Monday, December 25, 2006
Saturday, December 16, 2006
It was in a whole corridor of similar posters
As I had been writing about South African space outside of South Africa, it was a slightly surreal experience to encounter such a markedly South African space in such a definitively New York environment. There was busked jazz audible in the background, and everyone, including me, was bundled up in their winter coats, sweltering in the subway’s muggy, acrid heat.
The website listed on the posters is here. I haven’t had time to explore it yet.
While I am posting photos, though, I thought I'd post this one of a shop display on 10th street near 5th avenue
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Saturday, December 09, 2006
I had such a wonderful day yesterday. After an early afternoon class, my new supervisor took me up town to Columbia University to meet some of her colleagues in our field. In particular, I have wanted to meet another South African ethnomusicologist who I corresponded with around the time I was applying to graduate schools. She was visiting Columbia for the day, and so Ana had arranged for us to meet. She is lovely, as are the other people I met, and I felt that it was a very productive afternoon. I was also thrilled to see the Columbia campus, which is just like the big beautiful space one would expect from an IV league school. I may land up taking a class or two there at some point. We also went to visit Labyrinth Books, a wonderful, enormous and very atmospheric book store that people have been telling me about since before I came to NY. I sometimes think I should feel guilty for “fetishizing” books the way that I do, particularly with my passion for paperless and digital publication, but when I am surrounded by so many fresh-smelling, colourfully covered books that are just waiting to open up whole new worlds of ideas to me, I lose my mind a little.
The best part of the day, though, was just having an opportunity to talk openly to my new supervisor about everything and anything, as we traveled. My initial nervousness about my decision to come here (you never can tell before you actually get there) has evaporated, and I am just overwhelmingly happy to be here. Aside from the amazing privilege of being in this very exciting place (the city really is a big draw card for this university), I couldn’t have asked for better lecturers. My main supervisor and I are going to get along very well. Our intellectual concerns are very similar, as are our perspectives on life in general, and the differences are fascinating, and promise to keep me on my toes. I really have been very lucky with mentors throughout my academic career. I had an amazing choral music mentor when I was in the West Gauteng Youth Choir in Highschool, some incredible teachers in my final years of High school, a really special mentor during my undergraduate study, and some very strong mentoring to help me get into grad school. And now that I’m here, the cycle of great mentoring looks set to continue. If I ever wanted a sign that I was on the right career path, I have it.
I only had time for a very brief stop at Labyrinth Books as I had to dash off to catch the train to get to the warm-up for my first concert with my new choir. What a mad house! The number 1 train at 17:00 is absolutely insane. I had to let two trains pass, as they were literally filled to bursting point, and when I finally did squeeze myself into an over-stuffed carriage, it felt like the twilight zone. The sheer mass of bodies kept me upright, without the need to hang on to a hand-rail. We were squeezed so tight, I couldn’t lift my arms. And the New York subway is swelteringly hot at the best of times. At this time of year, though, when the outside temperature is below freezing in the middle of the day on occasion (and yesterday was one of those occasions. I am so grateful for my wonderful down coat and heavy boots), the temperature on the subway is pushed up pretty high, a fact which would be greatly welcomed if it were possible to remove one’s coat during the trip. Of course, that isn’t possible though, and so we all stood, noses to the back, or ear, or shoulder-blade of our neighbours, sweating profusely and determinedly holding our collective breath. And that wasn’t just because that was the only way we fitted into the carriage. I was so glad to get off in Grand Central. No time to watch the lights show tonight, though. I beat a hasty path to the church. After a bit of warm-up and lots of pinning of corsages (we all wore black, with corsages of red carnations backed with pine needles. Very festive), we headed out to the church, and there the sheer joy of singing took over. I really do love choral singing, and Christmas music is very high on my list of favourites. The concert went really well. The music was great, the choral sound was clean and well-blended, and we all had great fun. I am very excited about continuing this next year.
So now it’s nose back to the grind-stone until tomorrow night, and the carols party at church. I am as psyched for the work as for the singing, though, so today should be productive.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
First: On Friday night (8 December), I am singing in a Christmas concert with the New York Chamber Singers. The location is St. Agnes’ Catholic Church on 43rd street, between 3rd and Lexington. It is right by Grand Central, so very easy to get to. The concert starts at 19:30, so if you are in New York, please join us.
Church of St Agnes
143 E 43rd St
New York NY
Second: On Sunday night (10 December), I am singing in another Christmas concert with the NYU Canterbury Club and the Protestant Churches organization at NYU. This is a sing-along Carols concert, with a party following. The location is the Church of the Ascension on the corner of 5th Avenue and 10th Street. Again, a very central location, and easy to find, so if you are in NY on Sunday, please join us there.
Finally, purely by accident, I walked into the concourse at Grand Central Terminal yesterday just as the Holiday Lights Show started. What an amazing sight. There was a burst of music and colour, and the concourse was transformed. Snowflakes, New York City scenes and very creative Kaleidoscope type images turned an already beautiful space into a little bit of magic. I was rushing from class to a choir rehearsal, but the show stopped me in my tracks, and left me feeling very festive, and very happy to be in New York.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Hawai’i was amazing! Waikiki beach is, as you could imagine, very built-up and touristy, but the weather was wonderful (it was great walking around bare foot after New York’s cold) and the beaches were great. I swam in the Pacific for the first time, visited an active volcano (that was an amazing experience that I will write lots more about), took Hula and Ukulele lessons, met all sorts of people, including many of the incredible scholars I have read over the years, spent some wonderful times with new friends and old, got to know my new department a little better, got a tan, and had an all-round great time. I’m feeling more psyched up for the upcoming final papers for my various courses than I was before, so that is definitely a positive thing. I am also feeling very jet-lagged (kind of slow and dizzy, though surprisingly not too tired), and so am going to take advantage of the weekend to get a couple of early nights.
Monday, November 13, 2006
I’m off to Hawaii for 10 days! part of that time is conference time, of course, but part of it is holiday, and I am so excited. I am presenting a paper on Thursday afternoon, and will be back on Friday the 24th. No blogging for a while, I suspect, but I will write all about it when I get back.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Good luck to everyone working on it.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
It rained really hard today. When I awoke in the 6:00 am semi-darkness, great sheets of wind-blown water were rattling the windows, creating the impression of a Highveld thunderstorm without so much as a glimmer or lightning. I wrapped myself up in my beautiful red velvety dressing gown, and enjoyed the lack of traffic noise. The city might have been washed away in the night for all the sound it made. By the time I left for class, mid-afternoon, the deluge had slowed to a soaking shower that swelled the roadside mini-waterways to ankle-deep streamlets that washed away the brown and yellow autumn leaves that have made New York glow for the past few weeks. The cloud-cover had raised the outside temperature significantly by trapping the rising heat generated by 8 million living bodies, and so I wasn’t weighed down by the necessary layers of clothing and paraphenalia of a colder climate. It made for a really lovely day. Under other circumstances, I may have found the spectacle of a huge truck taking 15 minutes to extract itself from a driveway in a narrow street, while my bus waited in a rapidly lengthening queue of hooter-honking vehicles whose path was blocked by the hissing, bucking monstrosity, less amusing. Today, however, it provoked great hilarity. Have you ever noticed how the biggest truck bounces like one of those coin-operated child’s rides you occasionally get in shopping centres and similar public spaces, when the driver attempts any sort of delecate manouvre? Just like those piston-mounted toys, it expends great amounts of energy moving essentially nowhere. Or perhaps that isn’t entirely true. The driver did, to my amazement and admiration, finally succeed in extracting himself from the awkward space created by a narrow driveway and a narrow street further compacted by parked SUVs along both pavements, and an impatient taxi whose driver had attempted to squeeze through the two inches between the bumper of the truck and the left front door of the SUV behind which I was standing. Driving in New York City takes a particular level of courage that I simply don’t have.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
I went to the Village Halloween Parade last night. It is such a quintessential part of the city that almost everyone I encountered yesterday asked whether I was going. I just couldn’t miss it.
The weather was wonderful, warm and still, and the half-moon lit up the few scattered clouds that were visible between the looming buildings. The whole city seemed to be walking in the same direction I was, sweeping me along with the crowd descending on downtown 6th Avenue. It amazes me how in New York, in the center of the densest crowd, I can be inextricably engulfed and propelled ahead without anyone touching me. New Yorkers are very protective of their personal space.
Quite abruptly our forward motion halted, and the crowd around me spread out along the police barriers on both sides of the street. Standing on the raised sidewalk, I could just see the street ahead over the sea of costumed people in front of me. The atmosphere was festive, and the street colourful and vividly lit. People gathered in the windows of the buildings above us, and on one rooftop someone had set out candles and fairly lights on all the railings. A party of costumed children were gathered in another window, and several families had stationed themselves in the upstairs windows of a MacDonald’s restaurant across the street. Police officers walked purposefully up and down the street, or gathered in groups of two and three along the barriers. Most people in the gathered crowd had made some effort to dress up, and it gave the whole area an unreal atmosphere. I had put together a rather demure school-girl outfit, with a knee-length tartan skirt, knee high socks, blazer and berret, and felt almost over-dressed in amongst the mostly very skimpy outfits about. Womens’ halloween outfits generally leave rather little to the imagination. In amongst the short-skirted nurses, air hostesses, sailor girls and inevitably numerous little devils, I also spotted several Marilyn Monroes, George Bushes, and Queen Elizabeth IIs, Neptune, Mozart, Mickey Mouse, Tweety, the Statue of Liberty, Madonna (in various guises), and even the Empire State Building (which would have been great if the weather had been properly autumnal, but must have been incredibly hot in the unseasonable warmth). And that was before the parade even began!
At around 19:00, some dancers and a group carrying hand drums appeared, presenting a colourful, though somewhat demure spectacle. Several minutes later, a group of mounted police rode by, and then, in the distance, the sounds of the approaching parade became audible. The bystanders’ excitement increased, and for the first time someone actually came into physical contact with me as the crowd surged forward. I had been concerned about not being able to see, as was the man to my left, who brought a little three step ladder with him, on which he perched precariously in the middle of the crowd. I needn’t have worried, though. The parade was opened in ernest by several stilt walkers: a fairy, clowns, and miscelaneous colourful costumes, who towered above the crowds, before a series of enormous glowing puppets on tall poles swished and twirled their way into view. The were spectacular. Dragons, witches on broom-sticks, skeletons, swarms of dragon flies, schools of fish, and finally, about a half an hour after the beginning of the parade, a pumpkin patch, with huge, orange, glowing Jack-O-Lanterns, smiling punpkin flowers, and trailing, wiggling tendrils of pumpkin vine that dipped periodically into the crowd on the side of the street. They danced and swirled up the street, accompanied by percussionists and the appreciative mutterings of the crowd, before gathering at the nearest intersection around a huge, glowing cauldron with red, yellow and orange fabric flames rippling out of it, and performed a ritualistic dance that brought the whole scene to glowing life.
Behind the puppets were a series of floats, featuring everything from the adopt-a-dog foundation to KISS, interspersed with marching bands and general costumed folk. The costumes were fabulous, too. There were plenty of George Bushes, with various political messages attached, uniforms from every branch of the armed services, medieval, roccoco, victorian and pioneer costumes, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Bananas on bicycles, Sponge-Bob, Dr. Livingstone, Coco Chanel, a giant Dunkin’ Doughnuts cup, half a dozen sperm chasing an enormous egg (it had to be seen to be believed), an old man riding his walker at top speed down the street, flashers with various amusing, surprising and sometimes baffling messages hidden under their coats, dogs in prisoners’ stripes and pumpkin outfits, a daschshund dressed up as a hot-dog, being towed by a woman in a Mac Donalds costume, drag queens in all shapes and sizes, a piano (I am presuming she considered herself an upright model), darth vader (there were several, again, but one came up behind me while I was looking at something else, and gave me quite a fright), spider man, super man, bat man, and various other super heroes in costumes of any colour you could imagine, more devils, angels, fairies and princesses than I could ever have counted, and a bunch of cheery-looking police men who enjoyed repeated requests for photographs with skimpilly-dressed girls in various uniforms. Quite a night. If I get more creative with my costume next year, I might actually consider joining the parade.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Thursday, October 26, 2006
I think the whole experience may have fried my brain a little. I just let my dinner boil over on the stove while I was writing this post. No real damage done, though.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
There is a lot to be said for well-resourced universities. I had my easiest encounter ever with inter-library loans, today, followed by my first proper work-out in the very smart university gym (it is cold enough now that I am walking much less than before, and so I will be resorting to regular gym sessions, instead. I love being able to swim when it is 4º outside), and then a massage at my residence common room when I arrived home. I really could get used to this….
Sunday, October 22, 2006
17 October 2006
I am sitting on a step inside the box-office foyer at Carnegie Hall, waiting to buy rush tickets for tonight’s performance by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I arrived at 10:30, and the room was empty. Officially tickets are only sold from 11:00, and rush tickets become available at 12:00. I wanted to be here early, but I overestimated the time it would take me to get here, and so I have a bit of a wait. At about 11:55, people began gathering, but not in large numbers. At present they are selling tickets for various performances, and I think I overheard one sale for tonight. I wonder how popular it will be?
This room is small, but plush: marble tiles on the floor, brass hand-rails on the stairs and brass light fittings. There is some elaborate decorative molding at the top of the pillars and over the stairs that lead into the theatre.
More people are wondering in, milling around, looking at posters and pamphlets, and waiting for the box-office window to free up so that they can buy their tickets. I have a copy of Edward Said’s Orientalism open in my lap. Ironic to be reading this here as I wait for this concert. I expect this to be a key text in my research.
I got all dressed up to come here, as I won’t be going home before the concert. I am wearing black pants and a polar neck, and a red blazer, and unfortunately, it is not far off what the ushers at the doors are wearing. I am feeling a little self-conscious about it.
Someone has just asked about tickets for tonight. She wanted to know whether Paul Simon is appearing. His in not. Sarah McLachlan? She is. This lady is buying tickets for her daughter.
Someone just asked whether I am here for the tour. Apparently a tour of the theatre is about to depart. There are more people around now. A yellow school-bus outside the door is filled up, and more children are walking past the door. There is a Carnegie Kids concert today, and that and the tour explain the increased number of people. Someone is vaccuming the stairs behind me, and the effect is an overall increase in the noise level, making the whole space feel much more busy than when I first arrived.
I hear a South African accent…. Turns out they are here for the tour. The lady is South African, and her husband is British. There are a group of people in the center of the room who look like they may also be students. Are they also waiting for the rush tickets?
I just got uprooted. The tour begins on the steps I was sitting on.
There isn’t a lot of advertising for tonight. But then again, there isn’t much advertising about at all. There is a big poster on the wall at 57th street at the underground station, and a smaller poster next to the center box-office window. The concert is also advertised on the website, and on a poster listing all concerts for this season that is available in a little box beside the box-office window. LBM have a lovely picture on this one. The concert is called Long Walk to Freedom, named, of course, for Nelson Mandela’s autobiography (though this isn’t credited on any of the advertising literature that I have encountered yet). This is also the title of LBM’s newest CD. On the Carnegie Hall season pamphlet, the group are billed as “the South African a cappella group featured on Paul Simon’s album Graceland”. They never will escape that album, will they? I wonder whether they even want to? The guest artists joining them for the concert are Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Vusi Mahlasela (all of whom appear on the album), the Mohotella Queens, and Pete Seeger and Tao Rodriguez Seeger (who are not on the album).
The lobby has emptied out. I am returning to my reading.
At 11:55, I finally got in line for the tickets, and was instructed to stand to the side. I got into conversation with a young high-school history teacher. This was also his first experience buying rush tickets here. I mentioned that they are partial view, and that may be a problem with LBM, as seeing them is part of the experience. While I was buying my tickets, I overheard the woman at the next window mention that there are only $21 tickets and rush tickets left. She was speaking to a lady who was buying 2 tickets, and had been hoping for better seats. I collected my ticket, greeted the teacher, and left. I am now on the subway on my way to class.
Note to self: you can only go to your seat half an hour before the start. Either come early enough to spend time in the museum, or late enough not to have to. I did neither, and landed up wondering in shocked silence through the over-priced café. Note to self #2: eat before leaving for the concert. That I got right. Some things are the same all over the world.
I am finally seated, and very very hot. It was pretty cold, and very wet outside, and so I had dressed pretty snugly. Inside, however, the temperature is more suited to glamorous evening dresses than polar necks and blazers. This place is massive! No photograph, film or written description can really prepare one for the scale of it. I am in the 4th balcony, and it feels really high! There are microphones on the stage (7 in a curve, with 1 front and center, and two somewhat different ones to the left), and a piano behind them, slightly to the left. There are three bongo drums, a suspended cymbal, and a bar stool behing that.
Have I mentioned how huge this place is?!? Worse leg-room than an aeroplane, though. My nice new shoes don’t fit. From my partial view seat, the piano is barely visible, but if I sit well forward, I’ll see just fine. I am sitting to the left of the stage, one row in from the edge of the balcony, and one seat from the isle. Time, I think, to switch to pure observation. I’ll not take any more notes untill afterwards, unless I really think it’s necessary. Will keep the note-pad close, though.
18 October 2006
I am home. Finally. I really needed the headspace walking home from the concert gave me, though when I finally got in about a half an hour ago, wet and tired, I was beginning to regret the decision. Not to attend the concert, though. It was super. LBM began with “Hello My Baby”, which is also on the Carnegie Hall website where their concert is advertised. It was a fairly demure opening, though the dancing was, as always, energetic and exciting. I was somewhat taken aback by the amplification applied to their voices. The volume was really cranked up high, and there was a very heavy base mix, leaving Joseph’s voice sounding rather thin. They really could have been left un-amplified. They fill a space really easily, and the acoustics here are well-reputed. Instead, because of how high the volume was, whenever the dancing moved them away from the mics the silence was startling. The levels were also dropped when they danced, probably to prevent stage noise from being amplified, and it left dead spots in the sound that I found rather distracting. Aside from that, though, it was a really wonderful performance. The sound of their voices is so much a part of my familiar sound scape from home that I found myself tearing up early on, and feeling rather sentimental and home-sick during the concert. There was something really inspiring about the image that a concert like this creates of South Africa, though, and I could see it being emotional whether South Africa is home to an audience member, or not. Vusi spoke about Bishop Desmond Tutu, and the wisdom of forgiveness, in introduction to his part of the performance, and his comments drew extended applause from the audience.
I was really interested in Pete Seeger and his grandson’s participation in the program. The performed two North American folk numbers during the first half of the program. The second of these had the audience in stitches, because it involved the two men beating wooden blocks with huge long-handled hammers in time to the singing. Very typical work-song structure. They also encouraged the audience to sing along with them, though the response was tentative, to say the least. In the second half of the program, though, they joined LBM, and lead a performance of “Mbube”. After the controversey that has evoked in recent years, I am always a little surprised when it is actually performed. Nonetheless, it is enough a part of popular culture that I felt like the audience had been waiting for it, and this time, they sang along more enthusiastically. I was somewhat surprised, however, that Pete stopped when the audience began clapping along, and asked us not to, as we were “spoiling the rhythm”!
Sarah McLachlan received a particularly enthusiastic response from the audience, particularly because she peformed “Angel” during the first half, and once again, I could sense the audience waiting for that. Interestingly, she also performed “Homeless” with LBM in the second half, and that was the other piece that was tangibly anticipated. I must admit that I would have been very disappointed had it not been performed. Isn’t it funny how some pieces become so quintessentially associated with particular performers? It was a lovely performance of it.
Natalie Merchant performed a piece of her own that LBM had arranged to sing with her, and the effect, right near the end of the concert, was lovely. I am unfamiliar with her music, but I really enjoyed what I heard tonight.
The Mohotella Queens were, as always, electric, and I found it very difficult to sit still in my seat while they were dancing. I made an effort to learn to ululate several years ago, after all, and it was rather strange to not hear those types of interjections during the performance. I am usually a fairly quiet and reserved listener, but tonight I was itching to be noisy in my appreciation. I finally did whoop and ululate a bit during the ovation at the end of the show, and I got some very funny looks. It wasn’t that the audience was unappreciative. There was some whistling, and a 3 minute standing ovation and call for an encore at the end, but the audience sounded different from what they do at home. Even a concervative white audience in South Africa is familiar enough with that type of sound that it doesn’t feel out of place. I don’t want to suggest that there was anything wrong with this, but it was different, and that gave me a rather different take on the music. Perhaps it is because I always listen with the intention of vocalizing my responses, and with the very physical type of listening that comes from wanting to sing and dance along, that I usually experience this type of music as more participatory. Tonight, however, particularly during the danced sections of LBM’s music, I experienced the cyclic repetitions of much of the music, as almost meditative. I felt, at one point, like I was floating above the stage. I really had time to listen to the layers of sound, not in the sense of picking out individual lines (which is how I tend to listen ordinarily), but as a kind of complex, like a shifting block of sound in which different areas move in and out of focus. It was a really lovely personal experience that I hope I will be able to duplicate. There are more repetitions of the cyclical sections of LBM’s music in live performances than in recordings, because they dance during these sections, and that obviously doesn’t translate particularly well onto CD. It was interesting to hear the music like that.
The dancing, as always, was great. The group members come across as very energetic, playful, and a bit cheeky, wiggling bottoms at the audience, overacting challenging actions, and deliberately provoking one another and Joseph, and the audience loved it, laughing out loud regularly. There were some explanations given of the type of dancing, the origins of Isikathamiya, and little fragments of Zulu culture. The costumes, as always, were beautifully colourful, and both LBM and the Mahotella Queens changed costumes during intermission.
Everyone but Sarah McLachlan returned to the stage for a Encore, performing “Amazing Grace”, and all dancing together. The effect was lovely. All in all, a great concert.
I had some excitement as I was leaving, because someone incorrectly directed a group of us down a flight of stairs that led backstage, rather than out the main entrance, and we got rather lost. When we finally found our way out, two rather surly body guards who thought we had gone snooping around looking for autographs firmly directed us to the street outside. I walked home in a gentle, soaking rain, via a surprisingly quiet Times Square and Broadway. It gave me the space I needed to think this all over. I feel like a bit of a fraud claining this as my music, because I am not Zulu. I don’t even speak the language. I have, however, been singing and listening to this type of music for years. It is familiar enough to make me feel homesick. At what point does it become mine? I am going to write a long letter to my mentor and tell her about it, and perhaps by the end of this degree I will be able to answer that question. Or perhaps not. Either way, if I get to spend the next five years doing things like tonight, I have a lot to look forward to.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
My lovely roommate, Ceridwen, has a short story in the anthology advertised below. Her first novel is coming out next year, in May. I can’t believe I am living with a published author! And she is such a nice person, too.
The second annual Oshun short story anthology, Twist, is a compilation of short fiction from South Africa's most accomplished women authors and most promising new writers. Using random tabloid headlines as a point of departure, 25 authors weave tales of myth and legend, the ordinary and the extra-ordinary, the bizarre and the unexpected.
A homely woman undergoes a transformation deeper than skin after face transplant surgery in My face belongs to a killer. A disgruntled wife comes to terms with her unsalvageable marriage in Man abandons wife for rhino , a reclusive writer inexorably turns to ink and a mysterious campsite Romeo ruffles tail feathers as a mother grieves for things unsaid. From the sublime to the absurd, Twist navigates the interface between truth and fiction, between imagination and reality.
Established South African writers Sindiwe Magona, Petra Muller, Gabeba Baderoon, Susan Mann, Marita van der Vyver, Rachelle Greeff, Pier Myburgh, Consuelo Roland, Rosamund Hayden and Joanne Fedler set the literary tone, with up-and-coming authors Ceridwen Dovey, Arja Salafrance, Karin Schimke and Alexandra Smith (among others) more than holding their own in this fresh contribution to local fiction.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
This blog is two years old today! Incredible, no? I am amazed at how much it has changed over that time. I have kept the research blogging up tangentially, and am in fact typing up some fieldwork notes at the moment, that I will post in a day or two. But really, this has become much more personal, and more practically important to me. Part of the reason for that is that I am now blogging to keep my family and friends up to date on what I am doing, but part of it is also that this has become a space for me to write, sometimes just for the fun of it, and thus maintain contact with an activity I love. I considered becoming a full-time writer, once. I guess in some ways, that is what I am doing, only the writing is non-fiction, now. I still want to be creative with it though, and I don’t mean that in terms of becoming inventive with the facts I write, but rather just with the way I present them. there is so much that is dry and boring about the type of academic writing I am reading vast amounts of, and I don’t want to go that way. At the same time, though, there is a lot of potential for creativity. One thing that I really appreciate about academic writing is that if you carefully justify what you are doing, and remain consistent in how you do it, you can pretty much do anything, in terms of style. It is recognized in the academy in a way that it isn’t always understood in creative writing, that language has its limits when it comes to portraying certain material. Music is the perfect case in point, though critical theory faces similar challenges. How do you put concepts that need to be articulated, but haven’t, usually because they are not easy to express in words, into words that neither simplify the concept, nor mask the meaning? Attempts at doing that often result in all sorts of verbal gymnastics, that can make a person feel like they are reading some sort of secretly coded language. In the case of music notation, particularly ethnographic transcription, it sometimes becomes difficult enough to decifer as to be completely useless. But sometimes something really simple does the trick. Capitalizing the first letter of a word that wouldn’t normally be capitalized, for example, turns it into a Notable Concept, rather than just a word to be glossed over. In the title of this blog, I hyphenate South African-ness deliberately, because I want to highlight the last syllable, and emphasize that I am writing about a state of Being, and not just another adjective. It gets criticized occasionally when I use it in my formal writing, but when I justify it, it is generally accepted. This blog lets me play around with things like that. It also lets me try out a more informal tone that I sometimes have to curb a little when I am presenting something formally, later. Here I get to write as I think, and while I do self-sensor a little bit (who doesn’t, especially when you are publishing online under your own name), in general, the thoughts you get here are as they occur to me. Ocasionally I will put something in draft for a little while, and then post it only once I have had a day or two to get used to it, and decide whether I really mean what I have written. And once I have removed a post that I later decided compromised the anonymity of one of my informants too much. But those occasions are few and far between. So aside from the travel diary part of this, it all sounds a little bit personal and self-indulgent. Then again, isn’t a lot of academic writing like that? How often has someone done research because it was useful to others, but in which they personally have no interest? Surely everyone does this type of writing because they want to know about something, for whatever reason? B* wrote quite a while ago that she was reading the blog of the ex-husband of a friend of hers, in order to see how ‘the other side’ experienced divorce. She was going through a divorce herself at the time. Her post generated a lot of discussion (though her blog doesn't have an archive, so I can't link to the post in question), but ultimately, the issue that it raised for me was that part of why we read these personal writings, and perhaps part of why we want to know about the lives of our favourite celebrities, or even our favourite fictitious characters, is because we learn how to live the best lives we possibly can by reading about how others live. Someone said once that we pick friends, life partners and mentors all because they reflect something of what we would ideally like to be. I think in the blog-o-sphere, we also select bloggers to read regularly who give us a sense of who we ideally would like to be. My blogroll is quite short, because the blogs not listed specifically as music blogs are sites I visit regularly because I get something from the real lives of these people. All of them are involved in academics in some way. Some of them keep me motivated to work hard. Others help me to remember that academics are real people, too, and that we are all entitled to real lives beyond our books. But so few people write about the experience of becoming an academic, of being a graduate student, and an amateur researcher, teacher and writer, that I feel a bit deprived. I hope this blog might fill a little gap there, for other international graduate students, or other ethnomusicology students, or something along those lines. Ah well. One can only hope. Happy birthday, Blog.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
Friday, October 13, 2006
Autumn is very definitely upon us. It is 7°C this morning, with a projected high of 14. Time for the polor-necks, big jerseys, thick socks and heavy boots, hats, scarves and gloves. I finally bought the prefect pair of winter shoes. There was a special on at Kmart, and to my amusement, I created great consternation by trying on, and finally buying, the smallest pair of mens shoes they had available. To be more precise, they are the smallest pair of steel toed workmens’ boots in the shop. They are really lovely, though, comfortable, and very smart. They don’t look at all like heavy-duty working shoes. They are black leather, with solid rubber soles, lots of internal padding, and lace up to well above my ankles. After trying on pair after pair of toe-squashing, ankle-chewing, budget-breaking womens’ boots, these were just too appealing to give up, even if the shop assistants now think all South Africans are mad!
Thursday, October 12, 2006
I had a somewhat different type of celebrity encounter tonight. Hélène Cixous was speaking at NYU. As befits her type of celebrity, the appreciation revolved rather more around enthusiastic applause than screaming, but as I landed up in the overflow venue, despite arriving well before the start, her significance is just as apparent. The event turned into a wonderful, enthralling and terrifying experience, as I appreciated her intensity, humour and insight without understanding much of what she said. If nothing else, the potential value of my French lessons (which I really am enjoying), comes home to me full-force when I consider the difficulty of reading her and her cohorts’ writing in translation alone.
It is so exciting to have the opportunity of hearing so many famous people, here in this city. In a fortnight, Judith Butler will be here. Could a grad student ask for anything more?
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
I had my first celebrity sighting today! It was a rather bizzarre experience. There were all these huge trailers/caravans parked in the street outside my department, and as I walked to class I found myself wondering whether there was some sort of convention happening. They were too big to be ordinary holiday campers, and many of them had darkened windows, which led me to suspect that they may be connected with some sort of police operation…. After my evening walk around the United Nations, I am more than open to such possibilities. There was a particularly big, imposing trailer parked right outside the door of my department’s building, and as I reached it, the door of the caravan opened, and a man stepped out. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him. I have met so many people over the past month and a half, that I was just going to dismiss him as yet another of the faces I had encountered, when someone to my left began screeming and babbling as though she was in shock. The man from the trailer reached out to her and shook her hand, and for a moment I was convinced I was going to be dealing with an unconscious stranger on a New York street. She really looked like she might pass out. But she didn’t, and just as he moved away, I recognized the cause of her agitation as none other than Will Smith! Only in New York.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Yesterday was a really fun day. A friend from my building and I caught a bus downtown, and went shopping at Century 21. It is right opposite Ground Zero, and so I saw the site briefly, but I decided not to spend much time visiting it then, as it really requires more focused attention than I could give it at that time. I’ll return there another day. Instead, I spent about an hour trying on one pair of shoes after another. Now quite unlike the stereotype, I do not find shoes particularly appealing. I like to own a pair of sandals, a pair of closed, smart shoes, and a pair of hiking boots. None of them are high-heeled, and all of them are comfortable enough for me to spend a full day in them without cursing them, or my judgement. In other words, I am a sensible shoe shopper. I have realized, however, that my hiking boots are the only shoes I own that will be suitable for the winter, and as they are hardly smart enough to wear with a skirt, or when I’m dressed for work, they alone will not do. So yesterday’s trip was for the express purpose of exploring my available options with regard to cold-weather shoes. While I didn’t buy anything this time, I did get a pretty good idea of what is available, at what cost, and I am fairly certain I know what I will be buying. There is a great pair of waterproof, fur-lined boots with my name on them….
While I may not have anything like the average woman’s passion for shoes, however, I do have a comparable fettish for hats. If they are colourful, quirky, unusual, or just plain fun, I like them. Scarves and gloves come a close second. And Century 21 has all three in abundance! I am not shy to admit that the main reason I didn’t buy the shoes I liked yesterday is because I wanted an excuse to go back to the shop on my own, for a longer time, to try on hats, too.
Anyway, from the shop, my friend and I walked up, past city hall (which is incredibly beautiful, and certainly deserves another visit, and, slowed somewhat by our mutual admiration of downtown architecture, made our way into Chinatown. The bid in Johannesburg to close down informal/street trading that has been going on for some time, is sadly misguided, if Chinatown is anything to go by. The colourful shop fronts, forming an attractive backdrop to the equally colourful street vendors, and the mass of pedestrian humanity that surges around them, make it a very exciting part of town. I have been looking for a decently priced fish shop since I arrived here, and as I haven’t yet managed to pull myself from bed at 4:00 am to make it out to the Fulton Street Fish Market during trading hours, I had encountered only the hideously expensive, rather sterile midtown fish mongers, and the fish counters in the various grocery stores I frequent. In China town, I have my pick. There were so many gorgeous fish shops, with such a massive array of produce, that I could try a different one every week, and eat all semester. And in amongst them you can buy everything from fresh produce to herbs, teapots and chinese fans, to home furnishings and some of the most beautiful clothing…. My companion even got his shoes reparied for $2 by a little man who spoke no English, and was sitting with the tools of his trade under a tarpaulin on the side of the road. We had luch at a quaint little restaurant with linoleum floors and vinyl tables, that served good green tea, cheap noodles, and soup that I’m convinced could cure anything. I had a wonderful mushroom lo mein, and learned, to my great delight, to eat it with chopsticks. My companion had lived for a few years in Japan, and so was more than competent with those unwieldy inplements that have given me grey hairs in the past. I was eating (albeit rather slowly) like the best of them by the end of it. Seems that learning the technique is practically a pre-requisite for anyone wanting to pass as a New Yorker.
We rounded lunch off with a sesame ball each at a bakery down the road from our restaurant. That too was a new experience for me. For the benefit of those who have never experienced them before, sesame balls are deep-fried balls of rice batter (kind of chewy, and very pleasant) filled with a sweet bean paste, and rolled in sesame seeds. It tasted nothing like what I had expected, and was really enjoyable.
I had a French class after lunch (I managed to hold a rather stilted conversation with one of my fellow students), and then dashed down-town for a departmental colloquium, which turned out to be an hour later than usual, and therefore gave me a bit of extra time to catch up on reading before it started. The colloquium was great, presented by a leading phenomonological musicologist who brought to mind a whole lot of half-dismissed ideas I have had at various times for more whimsical research papers linking music with everything from astronomy to cryptography. It really made me want to explore some other possibilities for future research, and got me excited all over again about potential future topics of study that I had put aside when I began to shape my career a few years ago. There really are an infinite number of possibilities ahead of me over the next few years, and that is really an exciting prospect.
There was a full moon making the dark clouds glow, as I headed home, and when it peaked out from behind some of the ornate neo-gothic high-rise buildings that characterise so much of this city, it brought to mind all those delightfully dark 1980s and earlier comic books set in cities modeled after this one. It is beginning to feel like autumn, now, and the whole character of the city is changing. I am really enjoying the contrasts as they reveal themselves.
Friday, September 29, 2006
In the mean time, though, This week end is a bit of a mile stone. On Sunday I will have been in New York for exactly a month! Celebrate with me. I will be satisfying my unending chocolate cravings by baking my mother's wonderfully sticky chocolate pudding!
Friday, September 22, 2006
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
I began walking uptown, against the wave of pedestrian traffic, as the sun began sinking below the line of the tallest buildings. After a block or two, I became aware of an unusually high number of police officers around, directing the traffic, or watching the passing pedestrians from below the peaks of their severely tilted hats.
Further up the street, their ranks were swelled by legions of plain-clothes officers, identifiable by their dark business suits, and the tightly-coiled earphone wires running down the backs of their shirts. Their vehicles, all black, all larger than the average New York family car, stood in stark contrast to the paler, gaudily adorned vehicles of their uniformed counterparts.
I reached my destination, flashed my photo-identification card at the nearest police officer, who was patiently explaining to an agitated woman why she could not be admitted without proper identification, and headed down the street to a tall, mirror-covered building. I sat down in the paved courtyard beside the entrance to the building, and pulled out my pen and note pad. On the opposite side of the street, the United Nations elite and their wives paraded, waiting for tables to become available in the hotel restaurant. To my left, a man finished his cigarette, stubbing it out on the bricks before rising and pacing to the edge of the road. Looking impatiently at his watch, he sighed, and walked back to his former perch on the edge of an immaculate pot plant.
I waited about ten minutes before a short, business-suited Asian man exited the building, and walked uncertainly towards me.
"Nicol?" he asked, straightening his tie. I nodded and extended my hand. He grasped it briefly, before leading me into the building and down a set of stairs.
The interview lasted about a half an hour. Afterwards, I retraced my steps down-town, smiling to myself as I walked. The sun had nearly set, and the first tentative drops of rain began to fall, lowering the impossible temperature only slightly. I bought a doughnut two blocks from my apartment, and ate it under the shop awning on the sidewalk, spilling powdered sugar over my black purse as I did. It was a small celebration for a personal victory, but I felt it was worth it.
Sounding enough like a detective story yet? I couldn't resist trying my hand at the style, because the atmosphere on the upper west side yesterday really lent itself to it. In reality, all I was doing was attending an audition for a choir (I got in, by the way), but it was held in the basement of a United Nations building, and because of the opening of the general assembly, the streets were literally crawling with police officers and general security. And American security services really do look just as they are portrayed in the films. The dark suits, black SUVs and discrete ear-pieces are a reality!
Unfortunately, today my attendance at my first choir rehearsal was thwarted. I have fallen victim to the inevitable "new city tummy", though there is just a slight possibility that it may be an e coli infection. I am already feeling much better, though, and the doctor I saw this morning suggested just resting up and keeping hydrated, so I am certain I will be 100% tomorrow.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
(If you don't find that really amusing, read Orientalism, by Edward Said, or, if you have neither the time, nor the inclination, try this pretty good summary of the main issues.)
Friday, September 15, 2006
Thursday, September 14, 2006
Today was a really beautiful day. It started out with my fellow ethnomusicology first year and I (there are only two of us) meeting up to complete some mundane, but very necessary errands, before going for brunch together in a little cafe on 6th avenue. There was a light rain falling, the cafe was cozy , and the atmosphere was perfect for getting to know a new colleague. It turned into a really lovely morning.
From brunch I went to the library, and got a bit of work done, in particular, putting my class readings into Refworks, my latest online obsession (I love it when technology makes life easier). And thereafter I went to my first French lesson. That proved to be such fun! I don't know how much I will remember for the next class, but I learned to greet the class and introduce myself and my research, and to count from 1 to 30. I have ten weeks of these classes ahead, but as they are really informal, and require no prep, I am looking forward to the break from regular work they will provide. At the French class I met a lovely fellow student who made me feel really great about myself by complimenting my smile, and so it was with that in mind, I went to the first music department colloquium.
If my roommate hadn't mentioned that she often feels the same way, I would have thought that I am the only person who can't concentrate well enough on a blandly read paper to engage sensibly afterwards, but it sounds like it is a common enough issue. Perhaps with practice, it will get easier, but for now I have to wait until the discussion is well underway before I feel confident enough in my understanding to be able to contribute. I did make a sensible contribution tonight, though how sensible some of the department consider a comparison to cartoon morality is beyond my immediate powers to judge. But the real pleasure for me happened after the main colloquium. The practice of providing drinks and snacks after an even like this is really worthwhile, as it gave me an opportunity not only to meet other students I had not yet met, but also to converse at length with a very eloquent and fascinating lecturer. I really think I am going to get on well with these people.
By the end of the colloquium the rain had stopped, and so I changed my mind about catching the bus home, and instead walked. About three blocks from home I got waylaid by a very persistent Egyptian who tried very hard to to pick me up, and to my delight, I was rescued from a delightful New Yorker, who called out to me as though she knew me, and walked me across the street and out of sight. I was very appreciative and very amused.
I am beginning to get a feeling for the functioning of this city at last. I am learning to cross the street when the traffic is clear, rather than waiting ages for the traffic light to change, though I haven't quite got over my habit of skipping across the moment the light begins to flash a warning, instead of walking coolly in the face of on-coming, over-enthusiastic taxi drivers. I have learned to carry wettables in my bag in a second plastic bag, just in case it rains. I have learned that the sidewalks of New York sparkle like precious stones when they are wet. I have learned to walk like a New Yorker, at top speed, without watching my feet all the time. I have learned not to walk over subway vents wearing a skirt. I have learned not to entertain long-winded complimenters looking for naive tourists to pick up. I have learned that New York in the rain is amazingly beautiful. And I have learned that New Yorkers' passion for their city can inspire them to speak the loveliest poetry. A little bit at a time, I am learning to be a New Yorker.
The Imagine mosaic in Strawberry Fields, Central Park.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
The result follows:
Perhaps it’s a symptom of living in the digital age, but my first step toward finding out about this piece of music, as with anything unfamiliar, was to search for it on Google.
The first thing I found on the first search was the Hyperion catalog listing of a CD containing this track, and from that I found the name of the larger work which I had been unable to write down in class: “L’Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato”. The CD was listed under the Samplers, Compilations and Special Issues page, and this immediately set up an expectation for me about the type of recording I was likely to encounter. And it was not a particularly positive expectation. Perhaps it is the nature of the recording industry to package music in a manner that makes it easily accessible as pure entertainment, and I feel terribly elitist reacting negatively to that, but I can’t help but feel that compilations like this that extract a piece of music from its broader performance context also somehow damage the piece. As an ethnographer and student of popular music, I absolutely recognize the value of music for pure entertainment, and yet, with music from the Western Classical tradition, as with much of the ‘folk’ music I study, I feel that this process of selection sets up a canon that, by its very nature, excludes certain texts, and hence restricts certain potential areas of knowledge about the composer (or tradition). In this particular instance, the CD on which the piece in question is found is called Essential Handel, a title which implies not only that these are likely to be the most popular of the composer’s works, but also to some degree that knowledge of these works is equivalent to knowledge of the composer in general. I was therefore surprised, upon clicking on the link that took me to a page containing the track listing of the CD in question, to discover that the “Halleluiah Chorus”, for the Messiah, was not included. Nonetheless, the inclusion of “As Steals The Morn Upon The Night” in the Essential Handel suggests that it may be one of the core (i.e. representitive) pieces from his repertoire.
Upon turning to the sleeve notes of the CD (available online only with a Hyperion account, which can be freely obtained), I learned that L’Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato was composed before the Messiah, though the librettist of the latter aided Handel in the preparation of the libretto of the former (King, 2005). I also learned that while the first two movements of L’Allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato were settings of poems by the English poet John Milton, the third part, the part under my present scrutiny, was an addition taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (ibid). At this point, I split my search into three parts, returning to the original Google search I conducted for “As Steals The Morn Upon The Night”, but also searching, in separate windows, for the John Milton Poems upon which the first two movements are based, and for information about the Librettist, Charles Jennens.
The first hit in the Jennens search turned out to be a page with information on the Messiah, though it did provide the librettist’s dates (1700-73), and some biographical information that revealed, among other things, that Jennens had done some editing of the works of Shakespeare, a particularly interesting fact in relation to “As Steals the Morn”. It also revealed that the date for L’Allegro is 1740 (Vickers). The next hit in the Jennens search suggested that in fact “As Steals the Morn” was Jennens’ own work (Gudger), an idea hinted at in the Hyperion CD sleeve notes, which suggested only that the first line was borrowed from the Tempest, a point that I had failed to pick up on when I first read it.
The search I conducted for the Milton poems turned up, perhaps inevitably, several hits for the Handel work, and so I selected one on the website for the Academy of Ancient Music in the United Kingdom (Hicks). On this page, Anthony Hicks discusses the dramatic structure of the works, with the Moderato section being added in order to suggest a middle ground between “‘The Merry Man’ (the extrovert) [L’Allegro] and ... ‘The Thoughtful Man’ (the introvert) [il Penseroso]” (ibid) depicted in the Milton poems.
At the point, I turned to the university library catalogue, searching for “L’Allegro and il penseroso” in order to find both the Milton poems, and the Handel libretto and sound recording. To my delight, the full libretto is available in a digital format (Milton, 1750), and a brief glance through this revealed that “As Steals the Morn” was not the first line of the Moderato section. In fact, “As Steals the Morn” is a duet from within the larger Moderato movement. I also noted that, ironically, John Milton alone is listed as the author of this libretto, and Jennens is not listed at all, despite the fact that it was he, and not Milton, who wrote the Moderato movement.
I selected (admittedly fairly randomly) a recording of the complete work in the library (Handel, Banchetto Musicale: 1986), and settled down to listen. I started out with the piece in question, listening to it once, before returning to the first CD, and the beginning of the work, and listening to the whole thing. I then returned to the piece in question, and jotted down some notes as I listened. I noted that the division of the words is fairly even between the Soprano and tenor, and that the bassoon (would there have been bassoons in England at the time this was first performed?) was rather soft and thin in comparison to the other woodwind, which I couldn’t identify. The liner notes recorded that this was a performance on historic instruments, and that in fact the bassoon had been replaced with a non-reed version. The vocalist’s transitions from solo lines to counterpoint sections are particularly beautiful in this recording, and I was impressed with the very effective balance of their vocal timbres. Frank Kelly and Sharon Baker are particularly well-matched in this liltingly lyric piece.
I completed my search with a fact-checking reference to the Grove Dictionary of music and Musicians (Sadie and Tyrrell, 2001), however this revealed nothing new, and did not contradict anything I had previously found.
Gudger, William D. George Frideric Handel's 1749 Letter to Charles Jennens. http://rs6.loc.gov/ammem/collections/moldenhauer/2428129.pdf
Accessed 7 September 2006
Handel, George Fredrich. Banchetto Musicale, Martin Pearlman, conductor. 1986. L'Allegro, il penseroso, ed il moderato. New York, N.Y.: Arabesque.
Hicks, Anthony. Mirth, Melancholy and Moderation – Handel’s L’Allegro, Il Penseroso ed il Moderato. http://www.aam.co.uk/features/9708.
Accessed 7 September 2006
Hyperion. Samplers, Compilations and Special Issues. http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/collection_page.asp?name=Samplers
Accessed 7 September 2006.
King, Robert. 2005. Essential Handel: Excerpts from the sleeve notes. Hyperion. http://www.hyperion-records.co.uk/notes/king6-N.asp.
Accessed 7 September 2006.
Milton, John. 1750. L'allegro, il penseroso, ed il moderato. As set to musick. http://galenet.galegroup.com/.
Accessed 7 September 2006.
Sadie, S. and J. Tyrrell (eds). 2001. The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London: Macmillan.
Vickers, David. Messiah (HWV 56): A Sacred Oratorio. http://gfhandel.org/messiah
Accessed 7 September 2006.
Sunday, September 10, 2006
The point which John Law makes in various forms in this text is that the conventional methods of social science research are limited and limiting in their scope, and that, as in any situation, that much sought-after, 'objective' 'truth' on which the idea of modern science is based, is more than a little elusive. Perhaps it is because I come from a third-world country, and an institution within that country that has always been closer to the perimeter than the average academic ivory tower, or perhaps it is simply the very specific set of mentors who have shaped my own reading and research to date, but somehow a lot of this questioning of the Euro-American conventions of research and scientific method feels rather familiar. Isn't the idea of plurality one of the founding tenets of postmodernism? And while John Law points out that a simple binary between ideas of singularity and plurality is as undesirable as any other essentialist construction of the empirically ‘knowable’ world (Law, 2004: 63) it feels like common sense that social science exists in the indistinct hinterlands (27) constructed by, for example, religion, or myth, because it recognizes the possibility of a functional overlap. Would religion even be an area of study within social science if it were not recognized that the metaphysical realities of a religion-based understanding of the world overlap with the empirical realities of the practitioners of that religion, to one degree or another?
It seems to me that the essence of what John Law proposes is a self-reflexive mode of research, a formula which probably inevitably comes to bear most strongly on the write-up, in whatever form it may take. Conventionally, a “methods” section of a scholarly paper is included in order to give the reader an indication of the processes that shaped, for better or worse, the data collected. While Law does suggest that it is only the “most novel” of the inscription devices that tend to make it into these methods sections (36), at least in scientific, rather than social science, monographs, the reality is that the purpose of this practice of writing up method is to create an environment in which the structuring devices are visible alongside the worlds they produce. When this alone proved insufficient, most specifically in the post-colonial moment, when the ethnographer could no longer be understood as an educated white male from an imperial center, practicing his craft in a rural, colonized but ‘uncivilized’, far-flung periphery, the move towards “writing in” the ethnographer began. Scholars from Clifford Geertz (1960) to John Chernoff (1979) began writing a new style of ethnography that made the presence of the ethnographer more strongly felt than had previously been common practice. And when even this proved insufficient, the likes of Louise Meintjes (2003) responded to Geertz’s call for a “thickly descriptive” ethnography (Geertz, 1973) that refers not only to the nature of research, and the identity of the ethnographer, but also to the intimate detail of circumstances surrounding the performed reality under scrutiny.
I recognize, then, that there have been successful attempts at achieving what Law seeks to synthesize in After Method. And yet, as I page through the text for what feels like the hundredth time, though it is probably actually the fifth or sixth, with my eyes growing bleary from the effects of one too many late night, and the impact of a residual jetlag impinging on my spacially displaced, third-world, feminist, elitely educated, economically privileged, racially complex self, with the sounds of a city and them memories of a distant home, the music of my homeland – music adopted by my people from one generation of immigrants to my spiritual, but potentially not historical homeland, I wonder, “when is it enough?” At what point does the reflexivity have to give way to the real business of trying to make sense of this delightfully complex world we all inhabit? When is it just alright to pick a structure and run with it? When does the mess yield to the method?
Chernoff, John. 1979. African Rhythm and African Sensibility: Aesthetics and Social Action in African Musical Idioms. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Geertz, Clifford. 1960. The Religion of Java. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.
___. 1973 The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York: Basic Books.
Law, John. 2004. After Method: Mess in Social Science Research. London and New York: Routledge
Meintjes, Louise. 2003. Sound Of Africa! : Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio. Durham, NC : Duke University Press.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
So here we go on the next lot of travel notes:
I was expecting long queues and hold-ups with unsympathetic officials at the airport, but to my amazement, things moved pretty quickly. There were queues, but they were really well marked, and there were lots of attendants to help me get all my papers and such in order, and then my meeting with the inspector literally took seconds. He opened the massive envelope that had been stapled into my passport since it was returned from the embassy with my visa, and despite all the scary looking seals on it, all it contained was the form that the university had sent me, and that I had to sigh when I applied for the visa. He then stapled a little card into my book, took my two index finger prints digitally, took a digital photograph (I can only imagine how terrible all those photographs of people who have been traveling for hours must look), and I was done. Then it was a matter of renting a luggage trolley for $3, quite expensive, I thought, but absolutely essential with my massive bags, and collecting said bags, before heading out into the airport to seek out transport. While there were no signs for them, I had read about the SuperShuttle online, and in one of my travel books, and so I found an information desk, and asked about it. The woman behind the desk very nearly undid the great impression I had received of the airport up to that point by being very unfriendly, but she phoned and ordered the shuttle for me, and gave me a number which was called when the driver arrived. I then got my first taste of what New Yorkers are really like when so many people rushed to my aid when one of my bags fell off the trolley that you would have thought it was a medical emergency. So many strangers willing to help....
The driver of the shuttle then led me out to his little blue minibus which, to my South African mind, looked suspiciously like a South African taxi, though in better repair, and loaded up my luggage. Once inside the bus, though, all similarities to a taxi dissipated. It was airconditioned, high-tech with GPS, fancy radio and cellphone hands free kit for the driver, seatbelts for the passengers, and far more space than you find in the average taxi. There were other passengers, and the woman who ordered the shuttle for me warned me that it might stop at other locations on the way, but in fact, it stopped at my building first. We got into the city via a really long tunnel under the East river, and I was a bit disappointed that we weren't taking one of the famous bridges, but I'm sure it was much quicker underneath. Traffic doesn't stop in the tunnels, and so we moved through quite quickly. There is a toll gate at the enterance, but unlike the manual pay booths we have at home, or even the card swipe systems you get in some places, the driver operated this one with a little white plastic box-like device that he held up to the windscreen, and that was read by some sort of sensor. I've never seen anything like it before, but it is obviously quite effective, as we didn't even need to hesitate at the toll gate.
There is something almost magical about arriving in New York. The city seems to suddenly grow up around you, the buildings getting taller and taller, and the pace faster, untill you are imersed in it like in the tidal pool at the bottom of a high-speed water slide. It fills your ears and nostrils, and all your senses, and you are there in the center of it in moments. I was so busy enjoying the sights around me as we drove that I didn't hear the driver call my address (the Brooklyn accent didn't make it any easier, though. I had to have him repeat it a couple of times before I was sure I had heard correctly), and landed up holding the shuttle up a bit. He seemed a little annoyed that I didn't know what the building looked like, but as it was, and still is, covered in scaffolding, that wasn't too surprising. The building number was completely invisible from the street, which created some confusion. Nonetheless, there were other students unloading in front of it, and so that made it all somewhat easier to find.
The shuttle driver unloaded my bags, I paid him (substantially less than I would have paid a yellow cab driver), fiddled around with the unfamiliar money for a bit, and finally added the inevitable tip, and he was off, and I was left to my own devices. The first challenge was to get my bags across the street. I could lift any of them one at a time, but with the exception of the hand luggage, one at a time was all I could manage, and the thought of leaving anything unattended, even for the amount of time it would take me to cross the street, was not appealing. And so I opted in stead for a mixture of dragging and carrying all of them at once, in very slow stages, across the street and down the pavement to the building entrance. At that point I hit another snag, in that the street was suddenly frighteningly busy, with cars wizzing, it seemed, in all directions. The fact that it was a one way street didn't occur to me untill a few days later. At that moment, all I could think was that the cars should be coming from the wrong direction, though which direction right was, exactly, was beyond me, and I had to not get run over. I waited untill a lull in the traffic, and then gathering all my final reserves of energy together, I picked everything up at once, and hobbled across the street at the fastest pace I could manage, looking, I'm sure, every inch the confused tourist, sweating profusely, and puffing like an old fashioned stove-top kettle that has been over-filled. The fact that I found myself so funny I couldn't help but laugh out loud just added to the chaos, as I lost my ballance climbing from the street onto the opposite sidewalk, and dropped everything but my precious computer. Again, the generous New Yorkers stepped up to the plate, rushing to my aid, and getting me and my bags into the appropriate building and in front of the check-in desk in no time. What great people!
I checked into my room with minimum fuss, and suddenly, for the first time in about 30 hours, I was alone. Quiet (relatively). Peaceful.
The apartment is simple, and functional in a fairly basic sense. I had hoped to have a pick of rooms, but in fact the rooms had been assigned, and so there was no choice. My room is lovely, though. My window looks out over a tiny patch of garden, at present filled with scaffolding, but frequented by a single, rather weary squirrel who comes across the road looking for who knows what. I hadn't brought sheets or towels or such like with me, and there is no overhead lighting in the bedrooms, so for my first night I slept in a sleeping bag straight on my mattress that I found by stumbling through the dark after switching off the kitchen lights. I was tired enough that it didn't matter.
And I slept for about 14 hours.
When I woke in the morning, the first thing I wanted to do was go to my department and get registered, so I left my room as it was, and headed down-town, map in hand. I had figured out that the simplest way to the university was to walk all the way down fifth avenue to Washington square, and it really is. The only problem was that on that first day, I counted the first few avenue numbers, and then assumed that I was on Fifth avenue. For anyone who knows New York, you will be aware that that isn't quite how it works. The avenues are numbered 1-3, and then named Lexington, Park and Madison avenues, before the numbers begin again at 5. I counted Lexinton avenue as 4, and Park avenue as 5, and as Park avenue is pretty big, it seemed to make sense. So I walked down Park avenue to Union square, and began searching for the Triumphal Arch. No luck. It took me a good ten minutes to figure out that I was at the wrong place, and get out my map book. Luckily, despite these slight anomalies, New York is relatively easy to navigate, and so I found my way with relative ease to Washington Square. It really is a lovely park, with a fountain South of the arch, and really tall trees everywhere, with squirrels and birds all over them. And 5th avenue at the top end is beautiful, lined with lovely old buildings and, to my delight, Gingko Biloba trees. Now aside from being really beautiful, and medicinally beneficial, Gingko is also supposed to remove pollution from the air, and is therefore a particularly good tree for a city like this. Whoever planted them (and there are many all over the city) has made me very happy.
Once I had walked around Washington square admiring it, and my new university, I set out to find 1/2 fifth avenue, which is the address of the Graduate School offices. With an address like that, you need only guess at the type of location. I walked up and down both sides of that block, and around the block, searching for the building numbered 1/2, to no avail. The fact that there are several private, high-class apartment buildings in the same street with signs on them strongly reinforcing the desire for privacy of the residents, is not conducive to asking for directions, and so I gave up, and walked to the other side of the park, to the Kimmel center for Student life. It really was the best solution, as there were tables with maps and flyers and all sorts of helpful bit of information for the lost student, and in no time at all, someone had instructed me on all that I needed to do to get around. As it turns out, I don't have to go to 1/2 fifth avenue at all, untill I collect my first cheque (check in the American spelling), and so the fruitless hunt was unnecessary. Nonetheless, it turns out that in order to reach it, the intrepid student has to ignore one of the privacy notices posted at the entrance to a little garden between 1 5th avenue, and the building on Washington place that backs on to 5th, and walk down a pathway, towards a statue of William Shakespeare, untill a door which is, to all intents and purposes, concealed from the street, comes into view. That is 1/2 5th avenue. So now I know.
My next stop was the Office of International Student Services, one block away from the Kimmel center, and there I was given a list of times for the check-in workshops, and a series of maps and pamphlets that directed me to my next location. The student card center. It was a bit of a walk from the OISS, but I was beginning to discover that the violet NYU flags that hung from all university building are my friends, and so it wasn't difficult to find. My card took about 20 minutes, more forms and a digital photo to get, but suddenly the world of the university was open to me. I could get into the buildings at will, and get into the library, though I would only be able to use those resources once I was registered.
From the card place I went back to the OISS, where I was plied with wonderful big, chocolaty biscuits, and all the info I need to remain a legal alien :). And then on to my department.
The music administrator who I have been corresponding with the most was the only person in the building when I arrived, but she is just so lovely and friendly that it was great to meet her. She gave me a tour of the department, and all the keys and security codes I need to get in, and also gave me great info and suggestions about getting my first shopping done. And so that was my next stop.
I found a KMart on Broadway, and spent a frightening amount of money buying just the basics I needed to get settled into my apartment: bed linen, a towel, basic crockery and cuttlery, and a deep saucepan for boiling water in (the kettles were all sold out), and later for cooking, a lamp for my bedroom, and my first round of the very basic groceries that one just can't live without. Of course, what I didn't think of was how I was to get all of it home, and while the shop has a delivery service, I had spent just too much cash to be able to afford that. So I stood on the side of the road for about an hour with an overflowing trolley, trying to catch a taxi. Again, the friendly New Yorkers made the situation far more pleasant than it might have been. A man selling jewelery and painting on the side of the road chatted to me about the city, and his home town, and finally helped me catch a taxi with a fabulously friendly driver who helped me carry my shopping into my building when we got there. What great people!
I was just unpacking my new belongings, making my bed and arranging my crockery when my new roommate arrived. I blogged about her before, twice, and so it was really great to put a face to the name. She really is lovely! The first thing we did together was go and visit Whole Foods, and get our first shopping done. It is a great place! a bit like Woolworths or Fruit and Veg City (the smarter one) at home. Lots of pre-cut fruits, and pre-prepared meals.
By the time we got home, I was so tired, and my feet were so swolen, I felt like I might never walk again. New York is really going to keep me fit. So it was a light supper, a quick shower, and into bed.
And I'll post the next installment when I have finished my first class assignments! That is a whole other story.