Thursday, October 15, 2015

Macro What?

Not the brightest when it comes to economics, I signed up anyway. A bit of a challenge.

“They can take away funding from us,” the well-established musician in front of me at the café table said about the refugee situation in Europe. “And we’ve already turned in so much.” The budget cuts made a few years ago are finally making the bruises of their heavy fists felt.

My brain ran amok, I was nearing the end of the Macroeconomics online course. A few thousand refugees in the Netherlands was not going to bust the budget, besides GDP depended on people. More could be better, low birth rates etc.  Pulling in the money meant fighting inflation, more government spending was to create employment. But then wait, wasn’t it that there was an automatic adjustment to balance the sides out?  That’s what this course was trying to tell me. People, aka white men, had won Nobel prizes for such statements constructing the surreal. But it turns out that the surrealistic schools of economics are factual matters in everyday life because of government.

“They held a BBQ.” Another friend relayed with irritation.  She was steaming that the media was making big headlines by shrieking that there had been a big to-do because more refugees than expected had shown up in a small place in the Netherlands. Eventually the next day the town had gotten a BBQ organized and handed out enough plates of food. The BBQ was not reported in the news, the meal was featured on FB, but the xenophobia had been spotlighted.  

The musician at the café whispering about the rise of the right wing and the artistic community being pulled in by dark forces as the right wing was now pro-art claiming was not the only one looking sour at me. At a meeting last month I watched a young and talented orchestra member look a bit cowed.  She never looked that way at me before, in the past mostly her glances at me usually made me feel like an utter loser.  Then against a lot of odds I hauled my life over and circumvented a lot of problems. There in her presence I realized the cushion was gone. She was fighting for earnings.

“By looking at FB,” the online Dutch news article said, “People found out about the emergency town meeting concerning the refugees and poured in en masse.” I begin to wonder whether the journalist checked how many people claimed to intend to be at the meeting on the FB event page, and decided that perhaps was the fact main point without exacto checking but then I admit the accompanying photo to the article was a little chaotic.

“Five old ladies,” the vocal coach said of the public she had found at the concert venue, “I hate those old ladies in the choirs.” We all try to disguise these facts on our FB posts, insert photos of half-truths on our page for self-promotion, not much better than the hardened media fighting for those clicks, serving out saucy titles, and waiting for the centavos to hit their bank accounts from the advertisers bit by bit.

I liked the macroeconomic course, I would even recommend it. It didn’t aim too high intellectually, but it thoroughly brought me back to my past and helped me into the present. “A survey of the Syrian refugees,” a poll report said, “Reveals more than 80% would like to return home if possible.” Yeah, those post New Deal Days were exciting and then Reagan hit the White House and we all learned about Trickledown Theory.



Thursday, October 8, 2015

Working It

He was sitting at a table with a notebook open. A paper one, he was consulting other paper notebooks spread out in front of him. I envied him. I used to be able to sit in a café in the afternoons working away quietly, but now I am mainly in an office during the day, working away quietly. It’s not the same. We were sitting, not together, in a café I have known since I moved to the Netherlands. I was introduced to a place by a friend, a pianist, who was, in before turn, introduced to me by my voice teacher.  “You two,” he said, “Should work together.” Thus assigned we immediately went off to have a coffee and chat. Now long term friends, we rarely work together.

“Is it a gay bar? I never knew that!” exclaimed a singer once after she’d been going to the place for twenty years.

Nor had I noticed.  So this time I was inspecting the girl behind the bar, not the flighty student type, more the arty student type. The café always has arty people because it’s an arty place. A few opposite sex couples were chatting and having lunch. Who was gay? I wondered.  Not that it matters to me, but was this café a noted gay café? Really?  The girl was quick with my coffee. I admired her swiftness.

My attention turned to the man with the notebooks.  I would have liked to sit for an hour and work, but this wasn’t going to happen. I needed to run off to my errands. Gone are the days sitting in a café with an hour or two to work quietly. I mourn this aspect of my life, but then I also realize that straights were so dire a few years ago I could barely scrape up the money for train fare and coffee to get to the café and legally sit there and here I am now without time but with money to run errands.

“Who is coming to the concert?” we ask ourselves.  It’s always thus.  “Hardly anyone came.” Moaned a friend of mine.  I had attempted to get to the venue, but looking at the trains, buses and walking distance combined with my fatigue, I had decided against the exercise. Still if people I know are singing in my vicinity, I regularly go to listen.  I was thinking this time round, why bother singing much longer?  I could simply use the time to write and sit in cafes instead.  But then, despite the office routine, the writing here and there, I still sing.

“Why have you decided to become singers?” Asked the wife of the most prominent voice teacher, the Super Cheese, at a Conservatory I attended in the states.  She was handing out copies of some cheesy article about Pavarotti in the cheesy Gente magazine to better our insufficient knowledge of Italian. “Because we are all psychological basket cases and have nothing much to do,” I thought silently looking around me. I was 18. The teacher’s wife had nothing to do in that small town either, which was why she was there in front of the blackboard, salaried.

“You need to show yourself more,” my therapist informed me.  She’d flashed her tight bottom in those hot mustard jeans and high heels boots as she led me into her office. I was wearing a bag for a skirt and covered up to my ears because I don’t want to catch a cold before a concert. She’s a lot younger than me. Come to think of it, I like the stories I tell when I sing, it’s probably the closest I come to communication of what my soul has to say to the world. 

So sitting in the café of long ago watching the man pour over his oeuvre in process, I thought about the cottage cheese sandwich that I fell in love with the first time I ordered it at the café. No longer on their menu, I make my own versions of it nearly every day at the office, along with a big soy latte.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Under Current

I keep trying to read through a big book. It’s a mighty big book, one of a series of three heavy books about American history. The problem reading a big book is that I don’t feel inclined to take in on the train with me. I don’t have the other two volumes so this exercise will simply be limited to one heavy book. People ask me why do this, I could be watching television. Yesterday I was called by some consumer center and coerced into listening to a hard voiced woman who wanted to schedule a 40 minute appointment in my agenda so someone could come to my house and talk to me about the current issues such as those seen on television or in the newspapers.

I don’t read the newspapers in depth.

I don’t have a television.

Reading my big book, I notice that back during those historical days, news was deliberately not printed. I don’t think much has changed, after all we decide on the spot what is news and what isn’t news. I could have said that I would never agree to let some stranger into my house to talk to me about current affairs chosen by well placed editors for 40 minutes.  There was probably a big sell or robbery behind the whole scenario anyway. But I told her straight off the bat I was very uncurrent.

“You can go if you have some vacation time over, and volunteer. Try to give a little happiness.” Said the yoga teacher on Monday, who had just returned from Crete, standing on the beach welcoming Syrian refugees out of the boats. Her eyes wept. “A woman told of losing her child in the forest while they were escaping.”

Refugees vandalize….I read the title of an article posted on FB…..mainly young men said the article. Bad people are lifting along with the refugees, it’s murmured. Desperate people all around.

I got my big book on the Civil Rights Movement as part of a package of books a second hand store was giving away. I had made a deal to collect the English books before they were chucked in the trash.  I’d donate a bit of money every odd week or two for the books. I have gathered small selections of intellectual volumes on topics such as the Civil Rights, or Native Americans, or mental intelligence or Russian literature translated into cheap paperback editions, all part of someone else’s bookshelves. I keep wading my way through the stacks at home with the utmost perseverance.

Thus I read Martin Luther King Jr.’s book “Stride Towards Freedom” about the Montgomery bus boycott. “Too bad,” said the man at the second hand English bookstore looking over my 1950’s hard cover copy that I wanted to exchange, “It doesn’t have a cover jacket on it anymore.” Before that I had never read MLK Jr’s writing, and in fact the slender little work wasn’t all his writing.  The book was ghost written by a white writer because the NY publisher wanted to make sure it would appeal to a “mass” audience. Nonetheless the essence of nonviolence is still there so I appreciated it. My big book is explaining the rest. “Humanitarian hope is illusion.” Stated King Jr. at one point in his life. And he didn’t even realize that the FBI had written him off as a Communist, an enemy of the people.

Which brings me to this point this week while in Utrecht on my way to a rehearsal: To my right I saw a sign saying 50% off.  I peered into the store, it was a bookstore. It was the kind of bookstore that very much appeals to me, a second hand bookstore with old nibbled on paperbacks, the backs falling off the binding, or heavy mildewy volumes with flash gold letters to enhance a dry subject, the coffee stained dust ridden forgotten authors that no bus driver thinks has enough change on them and in this instance two choices arise, ignore the sub fare doled in pennies or simply fail to brake for the bus shelter. Charity cases. I stepped into the place and surmised that the ramshackle shop had a kind of socialist - Marxist vibe. Holding out a copy of EM Forester’s “The Hill of Devi” which I had unearthed at the back sandwiched between two Mary McCarthy paperbacks on a rough wooden plank made of old crates, I jauntily asked how much this item would set my capital back to the cashier.  He had shoulder length grey hair, and I knew he was armed to the teeth with useless information in grave terms.  He cast his eye over the colonialist retro memoire, marked for three euros and calculated: “Seventy-five cents.” He punched in the numbers to the cash register which then displayed “6.05” in green neon and informed me that I should ignore that bit of information.  “Certainly,” I thought, “The pleasure is mine, comrade.”