The Links

Somalian writer Nuruddin Farah is a fantastic writer. I earlier read his novel “Gifts” and just finished his latest last night, “The Links.” It’s the story of a Somalian who now lives in New York with his wife and daughters who goes back to Mogadiscio to honor his mother’s grave. The story begins with his arrival at a small airstrip outside of the city. Surprisingly someone has sent a vehicle to pick him up, even though Jeebleh didn’t think anyone knew he was coming. Immediately we are faced with the jarring chaos of Somalia, young men striding around with heavy machine guns, intoxicated with qaat, an impenetrable disregard for life seeming to permeate all the characters he sees. Slowly we are drawn into his story as he tries to make sense of the city and life he once knew so well, now reduced to civil war…

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The March of the Cannon Fodder

One of those irritating things about being an advocate for public life and public space is the horrifying regular appearance of people marching around in military uniforms. I was popping in to my office at 7th and Market and the streets were closed for the Veterans’ Day march. Normally I wouldn’t have thought too much beyond the usual spitting rage I harbor for the U.S. military and its corporate masters, but this was even worse: the three contingents that marched by while I pedaled in the opposite direction were all made up of high school ROTC or even 7th graders in uniforms… Lots of talk lately about fascism, and there’s no denying the basic truth of that. But when it’s staring me in the face, I was really saddened. Rage? I should feel rage, but I mostly just look on at what I consider to be a growing herd of zombies marching to the cliff’s edge, apparently blind to what they’re approaching… of course there are those of all fundamentalist stripes who think Armageddon and rapture are desirable and inevitable… Did you hear about that Lt. outside Fallujah who characterized the “enemy” inside the city as “Satan”?
My goal for the next few weeks (years?) is to promote the concept of “ungovernability” and seek to unleash the creative ideas that can make this a movement for a good life rather than just merely resistance.

Día de los Muertos

San Francisco has a very cool Day of the Dead procession every year. This year it fell on election night, which seemed strangely appropriate. I went as a plague doctor, a costume I’ve worn a few times now over the years, and always seems eerily anticipatory to me. I like being inside it, seeing so many familiar faces who can’t tell it’s me. As we headed out to drum and walk along (about 10 of us who had gathered at our apartment on Folsom) we knew the election looked bad. By the end of the night it got a lot worse. But the procession was its usual magical self, giving us all a chance to be in the streets, making music, enjoying the wild creativity of our friends and neighbors, and get some respite from the yammering madness that passes for news and reporting.

My pal Jeff Mooney, without whom I would not be able to fake being a drummer, kept me going on my snare after months of not touching it. He had a line at the end of the night that captured something rarely acknowledged but pulsing at the heart of a lot of so-called progressives, not to mention the general population: “The thought of giving up my fear terrifies me!”
Mary Brown had a fantastic portable shrine around her neck, dedicated to the amazing photographer Peter Palmquist. It was one of those delightful endless regression–or in this case endless progression–things. She had a picture of Palmquist from when he was much younger, placed next to a fake camera. Hundreds of people were taking her picture, which of course captured the photo of Palmquist, who died a couple of years ago in a car accident in Emeryville. So the collector of old photographs had his own image reproduced posthumously by the hundreds last night… a nice touch.
Loved the gamelan band, to whom we attached ourselves for a good long jam. We also traipsed around the edges of the Filhos de Gandhi contingent, as well as the Infernal Noise with Gold Trim Brigade (and realized that they were doing all prepared/rehearsed tunes, so we soon got out of their way). In contrast to the dark fear that seems to dominate the imaginations of so many other Americans, even people who live outside the Mission and continually buy into the notion that it is a very dangerous place, Día de los Muertos is one of the oddest and most fun syncretic rituals in this town. Once strictly for Mexicans and other latin americans, it’s largely attended by the alt-cult young white scene, many of whom bring along the kids. It’s become a very culturally specific San Francisco event now, and is only vaguely related to the original… which is fine by me!