March 30, 2011

Coltrane Home to Whitman Birthplace

Last weekend, I drove by the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills. From the years 1964 to 1967, this dwelling was the home of legendary jazz artist, John Coltrane. As I stood at the foot of the long driveway, I imagined Coltrane sitting on the front steps with his saxophone at his lips, blowing jazz into a crisp Long Island evening. It gave me a feeling of great reverence.

As the sign at the curb states, this is the place where Coltrane composed his great work “A Love Supreme.” This highly spiritual album consists of a 32-minute suite done in 4 parts. The music represents Coltrane's journey toward purity and gratitude to God. Recorded in December of 1964, the album was originally released with liner notes that included a devotional poem. In the fourth movement of the piece, Coltrane does what he called a "musical narration" in which he plays the words of the poem on his saxophone as if speaking them. While the liner notes aren't usually available on new CD versions of "A Love Supreme," I've been able to dig up this except:

"A Love Supreme" is widely known as one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. Though, my personal favorite John Coltrane album is "Giants Steps." A fantastic recording! When I hear the descending major seventh arpeggio that opens the title piece, I am immediately transported back to my college days and Jazz Appreciation class. I really love the piece on that album called "Countdown." It starts off with a drum solo. Soon, Coltrane bursts into some stellar saxophone improvisations. The piano and bass come in several measures later to introduce the sweeping chord progression. The main melody of the piece isn't played until the very end thus making the song form backwards. Hence the title: Countdown. Brilliant.

As long as were on the subject of great jazz albums, let me share with you one of my long time favorites: "Travels" by the Pat Metheny Group. It is a double live album from 1983 that includes some of the most atmospheric, haunting, and beautifully emotional jazz/fusion that I've ever heard on a record. Around that time, I was lucky enough to see a Pat Metheny concert at an outdoor pier in Manhattan. I recall people looking out of the windows of nearby buildings as grand music filled the night. Immediately after the show let out, it started to drizzle and I just walked around New York City beneath the kiss of gentle rain, completely high on jazz. Ah, what a beautiful scene...

Another historic house that I recently visited is the Walt Whitman Birthplace in Huntington. The site consists of an Interpretive center and the original dwelling. I had been to the Interpretive Center several times for poetry events (it has a great open room with a round stage surrounded by all kinds of memorabilia and statues of Whitman), but this was the first time that I had gotten the chance to take a guided tour of the house. It was fascinating to walk through the boyhood home of one of America's most well-known poets. I had to stop and catch my breath for a moment when the docent announced, "You are now standing in the room where Walt Whitman was born." Just wow!

"I have come into the world as a light,
so that no one who believes in me
should stay in darkness."

~John 12:46


March 27, 2011

Sporting Chances

I was just thinking about a little mishap that occurred when I was in Middle School. I was hanging out behind the supermarket with some older kids from the neighborhood. They had built a makeshift ramp out of a wooden board and some stacked bricks and they were jumping it with their bicycles. The ramp started out with two bricks. I watched anxiously as the boys took to the air, fearless and wild. Soon, I was prodded to give it a try. I didn't want them to think I was scared so pedaled as hard as I could toward the ramp. The jump was much easier than I thought it would be, but, of course, it didn't stop there. One of the boys soon got the brilliant idea to raise the ramp to 4 bricks and the incline instantly doubled. After all of the boys had taken their turns, I was once again prompted into jumping. I did it again with success, but this time my landing was wobbly and the height did make me quite nervous. As soon as this height started to bore the older kids, the ramp was raised to eight bricks. This was very steep and I was afraid that they would ask me to jump it. The boys all took their turns and then they turned to me, motioning for me to go. In my heart, I wanted no part of the ramp, but I said nothing. In a moment, I was pedaling with all of my might toward the ramp.

The second that my wheels left the ground, I realized my error--the nose of my bicycle wasn't up high enough. My front wheel touched down first, skidding on the sand. I was catapulted over the handlebars and crashed down face-first on to the cold concrete. I took a few tumbles before I sprawled out, defeated. I could instantly hear the older boys laughing at me. I looked up to find that they were already cruelly imitating my wipe-out and mocking me. I sat up; my arms and legs were a road map of abrasions and cuts. The pavement had ripped a deep gouge into my forehead and my face was covered with blood. I picked my self up as quickly as I could and rode home, leaving them well behind.

I came to realize some time later that those bigger kids were urging me to jump the ramp with the hope that I would crash. My anguish and my blood being little more than a momentary amusement to them. I vowed to myself that I would never buckle under the weight of peer pressure again and that I would always trust my feelings no matter what anyone has to say about it. And that's exactly what I've always done...

There is another memory that I have from High School of a time when I was able to turn the torment of older boys into a victory. It was Phys Ed and the class was on the field for a softball game. I was playing second base.

Now, by the time I was in the 10th grade, I had hair down to my waist and I was a sensitive, artsy type of kid. I had been heavily into baseball when I was younger (and quite a good player), but that all started to shift in Middle School. I no longer looked the part of an athlete.

Anyway, there were a few guys from the Varsity team in the other dugout (big, muscular jocks who always excel in sports). The first one got up to bat; as the pitch came to him, he turned his wrists over and hit a sharp ground ball in my direction. It was still very early in the morning, so I didn't give it much effort and the ball scooted by me into the outfield. As he scampered around the bases, I heard him turn to his friends and say under his breath, "Just hit it to the guy with the long hair. He'll miss it every time." The other team laughed.

It is a horrible feeling when you know that you have been tagged as the weakest link in the chain and a locker-room joke. As I stood out there at second base with my glove at my hip, the embarrassment was overwhelming. In that moment, I knew that every ball hit was going to come at me, so I reached down inside of myself and summoned forth all of my former baseball skills. When the next guy came up to the plate, he once again turned over his wrists and hit a hard grounder up the middle, but this time I WAS READY!

I pounced on it like a cat on unraveling yarn, ranging far to my right and backhanding the the ball. I quickly turned, planted my feet, and fired a chest-high strike to the first baseman that hit the leather with a loud "SNAP." The runner was out by ten feet.

For the rest of the game, the ball wasn't hit at me at all. :)

"I have set the LORD always before me:
because he is at my right hand,
I shall not be moved."

~Psalms 16:8


March 24, 2011

Gasho, Grain, & Green Leaf

Every February, I like to take my mom out to dinner to celebrate her birthday. This year, I surprised her with a trip to the Gasho of Japan.

Now, before I get into this blog, I want to clarify something. There are certain times when words that I write are taken metaphorically to mean things that I did not intend. Such is my concern with a post like this. To me, food is an important part of one's heritage. It is said that one can taste the history and traditions of a culture in its food and I firmly believe that it's true. I get invigorated by sampling cuisines from around the world and I get very excited when I discover a new restaurant. I've also always thought of cooking as not only a beautiful form of catharsis, but also an art form when performed with love and care. The notion that the subject (and images) of food could represent anything sexual is the worst of cliches and one that I do not embrace. When I write about food, I am writing only about food. That holds true for any kind of food -- if I speak about eating ice cream, I simply mean that I had a scoop of Breyer's Mint Chocolate Chip in a waffle cone. Innocent. No prurient innuendo intended.

That said, the Gasho is a wonderful Japanese Steakhouse, done in the tradition of the Benihana restaurants. As I walked through the lobby, I was soothed by tranquil decor: Noren curtains, Shoji paper blinds, minimal table settings with jade-colored bowls and chopsticks. Very zen.

The meal started off with miso soup and hot sake. Soon, the chef wheeled a cart over to our table and began heating up the hibachi grill. After a somewhat unimpressive spatula-juggling act, he showed off his culinary mastery and gave us a highly-impressive cooking display. I must say that having one's food cooked right at the table definitely enhances the dining experience. I gasped as he tossed vegetables on to the hot surface that erupted with a sizzle and a puff of steam that rose up to the ceiling. Within moments, the aromas of freshly-cooked food wafted through the air. The presentation was marvelous and made my mouth water.

Last February, I took mom to a restaurant called Northport Feed & Grain. At one time, the restaurant was a stable with a feed and grain supply store. The name just stuck through the ages. I know by the name that it probably doesn’t sound appetizing, but it is really a great place to eat. They make the best fish and chips…

I ordered a lobster; I hadn't had one since I was in Boston a few years ago and it sounded really good to me. Anyway, the waitress brought the lobster from the tank directly to the table to show me before taking it to the kitchen. I stared at this rather terrifying looking crustacean for a moment; I usually don't get the chance to meet my dinner up close and personal before it is cooked. I felt a little bad in knowing that it was ticketed for the pot, so I reached out, shook its claw, and, in the spiritual tradition of some Native Americans, muttered "Thank you." My mom giggled at me. LOL. Dinner was really good.

After that, I took a beautiful photo of the harbor at dusk. Isn’t this lovely:

One other place that I’ve recently found tucked into a nearby shopping plaza is a little Thai restaurant called the Green Leaf. One step through the door and my nose was met by the sweet scent of coconut and pineapples. The ambiance made the place feel very comfortable and inviting, with its paper lanterns, its Southeast Asian decor, and its dim lighting. I could tell by the conversations between the patrons and the servers that the people eating there were regulars; always a good sign for a restaurant. 

As I sat down and began to peruse the menu, I knew that I was in for a great experience when I had no idea on how to pronounce most of the items. I started off my meal with Satay, one of the staples of Thai cuisine--grilled chicken skewers with a traditional peanut sauce on the side. For my entree, I sampled two dishes: Gaeng Goong Sappard (a panang curry shrimp dish) and Gai Yarng (Siam chicken). The presentation of the food was wonderful; I loved the fact that the shrimp curry was served in a half of a pineapple. The meal burst with strong and complex flavors, many exotic spices that I couldn't quite place. It really tickled my taste buds! :)

May the rest of your day prove to be palatable. Cheers!

"Better is a dinner of herbs
where love is than a fattened ox
and hatred with it."

~Proverbs 15:17


March 20, 2011


Happy Vernal Equinox!

May new blossoms of enthusiasm and hope
spangle the leas of your imagination.

Love & light...
Jay Jii

 Awake, thou wintry earth -
Fling off thy sadness!
Fair vernal flowers, laugh forth
Your ancient gladness!

~Thomas Blackburn

And Spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the Spirit of Love felt everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth's dark breast
rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.

~Percy Bysshe Shelley


The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn;
Morning's at seven;
The hillside's dew-pearled;
The lark's on the wing;
The snail's on the thorn;
God's in His heaven -
All's right with the world!

~Robert Browning

March 17, 2011

Rath Dé ort!

A sunbeam to warm you,
A moonbeam to charm you,
A sheltering angel,
So nothing can harm you.

- Irish Blessing


March 16, 2011

Nassau County Firefighters Museum

Upon stepping into the Nassau County Firefighters Museum, my nose was greeted by the pleasant aroma of cinnamon. I didn’t know what the rest of the building would have to offer, but at this point my olfactory senses had already been stimulated and I was predisposed to having a happy experience. My joyous anticipation only increased as the gentleman at the ticket counter complimented me on the old-time style of my handlebar mustache. :})

From there, I strolled into a world of red vehicles, dating back as far as the 1800s; a time when a fire truck was little more than a pushcart stocked with ladders and buckets that would either be drawn by horse or by hand to the scene of the blaze. I stood awed by the fact that these machines had once been the pinnacle of firefighting equipment. It was a wonderful display! The tour continued to an exhibit of antique fire extinguishers and uniforms. It was fascinating to see the way that a firefighter’s protective gear has become streamlined through the ages, in the shapes of helmets and face masks, in the light-weight design of axes and tools.

The tour ended in a room of models and film reels showing firefighters in action and a dedication to the bravery of the heroes of 911.

May your next experience bring you cinnamon-scented joy!

“Do everything without complaining or arguing,
so that you may become blameless and pure,
children of God without fault in a crooked
and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars
in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”

~Philippians 2:14-16