O Sky Full of Funkiness (or thank you, bus of fullness)

Good thing the first bus that came along was full.  Gave me a chance to look up:

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Any Given Sunday

Show up at Grossman’s Tavern at the right hour of a sunny Sunday, and watch the light do its thing….and, oh yeah, catch some really fine trad jazz while you’re there:

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Green Not Gone, Auburn Didn’t Get the Memo

Nuance to this autumn day….

…some green that’s in no hurry to go…

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….and some auburn that didn’t get the memo about the approaching “dullness”

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Toronto Beltline Meets Bleecker Street

Since taking this shot while walking Toronto’s Beltline Trail a couple of days ago

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I’ve found myself thinking of a line from Simon & Garfunkel’s Bleecker Street

“…I watched a shadow touch a shadow’s hand…”

Here’s the song:

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Cold and Wet, with a chance of Real Pretty

Of course, it helps that Montreal has a knack for wearing “inclement” with panache:

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Giving the Grey A Hug

So if I understand all this mindfulness propaganda I’m practicing (and valuing), I’m to embrace the arriving greyness, even if I am not required to love it

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Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to require being inattentive to the non-grey

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Holy Hangover Refined: self-medicating in New Orleans

[Prelude: Life is good, real good.  Figured out how to embed the video that I hadn’t been able to add to the previous version of this blog post.]

Well if you’re going to get seduced by something, it might as well be the restoration of your soul.  Didn’t know I needed it, but a light breeze is coming in through the front door of the double-shotgun where I stay when in New Orleans (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/71624), giving me a view of a weathered fence beside a more weathered house, and behind it a more freshly painted purple and burgundy job, and I am enjoying just the right kind of hangover.  The kind where I got drunk on one beer and a six-pack of New Orleans vibe.

Started with Amanda Shaw and the “Cute Guys” electrifying the crowd at the Louisiana Seafood Festival at City Park (not such great quality video, but Ms. Shaw and company’s sound makes up for it)

Continued at the Spotted Cat on Frenchmen

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where a fusion trad jazz-funk band got a bunch of us on our feet and kept us there.  Before I knew it, a young hottie was flirting with me while the band played “I’ll Fly Away.”  She ditched me, though, for someone twenty years my senior.  Can’t blame her; he was a better dancer.

And then, it was John Boutte across the street at dba doing:

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and Halleluyah

Somewhere, it dawns on me that I’m having a religious experience.  In the way that happens here at its best, it’s not just about performing, it’s about connecting.  So Boutte gets a “young cat” onstage for a duet on “At the Foot of Canal Street,” and tells us whatever stories are on his mind about his day and his life.  Next thing I know, a young couple have pushed their way in front.  I’m annoyed at first, but admit to myself that it’s sweet the way he really wants her to be close to the stage.  Then I notice their wardrobe.  He’s in a tux, she’s in a wedding gown. And Boutte tries to get the back of the house to hush (“that’ll never happen,” someone shouts out….dba is long and narrow and if you’re far away from the stage, you can’t see the performers) so he can sing a love song for them.  And then he ends the show with his Treme theme song, the newly married couple leading in the joy of it all:

When all’s said and done, he signs a couple of CDs for me, tells me about the time he saved Massey Hall in Toronto from going down in flames when a fellow performer tossed a cigarette in a trash can, and I talk about the connection I saw on stage and with the audience, and how it had the quality of a religious experience.  This weirds him out, I think, but I also think he can take it.

Oh, plus I discovered a delightful lyric in another song by someone I now know was named Little Milton:

If I don’t love you baby

Grits ain’t groceries

Eggs ain’t poultry

And Mona Lisa was a man

Coming soon to a blog post near this one…my tale of stepping out at the Prince of Wales second line…

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Newsflash

Important discovery the past couple of days.

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Turns out fall is a beautiful time of year.

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Spread the word.

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Waiver-Free Gift

Next to actually getting to see this, the best part was that when I asked if I could take this picture, no one demanded I sign a waiver first.  Thank you, young woman who served me at the Hot Oven Bakery this morning:

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And next to actually getting to see this, the best part is that the moment lasted a while:

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A Point in Here Somewhere…

Well, sure, the beauty of the leaves is ephemeral.  But at least the sky is eternal.

Oh…except that it’s not always that blue.

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Or filled with interestingly shaped clouds. 

 

So what was my point again?  Oh, yeah!  No matter what, there’s surely going to be something interesting going on.  Even when the leaves call it a season…

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Be Gentle, Natural Selection

So you know that thing about how the only constant is change?

Here’s what I’m wondering.  Assuming the theory of evolution is correct, I’m wondering if natural selection allowed our particular brand of hominoid to survive because we have a capacity for seeing some changes with joy as well as dread:

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And here’s what I’m also wondering.  If natural selection has any say in the matter, what will happen to those of us who can manage the changing leaves, but are made to shudder by the pace of broader societal and technological transformation?

For now, though, I’ll try to satisfy myself with, “Hey!  Look how pretty the leaves are.”

That, and the pleasure of walking under a building I normally regard from a distance, to take time for a closer look:

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Century Hopping

And so, what I’m wondering is, who stuck all that 19th century behind my 20th (and early 21st) century?

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Just asking….

(with apologies to those who know enough about architecture to correct my time stamping….I like to think the “point” holds in any case)

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Bikes and Bombs and Rivers of Life (with guest appearances by Moses and Creation)

We seem to have reached that time of year when the light is always bouncing off of things.* 

Since taking this shot a few days ago

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and seeing metal pipes meld with bike melding with an imagined cyclist with the key to the lock, I’ve found myself thinking of these lyrics from Paul Simon’s “Love is Eternal Sacred Light”

How’d it all begin?  Started with a bang

Couple of light years later, stars and planets sang

Fire warmed the cold, waves of colours flew

Moonlight into gold, earth to green and blue…

Earth becomes a farm

Farmer takes a wife

Wife becomes a river and giver of life

Man becomes machine

Oil runs down his face

Machine becomes a man

With a bomb in the marketplace

As Mr. Simon seems to do so often, he finds room for the ominous, spiritual and playful almost in the same breath.  Later in the song, there’s a lyric: “I’m driving along in my automobile.  It’s a brand new pre-owned ’96 Ford.”

It’s Simcha Torah today, when Jewish tradition has celebrants reading the end of the Torah, with Moses’ death, then starting over with the creation of the universe.  Death gives way to rebirth, as hopefully (and effortfully) bombs in marketplaces will one day give way to rivers of life.

Here’s how the song goes.  Be sure to tell Paul I sent you:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WdrrEpYhATM

 * (or is it that we’ve reached that time of year when we’re more likely to be outdoors when the sun is low to the horizon….I think it IS this time of year, but anyone who knows otherwise is welcome to leave a comment)

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Let’s Give That Metaphor a Stretch

Time to risk stretching a metaphor….

I think of this flotilla of clouds (last seen a year ago on Lac St. Louis in Quebec) as a reminder of the moments of our lives.  Each unique, each likely to command our attention as though they represent something eternal, but nonetheless moving along to be replaced by other apparent eternities.

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Brought to you by Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and my ongoing mission to walk the walk, talk the talk, and sit the sit…

 

 

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Sneaky Texture

You just never know when the world will sprout behind your back…

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….or in front of your face

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Seeing More, Talking Less

Apparently I haven’t exhausted the world’s supply of red…

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…and then there’s this other colour, too…Image

I could say more, but at this point, I’ll just quote Psalm 65:2. 

“For You, silence is praise.”

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Seeing Red

So is finding these hues of red amidst the concrete of the city an act of mindful attention or just camera gimmickry?  Of course, I know what I’d like the answer to be…

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Note to self…sometimes the light is there to be found…

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One-and-a-Half Trick Pony

Yes, I know.

I seem to be a one-trick pony of late.  To which I can only say…when the sky gets less interesting, I’ll start taking pictures of something else.  In fact, I have – take a look at the other side of these sky pics

In Toronto a few days ago:

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In Toronto during the magic (freaking hour) two days ago:

 

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In Montreal, a week ago:

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And finally, in non-sky-related news….also in Montreal, at what is fast on its way to becoming my favourite greasy spoon:

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Look! Up in the Sky! It’s…the sky (and its urban friends)!

Here’s a Hasidic tale that has more to say on the topic:

One day a rabbi gazed through the window of his study which looked out upon the marketplace.  People were hurrying to and fro, each attending to his or her own particular business.

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Suddenly the rabbi saw a familiar face.

“Hikel!” he called.  “Come in, I want to speak with you.”

“Shalom, Rabbi, how are you?”

“Thank God, I am fine.  Tell me, Hikel, what were you doing in the marketplace?”

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“Oh, I’ve very busy today.  I have a lot of business to take care of.”

“Hikel,” asked the rabbi.  “Have you looked up at the sky today?”

“At the sky, Rabbi?  No, of course not.  I’m too busy to look at the sky.”

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“Hikel, look out the window and tell me what you see.”

“I see people and horses and carriages, all rushing around doing business.”

“Hikel,” the rabbi said, “in fifty years there will be other people in other carriages, drawn by other horses, and we will not be here.  And, Hikel, in a hundred years, neither the marketplace nor this town will even exist.  Look at the sky, Hikel, look at the sky!”

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Trading Irritation for Attention

I suppose I might have given in to irritation when my buddy Jamey texted me a couple of days ago to alert me he might be late for the start of the baseball game.  Especially since he had the tickets.  On the other hand, given that he was attending a memorial service, irritation would have been bad form.  Not that I’m always above bad form where such things are concerned, but on this occasion I instead managed to remember to pay attention to my surroundings on the way to the ballpark, and take note of…

…the collage of shapes to be found in the cityscape…

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…and the bounce of light off Roy Thompson Hall onto a building I’ll have to learn the name of one day…

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…as it was, we ended up in the ballpark in sufficient time to pay ridiculous sums at the concession stand and still catch the first of R.A. Dickey’s knuckleballs.  The good guys won, and the not-so-bad guys got to celebrate…

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...clearly it was a tense game, though.  Our beards were jet black when it started.

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Winter Green Grace

Yesterday, I confessed to mind drift towards the green of spring and summer.

Turns out there’s some green to be found in winter, too…

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Rumours of Green

Amazing.

I’ve been working on this living thing for close to fifty years (okay…a little more than fifty…what’s your point?) , yet I find myself being surprised by green.

Despite one of my previous posts, I haven’t minded this winter so much; something I’m inclined to attribute in large part to mindfulness practice.  One moment I’m grumping about the weather, and the next I decide to take an interest in it, paying attention to how it feels on my skin, the way it intersects with my breath, what effect it has on the sounds of the world around me.

Despite the fact that winter and I have been getting along pretty well, when the images below recently surfaced on my screensaver, I was shocked to see how explosive the greenness of spring and summer can be when contrasted to the grays and whites of February.

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Mount Royal, Montreal

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Yes, Fenway Park is home to baseball’s second most evil empire (from a Torontonian’s perspective), but there’s no arguing with its aesthetics

I’m still trying not to rush out of winter, but man, that green stuff is a rush.

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You Go, Ignorance!

So before I get to something I’ve been taught by some of my spiritual teachers, I thought I’d first tell you what I don’t know about the young woman who works at the burger place I was at tonight.  I’ll also slip in some of my latest New Orleans pics to give your eyes a break, in part because one of them provides a funky variation on the teaching (and in part because I continue to find the place so damned photogenic).

A New Orleans variation on the "I don't know" pracitce

A New Orleans variation on the “I don’t know” pracitce

I was tempted to know that the young woman at the burger place was bored and perhaps irritated with the customer talking to her from the other side of the counter.  Two and a half times her age, he dominated the conversation to the point of owning it, focusing mostly on anecdotes about his life, many of which had to do with the ethnic mix of women he’s known, and in some cases, might have liked to know better.  I assumed that the young woman was bored and perhaps resentful of being made captive to his story-telling by her service job; an assumption born largely of the fact that my default is to be put off by people who strike me as disproportionately interested in their own lives and insufficiently interested in others’ (which doesn’t mean I’m not one of them, but that’s for another time).

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But then, the young woman began to challenge my assumptions by periodically laughing or punctuating his speeches with reflections of her own, which in turn propelled the conversation further and even got him to ask her to elaborate time or two  on something she’d previously told him.

And so they both did me a favour, reminding me that there’s a difference between what we know and what we’ve decided to know before the evidence comes in.  Was she bored?  Maybe.  Or maybe he’s the most interesting part of her burger-flipping evenings.  I don’t know.

That’s the beauty of it.  I really don’t know.

This is how I recall Rabbi Alan Lew discussing the “I don’t know” practice in his book, Be Still and Get Going: A Jewish Meditation Practice for Real Life.  Lew, who had been a long time practitioner of Zen Buddhism before discovering a connection to Judaism, talks about the practice of periodically responding to all questions asked by saying “I don’t know.”  For instance, we might be asked our opinion on capital punishment, and most of the time, simply answer with a rote response formed years ago which we have habitually repeated without reflecting on if it still holds true.  And by giving rote responses to life, by forgetting how much we don’t know, we close ourselves off to what is in front of us here and now.

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Which is one of the reasons I love that “think that you might be wrong” sign from New Orleans.  Most signs I see there are replaced between my visits, but that one’s lasted a year.  Must be because there’s some resonance to it.  Or maybe it’s because taking it down would require climbing a very tall pole.

Either way…you go, ignorance!

Not sure why they were crossing the road, but I’m sure they had their reasons…

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And if you want to see the box set of images, click below:

https://picasaweb.google.com/guanacastec/NewOrleansYesAgain

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Rumours of Winter Confirmed

Many people I know were understandably eager to express their dissatisfaction with today’s weather, greeting us in Toronto this morning to the tune of –20 Celsius (–4 Fahrenheit). 

But at a chanting circle I was in tonight, we got to discussing the breath, and I was pleased to hear more than a few of us who were equally eager to express their delight in the freshness of the morning air. 

Talk to me in six weeks, and you might get a different story, but for now, I’m really enjoying the wintry weather.

 Interesting what the snow reveals.  Normally the message on this picnic bench is hard to see.

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And in the midst of urban shadow…

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(Oh, yeah.  In my last post I said something about exploring what we don’t know.  I’ll still get to it.  It’s not like our ignorance is going anywhere.)

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Monday Blahs vs. Bart Simpson

There are some people who like Mondays.  If you are among them, we’ll talk later.  Alright, alright.  You’re allowed to like Mondays.  Sometimes, I’m even one of you.

But that’s not who I was when this day set in, grey and overcast and chilly.  If it weren’t too early in winter to start using adjectives like bitter, I would have.  But more than bitter, I greeted the day as colourless and bland, and that was the frame of mind I carried throughout the morning.

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I went out for lunch, still offended by the blandness of it all.  But when I started my walk back to work I tried to pay attention to the world instead of my sour mood.  At which moment, I noticed how the cold air I was drawing into my lungs with each breath contrasted so strongly with the soup I’d just had, but this in combination with the criss-crossing pedestrians keeping me from getting my green light just seemed to validate my irritability.

I tried to keep paying attention, and – forgive me if I’m sounding pollyannaish – then the world showed me how all this blandness was in my head.

A young man glided on his bicycle between the streetcar tracks, his long hair pushed back by the breeze.  Behind him came another cyclist, swathed in heavy, black winter clothes, working hard at the pedals.   A woman passes me on the sidewalk; her limbs are pointed in all directions due to what must be a muscular disease, yet she’s determinedly carrying shopping bags from the crooks of her arms.  A girl with her hood up almost walks into an oncoming car, but stops at the last moment; she’d seen it coming, but I didn’t know that, and my heart has leapt to panic speed.  A Latino couple step out of Silverstein’s, a wholesale bakery that does walk-in business.  They’ve got fresh onion buns, and impatient, they’re eating them on the sidewalk.  I try to smell them, but without success.  Still, all my senses are active now, and I realize how fiercely the pipes outside the bakery are hissing.  My breath and the pipes are a perfect pair – the pipes make steam sounds, my breath makes steam visuals.  I too am playing a part in this pageant of the senses, which has unfolded in just a few minutes.  I feel like Bart in the opening credits to The Simpsons, minus the skateboard.

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Looks like someone neglected to tell this bike owner about the mid-winter blahs

This of course does not fully terminate my audience with the Monday blahs.  But it does help me find me way back out.

PS – The next post I have in mind will be much less about me, and more about what you and I don’t know.  With a bit of New Orleans flavouring.

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Taking Leave of An Assumption

So as part of my ongoing mission to notice…

On my morning walk to the subway, I slowed down long enough to see that my assumption that the trees have been made barren by the arrival of winter isn’t quite accurate.

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Feel free to correct me any time you like, leaves.

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What Would Moses Do?

Lorne Blumer

I’ve only made one New Year’s resolution for 2013, but it ought to be enough.

I’ve resolved to use this blog to demonstrate my efforts to keep up with Moses.

Which I suppose bears some elaboration, starting with a brief discussion of the Torah.  But first, let me assure the non- and anti-religious among you that it will barely hurt at all.  You might feel a pinch, but that should be about it.

The Torah (AKA the Hebrew Bible AKA the Old Testament) is divided into sections known as parshiot, one of which is read each week until, at the end of a the year, it’s been read cover to cover, scroll to scroll.

This week’s parsha is Shemot, the beginning of the Book of Exodus.  And though it consists of only five of the nearly two hundred chapters in the Torah, it covers a dizzying amount of narrative; starting with an Egyptian Pharaoh who did not know Joseph and didn’t care much for his descendents, then bringing us swiftly to the birth of Moses, his youth in the royal court, his killing of an Egyptian taskmaster, followed by his flight into the wilderness, his audience with God at the burning bush, and his initial efforts to get the Pharaoh to release the Israelite slaves.

It doesn’t say much about me, though.

So where do I fit in?

Seeing the Light on the Chicago River

Not the royal court, that’s for sure.  I don’t know much about royalty, and have no plans to change that.  As for leading a nation of underdogs against a powerful and cruel autocrat, I’m not sure where I would begin, even if I had the stones.

But now and again I have a burning bush moment.

This is how Richard Friedman translates Exodus 3:3-4 in his Commentary on the Torah:

And [Moses] looked, and here: the bush was burning in the fire, and the bush was not consumed!  And Moses said, “Let me turn and see this great sight.  Why doesn’t the bush burn?  And YHWH [the name of God] saw that he turned to see.  And God called to him from inside the bush, and He said, “Moses, Moses.”

Then before Moses knows what’s hit him, God gets busy deputizing him with the task of freeing the Israelites, while disregarding his impressive persistence at suggesting someone else be appointed with the honour.

Which only goes to show you, Moses; that’s what you get for paying attention.

My favourite interpretation of the burning bush story is that what sets Moses apart from others is that he was attentive enough to his surroundings to see that the bush was aflame yet not surrendering to the fire.  Only after he has demonstrated this capacity for awareness does God know that he is equipped for the task.

Being a veteran scoffer, I know what some of you must be thinking.  “The man notices a burning bush that isn’t really burning, and that makes him special?  That just means he’s not a dolt.  Who wouldn’t notice a burning bush that’s not burning?”

Up (Chicago)

Up
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The answer, much of the time, is me.

I am constantly surrounded by moments of exquisite beauty or exquisite dullness – let’s call it exquisite now-ness – without being aware of it.  Burning bushes and towering infernos and still, small voices fill the world around me, harmonious and discordant, all rich in their own way, and I’m somewhere else altogether.  That just goes with being human; perhaps all the more so with being human in the age of supertech, responding to the beeps and bling of our age.  But on those occasions when I extract myself from the act of pursuing and return myself to where I’m actually standing, I am often rewarded with gifts that come from merely paying attention.

New Year’s resolutions are not born accompanied by encouraging prognoses.  This Wikipedia entry I’ve come across (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Year’s_resolution) tells of a study in which it was found that 88% of its subjects failed at keeping their resolutions.

On the other hand, in late March, more than nine months ago, I made a commitment to meditate on a daily basis, and since then, have only missed four days.  So maybe I’m not a lost cause.  Maybe this is my Year of the Blog.  A year in which I will report back often to those who might be interested in my efforts to pay attention, both with new essays and reflections, or simply with photographs which say, “Hey!  Look what I noticed!”

Guess we’ll find out.

And sometimes the eye is pleased by something it cannot explain(Chicago)

And sometimes the eye is pleased by something it cannot explain
(Chicago)

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A pilgrimage along New Orleans’ Royal Road

A link to this story of mine published by Travelmag, an online UK publicaton:

http://travelmag.co.uk/?p=6209

 

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New Orleans, Once More

Lorne Blumer

January 2012

Celebrated my 50th with another visit to New Orleans.  As always,  indulged in the vibe, the food, the music, and even added a couple of sazeracs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sazerac).  Although I got up closer to some of the more traumatized parts of the city; I must still be smitten with it because I’m already calculating my next trip back.

Though surrounded by water, there aren’t a ton of places to go and see it, for water is the enemy.  But here’s a look at the Mississippi:

And here is the latest batch of images, 33 all told:

https://picasaweb.google.com/guanacastec/NewOrleansOnceMoreNewYearS2012

Also shot some video:

A band called Yes Ma’am busking on Royal Street (parts one and two)

The blog of Raychel Severance, one of the band members

http://users.livejournal.com/_bulldoze/

And a 360 at a quiet intersection in Bywater, perhaps the part of town I love most of all.  Some parts are closer to pristine than this, but I have great affection for its crumbly sections.  Close to the Mississippi levee and train tracks, you hear train and boat sounds all the time

Oh, and while I’m here, wishing you peace and strength in 2012, and only the best brand of maelstrom.

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China and Vietnam: some photographic evidence

Lorne Blumer

May-June 2011

It’s taken me a good, long while (hey…beats a bad, long while) to link to images from my May 2011 trip to China and Vietnam.  Hopefully, a few have been worth the wait.

Here’s a sampler…

In the hutongs of Beijing

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The rice terraces of Yuanyang

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The walled city of Pingyao

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And about 150 other images

https://picasaweb.google.com/guanacastec/TimeInChinaAndALittleMoreInVietnam

Story-telling to come…

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