Monday, December 31, 2007

Photos from Christmas in Recklinghausen

Here is a link to my web album of photos from this Christmas. Finally this blog is in the present!!


Next installment of blog transfer

the following are pictures and words from the summer of 2006, when I returned from the Dominican Republic to do some fieldwork in New York and library research at the American Folklife Center in Washington, D.C.


Originally uploaded by salsasydney2000.
dinner with my sister's family, back in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. My first night back in the US since November!

Me and nephew Aaron

Me and Aaron
Originally uploaded by salsasydney2000.
more of the return-to-New York dinner.

Political intrigue and funky music in our nation's capital

Regarding the events of July 23 - 27.

I’d heard both positive reviews and horror stories about the Chinatown buses I’d arranged to take from New York to Washington, so I was curious to see what would happen. What did happen was that I very nearly missed it, the damn E train was so slow in coming, and had to take a cab the last ten blocks. But then I was pleasantly surprised to find a fairly comfortable vehicle, only half full. I could take the window seat and spread out over the aisle one as well. However, the window seat did not turn out to be advantageous. A screen was pulled down to shade us from the sun, and the bar at the bottom kept hitting me in the head. This wasn’t restful at all, and after ten minutes of wrestling with the damn thing together with my neighbor two rows behind, on the other end of the bar, we determined the blind’s retractor was broken and the clip that seemed meant to hold it in place was the wrong size. On second thought, that aisle seat looked pretty comfortable.

At any rate, our journey from Chinatown to Chinatown was otherwise uneventful. Soon I found myself under the giant, elaborately carved gateway on DC’s Gallery Place, where I decended into the metro system, so much cleaner and more efficient than New York’s 100-year-old underground labyrinth, and found myself on the doorstep of Carolina, who I’d never met before but who worked for my dad some years ago. Her Argentine accent, which I could barely understand from disuse at first, brought back memories She accompanied me to the grocery store, showed me to my futon, and then got me watching Alias, her favorite show. She and her roommate Susmita promised I would get hooked, and indeed, at the end of the first episode I was anxious to see what happened on the next.

My first morning in DC did not start off quite so promisingly as the night before. I looked pretty cute in a new skirt and fancy shoes, but I soon found out I’d chosen the wrong day to break those suckers in. On the map, it looked like a simple and not-too-long walk from the Union Station metro stop to the library, so I decided I might as well get off there rather than change trains for the closer Capitol South station. A little walk in the morning could only be good.

Ha ! The “little walk” turned into half an hour of wandering around the perimeter of the Capitol building. I didn’t realize the street situation was so confusing around there. I knew I needed to walk south on First Street, and when I emerged from the station I found First right away. But when I crossed the street, I wasn’t on First anymore, and it was nowhere in sight. If I passed through the little park, surely on the other side things would become clearer, I naively thought, but when I emerged from the trees I found myself on yet another, equally incorrect street. I asked someone for directions to First Street and they confidently pointed me off to the right. I did find First over there, but it led me around the wrong side of the capitol, and so I discovered there were actually two Firsts here separated by a couple of very long blocks. After contemplating the Capitol from all angles, I eventually came around to the correct First (though now it could more appropriately be termed Last), but by this time the new, stiff leather of my shoes had produced sizeable blisters on my toes, knuckles, and heels. I tried to think of other things to keep going, but by the time I found the library, passed through security, checked in at the reading room, and went to the bathroom to clean up, my feet were a bloody mess (as were the insides of the new shoes).

I hobbled back to the American Folklife Center reading room where I met my hosts and kicked off my shoes to listen to old tapes on a reel-to-reel for what was left of the morning. By lunch I couldn’t take it anymore and limped down to the nearest CVS pharmacy where I bought two boxes of bandaids and a pair of$2 flip-flops - maybe the best two bucks I ever spent. My feet thanked me and I smiled as I headed back down capitol hill in my smart black pencil skirt and neon pink striped footwear. After a quick lunch at the Library of Congress workers’ coffee shop, hidden away in the basement of the boxy, newish Madison building at the end of a long, twisty underground passageway from the historic Jefferson building, I let the antibacterial bandages work their magic as I listened to my 1940s field recordings from the Dominican Republic.

My usual work schedule is approximately 12 - 9 PM, so I was only just hitting my stride when the reading room closed at 5. It’s a good thing I arranged to spend two weeks here, because I realized it was going to take me some time to get through all the tapes and do the transcriptions as well. At any rate, Carolina had arranged an after-work welcome party at a sushi restaurant at Dupont Circle, rumored to have some good happy hour deals. I flip-flopped over there and ordered a celebratory glass of wine. Soon the WRI (World Resources Institute) crowd showed up and we ordered big platters of sushi rolls. The favorite, by consensus, seemed to be “spicy crunchy tuna.” No one seemed to know what the crunchy part was made of (it was brown and grainy) but the $3 drinks had dimmed our faculties enough that we didn’t worry about it too much. Also, though I’d been afraid of going out with a work crowd that would then get into long boring conversations over people I didn’t know, budgets, or some other work-related matter, they were actually very well-behaved. Kudos to the WRIers for having lives outside of work !

Having consumed an appropriate amount of raw fish, wasabi, and alcohol, we prepared to descend into the metro once again. At the top of the escalators was a man, perhaps West African from his accent, with a keyboard and a microphone. As we passed by, he asked rhetorically, “Do you like funky music? Who likes that funky music?” Well, I like funky music, I thought but did not say. Perhaps I should have said, because he then launched into the least funky keyboard playing, slow and pop-ballad-ish, that I’d ever heard. His non-funky lyrics included, “When I was a kid / my mama would hit me on the chin.” I did not like that funky music.

The next day, I did much the same thing at work, only in comfy sandals. Afterwards, Carolina had planned another interesting evening for us. In commemoration of Fidel’s July 26 Movement that carried out the successful 1959 revolution, the Cuban Interests Section was throwing a party. (Since Cuba and the US do not have diplomatic relations, Cuba does not have an embassy in DC but instead an Interests Section within the Swiss Embassy. The same is true of the US in Havana.) We wangled tangential invitations out of Lucy, a health services translator for DC Latinos and a friend of Carolina’s close friend Kendra, and met up with her at a bus stop in Columbia Heights to head over to the party. On the way over, we were warned not to talk about any trips one may or may not have taken to Cuba, as informers are often present at events in the Interests Section.

And so we found ourselves entering the marble-floored lobby of the embassy, where we signed in (I wonder where the guest list will be sent next) and ascended the grand staircase, greeting the embassy officials at the entrance to a wood-floored, crystal-chandeliered ballroom. Although it was in better conditions than most buildings I’d seen in Cuba, in other ways it reminded me very much of that country. There was no A/C, so the six-foot window shutters were open to let in the hot, humid air. It cooled down only slightly as night fell and we all angled for a spot near the windows, sitting on the wrought-iron grates to try to catch an infrequent breeze. An official made a long speech, made double in length by the accompanying English translation, about how the people of Cuba and the US were united, but our president’s policies were stupid and spiteful. Although we agreed we couldn’t muster up much enthusiasm in the heat. Some of the better-prepared Cuban ladies had come prepared with Spanish fans, and I emulated them with my folded-up bus ticket, less stylish but somewhat functional. When the speech was over, we made a beeline to the free mojitos and Cuban food: congrĂ­, pernil, salad, and yuca, with syrupy pickled guavas and hunks of creamy white cheese for dessert.

As we enjoyed our refreshments we mingled and conversed with whoever came our way: a Spanish professor, some Cuban officials, and finally a Czech called Alex. He was an old man with a long, yellowed ponytail, and he apologized for his odd method of drinking, as he’d recently had cancer removed from his lip. His long and fascinating life slowly unfolded before us. He’d worked in Chile for some time before coming to the US. His wife was German, a beautiful and strong woman, but she had died two years ago from Parkinson’s brought on by a stressful experience. He couldn’t work anymore, but his son made a lot of money as a computer executive and was able to support him. He’d gone to Chile after Pinochet ousted the pro-communism Allende “because the Russians had lost all their contacts there, and they needed someone to establish new ones.” Wait a minute, I thought. “Who were you working for, then?” “For the KGB.”

Then the whole story came out. He had begun working in some generic office job for the Russians in Czechoslovakia as a young man. Eventually he got drafted into the secret service. He worked in various areas before being sent to Chile. Although he spoke no Spanish at the time, his young son learned it quickly and translated for him. His wife was in the same line of work. He showed us her picture: with short blond hair and a sleeveless khaki shirt, she was looking off into the distance over a garden wall, seeming both courageous and prepared for anything. After their mission in Chile was accomplished they were sent to the US. Here, just a few years ago, someone betrayed them and the whole family was imprisoned. Alex made a deal and his wife and son were freed, but not before his wife had been subjected to a lengthy and hard interrogation, which led to her developing Parkinson’s far too early in life. She died two years later.

Meanwhile, Alex’s social security number was deleted and assets seized, making sure he would never work in this country again. In his career, he’d been known by seven names besides his own, and even showed us an ID card that read “Rudolf Herrman” on the back and his real name, which at lest he can finally use, on the front. “Did you ever get confused?” I wondered. He didn’t. Now, he leads a quiet life. “Everyone I used to know is gone now.” He misses his wife very much and is proud of his son. He likes to tell his stories to whoever wants to listen, but I bet there are many he won’t tell, too. After this conversation, I danced to some timba music with various Cuban officials in the ballroom, but Alex was a hard act to follow.

A Query: Does anyone out there speak Czech? If so, I’d love a translation or summary of this article I found online that appears to be about the capture of Alex and some other KGB agents:

Alex was still on my mind the next morning as I rode the train to Capitol South (I learned my lesson about Union Station). On the train with me was a typical DC mix: suited politicians, foreign tourists with children, and a Future Farmers of America delegation, its members all heavy-set and all iin identical blue corduroy jackets with their states embroidered on the back: West Virginia, Wisconsin, Minnesota. What a country this is. I got to see even more of its diversity at lunchtime, when the AFC had scheduled a performance by a Laotian music and dance troupe from Iowa, of all places, resettled there on an Iowa State refugee program. They were fantastic and so enthusiastic about presenting their culture to North Americans, it could only be described as heart-warming. I confess that, for me, a beautiful performance always produces a very visceral reaction. When I hear an amazing pianist, I literally get chills up and down my spine, and if they’re very good, the sensation can be sustained for the whole piece. When I see an amazing dancer I get choked up and teary-eyed. I don’t know why. But for whatever reason, I had this reaction to the Laotians. I think it was their beautiful costumes, painstakingly sewn from gold-embroidered silks by an Iowa seamstress, the stately music learned from a long line of teachers who must be acknowledged with an offering before every performance, their graceful movements and expressive hands, the smiles that passed between the performers and then out to the audience. All this made me think about how much work it must have been for them to learn this art, which they had done at a state conservatory back in Laos, and how it must be an even harder job to keep it going in the US Midwest. That kind of job can only be done out of intense love. I guess that’s why I get choked up the way others do at weddings: I think of all the love and beauty that can be found in people everywhere, all the time, and this optimistic part of me tells the pessimist that, someday, this might be enough.

The euphoria seemed to continue through the night and into the next day, when I found myself bounding down the stairs to the red line metro, thinking, “Life is good ” Indeed it was. The hours of listening to the ancient field recordings paid off in the form of an interesting discovery. I found that the lyrics to a popular merengue still commonly played today actually come from an old mediatuna, a type of improvised folk poetry from a Cibao, rather than being composed in the 1970s as generally supposed. I just about fell out of my chair when I heard the familiar words coming off a 1940s field recording. I can’t wait to tell Rafaelito about it, as this is the kind of discovery that interests practicing musicians as much or more as it interests us academics.

Somehow I managed to tear myself away for long enough to go hear a noon lecture on Alan Lomax’s recordings of non-English-speaking communities in the US. These recordings aren’t as well known as those he did of African-Americans in the South, but just as interesting. Examples were presented of Finnish, Mexican, Cajun, Polish, and Amish musics, but the audience was most taken with a track recorded by a Serbian auto worker in Detroit in the 1930s. He had made himself a duduk double flute out of “metal rods discarded on the factory floor” on which to play the melodies of Serbian shepherds in the Motor City. One audience member pointed out that pipes would be more convenient for flute-building than rods, and we had to conclude that Lomax had been a bit sloppy in his notes that day. It was amusing to look at some of his other notes. A telegram to his boss back in Washington requested, “Send advance or money or something. I’m not eating.” An expense report listed “mule team” as one of the items - he’d had to hire one to pull his car out of a ditch in a town with no cars.

Viva la Revolucion!

regarding the events of 7/28-8/1

Friday was my mom’s birthday, but since I couldn’t be with her, I celebrated with a meeting at Folkways Records, instead. Director Dan Sheehy met me and showed me their new Latino musics series, which of late has featured styles like Colombian gaita, Mexican arpa grande from Michoacan, and Argentine nueva cancion. This is good, but clearly merengue tipico is needed to make the collection complete. Luckily, Dan agrees, and we worked out a plan to make a Folkways tipico release a reality - assuming their grant money comes through in the fall. Stay tuned

While there, I got the deluxe tour of the Folkways offices. Among the stops on the tour were the recording/mixing lab, where workers were busy duplicating making a CD copy of an ex-LP of testimony given by Bertolt Brecht at some hearing or another; the archives, where I admired a Mo-bile made of photocopied pictures of Mo Asch hanging by strings from artfully assembled toothpicks; the wall of fame, where copies of Folkways recordings line the walls; and finally the secret storage closet, from whence Dan extracted an attractive “Listen Up” t-shirt for me.

The fun continued after work, as the WRI crowd was convening for a margarita cocktail hour at the house of one of their rank, also celebrating her birthday. So we stopped to pick up margarita fixings, chips and salsa, crackers and cheese, which only took about an hour after all the deliberations required. At that point I was starving and looking forward to eating the spoils right away, but it was not to be. Little did I know how far things can actually be from subway stations in DC. From our liquor store stopoff, it was about another hour of walking before we actually arrived at our destination.. I may be exaggerating, or then, I may not be. But once we arrived we wolfed and/or slurped down the snacks and/or alcoholic beverages pretty quick. We were aided in this by a drinking game, which someone had though a good idea and therefore looked up some inordinately complicated rules on the internet to help us along. This game worked on the premise of combining aspects of every other game known to man into one unwieldy whole, and involved drawing cards and then asking questions, doing a truth or dare, inventing rules, or coming up with names for genitals. After we reached the “Washington Monument” moment, we figured things just couldn’t go any further than that, and decided to call it a ten-way tie. After that, some were hoping for more substantial food, but that also was not to be. The rest of the night was spent at corny college bars along 18th street in Adams Morgan, the most drunken few blocks I’d seen in a long time. Suffice it to say that at the first bar we went, the decor consisted of neon beer signs on the walls, farm implements hung from the ceiling, and plaques of clever sayings hung behind the bar, while the fun consisted of watching for a skeleton-shaped robot wearing a tuxedo to swivel his hips, at which point one could receive a jello shot for only $1. The price still wasn’t low enough to convince me to drink one. Suffice it also to say that the next stop on our tour was called “The Tom Tom Room” and our neighbors there were a group of five blond girls in matching black dresses and high heels, one extremely pregnant, posing for pictures while draped across chairs and small step ladders. Maybe we should have stuck with those jello shots after all.

There was only one way to recover from that evening on Saturday. I was in Our Nation’s Capital: I had to see Our Nation’s Baby Panda Bear. I’d been following the young guy’s life via webcam since last year (haven’t you?). It was a nasty, hot, sweaty day, and all the animals, being much smarter than us humans, were sleeping indoors. After waiting and sweating 20 minutes in line, that’s where I found him, yawning and stretching. He was as adorable as you would think. After that, I couldn’t find the giant anteater so I visited the elephants and giraffes instead, then the invertibrates, the primates, and last but not least the new Amazonia exhibit. I recommend it: you start out underwater so you can check out the piranhas and other weird jungle fish, then go up into the forest part which is in a big greenhouse with free-ranging monkeys and parrots. Outside, there were more free -ranging monkeys, and as I wandered around in my usual oblivious state I just about ran into five golden lion tamarins right next to the path.

I knew I wouldn’t have much time for sightseeing this trip, but the panda was the only sight I really just HAD to see, so I felt glad I’d accomplished my mission. That evening, my second wish came true as Carolina and her friend Kendra accompanied me to eat tasty Ethiopian food back in Adams Morgan again (much safer and less drunken during the daylight hours). Washington DC has an astounding 2-300,000 Ethiopians living there, which has led to the establishment of numerous excellent Ethiopian restaurants. The oldest ones date back to the 1970s and are in Adams Morgan around 18th and Columbia; there is a new enclave around 9th and U that I haven’t checked out yet. We decided on an old favorite, Meskerem, and were not disappointed with the spicy sambussa, foamy injera, and flavorful vegetable stews.

When we finished, it was still too early for any nightlife, which technically should begin after dark, so we grabbed a table in front of the Latin music spot across the way, Bossa. We were there a looooong time with our Negra Modelos before anything started happening, but eventually people started arriving and we decided we’d better claim an inside table before it was too late. Bossa has two floors with two different bands. Both were good, but the upstairs was way too crowded. I went up briefly to hear some rock en espanol but quickly returned downstairs where the real dancing was going on. Well, I say “real,” but most people didn’t seem to have much clue of what was going on; they were probably only out there as a result of the beverages they’d been consuming in previous hours. I did have one good partner, a Peruvian who threw me around so effectively in the stifflingly hot dance floor that at one point my nice new glasses slid right off my sweaty nose, throwing me into a momentary panic as I blindly groped the floor amidst the dangerous assortment of footwear whirling around me. Luckily, the peruano found them. Now I remembered: not only had I not really danced since the second knee surgery, I hadn’t really danced since a nasty eye infection forced me to switch from contacts to glasses. Oops.

Still, we had fun. The band playing at the downstairs dance floor was composed of only four men, on keyboards, bass, timbales, and congas, who played mostly classic Cuban tunes. One was Cuban, one Salvadoran, and the other two looked like they might be Mexican or other Central Americans. Later another Cuban joined them as vocalist, and we chatted with both him and the Salvadoran jazz pianist. The Cuban singer had been in the US only a short time, having come to Washington to work and live with family nearby in Adams Morgan. Carolina was whipped into a revolutionary fervor through some combination of her recent trip to the island, our repeated Cuban encounters throughout the week, and the five or six Negra Modelos she’d consumed, so when our friend returned to the stage, she ran over to ask him to shout “Viva la revolucion!” Just so that we could all shout “Viva!” in return, as if at a Castro-led rally. He was in the middle of “La Guantanamera” at the time, and he went into an extended soneo, or section of improvised lyrics. He turned his back to the audience, as if to gather his thoughts, and we heard him say, “Si, que viva...” and just as Carolina got all excited he followed up with “...que viva la Guantanamera!” We collapsed into laughter.

At about 2:30 the show was finally over and I was more than ready to head to bed, but Carolina was not. Apparently, she was waiting for (a) her opportunity to talk more with a cute Colombian waiter and (b) her friend’s opportunity to talk to the attractive bar owner. There was nothing in this deal for me, so I just got sleepier and sleepier after a record 7 hours in the joint, but when at last I convinced them of the folly of their plotting we found there were no cabs to be had in the madhouse that the street had become as all the bars ejected their drunken patrons. After my years in New York and the DR, neither of which have “closing time” in their vocabulary, such an eventuality had never crossed my mind. We took a long walk, argued a cab driver into making two stops he didn’t want to make, and eventually made it home an hour later. Phew. That’ll teach us to stay in Adams Morgan past 3.

Needless to say, Sunday was not a day of action. Monday was not eventful either, although I did make another interesting discovery in the archive: a song familiar to all tipico enthusiasts today, recorded in 1944 with different lyrics. My teacher, Rafaelito, had in fact told me that prior to Tatico the song had different words, and had recited a verse to me in almost exactly the form I found it on this old tape. But this one had a second verse, too. Can’t wait to tell him.

The next day I ventured over to the Recorded Sound Collection: I’d made an appointment to hear some old Victor 78s of Dominican music. I thought over in Performing Arts the librarians might be more amusing. Not so. They were the unsmilingest group ever and didn’t respond at all to my habitual joking. Thus, I had no one to share my mirth with when I got back my book request slip stamped with the date “July 32 2006.” Apparently we were in some new kind of leap year. (Hey, I could use the extra day.) That’s OK, though, because later I did find people to laugh with me. After finishing up the afternoon in the Folklife Center, one of the far more amusing Folklife librarians invited me to join a couple of them for dinner: they were taking a visiting archivist, in town for the Society of American Archivists conference, out for the evening. “He has a really great web page about field recording equipment. You should check it out,” Jennifer told me. “Cool. Where’s the page?” “On the Vermont Folklife Center site.” “Oh, OK. Wait a minute... what’s this person’s name?” Sure enough, it could only be the one, the only Andy Kolovos, a former IU classmate of mine.

So we four folklore types, plus one friend, headed out to Silver Spring, Maryland to try a new Colombian restaurant. Actually, it turned out to be a Colombian/Dominican/Mexican restaurant that had just move into what was formerly a Japanese restaurant and even more formerly a Korean one. It was next to a Colombian bakery advertising Fruit Cakes in its window. We hoped Colombian fruit cakes were different from the American variety. Anyway, in the restaurant that still featured some of its Japanese-style woodwork we discussed Andy’s tenure as archivist at a paranormal research institute and ordered a variety of dishes: tasty arepas full of cheese, mangu or mashed plantains, fish, pigeon peas, and the infamous chicharron harmonica (later rechristened the Hamonica). This foot-long slab of salted pork curled around and split into tooth-shaped sections that reminded us of the working end of a harmonica. We couldn’t seem to get much sound out of it, though. Afterwards we were too full and too salted to deal with the fruitcakes, so we skipped them in favor of the two-bit tour of Silver Spring. Actually, we only saw one sight, but it was a big one. Silver Spring is mainly known as the home of the Discovery Channel, and since they were in the midst of their Shark Week, they had decorated with an impressive ten-story-tall shark that appeared to be embedded in their building: a tail coming out the back, fins from the sides, and an enormous toothy head facing the subway station, all about twenty stories above the ground. I wondered if it might be one of those spongy toy figures that grow in water, gone drastically awry, but apparently it was actually inflatable. The only other sight worth noting was an Indian restaurant with a tragic name: “Bombay Gaylord.” (Andy thought Bangkok Gaylord might be even better, but I don’t think Thai restaurants have gone that far yet.)

Library of Congress

Library of Congress
Originally uploaded by salsasydney2000.

What I Saw At The Zoo, pt. 1: Our Nation's Baby Panda Bear

asleep with mom

What I Saw At The Zoo, pt. 2

What I Saw At The Zoo, pt. 3

Bar nite in DC: normal view

(Carolina at left; jello shots on table - eww)

Bar Nite in DC: view from above

(me in the middle)

Salsa Nite in DC, pt.3

Salsa Nite, pt.3
Originally uploaded by salsasydney2000.
me and Kendra

Salsa Nite, pt.2

Salsa Nite, pt.2
Originally uploaded by salsasydney2000.
apparently, Carolina snapped this picture of half of me while I was dancing with this Peruvian fellow.

Salsa Nite in DC, pt.1

Salsa Nite, pt.1
Originally uploaded by salsasydney2000.
the band at Bossa

Smokljana (It's a Serbo-Croatian thing)


The Washington fun continued on Wednesday, though no salted pork or fruitcakes were involved. Instead, I met Steve, a friend of my sister’s, and a gaggle of female friends for a nighttime voyage on the Chesapeake in his 39-foot sailboat. Once we’d purchased the beer and snacks essential to our cruising plans, we made our way to Annapolis, where our seagoing vessel awaited us at a dock reachable only through a gated community. (A gated community of pirates, I was hoping, but it was far too tidy.) We set sail in plenty of time to enjoy sunset over Maryland from the water, to the accompaniment of BB King and Sam Adams. But soon we decided in favor of silent running, the better to enjoy the night sky. The crew (them) and the onlooking loafers (me) discussed internet dating (theirs, not mine - two of them had independently dated the same sailboat owner from the same site) and the difficulties of finding potential partners who love sailing. This surprised me: who wouldn’t like sailing, I wondered - they’d have to be nuts! Of course, I hadn’t taken seasickness into consideration. Luckily none on board suffered from this so we were able to enjoy ourselves on the water until 11:30 at night - past our weekday bedtimes, but well worth the sacrifice of sleep.

The most memorable moments were passing by freighters and container ships that came upon us unexpectedly and quickly, suddenly looming over us and blocking out all the stars with their huge, black forms. A pilot boat, tiny in comparison, buzzed around the base of one Fearless Captain Steve got on the radio and made contact with their captains (one of them a woman) in order to check their courses and keep out of their way. We did indeed make it back to port safely, even with me at the wheel. Following captain’s orders I took the helm, my only directions being “stay between the red and the green lights.” When the lights were far away on the coastline and we still at sea this was easy, but they came upon us as rapidly as had the ships and soon I saw they were rather large posts with lights and, in some cases, birdnests affixed to the tops ten feet above the water. It would definitely not be good to run into these. “Don’t run into those,” was the crew’s helpful instruction at this point. Luckily, as the strait narrowed and we found ourselves surrounded with boats packed in like sardines, but all sensibly tied up for the night long before, someone more knowledgeable took the wheel and saved us all from certain disaster, and me from certain embarassment.

The rest of the week continued as it had started, me transcribing tapes during the day and attending the occasional lecture (the next one on fieldwork in Jamaica and Afghanistan). I couldn’t believe how quickly the time had passed when all of a sudden I found myself in Friday, my last day in Washington. I celebrated with a lunch with Carolina and her boss at WRI, a friend of my dad’s. “Dan’s cool, you should meet him,” my dad had said. “Dan is so cool,” Carolina’s coworkers had confirmed at happy hour last week. With that many coolness reviews, I certainly had to meet Dan. They were right: he was cool.

After that, I realized I’d spent two weeks in the Library of Congress and still hadn’t seen the main reading room, which also had many major coolness reviews. So I went up to see. Again, they hadn’t lied. It was definitely worth seeing the towering marble columns topped with bronze statues with viewing galleries in between that looked like the choir loft for a Gothic cathedral, and the soaring dome filled with stained glass several stories above. Down on the floor, dark wooden desks and chairs were arranged in a circle around the reference desk in the center, and around the perimeter were arrayed the open stacks of reference books n two tiers. Never one to resist narrow, twisty staircases, I went up and circled the room a half-storey up instead. This certainly must be one of the top ten most attractive places to do library research (the NYPL main reading room is up there too). Now why, I wondered, do they always have to hide the performing arts books around in some flourescently-lit, windowless room with no personality? Did I pick the wrong field?? No, I didn’t, I was reminded once again by some folklore colleagues at the happy hour we attended at an Irish bar after work. Who else, after all, is likely to discuss their personal experience in combining breakdance and clogging over a hearty ale?

For the grand finale to my Washington week I wanted to take Carolina out to dinner, but she was sick. It turned out to be tonsilitis, of all things. I told my dad and he said, “Tonsilitis?? But you’re supposed to get that in the winter!” “Well, I guess she screwed up,” I responded. The result of this was that we stayed in, ordered out and watched a movie. So my trip went out less with a bang than with a pad thai.

Since I’ve been back in New York, it’s been pretty much what you’d expect, only transfered to my relatives’ Upper West Side apartment rather than my former Greenpoint flophouse digs. Have I been able to interview those elusive musicians? No. Have I gotten other things done? Yes, but mostly boring errands and shopping not worth writing about here. I have had just one fieldwork success. This was in meeting with a major tipico fan at the bodega he owns, just on the border of Bed-Stuy with Bushwick. Fermin is the kind of guy who commissions homenajes, songs of homage: you might remember I met him at a tipico gig about a month ago, recognizing his name from a song Maria Diaz recorded in his honor. When I arrived, I found him behind the counter of his corner store, surrounded by an array of candies, cigarettes, and calling cards. Customers came and went with their purchases: chips, soda, toothpaste, deoderant. He told me to come behind the counter, so I ducked under the plexiglass. Fermin offered me a chair in the corner next to the shampoo and the trash can and sent his assistant, a man who’d grown up down the street from him in San Jose de las Matas and arrived in New York just a month earlier, to get me a cold Presidente. He opened it on the counter’s edge, then decided it wasn’t cold enough and put it in the freezer again.

It was a challenge to do the interview there as Fermin worked and chatted with customers, and I only got a few of the questions done that I’d planned on asking him. However, in all other ways, the four hours I spent in this Bed-Stuy bodega were quite educational and entertaining. I listened as Fermin’s accountant went over a report from a health inspector, explaining the fines he’d have to pay: one for keeping items of a chemical nature on a shelf adjacent to items of a food nature; one for having a cat in the shop. “But if I didn’t have the cat, the place would be full of mice!” he objected. The accountant further explained that if he had an employee, he’d be obligated to pay him $12 an hour and give him two weeks’ vacation as well as health insurance. At this, both Fermin and his helper laughed: they knew no Dominican bodega employee anywhere in the city was earning this lofty sum, and none ever expected to, either. The bodega owners could never afford it, and the employees (whose English is generally nonexistent, and their education at a similar level) could never find a better job. “If you’re going to keep that cat here working for you, you’ll have to give her vacation time too. She might want to go to Florida for a couple of weeks,” I suggested.

A bit later, I exited the counter area in order to search for snacks to eat, and one of the guys in the store, those types that hang about hoping for a job to do, asked if I could help another guy in the store make a phone call. “I don’t speak enough English to know what he’s saying,” he explained. The other guy handed me his cell phone. “I need to talk to this guy Francisco, but I don’t speak any Spanish,” he told me. “No problem,” I said. “What do you want me to say?” “Well, his wife will answer, then ask for him. Tell him to be at Gates Avenue tomorrow morning.” “What time?” I wondered. “Oh, he’ll know.” “Who should I say is calling?” “Oh, he’ll know. But you can say Kevin if you want.” This all sounded fishy, but whatever. The wife answered, I told her I was calling on behalf of Kevin as a translator and relayed the message. “Where? At his house?” she asked, and I asked Kevin. “No, he knows where. Gates and Nostrand.” I translated this. “Oh yes, I know what this is about,” she confirmed. “Thanks, I’ll tell Francisco.” I hung up wondering just what kind of transaction I’d just set up. Was I a good Samaritan? Or a BAD Samaritan?

Back behind the counter, I realized that the radio station playing was actually a Santiago station, La Super Regional, and that we were listening to it thanks to a computer with Internet Fermin had set up behind the counter expressly for this purpose. I commented on this, and told him I’d been interviewed twice on just that station. “Really? That’s great! Let’s call them up and say hi!” So we did. The DJ on duty was one I hadn’t met before, but he knew who I was, and asked where I was and what I was up to. “I’m hanging out with Fermin in the most tipico bodega in all of Brooklyn!” I informed him, and he agreed the definition was correct. “But I’ll be back in Santiago in January. I hope you’ll be waiting for me,” I said. He said they would be “planning something big” to celebrate my return.

With all this excitement, needless to say, the interview didn’t go far. But I did get a couple of nice pictures of Fermin at work, and Fermin’s ring, which I liked. Other excitement of the week consisted of a Burmese food and Irish music night with friends from the Washington Square Harp & Shamrock Orchestra (“The Finest Irish Band Withing A 5-Block Radius of Washington Square”), which I played with in pre-DR times. When Ben and Amelia arrived, they were accompanied by a woman unknown to us, who Amelia introduced as “Someone I found in my building.” I thought she was kidding, but when I asked the person in question (actually named Anna) she confirmed that they’d met in an elevator this morning. She turned out to be from Serbia, but had lived in California for a year, where she worked as an au pair. She also confessed to having been annoyed when she first arrived in this country and discovered that Americans didn’t actually know where her country is. So boy was she surprised when we pulled out the two words we collectively knew in Serbo-Croatian (now artificially divided into Serbian and Croatian for political rather than linguistic reasons). For some reason, Scott knew how to say “appendix.” I knew how to say “nerd.” Best not to ask why.

What I saw at the Natural History Museum

A giant armadillo with a beret? More or less.

Red hook

the following are links to my photos of Red Hook, Brooklyn, from August 2006. It is an interesting waterfront industrial landscape with warehouses dating to the 19th century.

My trip to Red Hook

Red Hook 2 Originally uploaded by salsasydney2000.

Red hooks in Red Hook

Red Hook 3 Originally uploaded by salsasydney2000. Red Hook hooks hanging on historic 1860s warehouses.

Red Hook, Brooklyn

Red Hook 4 Originally uploaded by salsasydney2000. Historic warehouse space on the waterfront, built by an Irish immigrant in the 1860s.

more Red Hook

Red Hook 1 Originally uploaded by salsasydney2000.