Saturday, March 11, 2017

Music & Memories of Turkey

Recently, I discovered that my blog has gotten a few hits from Turkey. I suspect that the mentioning of Derya Turkan’s recording Letter from Istanbul, which is listed in the sidebar, has been sending people to my blog.

I enjoyed the time I spent in Turkey, beginning at the age of nine and lasting until I was twelve. As an officer in the US Navy, my father was stationed for two and half years in Istanbul, from January 1960 to the summer of 1963. We spent about two months in a hotel before we found an apartment to rent. Later, we rented a stucco house down the street, with a mulberry tree in the side yard and which overlooked the hills that prevented us from seeing the Bosporus except for a sliver visible from our second-floor balcony.

At one end of our street, a narrow footpath led to the Bosporus. It was located next to a field where sheep often grazed. The main road, lined with shops and containing a boys’ school where the students wore blue uniforms and remained in class even in the evening, was a few streets away and led into the city center. The names of the street where we lived or the names of the nearby road escape me. 

My elementary school, one meant for military dependents whose parents were stationed in Istanbul, was several miles outside of the city. The bus used to pass a training facility for the Turkish army.  During the spring, we often took excursions to some of the historic sites in the city, including Hagia Sophia, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque), Topkapi Palace, Dolmabahce Palace, and Rumelihisari, a fortress overlooking the Bosporus. It was a great place to be a kid.

My parents often spent a few hours on Saturdays visiting the Grand Bazaar and accumulated a sizable collection of rugs and copper. My sister and I played with the kids on our street, some of whom were Americans and some of whom were Turkish. I often roamed the neighborhood with Sherif, my Turkish friend. One summer afternoon, for some reason, we decided to help pull loaves of bread from the oven at the local bakery. We weren’t offered any money or a loaf of bread to take home. His mother served us cucumber sandwiches for lunch sometimes but didn’t take kindly to his breaking a leg when we were jumping off a hillside next to the footpath. I had to run and get my mother to help get him to his house.

What I probably remember the most from Turkey are the sounds. We lived close enough to one of the local mosques to hear the calls to prayer, which is especially pretty, even after hearing them five times a day. The man selling Turkish pretzels and walking through the neighborhood in the afternoons called out what he had to sell. The man who sharpened knives walked through the neighborhood carrying his sharpening stone and yelling out what he had to offer. When I moved back to Maryland, I at first thought the screaming from the kids playing outside was in Turkish. It takes time to re-adjust.

Toward the end of our time in Turkey, after having absorbed some of the culture, we attended a dance and music festival and had a great time. What we were seeing and hearing wasn’t nearly as foreign as it might have been two and a half years earlier. Wanting to keep those memories fresh, my father bought some Turkish music when we returned to Maryland. My interest in hearing Turkish music began in earnest once I started listening to the music of Anouar Brahem, whose albums brought back those memories and associations from my childhood. Sometimes, now, while grading my students' essays, I listen to Turkish classical music. I discovered Derya Turkan’s recording of Letter from Istanbul soon after I started listening to Sokratis Sinopoulos’ Eight Winds.  About ten years ago, I took my family to hear Salaam, an ensemble playing North African and Middle Eastern music, at the Nelson Gallery of Art in Kansas City. It was soon after the American invasion of Iraq and proved to be solemn occasion for the musicians who were celebrating a culture that was being destroyed.

Personally, I think that it takes education and/or travel to be more tolerant of other cultures. We Americans certainly could use more tolerance of others.

Once, as an undergraduate, I was in the cafeteria and behind one of my Middle Eastern classmates who was pouring sugar into her cup of coffee, the only thing she was purchasing for her lunch. “Are you fasting now?” I said.

“You know about that,” she replied.

“Yes, I spent two and a half years in Turkey,” I said.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Web Discovery

I discovered recently that someone used one of my poems as a response to someone's blog post about music. There is really only the slightest connection between the poem and the blog. The author of the blog thanks me, but I was not the one who posted the poem in response. The poem used is titled "Spelunking," and it was posted on this blog almost ten years ago--  Whoever posted the poem was kind enough to acknowledge me as the author. Go to this link to find the blog post.

Only those poems of mine that have been published in print form have been shared on this blog of mine.  It has probably been years since I shared any of my poems. I am happy to report that I have been writing with somewhat more frequency. Because I am not teaching as many classes as I used to, I have somewhat more time available.  Even an hour, when time is short and one's days are devoted to other things, can be enough time to get something written or revised. I cannot think of a better way to spend my remaining years than in writing poems.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Transferring Analogue Recordings

A few years ago, I started converting some of my out-of-print record albums and burning the resulting MP3 onto a CD, my preferred medium. It is a project that I have put aside but one that I need to return to. I wasn’t using the right software program previously because it wouldn’t separate the individual tracks, which is something that makes the transfer easier. As a record collector, I have some jazz records from the 70’s and 80’s that have not yet been released on CD or as a digital download.

There are a number of arguments regarding the superiority of vinyl over digital. Some people claim that vinyl contains a warmer sound and that analogue contains a more accurate transfer rate. Some of the opposing arguments say that there is virtually no difference between vinyl and CD and that so many other things contribute to the overall sound quality, such as the turntable, the needle, the amplifier, or the speakers.

I began moving away from vinyl in the late 80’s. Storage, the listening experience, and convenience are what concerns me. Unless one has shelves made expressly to hold records, records are difficult to store and often warp when they are not properly cared for. The overall listening experience is determined by the quality of the medium, with scratches on a vinyl recording ruining the experience—for me, at least. I also find digital copies more convenient because I can either place the music on my phone and use an auxiliary cable in the car or sync my phone and the car stereo, using Bluetooth. Bluetooth is also an option when playing music on the sound bar that is connected to the television. Another option, and one that I prefer, is burning the files onto a CD and using the CD in the car, in the kitchen, in the clock radio/alarm clock, or on the stereo located in my home office.

The quality of the vinyl recording wasn’t as important to me when I was listening to music with few, if any, lows or quiet passages. That changed once I started listening to ECM recordings in the 1970’s. On one occasion, I remember getting the record home and discovering that the scratch created during the manufacturing process ruined my listening experience of Keith Jarrett’s Arbour Zena

At some point in the future, I hope to hear Hubert Laws’ The San Francisco Concert, Zbigniew Namyslowski’s Air Condition, Pepper Adams’ Reflectory, and the Art Pepper Quartet at the Maiden Voyage, which is available on two other albums besides Road GameArt Lives and Art Pepper Quartet. These are just some of the albums that have not yet been recently released as a CD or as a digital copy. 

Some of the other albums of mine have since been released on CD, but I am reluctant to spend the money when I can instead transfer the music. The cost of the software is ultimately cheaper than replacing the albums, even when considering the cost of a plastic CD cover and the recordable CD itself. 

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Reading in 2016

During 2016, I managed to read twenty-two books. For several years now, I have been keeping a somewhat accurate record of how many books that I have read in a year’s time. Some people can read as many books as there are weeks in a year. My number of books read during a year’s time seems to stay fairly consistent—roughly twenty books but sometimes a little more or a little less.

Having downloaded the Kindle app to my Android phone, I now am able to read samples of books that interest me before I add them to my Wish List at Amazon. That's how I discovered Edward Humes’ Door to Door: The Magnificent Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation, a book that contains frightening statistics and makes one a more conscious, and more careful, driver. I discovered Tracie McMillan’s The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields, and the Dinner Table from reading a sample as well. Her book has made me more reluctant to buy much produce at Walmart, except for bananas and apples occasionally, and to avoid restaurants like Applebee’s. I have not yet purchased some of the other books whose samples I have read, such as Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA and Elliot West’s collection of historical essays. Sometimes I am lucky to find what I want at a secondhand bookstore, such as Half-Price Books and the Dusty Bookshelf in Lawrence. I am not including these samples among my list of books read.

My only digital book is The Book of Women, a chapbook of poems by Dorianne Laux, which, unfortunately, is no longer available in any other format.

There are other books of poems that I dip into occasionally but have not read completely. I am still working my way through Jack Gilbert’s Collected Poems. Several of the poems in my copy of his book are bookmarked. I actually have many of the books that make up his collected poems except for Monolithos, which I originally read as an undergraduate. During the past year, I also picked up Ruth Stone’s Second-Hand Coat: New and Selected Poems, Kim Addonizio’s What Is This Thing Called Love, Sharon Olds’ Odes, Dorianne Laux’s Facts About the Moon, Adrian C. Louis’ Random Exorcisms, and Michael Heffernan’s The Night-Watchman’s Daughter. None of these books have been finished as of yet. It is difficult for me to actually say at what point I have read any one book of poems because I return to the poems often and keep the book on my nightstand or on a nearby dresser. These books of poems are not included in my list for 2016.

Only two works of fiction are included among my list. Sometime during the summer, my wife lent me her copy of Richard Moran’s Earth Winter, something that she picked up at one of the library sales. She thought I would at least enjoy the romance between two of the main characters and find the pages devoted to a Russian submarine interesting, knowing my fondness for submarine movies. (At one point last summer when I was re-watching U-571 for about the third or fourth time, a movie about a young officer learning to take command, I felt as if my father, who had died eight years ago and who made a career of the Navy, was sitting next to me and listening to me comment on the movie as we watched it together.)  I also read James Howard Kunstler’s The Harrows of Spring, the fourth and final book in his series World Made by Hand.  Some of the characters in the fictional Union Grove, New York are adjusting to their lives, after having seen their country destroyed by nuclear detonations, having lost loved ones in a flu pandemic, and having seen the conveniences that once made up modern life disappear.

The great majority of the other books read during 2016 can be classified as history, such as The Heart of Everything That Is, Prairie Indian Raiders, Apache Wars, A Terrible Glory, and Last Stand. I also read Trails: Toward a New Western History, a collection of essays addressing what was once considered the New Western History in the 1990’s and which provided a point of view to re-examine the history of the American West. These essays have provided a number of examples of good narrative history that I have neglected to read, such as Donald Worster’s Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West, a book that has been sitting on my shelf for a number of years. Trails is a much better book than Old West/New West, another collection of critical essays that I read this last year but one that, although largely positive, presents a less accepting view of the New West, with Gene M. Gressley saying in the Prologue that the new history typically contains “an absence of archival research” and a “one-dimensional underside view of western history.” It’s those neglected elements of western history, no matter how critical of our past by revealing flaws, mistakes, and misshapen attitudes, that need to be examined more thoroughly.

Also included among the books read this last year are two collections of essays, Barry Lopez’ detailed descriptions and observations in About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory and David Foster Wallace’s A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again. It’s unfortunate that David Foster Wallace ended his own life in 2008 because I would have liked seeing how marriage and parenthood, for example, would have changed his world view and would have altered his sense of humor when observing something like a state fair.

My LibraryThing account now says that I possess 905 books, the majority of which serve as remnants of the journey, and all of which are crammed into two rooms of my house. I added thirty-six books to my collection during the previous year and will be reading the ones that I have not yet gotten to. Although I try to limit the number of books purchased during any given year, I find it difficult to resist adding more books to my collection, already having added three more books so far this year.

For Christmas, my wife gave me a floor lamp with an adjustable neck to make reading in bed easier. It wasn’t until I assembled the lamp that I discovered that the bulb is not replaceable although the company assures me that it will last for 50,000 hours. More than five and a half years of reading await me, the company says.