Thursday, November 29, 2007


Our first contestants on tonights special presentations of
are the exciting duo, John "flip floppin" McCain and Rudi "Spicey G" Guiliani!We want the audience at home to sit back, and get ready for some real
dancing around the real issues.
Our contestants have been training hard for this special moment
and it's up to you, the American viewing audience to let them know
who is your favorite.
You can vote in the comments box in this blog.
Tune in tomorrow as our next contestants
dance their little hearts out for your approval rating!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Lack of Trust

Most of my perceptions as to what is really happening in America is limited
to the media: The news and the internet.
I read about the Presidential Election and get information from the various candidates emails and the blogs. I have a few favorites, and I hear the constant drumbeat of the polls telling us that the Republicans cannot win this time.
Then I spend a few weeks in America. I speak to lots of Americans. I read editorials and how the news is not really reported, how the issues are not really discussed.
Who cares what anyone really thinks? Let Bill O'Reilly and Rush spin it for you.
Hey, did you hear that Kuchinich's wife was blind? No? She married him, didn't she?
Do you really think that America will elect a woman president, especially if she is Hillary? How much mud could a Republican sling, if a Republican could sling mud?
I think Edwards could be a great President but will the pundits ever get past his hair?
A lot of Americans could vote for Obama if he's change his name and his skin color.
There are a lot of Americans who deep down are sick of the Iraq War, but even deeper down are just plain afraid.
Lightning strikes and the flock of sheep stampede.
Nothing is certain. I have no faith in a nation that lets itself be led and lied to...
This is getting to be uncomfortable, isn't it?
Let's talk about the candidates favorite television shows.
Guiliani could win if he would only be a contestant on Dancing With The Stars.

The Middle Ages Now!

I got an email today from my friend The Engineer of Knowlege. In it he compared the present situation of America, rapidly sinking into a sea of debt, dragged into a mad war by a deranged leader to England and it's pursuit of an impossible goal in the 1300's.
One of my favorite areas of history is the middle ages and I have read much on the Hundred Years War and the quest of the English Monarchy for the French Crown.
The Engineer took the events and transposed them them to the War in Iraq and here's what happened:

The Middle Ages version:

“In the early years of the war, Edward III allied with the nobles of the Low Countries and the burghers of Flanders, but after two campaigns where nothing was achieved, the alliance fell apart in 1340. The payments of subsidies to the German princes and the costs of maintaining an army abroad dragged the English government into bankruptcy, heavily damaging Edward’s prestige. At sea, France enjoyed supremacy for some time, through the use of Genoese ships and crews. Several towns on the English coast were sacked, some repeatedly. This caused fear and disruption along the English coast.”

The Present Version:

“In the early years of the war, George W allied with the nobles of Texas Oil and the burghers the Arms’ Industry, but after two campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan where nothing was achieved, the alliance fell apart in 2006. The payments of subsidies to the Saudi princes and the costs of maintaining an army abroad dragged the American government into bankruptcy, heavily damaging George’s prestige. The re-emergence of the Russian Empire enjoyed supremacy for some time, through the use of their own oil reserves being marketed around the world along with their own military hardware sales. Several cities and towns in the U.S. were feeling the economic depression as the real-estate values and stock markets dropped drastically along with the basic value of the U.S. dollar on the world market. This caused fear and disruption with the population in the United States for many years as they tried to work out and pay off the massive debt.”

How will this play out in the history books of the future?

Thanks again Mr. Engineer!

The Fire This Time

In America, we tend to put our public housing projects in our decaying inner cities. In fact, the trend in America is away from massive public housing. In France, starting in the mid 50's until the 70's, massive cities were built outside the big cities. They are called banlieus...literally lost places.
They started as a utopian solution for the influx of immigrants and the poor and middle class. Gradually these places became more accessible as public transportation systems reached farther out. But for most people who live there, it is an isolated world.
As most Utopian modern ideas start, they always look good on paper. Let people live there for 10 or 20 years with out government reinvestment in the maintenence of infrastructure and things fall apart.
Raise a few generations of kids without adequate recreational and social services, in a country with out enough jobs for the white "French" population and you have institutionalized delinquency. Throw in a repressive police system and you have a huge festering problem.
In 2005, almost exactly 2 years ago, the banlieus outside of Paris erupted in 6 nights of riots which almost brought down the Chirac government. Nicolas Sarkozy was the Interior Minister at the time and reacted by throwing gasoline on the fire with he Karcher comment. A Karcher is a high pressure water hose and he said he was going to clean the banlieus with one..
As the riots died down, there was a lot of discussion about the causes and a lot of ideas publicly bandied about by the government. 2 years later, for the most part, the ideas never got past the talking stage. For the most part, it was a holding action, a good show for the concerned public.
Earlier this year, France went through a Presidential Election which was won by Sarkozy by pandering to the fears of an aging conservative base. He played to their fears of immigrants and constantly used the threat of insecurity to great advantage.
By doing this, he really established his image as a repressive fascist to a big portion of the the population who are more militant.
So, there you have it. A fire that was never really dealt with, a situation that is more volatile in fact. A police force arrogant with power stopping kids for no reason usually.
Demanding to see papers....
It took one incident. A police car collided with a motor scooter killing two kids. Did the police try to get away with out assisting the kids? That's what the witnesses say.
That's all it took. They have guns this time. There have been over 80 cops hurt in the last 2 nights. Countless cars torched, libraries, schools and businesses burnt.
It's been quiet so far tonight in Paris, but the action is just starting in Toulouse.
If the government thinks they can solve this by throwing more cops and CRS at the kids, they are as irreponsible as monkeys in an oil refinery with flame throwers...
Because the fire this time........................

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What's going on, here?

A good question! It's been 22 days since I last posted! In that period, I spent 5 days in Toledo, Ohio and then 8 days in New York City. It took me a few days to recover from Toledo alone! It was the first time I have set foot in the USA in almost 18 months.
I suppose that I want to write about my impressions of The USA, but my mind is swirling.
I walked through neighborhoods in Toledo and realized that the normal block had at least 7 houses with at least one American flag. Some houses had multiple flags. On one block I stopped and counted over 24 flags of various sizes, standard size, miniatures, decales...little plastic ones...I am sure i missed a few.
When I was a boy in Detroit, we had a neighbor who displayed a flag every day of the year. He was regarded as the neighborhood nut case and in reality, he was.
I also noticed that usually, I was the only person on the street. Nobody walks. One day I took a walk that was about 5 miles and when I got back to my sisters house, my brother in law asked me where I had gone. I told him and he said, "That's crazy! If you asked, I would have driven you!"
I was happy to get to New York. There, everyone walks. The level of street noise was more than I had ever experienced in my 25 years of living there. The juxtaposition of sheer poverty and obscene displays of wealth were mind boggling. CBGB was just another place for rent on the Bowery. There was an expensive CBGB Boutique on St. Marks Place marketing the aura of something that will never happen again.
I saw a Hummer fitted out like a family woody style station wagon from the 50's parked on my block in the East Village. There was more garbage on the street, but the quality was so much higher than I remembered it!
One of the strangest sights was on the Bowery, as I walked past the shell of CBGB, I saw that the Bowery Mission was still there with derelicts staggering out the doors and then the next building had a red carpet and a doorman and limos...The new Bowery Hotel! I stopped in disbelief.......what's going on here?
I was finally happy to get back here to La Sechere. I arrived in the midst of the strikes, not knowing if I could make it easily into Bordeaux from the airport, let alone get a train that evening to Perigueux.
Finally back here, utter silence. It's hard to get started again.
The picture is another friendly reminder that we are getting ready for the joyous gala celebration of Zappadan starting the 6th of December...o joy........

Monday, November 05, 2007

Zappadan Draws Nigh

This is just a reminder that the feast of Zappadan is drawing closer. I posted this video in joyous anticipatation of the joyous yearly event. This piece does not actually feature Frank Zappa, it has Ringo Starr portraying a character who resembles him named Larry the Dwarf. It also features Theodore Bikel and Keith Moon as a harp playing nun and members of the London Symphony Orchestra. They are being forced to perform in this depraved farce for your enjoyment!

I leave you with this as I am about to go to the USA for 2 weeks. Discuss.....

See You!
I will try to post from the USA!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Vendange 2007

It took a little while, but I got some pictures from this years grape harvest at Chateau Vieux Chevrol in the Lalande Pomerol. It was a very long harvest this year with extraordinarily adverse weather.
It rained, it was downright cold. We had to stop the harvest after the first week because the cold weather prevented the grapes from fully ripening on schedule.
Inspite of it all, the growing conditions this year made the grapes we harvested full of sugar, flavor with nice thick skins. All the ingredients for a very good vintage. This was not the case at many other Chateaux, the moist cool summer created the conditions perfect for mildew and other maladies of the vines.
One thing that made it a successful harvest for us, was the fact that the same core group has been working together now for quite a few years. We all know each other and get along like any dysfunctional family speaking multiple languages from different parts of the world.
This was my 6th year working and as usual, I was a porter. I also worked earlier this year doing the empamphrage (trimming of the pied, the base of the vine) in the late spring and then the Vendange Verte (the cutting of the excess green grapes and the extra leaves) in the late summer.
Consequently, for me it was very satisfying to see the condition of the vines and the quality and quantity of the harvest this year!
One important quality of the Chateau Vieux Chevrol technique is the fact that everything is done in in a very traditional manner. All cultivation is by hand.. The harvest is by hand. There is no fertilizer used and pesticides and fungicides are all natural.
The wines are fermented in traditional vats, then in oak casks. After a year, they are bottled. They are not offered on the market for 2 years. The optimal aging of a Lalande Pomerol is 6 years. After that, they often get better, but it is unpredictable. They are a rich, oaky, complex dark red wine with a mix of fruit hints, framboise, cassiss...each year offers a slightly different mystery of flavors to unravel.
We ate well as usual at the table of the old Chateau. Great meals every night and one night we had a grand paella feast accompanied by a tasting of a variety of Rose Wines of various techniques.
When the Vendange was halted, I went home for a few days, but many of the workers come from Holland and they had a chance to visit the Dordogne and see the part of France I am most familiar with. They visited Sarlat, Beynac and Domme all incredibly beautiful sites. Beynac on the Dordogne River has one of the most impressive medieval fortress castles perched on a high cliff I have ever seen.
On the way back, they followed the valley of the Vezere River, where the Lascaux Cave is hidden and under the impressive Roche St. Cristophe, a massive palisade in the cliff which was continually inhabited from 18,000 bc up to the 20th century. This Valley is truly considered the birthplace of paleontology as two of the sites contributed their names to the ages of the neolithic cromagnon eras, The Madelinian and the Mousterian.
We took a visit to Libourne one night to visit Jackie who has a private collection of
antique autos in a big garage in back of his house. He is a passionate collector of Peugots and has a 1911 Motobloc, the first car with with the modern "drive train" which was made in Bordeaux until the 1930's.
It was hard work but rewarding for all and we look forward to to tasting the fruits of our labors next year!
We all want to thank the Champseix family for making this experience so full of good fellowship and the care they take to make sure we are entertained and well fed!
Click on the pictures if you want to enlarge them, but be careful, this last picture is Grapezilla 2007, and he bites!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Larry Coryell

If you have been reading this blog over it's year or so of existance, you can tell I like a lot of different guitarists and styles of music. In the early 70's, I became a fan of the Jazz guitarist, Larry Coryell. He was originally a rock guitarist from the Seattle area, but had a real background in classical music and started to play jazz at an early age. His first serious Jazz gig was with the Drummer, Chico Hamilton who at that time also had the Hungarian guitarist, Gabor Szabo in his band. They made an interesting pair, Gabors sparse European accoustic sound and Coryells more electric rock and blues oriented sound. He went on to Record with Herbie Mann on the extremely popular Jazz breakthrough record, Memphis Underground. That was another amazing 2 guitarist band, but this time it was a pre free jazz version of Sonny Sharrock, another of my all time very favorite players.
Coryell recorded with a lot of different players and began to issue his own solo albums. He briefly formed a band called Free Spirits with Jack Bruce after the break up of Cream. His work on Offering, Gypsy Queen, and the brilliant Spaces album forged the basis of the Fusion Jazz/Rock of the 70's.
Spaces would be a great album to listen to if you ever have the opportunity. He became friends with John McGlauglin and introduced him to an American audience. The members of the band are McGlauglin (soon to be Mahavishnu Orchestra), Billy Cobham on drums, Mirslav Vitous(Weather Report) on Bass, Chick Corea on Keyboards and of course Coryell. For all the heavy weight musicians who later went on to create earthquakes of their own, this is a light almost accoustic record that truly lives up to its title!
He formed the very influential band The Eleventh House with Michael Brecker and Alphonse Mouzon...a really great ground breaking fusion band that played constantly for 5 years. I know because I saw them many times in that period!
During the 80's, Coryell went back ot accoustic music and more traditional jazz forms. He has two sons which carry on the the tradition. Julian is a superstar in Japan!
He's still making music and the piece I have chosen for this post is an accoustic solo version of Ravels Bolero, a great feat of arranging and technique.
I think Coryell is one of Americas greatest contemporary musicians and one of its best kept secrets!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Who Was George Sand?

My wife and I recently took a short vacation to Dijon and on the way back, we drove straight across France
to a little village named Nohant-Vic to visit the home of the French writer of the 19th Century, George Sand. It was a trip into the beautiful soft landscapes of a region called The Berry and the valley of the Indre River. A region that is still very agricultural and dotted with small towns, chateaus and ruins. Nohant-Vic is still almost the way it was back in the beginning of the 19th Century. George Sands grandmother was a French Noble woman named Aurore de Saxe who barely escaped the Terror of the French Revolution and fled from Paris with her son Maurice and used the remains of her fortunes to buy the modest chateau and lands of Nohant-Vic.
Maurice, who had the last name, Dupin married a common woman, Sophie and they had a daughter named Aurore Dupin. Maurice was an aide to Napoleon who rose in the ranks but was killed in a freak accident one night riding from La Chatre to Nohant. The young Aurore was raised by her grand mother at Nohant and educated by her grandmothers friend, Deschartres. She recieved a very eclectic education from the jack of all trades, Deschartres, even learning the rudiments of medicine and helped him pilfer graves for material to do research on.
She also ended up spending a few years in a very strict convent school for girls in Paris where she went from being an unruly rebel to one of the most admired of the classmates. After she left, as her grandmother grew older, the concern was to get her a proper husband and she was married at age 17 to Casimir Dudevant. Her grandmother died and she inherited the title of Baroness and Nohant.
While she was in the convent, she began to write. It grew into a passion. She also began to look for true love which her husband, Casmir was not able to give her.
Gradually, she assumed a more independant life. She began to write with a younger writer Jules Sandeau, who was a local lad. They began a torrid affair under the nose of her husband and moved to Paris to clandestinely live together and write in a true bohemian existance in the heady atmosphere of Post Napoleonic political life.
Soon she was publishing her own work, but ended up taking the name George Sand, an Anglicized male name. Her first major work, Indiana was a sensation which unlocked the gates of a torrent of novels, essays and plays that lasted a lifetime.
The work was radical and romantic. A truly liberated womans voice writing about love and the human condition. Much of her work had to do with the tragedy of relationships between classes.
She became a major star of the art world and dressed in her own eccentric style, sometime as a man and lived a life of one affair after another finally obtaining a separation from Casimir.
She was connected with Franz Lizt and lived with Frederic Chopin for 10 years. Chopin lived at Nohant and composed much of his work there in a beautiful room with double sound proofed doors that are still there today.
Meanwhile, France was going through the turbulence of the Restoration, the rule of Louis Phillipe and then the Revolution of 1848 and the proclamation of the Republic which lasted a few years until the seizure of power by Napoleons nephew, Louis Napoleon, who proclaimed himself Emperor. During this backdrop, Communism began to develop as a system of ideas. George Sands was a powerful political writer whose championing of the rights of the people put her in great peril!
On the other hand, she was the most read and admired woman writer in the world at the time and the esteem and admiration that Louis Napoleon had for her allowed her to intercede for many of her friends who were imprisoned under his initially repressive rule.
Meanwhile, life at Nohant pursued it's singularly eccentric artisitc course, with the painter Delacroix, Chopin in residence and a house full of writers like Dumas and Flaubert and their friends as well as her own children, Maurice and Sophie. Maurice was an eccentric eclectic young man who painted and wrote, but his passion at home was marionettes and for years he made and performed incredible plays and the entire household was part of an acting troup which put on performaces in the little theater in the house at Nohant!

So much of this can be experienced by touring the house. The table is set, the theater is still ready for its next performance. Maurices puppets are on display. The decor is basically unchanged from the time of George Sand due to the fact that her grand daughter lived in the house until she was in her 90's and willed it to the Beaux Arts in the 1960's. There are some nice tours you can take which take you through the beautiful country side past a lot of the places mentioned in her books. We stayed for 2 nights in a little village nearby in a hotel/bar-tabac/bakery and taxi service all under on roof which offered meals extra as well for around 30 Euros a night.
The site is easily reached by car from Paris, just a few hours. For us it would be a simple drive up past Limoges. It is not far from Bourges. The town of La Chatre is very close and offers a range of hotels and B&B accomodations. La Chatre has a George Sand Museum and few other sites as wel as being a charming place which is very well preserved on the banks of the Indre.
Now, I want to start reading some of her work in French. I have only read a few english translated novels and I have to do a lot of work if I am to enjoy the flavor in which they were originally written!