Wednesday, January 07, 2004


When I was younger I studied guitar. A little. I say a little because I was a rock and roller, and so therefore I never really embraced music theory or even read music for that matter. So what music I did know came from the folks that made the records I listened to. I read those magazines, the fan magazines, the magazine that had articles about the guys who made the coolest show. Like everyone, I guess.
And after a while there was a theme than ran through all of the articles in those magazines. The theme was that all of the guitar players were starting to get into roots music. They were referring to the roots of the music that they were playing; i.e. Rock and Roll. Roots music is what they called it. Jazz, blues… and ethnic, I suppose. I even had a deadhead friend, he himself who pointed out that even Jerry Garcia liked to play music that was sort of… ethnically oriented, when not playing with the band. “That is what you really like.” he said to me with that knowing grin, That is what you really want to play, right?”
It is an interesting thought. In college I had another friend who also went to his roots. He was a violinist after college he put together a rather wonderful klesmer band one time. Played on the radio and everything. And they rocked you know. At least to me. Maybe my friend was right the music that lives now in your soul, in your DNA…. That is what roots mean, I guess. Christ, Paul Simon went all the way to Africa looking for his idea of roots, didn’t he?
When I first visited Belarus, I was aware that my family had come from there and I was aware that it was my ethnic homeland. I guess though that I found it a bit of a shock that I actually liked being there. But I did. I guess the word for it was that it was… satisfying to me, in some way that was unusual for me to feel. It was a surprise for me. But at east at first I held myself aloof from the people around me; I kept my distance. I guess this is the American in me more than anything. I used to tell a story about the first time I came to Belarus. I was in the city of Brest on a Saturday morning and like most of the people in that town, I went to the market. I think all I wanted was something to eat for breakfast, but I was a bit of a celebrity to the sellers there. I guess they, at the time, simply didn’t get too many foreigners at the market and certainly not so many English-speaking foreigners. I felt the heat of the attention, and to be honest, I didn’t like it very much. I prefer a quiet world much more to any excessive noise and so any extra attention always makes me uncomfortable. But nevertheless, there I was amidst the market and I was, with my American English the center of the amusement. What to do?
Well, given an unusual social situation, it is always a good idea to practice one’s best behavior. My idea of what constitutes best behavior of course is to try to find the balance in the situation; I neither push noir pull, I try not to excite while at the same time remembering not to ignore my hosts. It is delicate and strong at the same time- Justice best tempered with merci is how Shakespeare put it. The people of the market responded in kind to me, and it was something of a revelation to see that their idea of best behavior was the same as mine. When I left, I overheard someone saying what they had thought of me. I guess they were trying to figure out what I was, what country I came from like one tries to define a dog by the color of its coat and shape of its body. But what he had actually said was “On Belarus”- He’s Belarussian.
I know that this might be a small thing to most people, but it was really something for me and I never forgot this. And more so, after an experience with a remarkably beautiful young girl here later in the trip, the place became a part of me. I could see that my idea of “best behavior” was ironically enough the exact same as their idea of best behavior. I could see that there was something in my DNA that was similar to what I was seeing all around me. It was my roots. Even from that place of safety…
I guess what I was thinking, back in the early spring of 2002, was that I wanted to go back to my roots a little. Perhaps it was the shock of 9/11. Perhaps it was the desperation of my life after- but when the thought of what it had felt like to actually be home again overcame me, was rekindled in me, I didn’t want to take that feeling so lightly. And then once I was here, when one very nice lady stood up silently and told me without saying a single word that she understood me and welcomed me home, I found it far, far below my best manors, and certainly far, far below my dignity to lie to her and say that I didn’t hear the same music that she did. And I have been here, at least inspirit ever since.
So I have been thinking lately about this, about our connection to our roots. And for the purposes of this small essay, I am thinking about all of the three hundred million Americans, almost all of whom actually do come from somewhere else. What exactly is our connection to our roots? Do any of us remember anymore that we actually did live on other soil for so many generations? It has always been my opinion that the majority of immigrants to the United States, suffer through an idealistic turmoil of both having to embrace the new world, while clinging culturally to the old. It is only their children, the children of first-generation immigrants are the ones who actually become Americans and allow that stigma to leave them. It is only those children who, regardless of so many various skin tints and eye shapes speak their fluent American English and know the American games. My folks left about 100 years ago, and went through all of that of which I just mentioned. And I forgot, just like everyone else did,
But, amazingly enough, and for whatever reason I am here, I have returned. What is it like you ask? Well, the weather is cold but I find that I like it that way. On Monday I drank a little with a friend, and I found that to be very useful to both my spirit and my health against the cold. A very, very natural thing, I guess. And this morning, we had a little party in the house. Today you see, January 7th, is Russian Christmas. We had a party at the house and we drank a little homemade brandy and laughed at the folly of our lives over breakfast. And it was very good. And yea, it did satisfy the soul.
I don’t know why it was necessary to have to sit in Poland for 10 months. I mean, it is no revelation that every single one of them knew that Zaremba was lying. I don’t know why all of the money that was supposed to have gone for the people with whom I just ate breakfast had to stay in Poland. And I truly don’t know why the American embassy had to help them do it. I simply do not see why remembering ones roots should be treated as such a crime. Maybe it has something to do with the real fact that in America, we also have a lot of Muslims, Afghani’s, Iraqis and Iranians. Maybe the powers that be in America would rather us all forget that 95% of all of us who now claim to reside under the American flag at one time lived under some other flag. Maybe.
At any rate, where I a living now, and this while speaking of my soul is a remarkable thing, is with the same place that we all feared in America would drop the bomb on us when I was young. It actually wasn’t clear to me at that time that these same people I was taught to fear, were actually my grandparent’s parents. It is also kind of funny to know that they feared that we would do the same to them. Funny world, isn’t it? Luckily, we don’t really think like that anymore, thank God. And, if I am not being a little too one sided, I think it was a guy named Gorbachev that allowed us to let go of that nightmare, if I am not mistaken.
Anyway, I am still fighting my fight with Poland, but I am also still trying simply to live with Tatyana and the family. Interesting life, yea? I am living my roots and have been for quite some time. I think that it would be better without the war. Maybe what I really need is for someone to explain to me exactly why I have to fight this fight? Or even, what I possibly would win (or lose) when it is finally, mercifully over. But, and this is the biggest point, I guess that the war, any war, has always been a part of it too, hasn’t it?
Well, every war has its days off and this morning the home made brandy went down smooth and sweet and the laughter was nice. I have a lot to worry about. There is no money and my situation has not been even remotely taken care of. I may be here, but there is really not much hope to go along with it. I guess this is what my roots really are. I guess I have been feeling like this for a few thousand years. Cool, huh?
So, in the local tradition, I offer to drink with all of you out there who are reading me, who are connected now in some way to this. I offer a toast: For the holiday, and for the season, and for luck and love, and especially for health; here’s a glass of cheer from me to all of you who might remember now and again that call of the wild, the call of that that music from deep inside- za strovie!! E, vsyo budet xorosho! (And all will be OK.)

Dedicated to Denise for putting this blog out to her 200 name mailing list!