Thursday, September 27, 2007

Italy's Multicultural Music

Back in July 2007, I used this space to provide some impressions of rapidly changing Italy, as a person who was born and partly raised there and who has spent some long periods of time in the country.

Today, one of my musings has been answered by this article in the New York Times.

“The world around us changed,” Mr. Tronco told me backstage, before the concert. “Immigrants started arriving. For Italians it’s still strange for the baker to be Chinese and the butcher Bengalese.”

And out of what could be a new melting pot, could emerge some amazing music. And film. and art. And design. And TV.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Portland's Good Eats

Today's New York Times has the usual tales of woe: our new Iraqi allies, the Sunnis, are targeting our erstwhile allies the police and tribal chiefs, for death; it seems that the Bush friends who are managing the oil drilling on federal lands were taking favors from oil companies; a New Jersey town that drove out illegal immigrants is in economic hardship as a result; women no longer report being happier than men because they have a longer to-do list than ever; and ping-ponging rather than the procedural conference committee is now the way partisan bills become law. Sigh.

But hey, for those of us living in Portland, day to day eating is still a prize, as the Times finally gets around to

Monday, September 24, 2007

Playing Hard to Get

It is really difficult in this day and age to experience discrimination as a white man, but there's one Japanese restaurant in Beaverton where you can have just that. I won't mention its name, just because I'm nice and I don't want to cause trouble for it and therefore all the Japanese natives who depend on it for a delicious reminder of home, but I won't be going back for more of that treatment. Not that the young woman owner would care, truth be told.

Three times we called and made reservations. Our reservations were taken. When we showed up, lo and behold, there was no such reservation on record. And none of the empty tables were available for us because they were set for people who did have their reservations on record.

The first time, we believed the line that a mistake must have been made and waited 45 minutes for a table, simply because I'd heard from Japanese clients that it was the best home style Japanese restaurant in the entire Portland area. And it was worth the wait. Soft and succulent scallops, blackened cod, and salmon. A mild but savory eggplant. Smoky soba. Sapporo on tap. The second time, it was on an off night and we only had to wait 15 minutes. The third time, we were simply turned away.

I don't think the owner stops to say, "Oh, white person. I won't seat them." I think she simply doesn't treat our call as importantly as she does the calls from Japanese. That is indeed a form of discrimination.

So, I'm ready to try some of the other homestyle, small plate Japanese eateries in town (I hear there's a good one in Hillsboro), and even if they aren't quite as good, the experience hopefully will compensate for it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The expulsion of the global creative class

Update on my previous post: Just as occurred to Rohinton Mistry a year or so ago, musicologist Nalini Ghuman has been brutally denied re-entry into the U.S., as reported today in the New York Times.

She's British, of Welsh and Sikh descent, and an esteemed authority on Elgar. Until her apprehension at SFO she was also an assistant professor at Mills College in California. Consider this:
- armed immigration officers met her at the airplane door when she landed in SFO and during the next eight hours they:
- tore up her H-1B visa which was good for another two years
- defaced her British passport
- described her as "Hispanic" (in addition to being thugs, they are idiots)
- held her incommunicado and did not let her contact the British Consulate
- groped her during a body search
- told her she would be considered to be attacking her armed female searcher if she moved
- told her she was "a nobody" and "had no rights"
- threatened to transfer her to a detention center if she did not take a flight back to London that night, which she did.

She said "For the first time, I understood what the deprivation of liberty means."

Despite many letters from musicians and intervention of the British Embassy, this case has been unresolved for 13 months.

Why would she ever want to return?

She'll be going to Quebec for a conference soon. As the article states, "At least...she can expect Canada to let her in.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Nicole Kidman and the Ideal of American Womanhood

There is one other reason, besides food, that I prefer to shop at New Seasons or Whole Foods rather than the older supermarket chains. Before the racks of celebrity rags at Safeway and Albertsons, my appetite always dissipates to be reminded that American womanhood is in such crisis. Look no further than the once fabulous Nicole Kidman on the current cover of Vanity Fair, to see how even a woman of enormous artistic talent who is economically secure can be so afraid of maturing that she gives up her face, and in the process IMHO, her individuality. Take her collagen plumped skin, the jowls that have been cut away, the eyes no longer heavy lidded, the strangely full lips, and at age forty, brand new breasts. Her skin looks younger than it did 20 years ago. People, this is like building towns in the desert -- it is not meant to be! Nor is it sustainable. What will she do when she turns 50?

The main reason I used to enjoy watching Kidman was her actor's encased in rigor plasticus and devoid of any personality, mystery or honest beauty.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Toronto the new New York?

I was stunned this week to learn that Richard Florida had moved from the Washington, D.C. area to Toronto. He's a hugely influential researcher on what makes geographies dynamic and prosperous, and he is taking his work to the highly esteemed Rotman School, led by the exceptional Roger Martin.

On the one hand, in a global world talent is highly mobile. But on the other, does Florida's move indicate that the U.S. is going to be less attractive to that kind of talent?

It might mean that Florida sees Canada, and specifically Toronto rather than Washington or other U.S. cities, as having the right criteria for a geography of the future: open, diverse, tolerant and creative. Such a geography is making the shift from manufacturing to creativity as its economic engine.

Florida is not the only one working in this vein. Daniel Pink has said that creativity is the new international currency, and the current fascination in business with the idea of collaboration and the plethora of tech tools to achieve it has to do with the goal of encouraging creative thinking among workers.

Are we in the U.S. seeing a pattern of laws and regulations that promote insularity, the opposite of curiosity and openness on which creativity thrives? Is our famously un-curious President the emblem of our post 9/11 culture?

Whether it is Mexican manual laborers or Chinese and Indian engineers, our immigration policies indicate we are concerned about "the others." But we're not just keeping out workers, who by contributing to cultural diversity in the past have exposed Americans to lots of ideas, but artists too.

These policies have ensnared artists and creative thinkers like the Canadian Rohinton Mistry and the British Lily Allen.

What would American music and the music industry been like without the British invasion of 1964?

The WSJ today writes that due to post 9/11 immigration and visa policies, "some companies say they have had more trouble bringing in talented people from abroad."

Maybe that's why the Toronto Film Festival has become a global magnet lately. There are indeed alternatives to New York and Los Angeles.

Florida has warned in his recent writing that the U.S. could lose in this creative economy. But we literally cannot afford to lose. We can't rest on our laurels, now that Stockholm, Krakow, Tallinn, Buenos Aires, Vancouver, Shanghai, Mexico City, Melbourne, Dublin, Dakar and Kuala Lumpur are producing powerfully creative ideas about work, life, science, education -- all the things that the 21st century is transforming.

Does Florida's move mean that we're already shutting down?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Pavarotti and the rose

So long ago I hate to contemplate it, I was a college student in NYC and a culture vulture. I so loved ballet that I signed up to usher at the Met Opera so I could catch the Kirov, ABT, the Royal and the Stuttgart during the dance season. Of course, I could not pick and choose the nights the Met called me in to work and I ended up working opera nights as well.

Pavarotti was singing night after night, the Verdi, Puccini, Bellini repertoire, alongside star after star soprano, his voice at its prime, just before he became household name. To this day, I unfairly measure all opera performances against his, because it is impossible not to experience the sublime and then hope to find it again.

La Boheme, I Puritani, Rosenkavalier (what a cameo!), Un Ballo in Maschera, Rigoletto: how fortunate I was to lose my opera virginity with the tenor of the century. A more liquid, mellifluous voice in opera did and does not exist.

One night, I was called to help hold the curtain for the umpteen curtain calls that followed a Pavarotti performance. Another usher and I stood together to hold it back, as it was very heavy, as the singers filed past to receive their applause. You could hear a constant thumping as the bouquets of flowers hit the stage. For his last bow, Pavarotti picked up a single rose, held it up in homage to his audience and disappeared from them behind the curtain, and towards the place where I was holding it. Suddenly the star of the century stood in all his corpulent grandeur before me, a young new opera fan working for music. Inches from my face, he held up the rose, and bent it towards me as a gift. I took it with a barely audible, choked "grazie".