One wet winter afternoon sometime in the early 90s, I was driving up Ashby on my way home from work, dark gray clouds hastening the early dusk. I felt tired, & likely as not had a touch of my usual SAD, exacerbated by that bad habit I used to have of nibbling on peanut m&ms at my desk after lunch. Plus I never used to get any exercise in the winter. So it makes sense, the overall crappy weariness I remember.

And then I heard this song on the radio:

I thought I had never heard anything so tender & beautiful before. My Spanish (then as well as now, sadly) barely qualifies as rudimentary, so I had no way of knowing that they were singing about a drop of dew, but the simplicity & clarity of the song really did feel just as refreshing as a dewdrop. Suddenly the gray clouds were beautiful with subtle colors. The damp weather felt lush, clean & vital. I noticed the green trees in the hills.

I rushed home (no cellphones then!), called the studio number at KPFA (of course) & the DJ (I wish I could remember who it was) told me: Silvio Rodríguez. So I had his name, & the name of the song, but for some reason wasn’t able to track it down (no web!) until Donna brought home an old cache of LPs she had been storing somewhere, & there was my song on the sixth side of Tríptico. I wish I could tell you that I fell in love with the whole thing, but the truth is I was a little put off by all those drippy 70s arrangements. Nothing else could touch “La Gota de Rocío”, with its spare beauty & the clear-as-a-bell voice of Anabel Lopez. I put it on a mixtape (no CD burners!) & almost forgot about the rest of the album.

So. Here we are in 2010 & about a month ago Donna finds out that Silvio is coming to the US for the first time in 30 years. 30 years! Ticket prices be damned, this is the chance of a lifetime! So I ran down to the Paramount box office & scored us a pair in the second-cheapest balcony section. (I am all about avoiding nasty service charges as often as possible. Whether it’s an expensive show or not.)

What can I say? There was so much love in the room, it was mayhem of the best kind. People were beside themselves, hollering & waving Cuban flags, singing along, giving deafening ovations at every opportunity. Even before Silvio came out, when 3 of his bandmembers were playing the opening instrumental, I felt like I might cry, but pretty soon we were simply weeping.

I didn’t know what to expect from Silvio; people get older & their voices sometimes lose a little, or a lot, in the process. Or they get tired of singing their hits decade after decade & they start to sound like they’re covering themselves. (It can be worth it anyway in some cases: the one time we got to see James Brown, we were disappointed that it was more like James Brown doing James Brown, but it was still James Brown!) No: Silvio’s voice is still one of the most tender, warm & authentic voices I have ever had the pleasure to hear. I can’t help using the word “tender” over & over to describe his music, because that is what you feel from him: love, tenderness, idealism, hope.

Like the proverbial hand in a glove, this wonderful voice is perfectly matched with the kind of songs he writes: elemental, primary, what people mean when they say “classic”: so many of his songs sound as if they have always existed. As if each song lived whole somewhere inside music, waiting for the right moment to be born. (Gillian Welch, too, has a line on that particular kind of magic.)

The fine, fine band (tres, guitar, acoustic bass, flute & clarinet, understated drums & percussion) & sensitive arrangements fulfilled the promise of those beautiful songs that I knew were hidden under the syrupy overproduction of Tríptico: I felt like I could hear everything clearly because they played even old songs in a way that made sense to my contemporary ears.

Yet still there was that timeless quality. My Spanish didn’t allow me to understand the lyrics in any literal sense, so I can only tell you that he sang of earth & sky, of butterflies, heart, death, rain, of memory, of dreams & of angels, Martin Luther King & Violeta Parra. Stars, moon, time… a drop of dew.

We never wanted him to leave. I lost count of the encores. Even after they lowered the curtain, most of the house kept chanting & cheering & clapping, until finally we floated on little clouds of joy out to the sidewalk, where we all stood around smiling at each other, not quite ready to go home.



This year I really got a bee in my bonnet about cherry-picking in Brentwood. I’ve made it to the age I am (ladylike ahem) without ever picking cherries, & this seemed so very wrong that I almost drove out there by myself(!) on Memorial Day(!) because of course everybody else was hiding at home doing deep cleaning & home repairs, which is the only reasonable way to deal with major holidays. Fortunately The Witch talked some sense into me, mostly by offering to give me some of the cherries she had picked just a couple days earlier while suffering a migraine & heinous Memorial weekend traffic. Even though she was very generous with her hard-won Bings, I still had a hankering for more, & especially for that orchard experience.

Fortunately, this (non-holiday) weekend, Dan was traveling through on his way home from China, & agreed to accompany me on my fruity excursion despite his jetlag. He was a good sport even when it turned out the a/c in our car was busted! We tried to make ourselves feel better by talking about humidity & heat in places like Bangladesh. I’m not sure whether it helped or not.

Anyway, we followed the “organic” signs to Enos Farms, where the nice man reminded us to put on sunscreen & explained that the Rainier trees were mixed in randomly among the Lapins—a charming arrangement.

Here is Dan with Rainiers (not the best picture, but it was the only one I took of the orchard):

There were hardly any people there at Enos, just us & an Indian family with very cute little kids, & granny in a sari. We wandered among the lovely trees that were all dripping with bright, fat, beautiful cherries.

I think they give you those giant buckets because even 5 or 6 pounds doesn’t look like very much:

So moderate did this amount look to us that we went to another farm to pick Bings. (I really wanted my Bings!) We got there only 15 minutes from closing. The place had been quite picked over so that you had to climb ladders to the good cherries up high. We were getting very overheated, tired & thirsty, & to judge by their demeanor so were the workers there. It was a whole different scene from the first place. I won’t mention the name of the farm because I suspect that if we had gone there first it would have been satisfying enough. As it was we were still happy with our couple pounds of Bings, & drove away in search of the largest cups of ice & liquid we could find.

Here is a tip for you when negotiating America. By “America” here I mean those ubiquitous, homogenous, monstrous turd-piles of multi malls containing Michael’s craft store, Home Depot, Walmart, OfficeMax, usual assortment of fast-food franchises, all the same stores you have seen in all the places you’ve been in this great country of ours. These turd-piles smear themselves across the outskirts of every town that ever used to be (& sometimes still are) interesting & unique, including Brentwood. Not long after leaving the farm area we passed through a chunk of new-looking residential suburbia, & then into the America we had seen on our way into town. We knew we could get our icy cups of liquid somewhere in America.

There are many forms of resistance. You can be well-prepared & bring enough ice & drinks with you so that you never have to set foot in America. You can drive around searching for the last little local store in town. You can just go ahead & be hot & thirsty until you get home, it’s only an hour, it won’t kill you. You can go big-picture, decide it’s not worth wasting energy on resistance over something so small as a drink, & just go to whatever bit of America is most convenient & then get out of there & return to your life in which you are hopefully doing something constructive & revolutionary on a daily basis.

Or you can do what I have learned to do: drive into one of those malls & look for the little food franchise that you’ve never heard of. In this case it was Bagel Something. Bagel Street? Bagel Avenue? Bagel Town? You know, something utterly bland & forgettable having to do with bagels. We went in & saw obvious Asian influence: taro & honeydew smoothies, a good selection of tea.

While I was in the bathroom running cold water over my wrists, Dan talked to the proprietor, a 30something Asian guy, probably Chinese, who turned out to be from Oakland & had moved out there in the past couple years for this business opportunity. He said that whole mall was only three years old. When we sat down we noticed Chinese art on the wall & a trippy print Dan described as “future-primitive Hawaiian fantasia” (at least I think that’s what he said)! With dolphins!

Back home I got out our most enormous salad bowl & filled it, I mean filled it, with all the cherries. Now that’s a lot of cherries!

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