Saturday, 1 March 2014

Headhunting in Kansas 4

                                           “If you can keep your head...”
                                                       Rudyard Kipling, If

It was an eight-hour journey from the ochre world of the Bugis. Past the port town of Pare-Pare, our bus began a winding climb, through forested mountain passes patched together with gray cliff faces. The road leveled out onto a misty plateau, before crossing the verdant valley verge of Tanatoraja. We entered the world of the water buffalo, symbol of wealth in this life and the next. The boys that rode them across the high country rice field dikes, greeted our arrival in Rantepao at dusk. Even the houses were shaped like their horns.
As was our immediate destination, the Hotel Indra Toraja. Robyn and I stowed our bags, and went down the road to the Mambo, for gado-gado and markisa juice, returning with the fog, to dreams in peanuts and passion fruit.
We awoke into a serenity of limestone and ebony groves and bamboo soaring sprays. The young formula one drivers outside the hotel had made excellent use of both of the latter in the construction of their racing vehicles, with intricate steering mechanisms at the top of long bamboo poles, and highly responsive multiple little ebony wheel assemblies on the bottom, more like B-70 bombers than Bugi Bugattis.
Their progenitors were believed to have migrated from what is now Vietnam, over three thousand years ago. Between their arrival in upland Sulawesi, and before the Dutch finally took an interest, the tribes the Bugis had referred to as the To riaja, People of the Highlands, were strong adherents of their own brand of animistic religion, the Aluk To Dolo, Way of the Ancestors. Some of it was pretty.
Their cosmos was divided into the upper world, the world of man, and the underworld. Heaven, covered with a saddle-shaped roof, had been married to earth, before the darkness, the separation, and finally, the light. Like a divorce lawyer would have promoted it. Animals lived in the underworld, a rectangular space enclosed by pillars, and a similar metaphorical minefield.
Mythical ancestors had descended from heaven down the same kind of floating stairs that had carried Robyn and I onto Lake Tempe. They were the connection to the Creator, Puang Matua. Other gods in the Torajan pantheon included the Goddess of Medicine, Indo' Belo Tumbang, the Goddess of Earthquakes, Indo' Ongon-Ongon, and the God of Death, Lalondong. The Torajans were big on death, and their language was intricately nuanced to express the subtleties of the sadness, longing, depression, grief, and mourning they experienced and, as we will see, shared around.
If death was mainly about funerals, life was all about agriculture, and Pong Banggai di Rante, the God of Earth. The earthly representative of both extremes was the minaa priest, responsible for how much beyond belief that Aluk controlled- law, habit, social life, ancestral rites, agricultural practice, and the imperative separation of death and life rituals, in the assumption that Torajan corpses could be spoiled by combining the two.
Not that there was much of a shared broad sense of identity, before the Dutch came up into their hills. Untouched by the outside world, the Aluk tribes functioned inside their autonomous highland villages, each with its own dialect, social hierarchy, and ritual practices. Interfamily relationships were codified by the exchange of buffalo and pigs on special occasions, and specified an individual’s place in the social strata- who wrapped the corpses and prepared offerings, where a person could sit, who poured the palm wine, what piece of meat constituted one’s share, what dish they could eat it on. The Torajans were matriarchal, and extremely class-conscious. Nobles lived in the large iconic buffalo horn-shaped tongkonans, commoners in bamboo shacks called banua, and slaves in small huts surrounding their owner’s tongkonan. Slaves could buy their freedom, but their children still inherited slave status. Slaves were prohibited from wearing bronze or gold, carving their houses, or eating from the same dishes as their owners. Having sex with a free woman was punished by death.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Headhunting in Kansas 3

At dusk we reached the shore of Lake Tempe, and the small Bugis kingdom capital, buoyant bungalows on stilts. The last Buginese princess had lived in a cottage, now run by her nephew as the Apada Hotel. ‘For its princely cockroaches.’ Read one of its later reviews. Robyn and I were shown to our room by a handsome mature woman in sarong and blouse, her hair tied neatly in a bun.
“The feast is at seven.” She said, bowing as she withdrew. And at seven we descended into a splendid courtyard, a royal refectory of dishes raised up on their lit burners. Flush-cheeked young women with red lipstick and long jet-black hair, in sarongs and sashes woven with silver and gold, and pearl necklaces, presented us with flowers, as we sit cross-legged on the silk floor cushions. They served us soup and goat meat and rice and vegetables, and fried crab in banana leaves and fresh grilled lake fish, and bir bintang. Bugi board in a Bugi night.
Our descent next morning, down stairs floating into the lake, was rescued by a hardwood boat, with red, yellow, blue and white triangular string patterns on its curved prow. We passed under towering Cambodian palms, their own trunks submerged under the Tempe surface, past Chinese fishing nets, elaborately woven carpets draped over railings, reed houses on pilings with thatched roofs out of which protruded yellow flags high and crooked, flocks of flying foxes, and an old mosque suspended over the water, with a disintegrating cupola and short minaret. We visited silkworm factories, still marveling at how the Chinese first thought of using these ugly grubs to make such beautiful fabric, and we visited the looms, where the hand-weaving tradition continued. A Bugi family entertained us for the rest of the day, with stories of their recent history, and a remote epic. The Sureq Galigo is a Buganese legend, written between the 13th and 15th centuries, in a language that can now be read by no more than a hundred people. Its 300,000 verse lines outnumber the Mahabharata Indian heroic poem, commonly regarded as the longest in the world. It may never have been read in its entirety, so fragmented are the manuscripts that have survived the ravages of insects and humidity and decay and Islamist fundamentalism.

   ‘Once upon a time Sawerigading, the crown prince of Luwuq, visited his
    grandparent’s grave in the Sunrise Kingdom. There he was told of an
    extremely beautiful girl in the forbidden area of the royal palace, who
    dressed up recklessly and spent all of her time bathing and talking to
    birds. When Sawerigading finally saw her, he felt his soul flew off him.
    But the girl he fell in love with turned out to be his own twin, We
    Knowing he could not marry his own sister, Sawerigading took off from
    Luwuq, sublimating his desire by conquering the oceans of the world.
    News came from the North about I We Cudaiq, a Chinese princess
    prettier than We Tenriabeng herself. On the vast tapestry of waves to
    China, Sawerigading’s fleet faced real human enemies, all conquered
    in seven large-scale oceanic battles. As morning broke over the
    Chinese Empire, the China Empress saw I La Welenreng,
    Sawerigading’s main battleship, trying to reach the shore.
    Sawerigading had to find his way through a labyrinth to find I we              
    Cudaiq, wrapped up like a giant butterfly cocoon with seven layers of
    Gods’ silk. Her heart opened up neither by physical prowess nor
    material gifts, but by words: vast arrays of prose and poems composed
    by Sawerigading’s mighty imagination, inspired by his wondrous
    journeys. But, it didn’t work out and Sawerigading eventually left
    China, back slicing the waves, guarding and supporting his

Or so the story goes, for six thousand pages. According to Bugis tradition, humanity is comprised of five distinctive genders– female makkunrai, male oroane, feminine male calabai, masculine female calalai, and finally, the bissu, a transvestite priest, possessor of spiritual knowledge. On the gigantic Bugi schooner of life, the love that Sawerigading had been actually seeking, may have been a Bugi man.  

“Fear grows in darkness; if you think there's a bogeyman around,  
 turn on the light.”
                                                                            Dorothy Thompson

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Headhunting in Kansas 2

The becak pedicab that sounded the loudest bell, got to take us through the clay dust yellow brick road, through the breeze and the beggars, and what had been the gateway to the Spice Islands. The Bugis that didn’t live in pole houses, nine feet or more off the ground, with plank floors and walls, were in low concrete bungalows with corrugated tin roofs, radiating outward from the old Dutch fort.
The Quality Hotel we docked at, was still the Radisson, but wouldn’t be, after we left. I negotiated a fifty per cent discount off their rack rate, without breaking any more of a sweat. We ate Konro ribs, and Coto Makassar, a stew of beef brain and tongue and intestine, mixed with nuts and spices, in the order it left the cow, with delicious glutinous Burasa coconut rice, washed down with an Anker Bir. In our pisang epe dreams, of pressed bananas and durian drowned in palm sugar sauce, the durian won.
The next morning we took a pete-pete minibus to Fort Rotterdam. The original fortress had been constructed out of clay by the Gowa sultan, I manrigau Daeng Bonto Karaeng Lakiung Tumpa'risi 'kallonna, in the shape of a turtle, as a metophor for the ability to live on land and sea. The Dutch were having none of it and, in 1667, ran him out town, and took over the trade in copra, rattan, pearls, Bêche-de-mer, sandalwood, and a famous oil made from bado nuts, which no European gentleman could groom his hair without. John Byron’s grandson, the inestimable Lord, called it ‘thine incomparable oil, Macassar.’ The incomparability required the invention of the antimacassar, the small elaborately embroidered white crochet cloths used by the Victorians to cover the backs and arms of their chairs, to protect the upholstery from its oiliness.
The white stucco walls of the fort caught the early morning sun, and the steep pitched roofs covered in russet tiles were definitely Dutch. It could have been Amsterdam or Capetown or Curaçao, but for the refuse and cockfights outside, and the ‘Hello Misters’ from the gangs of little urchins seeking gula-gula sweets. And the use the Japanese made of it as a prisoner of war camp in the war.
Not that the Dutch had treated the Bugis much better, after the Japanese left. A counter-insurgency expert named Ray ‘The Turk’ Westerling took only three months to eliminate local support for Republican aspirations, by eliminating local support. The ‘Westerling Method’ consisted of surrounding villages during the night, separating the men at daybreak, and summarily executing those he suspected of working for the independent movement. He may have been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. His actions were not surprising, given how he had previously dealt with a gang leader in North Sumatra.‘We planted a stake in the middle of the village and on it we impaled the head of Terakan. Beneath it we nailed a polite warning to the members of his band that if they persisted in their evildoing, their heads would join his.’
Robyn and I walked past the sea wall, followed by young boys who hadn’t yet decided if they want to antagonize us, or try for candy.
“Hello, Misters!” They shouted.
“Apa Kareba?” I asked. How are you.
“Kareba melo!” They said. And we were friends.
The Paotere Harbour seemed deserted at first, but then we saw movement on the schooners, and a row of women sitting along the pier. Their caftans, white in the sun, and their faces, white with rice powder, were contrasted by the scarlet of their lips, stained from betel nut. They appeared like ghostly vampires, in a crude Kabuki play. One planted a splotch of orange saliva behind us as we passed. I interpreted it as an expression of territoriality. We stopped in front of a magnificent sleek ketch rig named Kota Bersetia. Devoted City. I’d seen these Bugis pinisi ships before, at the Ujang wharf in Surabaya. This one was two hundred tons, if she was an ounce, and the seven sails on her eighty-foot twin masts plied the Makassar Strait, one last majestic member of the world’s last commercial sailing fleet.
Just after noon, we boarded a Litha bus to Sengkang, the epicenter of Bugi origins and culture. It hugged the coast for a few miles, through open countryside of grazing land and irrigated rice fields. A jagged range of limestone mountains, ten thousand feet high, rose to the east, and we turned towards them into the highlands, crossing and recrossing the Sadang River, until we left it behind, a brown line in the gorge below. It began to rain, swelling the streams that flowed into the light-shimmering rice terraces below. A man with his sarong flung over his right shoulder, smoking his Kansas in the middle of nowhere, waved as we passed.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Headhunting in Kansas 1

                         Headhunting in Kansas

   The Bugis are a high-spirited people: they will not bear ill-usage...They
    are fond of adventures, emigration, and capable of undertaking the
    most dangerous enterprises.”
           Thomas Forrest, A Voyage from Calcutta to the Mergui Archipelago, 1792

Welcome to Kansas. That’s what the sign said, anyway. And underneath the cigarette packet on the poster, was its Indonesian slogan, ‘Langkah Pasti.’ Definite step.
Robyn and I had taken a definite step onto the Silk Air flight that got us here, and then we took another one, getting off in Ujung Pandang. It wasn’t called Ujung Pandang much before we got off the plane, and it wouldn’t be Ujung Pandang much after we left.
The island we landed on was a large orchid, suspended in the Southern Sea by one of its twisted elongated sepals, draped over the equator like a necklace. Its original Portuguese name, Celebes, had been displaced by the rich Lake Matano deposits that retitled it Sulawesi. Iron Island. But when they pitched up in 1511, the Portuguese found a thriving cosmopolitan entrepôt where Arabs and Chinese and Indians and Siamese and Malays and Javanese came to trade their metal hardware and textiles for gold, copper, pearls, camphor and spices- cloves, nutmeg, and mace, imported from the Spice Islands of Maluku. The Gowa and Tallo sultanates had become powerful enough to build a fortified sea wall along the coast, punctuated with a series of eleven fortresses.
The smell of clove Kretek cigarettes, and frying fish and chili sambal hit us, like the heat. If Toto had gotten off the plane, he would have been lunch before he cleared immigration. It definitely wasn’t Kansas.
More like the Latinesia archipelagos of Juan Fernández and Chiloé, Sulawesi had iconic sailing ships and terrible earthquakes. And stilt houses and volcanoes. Its history had come out of pirates and castaways, resulting in the treaty that shaped its evolution.

                                                   ARTICLE 3
   All rigging and tools, treasury, and every other articles without  
   exception, which have been taken from the Honorable Company’s ship
   Malvish (the Whale) cast away at Salyer, and from the Honorable
   Company’s Yacht or Barge, the Lioness, cast away at the island Don
   Douange shall be restored to the Honorable Company. In that
   restoration however the eight iron guns, from the Whale, said by the
   above Maccasar power to have been paid for, shall remain in their
   possesson, if it be proved that the sum of 4,000 Spanish Dollars has
   been actually paid for them to the late Commisioner Gaamo, on belhalf
   of the Honorable Company.
         R. Blok, Appendix to Volume I. Treaty concluded in the year 1667, between
           the Dutch Admiral Cornelis Speelman and the King of Maccassar. Beknopte
           geschiedenis van het Makassaarsche Celebes en Onderhoorigheden, 1817

The Dutch had negotiated this treaty with some of the most feared marauders and freebooters in the Pacific. Stories of their legendary ruthlessness found their way back to the homes of European sailors. Stories of the Bugis of Bone. Stories of the Bogeymen. You thought it was just a story...but it’s real.
The South Peninsula, separating the world’s eleventh largest island from Borneo, is only one of four large narrow rugged mountainous, long forested natural barriers that dominate three major gulfs, and almost five thousand kilometers of coastline. No point on the Sulawesi orchid is more than ninety kilometers from the sea, and tribal connections between its petals had traditionally been more accessible by boat, than overland. It was here, beside the verdant wet rice-growing plains along the western Strait of Makassar, that the fierce Buganese pirates boogied. They called themselves Orang Laut, People of the Sea. Around 2500 years BC, the Bugis began their southern migration from Taiwan down the Austronesian trail, like the Polynesians would do much later. But they weren’t Polynesians.
In 1605 their animistic Tolotang beliefs were converted to Islam and fifty years later, at the end of a long civil war, they were scattered, in a diaspora that took them as far as Sumatra and the Malay Peninsula. They traded of the coasts of New Guinea and Australia, where they exchanged medicinal bark, and the skins of birds of paradise and mother of pearl, for knives and salt from the Yolŋu people, and other Melanesian tribal groups. They would sail the trades, and return laden with trepand, dried sea cucumber, before returning to Makassar on the dry season offshore winds.

By the time Joseph Conrad arrived on the 204-ton steamer Vidar, in 1887, hauling coal and resin from Borneo, Makassar was ‘the prettiest and perhaps, cleanest looking of all the towns in the islands.’ In Lord Jim, he wrote of ‘a Bugis of Tondano only lately come to Patusan, and a relation of the man shot in the afternoon.’ He wasn’t as ebullient about the outskirts of town. ‘They were a numerous and an unclean crowd, living in ruined bamboo houses, surrounded by neglected compounds...’ Which is just about where Robyn and I came in.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Westwood Lake Chronicles: Heaven's Gate


             “Soon silence will have passed into legend.  Man has
               turned his back on silence.  Day after day he invents
               machines and devices that increase noise and distract
               humanity from the essence of life, contemplation,

                                                              Henry David Thoreau

Until now, you would be forgiven, if you thought you were reading some latter- day Westwood Walden, or backyard bird guide. You might have assumed, wrongly, that Robyn, Shiva and I are untouched by the more mundane and unsavory experiences that affect all lives. Today I’ll take you to the dark side’s factory floor, for a pastoral polemic.
We were awakened three times last night, by a rabble of drunken louts, proclaiming along the boardwalk. Their noise was at worst, profane and, at best, a cogent argument against ten million years of human evolution. They cursed Shiva for her protective barking, and later, the sound of squealing tires echoed down the lake as they departed. And returned, and departed. When I awoke this morning, it was from too little sleep. I wandered out to the garden with my coffee, to sit and reflect. Even that effort was doomed. Less than a minute after I found my favorite garden Adirondack chair, I was out of it.

Even waving my arms, he didn’t see me. I knew he couldn’t hear me. Plugged into the iPod earphones under his earmuffs, the leaf-blower danced and screamed in six-eight time. He was three acoustic layers down, and a world away. On my other side, one of our other neighbours started the riding mower she resides on, accompanied by the whining thrum of her weed-whacking helper. A motocross biker gang emerged along the ridge across the lake, like a swarm of chainsaws. The garbage truck combine-harvester began emptying bins two doors down. A helicopter flew directly overhead, and the kid at the top of the drive powered up his grunge garage band. It was a summer Saturday, after a long summer Friday night.
In order for sound to become noise, somewhere along the trail, the physical must travel through the physiological, to exit through the psychological and the philosophical.

Sound is just sound when it is just physics, a simple form of energy, expressed in units called joules. The rate of production of energy, or power, is expressed in watts, a watt being one joule per second. But it is not the number of watts of acoustical power generated that is the problem, it is the rate of flow (i.e. flux), measured in watts per square metre, where the area of concentration is your eardrum. When the engineers got hold of the unit of acoustical energy flux, F, they made it complicated, by converting into a base 10 logorithmic decibel (dB), so that
                                           D = 10 log F + 120                    
meaning that, for every increase of 10 dB, there is a tenfold increase in energy flux. The only real facts you need to know are these- the louts last night were shouting at 60 dB; quiet conversation occurs at 55 dB and if you complain about ‘noise’, a Bylaw Official in Saanich accepts 58 dB (the level at which you can’t hear what I am saying in the same room), as a perfectly acceptable background ‘sound’ level. By civic ordinance, it is entirely legal for someone to interfere with your ability to hear conversation, with twice as much acoustic energy as you are adequately communicating with.
Bylaw Bob would have determined you were mistaken that it could have been annoying you. The leaf blower terrorism next door operates at over 75 dB, legal between the hours of 0700 and 2300. All of those hours, inclusive. But clearly, then, the difference between sound and noise is more than just about physics. Could it, more accurately, be about physiology?
Moving from the physical energy flux to measurements of acoustic perception, physiologists have recruited human subjects to evaluate pure tones of different frequencies and intensities, for the same ‘perceived loudness’,  calling them ‘phons,’ and ‘sones’. For sounds that are not pure tones and have a wide frequency range, physiologists have used analogous units of the ‘noy’ (suggesting both noise and annoyance), and its logarithmic counterpart, PNdB, (short for perceived noise in decibels). One problem is that the human ear is not equally sensitive to all frequencies, at one frequency with varying amplitudes in all individuals, or in the same individual at different ages.
None of this matters to Bylaw Bob. He has a picnic basket full of his own metrics, to help him decide what constitutes an acceptable sound level for various activities: LAeq,T for the assessment of residential development sites, LA10,T for road traffic noise monitoring, LA90,T for the background noise level, LAmax for the maximum noise level, LEP,d  the daily personal workplace noise exposure level, and that all-important Vibration Dose Value (VDV), the fourth root of the integral of the fourth power of acceleration, after it has been frequency-weighted.  But none of this, Virginia- not the physics nor the physiology, tells us anything at all about how annoying an intrusive sound actually is. Which would bother you more? 58 dB for 3 seconds or 55 dB for 3 hours? 58 dB at 2:00 pm or 55 dB at 2:00 am? Vivaldi at 58 dB or squealing tires at 55 dB?  Rain on your roof or a dripping tap? Random thunder or regular pile driving?

To get finally from sound to noise, we need to ascend to the next level, the psychological, riding those sound waves into the external ear canal, vibrating the eardrum, sending the resultant neuroelectrical signals from the inner ear to the auditory cortex, and on to the frontal cortex and the deep hippocampal and other visceral centres of the brain, where our emotions live. Where our rage resides.

Annoyance is contextual, not mathematical. It’s not about the decibels, its about the dumbbells. Noise is unwanted sound. Noise is trespassing. Quiet is good. And disappearing.
The unfortunate truth is that one man’s noise is another man’s music. Witness the moronic motorcycle engine-revving madness that goes on for hours down our street. The backwards baseball-capped adolescent, so offended by the use of the high-pitched mosquito deterrent at the local convenience store, boombox thump-thumps behind closed truck windows down Arbot Road, breaking an otherwise quiet Sunday without remorse. The whine of the mitre skillsaw addict in the trailer park continues, unabated, for so many weeks on end, that he could have built a dozen real houses by now. I know these people are enjoying themselves, but if they were producing proportional smells instead of sounds, they would all have been tasered by a Hazmat S.W.A.T. team in a heartbeat.
We need to know what is happening here, why it is happening and why it matters.
What is happening is that we are making more noise than ever before. This is not because there are more of us living in greater proximity (I’ve been in some pretty crowded monasteries). This is our desert-derived monotheistic heritage run amok, with two stroke Germs, Guns, and Steel. Nature needs to be tamed, yea, verily, vanquished. Progress is measured by a process of acquiring more and more petroleum-powered weapons, to do just that. The ninety-year- old Buddhist monk, Diasetz T. Suzuki, told the mythologist Joseph Campbell, after reading the Old Testament:  God against man. Man against God. Man against nature. Nature against man. Nature against God. God against nature. Very funny religion’. And a very noisy one.
Now I’m not such a Luddite that I can’t see that some unwanted acoustic poisoning is unavoidable. As a society we all individually, implicitly, agree to tolerate a certain amount of noise, for benefits that we think are worth the annoyance- motorized transportation, labor-saving machinery, karaoke (strike that last one). In fairness, there is continuous quality improvement going on, designed to make our machines quieter, and I can’t wait for the real advent of the electric car. However, along with the right to make some noise, should come the responsibility of keeping the intrusiveness to a minimum, to make no unnecessary noise. The leaf blower is the hands-down antithesis of this principle, an irrational instrument of questionable utility, operating at the cost of self-immolation and social isolation, that exists solely because it can. My father used to say that a man has the right to throw his fist as far as he wants, as long as it doesn’t touch the nose of his neighbour. With that kind of noise, we have failed this vital societal principle.
 Surveys of high school students demonstrate that the majority believe they have an unlimited right to make as much noise as they want, anytime they want. They have become the apotheotic synthesis of parental indulgence, hormones, and leisure. No longer are they seen and not heard. Growing older rather than up, they regale us with their chopped motocross dirt bike recreational excavators, boom cars, all-terrain vehicular mechanized fun toys, speed boats, jet skis, power tools, and ghetto blasters (‘cause they like to share Depeche Mode’s Enjoy the Silence, Delerium’s Silence, and Queensryche’s Silent Lucidity, at full volume). Their lives are one big party-hearty in Surroundsound.

We have reached a point where it is almost unimaginable for all our activities to be unaccompanied by some form of noise. Some of this derives from our Western cultural tradition of feeling uneasy in the company of others who are quiet. We can misinterpret their silence as anger, hostility, disinterest, or any number of other emotions. Muzak evolved as a comfortable narcotic sound barrier to conversation and it’s now louder than ever. More sadly, we have also reached that further point of having a culture of total inconsideration for anyone else in, or even the actual environment, itself. In these intolerant times, if you put your finger to your lips, you’re more than likely to get another one back. To what depths have we sunk, when we cannot even abide the quiet of the countryside? Even in Calcutta, Mother Teresa had noted:  See how nature--trees, flowers, grass--grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence...we need silence to be able to touch souls’. But not on the ridge trails these days, where I can hear the iPods coming, by the tinny sounds leaking from their earbuds. When joggers run by our bedroom window at 5 a.m., their animated conversations can be easily heard across the lake, when they should be listening to the sounds of their own bodies instead.

So, why does it matter? Well, one of the reasons is that there are negative health effects from noise. For several decades, we have been aware of noise-induced hearing loss, but it’s not about the volume. Most ‘convenience’ power tools bypass physical exertion, but it’s not about the loss of exercise opportunity either. The real life-killing effects start with disturbed sleep. More than 30% of people living in the EU are exposed to nighttime equivalent sound pressure levels exceeding 55 dB, mostly because of aircraft noise and traffic.  This can be up to 80 dB in cities of developing countries. The primary sleep disturbance effects consist of difficulty in falling asleep, awakenings, and a reduction in REM sleep. Stress hormones surge into the bloodstream, leading to primary visceral effects like increased blood pressure, heart rhythm disturbances, and an increased propensity to diabetes. But it is the secondary, or aftereffects, where the evil begins in earnest. People who even perceive the quality of their sleep to be impaired are more tired, depressed and irritable. They use more sedatives and sleeping pills. They have trouble learning and, when it happens all night long, every night of every year, the more susceptible will develop mental disorders. They close their bedroom windows and have to use earplugs instead of their balconies, turn  up  their  radios  and  television  volumes, write
petitions, and complain to authorities, usually with no results. They begin to use alcohol and drugs to get away. They become unfriendly, aggressive, and disengaged. And then…they snap. In August 1995, the Daily Mirror published a report on more than 16 people in Britain who had committed murder or suicide in the preceding six years, because of noise.

The victims included: Julie Harvey, from Manchester, who overdosed on painkillers after she moved to avoid noisy neighbours, only to find herself near the friends of her previous tormentors; Valerie Edwards, from Bristol, who died of pneumonia after sitting in a park for several nights in the cold and rain, to avoid her neighbour's loud music; Jack Gott from Bradford, who killed himself after noise from a teenage neighbour drove him insane; James Bourke, from Birmingham, who was battered to death, after neighbours became sick of his loud classical music; and Harry Stephenson, from South Glamorgan, stabbed 22 times, for complaining to a neighbour who incessantly revved his car in the early morning.

Another reason it matters is because we have lost the right to enjoy our own property, without the intrusion of noise, especially the unnecessary leisure lamentations of louts. Alexander Pope knew them (‘It is with narrow-souled people as with narrow-necked bottles; the less they have in them, the more noise they make in pouring out’) as did Ben Franklin (‘The worst wheel of the cart makes the most noise’).

If noise, and especially loud noise, belongs to the street and the vulgar, what company does silence keep? Pretty impressive, actually. Nature’s silence allows us to ‘come to our senses’. We speak (or don’t have to) of ‘peace and quiet’. ‘Inner peace’ is a spiritual goal that is meant to bring us in contact with reality, ourselves or, if you’re a believer, the divine. This is found in Christianity (especially Quakerism), Sufism, Buddhism, and in Hindu yoga. Silence is wonderfully represented in proverbs (We must have reasons for speech but we need none for silence’; ‘One coin in the money-box makes more noise than when it is full’; ‘When the river is deepest it makes least noise’) and people. From Lao Tzu (Silence is a source of great strength’) through Gandhi  (‘In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness’) to Einstein (‘I lived in solitude in the country and noticed how the monotony of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind’), they got it right. And the Max Ehrman parchment that many of us hung on our dorm room walls at University? ‘Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence’, during the years we were anything but. Silence can be commemorative, as in ‘a moment of’’, or respectful, as in ‘you have the right to remain’.

Silence is Golden but total silence is not. In laboratory experiments, animals that have been subjected to complete silence show behavioral change and aggression. What to make of prospective deaf parents, who consider themselves a ‘linguistic minority’, and demand a selective form of IVF to ensure that their child will also be born deaf? After last night, I don’t judge them too harshly.

But what can we do, and what hope is there? We do have rules about noise. We’ve had them a long time. The ancient Romans enforced rules about the noise emitted from iron-wheeled wagons which, battering the pavement stones, caused annoyance and disruption of their sleep. Horse carriages were not allowed in certain Medieval European cities at night, to ensure a restful sleep for the inhabitants. However, those were different times. In our 21st  century, we will bear a shortage of water and of silence. Let’s start global and work local.

The World Health Organization has proposed guidelines for community noise, in the categories of annoyance, speech intelligibility and communication interference, disturbance of information extraction, and sleep disturbance. Their Guideline 4.3.7, regarding Parkland and conservation areas, invokes keeping the signal to noise ratio low (whatever the hell that means) using three principles: the Precautionary principle, the Polluter Pays principle, and the Prevention principle. Only one big problem: the Enforcement principle. Noise is not like chemical effluent that sticks around and invites inspection. Noise violates you at night, on weekends, and on weekend nights ‘cause the louts are out when the lights are out.’ Noise may be transitory- a motorcycle, for example, roaring along on the other side of the lake for thirty minutes after midnight. Bylaw Bob and his decibel meter is currently unavailable, but your call is important to us. And then the noise, after causing its damage, is gone, no slick to be found.  Dadadadada, vroom, putt, putt, dadadadada. WRAAAaaaaAAAHH. WRAAAaaaaAAAHH.’ Gone.

Working our way down the food chain, we pass the Federal and Provincial governments who have no interest, and land where the rubber literally meets the road- the municipality. One needs to remember that there is money in noise. Case in point was a communication from a certain Sandy Currie, Executive Director of the Toronto-based Marine Manufacturers Association who, in 1996, took umbrage at Saanich Council’s decision to ban jet skis on Prospect Lake. Ms. Currie called the ban ‘a virus which must be snuffed out before it spreads… The Municipality has basically thumbed its nose at all procedures. They have taken it on themselves to pass a bylaw which seems punitive, arbitrary, and very discriminatory… We haven't yet decided to throw in the troops and high-priced lawyers. I hope that if they have a look at the report and really think about what they are doing, cooler heads will prevail.’ Hey, jobs at stake here. To get to the finish line you need to begin with our local Noise Bylaw:
City of Nanaimo Noise Control Bylaw 1994, No. 4750  is a bylaw that regulates or prohibits making or causing noises or sounds that disturb the quiet, rest, peace, enjoyment or convenience of individuals or the public. The most common complaints received by the Bylaw Services include barking  dogs,  loud  music,  and  noise  caused  by  heavy machinery and construction activity. The playing of radios and stereophonic equipment or any apparatus used for the amplification of sound where the noise is disturbing and clearly audible is prohibited before 9:00 a.m. and after 11:00 p.m. Noise due to construction shall not be caused before 7:00 a.m. and after 9:00 p.m. Monday to Saturday and before 9:00 a.m. and after 9:00 p.m. on Sundays and Statutory holidays. Noise caused by any domestic animal or bird that is persistent and creates a disturbance by its cries, barks, or howls is prohibited at any time. Depending on the nature of the complaint, a City representative may be dispatched to the scene of difficulty, or a letter may be sent to the individual or company that is alleged to be causing the noise, advising them of the complaint and requesting compliance. Failure to comply will result in the issuance of a municipal ticket. If a ticket is issued, the complainant(s) may be required to testify in court if the allegation is disputed. Should you wish to report a loud and/or disturbing noise outside of normal office hours, please contact the local R.C.M.P. office at (250) 754-2345.
To its credit is the absence of any arbitrary decibel level, a dismal failure of a criterion in any jurisdiction that chooses to use it. It recognizes that, not only the public, but also individuals who are annoyed, can have their grievances addressed. Its simplicity and general interpretability is to be admired. But then it falls  flat  on  its  face,  by  restricting  enforcement to
after 11:00 p.m. and before 09:00 a.m. The Bylaw was obviously designed for residential and commercial areas, but it may as well not exist, if noise is not more rigorously controlled around natural reserves like Westwood Lake. The animal life doesn’t know it’s 11:00 p.m. (not the four-legged kind, anyway).

Which brings us to the hooliganism of last night. Because of the worsening squeeze from the nightly revelers, and the early morning coffee chat joggers, (both of whom are in the Park long after and long before the signs indicate the trail is closed and open), residents along the trail had met with representatives from the Parks and Recreation Department, to discuss issues  of  noise,  vandalism,  littering,  and  personal
security. We have always had an excellent relationship with the City. In the early years, we contributed funds to help build the boardwalk that now graces the trail along the lakeshore, finally solving the problem of the incessant, insistent interloping declarations of riparian rights. This year, when the abuse hit critical, the city acceded to our request for gates, to be placed at either end of the inhabited part of the trail. The plan was to close them when the Park was closed, and open them when the Park was open. The gates went in and the venom came out. The rage was swift, and predictably irrational. The local rag (‘somewhat undernourished’, according to Mark Steyn) ran a blog question, inviting bile for the gates and blood for the gangthink. There was denial (‘I don't think early morning joggers tend to chat a lot’; ‘the sounds of a group out hiking would be welcome’; ‘birds chirp in the morning... shoot them’), class warfare (‘complaints of a few wealthy landowners’; ‘buyer beware’; ’If this isnt NIMBY-ism’; ‘they want to have their cake and eat it too’; ‘Give us ordinary people a chance to enjoy this lake’; ‘Wouldn’t it be a novel idea to have people worry about others rather than themselves’; ‘if you buy a house next to a park, YOU HAVE NO RIGHT TO BITCH ABOUT THE NOISE!’; ‘my tax $$'s are paying for these gates to appease a few complainers’), participaction (‘way to encourage fitness Nanaimo!’; ‘buy some ear plugs and get a life.....or perhaps get up and go and enjoy the trails yourself....ya bunch of’), and vengefulness (‘I need to go start my Harley’; ‘I will bring along a ghetto-blaster as well, cranked to volume 10’; ‘What I would like to see is a ring road around Westwood Lake’). It was only a matter of time. We knew this. Last night they went around the gates.

There are only three things that could save us from this evil. The first is nostalgia. What if we started to hear the whirr of reel mowers, clicking across lawns again. Or the sound of a bamboo rake. The rustle of a broom. The whoosh of a handsaw. That’s not going to happen. There used to be an old guy that stood up in the back of his canoe and sang Italian arias while he paddled. It was rather charming- now he has a boombox playing Top 40. We live in inexorable times.

The second idea is the Dutch Solution. In Holland, individual provincial authorities can designate certain areas as ‘silent zones’ (Stiltegebeid), areas of ‘at least several square kilometres or more, in which the sound load caused by human activity is not high enough to disturb the natural sounds in the area’. I like this one very much. There is no reason why it shouldn’t happen here.

Then, there is a third option. In the Early 1970’s, a nutbar named Marshall Applewhite formed a cult whose 39 members believed that the planet Earth was about to be recycled (wiped clean, renewed, refurbished and rejuvenated), and that the only chance to survive was to leave it immediately. They called themselves ‘Heaven’s Gate’, and on March 26,1997, they committed suicide in shifts, the remaining members cleaning up after each prior group's death. All 39 were dressed in identical black shirts and sweat pants, brand new black-and-white Nike Windrunner athletic shoes, and armband patches reading ‘Heaven's Gate Away Team’. Now there’s some participaction you can believe in.

Shiva’s barking at some spandex on his cell phone down at the lake.

“Honey!” He shouts. “You wouldn't believe how quiet it is up here.”

                      Silence is a fence around wisdom

                                                      German proverb

 You can download 2 minutes of silence here                                                       

Monday, 24 February 2014

Luxury Link 11

Where we were going was under an immense waterfall, and Matavai Bay where it all began, and the Fare Suisse, to spend the last night, before our redeye flight Out of Eden to Easter Island. And in the late twilight of my last few hours in Tahiti, I reflected on the luxury link to paradise that we had double-clicked on. Had Dr. Hamilton been right? Before the colliding colonial creeds and commerce and casks and contagion and cast iron and cannons, had Tahiti really been the New Cytherea? Or was it a hopeful alternative to the Seven Year’s War, a disastrous conflagration that both the English and French were looking for a way out of?
If Tahiti had been paradise, the Europeans would soon change that forever, almost immediately, according to the musings of Cook.

  ‘I have reason to think that we had brought venereal disease along with
   us which gave me no small uneasiness and did all in my power to
   prevent its progress, but all I could do was to little purpose for I may
   safely say that I was not assisted by any one person in ye Ship, was
   oblige’d to have the most part of the Ships Compney a Shore every day
   to work upon the Fort and a Strong guard every night and the Women
   were so very liberal with their favours, or else Nails, Shirts &c were
   temptations that they could not withstand, that this distemper very
   soon spread it self over the greater part of the Ships Compney...’

It didn’t take long for the whalers, the merchants from the Australian penal colonies (bringing arms and alcohol and prostitution), the Methodist and Baptist and Calvinist and Wesleyan and Presbyterian missionaries, ultimately replaced by the Catholics, to bring the apple to Adam and Eve.
And then, there came the French, who simply shrug, when confronted with the odiousness of their oppression. The République got rid of its own monarchy, and did the same for the Tahitians. But, as Montesquieu had insightfully observed, luxury ruins republics, and poverty ruins monarchies. And the French had brought both ruinations, and worse, to paradise.
The worst endowment, without question, was radioactive. From 1960 to 1996, France detonated 193 nuclear bombs in the Society Islands. The one that exploded 17 July 1974 exposed Tahiti to 500 times the maximum accepted level of radiation exposure, showering the island with plutonium for two whole days. Thyroid cancers and leukemia spiked all over French Polynesia. Observers stationed 15 miles away, in shorts and T-shirts without so much a pair of sunglasses, were told to ‘look the other way’ when the ‘test’ occurred, and then sent into the mushroom cloud to inspect the damage. Only 11 people have received reparations.
Tahiti was hit 36 more times by plutonium 239 fallout, and isotope so toxic that it has to be contained for 240,000 years before it can reenter the wider environment. Almost half the New Zealanders on observer ships have died of cancer-related deaths, as well as one photographer, blown up by French secret agents in Auckland Harbor in 1985, who had entered the country with the intention of sinking the Rainbow Warrior, leaving to protest the next planned detonation at Mururoa atoll. The agents were released. And French President Jacques Chirac, resumed nuclear explosions in the South Pacific, after being elected in 1995.
The French also brought hypocrisy. The dogs that the Tahitians had as pets and food, now stand guard against their old masters as fierce chiens méchants. The French girls cavort around naked, while the Tahitian vahines have to dress more modestly. And the Heiva Tahiti festival ‘celebration,’ the day the French forced Queen Pomare IV to abdicate, is held on Bastille Day.
Paul Theroux, despite his surname, hadn’t thought much of the French, referring to them as ‘the most self-serving, manipulative, trivial-minded, obnoxious, cynical, and corrupting nations on the face of the earth.’
I asked the Tahitian sitting next to me on our Lan Chile redeye, how he felt about his paradise.
“The French have taken our freedom, the Japanese have taken our fish, and the Americans have taken our Happy Hours.”

   “The land is like our mother. People come from the land. We must
    always respect our mother, not explode bombs in her belly.”      
                                                                              Jacques Ihorai

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Luxury Link 10

The explorers had found Rousseau’s Noble savages living in the Southern Sea, afloat on a Golden Age of freedom, free fruit, and free love. They had landed to find no one working very hard at anything. Which was what Robyn and I also discovered, when we tried to find an inexpensive way into town. Pape'ete wasn’t quite the enchanting little In the Strange South Seas hamlet that Beatrice Grimshaw had found in 1908.

    ‘The loveliest, sweetest, and wickedest town of all the wide South Seas,
     lies before us - just a sparkle of red roofs looking out from under a
     coverlet of thick foliage, a long brown wharf and a many-colored crowd.
     Across the water steals a faint strange perfume, - heavy, sweet,  
     penetrating, suggestive. . . cocoanut oil scented with the white tiare
But it also wasn’t Theroux’s ‘ugly plundered-looking town with scruffy, ill-assorted and flimsy buildings.’ Pape'ete was a cultured black pearl, not the 26 mm baroque-shaped AAA 8.7 gram Tahitian Silver in Robert Wan’s museum collection in on Boulevard Pomare, but more like the fat mongrel bitch with the big nipples that continually rolled on her stomach to have her belly scratched, in the cafeteria that Robyn and I grabbed an overpriced croque-monsieur in, on our way to the market. We visited the Galerie Winkler, still open, thirty years after I had originally thrilled to its discovery, on the last leg of my Final Cartwheel. I still couldn’t afford anything inside, and the original owners had taken their Happy Hours back to California.
From the balcony, the market was still a tableau riot of pareus and pandanus and plastic grass skirts, shell strand necklaces and rito hats, scarlet ginger flowers and yellow and orange bird of paradise, and stalls of opalescent fish and primary-colored produce. Downstairs, in the toilet, was a red-lipped urinal in the shape of an open female mouth, with a sign. Pour répondre à tous vos envies. To answer all your desires.
Back outside of the steps, we met Santa, and his heavenly helper, scantily clad in red and white, both sweltering in the midday heat. Robyn wore a garland gift of white tiare gardenias, and I waved a baguette baton to stop traffic, as we charged through the sidewalk vendors and fois gras and wine shops, luxury-linked to the fresh shipments of pink and blue Chinese plastic bicycles next door.
On our final day in paradise, we did the unthinkable, and took a bus tour around Tahiti Nui. It is said that King Pomare built the Old Broom Road that encircles it out of alcohol, inside so many of his more inebriated subjects that were sentenced to its construction. Its convolutions took us at French autoroutes speeds, to caves and cataracts and a café for fish, and on to the Gauguin Museum. He had lived in Tahiti until he decided his proclivities and perversions were more suitably situated in the Marquesas. Most of his paintings had emigrated as well, but what had survived still conveyed the mysterious shadowy spirit of the tropical Tahitian rainforest, and the primitive essence of its natives. ‘D’ou Venons Nous Que Sommes Nous Où Allons Nous.’ Where Do We Come From What Are We Where Are We Going.