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Dr. Robert Svoboda

April 26,
On the evening of April 14, in San Antonio, Merle Haggard opened for Bob Dylan at the Municipal Auditorium; a watershed for me, for when I was in high school in Tulsa, OK (one hour northwest of Muskogee, Oklahoma), nigh unto four decades back, the Merle Haggard fans and the Bob Dylan fans were in two very separate camps. I belonged to both, but had I needed to choose, I would have gone with Bob. Now the one followed the other on the same stage. Back then many parents and children were at loggerheads; now, kids & parents & grandparents all showed up together.

Merle offered "I Started Loving You Again," "The Bottle Let Me Down," "Mama Tried (my preferred song of his), and ended (as expected) with "Okie from Muskogee." Bob kicked off with "Maggie's Farm," then moved through a selection of favorites, including "Don't Think Twice It's Alright," "Highway 61," "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Dyin')," "Every Grain of Sand," & "Girl From the North Country"; his encores? "Like A Rolling Stone" & "All Along the Watchtower." Bob's voice may be worn out, and his face is cragged out, but his spirit goes on & on & on.

The existential melancholy that nostalgia can bring was that night magnified intensely by the tristesse of a more recent memory, of my last trip to Oxford when Robert & Gill & I watching first Martin Scorsese's new film on Bob Dylan, then the elderly documentary "Don't Look Back," in happier times. It was the last time I spoke with Carrinna, over the phone ...

A few days after the concert I proceeded to New Mexico, and a seminar at Dr. Vasant Lad's Ayurvedic Institute. Just before the seminar I took tea with the Lad family, and bid bon voyage to Dr. Lad's mother before her return to India. She had, nearly two decades back, embarked on her first visit to the USA in my company, and now she had the pleasure of returning home after an extended visit with her American-born grandson.

Come October I will have the pleasure of joining Dr. Lad on the Big Island of Hawaii where we will co-teach a seminar. Only on rare occasions do Dr. Lad & I get a chance to lecture together, and what a pleasure it will be to do so, on the otherworldly, sacred island of Hawaii. (Anyone interested in attending can phone 510-387-0333.)

Between the concert & the seminar: Easter, the annual triumph over death of the Prince of Peace. Let Numbers 24:26 offer a benediction:

"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and give you Life; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you Peace."

April 12, 2006
California was my milieu for most of this fortnight, first in Hollywood, where Perrey Reeves escorted me through an educational day watching her being filmed for a new episode of HBO's Entourage series. Behind the scenes I got to know makeup artistes, lighting technicians, and the lovely young teenager who plays Perrey's daughter on the show. The next day Perrey accompanied me to Santa Monica to view Ashes & Snow, the excellent exhibit of photos & film clips of (apparently unstaged) human-animal interactions, of raptors and Africans, elephants and Asians, and at least one whale with at least one European. My favorite image: of an elephant lying quietly on its knees & elbows, trunk coiled coyly around its left foot, listening raptly to a young boy reading from an unknown book ...

After an all-too-brief stay with Erich & Leslie, and a quick jaunt out to La Mirada, I proceeded to Santa Barbara, and then on to Joshua Tree, that excellent national park just beyond Palm Springs. The contrast between the "desert cities," which are visible from inside the park at Keys View, and the desert itself was stark; particularly stark was the unfathomable but unmistakable bloody-mindedness of the humans who waste precious water trying to keep the dozens of golf courses green. Once back in Texas, which is passing through one of its periodic droughts, I refused to try to bring the grass back to life - though I did make it a point to offer cool drinks to the fruit & nut trees, and the hardy asparagus patch, and the pyracanthas & crepe myrtles that front my mother's home. Minor amazement arose at the sturdy rose bush that adorns the south aspect of the house's southwest corner; evidently it did well by the combo of morning sun & afternoon shade, for it was absolutely covered in blossoms when the majority of its colleagues were struggling to stay alive ...

March 28, The first portion of this fortnight was a pleasure, first in Hallandale with the Family Raby, then kayaking with members of that family on a large lake not far from Kashi Ashram and Ma Jaya, where we spent the weekend. On the lake multiple alligators (including a ten-footer) made themselves known, and overhead flew one bald eagle of the couple breeding there, and at least a couple dozen ospreys of the one hundred nesting pairs along that lakeshore. At the ashram itself, the most darling baby great horned owl, perching on a tin roof, fed and carefully watched over by its impressive parents.

Pleasure mutated into pain on Saturday March 25, when the life of Robert Beer's elder daughter Carrina ended at age 23 during a scuba dive. It was eerie that Robert's close friend Bhaskar had also died in water, a mere six weeks before; it was remarkable to contemplate that that placid element on which we had paddled so easily earlier in the week had now impersonally claimed yet another personable victim.

I first met Carrina almost two decades ago, on the lovely lonely windswept Scottish coast where the Beers then resided. She & younger sister Rosia were even then inseparable, twin-like; I fell in love with both instantly. Of the two Carrina was slighter, frailer; and there was something ineffably otherworldly about her, something angelic. Over the ensuing years with Carrina I always enjoyed her company a bit more each time we met, and always looked forward with heightened excitement to my next visit with her. She was truly a remarkable young woman whom I loved her well; all of us who loved her miss her terribly.

Just after her passing Robert sent out a small poem, provenance unknown, that describes her perfectly:

The conditions of a solitary bird are five.
The first, that it flies to the highest point,
The second, that it always aims its beak towards the heavens,
The third, that it does not hunger for company, not even of its own kind,
The fourth, that it has no specific colour,
The fifth, that it sings very softly.

Rest peacefully, little bird ...

March 14, 2006
The first half of March slid by as I tried after re-entering Texas to catch up with all that awaited me there: pent-up snail mail, emails accumulated over weeks of e-neglect, repairs to various household items, and the inevitable federal tax return. The ongoing South Texas drought prevented even a single bluebonnet from raising its head above the parched ground behind my mother's house; and while we did see a few of the state flower along roads and in fields, the contrast between 2006 & 2005, when these members of the lupine family literally carpeted every square inch of the relatively manicured portion of the garden floor, was noticeably stark.

For scene change the maternal unit & I headed east, where the fleshpots of Houston beckoned us. We shopped, supped in the Chinese vegetarian restaurants, watched movies (Mrs. Henderson Presents particularly delighted me; and I enjoyed Johnny Depp's admirable performance in The Libertine, though this partly-based-on-the-life-of-noted-Restoration-erotic-poet John Wilmot was to my eye needlessly dark), and (as usual) visited Museum of Natural Science, which this trip offered three excellent exhibits. Dinosaurs provided measured consideration of how, and how fast, T. rex actually moved; Treasures of Ur proffered the unforgettable Ram in a Thicket and Royal Lyre (created perhaps 3000 years ago, in the latter half of a civilization that began a mind-boggling 4000 years earlier); and Body Worlds, the "traveling anatomy show" of Prof. Gunther von Hagens, provided dramatically posed plasticized cadavers. While I had seen an earlier version of that fascinating show years ago in London, this was my sister & mother's first look at it; we were all three impressed. There is always value in being reminded of one's fundamental mortality, the one thing that we can all rely on. That reminder was itself worth the visit!

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