Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Looking Forward? Naw. Let's Look Back - We Can Do Forward Tomorrow (Or the Next Day - Or the Next)

The clock is ticking, and in New York we have about an hour-and-a-half to go.

I don't think I'll rush over to Times Square to watch the ball drop. I've never done it, despite having lived in New York for longer than I'm willing to admit, and I don't see any reason to begin tonight.

So how to observe this important annual transition? Marking the turn of the year is such an important ritual in our society, do I dare ignore New Year's Eve?

I'm having fun reading what other people have to say. So far today we've had a splendid column by Frank Bruni advising us to read more and tweet less. A hilarious bit by Peter Funt (The Year That Will Be), with my favorite of his predictions: "Delta Air Lines clarifies that standing room at airport boarding areas 'will remain free for the foreseeable future,' but that seats for passengers waiting to board will now cost $25." OK. I get it.

And getting closer to home, to people in my line of work: An important reminder from McKinsey (Big Data: The Next Frontier for Innovation, Competition, and Productivity).

Don't say you haven't been warned, knowledge strategists.

But those "get-prepared" pieces are a little too serious to suit me. Let's get down to what interests me, and instead of writing about how things might be in 2014, let me share a few thoughts about what I experienced in 2013.

"And what is it that interests you, Guy?" you ask (as well you might).

Most of my best friends - the folks who know me well - can tell you that I spend a lot of time thinking about:
  1. opera
  2. art nouveau as my personal concept of beauty (one definition: "an international philosophy and style of art, architecture and applied art—especially the decorative arts")
  3. elephants in Africa.
Can't tackle all three tonight, so let's think about opera in 2013 (if I can stay with this theme, I'll try to do some opera-specific looking forward another time).

In many respects it was a remarkable year but I'm not necessarily using the term "remarkable" to refer to excellence. Of course there were high - even great - moments. And certainly well-performed, splendid evenings at the opera house. There were also, I have to admit, several difficult situations and I guess that's coloring my thoughts as I try to look back on opera in 2013.

As I say, we had splendid performances. We subscribe to the Met, and  - musically speaking - that great house (pictured here) is truly a "home away from home" for us. I look back over my calendar for the past year, and I'm truly impressed by some of the wonderful experiences we had.

Glaringly, the greatest amount of thought (and conversation) for many of us opera lovers was given over to non-Met issues. Following years - one commentator says "decades" - of financial mismanagement, New York City Opera went out of business. Bankruptcy was declared in the fall, after some 70 years of performance. Established as "the people's opera" back in 1943 and so described by almost every New Yorker, the company had its highs and its lows but overall it was incredibly important in our city's (and the region's) cultural life.

I'm missing NYCO already. The memories I have of some of its performers (Domingo, Sills, Ramey, Malfitano, Troyonos, Milnes - oh the list is too long!) won't go away. And some of the productions stand out, such as Tito Copobianco's magnificent and unforgettable "Mefistofele" and Sarah Caldwell's pink-tinged "Der Rosenkavalier" (it might not have been Sarah Caldwell's but I remember how pink it was). There were so many more, far too many to remember, and I also long for some of the more experimental attempts that were made, often very successfully. For example, a splendid and almost avant-garde production of Korngold's "Die tote Stadt" was mesmerizing - and this was back in 1975 (see production photos here - I never again saw anything like this, except perhaps - in an entirely different vein - the Met's recent production of Shostakovich's "The Nose"). We had a lot to be grateful for, when we had NYCO around.

Now that NYCO is gone, one trend we're seeing in New York (apparently having begun over the last few years, but all of us didn't notice) has been the growth of tiny, more experimental opera companies, some with no more ambition than to enable New Yorkers to hear works that might not show up at such an opera house as the Met. That seems to be the goal, for example, of the Gotham Chamber Opera, which from 2001 until last fall was the Henry Street Chamber Opera. And there are others like it.

At the same time, because we have such high-quality music schools, we get good opera there as well. We were fortunate last spring to be invited to Manhattan School of Music for their production of "The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" and it was spell-binding. I haven't checked out Julliard and Mannes yet, but I expect the quality to be as high.

So there's good opera to watch for, if we just take to time to see what's available.

And the Met? Well, I'm a subscriber and I can't complain. I get to hear at least eight performances a year and the standards are high, perhaps the highest in the world. Certainly there's no opera orchestra or opera chorus that even begins to compare with what we have at the Met, and the international roster of performers is certainly in a class of its own. You don't hear bad singing at the Met.

While I sometimes disagree with some of the decisions about production design, I hardly ever disagree with the musical values at the Met. And in a funny sort of way, I relish the move - with some operas - from the more standard designs to new concepts - I was delighted to discover that the so-called "rat pack" version of "Rigoletto" (set in Las Vegas in the 1960s) worked, and worked very well. So did the new "Falstaff" (and that one was particularly difficult for me, as the earlier, long-time Franco Zeffirelli version had become almost iconic for me, and for many other "Falstaff" lovers as well).

And then there are the standards that I don't want to ever go away, but they do. The Met's old "Parsifal" is the production I cut my teeth on for that opera, and I heard (and saw) it so many times I felt personally slighted when it was replaced. Fortunately, that replacement didn't last long, and now we have a daring new production. Not as up-lifting, perhaps, as what I grew up on, but good nonetheless, with fine musical values and artistically, some very reasonable - and believable concepts have been brought out. 

And now we're losing the iconic (there's that word again) production of "Der Rosenkavalier" - we were fortunate to be present at the very last of its nearly 200 performances (it premiered on January 23, 1969) and we'll live without it. We won't forget what we had for these many years - it was, there's no question about it, a gorgeous production - but I for one will be anxious to see what comes next. I guess more than anything, with this particular opera so highly regarded for its subtlety, I don't want it to be trivialized or that beautiful music distracted from.

As for losing the absolutely sublime and - at the same time - rousing production of "Die Meistersinger" for a production created for Salzburg and coming in a couple of years, well, I'm trying to withhold judgement. That production - like the old "Parsifal" - meant so much to me, and I'll try to be open-minded when we get the new one, but it will be hard.

And in any case, for many of these that we're losing, we have them available through the Met on Demand program, which for a very small fee allows people like me to live and relive favorite operas and favorite productions. 

2013 brought us a great level of satisfaction with the return of Strauss operas to the Met. We had not had them for a while - after all, there was the new "Ring" and the Wagner and Verdi bicentennials so something had to be set aside. Now we have them back. Not my luscious favorite ("Capriccio") but we'll have that back soon enough (I'm hoping). We do have "Arabella" coming in April, and just three weeks ago we had a splendid revival of another Strauss favorite, "Die Frau ohne Schatten," wonderfully performed and in the glittering (literally - many mirrored walls) production that is a true stunner. 

Let me sign off with a few words of praise, both to the Met as an opera company and to young composer Nico Muhly for bringing "Two Boys" to the house. Modern, a little scary for some folks (vaguely reminiscent of Britten's "Turn of the Screw"), and full of teen-age nastiness, the opera was beautifully performed, splendidly staged, and very, very satisfying. Muhly is a talented composer and his combination of many different styles and types of music (meaning: his originality), especially his skill with choral music, makes listening to his work a remarkable experience. In the big scheme of things operatic, if "Two Boys" is any sign of things to come, the Met is on the right track, and I think we folks in New York are pretty lucky indeed.

Finally, I will share one other operatic experience, this one not from New York at all, but giving me the opportunity to share a comparison that I don't often experience. In late November, we were in Paris and attended a performance at the Opéra de Paris Garnier. A beautiful experience, and as always when attending opera in another country, it's great fun to observe not only the performance and design styles, but the audience reactions. I loved it all. The opera was La Clémence de Titus in a stunning and thought-provoking production, and it was evident that great talent had been brought together to put together this evening at one of Europe's great opera houses (I've pictured the roof-top Apollo here). A great opportunity to see how well opera is performed outside of New York. 

Now if I could just find the time to travel all over America to see how opera is performed in other places in my own country.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Marriage Equality: It's How We Define Ourselves as Americans

When we, as Americans, seek to define what it is about us as Americans that makes us different, doesn't it come down to human rights? To our respect for each other, as citizens? Our respect for one another as fellow human beings?

And (whether one is a "believer" or not), isn't it all summed up in the Golden Rule?

From what I've learned over the years - since earliest childhood - that has been the real "American way," taught to us as our single established American quality and believed in throughout our nation's history.

And now we're seeing - in what one of my friends refers to as "the final battle for civil rights" - the move to marriage equality. We're breaking down the barriers to marriage equality, and when this great force becomes a single driver in American society, all Americans will have the right to marry the person they love.

It's an awesome (literally) time for Americans, a time all of us will look back on and be proud we were here, happy to have been Americans when marriage equality became our country's norm, for all Americans.

As we move into the final few days of this historic year, I'm particularly blessed to be able to write about marriage equality. We just celebrated our second anniversary, an anniversary full of joy and love and happiness that - had things stayed the way they were and had we not been New Yorkers in 2011 - would never have happened.

We chose to celebrate in Paris, since that seemed to sweetest place to be for a second anniversary (indeed, one friend, writing from Germany to congratulate us, suggested we create a new tradition, that the wedding-day anniversary always take place in Paris). And now we're home, wrapping up the year with much thanksgiving and looking forward to a 2014 with happy anticipation of more of the same.

As part of our celebration, we have pledged our support for marriage equality. We did it through the American Foundation for Equal Rights because we believe every American should be able to marry the person they love. We joined AFER and we support their mission to achieve full federal marriage equality.

The American Foundation for Equal Rights took the challenge to California’s Prop. 8 all the way to the Supreme Court. Their case permanently brought marriage equality to the nation’s most populous state and now AFER is joining a federal case in Virginia because no state government should limit the personal freedoms of its citizens. As a former Virginian, this case has special resonance for me, and I will anxiously await the outcome.

But no matter what happens in Virginia, marriage equality is on its way. If you don't believe me (or agree with me), take a look at 2013: A Historic Year for Marriage Equality. It's a terrific video, very short (just 3.36 minutes) and it will give you all you need to know to join me in my optimism - cautious optimism, yes, but optimism nonetheless.

[The Virginia case itself is described in a separate video (also short). Watch AFER's Work in Federal Court for Marriage Equality Continues in Virginia.]

We will have marriage equality in America, and we'll have it sooner rather than later. I firmly believe that, and I am very happy in my belief.

Go here and pledge your support for marriage equality. It's a very simple act, and it shows that you stand up for equality for every American and for the countless couples who want to get married.

It's time.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Good Time for Thinking about "Favorite Things"

No, don't panic. I'm not going to try to connect with Mary Martin or Julie Andrews (or the positively hilarious version when Julie herself teamed up with Carol Burnett at Carnegie Hall - that wasn't just a spoof of the original - it was one of those positively one-in-a-lifetime experiences!).

But, no, that's not the kind of "favorite things" I'm thinking about. At the moment I'm more caught up in how the holidays put us in the mood for thinking about things that have meant much to us over the years, and how some of them linger in the memory.

Although I'm a big talker and not someone who avoids silence (as a general thing - when I'm studying or concentrating it's a different story), one of the nicest things about Christmas in New York is the quietness of Christmas Day. I happen to live at one of Manhattan's busiest intersections, and while we and our neighbors talk a lot about the noise, in reality we've all become accustomed to it and we don't really notice it. And the windows are closed most of the time anyway.

On Christmas Day the city takes on a whole new ambiance. Later in the morning I suppose things will pick up, as people go out to walk along Fifth Avenue to enjoy the splendid window displays in the shops. Or they'll head out to church.

But it will still be quiet because - for some reason - New Yorkers have decided that Christmas Day is a "quiet" day. Of course there are the "real" reasons for Manhattan's quietness today: shops are not open, few theaters have performances, even many of the restaurants and coffee shops close, giving employees the day off.

I like to think it's more than that, though. With the exception of one church in our Murray Hill neighborhood that's become famous (infamous?) because the rector has - without warning anyone - decided to blast out the church's electronic chimes 13 times a day instead of the usual twice a day, peace and quiet reign in our city today. [If you're interested, you can read about that little contretemps here.] I think our Christmas quietness comes about because there's a sort of civic (not religious - certainly not in New York City!) wish or desire or even responsibility to respect the legacy and long history of Christmas Day in New York as a special day for all citizens, and we just give ourselves a quiet day because, well, it's something nice to do.

Other favorite things? Here's one more example: the various "flash mob" singing that's started to pop up in different places. As anyone who knows me knows, I love classical music and, in particular, choral music (a big part of my life when I was younger). I was delighted last year, early in the Christmas season, when a friend sent me the link to the Hallelujah Chorus being performed to startled lunch-time folks at a huge shopping center. It had been done a couple of years earlier and it was great fun, much appreciated. Of course the video went viral (watch it here). I wish I had been having my lunch in that mall that day! What an experience for those folks!

And there's more (is this a trend? if it is I love it!). Last October, in honor of the 200th anniversary of Verdi's birth, members of the WDR Radio Choir Cologne surprised shoppers at a mall with Verdi's Va Pensiero from "Nabucco" (an all-time favorite of many folks, including me). Maybe it was all part of a larger - I suspect informal - effort, since other such "flash mob" performances took place in other locations.

Perhaps the inspiration (aside from Verdi's bicentennial) came from Toulouse, where the same chorus had been sung al fresco, very informally, back in 2011 in what appears to be a park back (again, hear it here).

So maybe we're looking at a new form of participatory entertainment?

Perhaps not totally participatory, since surprise is a good part of the experience as well. And it's not necessarily classical music. How about classical art? Did you see the flash mob depiction of Rembrandt's "Night Watch" last April? What a way to announce the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum! And not totally without music, since we had Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" accompanying the action. Great fun (one version of the video - of several available - is here). Lots of candidates for one's favorite things.

And these photographs of spectacular Christmas trees? Nothing special. Just beautiful holiday snapshots I wanted to share, photographed at Vaux-le-Vicomte when I visited there last November. More about that later.

Yes, it's a good time of year to be thinking about favorite things. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Consider the Elephant: An Important Step Forward

For those of us concerned about the future of the elephants, there is good news from the United States.

Acting in response to an Executive Order from U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced the destruction of six tons of illegal elephant ivory. The news release announcing this action was publishing on November 14.

I urge you to take a look at U.S. Destroys Confiscated Ivory Stockpile, Sends Message that Wildlife Trafficking, Elephant Poaching Must be Crushed: Following President’s Executive Order, U.S. Steps Up International Efforts to Fight Wildlife Trafficking.

The release describes in detail the efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in putting forward an American statement opposing this heinous crime. In the report, the service notes that 
Six tons of illegal elephant ivory confiscated by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement officers were loaded into an industrial-scale rock crusher and pulverized today at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge outside Denver, Colo. Officials from the departments of Justice and State joined Service Director Dan Ashe and leading worldwide conservationists in calling for global action to combat wildlife trafficking and stop the slaughter of elephants and other species.

This is excellent news indeed, and I send along all high commendations and the gratitude of this citizen for President Obama and his good will in signing the Executive Order. According to reports, the destruction of the ivory follows an announcement by the President establishing the first ever council to advise the government on ways to improve coordination and implementation of domestic and international efforts to fight poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking. The creation of the council stemmed directly from President Obama's Executive Order directing U.S. government agencies to ramp up efforts to stamp out the illegal wildlife trade.

As readers know (see my posts from March and April of this year), the poaching efforts seem to have reached some sort of awful heights in late 2012 and earlier this year (with elephant deaths reported at approximately 30,000 each year), and I was fortunate to be able to work with the Wildlife Conservation Society in helping support WCS efforts focusing on anti-poaching and the study of this magnificent species. Then, over the summer, friends and I were thrilled to spend time in the wild in Kenya, conducting our own observations (which I keep promising to write about - just haven't gotten around to it yet - but a few tempting photographs can be seen with this post and here). I'm very grateful to keen-eyed Jerry Jourdan, who traveled with me on our Kenyan safari during the summer, for spotting the report about the ivory destruction event in The Outdoor Wire last Friday.

And the event, naturally enough, puts me in mind of the very touching (and beautiful) memorial we saw in the Nairobi National Park, placed there by President Daniel arap Moi back in 1989.

I had first seen the memorial back in my earlier visits to the park, and it was my good friend and driver Charles Masese, noting my particular affection and interests in the elephant, who took me specially to the Nairobi National Park to see the memorial. Back in the 1980s, Kenya led the campaign against the slaughter of the elephants for their ivory, and it was there - in the Nairobi National Park - that Kenya destroyed its own captured contraband ivory. The massive pile of ivory ash still stands near the memorial, evoking very strong feelings and horror among all visitors, to think that human beings could be so cruel and so greedy as to undertake such massive slaughter of these beautiful and majestic creatures.

Thank you to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and to our President for taking this action. The destruction of the captured ivory is very encouraging. In my opinion we as a nation are now taking a strong first step in raising awareness about the horrors of ivory poaching by evil and ignorant people. We can only hope this action changes some minds.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nyanguru Village

I was the first mzungu to visit Nyanguru Village.

I was brought to Nyanguru Village, a lovely place high in the hills near Kisii, by Charles Ombongi Masese, my friend and colleague (and also my driver when I lived in Nairobi). My first visit was in April, 2010 and I've borrowed some of the photographs from that visit to share again here, as I re-live some of the experiences of that visit and the most recent, with friends from America who were on safari with me in July.

I've written about Nyanguru Village before (see links below) but in light of the recent news from Kenya, I somehow feel the need to write more about the people I've met, especially those who make up my "Africa Family," so special to me.

The city of Kisii is several hours from Nairobi ("upcountry" as the Kenyans say), and since our first time together - when Charles had been sent to the airport to meet me upon my arrival in Nairobi for my "new life" in Kenya (albeit temporary, just for a little over a year) - we had often spoken of our families and our very different personal lives. And from the beginning, it was clear that Charles wanted me to visit his family in Nyanguru Village.

And I - very anxious to get to know Charles and his family - was as interested in going to Nyanguru Village as Charles was to have me. Although he worked in Nairobi and lived there most of the time, he is the consummate "family man." Whatever his current responsibilities and activities in Nairobi, Jane and his parents and his children were (and are) never far from his mind.

It took a while. We traveled together to other places often, for Charles had considerable experience as a safari driver and commentator (which I've described elsewhere), and we had no trouble going off for frequent week-end safaris to some of the parks and game reserves closer to Nairobi. And thanks to Charles and his great talent for spotting game, we put a lot of time into enjoying the wildlife and the natural beauty of Kenya (and, not incidentally, getting to know one another very well). My professional responsibilities, though, kept me from traveling far, so I didn't get to Nyanguru Village as quickly as we hoped.

When I did get to visit Charles's home, it was a totally new experience for me. And one I've never forgotten. For one thing, although I had had professional journeys to different parts of the world, including South Africa, I had never been to Kenya, and I had never visited any local villages or towns, since my work was usually connected to businesses or institutions located in metropolitan regions. And the touring activities I often engaged in when I did business travel were just that, tourist activities to places like Kruger National Park (where I had my first-ever safari).

So to be invited to a community village (we try not to say "tribe" any more, since the Kenyans want to think of their country as made up of different "communities" rather than "tribes") was very special, and I knew from the moment we arrived that I was going to be treated with great honor and great respect (the latter having to do - to my surprise - with my age, as older people are indeed treated with great respect throughout Africa).

It was in a conversation with Charles's father, a fine gentleman and a leader of the village (nearing 90 years of age when this photograph was taken with two of Charles and Jane's children), that he pointed out that I was the first mzungu to come to Nyanguru Village. As I think I'm described before, there are three "official" languages for Kenyans: English, Kiswahili (or simply Swahili), and one's "mother tongue," the original language of one's community. As Charles and his family are members of the Kisii community and speak that language, he and his father spoke it with one another. I listened (I really can't tell the difference between Kisii - or any of the other mother tongues - and Swahili anyway). With Charles translating for me, I learned that for some reason no other white man had ever been to Nyanguru Village, and I was the village's first mzungu.

Nowadays the term usually refers to a white person, but as I was identified by Charles's father, it was explained that the term, for me as he thought of me, described me as a white man (apparently in colonial days and the early days of Western expatriates in what would become Kenya, "white man" seemed closer to what the locals were attempting to say - and it's my guess that Charles's father, because of his age and rural environment, was looking back to earlier times). And the word stuck, for Charles always said that every time he spoke with his father, from the time he met me until he died in April of this year, this kind gentleman asked Charles: "And how is our mzungu?" I was greatly honored, I can say.

As for describing the people of Nyanguru Village, I am somewhat at a loss for words. They are very friendly people and, like most Kenyans, they smile a great deal and enjoy engaging in good conversation, whether all together in one language or sharing translations via people like Charles, who live in "both worlds" (and he is very good at helping us all understand what is being said). There's a lot of laughter, and as I think comes through in some of the posts noted below, the houses and yards are full of children romping and running and playing with one another. Just great fun to be with, and as some later posts will show - reporting on the latest visit to Nyanguru Village this past July - the children and the adults all seem to have a good time with each other.

There is, of course, sadness, as in all lives. In Nyanguru Village the sadness that comes into our lives is given its due attention when required, and with a great deal of beauty, some version of ceremony, and, when it is appropriate, shared with others who are part of the community's extended "family." When my friends and I arrived in Nyanguru Village and climbed the hill to Charles and Jane's home, our visit began with a stop at his father's grave, just a few steps outside the house where he had lived (the custom among the Kisii community), adjacent to Charles's house. Anticipating our arrival, a large photograph had been set on the grave, next to the wooden cross marking the head of the grave, and we and many other visitors from the village all gathered around for a few words and pleasing memories, ending with devout and very heartfelt prayers of thanksgiving for his life and - a little surprising for me - prayers of thanksgiving that we visitors from far away were able to gather together at his grave with the family and friends to honor him. It was a very moving moment for us American visitors, and as we thought later about the very special place that we have in this family's life, with their arranging for this special observance upon our arrival at the house, it was indeed yet another sign of how our two societies and our cultures have been able to come together.

For more about Nyanguru Village and my earlier visits there (and I can't promise there won't be more up-coming), look at The Western Kenya Safari (2): Nyanguru Village - Welcome Guy, Flat Stanley Goes to Kenya (7): More New Friends, and Guy's African Family (Complete with Namesake). I wrote about the area around Kisii and Nyanguru Village in The Western Kenya Safari (3): Tabaka and the Soapstone Quarry.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Nairobi Siege Over

Media reports coming out of Nairobi say President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced that the Westgate Mall siege is over.

In making the announcement, President Kenyatta - who himself lost family members in the attack - declared three days of national mourning, beginning tomorrow (Wednesday).

Five of the attackers are dead, and 11 are in custody. The death count of victims in the mall is still unclear, but it looks like about 67 people were murdered, with 175 wounded (62 people are still in hospital).

The "mopping up" operation has begun, and bodies of additional victims may yet be found in the rubble of the collapsed floors of the shopping center.

A good personal account of the tragedy was published today in The New York Times. It's worth a look: "Those Are Our People."

Our friends Nerisa and Charles and their families are all safe. I've spoken with both of them, and while they are very relieved, they - like all Kenyans - are concerned about what might happen next. We continue to keep them in our thoughts and hope that the awful experiences of the last four days will not change the beautiful character of the Kenyan people, whom we love so much.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Terrorist Attack in Kenya

Readers of this personal blog know about my great love for Kenya and its people. My heart goes out to my friends and loved ones in Nairobi. This awful tragedy is so sad, and as I watch the news from Kenya and see all the familiar places I recognize, the horror comes home to me with great impact (I've been able to stream NTV from Kenya through the night).

And now there's news of an attack on a Christian church in Pakistan, killing 75 people and wounding more than 100 others.

Will this terrorism ever end? How will it end?

In Nairobi, I often went to Westgate, for Charles would drive me there (it wasn't that far from where I lived) when I needed something I could not find at Village Market. [Despite its name, Village Market is not a "village market" at all - the Kenyans love to make puns in their use of English - but another upscale mall, just not quite as large or as new as Westgate.] I specially liked the computer shop (actually bought a netbook there once) and the shops for guys. A better selection than at Village Market.

So, while I'm busily writing in this space about all the other things I love about Kenya, the beauty of the country, the animals, and, most of all, the warmth and openness of the Kenyan people and their wonderful good humor and their kindness, and reflecting on my wonderful time with my friends when we were on safari this past summer, I'm just torn apart by what I'm hearing. It's heartbreaking to think about what my Kenya friends are going through. I've been in touch with Nerisa and Charles, my two friends I write about most here and they and their families are safe. But I'm wondering about so many people I know and care about.

Please keep our "Kenya Family" in your thoughts.

This is so sad.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Thought for September 11

In December 2001, I sent this to my family and friends:

William Faulkner said this in his “Address Upon Receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature,” 10th December 1950:

“It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”

Is love included in this list? I think so, for it is love for humankind that enables that soul to rise to compassion and sacrifice and endurance, and it is that love that brings us together in the roughest and most difficult of times. Through these times, we will endure. And we will prevail. It won’t be easy, and it will require—no, demand—of us sacrifices that we haven’t even begun to think of yet. But through it all, we will endure and we will prevail…  because we love.

In that spirit, I send you greetings as this unforgettable year draws to a close.

Let us never forget those we’ve lost… those who have been left behind to love us… those whose love made us who we are….

I hope these words will be of some meaning for you on this important day.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Kenya: Another Big Sky Country

Some say that Montana is "Big Sky Country." They need to come to Kenya.

There is an openness of sky in Kenya that plays on many emotions, an openness characterized by, among others things, awe-inspiring mile-high and mile-wide blue skies that never fail to evoke wonder and, well, simple joy. They're beautiful to see.

So much of what we experience in Kenya is almost over-powering. So many emotions keep running back and forth in one's mind, and there is - especially for a visitor coming from a very different culture or society - a constant "pull" inviting the person to look at this ("I bet you've never seen this before") or to spend some time observing that ("This has to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience").

That emotional roller-coaster (I think that's the common description) is particularly troublesome when one finds that, because there is so much to see in Kenya, much of the obvious gets slighted. Add to the mix time spent with friends from previous visits and time set aside for personal socializing in this country of friendly and welcoming people, and it becomes very easy not to notice all the natural beauty that surrounds you as you move about the country.

For within that "obvious" is some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. Even without the wildlife (which, for many people, is why they come to Kenya), the beauties of nature are almost too hard to take in, so splendid in what we have before us. It's enough to make even the non-believer begin to think about the grand scale of the universe and the world we live in.

For me, going back to my first excursions out of Nairobi when I was working and living Kenya a few years ago, my opportunities for learning to love the land came early. Charles Masese, my driver, had considerable experience as a tour guide and driver, and when we realized that we would be working together (and, not incidentally, become the best of friends), he took up the challenge of introducing Bwana Guy to the Kenya countryside.

As it turned out, my work enabled me to have long week-ends free of professional duties, and while Charles and I didn't go off on safari every week-end, we easily arranged journeys around the country every two or three weeks.

A great experience, and while I was exposed to the beauties of the countryside, I also discovered that Charles is one of the best game-spotters in the country. It's amazing to me what he can see on a distant hillside, among the trees and undergrowth of the forest, and I was often delighted when he began a sentence with "I think, over on that hill about 11 o'clock...."

Charles didn't need to complete his sentence. He knew I would look where he was pointing me to.

[A slight digression, by the way: You notice I used the word "forest" for what we Westerners would usually call "jungle." The Kenyans don't say "jungle" when they describe in English the thick foliage growing in the wild and - truth to tell - this type of growth isn't what we think of as "jungle," as in the rainforest type of growth. Despite all the Tarzan movies and such from when we were growing up, there's little of that sort of growth left in Kenya, only in the Kakamega Forest in the western part of the country which, for anyone who's interested, I wrote about here.]

As part of Charles' tutelage, I not only got to see the wildlife. He is an expert in finding beautiful scenery as well, as he knows where to take his car so that he can share the best views (he knows a lot of them). For this post, I've decided to focus on the skies of Kenya, as it was the skies that fascinated me first when I began to go about the country. As you can see from the photographs, there is a connection to what we in America think of as "big sky country." When one travels about in Kenya, the clouds contribute to a view that would thrill even the John Constables of the world (what must the sky of Kenya have looked like in his day? imagine what he would have done with some of the views of the sky we get to witness!).

Go to Big Sky - Kenya to see more.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Kenya Photos - The First Batch (and Introducing Another "Other" Photographer)

While I published "preliminary" photos of the FOGs/FOAs Kenya safari a couple of weeks ago, and promised more later, I'm still not ready with mine, which I hope to offer along with my own blog posts and stories.

But that doesn't mean I can't share the good work of others who traveled with me on the safari. I have already mentioned that Jerry Jourdan - one of our group - is not only a serious photographer. He is also a birder and his blog posts are beautiful. Take a look at http://jerryjourdan.blogspot.com/. I think you'll be impressed.

And while other members of the safari group are pretty serious photographers as well, I want to give special recognition to Andrew Berner's stunning pictures. Andrew and Jerry and Charles (our driver) turned out to be the bird specialists on the safari, so we all benefitted from their bird-spotting (and bird-naming) skills. Like Jerry, Andrew has permitted me to reference his superior selections as yet another introduction to the record of our trip, so I'm happy to direct readers to my SmugMug site. At the site, Andrew's photographs are identified in each of his gallery titles with his initials (AB).

But don't let me leave you with the impression that Andrew's photographic talents are limited to bird pictures. At the site, you'll see amazing wildlife photos (including this, my favorite elephant photo which will have an entire post devoted to it at some point). Andrew's photographs capture - in amazing detail - the awesome experiences we all shared during the safari (and why not? - the "A" of the safari's title, which our friends and we took to calling "the FOGs and FOAs Kenya Safari" is for "Andrew").

So until I can post my own impressions about the safari, please enjoy Andrew's images, taken during our visits to such spectacular Kenyan destinations as the Amboseli National Park, Tsavo East and West, the Nairobi National Park (complete with the Nairobi skyline providing the backdrop for much of the wildlife), the Nakuru National Park and the Menengai Crater, and of course Masai Mara (where we were able to view the first days of the Great Migration). And, not surprisingly, there are very pleasing photographs of our visit to our Africa "family" in Nyanguru Village in Kisii. We had a lovely time with Charles and his beautiful family, enjoying ourselves with his wife and mother and his handsome children, including my namesake "Angel" Claire. We shared such a good visit with the family and with all the neighbors who, with the entire Masese family, made us feel very welcome. And thanks to Charles's good driving and his perfect navigation skills, we traveled to Kisii via the great tea plantations, stopping for lunch at the famous Tea Hotel in Kericho, all beautifully captured in Andrew's photographs.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

More Kenya Thoughts

Before I get into describing my impressions of Kenya and what we experienced there during July, I'm finding it of interest that we're seeing recent news and stories from that beautiful place. Having just returned from our great safari in Kenya, my traveling friends and I are surprised to find so much to read about Kenya. Especially in August (when the overall news cycle is pretty slim), it seems unusual to have so many stories - other than our own, of course! - to attract our attention.

First of all, we were sadly disappointed for all the travelers in and out of Kenya, here at the high season of the Great Migration, when we learned of the awful fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport last Wednesday. While most of us traveling in and out of Kenya don't spend much time at the airport (except for bureaucratic reasons, and even those situations seem to be getting better with each visit), the airport is an essential passenger and cargo hub for East Africa. I'm happy to learn that operations are getting somewhat back to normal, thanks to quick action on the part of airport officials and the Kenyan government. And specially happy to learn that the fire is generally understood to have been an accident, particularly as it came on the 15th anniversary of the bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed more than 200 people. That's a major relief for those of us who love Kenya and have friends there.

More directly connected with our safari is Michael Benanav's Through the Eyes of the Maasai, a long description of Benanav's stay with the famous Maasai community (published in The New York Time Travel Section on August 9). I explored the historical riches of the Maasai when I lived in Kenya, and we were lucky on our recent safari to meet up again with Thomas, our Maasai friend who had been our guide and companion on two prior journeys. Thanks to the good detective work of our driver and good friend Charles Masese, we were able to connect with Thomas when we were in the Masai Mara National Reserve (also spelled Maasai Mara, as Benanav notes). Here, in one of the photos from the trip, is Andrew Berner, Thomas, Charles, and Guy.

Thomas took some of our group into his own manyatta. The term manyatta seems to have several meanings, depending on who is involved in the conversation. For some reason I earlier had the impression that the term referred to a village in which there were several houses and a large central area where the cattle are brought in every night (for security, especially from lions, the entire village is round in shape and surrounded by thorny bushes, with a single opening that is enclosed with more bushes at night). It's true that there can be several houses in the village, but the term seems to be a little more family connected, you might say, in that the entire collection of houses are related to one family, so in that sense manyatta can mean something like one's "home" or "where one lives."

This trip I did not visit Thomas's manyatta, but two of our traveling companions, Sandra Kitt and Deborah Tibensky went with Charles and Thomas and returned with glowing tales of their adventures visiting with the people they met in the Maasai community. Don't have a photo of Deb with from the visit, but here's Sandi with Thomas.

My own experiences with Thomas and the Maasai community were captured in several posts here in 2010. See the Blog Archive to the left to find the following under May, 2010:
  • (4) Sopa Lodge
  • (5) Maasai Manyatta
  • (6) Maasai Fire w/ Sticks
  • (7) Maasai Dances (Men)
  • (8) Maasai Dances (Women)
As for Benanav's good article, I enjoyed spending time with it. Several of the friends with whom I was on safari and I have discussed some of Benanav's descriptions and stories. His focus is on a particular person (as have been ours, with Thomas) and it's clear that he and Salaton Ole Ntutu, a Maasai chief, share a very special bond (as did we, with Thomas). Salaton is an informative companion and provides much background and commentary about life in the Maasai community, and Benanav makes a good case for visitors to come to the Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp. At the camp, part of the village of Maji Moto, Benanav notes that - as he puts it - "visitors stay in his tribal community, learning about the ways of the Maasai and getting a feel for the landscape they live within."

It's a far deeper experience that what we did, and I'm sure visitors who embark on a stay at the camp come away with a strong sense of what life is like among the Maasai. Indeed, in a way I wish I had done something like this, just to "drill down" a little deeper into the Maasai community structure and life.

Benanav's article also describes his visit to the Masai Mara National Reserve (about 35 miles away from Maji Moto) and his delight - with Salaton as his guide - in the Great Migration. Actually, while I don't know the dates when Benanav was there, it's possible we might have been viewing the migration at the same time. I just hope some of his experiences were as much fun as ours (and perhaps - for some of ours - a little less exciting).

It's a good story, and another valuable resource for anyone considering a safari in Kenya. Lots to see and write about.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Preliminary Thoughts about Mr. Guy's Elephant "Infatuation" (and Some Preliminary Photos)

Despite the first post (yesterday) referencing the FOGs/FOAs safari, I realize now that I didn't give any "preview" for what the later posts might include.

I wrote that one of the purposes of the safari was not only to experience the Great Migration with my friends, but to also share with them Mr. Guy's great infatuation for the African elephant. So it seems appropriate to send along a link to some of the photos, a "preview" you might say, to what I hope to share on this blog. If you would like to see the photographs, go to 2013 Preliminary Safari Photos here.

And my friends seem to agree that infatuation is probably the best word to describe my enthusiasm for these magnificent creatures. Indeed, at the birthday luncheon, this excerpt from Karen Blixen's Out of Africa was shared, and I came away with a new nickname.

In this section of the book (1937), Blixen writes about the value of the opinions of white visitors/expatriates, the value that is found, as she put it, by the Natives "in their mythological or theological mentality":

.... The Europeans have lost the faculty for building up myths or dogma, and for what we want of these we are dependent upon the supplies of our past. But the mind of the African moves naturally and easily upon such deep and shadowy paths. This gift of theirs comes out strongly in their relations with white people.
You find it already in the names which they deal out to the Europeans with whom they come in contact, after a very short acquaintance. You have got to know these names if you are to send a runner with letters to a friend, or find the way in a car to his house, for the Native world knows him by no other names.
And there is magic in words: a person who has for many years been known by the name of an animal in the end comes to feel familiar with and related to the animal, he recognizes himself in it. When he is back in Europe [back in America?] it is strange to him to feel that no one ever connects him with it.
Once, in the London Zoo, I saw again an old retired Government Official, whom in Africa I had known as Bwâna Tembu - Mr. Elephant. He was standing, all by  himself, before the Elephant-House, sunk in deep contemplation of the Elephants. Perhaps he would go there often. His Native servants would have thought it in the order of things that he should be there, but probably no one in all London, except I who was there only for a few days, would have quite understood him.

So perhaps I am beginning to think of myself as Bwâna Tembu, as my friends seem to be doing. However, as one Kenyan friend pointed out, Blixen's spelling appears to be incorrect, since tembu is the Ki-Swahili word for "beer." The word for elephant is tembo (confirmed in the online English/Swahili dictionary). Even though I would like to have my new nickname spelled as Karen Blixen spelt it, Blixen seems to have been mistaken. Or - more likely - perhaps that's how the word was spelled in 1937 by expatriates living in Nairobi.

Please join me in enjoying the 2013 Preliminary Safari Photos.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dateline Nairobi: Returning Home, and Birthday Thanks to Many Kind People

The Great FOGs/FOAs Safari has come to an end. Designed to share the Great Migration and Mr. Guy's Elephant Infatuation with a group of friends (both American and Kenyan), it was a splendid time for all of us.

Wonderful trip, wonderful interactions with friends (including many Kenyan friends from when I worked in Nairobi), and - very specially - wonderful memories to keep forever.

Recording safari memories begins with the birthday. While I've reached that point in my life where birthdays are best left unmentioned, I was amazed - once Stateside again - to see the number of greetings sent in my direction. Loved all the cards and "catch-up" letters from all around the world, and I can't get over the number of email messages and greetings awaiting me once I opened the trusty iMac.

Wow! So gratifying (and so humbling). In the future, I will assuredly try to be a little more charitable with my sometimes loose comments about the place of personal social media in our lives (like most people of my generation, I can sometimes be a little spiky about how too much focus on social media is not necessarily a good thing). This has been a very sweet experience, and I just might get over my usual "birthday-avoidance" syndrome!

So let me pause for just a moment to say a big Thank You to all the people who took the time to wish me a Happy Birthday. I'm very grateful, and I very much appreciate it.

In Nairobi, with no idea what was being sent to me via the Internet or the USPS, we celebrated with much enthusiasm. While some of our safari group of the last few weeks had returned to America, those of us remaining managed to share two good meals and an afternoon visit together. And despite the fact that there were just a few of us (Andrew, Sandi, Nerisa, Charles, myself and - joining us in the evening - Nerisa's niece Angie, whom we had come to know well during our time in Kenya), we managed to make Mr. Guy's birthday yet another Kenyan day to remember.

And perhaps mention should be made here about one of the cultural differences I learned about when I lived in Kenya: birthdays are not a big thing amongst most Kenyans. While there are occasional birthday observances (probably going back to the European expatriates in the 1920s and 1930s), you won't find many Kenya people paying much attention to birthdays. I don't know why. Perhaps it's economic, since there isn't a lot of discretionary cash floating around for most families. And there is a little more of it nowadays, with some sections of some shops - larger shops - selling greeting cards, including birthday cards. But I don't really know. I just know from my own observations and the comments of many of my Kenya friends, birthday celebrations are pretty rare.

Did that stop the St. Clair Gang? Not at all. While - as noted above - I might have preferred a little less fuss, we had to have lunch, we wanted to have a visit with Charles, and we would have to have dinner, so it all seemed to fall into place. Again, as with the other well-wishers, I'm very thankful to my little group for this day of fun. 

The first of the birthday meals was at a lovely upscale Nairobi restaurant specializing in Kenya food. The restaurant takes its name from amaika, a Luhya word that refers to the traditional Luhya cooking area or kitchen. Although the spelling is sightly different in the restaurant's name, Amaica is a very pleasant place for Sunday lunch (and it apparently becomes very crowded a little later on Sunday afternoon - when we arrived we were the first customers). This photo gives an idea of the space and the splendid decor, with Sandi and Nerisa waiting for me to take yet another photo.

Amaica started out as a restaurant focusing on food from Western Kenya, the part of the country which, in the words of the restaurant's owners, "boasts the widest variety of delicacies." Now the restaurant's cuisine has expanded to include specialties from all parts of Kenya, and the overall mealtime experience is delightfully Kenyan. The restaurant's flagship meal, a delicious dish of smoked beef, is joined together with other pleasurable indigenous foods such as wild traditional mushrooms, bambara nuts, groundnuts, and white ants (which our group did not try). Much of the food is cooked in African clay pots, using techniques and methods learned from traditional food experts throughout Kenya.

One of the joys of the restaurant is the great mass of trees behind the building. The dining area overlooks a large, deep ravine just full of tangled growth, and of course some of Kenya's famous birds - including this trio - come to visit. Very nice.

The afternoon was spent with Charles at his home near Nairobi. Readers of these posts know Charles well, as he was my driver and became my Kenya Brother when I lived in Nairobi (and it was Charles who led me off on my many safaris during my time in Kenya in 2009-2010, with many of these experiences described here - see the 2009 to early 2011 posts in the Archive to the left). Back in October, 2010, I had written The Children of Gachie and Charles' son Justine Ombongi and his cousin Steve Onpinta provided the photographs.

The birthday visit took us to Charles' new home, and we had a very nice time, enjoying the Masese hospitality and sharing much good conversation (and meeting up again with cousins who came by to say hello).

The birthday dinner took us to Mr. Guy's favorite Nairobi restaurant, Osteria Gigiri in the Village Market enclave. The name of the shopping center is a bit of a Kenya joke, since the rather grand establishment is nothing like a traditional village market and in many respects the location is one of the most "Western" spots in Nairobi (it's in the area where many of the embassies, including the United States Embassy, the United Nations, and some of the city's finest homes are located).

Nevertheless, Osteria Gigiri is anything but pretentious or grand. There is a terrific wine bar, and the restaurant is both intimate and expansive, with a large outdoor dining area under a large canopy. Very pleasant, and the staff and management go out of their way to make all customers feel welcome, including bringing along a complementary bruschetta once the diners at the table are seated. It was my "home away from home" when I lived in Nairobi, the perfect place to close out the birthday celebrations.

So. A few notes to begin the story of the latest Kenya experience (a few more photos are here). There'll be more. Watch this space.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Kenya and the 2013 Great Migration

There is great excitement as this year's vacation gets underway.

And as we plunge into our special experience, I can't help but think about what-has-been (as Beryl Markham or Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen might have written). The difference, though, is that this experience is not about leaving somewhere. It's about going back.

Even so, Markham herself shared that sort of reverse mental picture as she wrote about a big change she was experiencing in her life.

Here's what she wrote at the opening of Chapter IX of her memoir (West with the Night):
Somebody with a flair for small cynicism one said: "We live and do not learn." But I have learned some things.
I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved and where all your yesterdays are buried deep - leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can. Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance. The cloud clears as you enter it. I have learned this, but like everyone, I learned it late.
I'm not sure I'm in agreement with Markham on this.

Yes, I very much support the contention of many, including our special Peter Drucker, whose thoughts about re-inventing one's self connects here. It is best to move forward, "opening a new page" as we move into an unknown (or perhaps - in this case - known) future. In my way of thinking about it, though, I tend to be more focused on what's coming, and what that future will bring and - I must admit - that I'm not too concerned with that "dead hour." It's gone, it's respected, I've learned from it, but I'm much more interested in what I will learn.

All this comes to mind and resonates with me as I think about my visit to Kenya. My pleasure in this journey is sweetly strengthened by the fact that this time we bring with us four "new" visitors, introducing them to our (almost) favorite place in the world. We brought two people into the I-love-Kenya camp with our safari in late 2010 (after I had lived there for a year), and now four more people will return to America to share Kenya adventure stories with their friends.

What pleasures do we expect? Certainly high on the list are visits with friends and loved ones who live in Kenya, people who have become part of our lives and who are simply referred to as "our Kenya family." Other people? Of course. If there's time I'll head over to the client with whom I worked for a year and, perhaps, have a few "professional" conversations to review and be pleased with (I hope) progress made since my assignment ended. And perhaps some more casual encounters, perhaps looking up my barber, the lady who took care of me where I lived, and other people I came to know in my time in Kenya.

In truth, though, this year's journey is holiday, a vacation from from the workaday world of my life in America. And the timing this year is carefully chosen, as it has been specifically determined by Africa's Great Migration. As this is truly a natural phenomenon, the dates for the migration are based solely on when the wildebeests and other ungulates figure out that the grass is greener on the other side of the Mara River and dare to endanger their lives (some of them) to get across the river, attempting to get through the crocodiles to make a path for the thousands of others behind them, all of them trying to get to the green grass they need. And once they get across there's another gauntlet, as other predators - larger carnivores - are waiting hungrily for them.

Still, many wildebeests, zebra, Thomson's gazelle, and eland make it through (some 2,000,000, it has been estimated), and seeing them all as they transverse this great expanse of land is truly a spectacular site. As usual with me, once I experienced the Great Migration I couldn't stop talking about it, which is why we're going now and taking people back with us. And for those who are interested, my version of my earlier Great Migration experiences was told back in 2010 here at my personal blog. Take a look at the archive dates to the left; go to the posts between August 22 and September 25, 2010 and you'll learn much about Mr. Guy's experiences with the Great Migration. On top of that, there's also a good picture of the Great Migration is the CBS News (90 Minutes) feature from 2009. It's a good story, well-told.

As for what we'll see, naturally we're going to enjoy the spectacle of the Great Migration, but in introducing our friends to Kenya we'll see lots more, including the spectacular scenery (lots of photos of that as well, in the 2009-2010 blog posts here at the personal blog). And Mr. Guy will of course take his pals to see his elephants, especially at the Amboseli National Park - in the shadow of Mt. Kilimanjaro. [And no, we won't be climbing Mr. Kilimanjaro - I've wanted to do that for years but there are a very practical couple of reasons I've not done it: 1) I'm not really a climber and 2) I can't find anyone who will train with me for the time required, so I've come to realize that Mr. Guy's climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro will remain in the realm of fantasy!]

But there's more at Amboseli, although it will be probably the elephants that will have my attention. As it turns out (I don't know why) Amboseli is the one area of Kenya where the elephants have lived somewhat protected lives, and many of the animals are very old indeed. Very old and, as far as any of us visitors can tell, very gentle. The poaching that is ravaging Africa (and even taking place in Kenya, to some degree, even though Kenya seriously outlawed elephant poaching about ten years ago) does not seem to have made its way into Amboseli, making this park absolutely perfect for two spectacular game drives a day. And we intend to take full advantage of them.

We'll also have game drives at the Nairobi National Park, the Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks, have a drive through the beautiful tea country to get to Kisii (where we'll see more friends and other members of our Kenya family), and visit the museums and some of Kenya's historic sites in and around Nairobi. We're having a splendid adventure!

Come August, watch this space. [But don't be disappointed if there isn't be much written before then - I'll do what I can but I expect I'm going to be pretty busy!]

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Much to see in San Diego

With a new camera and off on a business trip to one of America's most beautiful places, I had a good time in San Diego last week.

Before I get too far away from the trip I want to note a couple of monuments I've observed on previous visits, both of which I got to see again this time. It makes me very happy to share these with friends and colleagues.

San Diego - long an important center for U.S. Navy operations - is the site of the museum build around the U.S.S. Midway, and there's no denying that it's an important ship for a visit (particularly when you've had a little bit of American history and you understand the role the Midway played over the years). It's an amazing space, this ship, and when you stop to think that more than 225,000 sailors have been assigned to the ship, walking its decks is an awesome experience. Commissioned just after the end of World War II, the U.S. Midway was for many years the largest ship in the world.

In the shadow of the Midway are the two monuments I refer to in the title, a huge statue based on one of the most famous photographs of the war, taken during the victory celebration in New York's Times Square. The iconic photograph, turned into a massive sculpture for San Diego, honors all the nation's servicemen and makes it clear that they had every right to be celebratory when they came home.

A second monument honors longtime comedian and star Bob Hope (1903-2003), who spent much of this career supporting the nation's troops and traveling wherever he needed to go to entertain the country's service personnel. This sculpture depicts one such occasion, with an appreciative audience made up of members from all branches of the United States armed forces.

So a quick immediate impression of San Diego begins right next to the U.S.S. Midway and very naturally sets up a happy and wholesome mood for enjoying the beautiful city. Go here to see a few of my photos of the monuments.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Information and Knowledge Strategy: No Longer an "Emerging" Management Methodology

Tuesday, May 21 was Class Day 2013 at Columbia University's School of Continuing Education, a splendid event for everyone affiliated with the school and its programs, including its graduate degree programs. Program directors introduced more than 500 candidates for degrees, giving us a grand opportunity to watch them walk joyfully across the stage to be greeted by Dean Kristine Billmyer. And the mood of the day was described perfectly by one of my faculty colleagues in the academic procession, when he remarked, "On a day like this! Isn't it great to be part of so much happiness?"

Well said.

Among the candidates were the first-ever graduates of Columbia University's M.S. in Information and Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) program, created in 2011 to provide professional education within (and matched to) Columbia's rigorous academic excellence in its many other programs.

Those of us affiliated with the program
(including fellow faculty member Anne Kershaw and Academic Director Katrina Pugh, pictured with me at right) were feeling particularly celebratory because the graduation of the IKNS 2012 Cohort marked the introduction of a special group of knowledge workers into the management community. With the successful completion of their studies during the 16-month program (with three onsite residencies on the Columbia University campus), the IKNS graduates are now prepared to take on knowledge leadership roles in their companies and organizations. They've studied a wide array of carefully chosen subjects to prepare themselves as knowledge "thought leaders" for the companies where they're employed (or for their new positions, for those graduates moving into different jobs now that they've completed their studies).

Graduation from the IKNS program requires proven expertise, and a simple listing of the required courses makes it clear that these graduates have mastered what they need to know to be knowledge strategists in the business and professional world:
  • Information and Knowledge in the 21st Century Economy
  • Management and Leadership in the Knowledge Domain
  • Findability and Innovation with Information and Knowledge Assets: Fundamentals and Business Cases
  • Enterprise-Wide Applications and Project Management
  • Business Analytics and Strategic Intelligence
  • Networks and Collaboration: Issues and Methods
  • Information Policy and Regulatory Issues
These courses - plus electives in related subjects and the Master's Capstone Project - ensure that Columbia's IKNS graduates are prepared to take their place in the increasingly (and dramatically) demanding world of information and intellectual capital management. Employing companies and organizations have made it clear that they stand to benefit from the expertise these graduates acquired through the IKNS graduate program.

So it's a good day for all of us involved in Columbia's IKNS program. For some years now, those of us working in the knowledge domain had found ourselves referring to information and knowledge strategy as "the emerging management methodology." No more. With these graduates - and IKNS graduates to follow - KM, knowledge services, and knowledge strategy are now embedded in the management arena. These graduates - one and all - are ready to put their knowledge and their expertise to work for their employing organizations, for their profession, and for the greater good. It is a very special time to be moving into this critical field of work.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

"Making Tracks for Elephants" at the Bronx Zoo

And Many Thanks to All Who Supported Mr. Guy's Elephant Walk 

While we are all struggling with the realities of the great tragedy that has come to the African elephants, it was extremely gratifying to see so many people participating in the Wildlife Conservation Society's "Making Tracks for Elephants" Run and Walk at the Bronx Zoo today.

But you thought it was "Mr. Guy's Elephant Walk" didn't you? Well, a little personal note: when I made my appeal, I used that reference as a not-too-successful play on the title of an Elizabeth Taylor movie from my childhood. Well, it didn't work. No one remembers the movie ("Elephant Walk") and, besides, it took place in Ceylon or some such place, not in Africa.

So not a good gimmick for getting people to support your favorite cause, Mr. Guy.

No matter. We did very well, and while I haven't yet heard from the folks at the Wildlife Conservation Society about how much was raised by all participants (I suppose that will be in the press sometime next week), I am very grateful to Mr. Guy's friends and family. We contributed nearly $1,700.00 to this important cause, and our donations will go far in funding more research about the elephants and, particularly, in trying to figure out how we can influence African governments to take serious action against the criminals who are poaching elephants for their ivory.

How bad is the poaching? Re-read the posts I sent out with my appeal, one on March 17 and another last week. Or read this from the WCS:

"If we do not act, we will have to shamefully admit to our children that we stood by as elephants were driven out of existence.”-- WCS conservationists Samantha Strindberg & Fiona Maisels, writing in The New York Times

"Alarming reports from the Central African Republic (CAR)  indicate a new spike in elephant killings, as poachers infiltrate areas once considered safe havens. This latest crisis is occurring near the Dzanga-Sangha protected areas, a World Heritage Site.

"Across the globe, elephants are vanishing. Up to 30,000 elephants are killed in Africa each year for their ivory tusks, which are in demand in Asia. Well-funded and well-armed criminal cartels are to blame. To combat them, we're scaling up our ecoguard programs and monitoring elephants in some of their last wild strongholds, building on our hundred-plus years of wildlife conservation expertise."

So to one and all who responded to M. Guy's appeal, my since thanks. Let's keep thinking about this important work, and talking about it with our friends and neighbors.

And once again, to all of you who contributed, I very much appreciate your taking the time to respond, and for your generous and kind contributions.

We did our part, and I'm very proud of you all.

Thank you very much.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Join Me in My Next Public Webinar

Mark your calendar now to join me on May 7 for an exclusive free webinar sponsored by Soutron Global.

In addition to my work with SMR International, I am the Consulting Specialist for Knowledge Services for Soutron Global. I am extremely pleased to be providing webinars sponsored by Soutron Global as part of my work with the company.

Soutron Global’s corporate mission is to transform libraries into the digital information resource centers of the future, and Soutron Global leads the way in assisting specialist librarians and other strategic knowledge professionals as they make the transition.

Our first webinar—“Transforming Libraries: Knowledge Expertise=Knowledge Effectiveness” focused on the role of the knowledge professional in the transformation process (go here to access the PPT slide deck).

We are looking forward to another good discussion on May 7, when we'll speak about “TRANSFORMING LIBRARIES: What’s Required?”

I’m very honored that Tony Saadat, Soutron’s President and CEO, has invited me to conduct the current series of webinars. Tony and I have worked together for many years, and for the Transforming Libraries Webinars, we’ve put together a full line-up of critical topics to discuss with friends, clients, and colleagues over the next eight months.

On May 7, in our webinar on “TRANSFORMING LIBRARIES: What’s Required?” we’ll dive deep into some of the major issues you’re thinking about, and we’ll address the following questions:
  1. What is the governance "picture" for sharing knowledge in your organization? Who owns the content?
  2. Does your system allow for integrating this knowledge into the organizational workflow?
  3. Can you and your team -- with the tools you have -- operate the specialized library as the company's knowledge nexus?
During our one-hour session, the Soutron Global team will also showcase the company’s cost effective enterprise library solutions to demonstrate how you can enhance the economic value of your knowledge assets and improve personal productivity while reducing operating costs. After the demonstration, a question-and-answer session will conclude our time together.

Webinar:              “TRANSFORMING LIBRARIES: What’s Required?”
Date:                     Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Time:                     2:00pm EST (11:00am PST)           
Venue:                   GoToWebinar

Please RSVP to reserve your place. Register on Soutron Global’s Webinar Registration page, as there are limited seats available. You will receive a GoToWebinar invitation with instructions in a separate email prior to the session.