Tuesday, May 25, 2010


The back doors are open onto the garden, letting in the cool morning air. It's promising to be a scorcher today, a late June kind of day in late May, so I''ll close the windows and curtains later to try to keep the most intense heat out. Just a few weeks ago we were talking about extra-chilly nights and now we've leapt into full-summer mode. Mother Nature keeps us light on our feet and forces us to be adaptable; we complain as we adapt, but are lucky to have the ability to change and to transform ourselves...

Transformation is where I've been this week, engaged in the task of transforming this house from a much lived-in student dwelling to a clean and airy space. The impetus, apart from a growing urge to clean things up and spring-clean clutter out the door, as the spring sunshine highlighted the dirt on the windows and the dustballs under the furniture, was a rather wonderful offer from a faraway friend named David Trasoff, a sarode player who lives in Los Angeles.

We'd met in Kerala, at Kovalam, in 1999, just before the turn of the year and the millenium, and then kept in sporadic touch. He wrote in the winter this year to say that he'd be in Toronto to perform at a Bengali wedding and would I be interested in hosting a house concert? Sure, I wrote back, How do we do this? He designed an invitation and then as the time got closer I wrote to friends and acquaintances, attaching the invite. it fell in the middle of the Canadian 24 May weekend, so I expected many people would be out of town. But with an unknown number of friends and strangers coming, I knew it was time to take on the layers of dirt in the house.

A good friend did a big chunk of the labour, vacuuming rugs and floors and wiping down surfaces. It's hard work, strenuous exercise that makes my morning jog look very easy. And once you start this kind of process, I find, it extends itself to other areas, of the house and of life. The urge to tidy and sort, to come to grips with long-avoided messes, becomes irresistable, a kind of cathartic purging. Maybe this is what those addicts of colonic irrigation feel about their bodies? I wonder.

As I washed the windows and carried out bags of discarded clothing and other unwanteds, I had time to think about all the effort humans around the world put into keeping chaos at bay and protecting ourselves against encroaching dirt, disease, disorder of all kinds. It's the primary struggle for survival. In tropical villages it's important to sweep up dead leaves and burn them, so that snakes have nowhere to hide themselves; everywhere in the world we clean up our food carefully to keep rats and mice away; and in cities especially we wash our hands when we return home from being out in public places to protect ourselves from disease. (Of course these days many people in North American cities carry hand-cleanser with them wherever they go, which feels like fearful over-reaction somehow; you may disagree!)

There's a mental health aspect to this too. Perhaps it's evolutionary. We know that safety and wellness depend on our taking charge of our environment. Because keeping destructive nature at bay can be a matter of life and death, disorder and dirt make us edgy and unhappy. And the converse is true too: having things clean and in order can make us happy, and can be very relaxing. So my thoughts went on, as sparkle returned to my windows and clarity to my house.

Then it was time to empty the living room completely of chairs and tables etc. And onto the clear open space of the floor we laid overlapping layers of rugs, covering the floor completely. It reminded me of my grandfather's apartment long ago, which, because he loved rugs and buying them and giving them away, was often three layers deep in rugs, a rotating population of richly coloured and patterned Persian and Caucasian rugs. It also looked like a prayer room, a place of airy ease, with cushions by the walls, and rugs nothing but rugs everywhere to sit or lie on: an invitation.

At last came time for the house concert, late on the sunny Sunday holiday weekend afternoon... People found their way in through the garden, took off their shoes, and the house filled with life and talk. Then it was time to start, so they found a place, each of them and made themselves comfortable on the rugs or perched on stools. The music - David, a master of the sarode, whose great long-time teacher Usted Ali Akhbar Khan died just last June, playing sarode, and Ravi Naimpally, arguably the leading tabla player in this part of Canada, on tabla - was astonishing. It was like an intense infinitely unwinding meditation, as they took us into a lovely long afternoon raga...and more ... Afterward, conversation with friends and visitors was easy and happy in the soft warm air of early evening, all of us transported to a new place and space by the music.

And now? Well now I have a house that is not just clean and airy, but also transformed by the music, given fresh life and breath and energy. Thank-you, all who helped and all who came, and especially, thank-you David.

ONE: Here is a link to David Trasoff and to his music.

TWO: Another week of agony and violence has unravelled in Thailand, with anger still at the boil, though the streets of Bangkok are calmer and clean-up has started. It's a huge toll this has taken on everyone, but especially on the poor. There's a comment in the Herald Tribune, republished today in the NYTimes, about it all, the larger picture, that points out that China which benefits from Thailand's loss of stability... (it's here), Thailand that has for a long time been an anchor of non-totalitarian and often democratic government in southeast Asia. Let's hope that the social and political fabric can get knitted together enough that people can move forward with hope and some confidence. It's not hclear ow things will unfold in the next months, but it will be bumpy, for sure. Fingers crossed.

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