Sunday, August 1, 2021

Travelling Thrice Across the Country



In the past two weeks, we drove to Los Angeles from Chicago and returned a week later.  Today, I am driving to Detroit to make another drive to Los Angeles.  Finally, I get to fly home. 

The reasons for all of this driving, three cross-country trips, are all good.  They involve family visits, parents visiting children and grandchildren, and minimizing exposure to the virus and the variant that is now dominating the news. 

It is 2,045 miles from our home to our destination in LA.  Denver is about halfway on the route we took there and back.  We drove about approximately 1,000 miles a day and it took 14-15 hours each day depending on the number of stops, weather, and traffic.  The drive from Detroit to LA will be 200 miles longer and thus adding another hour and a half of driving. 

This all amounts to a lot of time on the road traversing parts of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and California.  It certainly involves driving, helping keep the driver awake, a nap here and there (when not driving and convinced that the driver is fully alert), being bored, observing the changing landscape, and thinking.  The interesting parts, needless, to say are the changing landscapes and, at least from my perspective, my thoughts.

Beginning with my thoughts, they were the thoughts that occupy my idle time.  There was just more idle time.  There were alert, weary, and bored times.  There were periods of times on my phone.   There were drowsy times during the mini-naps.  The thoughts were as varied as what I was doing and not doing.  I ran through my to-do list kinds for priorities.  That was helpful.  I reflected on the people I saw in various rest stops along the way.  I thought about the indigenous peoples of the lands we drove through… and I related that to what I would feel like driving through the Armenian Highlands.  I thought about loved ones, family and friends, that enrich my life and those whose memories continue to enrich my


life.  I wondered about what I have accomplished, might have accomplished, and could accomplish still.  I jotted some notes, some haikus, and even participated in a few zoom meetings.  There was no real order to the thinking.  It was ambling and rambling thoughts underscored by the drone of road noise.  At times, the thoughts were energizing while at other times they magnified the boredom.  I wondered what it might be like if I made drives like this every week as truck driver do versus the mere three weeks I did.

The landscape was beautiful.  Living in Chicagoland, one might forget about the vast expanses of farmland though one doesn’t have to drive far to see it.  Corn is a huge crop, followed by soybeans.  Both are processed and used, for the most part, to make other processed and packaged foods.  Corn is fed to cattle, which we also saw, that are processed into the various beef products we consume.  Silos and barns dot the landscape though they are now all metal and lack the charm of the wooden and stone ones I recall from my youth.

As we travelled west, the lush and green lands that I am used to in the Midwest and New England gave way to arid and browner landscapes of brush, smaller trees, and eventually some cacti.  Chicago and Detroit were I have spent the bulk of my time are flatlands.  In Connecticut, there were the rolling hills and mountains that gave a true third dimension to the landscapes.  In Colorado and Arizona, we saw mountains of rock and rocks (hence the name of the chain) with and without vegetation.  The interstate weaved in and around them.  We passed through many a grand canyon that were most impressive though I have, still, yet to see the actual Grand CanyonIn Utah, we saw, what I would call, buttes.  There were great expanses in Utah, Nevada, and even California that, besides the interstate, there were many miles where we saw no evidence of man which is a rare occurrence given where I spend most of my time.  There was a hundred or so mile stretch where there were not gas stations or food stops.  It required a bit more management of the gas levels than we normally as used to. 


We did stop for gas, food, and drink as well as to stretch our legs, hit the restroom, and clean the bugs off the windshield.  At every stop, we were, for the most part, the only people wearing masks.  There was a certain sameness to the stops in terms of gas stations, minimarts, and fast food.  There is some comfort in this in terms of expectation.  However, I do miss discovery, both excitement and disappointment, of the private mom and pop food stops and gas stations that were more common when I was a kid. 

We stayed, both coming and going, in Silverthorne, Colorado.  I would have liked to have spent more time in this quaint mountain town.  The easy going, low key, vibe of the folks and one local brewery and restaurant we patronized made me want to spend more time there.  There was a great diversity of people at the various rest stops.  It would have been interesting to get to know some of them but for the lack of time and ambiance, that underscores almost all rest stops.

I have always wanted to travel and document the experience in a travelogue.  I would love to meander around this great country to see things and meet people at random.  I would like to see towns big and small, both on and off the beaten paths.  I would like to see famous and notable attraction but also to find local coffee shops, diners, and explore the history of places that aren’t remotely tourist attractions.  I would like to meet people and hear learn about their lives, ambitions, and frustrations that define the America of today.  While that sounds scary, I expect it might reaffirm my faith in people and the future of the country.  John Steinbeck did just this with his dog, Charley, in a camper in his 1960 book Travels with Charley in Search of America.  I believe that I have thought about doing this since reading Steinbeck’s book in a freshman English Composition class.

This is not a new thought.  Back in 2012, I had the notion and expressed such in three posts.  

I even conjectured that I could simply explore where I live.  There are so many places and people here that require neither camper nor dog to explore.  All that is need is time, desire, and a notebook.  The notebook, I have…

Monday, July 12, 2021

And to Think That This Was Big News in March


ABC News

      Back in early March.  There was a lot of buzz about books by Theodor Seuss Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss.  There was a lot about racist undertones from one side.  The other side complained about the Woke and Cancel Cultures being out of control.  It was all the news and people were raging in praise and complaint for a few days.

Then, like many things we get all stirred up about it calmed down, became yesterday’s news, and went away.   

Part of the news was that some libraries had pulled some Dr. Seuss books off the shelf.  What really triggered it was an announcement that six Dr. Seuss books that will no longer be published because of offensive and hurtful images. 

I was compelled to write about this because book banning is dangerous under any guise.  At first glance, it appeared to be equivalent of a ban.  As usual, I had to read about this cessation of publication to get the full gist of what was happening.  In doing so, I found the issue to be less black and white than that first glance.

It seems Dr. Seuss Enterprises LP, an organization that manages the image and works of the beloved children’s author, called for these books to no longer be published.  The decision to cease publication and sales of the books was made last year after months of discussion, the company, which was founded by Seuss’ family, told AP.

“Dr. Seuss Enterprises listened and took feedback from our audiences including teachers, academics and specialists in the field as part of our review process. We then worked with a panel of experts, including educators, to review our catalog of titles,” it said. ~ Associated Press

Random House for Young Readers, the primary publisher of Dr. Seuss’s work, agreed last year to cease publication of the books.  It was announced to the public on March 2, which was the birthday of Dr. Seuss.

The books are:

  • And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street
  • If I Ran the Zoo
  • McElligot’s Pool
  • On Beyond Zebra!
  • Scrambled Eggs Super!
  • The Cat’s Quizzer

They, per Random House, are not the best sellers or the books Dr. Seuss is best known for.  I have only read two of these when I was a youngster:  And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street and On Beyond Zebra.  I could not recall any offensive images in the books, but then I last read them sixty years ago. 

I do recall If I Ran the Zoo but never read it.  The other titles I never heard of them.  Some of these are already out of print and only available in used book outlets and some libraries.

So, I googled some of the offensive photos.  Were the offensive?  Yeah, kinda sorta in my view.  Borderline.  But, being an older white male, I have been told I am incapable and not permitted to judge. 

I can see where the Seuss family might want to get ahead of any criticism and proactively trim the product line to preserve the overall health of the brand.  It is their right to do so.  It seems from this perspective to be a prudent business decision.  It seems before Dr. Seuss became a beloved children’s author, Theodore Seuss Geisel drew political cartoons that were definitely derogatory to blacks.  These cartoons are easily considered to be racist by today’s standards and probably even when he drew them. (I did not include any of these images here.  I will let this interested reader seek them out and make their own judgements.)

So, one could interpret a decision to no longer publish the books already out of print and those that sell very little as a way to protect the books that sell.  After all, Dr. Seuss is the top selling dead author having generated $32 million in sales last year.  That is a brand worth protecting. 

Even though this was all initiated by the organization established to manage the Dr. Seuss brand, there is still a taint of book banning.  

There was a video titled, The Woke Left Comes for Dr. Seuss.  I decided not to watch it.  Before I looked into this issue, I assumed that the woke left indeed came after Dr. Seuss.  I thought it was another case of political correctness run amok.  I no longer believe that.

There is an excellent article in, Confront Dr. Seuss’ Racism, Don’t Cancel it.  There is another in the Los Angeles Times, Opinion, If ‘Mein Kampf’ can sell on EBay, why not discontinued Dr. Seuss books?, is a very balanced view showing the hypocrisy involved in some of this.  One in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, OPINION: Why schools should rethink Dr. Seuss, takes another point of view.  They are all worth reading and should help form or solidify your view on this subject.

Me?  I think maybe an even stronger force was at play here:  the free market.  Mein Kampf is still in print and sold because, duh…, people are still buying it.  This is disturbing but true.  These six Seuss books were being pulled from the market because, double duh…, they weren’t selling.

Books go out of print all the time.  That’s what happens when they don’t sell.  Ban a book and sales will skyrocket.  It actually happened in this case:  Dr. Seuss dominates USA TODAY bestseller's list amid controversy, takes six of Top 10 spots.  I was tempted to buy them, especially the two I remember reading, simply because I thought folks were telling me I couldn’t.  Heck, I never thought about buy a gun until there was serious talk about limiting my right to do so.

We have the interplay of two important tenets of this great country interacting here:  Free Speech and the Free Market.  We must vigilantly protect both.

One last thought here is that whatever controversy there was about this in March dissipated quickly and completely in a matter of days.

Friday, July 9, 2021

Social Media Advertising Revisited


There is a lot of buzz on how we are influenced or even manipulated by social media.  There is a rather intense and somewhat frightening Netflix video, The Social Dilemma, that I wrote about on in January of this year:  A January Potpourri.  I tend to agree with the theme of this video.  But social media can be inept or at least used to be.

Let’s say I was considering buying a specific product e.g. an adjustable desk or an electric mandolin.  I might have done a Google search and, more likely, an Amazon search for the product.  In short order, I would start seeing advertisements of the product on Facebook.  Clearly, there was some kind of sharing behind the scenes on my laptop or phone between Google with Facebook as well as Amazon and Facebook.  This I would say was a pretty smart and clever ploy of Facebook’s to generate focused advertising.  I was, of course, a bit offended by the Big Brother nature of them knowing what I was shopping for.  But, this was only mildly irritating. 

What I find even more irritating is when Facebook keeps advertising for an electric mandolin or an adjustable desk well after I actually bought one.  It’s a head scratcher to me.  If they were able to know that I was searching for an item, it would stand to reason that they should know when I bought one and stop pestering me with ads.

Lately, I have been getting advertisements from Amazon on Facebook that are different.  I use Amazon a fair amount, so I expect to get some targeted advertising from them.  About half of these newer ads are items related to items I have bought and would probably buy again, namely clothing and food.  Amazon Essentials is their clothing line and I get offers for pants and shirts of various types.  I am OK with these ads.  In the realm of music, I start seeing offerings that makes me wonder what their new algorithm is.  I play stringed instruments, specifically the oud and cumbus and less frequently the mandolin.  So, I have to wonder why I am getting ads for polymer tubas, trumpets with exceptional long bells, and a variety of musical electronic gizmos and gadgets most of which I have no use for and some of which I am not even sure what they are used for e.g. the phase shift thingamabobber, the active 4-channel whoziwhatsit, or even a rechargeable therbelometer with looping AI.

There is another class of products that really baffles me. I have no idea what the products in these ads are or  why Amazon and Facebook together think I may want or need them.  Here are a few examples:


·      Noyito PAM8302, 2.5W Single Cha…
What?  I had to click on it to find out in was a “2.5W Single Channel Class D Audio Power Amplifier Amp Development Board.” 
Well, it only cost $8.50 but I really needed the Class C or E, I am never clear about this.




·      Ancable 5-Pack F, Type Weather Ca…
OK then.  Again, I had to click on it to find out that these were F Type Weather Caps Outside Waterproof Dustproof Cover for Antenna Amplifier Booster Splitter F Female Connectors.  A 5-pack would cost me $4.99 and for only $2 more, they would send me a 10-pack.  Alas, I only needed 1.

·       Amazon Basics, No-Stud Low-Pr…
Had no idea what it was from the photo or the fragment of explanation until I clicked on it to find out that it was a “No Stud Low-Profile TV Wall Mount for 32-80 inch TVs up to 200lbs, fits LED LCD OLED Flat Curved Screens.”
Whew, here was something that I was familiar with but no from the photo the No-Stud Low-Pr… description.

·     Monoprice 113358, Multizone Source…
Yeah… no clue what this gizmo is.  But clicking on it told me it was a Multizone Source Keypad with Bluetooth Receiver.  I have some vague, really vague, idea of what this is.  Yeah baby, and for only $39.99.  Everyone needs a spare one of these.




So, they keep offering me things that I have no clue what they are and have to click on ad to maybe figure out what they are. 

Hmmm… they are making me click on ads. 

Aha!! They are getting me to click on ads and driving traffic to their website.  Clever of them!  I guess this is way cooler and cleverer than offering me items I have already bought.  You would think they would offer me things I have been looking for since my Boy Scout initiation scavenger hunt:  a bacon stretcher and a left-handed monkey wrench.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Djivan Gasparyan (1928 - 2021)

From the FB announcement from
his son that he had passed away.

I woke up yesterday morning and received the news that Djivan Gasparyan had passed at the age of 92.  It was sad news to hear and a great loss for not only the Armenian nation but for the world. 

Djivan was the master of the uniquely Armenian instrument:  the Duduk.  He was a treasure of Armenia in the Soviet times.  With the independence of Armenia, he brought the beautiful sound of the Duduk to the world.  He has recorded with the likes of Sting, Peter Gabriel, Lionel Richie, Brian Eno, Brian May, Erkan Ogur, and Hossein Alizadeh.

My good friend Ara Topouzian has posted a beautiful biography and selection of videos, The Great Duduk Master Has Passed, on his excellent Hye Times blog.  As he has done this, allow me to reflect on my personal experiences with the great Duduk Master and to post a few other videos.

I actually had a gig with Djivan Gasparyan.  It was during my time in Connecticut.  Another good friend and excellent accordion player, David Attarian called and send we were hired to play for a 40th birthday party backing up Djivan, good friend of the family.  What?  Play with Djivan?  Dvijan Gasparyan?  Wow.  I was both excited and scared at the same time.  His talent was so far above mine.  While we were both Armenian, our repertoires were not the same.  I knew I would not be familiar with, as in probably never attempted to play, most of the pieces he would be performing.  David was less concerned.  Our drummer, Johnno Dolbashian, was not concerned at all. 

Djivan could not have been more cordial.  He was truly one of us.  He was truly a gentleman.  While we were warming up, he winked at me and starting play Al Aloukhus.  He knew that was a piece I probably knew and indeed it was.  I started playing along with him.  It was like he sensed that I was worried about playing with him.  I immediately felt more comfortable and realized that he was even a Greater and Grander Master than I had thought. 

When we started playing Djivan naturally led.  He played song after song expecting we would know the key and song.  He played, he sang, and we followed backing him up.  Well, we tried, really hard, to follow.  I was sitting next to David.  We would look at each and whoever figured out the key first told the other.  If I knew the melody or could figure it out, I adapted to the Master’s interpretation.  If the melody was not in my grasp, I droned to the chord progressions of the song taking David’s lead in this regard.  David and I were together, and we were either both right or both wrong.  I don’t think I ever concentrated so hard on a job.  But, we made it work to the best of our abilities.  And Djivan?  He never gave us a sideways glance or glare if we made mistakes or weren’t up to his standard.  And, I know I wasn’t up to his standard and most certainly made mistakes.   

We made it work.  He was fantastic.  The people in attendance were loved it and that is all that really

Djivan (center) at age 16 in 1944

matters.  At the end of the gig, he came to each of us, shook our hands, and said what a pleasure it was to have played with us.  I was amazed and honored.  Playing with Djivan Gasparyan and getting such an affirmation from him was one of the great highlights of my musical life.

A few years later, I had a chance to meet Djivan again.  I was asked to emcee an Armenia Fund fundraiser concert at Lincoln Center that featured both Djivan and Nune Yesayan.  It was a great honor to introduce both of them.  Needless to say, I was there a few hours before the event to go over everything and make sure I was well prepared.  Djivan came in shortly after I did and for exactly the same reason.  We chatted.  I was delighted and honored that he remembered me and the gig we played together.  He excused himself and went to his dressing room to practice.  While I was going over program and editing what I would be saying, Dvijan was doing scales and then practicing the pieces he would be playing to the packed house.  He prepared and practiced for longer before the concert than he actually performed on stage.

I am not na├»ve, I knew all the great musicians worked at their craft and followed a similar routine before such a concert.  I just had never seen it.  It was a treat to hear him prepare.  It was a concert before the concert.  Once again, I was inspired by this bigger than life wonderful man and world class musician.  This was Djivan and it is confirmed by the many people that met him and shared similar memories and impressions on Facebook.

We have lost a great one.  His memory will surely last through the recordings and videos of his virtuosity and also by kind and encouraging personality.


Here is a recording of Sari Gelin he did with the great Iranian musician and composer Hossein Alizadeh.  It features Djivan’s voice and duduk.

His collaboration with Erkan Ogur on the album Fuad is exquisite.  Djivan’s parents came from Moush and Erkan is from Kharpert.  Here is Siretsi Yaris Daran.

Here is are lively folk tunes from the Master, following a lovely introduction, Yes Bejour begins at 2:45 and Yerevan Bagh em Arel at 4:05.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Joni Mitchell's Blue


The Album Cover

As it is 2021, events of any note from 1971 are celebrating their 50th Anniversary.  On January 2 of this year, I wrote about it being 50 years since I graduated from high school (1971 - 2021: 50 Years).  A few weeks ago, I heard on NPR that it was the 50th Anniversary of the release of Joni Mitchell’s iconic album:  Blue.  I never heard the actual story but only that it was “coming up in the next hour.”  

I noted the anniversary, smiled as it is one of my favorite albums of all time, and made a mental note to listen to it again soon.  I did not give it any further thought until yesterday.  The New York Times devoted five full pages of the Arts & Leisure section to this anniversary.  Here is the link for the online version of the print article:  50 Reasons to Love Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue.’

I was late coming to Joni Mitchell.  I loved the song Clouds.  It was a great folksy kinda song with, what I thought were, really poetic lyrics.  But, I made an error.  As Judy Collins, had a really good cover of the song, I thought the song was hers.  I probably confused Judy and Joni and, frankly, I was not paying enough attention.  So, I bought a Judy Collins album.  I liked it.  She is a really good singer but in retrospect she is not in the same class as Joni. 

Like a few of those that were interviewed in the NYT article, it was women that introduced me to Joni.  In my case, I noticed how popular Joni Mitchell was with the several of the Armenian girls my age.  I asked what it was about Joni that made them such devoted fans.  Note, that I was still confusing Collins for Mitchell and thus still not paying enough attention.  They said in one form or another that “She sings to my soul.”  They helped me realize my Judy and Joni confusion when I tried to participate intelligently in one of these conversations. Finally understanding my error, I went out and bought the Clouds (1969) album.  I loved it.  I then bought Ladies of the Canyon (1970) and then, finally, Blue (1971).  I bought them again on CD and have them in my iTunes library (no Spotify as yet… this being late to the party is a lifelong habit).

Side 1

Let’s be honest.  These days, listen to something like 500 Armenian, Turkish, Greek, Arabic, and Persian songs to 1 pop or rock song from my youth.  Back in 1971, it was probably closer to 1:1.  I still listen to Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young), Jimi Hendrix, and Joni Mitchell.  I never tire of the three albums of Joni’s that I have mentioned.  They take me back to my youth and it is always a pleasant and reflective journey.  I play them when I work, stopping to listen more intently to this song or that.  Sometimes, I listen to listen to her.  I let her talent and words wash over me.  Her music and lyrics are both exquisite and timelessly fresh.

Here is another example.  In the movie, Love Actually, there is a couple Harry played by Alan Rickman and Karen, his wife, played by Emma Thompson have this exchange:

Harry: I can't believe you still listen to Joni Mitchell.
Karen: I love her. And true love lasts a lifetime. Joni Mitchell is the woman who taught your cold English wife how to feel.

  In reading the NYT article, I learned quite a bit about the songs on Blue.  She knew Crosby, Stills, and Nash.  She probably knew her Canadian countryman, Neil Young, as well though the article did not talk about this.  Joni lived with Graham Nash for a year.  She left him to travel around the world live, experience things, and write songs.  The result was this album, Blue.  David Crosby played on at least one track on the album.  James Taylor, with whom she also had an affair, played guitar on three cuts.  Joni and Judy Collins also knew each other, and Judy covered a few other of Joni’s songs.  Chaka Khan, Roseann Cash, and others gave beautiful testimonials.

Side 2
     Reading the observations of her peers and professional contemporaries was most interesting.  As I noted above, I let her music, her vocal and instrumental stylings, and lyrics wash over me.  I did not dissect them musically or her lyrics poetically.  I innately knew but never articulated anything about her amazing vocal range back in the day, her chord progressions, her skills on the dulcimer and piano.  I never really read or analyzed her lyrics either.  I just enjoyed her amazing talent en toto.

If you are a Joni Mitchell devotee, it is worth reading the NYT piece and the NPR broadcast, Her Kind Of Blue: Joni Mitchell's Masterpiece At 50.  The prose in both is beautiful and the praise so well deserved.

I tried to start another blog and titled it after one of Joni’s pieces:  Songs to Aging Children.  Read the first piece Aging Children, I am One and The Songs to Aging Children Project.  The concept never took off but I am still trying to figure out how to make it work.   I also wrote a poem acknowledging her impact on me and so many others.


Joni Lansing


i could write every poem

listening to joni mitchell songs

'a case of you' playing

like a winter long ago

up there in the east of lansing

trying not to fall in love

and trying to be brilliant

failing at both

kicking back...

thinking and writing

sipping a cup of mesmer

icing on the cake of this day

wondering what canada

i might have lived in musing

‘bout trying to live at living.


you make everything better

and angstful at the same time


you make poems just ooze

out of my natural self

what can i say but...