I have just finished watching KEEP THE RIVER ON YOUR RIGHT, a documentary about Tobias Schneebaum, artist, anthropologist, accidental cannibal--and, while he is at it, "Lifer," as he calls himself, having always lived in New York. At 78 he revisits people and places especially important to him. That included two tribes of headhunters, one located in the Indonesian part of New Guinea (Asmat), and the other in the jungles of Peru. In the latter, long ago, he ate human flesh.
Not to get too psychological, but in revisiting, he seemed able to put to rest some things that clearly haunted him all his subsequent life, though his capacity to tolerate, even understand, cultures different from his own seemed rather expansive to begin with. Such a fragile man now, but even in his slender youth, it was hard to imagine him trekking 8 days along a rainforest path to find his Peruvian group without getting jumped by a jaguar or nibbled on by some other creature in the rainforest.
He comments that he has done everything he wanted to do in life...Ahhh! that is yet another comment to store in that little pidgeon hole, along with the Edgar Lee Masters' headstone epitaph of the man with furled sail on his grave--he never got out of the harbor--and other less poetic admonitions to get on with it, even if 'it' is not so extreme as Schneebaum's. Oh you, inexorable Time--wait! waitaminit!
*I confess: title snitched, in paraphrase, from HOW TASTY WAS MY LITTLE FRENCHMAN, a film on a similar theme by Brazilian filmmaker Nelson Dos Santos.
P.S. Time, and time se mueve...
Speaking of which, I continue to marvel at the amount of time it takes to get halfway round that world. In Schneebaum's old haunts, Mom is mobile again: Friday, June 06, 2003 at 08:32:44 PM (EDT) - Eastern Daylight (New York, Toronto)--or Saturday, June 07, 2003 at 00:32:44 (UTC) - Coordinated Universal Time, Saturday, June 07, 2003 at 10:32:44 AM local time at epicenter, a whoppah: 6.7 in Papua, New Guinea. So cataclysmic events will always happen tomorrow in New Guinea, if one lives in 'the West'; and the West may pretend to being unduly miraculous and insightful. Indeed, prognosticative. Humphh!
At 6:08:29:33 EST on Friday, June 06, 2003--07:29:33 AM local time--an earthquake of 4.5 hit Kentucky--KENTUCKY??? 20 miles SW of Paducah, KY. Too many mares pounding their hooves at the--get this--New Madrid Fault line? We are told we can feel that one miles, yea, many miles from the epicentro.
Last night, after the viewing and en route home, the cab driver talks on his cell phone in a language whose intonations sound vaguely like American English, but I know it is really an African language. So I ask. As it turns out, it is "a mix. Mandinga and French." AH...I light up, because--and I tell him this--in the Afro-Brazilian art of Capoeira, it is very special to have "mandinga" --sagacity, guile, street smarts. His gift in return is a story of how his country, Cote d'Ivoire, began. "The Woman Who Spoke Very Little."
This woman is with her group ("sa groupe"--he does not say "tribe" or "ethnic group") and they are being pursued by another to the banks of the River Komoe--"une flueve qu' s'appelle Komoe." The spirits of the river will not let them pass. She begs them.
Finally, she holds up her infant son, "et les anges" agree to take him. The waters of the river part, leaving a dry path, the group crosses, and the waters return. Those who have crossed are "les fondateurs de la Cote d'Ivoire."
The gift of death. The gift of life.
When I was doing nothing but writing about dance, I followed the career of a young Bhutoh enthusiast--a 'gringo', mind you--who had fallen in love with that Japanese avant garde dance form, gone to Japan and learned Japanese, sat at the appropriate feet, and returned all fired up about the connections between Bhutoh and Noh. He was on his way out to make his artistic pilgrimmage to New York City, when we connected in New England, had coffee, took a long walk, chatted at length. Right then and there, in my living room, he sang me a Noh song. Now he is at Columbia getting an advanced drama degree, teaching, performing, going at it with his customary gusto. Every summer, he teaches "Bhutoh and Beyond"--Bhutoh camp, I guess you'd call it. I reprint his email announcing his classes:
"BUTOH & BEYOND"
Workshops with Jeff Janisheski
(No prior dance or theatre experience necessary)
SERIES I: Tuesdays (June 17 - July 29) 6:00 - 8:00pm
SERIES II: Wednesdays (June 18 - July 30) 6:00 - 8:00pm
RES/INFO: Jeff @ 646-456-0547, email@example.com
FEE PER SERIES (7 sessions): $105 [Discount for past "Butoh & Beyond"
LIMITED SPACE AVAILABLE: Call/email to register before June 10th.
BUTOH AND BEYOND is a fusion of the ancient and the avant-garde. These
workshops offer intensive training in both Butoh (Japan's revolutionary
contemporary dance) and Noh (Japan's traditional, ritualistic theatre)
JEFF JANISHESKI has been performing Butoh since 1989, when he trained and
performed with Natsu Nakajima‚s Muteki-sha Butoh Dance Company at La Mama in
New York. He studied intensively in Japan for three years with Kazuo Ohno,
the ninety-five year-old master and co-creator of Butoh; he also trained for
over two years with Richard Emmert, a professional Noh teacher.
Since 1997, Jeff has been teaching his own Butoh & Beyond workshops in dance
studios and colleges, and has been a guest lecturer on Japanese dance and
theater at various colleges (including NYU and The New School). He has
received numerous grants and awards, including the Japan Foundation Artist
Fellowship to research the connections between Noh and Butoh. This winter he
was a guest artist teaching Butoh at NYU. In the fall of 2003 he is
co-organizing New York's first annual Butoh Festival.
All quiet on the home front. Too quiet. The husband of a dear friend has died, and, as ambivalent as I have felt about the deceased at times--a dear friend has died. Tough guy, angry guy, bully, always trying to help--even shove help down your throat. A man who loved his children ferociously, not necessarily wisely or well, but with unstinting loyalty. It was difficult for my friend to be his wife. In the end, though, past the rage, rage, at the dying of the light, at the extinguishing of one's Self, one's Ego, one's I, he gave in to the enormity of his own heart.
Usually people are not changed by the knowledge of their coming death; but Jeffrey was. When I go over to the house, I keep thinking I'll find him sitting on the couch--weak, thin, but so happy to see me, suddenly more loving; and trying to understand his presence and his absence remind me how imperfect we are, and why it is necessary not to judge. Rather, I try to remember how hard it is to be a feeling person in this world. Perhaps even more so if you are a man.
It is their custom to sit with the bereaved for a certain period of time, to bury the dead within three days: I am not sure how long the sitting period is supposed to be, I only know what they have been doing. It takes up time--every night you go, you sit, you drink, you eat, you talk sometimes of trivial things, sometimes of the dead, of memories, then have another cookie or leap up and help clean up. You could be doing something else. Sometimes it even feels like a chore, an obligation, and it is. But when this is over, I, they, will feel as if we have genuinely put Jeff to rest. With respect.
Then my widowed friend must sit with herself. Alone. Now begins what Emily Dickinson called, "the hour of lead."