#6 Thing to do in Hyattsville

Listen to Rock Continuum

Long-time music hunter John Paige explores the continuum of rock music, from old to new. His two-hour show runs every second Monday from 4-6 PM on WOWD 94.3 in Takoma Park. You can fire up an actual FM radio – or put your browser to work. I live inside the station’s narrow broadcast range, and in the shed out back I have an old battery-powered portable radio – the kind with crank to manually charge it in emergencies  – but the fidelity is only slightly better than that of the nearby weed whacker. I use the https.

John and I were for two years matriculated at the same small, liberal-arts college in central Pennsylvania, which, I think has gone out of business. Not sure about that. I got to know John through The Glimpse, a quixotic geyser of cartoonery, prose, bespoke crossword puzzles, an advice column and what-have-you, manifested through the magic of mimeograph. He inherited the project from his brother.

The Glimpse survived John’s transfer after sophomore year and continued to be published for four more semesters. Now, it has a seldom-visited Facebook page. Remarkably, the Glimpse Alumni Association continues to have annual seminars (invitation only). For well over a year during COVID, the trustees met weekly via zoom.

As the saying goes, John has forgotten more about rock music than I ever knew. In any two-hour session, I might recognize a song or two. This week, I thought I’d landed in familiar terrain when John introduced music by The Left Banke. Of course, not Renee or the Pretty Ballerina. Something about things going better with Coke.

There’s not so much curated radio anymore, and John generally explores the paths less-traveled. A refreshing change from the echo chamber of familiar music where I spend most of my listening life.

The Continuum is an easy two hours. You can drift with the current or pretend you’re working on your blog. Highly recommended.

Book Review: Cloud Cuckoo Land

Anthony Doerr

An ancient, partially intact story changes the lives of those who try to preserve it.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is a wonderfully written and constructed novel that carries the reader across centuries. The ticket to ride is a threadbare ancient Greek story, passed along by a captivating cast: a young uneducated woman facing historic gender imprisonment. A deformed Muslim boy cast out from society. A young American man who meets his true love in a British army officer. A boy on the neurodiverse spectrum who only feels comfortable in nature. A girl trapped in a dystopian experiment.

For me, the creation of this cast and the account of their struggles against systemic prejudice is the strongest part of this masterpiece. It’s the kind of book that you’re reluctant to let go because the characters are so affecting and credible, in addition to its far-flung and exotic settings.

The three major story lines fit; they depend on one another to make the novel whole. It takes a little while to see how the thing is constructed, which is part of the mystery this book poses. From then on, it’s a joyride to find out how the lines are tied off.

Two of the three parts are told chronologically, but the big “middle” of the novel bobs back and forth in its timeline. One of the most significant plot turns is revealed up front. The second shoe doesn’t drop for hundreds of pages, but you won’t forget where you were left hanging. Simply delicious storytelling technique.

And all along there is a wonderful scrap of papyrus that tells bits of a story about an ancient farmer who dreamed of something bigger in his life that quickly becomes a comic fable. The transformed farmer basically gets beaten and humiliated by everyone he meets in his supernatural journey.

Cloud Cuckoo Land is a book-lover’s book. Reverential to libraries, to the preservation of the written word and its translation and reinterpretation over the centuries.

This quickly became the #1 novel I’ve read this year, passing ahead of some strong competition.

Research Notes: Solheimer Ecovillage

You can spend a few years spinning out the first draft of your latest forthcoming blockbuster novel, reading a several dozen books, reports, blogs and PhD theses. You take trips to far corners to walk the land and sprain your clicking finger in pursuit of possibly factual minutiae — fruitful and otherwise. And still find yourself, nearing the end of the first major revision of your masterpiece only to a discover a scene missing, one that absolutely, positively has to be there near the end, pulling together all four acts and a text rumbling toward 150,000 words.

You know who is going to be in this missing scene: your protagonist and the adversary who changed the arc of his story. You don’t have a place.

It’s somewhere in Iceland, where the fourth act is staged. You think the adversary has had a difficult life since the fateful encounter more than 30 years before. You remember a punch-drunk boxer you met a long time ago and it occurs to you that your adversary suffered multiple concussions as a soccer player and retired, late in life, to a facility for disabled people.

Which leads you to discover Solheimar Ecovillage, a self-sustaining home to about 100 people in southwest Iceland. A mix of abled and disabled. Organic farming. An emphasis on the arts.

You learn the place was founded in 1930 by a visionary, a woman who started with five challenged children living in tents on land leased from a church. They farmed organically from the beginning, 90-some years ago. The national government funded construction of their first building in 1932. In 2000, the government ponied up funds to build Sesseljuhús, a turf-roofed case study in sustainable design.

You know that this is the place for your crucial scene when you learn the founder, Sesselja Sigmundsdotttir, was a follower of anthroposophist Rudolph Steiner. The father of the Waldorf School movement, where your kids went to school and your wife has been teaching for … well, for a long time. The Solheimar website even uses the same anthroposophical fonts used by Waldorf schools everywhere. The architectural similarities are inescapable.

For many years, one of the most controversial aspects of Solheimar (Sunworlds) is the integration of abled and disabled children. This what Wikipedia says:

“The heart of the Sólheimar ideology is to give all individuals a fair chance and to maximise their potential. By focusing on individuals’ possibility instead of their limitations, Sólheimar aims to create the space for each resident to take every opportunity that arises for each person to grow and develop. Versatility is the strength of Sólheimar, so people with special needs that reside here will always be the centre of the community. This works through the idea of reverse integration: those without special needs adapt to the abilities of those who do thus they can work together to make their community one of an equal and sustainable one.”

Reverse integration.

Glimpse: Leaving Tomas for dead

Knut and his shipmate Anne revisit the place where his life changed.

He led her to the high school. Two more shots of vodka. For each of them. “I was student here, in what we call high school.” He was quiet, remembering. “I lived with Johanna down that street,” and he pointed toward Helgugata, where his aunt still lived with his mother.

Knut led Anne around the edge of the building, into the teeth of the wind. A patch of beaten turf between the back of the school and a precipice overlooking a soccer pitch below, tucked against the fjord that wrapped around the town. Their hair blew wildly. He drank again.

“No different.” he said. “I warned him not to say those things about Kali.” Knut was talking to himself more than to Anne. “Someone put a shaming pole in front of my aunt’s house. I knew it was Tomas, and he didn’t deny it. I have no choice. So, I challenge him to fight and we came here after school.”

A brief splatter of subarctic rain in their faces. “There was no fields down there, just the sea,” he said, nodding toward the water several fathoms below where they stood. “I did nothing wrong. It was a fair fight, and I was stronger.”

Knut had told himself for thirty years that he didn’t mean to hit Tomas so hard that he could not get up. But standing on that ground again, he wasn’t sure.  He remembered it more viscerally, the taste of his blood from a split lip. The concentration of thought. His hand on the boy’s throat, driving him as forcefully as he could to the ground, pinning him there, slamming his fist into Tomas’s head, the sense that the enemy was giving up, had no more resistance. It had been just the two of them and the falling night. Something stopped him. Knut stood over the boy a moment, picked him and carried him around the front of the school. There was no one around.

“What happened?” Anne asked.

“I took him to my aunt’s house. Johanna called a nurse. She took me in her car on the road beside the fjord and over the single-lane bridge.” In her car, the first leg of his journey into exile, he asked his aunt if she thought Tomas was alive, if he was going to be okay. Johanna said, bleakly, that she didn’t know.

“When we reached the farm, my father was furious. Cakle was very scared and Hekla too. My father said I would go to America, to my uncle Oskar. My aunt would take me to the air field.”

“This is how you ended up in Newport.” Anne said.

“My father ordered me to go. For my own good, he said, but also Tomas was from an important family that could make problems for us.”

“What happened to the boy?”

“I thought he was dead, that I’d killed him.” Knut turned to her, reached for the vodka. “Now Hekla says Tomas is still alive. He lives in Akranes, where we docked Vindmylla.”

The northwest wind stopped blowing, as it sometimes does. “Sheesh,” Anne said. Pointing in the dark to a brightly illuminated building off to the right, she asked: “What are those lights?”

“It was the town pool,” Knut said. “Looks bigger now.”

“I should get a bathing suit,” she said.