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Oh my, oh my!
Instead of trying to recount this past week from memory today, I did write a series of e-mails back to the family talking about our initial experiences in negotiating Finland. Here are excerpts:
The flight was good with one minor hitch: one of our bags is still in Reykjavic. When we went to the baggage assistance, the lady said "oh yes, we have a message from your bag." It will be delivered to us tomorrow. But we have plenty of stuff for tonight, so it won't be a big problem.
Jaan seems really nice. He's got a great sense of humor, and he seems very excited about having Daniel here. They did a fair amount of shop-talk, so I just nodded my head and smiled through most of it. Daniel's been practicing his Finnish already. It usually elicits some nice smiles and then a gentle correction or two. Several people have said his accent is very good, though.
Tomorrow we'll do a bunch of general errands: get Daniel registered with the FInnish authorities, go shopping for supplies he'll need, all that. Wednesday is when we'll have dinner with Marko, and it turns out that Thursday I will be meeting with a prospective post-doctoral student who would like to do work at the Computer Music Center. Whew! The week fills up fast!
The hotel is in a really nice neighborhood, and Jaan said it's only about 1 kilometer away from where Daniel will be located. Jaan said a friend of his on the faculty of Harvard was working here about a year ago and he lived in this same neighborhood.
Life is good! What an adventure! Daniel is really excited. We both got a bit of sleep on the plane (Daniel actually did pretty well), but I don't think he even needed it. Adrenalin! :-)
Tuesday, August 16: Another great day here! It was cool and drizzly/rainy, but everything has been going really well. We managed to figure out the busses and trams, and were able to get up to Daniel's lab this afternoon. It's really nice -- apparently the Biotechnology Institute is one of the big income-earners for the University of Helsinki. Daniel's immediate boss seems a bit of a rock-star here. Plus he's a nice guy.
His Finnish friend from Columbia (Anne) showed us around, and also got Daniel plugged into the front office people to do his paperwork. We also got to meet the head of the whole center, another really nice guy. Quite a long chat with him -- turns out he was an opera buff and was very impressed that we knew Kaija and Jean-Baptiste.
We went down to the old-city part of Helsinki for dinner tonight at a restaurant recommended by Anne. It was wonderful, one of the best meals I've had in awhile. Daniel is charming everyone with his Finnish: waiters and waitresses come over to our table to talk with him!
He's met a number of his suite-mates, but his direct roommate (they share a kitchenette and a bathroom, not sleeping-rooms though) hasn't shown up yet. He says they are all really nice. Quite an international group, too: several Italians, someone from Bolivia, one person from China. All are post-docs it seems, so Daniel is the young kid. But he said they had great fun talking about Finnish experiences.
Tomorrow is when we go to visit my friend and former student Marko and his wife Lisa at their Finnish 'cabin'. Here is a link to the national park where it is located:
My oh my, what a time.
also this on Tuesday from a separate e-mail:
I think we're doing well. We checked one of Daniel's credit cards at an ATM and it worked with no problem. Also, about 100 yds. from the bus-stop at the lab is this great store called "Prisma" which is like Target on steroids. They had everything -- set up in two stories like the Japanese supermarket (but about 2x as large). A huge range of food on the first floor with a bunch of hardware/misc. supplies on the second. We were able to get everything from clothes-hangers to duct tape to an internet wireless router (good price!) for his room. There was a separate pharmacy, and even a food-store called "Chico's" that promised "America on a plate" for when he pines for some good-ole ribs or tex-mex food (hah -- America!). Along with the convenience store directly across the street from his dorm, I think he's all set.
It's interesting to hear Daniel talk with the lab people. He really has learned a lot from his time at Columbia -- he knows the literature really well. They discussed many possible projects he could do. I think the environment here will be really supportive for him.
This restaurant tonight was amazing. We'll definitely take you there when we come back in November. It was a little pricey, but *very* Finnish, and the food was just terrific. But who knows, maybe Daniel will find another place!
Dinner tomorrow with Marko should be something. Also: the Prisma store had a big liquor/wine/beer store attached. And 4 different kinds of cloudberry liqueur!!!! I'm hoping not to check any bags for my return trip, so we'll have to get it in the future.
Wednesday, August 17: Our dinner with Marko and his wife Lisa was terrific. The weather was beautiful, and we did some heavy Finnish stuff (sauna, jump in the cold lake, walk through the woods -- it was fabulous!). Daniel is on cloud nine. I'm really happy that things are starting so well for him here.
He finally met his roommate, who turns out to be a composition student! He knows my work, yikes. Daniel said everyone seems really nice.
Tomorrow we're heading back downtown for lunch with a prospective post-doc student at the CMC, and we'll probably shop for a SIM card for his phone so he won't run up international roaming charges. After that we have a dinner planned with Jaan-Olle, Daniel's boss. Like I said, he seems really nice so we're both looking forward to it. Then I come home!
Remember I said the restaurant where we ate last night was *really* good? It turns out that's where Marko and Lisa had their wedding reception.
More later -- the internet is really slow form the hotel tonight. Plus I'm really tired. Jet-lag is just bizarre. You can't really tell when it will hit. By the time I get adjusted I'll be back in NJ.
Thursday, August 18: (First of all, HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAD! We 'facetimed' with mom and dad this afternoon (their morning) and wished a good one to him. Yay!)
Another great day, topped off by yet another amazing dinner. Jaan-Olie took us to this fusion/asian place that was just fabulous. When we told the post-doc I was interviewing this afternoon where we were going she said "oh, my -- that's probably the best restaurant in Helsinki right now!" And we had a really good time with him -- he has big plans for Daniel!
I got to renew a computer-music acquaintance, Kai Lassfolk (the Director of the Helsinki ELectronic Music Studios), and we toured the University of Helsinki electronic music studios. Kai and Tanja (the prospective post-doc) then took us on a little sight-seeing tour of the old part of Helsinki. So I think we've done it all!
I'n really tired, going to bed soon. Tomorrow will be a looooong day, but I'll be back home. And Daniel will be off to his new life! What a time!
He's really getting along well with the people in his dorm/suite. I'm pretty happy about the whole situation here.
Our weather has been glorious since my return from Finland. I'm sitting again on our upper back porch, listening to the 'hot bugs' (cicadas) and the late-summer neighborhood sounds. The sky, the light, the climate, they all remind me of other life-experiences; being in St. Louis, mountains in Switzerland, islands in Greece. Nothing seems truly new any more. Now that's certainly a sign of encroaching old-age.
The way out of the dilemma, of course, is that clichéd Nike sportswear slogan, "just do it!" So here I am, finally just doing it. Much has happened: Jill had a birthday several days ago (Happy one, sweetie!), Shai is growing by leaps and bounds (and is literally leaping and bounding in this bouncey-thing Lian and Itay got for him), Daniel is having a grand time in Finland -- he's already visited Talinn (Estonia), Mom and Dad, John and Brenda, the nephews, school starting. How will I remember all this? I need to write it here!
I do use this blog as a memory-bank now. Here is a month-long gap in my memory. I promise to do better! Oh, and Happy Equinox!
With the cooler day came memories, and the powerful ability of music to conjure them. I was listening to some Nickel Creek out in back earlier today. I had one of those freeze/flow moments, but this time it was almost sad. Time, place, things to do, a life still open. Overwhelming in a way. Where do we go from here?
I did finally carve a few minutes away from the start-of-school intensity (and it seemed especially intense this year for some reason) and managed to get the recording sessions from last month on-line:
One more thing to report, since I'm in a reporting mood: Family Vineyard, a small, 'boutique' record label run by Eric Weddle, released a bunch of the old punk-rock music we did back in the late 1970s:
Included in the package is a 7" EP featuring Your Truly and some of the very early music I did:
There seems to be a resurgence of interest in these older tunes. Stay tuned -- another release from some other Indiana bands is planned to come out soon. Wheeee! I was young once!
Despite the fact that Hurricane Matthew was hitting the eastern seaboard at exactly the same time, we arrived with no problem, and the weather was actually very nice. We stayed in a famous place called the Gasparilla Inn:
Right now I'm in Seattle, having a grand time (grandpop!) with baby Shai. I hadn't seen him 'live' since the beginning of last June. My oh my how he has grown! And what a guy! Loads of smiles, and a lot of direct engagement with the world. We've been having a blast, playing with things like "the floating monkey head in spaaaace" and other happy toys. This is life.
Two weeks from now Jill and I will head over to Helsinki to check on Daniel. We knew this would be a time of intense traveling for us, but it's all good. We're also firming up plans for the holidays, so more travel ahead. Good travels, though!
All is going well at Columbia. As I said earlier, the start-up was pretty insane, and there hasn't been a whole lot of let-up. I think I'm barely managing to stay on top of it all, but some things may have fallen through the cracks. Ha, if I'm not even aware of them, do they count? Classes and students are really good this year, though. With people like Dave Sulzer, Miller Puckette, Ben Holzman, Miya and Terry around, the CMC is a hoppin' place. More on Center goings-on later (including a koto workshop we did last week). I've also finished a new piece, but haven't done the final mix or set it up on-line yet. What a dummy! I guess the fun for me really is in the creation and production. I do like listening to my older pieces -- I think my mother and I are among the few who do -- but I think I like making them even more.
The first is me playing "Monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey" with Shai the first day I was there. The second and third are actually not from my visit; they were taken the Monday after I left. Itay and Lian were participating in the Grace Hopper Conference in Houston, TX. They took Shai along for the fun. And what fun he seems to be having! I wanted to include these because I love those happy sounds so much. He is one Smiley BoyThe last video is of me, Lian and Shai making pesto. We have this strange 'tradition' in our family when the pesto-ingredients get munged in the food processor. It's very important to wave a 'magic wand' as the processor kicks in and chant (in a suitably mystical voice): "Pesto, CHANGE-o!" Yep, Lian and Daniel did it when they were kids, too. The chain is unbroken.
Click on the photos or the links below the photos to see the .mov files:
Later Jill and I went out for a wonderful meal, complete with a delicious (Januik, 2011) cabernet sauvignon. It was our thirty-third wedding anniversary!
I love you sweetie!
Let's hope sanity prevails.
We've also had fun with our local political scene, but more on that later. Right now I've had a chance to post some things that I've been meaning to get on-line. Yay Columbia with the 'election day' holiday!
The first is a piece I actually finished over a month ago, but then didn't get around to rendering it until a week or so ago, and just now(!) am linking it here in the ole blogaroo:
Yes, I am angry. I think back to conversations with people who helped further the "oh Clinton is just as bad as Trump" narrative that ultimately resulted in Trump's election. In the interests of 'wanting to get along', I generally remained silent, occasionally pointing out the latest stream of bile issuing from Trump's tweety mouth. Now I wish I had shaken people by the lapels and said NO NO NO YOU ARE WRONG! THERE IS NO 'EQUIVALENCY' BETWEEN TRUMP AND CLINTON! Donald Trump is a despicable human being. He represents most everything I have worked against in my life. I hate his smarmy bullying. I hate his division of the world into "winners" and "losers" (I'm apparently a total loser), I hate his vanity orange hair, his piggy little eyes. I hate. I hate.
I am afraid. Trump has already appointed a climate-change denier (oops, sorry... "skeptic", yeah) as transition administrator for the EPA. Russia is already flying military sorties over Finland. The world is toast -- investments in clean energy in the US will plummet. Travel to Beijing and take a deep breath. That's our future.
The Supreme Court, oh my. Mike Pence (I believe it will be him who gets the most 'say' in court appointments) will take his commandments directly from God because he certainly hears God's voice. Trump will appoint truly enlightened jurists to make our social judgments [yes I am being sarcastic]. The Republicans control all three branches of government, so there will be no brakes on this retrogression. God help us.
I am selfishly and personally afraid, too. What kind of life lies ahead for Daniel and Lian, and baby Shai? What about me and Jill? Repeal Obamacare! Oh yeah! And replace it with... what? A return to the health industry of ten years ago, when it was deemed the number one problem facing our country. Phrases like 'pre-existing conditions' and 'cap on lifetime benefits' will have currency again. Oh I forgot -- once social security is privatized we'll have so much money that Jill and I will be able to afford the $100k+/year spent on our care. See, we'll be able to deduct it from our taxes! Ha ha! And if I need another $500k stem cell transplant? Well, maybe not this time.
Finally, I am profoundly depressed. As I said above, I am now a total loser under the new Trumpian ethos. By venerating and embracing the values of Donald Trump, the US has resoundingly rejected everything that I find true, meaningful and good. My work has no worth. I am worthless. Right now I see no good path to the future. Why do I even bother.
I know this is true because I have been behaving atrociously. I simply can't get over the fact that a horrible human being has been raised up and given the highest elected office our society can offer. As I said above in this blog, I am angry, afraid, depressed. These feelings are not subsiding. There is no well-spring of strength that I can detect.
I am randomly spewing my anger in many directions. My poor sister has taken a lot of it. I know that she and her family certainly didn't support Trump, but in my trumped-up righteousness I am angry because they helped promote the "Clinton is just as bad" falsehood that resulted in a terrible 'winner'. I see their support of the Republican party -- an organization that in my absolutist world is morally and ethically bankrupt -- as contributing to the fracture of my family. How can I convince Daniel that there is good in the US, and that it is important for him to return from Europe to bolster that good? What do I say to Itay and Lian if they begin seriously to contemplate a move to Israel, especially if (as I surely believe he will) Donald Trump pursues Amazon because of his vindictive hatred of Jeff Bezos? And of course health care, and research. Dad believes that foundation support will help make up for the federal grants that will vanish, but that's just not true. The discoveries that won't be made, that will be the real tragedy of a benighted Republican economics.
Read through that and see how ridiculous I am! Intellectually, I
can pretend to
back off from myself and realize what a pathetic person I've now become.
But I still wake up in the morning and think: President Trump.
Of course there is a lot of deep personal psychology going on
here, especially with my sister, and this all makes me
more depressed because it reveals who I am. And it's not good.
It certainly isn't 'heroic', ha ha. At least I know that my
mean and cowardly behavior won't have much of an impact. Hopefully
not many people even read this stupid blog any more. Who I am
and what I do really doesn't matter much, and it surely matters
less in a glitzy Trumpian world of 'winners' and 'losers'.
Sometimes life conspires to show just HOW STUPID you are. This particular conspiracy to do that for me is horrendous. Melissa Branco, a good friend and neighbor, had actually read this blog and stopped by to give me some great words of advice (especially about the importance of family -- thanks Melissa!). After she came over, though, she learned that Ron Filepp, a friend and neighbor here in Roosevelt, was riding his bike yesterday and was killed in a hit-and-run accident. In outward appearance, yesterday was such a beautiful day.
Life has been going, and it has generally been going well. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving visit with Mom and Dad in Indiana. Lian and Itay also flew in from Seattle with Shai. Nana and Grandpa got to meet their great-grandson for the first time! Family, very very strong.
We've had some concerts that I actually(!) very much enjoyed. Zosha DiCastri was featured in a "composer portrait" concert at Miller Theater last week, and it was terrific. Her world-premiere piece had a pronounced theatrical aspect that really took me away. I am happy to have her as a colleague at Columbia. Our December Sound Arts/Columbia Composers concert at the CMC was also really entertaining. We have great students.
Speaking of happy-to-have-as-colleagues, Georg Haas gave a stunning and highly personal presentation at our graduate composition seminar yesterday. I'm still digesting what he said (I had known of much of it before-hand) and will probably write more about it here if I can get my lazy butt in gear.
But today we awakened to some snow on the ground, and I've managed to get the outdoor christmas lights up and running (about a week ago, actually). Last night I had a moment to snap some photos:
The tree is up and decorated too, so I think we're on-track. I've been playing all the holiday music I have reserved for this time of year. I'm sure it drives Jill crazy, but I love the sense that this music has a meaning in time for us. When I hear the particular recordings that Mom used to play on our family stereo for Christmas, it makes my memories soar.
Everyone (Lian/Itay/Shai/Daniel/Brenda/John/Stefan/Bo, whew!) arrives
towards the end of next week, and the holidays will commence in earnest.
Christmas Eve ten years ago was when I started this blog. I could quote from past Christmas Eve entries here, but it's easy to simply go back and read them (I did). This has become annual time when I take sit and think, take stock, wonder about the future. I listen to my Byzantine Monk recording of Christmas Eve chants and sip my Amaretto. It's my own little holiday ritual. And here I am.
The remission I'm in has been holding fast. As a result, I'm not as aware of life passing sometimes as I should be. It's when things are apparently stable that they really aren't. I don't want to be blind-sided again.
I'm also letting the 'small stuff' get to me. This last semester at Columbia was, as I've said repeatedly in postings the past few months, intense. Politics knocked me around. As always, I worry about letting people people down. Why? What happened? I need to regain some balance, some of that perspective-thing that immersed me ten years ago, when I didn't realize I would be around to see Daniel and Lian graduate, to watch my daughter get married, to meet my grandson. Some things are important.
Tonight, right now, through my little ritual I know what is important. I am surrounded by love, by family, by an awareness that life is, in fact, too short. I need to carry this forward. I want to make it all good. I will try.
And there is so much goodness to write about! Maybe it's all banal, but the holidays, my family, my friends, colleagues, plodding along with new music, new work -- all these things add up to my sense of being. I'm selfish enough to want to communicate that. To whom? I don't know. Maybe someone else can read here and find some resonance. Or humor. Or the documentation of a safe life, and maybe that will even mean something. Maybe Shai can read this when he gets older, or some other relatives, and learn a bit about their ancestry (I know I really enjoy learning about my own forbears; Jill has been doing a remarkable job on ancsetry.com). I was here. These are some things I thought.
Today the thoughts have been wonderful. Here's a few photos of our Christmas tree (only one this year -- we needed space! Our family is growing!):
I had forgotten how much babies alter time. Shai totally monopolized our days (and nights!), and we all happily allowed that monopoly to rule. I barely logged into my Columbia account, and I let many things slide. I didn't mind it at all, although I'm paying the price now. Babies also accelerate life. As I get older, certain periods of life start to accrue a kind of stasis, and I get tricked into thinking "oh yeah, it will be like this on into the future". No, it won't. It never was. Being with Shai was like being thrust directly into the rush of time. He was a total learning-sponge, adopting and adapting new skills every day. My favorite moment was when he learned to make a 'kissing' sound. The rest of the day was spent exploring the vastness of lip-smacking. FUN! And I realized that that moment was a singular point, one among many, and that life was flowing and changing as I watched. Any sense of stability is nothing but a castle drawn in the air. We pretend it's real, but the sadness and the joy of living is that it isn't.
We have a nice evening planned with good friends and neighbors. Our family is well, and hopefully 2017 will bring some pleasant surprises. For many, 2016 wasn't that great a year, but for us it was exceptional. Here's why:
And Happy Winter Solstice. The light should now return...