Sunday, February 26

Three Photos

Made dinner on Saturday for our housemate D and our friend F for their birthdays, which were both several weeks ago. Joe made manicotti (from scratch) and a nice big pot of gravy—for all you non-Italians, that’s tomato sauce with meat. It’s taken me quite a while to start referring to tomato sauce as gravy. But it’s only gravy if it has meat in it. In Joe’s case, his gravy is full of pork ribs and sausage. Meatless tomato sauce isn’t gravy, but marinara.

I made an antipasto, which is something I really enjoy doing, mostly because it’s one of the few dishes that I make that requires any kind of artistic presentation, but also because it’s full of all kinds of things that, if you ate them every day would probably kill you, but are OK in moderation. I feel like a real Italian housewife when I prepare an antipasto, and Joe is always impressed with my mozzarella roses.

I called Tutto Italiano (1893 River Street, Hyde Park) a few days in advance to order the ingredients so I could just breeze in Saturday morning and pick up everything. They are very popular and are pretty much busy from the moment they open on Saturday and I really hate having to wait in line. However, even having called ahead so as to avoid a long wait, I still felt rushed Saturday as evinced by my having put my sweater on inside-out. Joe found this very amusing and thought it would be cute to take a picture of the back of my neck showing that I still haven’t learned to dress myself. I must have still been rushing around that evening, my rapid movements causing the only photo of me to come out quite blurry. I liked it.

Mike the drummer was also present. He shaved his beard (as he had warned me he was going to do) even though I told him that I would likely find him irresistible clean-shaven. Indeed, when I answered the door and beheld his boyish beardless face underneath his lovely mop of red hair, I had to resist the impulse to plant one on him on the spot. He’s quite adorable and he now knows that I think so, but he’s sweet and indulges me in my crush. Liberated straight guys are so cool. He also brought a cheesecake that he made himself, which was delicious.

Friday, February 24

A Glaring Omission

On Thursday, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, who plans to run for governor this fall, criticized lawmakers on Beacon Hill for focusing on what she called “the wrong priorities.” Actually, I (gulp) agree with Healey. “We have extremely important bills before the Legislature right now like the comprehensive health care reform, and instead we’re talking about vending machines and taking candy away from children,” Healey argued, accusing our legislators of dragging their feet on issues like health care reform, domestic violence, and witness protection, because they’ve been too busy wasting time on less significant matters.

You mean like denying marriage rights to same-sex couples? It seems to me that Healey’s accusation would pack a lot more punch had she not omitted the biggest waste of time to occupy Beacon Hill in recent years. How much time (and taxpayer money) was wasted pushing forward a legislative amendment that would have reversed the November 2003 Goodridge decision recognizing the right of same-sex couples to marry in Massachusetts? Healey, who is dead set against marriage equality, supported the amendment arguing:

“I have consistently supported the current amendment... because I think it strikes a good balance. It recognizes that marriage is between one man and one woman, but also provides a legal framework for the protection of same-sex couples... I don’t think judicial activism is the right way to make these very large social changes. I would like to see the Legislature act on behalf of the people.”

In other words, when the courts issue a perfectly legitimate decision with which you happen to disagree, go ahead and waste everyone’s time and money trying to have a perfectly valid court decision reversed on Beacon Hill. Forget about universal healthcare, people! We’ve got semantics to argue over and an institution to protect!

And it’s not over yet. Although the Travaglini/Lees Amendment was ultimately defeated last September, lawmakers on Beacon Hill will have to put aside their work drafting legislation reforming health care, protecting families from domestic violence, and tackling the recent wave of gun violence, in order to debate an initiative petition filed last fall, which would place on the November 2008 ballot an even more virulent constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Before it goes before the voters, however, it will have to be approved by the Legislature in not one, but two sessions. Talk about the wrong priorities.

Healey makes a good point about the Legislature’s sometimes wacky priorities. However, by leaving out what is arguably the most screwy priority to occupy lawmakers on Beacon Hill in recent years, she opens herself up to the charge of hypocrisy and comes away looking disingenuous and not a little stupid. If the Republicans have taught us one thing though, it’s that looking disingenuous and stupid doesn’t necessarily prevent one from being elected to public office.

Thursday, February 23

A Sad Day

I spent a pleasant hour on Monday in Roxbury’s Eliot Square trying to find the best view of the new mosque being built along Columbus Avenue in order to photograph its crescent-topped dome for a blog post. Although it was chilly, I was enjoying being outdoors partly because Eliot Square is so lovely, with a nice collection of 19th-century brick and brownstone commercial blocks, not to mention its crown jewel, Roxbury’s First Church (1803-04), which is Boston’s oldest wood frame church.

Eliot Square offers sweeping views of Roxbury Crossing, Brigham Circle, and Mission Hill. Looking past the dome of the new mosque, one can see the patinated dome of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Ruggles Street and, farther off, the twin spires and octagonal cupola of the “Mission Church” (Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help).

It is a sad irony that in the same week that I found myself admiring some of Boston’s most significant religious architecture, one of Islam’s holiest and most beautiful shrines was blown up in an act of horrific sectarian violence.

On Wednesday morning, explosives were detonated inside the Al-Askariya Shrine (مرقد الامامين علي الهادي والحسن العسكري) in the town of Samarra north of Baghdad, completely destroying the mosque’s famous golden dome. Constructed in the 10th century and referred to as the “Golden Mosque,” the shrine contains the tombs of two 9th-century imams, Ali al-Hadi and his son Hassan al-Askari. The golden dome was added in 1905.

Since the U.S. led invasion in 2003, Samarra has come to symbolize the challenges and frustrations experienced by the U.S. military in Iraq. Military offensives in response to insurgent attacks produce a temporary lull only to be followed by a new wave of deadly insurgent activity. The attack on the Golden Mosque is but the most recent act in a long series of sectarian violence in what is regarded as one of Iraq’s four holiest cities.

Samarra was the scene of severe fighting between American forces and the Iraqi insurgency back in October 2004. During the fighting, Iraqi forces stormed the Golden Mosque and captured about two dozen insurgents who had barricaded themselves inside. At the time, it was decided that only Iraqi forces should participate in the siege in order to forestall local anger at the presence of U.S. troops within the revered Shi’a shrine. In spite of the fighting, the mosque escaped unharmed.

Wednesday’s bombing has spurred a wave of sectarian reprisals. Already 130 have been killed, including about four dozen who were dragged from their cars and shot after participating in a joint Sunni and Shi’a protest against the attack. Many are saying that the destruction of the Golden Mosque, more than any other act of violence thus far, signals that Iraq is on the brink of civil war. The Bush administration and the U.S. State Department, on the other hand, are downplaying the prospect of civil war, as they are apt to do.

Although I shudder at the tragic loss of life that can result from acts of terrorism, it is the wanton destruction of monuments, especially those that are considered holy or sacred, that often leaves me despondent. Architecture possesses not simply physical and aesthetic qualities that we need and admire. It also possesses symbolic value, represents human ingenuity, creativity, artistic achievement, our love of beauty, our attempts to understand the divine, our ability to shape our environment, and our collective cultural inheritance. For me, it is the destruction of architecture, more than anything else, that symbolizes our descent into chaos.

Tuesday, February 21

Progresso em Portugal

Eu amo os portuguêses. Nós poderíamos aprender muitas coisas deles.

It’s wonderful that in 2004 Portugal amended its constitution to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. That is powerful ammunition for those currently leading the fight for equal marriage, which gained new momentum last Thursday when a petition with over 5,000 signatures in support of same-sex marriage was delivered to Portugal’s parliament.

Meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic, we’re still thinking about enshrining discrimination in our Constitution. Will we ever learn?

Crescent Moon Rising

The other day while driving through Roxbury, I noticed that the crescent has finally made its way to the top of the dome on the new mosque that is currently under construction along Columbus Avenue. I was struck by how lovely the crescent looked with its delicate shape and graceful lines. I am happy to see that the project is progressing.

You’ll recall from a previous post several months ago that the project has not been without controversy. Some have challenged the method by which the land was acquired from the city and, more importantly, have alleged that the Islamic Society of Boston has ties to radical Muslim elements.

With all the bad behavior, intolerance, hatred, and violence displayed by Muslims in recent weeks—both in connection with the violent reaction of Muslims worldwide to the Danish cartoons portraying the Prophet Mohammed and the homophobic statements made by Muslim clerics in London and in Russia—you might wonder why I would be so enthusiastic about the addition of a new mosque to Boston’s landscape.

This is a teachable moment. By celebrating Islam and the colors it brings to Boston’s rich spiritual and cultural tapestry, we are demonstrating the very tolerance and commitment to pluralism that our Muslim brothers and sisters often lack.

And lest we rush to the conclusion that the crescent represents intolerance and hatred, I ask: Is the cross any better?

Monday, February 20

ce n’est pas la science de fusée

Montréal was fun. And very, very cold. It hovered around -10◦ Celsius for most of the weekend, but when the wind kicked up it felt like the arctic. In hindsight, perhaps I should have given more consideration to the weather when planning this getwaway. The cold forced us to spend most of the weekend indoors. No complaints there.

One minor complaint about the coat check staff at Unity. Operating a coat check is not rocket science, boys. When somebody hands you a ticket and you can’t locate the coat because one of you hung it up on the floor instead of on the rack, don’t pretend that the person never gave you a ticket. It’s very annoying. Especially at 3am.

I know you boys work very hard behind that counter, but when mixups occur part of your job is to have the courtesy (and the balls) to tell the person patiently waiting for his coat that you seem to have misplaced it and you’ll do your best to find it. Pretending that I never handed you a ticket when we both know perfectly well that I did makes you look dumb. Oh yeah, and it makes you look like a prick too. You are not nearly cute enough to pull that shit off.

I blame myself for not going to Parking.

Sunday, February 19

A danish by any other name would taste as sweet.

You all remember back in 2003 when France criticized the U.S. led invasion of Iraq and overnight french fries became “freedom fries”? Well, it seems that our enemies over in Iran have followed our lead and done a little renaming of their own in response to the ongoing cartoon flap.

As of last week, danish (the pastry) will no longer be known as “danish.” Instead, Iranians on their way to work (plotting against America) will now have to order a “rose of the Prophet Mohammed” if they want something sweet to go with their morning coffee. The Iranian confectioners union ordered the name change in bakeries across Tehran. Frankly, I think it might actually be more of an insult to the Prophet to name a fattening, jam-filled pastry after him, than it is to portray him in cartoons, but that’s just me.

Silly me, I thought I’d never hear anything dumber than “freedom fries.”

Friday, February 17

Au revoir, Boston (mais seulement pour le fin de semaine)

What better way to spend Presidents Day weekend than by taking a trip to Montréal, our lovely sister city to the North.

There’s lots to see and do. The restaurants are top notch, and the nightlife is awesome. The people are friendly, and the boys… oh gosh, the boys are amazing. Overall, I find the atmosphere much more liberated (and liberating) than Boston.

Joe and I are heading up with our housemates, G and D, and our dear friends P and L. I’m so happy they’re coming with us.

We’re heading up for a little R & R and D & D (décadence et débauche). Because we all need a little D & D every now and then.

Tuesday, February 14

What Matters About Iraq

I had the good fortune to attend a luncheon this afternoon with Ambassador L. Paul Bremer. Bremer was named Presidential Envoy to Iraq in May 2003 following the American invasion and served as the Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority for the next fourteen months. He was in Boston promoting his new book, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope.

Bremer took part in an informal Q&A during the luncheon. During that time someone asked him about the possibility of an Iranian-style theocracy being democratically elected in Iraq, and his response was that few Iraqis want that and that most of them understand that it would lead to the breakup of their country, as the Kurds in the North would not remain in a theocratic Iraq. I followed up with a question about the likelihood of Iraq remaining a unified political entity irrespective of a theocratic regime ever coming to power. It seems to me that overwhelming evidence suggests that the only thing holding Iraq together at present is the United States military. His response was the administration’s stock response that progress is being made and that Iraq is not in danger of disintegrating into civil war. I’m not sure I agree.

The formal part of the presentation consisted of a lecture with Bremer reading a few passages from his book followed by an additional Q&A. I think it is very significant that he began by recounting the manifold atrocities committed by Saddam’s brutal and tyrannical regime and by comparing Saddam and his methods to Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich. This bit of histrionics did not sit very well with me and, frankly, I consider it an insult to the audience’s intelligence. At the same time, I do not believe that a single member of the audience would contest the fact that Saddam’s regime was a brutal one.

However, I myself (and many, many others) felt the weighty presence of the white elephant in the room; namely how we got to Iraq in the first place. So I asked the ambassador the following:

Notwithstanding the brutality of the Saddam regime and the good that has so far resulted from our occupation of Iraq, if it can be shown that the American people, through their elected representatives, were prevented from making an informed decision about whether or not to go to war because a false case was made based upon manipulated intelligence pointing to a non-existent threat to our national security,

is that, in his opinion, democracy?
and doesn’t it matter?

Bremer pleaded ignorance to the whole question of false or, worse yet, deliberately manipulated intelligence. At one point he suggested that there may still be undiscovered weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. He hinted at pre-war intelligence indicating that the WMD were smuggled out of Iraq. At no point did he concede that the intelligence was wrong, which at this late juncture seems utterly remarkable to me, but I suppose I should not be surprised.

What was interesting and deeply troubling to me is that he did not even attempt to answer my question about whether or not the process that lead us to war in Iraq was undemocratic. His failure to engage in a meaningful discussion about this issue is significant. By constantly emphasizing how much good we’ve accomplished in Iraq, what Bremer was really saying is that ultimately it doesn’t matter how we got there. I could not disagree more. This is a very dangerous proposition. I do not deny that Iraq is better off without Saddam Hussein, but how we got there does matter.

My own opposition to the war and the American occupation of Iraq does not require either a demonstration that Iraq is somehow worse off or a denial of the good that the American presence there has accomplished. Anyone who thinks that has missed the point of the liberal critique of the war. Contrary to what conservatives might think, liberals like myself are not engaged in a perverse game of schadenfreude when it comes to Iraq. We do not secretly rejoice at every roadside bomb or at the rising number of American casualties. We are not hoping for a bad outcome of the American occupation in order to bolster the argument that the invasion was a mistake. I myself hope that the occupation is the best thing that ever happened to the Iraqi people and that it brings both stability and democracy to the region.

It is, however, absolutely essential that we recognize that whatever good has come (and is yet to come) from the American occupation of Iraq does not eliminate the need for a conversation about what appears to have been the thoroughly undemocratic process that put us there in the first place. If we fail to have this conversation, we have set a very dangerous precedent. If democracy is allowed to be taken out of the equation when a nation goes to war (or at any other time) and its absence is not considered noteworthy, we are in grave trouble.

Get Your Heart On

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you all get shot up real good!

The image is Cupid’s Hunting Fields (1885, watercolor and gold, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago) by Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898).

Monday, February 13

Göz Lokum

Thomas & Co. inspired me to post these images by Glyn Warren Philpot (1884-1937). He’ll understand why.

I don’t know much about Philpot. I recently came across some of his paintings and figure studies and was struck by their homoerotic quality, but at the same time didn’t draw any conclusions about Philpot’s sexuality, without knowing more about him. After all, choosing the male nude for one’s subject matter in art doesn’t necessarily indicate a sexual interest in men.

However, in his recent biography of Philpot, Glyn Philpot: His Life and Work (1999), J.G. Paul Delaney writes:

The young Glyn Philpot circulated in the close company of the Edwardian aesthetes. Portraits financed his more committed work on subject pictures. In the Symbolist tradition, they reflect his deepest concerns: religious themes reveal a profound knowledge of his adopted Catholicism, while an increasing interest in the male nude and a series of superb portraits of young men, his black servants, models, friends and lovers, show the gradual public expression of his homosexuality. The tensions between his public and personal lives led Philpot to spend long periods outside Britain. In 1931, he visited Berlin. His encounter with that city’s homosexual underworld had a profound spiritual and emotional effect and Philpot adopted a new style which owed much to international modernism.

I haven’t read the book, but my interest in Philpot makes me want to add this to my reading list. I’m sure that I’ll post more of his work as time goes on.

The images, from top to bottom:
Male torso (20th century, graphite on paper, Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London); Reclining male nude – study for ‘Apres-Midi Tunisien’ (20th century, graphite on paper, Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London).

Sunday, February 12

Rembetiko of the Month

Some aficionados of Rembetika who have stumbled upon my blog might be wondering why this month I’m posting another Smyrnaïc song (Σμυρνέϊκο) for what was supposed to be a monthly series featuring Rembetika. I often find that an artificial line is drawn between the two (i.e. Rembetika and Smyrnaïka). However, in reality not only are they closely related, but Smyrnaïka is rightly considered one of Rembetika’s two Schools, the other being the Piraeus School.

Smyrnaïka refers to the style of music that was heard in the musical cafés (the “Café Aman” establishments) of Smyrna before it was destroyed in 1922. As a style, however, its impact was much broader than simply Smyrna, and included much of the western shore of Asia Minor and the neighboring islands (Lesbos, for example). It featured different combinations of instruments, the most common being the sandouri, the violin, the oud, the kanun (zither), the guitar, the mandolin, and the piano. Though decidedly oriental in style, Western influences could also be felt.

The Piraeus School, on the other hand, was a tradition that really blossomed in the slums and shanty towns of Athens and Piraeus following the Asia Minor catastrophe of 1922 and the arrival in Greece of more than a million Anatolian refugees. Although Smyrnaïka could be heard among the refugees, the Piraeus School is often what is thought of when Rembetika is mentioned. This might be because the instrument of choice for musicians of the Piraeus School was the bouzouki (and to some extent the baglamas), which is what most people think of when they think of Greek music.

The music of the Piraeus School was less associated with the bourgeois atmosphere of the Café Aman than it was with the hash dens, drinking establishments, and the dark underworld that characterized life in the refugee shanty towns. If Smyrnaïka was the music of Asia Minor’s Greek merchant class, the Piraeus School was the music of Greece’s urban underclass.

Among the Greeks of “Old Greece” (i.e. the areas that constituted the Kingdom of Greece prior to Balkan Wars of 1912-13 and the subsequent acquisition of the northern territories and the Eastern Aegean islands), both Smyrnaïka and the Piraeus School were for the most part closely associated with the Anatolian refugees that flooded Greece after the defeat of the Greek army by Atatürk’s nationalist forces in 1922 and the subsequent expulsion of Turkey’s Greek population. Both Schools were initially regarded by many mainland Greeks as too foreign, too oriental—too Turkish. In time, however, both would become wildly popular both in Greece and among the Greeks of the Diaspora (in America, for example). I would argue, moreover, that both Schools left their mark on the popular music (λαϊκά) that emerged in Greece in the 1950s and 60s and is still being produced today.

While I will eventually get around to posting songs of the Piraeus School, my own preference is for Smyrnaïka. This month’s decidedly Smyrnaïc song, Καδιφής (Kadifis), was recorded in Athens in 1930 by Roza Eskenazi, Lambros Leondaridis on lyra, Agapios Tomboulis on oud, and Lambros Savaïdis on kanun. I was actually planning on posting a song by Rita Abadzi, another famous Rembetissa. Abadzi was originally from Smyrna and thus recorded many songs in the Smyrnaïc style, and on most days, I think I prefer her to Eskenazi.

At the last minute, however, I chose Καδιφής because the melody is roughly the same as the Turkish melody that would have accompanied the lyrics featured in my previous post about the talak and his silk scrubbing-mitten. It was not uncommon for Rembetika tunes to have both a Greek and a Turkish (and sometimes a Ladino) version. This is true not only for Rembetika, but for other genres of Greek music as well, but that’s another story.

Though the Greek and the Turkish melodies were practically the same, Eskenazi sings a different set of lyrics entirely. There are several Greek versions of Kadife, but none, to my knowledge, are about a talak. If anybody knows of one, please let me know.

It is worth noting that, although the vocal portion of the song is in a typical belly-dance rhythm, having 4 beats per measure, the instrumental bridges between the verses contain several measures with 4 beats plus a single measure containing 5 beats, just prior to the verse. Outiboy pointed this out to me, and at first I didn't believe him.

Click here to listen.

Δεν μου λέτε χθες το βράδυ ο θυμός σου τί ήτανε;
δυό σου φίλοι μ’ανταμώσαν καί γιά σένα μού’πανε.

Δεν μπορώ νά καταλάβω τα δικά σου μυστικά,
στους γιατρούς θε νά με ρίξεις νά πεθάνω φθισικιά.

Τα ματάκια σου πουλί μου χαμηλώνεις δεν μου λές,
σαν γυρίζουν καί με’ιδούνε στην καρδιά με σφάζουνε.

Έλα νά αλλάξουμε καρδιές νά πάρεις τη δική μου
νά δείς πώς βασανίζεται γιά σένα το κορμί μου.

Why don’t you tell me why you were so angry the other night?
I ran into two of your friends, and they gave me an earful.

I don’t understand your secrets;
You want to send me off to the doctors to die of tuberculosis.

Your eyes, my little bird, why do you lower them?
You turn them upon me, and they break my heart.

Come, let’s exchange hearts, you take mine;
That way you’ll see how my body longs for you.

Like the Turkish Kadife, this is a love song, but it’s a decidedly more painful one. I find the lyrics, moreover, evocative of the Third Act of Puccini’s La Bohème, as Rodolfo and Mimi are on the verge of splitting up. Rodolfo tells his friends Marcello and Colin that he has become tired of Mimi’s coquettish ways. He and Mimi fight constantly as a result of his apparent jealousy. In reality, however, he can’t bear to see her suffering in his cold flat as her tuberculosis worsens, so he uses his jealousy as a pretense for sending her away.

Rodolfo m’ama e mi fugge.
Rodolfo si strugge per gelosia.
Un passo, un ditto, un vezzo,
Un fior lo mettono in sospetto…
Onde corrucci ed ire.
Talor la notte fingo di dormire
E in me lo sento fiso
Spiarmi I sogni in viso.
Mi grida ad ogni instante:
Non fai per me, ti prendi
Un altro amante,
Non fai per me. Ahimé!

Rodolfo, he loves me,
But he flees from me, torn
by jealousy. A glance, a gesturre,
a smile, a flower arouses
his suspicions, then anger, rage…
Sometimes at night I pretend
To sleep, and I feel his eyes
trying to spy on my dreams.
He shouts at me all the time:
“You’re not for me,
Find another!
You’re not for me!”

Invan, invan nascondo
La mia vera tortura.
Amo Mimì sovra ogni cosa
Al mondo. L’amo! Ma ho paura.
Mimì è tanto malata!
Ogni dì più declina.
La povera piccina
È condannata…

La mia stana è una tana
Squallida. Il fuoco è spento.
V’entra e l’aggira il vento.
Di tramontana.
Essa canta e sorride
E il rimorso m’assale.
Me, cagion del fatale
Mai che l’uccide.

My room is like a squalid cave.
The fire has gone out.
The wind, the winter wind
howls through it.
She laughs and sings;
I’m wracked by guilt.
I fear I’m the cause of the illness
that’s killing her.

La Bohème would surely have played in the opera houses of Smyrna and Constantinople. I wouldn’t go so far as to assert a definite link between it and the lyrics sung by Eskenazi in the 1930 version of Καδιφής, for such could not be proven. My point is only that it is possible that listeners back then who were familiar with La Bohème might have been reminded of the ill-fated love affair between Mimi and Rodolfo when they heard Eskenazi’s Καδιφής.

Recommended listening:
The Rebetiko Song in America 1920-1940

Saturday, February 11

Gay Sex in the 70s

Joe and I went to see Joseph Lovett’s Gay Sex in the 70s tonight at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline. The film takes a look at the sexual life of New York’s gay male subculture between Stonewall and the onset of the AIDS epidemic in 1981. Lovett neither condemns nor glamorizes 1970s gay New York. Instead, he strikes a delicate balance between portraying post-Stonewall sexual liberation as both a victory and a tragedy.

Respondents shared wild stories of bars and bathhouses, dance floors and darkrooms, and lots and lots of public sex. Many of the respondents recounted the regular cruising and anonymous hookups that took place day and night at the dilapidated piers and abandoned warehouses off West Street along the Hudson River, a space that was virtually taken over by gay men. Like the baths, the piers and warehouses became a symbol of all the gains that had been achieved by Stonewall, namely sexual freedom and a space of their own.

I think that one thing the film demonstrates very clearly is that the gay liberation movement cannot be separated from the surge of sexual freedom that it ushered in. Still, it is difficult for me to fully appreciate the atmosphere of sexual freedom that pervaded the gay community of New York (and other places) in the 1970s because for me, it inevitably evokes what came later. I find myself having to resist the temptation to condemn the promiscuity of that age and its reckless self indulgence as having caused the AIDS epidemic. Rather, one must recognize that in the particular social context of post-Stonewall New York, AIDS was devastating.

At the same time, at least one respondent made the case that a byproduct of so much sex was the strong sense of community that developed and subsequently enabled the gay community to mobilize when its very existence was at stake in the 1980s. He argued that it was the shared experience of sexual liberation and the bonds formed in the bathhouse which provided the glue that held the gay community together. What Tom Hayden said about 1960s activism was especially true for post-Stonewall gay men: “The movement hangs together on the head of a penis.” The sex forged genuine human connections—even anonymous sex, through the sense of brotherhood it created.

Those of us who came of age in the era of “safe sex” may understand better than gay men in the 1970s that sex has real and sometimes deadly consequences, but we are far less liberated today. One could argue that we need to be in light of the threat of AIDS. I disagree. I believe that we need to be cautious and responsible, but these are not antithetical to being liberated. One can be genuinely liberated without being careless and irresponsible. Or put another way, one can be sensible, cautious, and responsible while still being enormously liberated sexually.

The film ends with a shot of the Hudson River waterfront looking out over the water past the old piles, now mere stumps sticking a few feet out of the water, where the piers and warehouses used to be. The image captures the changed physical landscape, but brilliantly symbolizes the changed cultural landscape. Lovett subtly suggests that the now gentrified and sanitized waterfront is arguably a more impoverished place.

As Joe and I left the theater and walked down Harvard Street toward our car, we bumped into a friend of ours. A male friend. A very cute male friend whom we find incredibly attractive. He’s also one of the smartest and most engaging guys we know, and we have found that such guys are usually the most fun in the bedroom.

The film’s respondents often reminisced about how after Stonewall, it was common day or night for a mere look—a casual glance as two men passed each other on the street—to lead to sex.

We exchanged pleasantries and went our separate ways. If only it were still the 70s.

Friday, February 10

Alan J. Shalleck (1929 -2006)

I am so terribly saddened by the death of Alan J. Shalleck, who was found murdered outside of his Florida home this past Tuesday (full story here).

Back in the 1970s, Shalleck collaborated with Margaret Rey, co-creator of “Curious George,” to bring the mischievous monkey to television. In addition to 104 five-minute TV shorts, he and Rey co-wrote 28 additional Curious George books. Unfortunately, Shalleck achieved neither wealth nor fame for his contribution and in recent years was forced to work odd jobs. He resided in a trailer. “I got $500 per Curious George story, no royalties, no residuals,” Shalleck recounted in a 1997 interview.

As a kid, I loved Curious George. I still do. I’ve been looking forward to the debut of his movie, which opens today. Shalleck’s death this week is a cruel irony.

I don’t know what’s sadder in this case: the fact that Shalleck, who was 76, lived practically destitute on the fringes of society or the fact that he was robbed and murdered by two tricks with whom he connected on a gay hook-up website. When I first heard the details surrounding Shalleck’s death, my first thoughts were of how our society continues to marginalize the elderly, the poor, and the homosexual. Shalleck was all three and apparently led a pretty lonely and frustrated existence on the margins.

I could not, however, help but be reminded of Chester J. Lampwick, who was featured in episode 719 of The Simpsons back in March 1996. In that classic episode, Lampwick, who created “Itchy and Scratchy” but had his idea stolen by Roger Meyers Sr. back in 1919, is discovered living as a destitute bum on the streets. Bart and Lisa help him successfully sue Roger Meyers Jr., who is forced to declare bankruptcy and shut down the cartoon studio after Lampwick is awarded a whopping $800 million in damages and back royalties.

Shalleck wasn’t as fortunate. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, February 9


Joe and I had a really nice rehearsal tonight at our place. K, who is both a great accordion player and an all-around great guy, came with his wife, who was so kind as to bring over some delicious Indian food that she prepared herself. What a meal!

Mike the drummer also came over. He is amazingly talented, and because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t read this blog, I feel alright about admitting that I’ve got a bit of a crush on him. What can I say, he’s a redhead. No, he’s not the redhead mentioned here!

We’ve been meeting weekly to gear up for Balkan Night, but he and Joe also use the time to prepare for their regular gig at Café Apollonia in Roslindale. Joe’s been learning a classical Arabic piece called Lamma Bada Yatathanna, an example of something called a “muwashshah,” which is a form that developed in Muslim Spain in the 12th century, after which it spread to North Africa and from there to the Middle East. It’s quite lovely.

After everyone had left, our housemate D mentioned that he thought we sounded really good, which made me very happy.

Wednesday, February 8

A Little Consistency Please

This morning, in response to the recent protests and riots following the publication of those silly Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Iran and Syria of stoking Muslim anger and inciting violence against the West. That’s funny, because a week or so ago Rice seemed perfectly content to allow Iran (and several of the world’s most oppressive regimes) to stoke homophobia and encourage discrimination and oppression based on sexual orientation.

You’ll recall that last month the United States joined Iran, Zimbabwe, China, Cameroon, and other traditional rivals in denying the International Lesbian & Gay Association (ILGA) and the Danish Association of Gay & Lesbians a hearing to consider their applications to join the United Nations Economic & Social Council (ECOSOC).

The Republicans encourage fundamentalism when it suits them (like in Afghanistan in the 1980s or in Red States prior to the 2004 election). Obviously I condemn not only the violence committed by the rioters, but any regime that encourages such lawlessness. Anyone who has spent even a little time on this blog should realize that.

Therefore, the U.S. is right to condemn any nation that incites its population to commit violence. However, I would like also to have seen the U.S. condemn the violent oppression of homosexuals, by extending recognition to ILGA. Instead, the Bush administration sided with the very fundamentalists that it is now castigating. A little consistency would be nice for a change. But I guess that everybody knows burning down embassies isn’t acceptable. Apparently not everybody knows that oppressing homosexuals is also unacceptable.

It seems that Congressional Democrats agree. Forty-four Democrats and one Independent signed a written protest calling on Rice to publicly repudiate the United States’ decision to side with Iran over ILGA. They have encouraged the Bush administration to redeem itself by supporting pending applications to join ECOSOC by three other gay rights groups.

I know that I myself have the tendency to be rather hard on the Democrats for what I see as their lack of balls when it comes to GLBT rights. It is so refreshing to see so many legislators taking a stand on something that many would regard as outside of the mainstream. It is precisely this kind of genuinely progressive position in favor of equality that makes me proud to be an American.

Of course, one might argue that it’s easy to grandstand when it comes to the issue of ILGA’s participation on ECOSOC. The issue is far enough removed and acronym-laden for it to weigh all that heavily on the consciousness of most Americans. I only hope that when the issue of GLBT rights hits closer to home (and with fewer acronyms), the Democrats will themselves opt for consistency.

Free Speech

As part of the ongoing furor unleashed in the Muslim world over the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed, the Iranian daily Hamshahri is hosting an international contest for the best caricature of the Holocaust.

Iran must have forgotten that Roberto Benigni has already won that dubious honor. If Iran really wants to caricature the Holocaust, they ought to host a public screening of Life is Beautiful.

A Divine Bush

Exodus tells the story of how Moses encountered a burning bush while tending his father-in-law’s flock on Mount Horeb. I’ve only seen a burning bush once in my life. It belonged to a redhead. I had never seen red pubes before, and I found them quite fetching, even though he was kind of a dolt.

Anyway, Exodus also tells how God called out to Moses from in the midst of the bush. I guess you could say it was a divine bush. I suppose Jesus’ bush would also be considered divine by contemporary evangelicals, seeing that they believe he’s the Son of God and all that. All I know is that when I recently came across a Renaissance painting showing Jesus’ pubes, I thought to myself, “Now that’s a divine bush.”

It all started this past weekend while I was visiting my sister and brother-in-law and their kids for my nephew’s second birthday. My sister, who’s probably the sweetest and most generous person I know, though a bit of a compulsive gift giver, gave me a coffee-table book of Leonardo da Vinci’s works.

Actually, it was Will over at DesignerBlog, in response to my post about David’s pubes, who commented that da Vinci, like Michelangelo, did not shy away from including pubes in his male nudes and he cited the Vitruvian Man (1492, pen and ink, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice) as one example. Some of da Vinci’s other anatomical sketches also show pubic hair. Still, I was not prepared for what awaited me as I flipped through the book my sister gave me.

The book contained a detail of Christ’s midsection from The Baptism of Christ (1472-1475, oil on wood, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) by Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488). As an adolescent, da Vinci had worked in Verrocchio’s studio, and most art historians agree that da Vinci made significant contributions to Verrocchio’s Baptism. However, whether or not he is responsible for painting Jesus’ pubes, I don’t know.

What I do know is that this pubic hair is imbued with theological significance. By lending the painting a note of realism, the pubes were probably intended to highlight the doctrine of the incarnation (the Word made Flesh) and emphasize Christ’s humanity. The pubes were meant to remind viewers that Jesus was a real man with a real body and real pubic hair.

And I could be mistaken, but it looks to me like Jesus did a little bit of manscaping.

Tuesday, February 7

Love in the Hamam, Part One

Kadifeden kesesi.
Kahveden gelir sesi.
Oturmuş kumar oynar,
Ah ciğerimin köşesi.

Aman yala, Beyoğlu’na yala,
Haydi yala, İstanbul’a yala.
Yala, yala, yar yala.

His kese is made of raw silk.
I hear his voice in the coffeehouse.
He’s sitting, playing cards.
Be still my heart.

Aman, let’s go to Beyoğlu,
Come on, let’s go to Istanbul,
Let’s go, love, let’s go.

The above lyrics are from an old Anatolian folk song by the name of “Kadife” (“Καντηφένιο/Καδιφής” in Greek), which means “raw silk.” I recently came across a translation with “kesesi” erroneously rendered as “his purse,” which makes little sense. Not that there’s anything wrong with a man carrying a purse.

However, in Turkish, a “kese” is also the scrubbing mitten worn by the talak (masseuse) in the hamam, and it is often made from raw silk, all the better to scrub you clean and exfoliate all that dead skin. Juxtaposed with “kadifeden,” it makes much more sense to translate “kesesi” as scrubbing mitten, than purse.

Correctly translated, what we have then is a love song sung by a patron of the hamam to the talak who so lovingly massaged and scrubbed him with his kese-clad hand. In the coffeehouse, he hears the voice of the talak with whom he has fallen in love. He wants to run off with the talak to Istanbul—to Beyoğlu—where they can live together.

Beyoğlu (pronounced “Bey-OH-loo”—the “g” is silent) is on Istanbul’s European shore, across the Golden Horn from the Sultanahmet section (where Haghia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Topkapı Palace are all located). It was also Istanbul’s Frankish quarter where more liberal attitudes prevailed and all manner of outcasts and bohemians could be found.

Beyoğlu has gone from being fashionable to seedy to fashionable once again. In the past decade it has undergone widespread gentrification. Today it is home to chic cafés and some of Istanbul’s trendiest gay bars.

Beyoğlu’s Tünel district also boasts an entire street lined with music stores. It’s where Joe bought his oud.

I’ll be featuring the Greek version of “Kadife” for February’s Rembetiko of the Month. Additionally, there was also a Ladino version of the song. Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, is the language that was spoken by the Sephardic Jewish communities of Greece, North Africa, and the Near East. It is still spoken by the Jews of Turkey and the Sephardic communities in Israel.

“Kadife” is a good example of how the same melody could be known among the various ethnic groups of the Near East, as cross-cultural contact was not uncommon in Ottoman times. All three versions (Turkish, Greek, and Ladino) were recorded in 2003 by Hadass Pal-Yarden in Yahudice: Urban Ladino Music from Istanbul, Izmir, Thessalonica and Jerusalem.

Click here to listen.

Hadass begins her rendition with a Hebrew prayer:

,אגדלך אלוהי, אלוהי כל נשמה
.ואודה לך ברוב פחד ואימה

I have faith in you,
Oh G-d, ruler of all creation.
With honor and fear, I thank you.

I have included Pal-Yarden’s Turkish lyrics above. The Greek and Ladino lyrics follow:

Στο καντηφένιο σου οντά θέλω νά’ρθω μιά βραδιά
γιά νά διώ τα δυό σου μάτια που μ’ανάψανε φωτιά.

I want to come into your silken chamber one evening,
to look at your two eyes that have set me on fire.

Tus kaveyos sedas son,
Kortados a lá Garson,
I kuando sales de’l kuafer,
Tu alegras, tu alegras el korason.

Your silky hair,
cut a lá Garson,
when you leave the salon,
makes hearts rejoice.

Interestingly, the Ladino version’s reference to a haircut “a lá Garson,” meaning “cut like a boy’s” suggests gender non-conformity. As for the “silken chamber” referred to in the Greek version, I know a couple of boys whose silken chambers I’d like to enter.

Friday, February 3

For everything else, there’s MasterPlan…

10 pairs of painter overalls

10 high-pressure spray guns

100 Gallons of Paint to cover American
U2 reconnaissance planes in bright United Nations colors

Provoking Saddam Hussein into firing on “United Nations”
aircraft in order to justify the pre-planned invasion of Iraq


Yup, it’s another Downing Street memo. Read the full story here.

Thursday, February 2

A Lovely Bush

I suppose the most famous example of pubic hair in art (which I certainly did not remember and I suspect it slipped Kate’s mind as well) can be seen on Michelangelo’s (1475-1564) David (1504, marble, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence).

I can’t believe I forgot about his beautiful wavy pubes. I mean, his are arguably not only the most famous pubes in the world, but he himself is the probably the most famous male nude ever produced.

Shame on us, Kate :)

A Dilemma

I’m so pathetic. My little heart is all aflutter because newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito split with the court’s conservatives his very first time at bat. In a 6-3 decision yesterday, the court denied the state of Missouri’s request to execute death-row inmate Michael Taylor, who had succeeded in obtaining a stay on his execution from an appeals court earlier yesterday evening. Missouri filed a request to lift the stay in order to allow for a midnight execution, and Chief Justice John Roberts joined Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas in supporting Missouri’s bid to proceed with the execution. Alito sided with the other five justices in supporting Taylor. Read the full story here.

I say I’m pathetic, because this doesn’t really mean anything. Does it? My optimistic side (yes, outiboy, I do have one!) wants to think that perhaps he’s more independent-minded than I had assumed. My cynical side thinks that this is just a ploy, a clever ruse to throw us liberals off his conservative stench and make us think, “See, I’m not so bad.” Honestly, I don’t know what to think.

I think I need to stop obsessing over this.
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