to burn 2 good cds from Champe`s extensive library, one a MP3 cd with some 120 songs (of wildly disparate sytles: Architecture in Helsinki, Paul Simon, Satie, Prince, Passion Pit) or so and the other some strange Phillip Glass album.

Chapter 7
I head out to my site. I bring my random ipod music and my random several cds. Within the first few weeks I buy a radio/cd player. Not quite a boom box, not quite a ghetto blaster. But it plays DVDs too! And it has a usb port, so it can play pen drives. It turns out that the Paul Simon, Passion Pit and Architecture in Helsinki albums that I put on the mp3 cd are ordered by their track numbers, so I get one PS song, one AH song and then one PP song then back to PS, which is totally jarring and unpleasant at first, though I end up getting used to it. I was thinking the thing had an input for my ipod 1to1 but that was a different model. The radio reception is not that good.

Chapter 8
Johanna comes to visit and leaves me one of her pen drives. I put some music on it from her hard drive, but for some reason my radio doesn`t read it. Because it is a new fangled style that folds up into a card. Pretty cool. No dice. Also cds tend to make a high pitched noise when they are spinning in the cd player. I despair that I bought a cheap pieceofshit.

Chapter 9
I buy a normal pen drive and put all the music from my mp3 cd onto it. And it works! But the files are strangely organized. They are not arranged alfabetically or in any ordering that I can discover, however files with the first part of thier name, like Paul Simon - Graceland and Paul Simon Kodachrome, tend to be grouped together, but not always. All my efforts to control this organization are futile.

Chapter 10
I buy a tv! I am able to watch dvds on my "mini-componente" and see the display when playing my pen drive. Unfortunately this does not clarify things much. I can at least navigate through the strange clumps to find something like what I want. I put some of Lauren`s great music on my pen drive at the VAC meeting.

Chapter 11
In attempting to bring some semblance of order to my music I try to put my music into folders on my pen drive. Inexpicably only one of the folders ever appears on my tv, that of Buena Vista Social Club.

Chapter 12
I buy two mp3 cds of music from a vendor in the bus station in Colonel Bogado while visiting Johanna. One of Paraguayan guaranias and polkas and one of Brazilian and Paraguayan Sertanejos. Brazilian Sertanejos are interesting because they bear close resemblance to american country music, especially in the use of fiddles and guiatars. Some of the music is good but mostly it all sounds the same. Do I need to learn to appreciate the music better or should South American musicians work on developing thier stylistic individuality?

Chapter 13
On my way back from Col. Bogado I pick up the package my father sent me in the postal warehouse in Asuncion which is a hideous and terrifying building carved out of the old locomotive roundhouse. It`s got a bunch of great cds in it: Charles Mingus, Yo-yo ma/Bach, Chet Baker, Abbey Road, Ukele dude, Mel Haggard. Except Abbey Road is in reverse order for some reason, which really doesn`t work on account of the long medley. Fortunately I can program my cd player to play them in the correct order.

Chapter 14
I go to San Pedro, the department capitol, to buy a little gas stove and a few things and on a whim I buy a 2 to 1 cable of the sort I have several of in boxes back home. My thinking is to plug it in to the front of my tv and listen to my ipod through my tv speakers which aren`t great, but are better than nothing. I take it home and no dice. For some reason the tv needs to be receiveing information from both the audio and visual parts of a single red/white/yellow AV cable to play sound.
In my disapoointment a thought comes to me. It would seem hopeless, a last try simply to combat inevitable failure a minute longer, but I feel something, some divine inspiration, that tells me that this will work. I plug my ipod with the 2to1 into the back of the minicomponente. It only has one set of ports and I simply assumed that these were output only. Not so!
Anda ya!
I can blast my ipod through my little ghetto boomer to my hearts content! Music which is pointless to listen to on headphones is unlocked. Music which fills the room, the home, with its happy logic, which renders incomprehesible time a matter to delight in and celebrate with spontaneous dance.
Now if only I could modify my ipod library. Perhaps I can hack it?

Thursday, July 7, 2011


Hidden within all the minor frustrations of living in a developing country are the many forgotten pleasant (quaint) ways of life that no longer exist in the rich, unionized, modern, hyper litigative society of the United States.

I never felt like I got a good understanding in college of what makes a developed country developed. Perhaps there is an econ class that addresses that subject. It seems to me that it`s that industrialization means fewer people can produce more stuff, so stuff becomes cheaper, so people can have more stuff. At the same time, other people are free to pursue white collar activities that enrich the society culturally or in other ways. The real prosperity comes when you can produce things cheaply and sell them to other places, then everyone has more money to spend on physical things and on intangibles.

I think the most visible trait of developed societies is the value of a person`s time. In the USA it is not worth a working man`s time to hand paint a sign, travel by ox cart, plant a garden, built furniture by hand, or ride to work on a bicycle. Given the cost of labor it is almost always cheaper to use a more mechanized process. The cost of labor is high due to a limited population, high levels of schooling, training, and experience, the success of labor rights and unionization efforts in the 20th century.
But I really enjoy the pace of life that comes from a society where a working man`s time is not worth very much, even as I lament the poverty that it is a symptom of.

I love to see things hand-made or improvised, to see the use of beasts of burden, to be able to interact with so many people daily who are not off hidden in a highly regulated workplace. In Latin America you can buy food and drink just about anywhere, because there is someone who`s time it is worth to hang around and sell it to you. Nearly every other house function as a `dispensa`, or convenience store. Mobile vendors will take care of you in parks or at the beach.

Furthermore your commercial interactions with these people are casual, informal. This makes sense in an economy dominated by informal employment, and lax regulation on formal employment. Workers are not controlled by rigid rules passed down from corporations or the government. When rules exist they are loosely enforced, but more often they do not exist. Perhaps because just aren`t making enough for it to be worth it to care.

So I can buy something, and if they don`t have correct change, they`ll either let me keep the difference (or once in a grocery store I was given little candies in place of exact change) or tell me to come back some other time to pay. People trust you. They value you and would not think of putting you through some obnoxious impersonal process. I am sure I will lament all this when I return to that States and all the barren, legally mandated spaces and interactions that I will surely encounter.

edit 7/20
I don`t like my vague negativity about commerce in the states without concrete examples of what I`m talking about. Since I can`t remember very well specific instances, it`s all so unremarkable after all, I thought I`d add a few examples of commerce that I`ve really enjoyed.

I like to have yogurt for breakfast. I walk half a block, turn the corner, and walk another half a block. There are often kids building sand structures in the "road". I buy my yogurt out of a little store which has all sorts of useful things, and is operated out of the front of a home. The yogurt is produced in a mennonity colony in this very district, a place called Rio Verde which is probably half an hour away. The only artificial ingredient is coloring.

My until recently host mother cooks great bread. I`m going to go back over there tomorrow and buy a loaf. Folks also come buy in the evening to buy dinner. She cooks them empanadas or milanesa (like country fried steak) and they can eat in the front room or the main room or wherever. The line between home and business is so hazy, the warmth of family bleeds into commercial interactions.

And glory of international commerce glories I`ve discovered they sell a German import Heffewiezen that`s pretty good and reasonably priced in the "supermarket" in town.