Mérida and the Paseo de Montejo, the Champs Elysées of México

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The vivid color pallette of Mérida is easy to see.

There is something about walking quietly on the streets of México that captures and holds my heart. The distressed walls or new vivid colors take me away from the pervasive black and white world of North American function. The smell of corn masa tortillas and frying pork lard seem to permeate the country. I hear music everywhere.

“Once you have the dust of México on your clothes, it will never come off,” was a proverb my uncle gave to me as a young child. And so my walks in México help me contact his angelic presence.

But maybe it is the sleeping sense of history that made me fall in love with México.

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In the Land of the Jaguar: My Mayan Diary of the Yucatán

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The Pyramid of Kulkulkan at Chichén Itzá.

“Trust me, you will find your life divided,” predicted my best friend Ricardo Gallardo, director of the Tambuco Percussion Ensemble in México City. “There will be your life before the Yucatán, and then your life after the Yucatán.”

And Ricardo was right. After experiencing the vanished myths blending with the contemporary reality of the Maya Empire for the first time, a world that still spreads itself from Chiapas and the Yucatán Peninsula in México south to Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador in Central America, I am forever changed.

A visit to the birthplace of the sky? You can find it in the Yucatán.

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The Only Sign in Chinese: The Women’s March in Los Angeles with Joan Huang

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The Sister Cities of Los Angeles by City Hall.

“I just wish more American’s had passports.” CNN’s Anthony Bourdain to President Barack Obama in Hà Nội, Việt Nam.

All of us in Los Angeles aren’t surprised that our City of Angels had one of the largest turnouts in the United States on Saturday January 21, 2017 for The Women’s March. Our County, which has a population larger that 42 states in our country, is represented by a female majority of Supervisors, effectively making them equal to many U.S. governors. Our State is represented in Washington D.C. by Senators Diane Feinstein and Kamala Harris, whose parents are Jamaican and Indian.

And if you thought Los Angeles only lives in its cars, you didn’t ride the Metro yesterday!

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A Question of Continuity for the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble

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Rehearsing a new quartet by 19 year old Nguyen Minh Nhat.

Rehearsing a new string quartet by 19 year old Nguyễn Minh Nhật.

The New York Times launched a series of articles the weekend of January 8 to focus attention on the Vietnam War, or from a different perspective, the American War we fought in Việt Nam. This season of bizarre political transition makes the series well timed for the American reader. The obligatory colon in the title sums it up. Vietnam: The War That Killed Trust. Before the first article begins, the editorial introduction states “the legacy of the war still shapes America, even if most of us are too young to remember it.

And some us are old enough to remember it.

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Where the Dragon Descends: A Trip to Hạ Long Bay, Part Three

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The view out of my cabin window.

The morning view out of my cabin window.

Look and love everyone, whoever sees this landscape is stunned Hồ Xuân Hưởng

To understand Việt Nam, keep in mind that poetry remains a national pastime. Rhymes, puns, word play, metrical schemata, aphorisms, banners all over the place, all blend to create an identity that blooms into daily graceful utterance. I’ve never seen people come up with better titles for things than the Vietnamese.

Do you know Hồ Xuân Hưởng’s poem Questions for the Moon?

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Where the Dragon Descends: A Trip to Hạ Long Bay, Part Two

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Jan on the Au Co as it docks for Cat Ba Island.

Jan on the Âu Cơ as the boat docks for Cát Bà Island.

My last post ended with our Hạ Long Bay boat docking at Cát Bà Island. In English, Cát Bà translates to Women’s Island.

As Jan and I prepared to disembark, we reflected quietly about the extraordinary role of women in Việt Nam’s history. Reaching back centuries, female military leadership against Chinese invaders remains embedded in the collective national unconscious. Việt Nam’s story about women strikes us as unique, and might well be one of the most compelling of any country on earth.

You question women in the military as armed combatants? Are you kidding me?

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Where the Dragon Descends: A Trip to Hạ Long Bay, Part One

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A world of clouds and dragons in Ha Long Bay.

A twilight world of clouds and dragons in Hạ Long Bay.

When the dragon meets the clouds, peace is at hand. Vietnamese Proverb

Listen well to my story, because once upon a time in a distant land there was a fairy princess named Âu Cơ. She lived high in the mountains and had a warm heart. With her abundant kindness, Âu Cơ became a skilled doctor, healing the mountain people of their sicknesses with endless compassion. But one day she was very frightened by a monster, who scared her so much, Âu Cơ turned herself into a crane and flew far far away to safety.

And where did her crane wings fly her to safety? To the protection of Hạ Long Bay, where the dragon descends into the ocean.

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Conquering the Darkness: The Festival of Lights in Luang Prabang

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Twilight on the Mekong in Luang Prabang.

Twilight on the Mekong in Luang Prabang before the Festival of Lights.

Make no mistake about it. What Vatican City is to Roman Catholicism, Luang Prabang is to Theravada Buddhism in Laos. Consider Wat Xieng Thong akin to St. Peter’s. Because to approach this UNESCO World Heritage Site city, located on a peninsula at the confluence of the Nam Khan and Mekong Rivers, without awareness of its spiritual life is to miss it entirely.

Jan and I knew that the Festival of Lights, or Boun Ok Phansa in Lao, was approaching in mid-October, marking the end of the rainy season. The late summer to early autumn time is a period of intense meditation for most Laotian Buddhist monks. We could enjoy a week off from our hectic schedule with the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble in Việt Nam and Luang Prabang, being only an hour flight away in Laos, beckoned to us again.

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In Việt Nam, Listening to the Past to Hear the Future

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Violinist Vu Khanh Linh on her way to rehearse with the Ha Noi New Music Ensemble.

On the move: violinist Vũ Khánh Linh on her way to rehearsal with the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble.

Searching for a word or a phrase to describe the members of my Hà Nội New Music Ensemble is a rewarding thought experiment. Doing so back home in Los Angeles is a great cure for massive Southeast Asian jet lag (mixed often, I’m afraid, with a strong dose of post election California blues). Like Việt Nam itself, there are contradictions, aspirations, habits and desires to be understood in their makeup. But if pressed for a description, here’s my choice.

Energy. As in the monster capacity Vietnamese audiences we enjoyed together. And I have to force these players to take a rehearsal break. Or to stop celebrating!

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East Meets East: The Hà Nội New Music Ensemble and The Ancient Ensemble of Tonkin on November 4

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A handshake contract with my good friend Dam Quang Minh in Bac Ninh.

A handshake contract in Bằc Ninh with my good friend Đàm Quang Minh of the Ancient Music Ensemble of Tonkin.

I am happy to announce an important development for serious music in Việt Nam. On Friday November 4th at the second concert of the Hà Nội New Music Ensemble we will begin a long term collaboration with the Ancient Music Ensemble of Tonkin. As an American arts advisor to new music here, I’m proud to have been a catalyst for this long overdue fraternity of friends, and should you be in Hà Nội, make plans to join us at 8 PM in the Grand Hall of the Việt Nam National Academy of Music in a concert honoring the 60th anniversary of the Academy’s founding.

It’s been quite a busy time since I arrived in early September.  Not to mention the monster crowd that greeting our opening concert at L’espace on Sunday!

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