Wow, it's been three since I last posted something to this blog. Is anybody out there?
Wow, it's been three since I last posted something to this blog. Is anybody out there?
If a blog has something posted to it on the Internet, and nobody is around to read it, is it legible?
Last night upon returning from my tour of Shanghai, I switched on my laptop, plugged in my webcam and started Skype. Within minutes Adri, who was just awaking, connected with me and taking her laptop in hand she walked into the room of my still sleeping boys so that I could wake them. Sometimes we take this technology of ours for granted and sometimes we forget to think how it has impacted us personally. Here I am, 6000miles away from my boys and my wife, yet I'm still able to wake them, virtually, using cheap common technology. Once awake, Neal 'took me' down stairs and placed the laptop on the table so that I could have breakfast with them - before I went to bed.
Rock on Skype!
Just back from a two hour night time tour of down town Shanghai. A very impressive city to say the least. Tonight, I stood at the edge of the river and across the way I saw the old city. There from one end of the river to the other stood the classic old buildings of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It was the sight that often greets the eye in period movies such as Empire of the Sun. To my back, as I viewed across the river to the old city, was the new city built upon virgin green fields no more than fifteen years ago - it's now a city several times the size of Dublin and on a par with Hong Kong when it comes to a strking skyline of 100 story buildings. In all this I'm treated with the utmost hospitality and respect in every encounter. The Chinese are on the up and up, make no mistake about it folks. This is my third time in China, and though I've only visited four cities - Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Hangzhou and now Shanghai, I leave each with the impression that this is a vibrant, youthful, competitive and exiting country. More later....
And then there were three.....sometime next April that is...thought y'all would like to know. The mom is suffering like hell with sickness and god knows what other ailments but that's actually a good sign. It's early days but so far so good. Oh, and by the way, we're really happy....
My little family and I took an extended weekend away from the Valley to stay with some friends our ours up in the wonderful woods near Shaver Lakeabout forty miles east of Fresno, CA. We left on the Friday, July 18th, heading south on 101 and then across on 152 through Hollister, Los Banos and on through to Fresno before starting the ascent to Shaver Lake.
I love these trips. One gets a glimpse of the vast grandeur of California on such a trip as one leaves behind the congestion of Silicon Valley and it's rolling hills, and one heads into the vast flat plain that is the Central Valley. Having grown up on a farm, I find it fascinating to see endless miles of orchards, corn, dairy farms, huge aqueducts, sweeping reservoir lakes and associate dams. It is quite the flat oasis that has been carved out of what was presumably and endless dry plain. The one crop that struck me as most interesting was the corn crop. It seemed liked ever farmer had decided to grow corn this year. Now, for those folks unaccustomed to large scale agriculture on an industrial scale, one has to realize that it is possible to drive three or four miles flanked by head high stalks of corn on either side, where irrespective the horizon you choose to look over, only the verdant green of the corn crop can be seen touching the blue of the sky. It is immense. Contemplating this vista, it dawned on me that this was far too much corn for any populace to consume and that here on either side was another symptom of what I've come to call the maize malaise - that being our need to supplement our foreign oil imports with home grown ethanol production that uses the corn as raw material. It seems farcical. We've millions of acres of sun drenched parched land and we pipe millions of gallons of water onto it, and expend millions of gallons of diesel cultivating it only to have it consumed again as more fuel - while all the while we could probably get the same energy from the sun as converted electricity. Anyways....
Leaving the flatlands of the Central Valley we headed up into the windy treacherous roads to the lake. As one climbs one can hear the engine of the car work harder, and with each passing marker 2000ft, 3000ft, 4000ft, the air changes, the temperature changes, the smells change and the dryness of the valley gives way to a lush greenness of 'Waltons-like' pine forests. It really is quite beautiful to behold all of this.
The cabin itself is essentially a large comfortable house with all the usual amenities, but the outside is done is a 'cabin' style with lost of wood paneling and such. A very comfortable stay to say the least. Upon arriving, we were greeted by our friends who had already arrived and were pretty much settled in already.
The next day was spent by the lake chilling out. We rented a wave runner and all of us got to take turns. My good wife and I headed out first in our family and did a lap of the lake, and later in the day she took our youngest 'F' after which I took our eldest 'N'. It really is quite a site to behold - a dark blue lake surrounded by a forest grown upon glacier smoothed rocky outcrops on a glorious summer day.
The next day we stayed in the cabin relaxing with some music, food, wine, and lots of reading and guitar playing. An interesting game that emerged was to do with iPods. We each took turns choosing songs from each others ipods. It really brought home to us how much we all love our iPods and how much songs we had to choose from. Every conceivable mood, style, genre of music was chosen through the day - all in all a very positive celebration of music and technology.
Having cleaned the house on Monday morning, we all packed up and left one by one on the descent down the Sierra Mountain foothills on our route back to our respective homes. Nearing the Hollister junction on 152, we noticed smoke in the distance and were strangely fortunate to see first hand the trouble this state has been having for the past few months. A brush fire has sparked off by the side of the freeway and were were there to witness it. As we approached the blaze, the smoke drifted higher and higher into the sky. In the distance we could see two fire fighters disembarking from their brilliant red fire truck and frantically prepare to tackle the blaze.
Given the remoteness of the location, these guys would be on their own for the next twenty or thirty minutes until help arrived. As we passed the place, we lowered the passenger window so we could take some photos. The heat was phenomenal and hit us like a blast from a furnace. Needless to say, we didn't delay, but it was certainly a little unsettling to be so close to such a rapidly growing fire with little or no fire department support near by. The one thought that lingers on from this many weeks later as I review the photos is just how much for granted we seem to take the men and women who assume the role of fighting these fires. It certainly takes some mettle to walk anywhere near the inferno we beheld on that fine summers day. Here's to those on the front lines, who just like that particular day and in almost a thousand other instances across California that same month, stood against the fires and held strong.
There's a strangeness in the air here in California these days. It's like some type of mild malaise. I've lived here for almost fourteen years now and the mood that has descended upon us is a wee bit surreal to say the least. I think it might be something to do with the fires we're currently enduring. Actually to say we're 'enduring' is somewhat disingenuous given that I have not seen any fire directly, but I have seen the side effects. In fact, I see the side effects daily and I'm sure I'm breathing those same side effects. This time of year one is accustomed to very hot days and clear skies but this time the hot weather is accompanied by this never ending haze whose only benefit is to enable the most magnificent sunsets. Other than that, it's a brownish murky cloud thin enough to seem normal, but thick enough to be noticed. It's all from the fires - all 1000 of them that have been burning for the past month or two throughout the state.
A drifting thunder storm about a month or so back set off most of them, and susequent dry weather, occasional winds and lack of any hint of moisture have contributed to the perfect firestorm. Last week I noticed a multitude of these tiny flicks of white dust on my car in the morning when going to work. It was ash from the burning wood. Ash, dust, smog, sunsets, dryness, stillness, etc. they're all contributing to this funky mood. Here's to it all passing and the sooner the better.
When I last posted, we were on our way to Mexico for our vacation. That was on May 7th and what a wonderful trip we had. We stayed in Playa Del Carmen with my good friend Rohan, his wife Monica - Adri's cousin - and their two little girls Emma and Mary. Their house was within walking distance of our condo and both within a two minute walk to the beach. Playa was hot and beautiful. It's on the East Coast of Mexico looking out on to the island of Cozumel and further on into the Carribean. Most days were spent unwinding on the white sand beach interspersed with cool-down dips in the wonderfully pleasant ocean. All in all, a well earned and enjoyed vacation.
Since returning, the key focus of life has been keeping the two boys busy during their summer vacation without driving Adri completely crazy in the close confines of our house. Both boys cross the road - literally - to attend their daily swim camp in the 'Cabana Club', and both have weekly sessions with Natalia their piano teacher. Neal has fixated on the theme music to Indiana Jones while Fionn has fixated on the opening bars of the Nutcracker - since Christmas! As for Adri, she's working hard on maintaining the complex, the house, the boys, her husband and on rare occasions herself. We're working on freeing her up more needless to say, and there's hope that she'll squeeze in some time to revert to her painting which has been largely neglected since she completed the cover to the Mission 101 CD.
Speaking of Mission 101, we're doing gigs! Yep, we've played in Satana Row in San Jose and we've played in the Bad Ass Cafe in Monterey with more gigs in both locations on the way. The CD 'Sky Blue' is continuing to sell both at the gigs and via iTunes and CD Baby. The next CD is currently being worked on and all songs are largely finished bar a few arrangement issues and lyric tweaks. Our hope is that we can finish it by Christmas.
Aside from Mission 101, the other main occupation of mine of course is SiRF Technology my home away from home. The roller coaster continues here and beyond that I cannot say a whole lot more given my position there. All in all, it's good.
So that's it folks, a quite update from this neck of the woods!
I love my iPOD. All of my music collection is on it and the ability to pick any song of any genre at any time and have it there ready to listen to with at the touch of my finger is priceless. There is one problem however that is slowly starting to drive me nuts. I tend to have quite an ecclectic mix of music ranging from Metallica, to Mark Knopfler, to Beethhoven, to Salsa, to Dance, Trance, and god knows what else. Depending on my mood, I'm sure to find something suitable. The only problem is that I regularly click the track wheel of my iPOD a little too quickly and in doing so it seems to think I want to play the first song in my library - which is sorted alphabetically.
Hence, I am sick to the point of insantity of hearing the opening, descending notes piano rif of ABBA's Dancing Queen. A classic pop song for sure and certainly a distillation of all that was 1970's disco music. It has it's place in music history one could argue, but it has no place on my iPOD having had to hear that damned opening rif at least twenty times in any give month!
Arggghhghghghghgh....Friday night and the lights down........STOP!
I recently saw Tommy Tiernan on David Letterman. Tiernan is a comedian from Ireland that I happened to see do a show one night in Cork's 'Comedy Club'. After the show I was in the restroom when in walked the man himself and happened to avail of the free urinal beside me. The silence that ensued was broken by my complimenting him on the quality of the show and how funny he had been. He received it generously and with that we both parted ways.
My buddies and I decided to return to the same club the following night having had such a tremendous time there that evening. Unfortunately we hadn't realized that Tommy was playing there again that night and as such we were subject to watching the same show from the same comedian two nights running. Now aside from the inherent comedy in that coincidence, the thing that impressed me most about Tiernan was that on the second night he replayed his act almost verbatim and again had this new audience in the palm of his hand howling with laughter.
It's funny how casual and 'off-the-cuff' he made the first show seem and to see it the second night repeated it made me realize that nothing was left to chance by this professional. He had every gesture, every word, every pause and every joke meticulously rehearsed. It's no wonder then that several years later he is on Letterman and about to have his own Comedy Central special.
One last event from that night worth mentioning is that after the second show, I again felt the need to visit the restroom - they served beer in these clubs. While in the restroom doing the business so to speak, through some fluke of fate, Tiernan again happened to again avail of the free urinal beside mine. This time the silence was a little more awkward especially the moment we both realized that it was a precise replay of the night before at the very same urinals. As we finished our respective whizzes, in true comedic fashion, Tommy simply nodded knowingly at me and then hesitatingly turned to me before leaving and said, "You know, you could easily become material", to which I reassured him that he would never again happen upon me in a restroom for as long as I lived.
Seeing Tiernan on prime time TV the other night reminded me of that incident which in turn started me thinking about how events are connected simply through coincidence. Considering such coincidences throughout my life, I found myself returning repeatedly to one particular event of no consequence to anyone else but one of paramount importance to me despite the fact that it occurred more than thirty years ago.
I grew up on a farm and as a child I reveled in the seasonal bursts of collective activity related to planting season, growing season and harvest. In particular I was besotted with tractors. I was for all intents and purposes a tractor fan (I wonder if my current lack of said subject matter interest now make me an Extractor Fan?)
In any case the sound of a tractor in the distance could send this six year old into a frenzy of curiosity. Tractors were my 'Tomas the Tank Engine', my 'Bob the Builder' for any of you who have kids. You see on a farm tractors are all pervasive. Ford was the primary vendor back then and the Ford 5000 was the big mama sure to instill wonder and awe in me. It was light blue in color and had large rear wheels led by two small wheels in the front. The large rear wheels had a wonderful zigzag grip shape that left a compelling track in damp malleable mud. All I wanted to do was drive tractors and watch them in action.
Now the next in line and more grand without doubt was the combine harvester. This was the be all and end all of farm equipment. What made this even more special than the tractor was that it was about three times the size, was bright yellow, and made only fleeting appearances in mid to late September. For the rest of the year it was cloistered away in covered sheds awaiting the upcoming harvests of barely or oats or in some rare cases wheat.
Back then, adjacent to our house, lying on a soft rolling hill to the south was a four acre field. Earlier in the year I had watched that same field being ploughed in February while the ground was still almost in a permafrost state. I had sat with my Dad on the tractor as he harrowed the field to make it ready for seed. I had labored behind a horse and butt with my brother and my dad removing excess large stones that had surfaced through the earth and would result in damage to the harvesting equipment later in the year. Then I had watched as the seed was planted and the field was rolled to ensure a flat surface. Then before departing for school each morning, I would run to the gate overlooking the field to see if any change had occurred. For the first two or three weeks nothing, but then in mid April the first signs of life were evident.
Watching such a crop grow is magical. At first there is an almost imperceptible green fuzzy coloring the dark brown earth. With each week and sometime almost by the day, one can see the green covering the dreariness of the dark earth until an almost luminous light green velvet carpet of barley shoots cover the field. As spring ends and summer begins, each visit to the gate was rewarded with the sight of taller and taller barley grass. Then in mid-may, the first signs of the actual barley crop could be see on the head of each shoot of dark green barley grass.
With the break for summer holidays in June, and with the onset of improved weather, the barley grass would grow taller and then slowly but surely through July it would turn a golden yellowish brown. For a six year old to walk alone into such a large field, unencumbered by adults, and to peer over such a swaying mass as it reached up to shoulder height was utter escapism. One could hide in such a field, one could get lost in such a field, and one could be a child in such a field - a completely content and care free child. The only thing left was to harvest the barley and that involved the much anticipated arrival of the combine harvester.
I remember the days leading up to the harvest as being interminable but wonderfully warm and dry. With each day in late July we were ready to harvest but there was no sign of the contractor who would bring the combine harvester. The tension was unbearable for me. I had just turned seven years of age and the prospect of witnessing such a beast of a machine in action and possibility of riding shotgun on it was overwhelming. Still with every day there was only a field of standing barely to appease my enthusiasm. It was on one of these days that my mom had reason to visit our local city and since I was on my summer holidays it was decided it would be good for all if I were to accompany her on the day trip to Cork.
My reluctance to leave was overcome by the prospect of cream doughnuts and tea at some of the city's finest purveyors of said delectables. My dad drove us in our red Austin Morris off to the bus stop and there we waited in the early morning sun for the bus that would take us to Cork. As with all trips to the city with my mom, I had a fantastic day. Traveling on the bus was as much fun as the day in the city itself and so when we descended the steps of the bus in Mournabbey there was a fleeting wave of disappointment that the day's end was at hand.
The journey home from the bus stop took about fifteen minutes and all the way I sat quietly in the back seat day dreaming as the sun descended warmly below the horizon leaving the typical 'long-day' eerie silence and twighlight that would last for another three hours before bed beckoned. This reverie was soon to be shattered by the cruel sight that greeted my eyes on rounding the lane into our yard.
The first sign of the malign that lay ahead was a knocked pier. One has to realize that my environs were constant with some structures and lays remaining unchanged not just for decades but for centuries. Now, to see something as abrupt as a huge chunk of pier that would otherwise have stood with its partner pier as stone sentries holding up the wrought iron gate leading into the haggard was unsettling. Transfixed by the sight, for a few fleeting seconds I was speechless, and as the car came to a halt in the yard outside the house what hope I had for words was dashed as I glanced down towards the large field of barley to see it was devoid of the majestic golden carpet that had been there earlier that morning. While I had been in the city, the combine harvester had come and had harvested the whole field of barley leaving me with nothing but a rough stubble of seedless straw and a deathly silence of late evening.
A wave of sorrow overcame me and watery eyes betrayed as much to my parents. Coupled with the sadness was a growing anger. My mom took the shopping bags of groceries into the house and my dad tried his best to empathize and cajole me to leave the car to join him in the house. I refused and in protest remained in the car overlooking the field. All alone, I sat in shock. The tears fell unabated for the next ten minutes and I was consumed with grief at having missed such a monumental event that I had been anticipating for weeks if not months. After forty or so minutes, I started to regain some composure but now felt a degree of shame at having had such a dramatic outburst and to conceal my embarrassment I resigned to remain in the car. I felt horrible. Darkness descended and then out of nowhere I noticed the white hair of my Dad's sister 'Aunty Eileen' approaching the car from behind. She opened the door an asked me how I was and with my watery reddened eyes I braced myself and stated as only a seven year old could, that "I was fine". She tried every trick in the book to reassure me that it wasn't a big deal and that there would be other occasions to see the combine harvester, but she could never have understood how humongous an event this was for me to have missed. As far as I was concerned, I would never again see barley harvested in that field or ever anywhere else on our farm.
Our discussion continued and then she said the strangest of things to me. She pleaded with me to leave the car to come and see the Earthquake in China. This non sequitur shook me out of my grief and into curiosity. It also helped me save face as now the topic would be this earthquake whatever it was, and China, and not my dismay and outburst at having missed the big occasion. My last memory is not of leaving the car but rather of the invitation to go watch the news regarding the earthquake. With that, one of the most searing moments from my childhood ended with a reference to an earthquake almost ten thousand miles away.
For years afterwards, I couldn't figure out the year this event had occurred and for years I was doomed to repeat it in my head. To this day I can still get a strong sense of the day and the time and all other reminders of the moment. Only recently did it occur to me to google for earthquakes in China and sure enough there was a major earthquake in China at that time. It was the Tangshan earthquake that resulted in almost 300,000 deaths. It's almost as if the knocking of the pier holding up the gateway into the haggard so that the combine harvester could fit through, was somehow a sympathetic indicator of the larger massive destruction several thousand miles away in China that same day.
So what do I now take away from all this? Well to start with events in childhood though seemingly trivial and unimportant to the adults and parents of the world, can be grave and monumentally formative for the kids of the world. We should be more cognizant and sensitive to this if or when we ever have to deal with such perceived loss in our own kids. Last Saturday as Fionn was finishing breakfast, I told Adri I was popping out to get a newspaper. She asked that I take Neal with me for the few minutes that I would be gone and I agreed. The trip to the store took no more than fifteen minutes, but when I returned, upon opening the door of the house I was greeted by a teary eyed Fionn standing ready with his shoes on anxiously awaiting my return. "Daddy, you shouldn't leave without me" he pleaded with a hint of indignation and hurt. I completely understood his sense of loss. It wasn't a magnitude 8.1 but it was certainly something I took note of and addressed immediately with a hug and complete understanding and sympathy. Hopefully he won't be writing about it in his blog thirty years from now.
Finally, as a footnote, the pier still lays on its side over thirty years later, and as for the field in question, well it has never since had any crop grown in it. Perhaps my reaction was to portend the end of an era on that farm which now lays fallow and a home only for the occasional horses that graze among the weeds.