Saturday, November 29, 2003

Thanksgiving Dinner was at Zette‘s.

Harvested some begonias from the backyard for the table. They will die soon - except of course the two Kohei took with him back to Tokyo. Bennet's bf David? did such as great job with them the other day at their DUMBO dinner party I assured Zette; but of course these gay boys are like Martha Stewart on testosterone. D might even be on steroids he did such a beautiful job with the dinner table and the food.

A did a good job with the begonias too and she actually used the lovely fall leaves Tim picked up from the yard and threw in when he came by to drop off pics before going over to ex Chris's for Thanksgiving dinner.

Took my new blueberry tart, the new one that rocks. Herewith the recipe:

Update: SIR Mick Jaggery Blueberry Tart...

Cadge homemade pastry dough from Mom B
Roll out pastry dough to fit ramikin dish from IKEA (circa E.)
Rub ramikin bottom and sides with stick of butter
Dust with flour
Lay pastry dough on bottom; mend tears as necessary (very necessary)
Wash blueberries (also cadged from Mom B’s freezer)
Take ball of jaggery from Kolkata (also circa E.)
Grate ball of jaggery
Give up; jaggery too sticky
End up adding little lumps of jaggery to blueberries
Add some regular sugar just in case
Lay out blueberries on pastry dough
Spot top with small lumps of butter
Call T and ask what degree to heat oven
Heat to 350
Bake for 30 min

Nice nice. J and K showed up. Their daughter A wants to get married by a Tibetan lama so I promised to help find one. After she has her baby of course. And old neighbors A and D with their daughter E, my favorite cookie baker.

Discussed my Far East Village TV series idea with M. She will find out from her friend (do I know his NYU Prof bf? The one I could not for the life of me remember? This could be so embarrassing…) how they are seen back home. Envy? Resentment? Admiration? Disgust? Will relay back to K and see if his colleague at NHK might be interested.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

I can’t believe I have to write this a THIRD time. But since I surprised everyone when I mentioned at the think-tank the other night at Steven's that I blog, that I do this is to keep a record of my thinking on various projects I am working on, I am giving this another shot. Tip to bloggers, not that I give this site address out to anyone, hehe: work on Word and then paste. That way you get save and spellcheck functions too!

Anyway what I was writing was about my anxieties about my meeting with Josh this Sunday. If it happens at all. I am convinced he is serious and a good guy. Touched that he wanted to take me to Caroline, Or Change, Tony Kushner's new play at the Public but, alas, I was away at Tomiyo's birthday dinner.

Talked to T and A (nooooo, not Tits and Ass please...) last night about J.

To back up a bit. Kathy ran into Josh at their Middlebury College reunion some time soon after Kathy and I had come back from DC. So September, maybe? He had been a year behind her in college so they didn’t know each other well back then. But apparently J’s ears perked up when he heard I was from Manipur. Naturally I was intrigued too, when Kathy called me. After all it is not everyday I come across someone who had even heard about Manipur, much less interested in it. K thought since he had a family foundation and I was looking for funding for my film with Al, who knows what might happen?

So I called Josh. We had a nice chat though I remember talking over each other quite a bit in our eagerness. I googled him, natch, later that night and found a thoughtful essay he had written on leveraged philanthropy, redefining the bottom line and the possibility of an alliance between ethical biz and social activism. Nice, nice. So not just a rich fratbrat like Dubya....

I invited Josh to my screening of my tape on the 9/11 sumaang lila that I had for Peter at the Tribeca Film Center. Al was there so J was delighted to reacquaint himself as they had apparently met at Bobo’s house back when in SF. Turns out, as Zette informed me later, that we had also met Bobo when Marie de J was staying with her during our Tibet days. Small world as always. New York Fuckin Village.

Josh came over the morning after the square dance at the Brooklyn Brewery so he met Hope on her way out. She was underwhelmed: thought he didn’t meet her eye, didn’t shake hands properly and didn’t evince any interest in who she was. But hey, he had coffee in his hand and what would you do if you dropped in and found a woman leaving after having spent the night, hehe. Of course, he was a little taken aback to hear who she was, she being a celeb of sorts as the former Gyalmo of Sikkim.

I had given our meeting some thought. J wanted to talk about going to Manipur after his World Social Forum in January. Not much time to get that infamous inner line permit. But more importantly, he told me he was interested in human rights and environment issues. I guess his being on the Boards of Human Rights Watch, Witness, and Reebok were good calling cards in anyone’s book – and oh, his work with setting up a telecom network for Grameen too. He also wanted to take his new friend L from Dallas, an Indian American who I gather he wanted to induct into his circle of Dough Nuts?

But where to start? The ignorance and misconceptions about the NE of I plus the fact that that Uplanders (my new term, eh) haven’t had a voice made it a challenge. I showed him my books on Manipuri history, crafts and weaving, my media clip tape (including the Witness film I helped make from Babloo’s footage) that I had put together for R’s debut at Kennedy Center and BAM.

Turns out he and I had both pursued no real or conventional careers but had worked with what had happened to us along the way. I told him that since I started going back to M in 2000, after an absence of 13 years, I had been looking for a way to forge an involvement that made sense to me and incorporated my work history and interests. I told him of my concerns since this was going to be the first time I might be getting to interface my work in the US with my personal history and community. Of course, there was some of that New American Immigrant thing about finding one’s roots and all and for sure, there was a bit of my going to bat for my people since I had been stunned by the degradation in Manipur.

But most importantly, I see it as a cultural project, an experiment. I don’t want to be ruled by altruism and then slide down the slippery slope of do-goodism – though I didn’t quite put it that way to J of course. I mean, greater civilizations have come and gone, and who’s to say we are the better or worse for having lost the Etruscans as they once existed?

On a more immediate level, I could not walk away as he could. Josh can put his money into any misery-spot in the world and it would be well spent. And there is no lack of such causes, and many more urgent and tragic too. So I got Josh to agree to come to Manipur some other time if I swing my contacts there into action and we could not make January deadline for any reason. I guess I wanted to make sure this was not just a side trip but a serious affair. There was some of that need to confirm too when I told him I would need to approach it as a project like any other (he flinched but did not balk at the idea of fee and expenses). Plus I am broke.

I was encouraged that Josh agreed culture was the only viable, strategic alternative in this region and that he and l should only go to look, listen and get a feel of the place. No help, offers, no nuthin. We are talking about real physical danger here too: kidnappings, shootouts, extortion. No kiddiestuff here. He left with some documents on my AppalSeeds project in Gangtok and the Guided Field Trip next fall. And my article on my recent trip to Southwest China with Appalshop that had just been republished in International Documentary. No, no funding requests here. as I hastened to add: just for him to see where I was coming from.

So I was a little concerned when he called to tell me he had been talking and doing some fact-finding through his contacts at Reebok and the Global Fund for Human Rights. For one thing, I want this to be as discreet as possible. And then, is he really interested only in human rights? I have such grave misgivings about this. Not only am I going to get help from Mickey in DC, Poonia and Lalam in New Delhi and I don’t want them to get into trouble, but I am hoping this is going to be the beginning of something that can be big and part of my region-to-region exchange ideas, my effort to build a new philanthropic territory, and to explore culture as conflict resolution. What Alison Bernstein from the Ford Foundation dubbed, at the recent Appalshop fundraiser at Nathan Cummings, a novel approach to cultural diplomacy.

I feel human rights NGOs there are mainly sham and manned by careerists who have learned to play the victim game. Not unlike a beggar who picks at his sores to keep the oozing for pity. My mother, in a quite unrelated vein, and much before my discussions with her about J, had said she saw no point in all this human rights business and the training and workshops people keep attending in the West. Even a good guy like Babloo confines his activity to only the violations of the Indian Army. No doubt truly monstrous and something to be fought but what meaning does the term have if they do not speak up for wives who are beaten by their husbands, older people being abused by their children, children who are raped by relatives?

I named no names but, as full disclosure, I told J I had a brother who was in the field. But Bobby and Anna abused my mother for ten years until I threw them out after that dramatic intervention in the summer of 2001. Anna, the missionary killer of cats, stays in fancy hotels while dorms are good enough for her staff, workers, showcase victims and the live ethnographic specimens she takes with her to feel-good international conferences. To paraphrase what Eleanor Roosevelt said of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, she knows how to talk about democracy but not know how to live it.

I see no point in a human rights approach that is merely a self-serving codependency of the champions of victims and their paper-pushing funding counterparts in the West. I would not stand in their way; some good will come out of it and much needs to be done and it requires a courage that I do not have. But I think unless there is a pre-human rights condition that will shape new attitudes, open eyes and expand minds for a refurbished sense of worth and self-esteem among the populace, there can be no dreams and aspirations to provide the bedrock for change. I am tired of bloody Band-Aids.

Dee tells me I need to be more forceful. Al feels I should be ready to walk if I think J does not see the innovation and opportunities in what I propose. She thinks he should be willing to take a chance. As I am too, of course. Tim told me after my tirade that he does not want to get on my bad side! He warns me against what he calls my severity and to rein in my passion, and especially my lecturing and hectoring tone when I talk to someone who is more powerful than I am. Yes, I agree. I must be careful. They are damn right. So Sunday maybe. This is going to be hard. But what work worth doing isn't? Will ask Josh if he has read what I gave him. What he thinks of them. What he has learned from his research. What does he really want? I have not told my diplomat friends who all standing by to help me everything I am thinking. It is far too complex and will take much time. But my conscience is clear about my intentions and I will sit down with them and have a heart-to-heart the next time I meet them.

Hung up the phone with Tim. I lay in the dark and thought of the last time I saw Yambung. A hunted fugtive smoking in my bedroom – a bad habit he picked up out in the jungles he apologetically explained - and talking into the night till the sun came up. He taught me how to drive on that abandoned WW2 airstrip at Koirengei. I remember him, always broke, running out of gas. I remember playing Francois across him in our production of Men Without Shadows. And I wept uncontrollably.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Done. I am now Transfarm. And took FarmingCulture off my Friendster profile.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Changed the name of my blogsite - let's see if it works. BrooklynHolla, my outgoing name, will come back to haunt and embarrass me like all my other parlor-tricks in what I call the Chat Dialect.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Last night Hope asked me to go square dancing in this Village church basement to get over Count Lampreydusa. Of course I warned her the whole thing had the whiff of a no good closet-case on a power trip, even though he did sound like fun - such a polymath Hope said, talking about being with him made it sound like she was in an orgy. An orgy by Visconti?

Whoo, were we bad dancers! Kohei showed up straight from his flight in from Tokyo and got his first view of an American institution. The regulars were all just this side of Fellini. H whispered to me "They are all so ugly and they hate us!". Good thing the gorgeous McCormack sisters decided to drop me off after sushi dinner and not come in after all. Wonder if Tim stopped by with my CD of pics and to check out the Queer Quotient of the place. The band was good, for NYC lacks no musical talent. But nothing like the Appalachian hoedown at the Brooklyn Brewery last week, complete with Tommy Bledsoe and Rich Kirby doing the calling, fiddling and banjoing. The moonshine L and T brought me and all those southern hottie-transplants in Billyburg had helped of course.

This was way different but had a great time anyway. When we found finally ourselves being firmly expelled everytime we were taken into the group, much like an ameoba would reshape to regurgitate some distasteful, indigestible morsel, we knew it was time to go. Haven't laughed so hard in donkey's years. H said she almost peed her panties.

West 12 Street came alive as Kohei and I walked her to her stop: the Presbyterian HQ of old New York, their NYU pitched against Anglican Columbia; the expansion of the wealthy and the subsequent 8-street spacing of subway stops; a short and sharp critique of the historicity of "Gangs of New York"; a capsule-history of cast-iron buildings... Must remember to take her up on her offer of one of her famous walking tours of the city.

Kohei and I strolled over to Gramery Park and closed down A Farmer's Place discussing HDTV marketing here and our shoot Monday over hot mulled cider.

Another nice nice.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

This blogger has become blogged up. Did I read somewhere that most blogs fall the wayside like seeds upon stony ground?

Biki was here for 10 days and that was tough, as having a houseguest in NYC always is. Not as if I have a 9-to-5 so I can give him set of keys and directions to the Statue of Liberty - which is actually what happened the first day. So perhaps not quite the turn of phrase I was looking for.

But an old friend is a good friend and I am glad we connected now, a few weathered lines on our brows and some life experience under our ever-expanding belts. Of course I did what I usually do with my guests - take them to everything I go to and leave them to their sightseeing. Gerard made some arch comment about some unusual picture of NYC Biki must be getting when the three of us went to see Oren Safdie's overdetermined but cerebrally engrossing new play about architecture at that spanking new architecture center at NYU. Or is it not part of NYU?

I did make some effort however - like the Halloween party overlooking the parade. Something I would not have been caught dead going to but decided to do it for B. We had a great time with a view of the parade that couldn't be beat. Of course, I indulged in another bad habit by inviting all the people I wanted to see to someone else's party but, hey, there was a $10 donation. So Manuel came with his delightful 10-year old and Kathy (without Roberto who begged off, silly man) and some of her artist friends from the Bay Area. Funny thing was H (Where was she? Did she not recognize me in my blond wig?) told me it was going to be a benefit for a Shoshone Indian dream circle group with some minor celeb called Brown Bear but was that a joke? It was all gay and not an Indian in sight - me perhaps but whether am I more dot or feather, I know not.

A bit unnerving since even my lowpowered gaydar picked up (Halloween, Chelsea, bare male body parts...oh, come on) since I had Biki in tow. Saw Robert Riachrds and was asking him if we were indeed in the right place when Kathy came out. So there we were at Biki's first gay New York party. He took it in his stride and we had a ball. And he and Manuel talked about how they both had to rush back to their farms for their harvest in two weeks as it turns out Mamnuel has a small one in Chiengmai.

Biki's new ID I forged for him kicked in. Boy, is introducing him as a farmer, complete with new business cards I made for him using Appleworks, like honey to the fruit and flies of the city! Not that he wasn't already a rice farmer. of course, but I think he now sees what he's been doing with new eyes, not unlike M. Jourdan dscovering he'd been speaking prose all his life, hehe.

Our discussions about marketing organic and heirloom rice and tea came partly out of my being unable to leave him to his own devices and spending a lot of time talking. But I think T's and my long-discussed idea of doing some importing biz to finance our arts projects may have found roost after all these years. I admire Biki as he was the only truly productive person I met when I went back to Manipur after 13 years. So his business savvy is a boon.

So now we have this new project. I am calling it Farming Culture as it will include cultural projects too. The idea is to market small quantity, high-end heirloom and organic tea and rice. I took Biki to Rice in DUMBO and, of course, the pretty waitress sat down with us and made Biki taste all 6 varieties of rice. Biki agreed that if they can market Bhutanese red rice we can do the same for chak-hao, taothabee, phouren. He knows quite a lot. David the owner came hurrying in, after hearing there was an Asian rice farmer in his restaurant! Ah, New York, gotta love the place.

David is a charming entrepreneur on the same length as we and a slow-food person. I turned the conversation to heirloom wild tea, picking up the thread from my conversation some years earlier with Les, who liked the wild tea I sent him after we got back from Indonesia.

So now we have a new tea. A whole new category perhaps. Named the one I have Tamenglong. Let's see how we can shape it. D suggested we meet his tea importer friend and, of course, such is my life, it turns out I knew him. Zette and my former volunteer on the Tibet Film festival a decade ago! So Sebastian now has a great business importing fine teas, as we found out when David drove Tomiyo, Biki and I to the shop in Williamsburg. S has found a great way to make In Pursuit of Tea a way use his essential wanderlust. That was a fine afternoon, sitting around tasting all those teas. Pu-erh. Monkey-Picked. Oolong. Darjeeling. White.

What appeals to me about Farming Culture is that it may give the opportunity to create something new with what there is. A new tea. A new rice. All from the existing and the traditional. I think we will even get to name things anew, decide on their attributes and plant them in people's heads. Much like anything else I am doing right now I suppose if you think about it: trying to connect existing dots in new ways to make a new picture. I like that. Fun fun fun.

I think this can be exciting, Farming Culture, one seed at a time. Tomiyo took Biki to Dean and DeLuca, Gourmet Garage and the markets in Chinatown; I took him to Gristedes, Kalyustan's and got him Zabar's holiday catalogue. What's on the shelves? How are they priced? What will appeal? How to package? How to create a niche? I showed Biki the film on Orchids and he is now eager to find out for us the myths, folklore, customs and art that surrounds traditional rice species. His being a lit. and linguistics major helps. Tomiyo talked to Lata and got some low down on imports and tariffs from her cuz. She's great at that. Now Biki is all wound up and admonished me not to drop things after he leaves as he is serious now and i have some many things in thw works. But I think we have a good picture of how to give new worth, economic value and modern image to the traditional.

Next blog: Appalachia! Old dots. New pictures....

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

OK so I missed Indigenous Day by a day.

Can't sleep so no point trying to, as I have to get up early for the EdCom panel. Documentaries remind me so much of why I like America. The stuff people get interested in enough to devote big chunks of a mostly unremunerative life - Rock School, Melvin van Peebles, Henry Darger, the Corporation, that adorable Down Syndrome baby brother, the really cool schoolteacher from Rye. Compared to all this, so much of fiction is strangers-with-candy and all that is not cool about the US.

Speaking of docs, Errol Morris' 'The Fog of War" was a thinker. Of course the fact that I had this weird crush on McNamara when I was kid helped I'm sure. Go figure. I don't think anything of that level of intellectual discussion as revealed by the transcripts of JFK and McNamara talking, goes on in the White House today. Though some of the same mistakes, uncanny and sad, are being repeated today in Iraq. The most revealing was what the Vietnamese general, hand balled into a fist, says to McNamara on the latter's visit to Vietnam in 1985: "Haven't you read any history books? Didn't you know we would never, ever, have turned over our country to the Chinese?" How humiliating. The difficult part is how not lose sight of the micro and the real when trying to deal with larger abstractions like the Cold War and the Domino Theory. I think the film would probably be better titled "The Fog of Power".

Lester's "Mansion by the Lake" was an interesting and flawed film. Had to laugh of course. Based on "The Cheery Orchard"? Where is Charles Ludlam when we need him? G was clearly discomfited; charmed that he feels some cultural pride despite his do-I-care posturings. Courageous of Richard to program it though, if only to show that the world is seen very differently depending on where one is standing. It's a valid adaptation even though it might have been better not to put the Chekhov ref upfront like that. The sound of footfalls was so unfortunate. Lester gone hard of hearing since he is, what, 84 now? Or did he just turn it over to some overenthusiastic sound effects man? It is the elephant fable here to though I missed Gus van Sant's film of the same name.... made me remember the back-when times when I go to see a film with the crew and the actors only see the acting, the cameraman only sees the lighting and the makeup man comments on the complexion.

OK time to make the donuts...