Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Dumped in South America: Cat Stevens, John Lennon & Metallica. Darkness. Beans & cornbread.

Tropic of Cancer board near Bhopal, India.
Photo by Yann. Licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.
It's been really dark lately. Literally, not metaphorically—in those areas in which one might evoke a metaphor of light & dark, my life seems well illuminated, optimistically bright, cheerful, if moving a little slowly toward my goals. In those parts of the globe close enough to the poles that the sun dips below the horizon for a whole season, there must be several weeks of twilight on either side of the darkness, and that is how the darkness here and now feels. Prolonged twilight. This is the opposite of scenes in Ingmar Bergman's movies where people complain about how late in the day it is even though sunlight is streaming through their windows.

I am nowhere near any circle Arctic or Antarctic. I'm at 30°20' north latitude. I'm roughly 350 miles from Brownsville, and Brownsville is only 170 miles from the Tropic of Cancer—520 miles from the tropics where the sun passes overhead twice a year to reach into the heart of every soul below. Even at Texas latitude the sun beats down with mad intent to boil the air until it thins to Venusian weather—an ocean of humidity about to be boiled away by the sun—an effect that, I'm convinced, leaves survivors with a syndrome of self-righteous good old boys, cold pissy-thin beer, and a firm belief in guns, pick-ups, cunts, glorious war, and the life imprisonment of all sexual deviants wherever possible—and, basically, they suspect anyone who doesn't agree with them of deviance. Monolithic Baptists.

At 3:30 p.m. when I started writing this, we should have been at the peak of the day's brightness, but it was twilight dim. Now it's a quarter to six and looks like those seconds of fleeting daylight after the sun has gone completely down but night hesitates—in a way that our great star never does—in fear and honor of the sun before taking hold of time. But Google says that sunset won't be until 8:28 tonight—nearly 2½ hours away.

All right, don't let me mislead you with this obsession with the dim day and the early night. I like this for a season. I just find it strange and interesting, so I describe it. The clouds have brought lots of rain, and it has rained on and off all day. The neighbors who do whatever it takes to get their kids to and from the school a few blocks away escorted them back this afternoon beneath umbrellas. In the nights we often have symphonies in percussion as storms rage in the night—thunder that sneaks up to scare you and make you jump—but that many people sleep through: they ask the next day, "Oh, did it rain last night?"

Last night, a storm underway, and my blog finally well defined and needing only a final pass, I rinsed some pinto beans in a colander and put them in the slow cooker. Ten minutes later I covered them with boiling hot water to let the beans soak until I got up at noon today. In my morning I chopped an onion, sliced two links of sausage with the kitchen scissors, and spiced the beans with (too much) ground cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, and salt.

Those links of sausage create the exciting point about this particular batch of beans's fatty flavoring. Most of the time I cook vegetarian beans and use only olive oil for the fat in the beans—nearly all cooking, if you haven't noticed yet, is either ceremonially or actually a suspension of carbohydrates in oil. Even a salad of spring greens has to be anointed with olive oil or it tastes just too raw. The grand tradition of Texas cooking as handed down to me comprises three recipes: beans, cornbread, and barbecue chicken, and I don't have a grill. So. Two.

Cat Stevens, 1978.
Image in public domain.
Music for this writing has been Cat Stevens's Tea for the Tillerman, his best—and for many people, his only album, which may be unfair, but after Stevens converted to Islam and made remarks supporting the fatwa (judgment) against Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses—the Ayatollah Khomeini offered $1 million for any Muslim who would kill author Rushdie or anyone involved in the book's publication—Cat Stevens disappeared from the world of music. From the point of view of a musician's manager, Stevens had committed professional suicide, but he was into his new religion and probably didn't care. Meanwhile Rushdie went into hiding with guards from the Scotland Yard for some years, and has relatively recently made public appearances but only with minimal advance notice. Rushdie outlived the Ayatollah, but the Japanese translator of the book was killed, and two other translators were attacked but survived. On 3 August 1989, a book bomb—a philistine's desecration to put a bomb in a book!—prepared by Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh and intended for "the apostate Rushdie" exploded, destroying two floors of an expensive hotel in Central London and killing only the bomb's maker. As for Rushdie's prognosis in a world of crazies:
Hardliners in Iran have continued to reaffirm the death sentence. In early 2005, Khomeini's fatwā was reaffirmed by Iran's current spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a message to Muslim pilgrims making the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Additionally, the Revolutionary Guards declared that the death sentence on him is still valid. Iran rejected requests to withdraw the fatwā on the basis that only the person who issued it may withdraw it, and the person who issued it – Ayatollah Khomeini – has been dead since 1989 (Wikipedia).
The Ayatollah Khomeini.
Public Domain.
The Ayatollah Khomeini's rise to power in Iran was accompanied by the kidnapping of American Embassy personnel by the student group who backed him, so the Ayatollah was demonized in the American press and culture from the start. And when Cat Stevens identified himself with the Iranian Shi'ite movement and spoke favorably of the Ayatollah's fatwa on Rushdie, the pop star disappeared from American culture with the suddenness that the Ayatollah sought for Rushdie. An on-air DJ in Austin said that he had tied a Cat Stevens record to the underside of his car and was dragging it everywhere that he went, but other than that Stevens vanished from the musical world. Neither tune nor word was heard, and neither LP nor CD were to be found on the shelves of record stores. I later learned that the ever-resourceful recording industry had dumped his albums in Latin America, a market untainted by the scandal, rather like the manufacturer of a defective, choke-worthy doll might recall a product from the American market only to dump it in Colombia where little Colombian girls can run the risk of choking on it.

John Lennon. Photo by Roy Kerwood. Licensed by Creative Commons 2.5.
Most American music that was popular in Latin America was just tired. John Lennon's "Imagine" was selling extraordinarily well there beyond 2000. Lennon had outlasted his scandals long ago—the Beatles profited greatly when southern Baptists in the US bought every Beatle record they could find so they could burn it—but by 2000 Americans had heard "Imagine" enough for one lifetime. It was time to move on to something new. Even living Beatles weren't selling records like they used to. Another band selling strongly in Latin America while sleeping in the US was Metallica.

* * *

Now I've made the cornbread batter, poured it into a greased skillet, the seasoning of which I maintain, and popped it all into a 350° oven with a timer set for 30 minutes. The beans seem to be ready, and I even have some spring greens, so this will be a pleasant and simple supper. There are plenty of things to think about, or maybe I will just go into that passive television trance while I eat.