Thursday, December 13, 2007

havana good time

I'm in the mood to go to Cuba. Havana would be nice. Where music wafts out of the windows through the streets. Where people, hearing the music, dance; their worries carried away on dulcet tones. Joyful jazz sounds make it hard to be anxious, annoyed with another or afraid about the future. People come together, united by the music and the moment. It feels like there's something to celebrate and whether there is or not, the feeling that there is, is all that is required for there to be a party - and what's a party without people - so everyone is invited. Bygones are gone. Tomorrow is too far away. There is only now - and being Cuba - the whole day and night in which to make the most of being alive. There may not be much food, not a lot of variety when there is. There's not much money - and nothing to buy anyway - except on the 'black market', if you have money. There is only the music, and the people but what a people! People who know how to make the most of whatever there is. Who can use whatever is at hand. Take those beautiful old pastel coloured rounded 1950's cars - still going because the Cubans have found ways and means to keep them going, since trade imbargoes mean there have been no new cars or replacement parts coming to Cuba from the USA for fifty years. Every part that breaks has to be manufactured from junk or spirited away from some less deserving vehicle. Its not just the parts but the tools with which to work as well that have to be conjured up via ingenuity.
My favourite Cuban story is one I read in a book of travellers tales. It goes something like this. A traveller was on board a public bus. The driver spies a beautiful woman standing, as though waiting. He stops the bus and begins to talk to the beautiful woman who ignores him. he persists. She continues to ignore him. He disappears into a shop and returns with an icecream, which he offers to the woman. She accepts it. The whole bus load of passengers, watching, cheers. The woman begins to talk to the bus driver. After quite some time it becomes clear that the bus driver and the woman are engrossed in conversation. Someone on the bus moves forward into the driver's seat and drives the bus to their bus stop. They get off the bus. Someone else moves forward into the driver's seat and drives the bus until their stop. When someone else moves forward to drive the bus....

I've never actually been to Cuba - just had an imaginery holiday there some summers ago when, despondent that I wasnt actually going away when everyone else seemed to be doing so, I read everything I could find on Cuba, listened to Cuban music, cooked Cuban inspired recipes, bought a bottle of bacardi rum and experimented with making cocktails. I wrote a journal, pretending I was there. Couldnt quite come at a cigar, though. My fascination for Cuba began with seeing a documentary produced by Wim Wenders and Ry Cooder about the Buena Vista Social Club. (watch extract here). That's when I really fell in love with the place - seduced by the music and the pastel patinas of peeling paint on grand old Spanish inspired buildings. That was some years ago now. So why should that longing to return (to my idealised Cuba) return now? There is something about joy and celebration that has not a hint of comercialised, consumerised, globalised, department store soullessness. There is something about the spontenaity and the inclusiveness. The way that it all happens in the street - in the public arena - and everyone is included. There is something in that that speaks of the kind of community i long for. And I like the serious bias towards having fun. Though the music allows for other moods as well, and I like that, too. No doubt there are the very poor and the very rich in Cuba, but the street is a great leveller and music a powerful catylist for creating a commonality, a communality.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

the art of city living

I love living in the city. I think it is because of the humanly constructed environment. Everywhere I look is a work of art. Even cardboard piled on the footpath, awaiting collection has artistic merit. The city is like an enormous house made up of many rooms: unique and distinct spaces. I notice the trend in cafes to create different spaces within the one space - the communal table, the comfy lounge chairs, the intimate table for two in the corner near the window, bar stools facing out to the footpath where you can sit alone and watch the "world go by". And all these spaces are brought together to convey an ambience, a mood. I favour the '70's style mismatched chairs with jazz music. They come from an era when life was simpler. I like to imagine that the trend for retro has to do with recycling and reusing some of the abundance of stuff that already exists.
All this constant created environment, is it humans just trying to convince themselves that they are in control? Or is it that humans are innately creative and cant help but shape, colour, design our surrounds? Does the focus on the outward save us from having to go inward? Does insulating ourselves with the material protect us from facing the spiritual? I think not. If anything, it creates a yearning for meaning, for mystery.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Lion or lamb?

Sunday morning in the park was perfect, arriving through the tunnel of shade made by the dense canopy of plane tree leaves. The air was cool and refreshing, despite the warm forecast. Ducks splashed in the running water, which sparkled like laughter as it caught the light. One duck wandered nonchantly through, in and around our circle. The deep throaty call of frogs contrasted with the high pitched twitter of birds. It felt peaceful. Jane led those of us gathered for eco-faith worship in a beautiful reflection about love and fear. Towards the end of the hour, our pleasant setting was disturbed by the loud sound of a helicopter. Much louder than we are used to hearing. We watched as it came into view, emerging from the leafy canopy, an army helicopter. Much larger than we are used to seeing. Painted in camoflauge colours, it's side all open. We saw men in camoflague uniform, standing ready for action. They were probably on their way to a fun community event but my mind took a sinister leap and i imagined another scenario. I shivered. All the way home I thought about how for me peace is about calm, beauty, quiet, stillness and is most readily found in the beauty of nature. I dont tend to equate peace with the absence of war, or conflict, or armed combat or even violence - such is the privilege I happen to live with.
Later that day I went to see the movie Lions for Lambs - not because it was a movie that I particularly wanted to see but purely because it was showing at a time and place that suited me. The film I think challenges us who view it to consider what we think and feel about war and what we might do about those thoughts and feelings. I came away wondering, asking myself "what do I really care about?" "what would I want to change in the world - or my small corner of it?" Is there any cause for which I would give my all? Just last week i had a conversation with a collegue about political apathy. She said that in the 70's "we really believed we could change the world." What has happened to that? There is still the odd protest march or demonstration but it is seldomly taken seriously by anyone. We hear everyday about the predicted disaster awaiting us if global warming continues on the same trajectory. Yet we act as though we dont believe it (on the whole I mean - i know there are some who really do give their all to make a difference in areas they care deeply about).
I'm not sure why but last night i took my copy of "To Kill a Mockingbird" off the shelf. I'd earmarked the page where Atticus tells Jem that real courage is "when you know you are licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."
Contrast that with the cocky student in Lions for Lambs when he looks up at his professor and defiantly says: "You think it's better to try and fail than fail to try, right?" "At least you did something," replies the professor.
At early morning worship at Pilgrim this morning Jenny reminded us about the style of leadership that Jesus modelled. Atticus' definition of courage definitely fits there. Am I so afraid of failing, of being ineffective, of being a fly on an elephant's backside that I will do nothing or nothing much? What do I really care about and what am I going to do about that? Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by all the things I care about and would want to change in the world. Yet, if I dont do anything then I obviously dont really care. Ghandi says not just do but be - "Be the change you wish to see in the world." How might i live so that if anyone was watching they would know what it is that really matters to me?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


It's an e.e.cummings kind of day - you know this poem, "i thank you god, for this most amazing day for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky"? I have at last finished my essay and I feel alive. Like life has just begun again. It is almost worth studying to have the euphoria that comes once its over. Knowing tonight i can do what ever i like: lie in the pool til my skin wrinkles; curl up with a book, transported to another time and place; maybe begin those retro baby rompers i've designed; watch a movie ..? or just anything i like really... in reality i'll problably tidy up the mess of papers I've left everywhere while I was studying and go to bed early cause I'll be too tired to do anything else. Having possibilities is delicious though. Imagining what i might do rather than knowing there is something I have to do. It feels like summer, which feels like holidays. The hope of anticipation. What is 'hope' I wonder? It must have something to do with lack of constraint. But then the lack of constraint only feels so good because there has been constraint. Maybe hope can only be detected in waves; we experience it in the flow because we experience it's absence in the ebb. That's how it seems to me - but then i am privileged, fortunate, comfortable. I cant help but let the glorious blue of the jacarandas lift my spirit. They always fill me with expectant hope. Maybe that's because I associate them with advent. Which is puzzling in itself because i dont like Christmas. Maybe I will feel differently this year. Maybe I will look forward to Christmas. What must it be like to wait without hope, I wonder? Perhaps hope becomes relative - the waves are bigger or smaller depending on how calm or stormy the sea. For now I am grateful for the gentle breeze of little hopes rippling in and out of my ordinary days.