{discovery} Leaving New York City: A Musical Memory

Love-hating New York is a longstanding trend.

I’m  joining the league of bloggers and writers leaving New York and confessing how hard it is. So many times I’ve felt I’m experiencing a moment larger than life, like in a movie. Or, perhaps more aptly, I’m in a middle of a song.

I longed to live here for so long and a soundtrack fueled that urge, passion, and dream. This is not a memoir but a chain of memories as tunes – an abbreviate version, for your listening and viewing pleasure. Maybe you recognize some of the songs.

1. One of the first songs that I lived through, lived through in NYC  while being a pre-teen in Helsinki, turned out to have a connection to my life, as realized some 20 years later:

Well it’s great to do a neighborhood concert. I hope everybody can hear us. I hope the sound is good…” I knew those words from the recording of the concert, almost as a part of the song. And the beginning: “Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together”. During one of our first dates my husband played me the song on his grand piano — and told me he had been at the concert. I was there too, in spirit, but intensely longing for the city:

2. Another song that reflects to NYC and still strongly resonated with me was introduced to me by a dear friend. We used to skip high school, drink vodka or coffee, and listen to the the music a bit before our time. Another song that sanctified Central Park for me forever, and the spirit of freedom and rebellion, a trip from boredom and flatness to the center of life, even if the Age of Aquarius had already passed:

3. In 1984 (I think) I finally  travelled to NYC. I was with the student drama group of Oulunkyla High School, on our way to a youth drama festival in the midwest. In the city, we stayed at — the YMCA.  This was also the summer of Thriller:

4. I’ve never been one for musicals but saw this one, on a trip with that time boyfriend, to the city, in 1993. So romantic: both of us were exchange students in the US but half a country away form one another. And so we meet in New York…We stayed at the Philip Starck hotel across the street from the theatre. I had listened to the CD in order to begin to appreciate the genre and learned the songs and lyrics. Here’s a version a few decades later, from #LesMiz:

5. It took me a while, a lot of longing but a lot of courage to get to New York for good. I got an internship at the UN in 1997. As the luck would have it, I also fell crazily in love a month before leaving Finland. Ironically, the object of my desire and longing changed from a city (where I finally lived) to a man half a world away. His work had to do with music so he traveled often to see me. He was crazy about John Zorn, so I became crazy about him, too:

6. Thankfully, he introduced me to Celia Cruz and La India, as well. (I went back to Finland, heart sick for him — and promptly, we broke up. But knowing this is worth it):

7. Fast forward years when I house sat for friends here and there, during every vacation. Those times were coloured by intense introspection, yoga practice, and search for… something. And I wrote, little stories, for example about this wonderful messenger of grace and faith — Krishna Das.

8.  Those days, I also got to know a wonderful Indian friend who got me into Bollywood. Nothing like Shah Rukh Khan and the Brooklyn Bridge (and nothing to describe the best of NYC than the video of the song with Spanish subtitles.)

(A more visually pleasing HD version can be found here).

9. My love for all things New York and Indian took me often to SOB‘s and I learned about the fabulous DJ Rekha:

10. Starting over in Crown Heights. On the verge of what some might call middle age I moved back to New York and settled in Brooklyn. It became my universe. I don’t think I have ever loved buildings, streets, and neighbors as I did then. I don’t know if I ever can. My building was Haitian, a block away from the Lubavitch Hasidic community. My life was full of the world, my world was right there, in sadness and happiness, sounds of reggae mixing with jazz, klezmer, pop. I was “riding my bike from the Brooklyn Bridge to Crown Heights“, from “darkness into light”. But, as beautiful the song is, Musiq Soulchild just couldn’t sing live, as we discovered in a free BK concert…

These songs tell the story:

11. And then love came, and Manhattan. While I missed Kings County very much, I was consoled by treasures such as Pedrito Martinez playing at a hole-in-the-wall Cuban place close by. That divine voice:

12. Thankfully, after Hell’s Kitchen, we moved to BedStuy. My university would play a one specific song in the beginning ceremonies for Freshmen, by my former neighbor of Marcy Playground. So why not, as an appropriate version:

13. Finally, how else could this post end: Leaving New York – never easy. [I told you: I love you, I love you forever.]

All-One, or, on Pitts, Maps, Cakes, and Soaps

After a blogging break, a little rant that has been brewing inside of me for the past weeks: A set of thoughts inspired by travel, dogs (of course), sustainable living, and finally, soap. I’ve been thinking of the road to knowing and self-awareness.

I used to do yoga. I used to do, and talk about, almost nothing but. My name was Minakshi. I was the happiest (and the most desperate) when practicing, both the physical and devotional paths. I had moments (and realize this is merely my personal sentiment) of divine clarity and intense belonging to the world. So I felt I was a bit more ‘aware’ of what life is about, than the average person.

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Then I adopted the Mu, kind of by accident or because of temporary insanity. All of a sudden I didn’t have so much time for practice and reflection. All of a sudden I had left my yoga community.

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But suddenly I begun to feel, like this blogger on HuffPo, about her adopted pit bull:

Even if you don’t believe in a God above, this bond will feel like it was magically planned many moons ago, where the stars aligned perfectly and placed you two exactly where you needed to be to find one another. And you will be so blessed.

Nobody tells you your heart will change. But it does. You judge less. You care more. You learn how to accept life a heck of a lot better than before. You learn how to forgive and how to let go and how to live in the moment.

They should have told me I was going to learn how to love better. That loving this Pit Bull was going to change my whole life.

Even now, that I’m about to write something quite skeptical about the text above, and about my own experience, I’m taken by emotion, knowing exactly what the blogger means.  And feeling like, yes, I know a bit more about life than those without a dog, particularly those without a pitt bull or two.

Recently, I’ve also felt that I’m wiser, more experienced, than a certain someone from my past. That someone contacted me, having found an Indian guru, and hence wanting to apologize about a long-forgotten conflict between us (signing off the message: “All in One”).

My thoughts: Oh, that’s sweet. And: Oh, I’ve been there. (I have — I’ve sent a couple of intense emails when I had started to practice yoga etc., wanting to clear old misunderstandings and share kindness.)

And yet, as David Sedaris wrote a few weeks back in the New Yorker,

As I grow older, I find that the people I know become crazy in one of two ways. The first is animal crazy—more specifically, dog crazy. They’re the ones who, when asked if they have children, are likely to answer, “A black lab and a sheltie-beagle mix named Tuckahoe.” Then they add—they always add—“They were rescues!”

The other way is  to become food-crazy (look at this New York Times Lemon Ricotta Bundt Cake I just made for the first time).

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But there have also been moments lately when I’ve felt I don’t know as much, I’m not as much aware as Mr X and Friend Y, or Ms. Z. That is when I’ve looked at the maps people share on Facebook about the countries they’ve visited. I haven’t seen anything compared to them!

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… Until someone noted (on Facebook as well) that those who tend to consume organic kale, wear recycled/vintage clothes, and clean their apartments with eco-friendly detergents, tend to have huge carbon footprints as they travel so much… And I felt a bit better, perhaps again more in the know.

What do we really know, then? What makes us wise about ourselves and the world? Who knows.

Or, maybe… When taking a bath today, I read once again the crazed rants of Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-One soap bottles. (For those who don’t know, Dr. B was not only a maker of organic soaps but a very spiritual man — and he included all kinds of good messages in the label of his soaps.)

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One message went like this:

Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves.

While not a unique message, today I read it as new. It made me think that self-realization, and world awareness is actually simple. While the negative of the web is true (if we destroy others, we destroy us), it goes in the other way, the way of caring, understanding, and knowledge. Whether we love a dog or downward-facing dog, a guru or bundt cakes, or distant shores we haven’t visited yet — that love we give to ourselves. When we feel we know something big and fundamental about the universe, that knowledge is, at the end, our knowledge about us.

We have these different triggers, maybe different at different times in life, that open us to see. Travel, or friends, or spiritual practice, or soap bottles.  All-One.

{discovery} The Double Life of Mr. T

Mr. T is going for his hip surgery tomorrow. It isn’t so bad – in other words, not a hip replacement but Femoral Head Osteotomy (FHO)

Two vets we took him to said it’s the knee (“Just give him anti-inflammatory and let him rest and it’ll be just fine.” “Typical structural issue for pitbulls, expect the other knee to go as well.” )

The expert surgeon laughed at that and noted that T has probably been hit by a car early on in his life so the hip is out of socket or otherwise injured. Most likely, FHO will do the job.

He also noted, as all the other vets that have seen Mr. T (including his trainers) that T is “a great dog”.

I’m sure most vets tell the owners exactly that. But we hear the same comment also from people with other kind of knowledge about pits.

The “great dog”, I suspect,  means a couple of things – the double life of T:

  • Apart of the hip issue, T is healthy, very strong, and energetic. He excitable but everyday less so, and is very loving and friendly towards strangers. His vets can observe that.
  • In addition, T has become skilled in teaching troubled dogs how to play (something that our trainer Ray has witnessed and the owners of T’s girl friends’ — note the plural — have shared with us). He’s also very pack-conscious. It’s endearing to witness how he constantly makes sure that Mu (who’s not so fond of the wild running of the youngsters) is still around. Quick kisses in the middle of mad play.
  • But: The “great dog” is also what the surgeon vet, with 30 years of experience, hinted at: T is most likely if not full then at least some mix including the (in)famous Colby bloodline American Pit. This is the kind of pitbull closest connected to fighting dogs, at least historically. Colbys are not cheap — so T is not a mutt stray. The surgeon speculated that T was injured a while back, but the owner had no interest in fixing his hip, so he let T go. (We also know that T wasn’t house-trained — it took him almost two months to go without accidents — so he might have lived in a shed or partly outdoors…)
  • T is also  a “great dog” according to the father-son team working for a garage close to us. They raise pits and their “cousin raises them for fights, we would never of course…” We got talking about the cost of feeding the dogs. I noted that we are slowly introducing some raw meat to Mu’s and T’s diet (that will help to re-build his muscle and keep the Grande Dame healthy in her later years). This, we learned, is a no-no, unless we want to fight the dog: Supposedly the taste of blood will make the dogs thirsty for more, and if another dog is bleeding that will make T attack automatically. These experts also checked T’s tail: “Yeah, it’s broken, you know they break the tails of the dogs they wanna teach fight…” (There was an explanation as to why, I just didn’t have it in me to listen. And there was more wisdom, about how the losing dogs are shot and so on.) It goes without saying that I disagree with all that. At the same time, I’m not trying to demonize these two men here. The duo was very nice, giving us compliments and advise, from their perspective; from the perspective of the context they know.

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The reason I’m chronicling the above examples is that, apart from the bad rap in the media, these are two very concrete and everyday discourses that we are faced with.

Two stories: a great dog, now well-adjusted and rehabilitated rescue, playing in Prospect Park after having a massive dog cookie at Choice Market while the owners drink their morning coffee. A great dog, is it a Colby, does it fight, why did you have it fixed, at the projects on Marcy. It’s easy to detest the latter discourse. But at the same time, this reflects same unfortunate divides everywhere: Class, race, gender (are there female fighting dog breeders?); defining the double life of T.

{discovery} The Power of the Pack

Mr. Tee’s story continues. Raymond (in the red fleece) socialized him for 2 months. Invited by Raymond to join a ‘playdate’ this morning we witnessed, for the first time, the great fun T and dogs like him can have together. Also, I learned a great deal about the power of the pack.

The pack at home, or, our 2 dogs are polar opposites.

I have known it in theory, but it finally hit home when I saw Tee playing rough with 4 dogs at a time — running, chasing, play-biting, performing roll-overs (to show that he’s means well and fun). This went on non-stop for an hour, and would have continued, had the off-leash hours been extended. Mu, in contrast, only plays one-on-one, 5 minutes at the time — and it took her at least a year to come to that point. He’s bold, confident, rough young rascal who wants to play with every dog; she is a gentle, dignified and even shy, well-mannered, human-focused lady. His biggest problem is over-excitement; hers was fear and separation-anxiety.

It’s been a learning curve to realize that we need 2 very different sets of skills to have a balanced pack. But it’s also clear that Mu and Tee teach one another. She has started to play much more (in the age of 10); he listens to her and gives her space.

The pack in the park, or, the healing power of those alike.

Raymond told us a few months back that there are few dogs who couldn’t be off-leash, given that their owners/handlers understand the circumstances. Today he proved it. Saturday mornings are the craziest in Prospect Park, hundreds of all kinds of dogs off-leash. However, the area is big enough for monitoring the play and retreating  from dogs that don’t seem to match one’s own.

Also, witnessing a group of 8 pits (as well as a few other very athletic, bold dogs) playing together was an eye-opener to how dogs that are alike can help one another to socialize and be nice. That just looks different than play by Yorkies.

And Raymond taught me something even more important. He noted that we all should form an informal group and meet (those who can) in the mornings for play at the same spot. He stressed that as pit owners, we have the responsibility to provide our dogs with right ‘friends’ to play with, and to advocate for the breed by keeping them from harm’s way. He rightly pointed out that dogs are animals and conflicts, even fights, will happen sometimes. But we, as a pit owner group, will learn to know the dogs in our group, so we can understand them all better, as well as in a case of an incident solve it without drama, as a learning experience.

Lucky,2014-10-18 12.13.10 lucky us for Raymond and for our new Prospect Park posse. Also, lucky me to have such a brave, fun, and active, strong dog who was able to learn and rehabilitate himself, with the help of the packs.

PS: This is Mr. Tee, after a total of 2 hours of walk, and 1 hour of non-stop play.

{discovery} Falling out of Love with Brooklyn

 

It’s beeScreen Shot 2014-09-18 at 2.50.45 PMn quiet on this site, as I’ve traveled to RIPE@2014 and then to Helsinki, for family reasons. Currently, I’m staying in Kallio (the Helsinki hood, not to be confused with the vintage children’s clothing store in Brooklyn). So, Kallio in Helsinki is the Brooklyn of Finland, I’ve been told.

Indeed, most young people I meet and cafes and restaurants I’ve visited (that Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 2.51.18 PMserve Brooklyn Brewery products and the local microbrews) could be in Fort Greene, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, or Bushwick. Formerly, Kallio was known of its hobos and dives, and by its deeply red working class past.

At the same time, I read how Bed-Stuy is being branded as white, that folks are moving out because of stellar rents, that there’s a proposal to build a high-speed gondola between Mnhtn & BK to ease the commute between the two…

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 2.49.50 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 2.48.49 PMNot so long ago, when I was starting over in Crown Heights, it was the only place in the world to me that mattered. I finally belonged the way I wanted to: In a messy, diverse, communal, vibrant place that offered a surprise or a cultural lesson around every corner.

Now, Brooklyn is a global brand and I feel it on Myrtle Avenue, as well as in Kolmas Linja. I know I’m not the only one who’s falling out of love with Brooklyn. And yet it hurts.