Sunday, April 28, 2013

A town just east of Bishkek

I’ve been poking around and collecting tons of trivia on Russia these days, spinning off from the news about the tragic Tsarnaev family and following all the folks piecing together their family history.  The Washington Post has a fascinating article, complete with timeline on four members of the Tsarnaev family, Anzor, his wife Zubeidat, and their boys, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar.  The sisters didn’t amount to much, but the boys have managed to put places on the map you’d never have heard of in a million years, possibly.  Tokmok, for example.  A town we are told is “just east of Bishkek.”

Way to push my absurdity button.

Sounds like something a bad science fiction writer would come up with.  Let’s go down to the river, Og Og and make pek pek. 

But Tokmok is a real place.  It’s in the province of Chuy, which is a combination of sounds I’ve heard before in connection with Brazil (it’s its southernmost city) and a number of very nice Mexican kids I’ve come across over the years.  Tokmok, Chuy, is in the very northern part of Kyrgyzstan, right on the border with Kazakhstan.  All very mountainous, I understand.  If you go from there to Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan to the East, you have to first drive about seventy miles to the west to cross the border and then it’s another three hours or more.  A total of about 300 kilometers.  But you can walk it, via a more direct route through the mountains, according to Google maps, a distance of only 215 kilometers, which you can do easily in about 44 hours. 

The picture you see at the top is an ad for an air conditioner.  Pretty cool (no pun intended), with the full-sized mirror, don’t you think?  The words продажа, установка mean sale, installation, in case you were wondering.   I don’t know what the going rate for air conditioners is in Tokmok, but I’m sure with a bit of perseverance, you could find out.

That Washington Post article has a wonderful picture of Anzor and Zubeidat, who once lived in Tokmok for a time.  Handsome dude, was Anzor in his time, although one wonders why he and Zubeidat were masquerading at the time as the Munsters.  She clearly swung her pendulum all the way when she went in later years to America and ran a beauty parlor in her kitchen, but in these early days, they were clearly hiding from anybody with a pair of scissors.  And that cute little feller on her lap who will go down through the centuries as a bloody mangler of limbs.

Idle google searching brings so many delightful surprises.  You learn that some of your fellow Americans cannot distinguish between Chechnya and the Czech Republic, for example, and the Czech ambassador feels put upon to speak back to the insult.  Love that Ambrose Bierce line, “War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.” And for those of you prematurely convinced that racism is dead and gone in America, tune it to some of the discussion about how the Caucasians, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar, were not really white people, leaving the rest of us to wonder why.  Because they’re Muslims?  I mean there’s dumb as your shoes.  And then there are the folks convinced that Caucasians aren’t really white.  Even the Japan Times picked up the news that “Fox News just said ‘Chechens are not Caucasian’ despite the fact that Chechnya is literally IN THE CAUCUS (sic)”

In fact, since you asked, according to one source, (a Wikipedia site is the best I can do – they refer you to Science “The world's leading scientific journal” of 19 May 2000:Vol. 288 no. 5469 pp. 1158DOI:10.1126/science.288.5469.1158)  "The Nakh–Dagestanian languages are the closest thing we have to a direct continuation of the cultural and linguistic community that gave rise to Western civilization."  Google “Chechen Language” and you find “Chechen (Noxc̈iyn mott) is ... together with Ingush and Bats, a member of the Nakh branch of the Northeast Caucasian language family.   Dagestan is where the Tsernaevs call home today.  Even with blonde roots to the base of your skull, you couldn't get more Caucasian.

OK, enough of that.  All this splashing around in Russian waters has made me yearn for a bit of Dmitri’s voice.  It has been a while.

Some of you may remember that two years ago, I blogged about one of my greatest pleasure-giving obsessions – a Schwarzenegger tank of a guy with a drop-dead handsome face and an elegant white mane of hair to die for (excuse the double death metaphor, but one does get carried away…), the Russian opera singer Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Comparisons are cruel, and I’m a cad for putting anybody up against Dmitri, but I was rummaging around Russian music sites and thinking to myself how really bad some singers can get, when I came across some YouTubes of Alexander Gradsky and realized I had yet to plumb the depths.

Gradsky was apparently pretty good in his youth, but there’s this one song that is so bad you wonder how they had the courage to post it.  Gradsky singing one of those big orchestra sentimental nostalgic tunes the Russians love so much.  This one is “Zhil byl ya” (I once was…)  The title says it all.  

Awful awful orchestra, awful awful singing.

I remember Gradsky from the days I learned another one of those sentimental numbers, “Kak molody my byli” (How young we were).  He’s not quite so wretched singing that one:

But why, I ask myself, am I wasting my time on Gradsky when I want to get to Dmitri?   You have to think of that wonderful adventure you get at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, where they take you in through some strange circuitous route through the dull woods before they let you see the splendor of the imperial gardens.  The Japanese of eons past knew a lot about the pleasure of delayed gratification.  That delay imposed by the Japanese Imperial Household Agency came to mind when I forced myself to listen to Gradsky being wretched all the way to the end before leaping ahead to listen to Dmitri do it.  Like watching a musical caterpillar turn into a butterfly before your eyes.

Man, can that guy hit home!   Look at the ladies in the audience wiping their eyes.  The men, too.

What a rich and wonderful place is Russia.   A place on the planet which is a whole lot more than Moscow and St. Petersburg.  The Cossacks, for example, of Southern Russia and Ukraine.  A race of people, sort of like the Hessians, who made a name in history for themselves as policemen.  Or, if you’re up on Jewish history, as terrorists for the tsarist state. 

The word Cossacks sounds linguistically too close to the word for their neighbors, the Kazaks for them not to have a common origin, I thought, so I poked around there for awhile until I got lost in the vast territory of Central Asian history.  The latter is of Turkish origin, the former of Slavic, but somewhere there’s a big daddy that they can both point to.    “Cossack” is a Cuman word.  What we call Central Asia was once called the Cuman-Kipchak Federation.  It means “yellow” because they apparently were all pretty much, kind of, you know, blond people.  Which is weird, because they came originally, in the 11th Century, from China.  And in case you had any doubts as to their ethnic origin, consider this – the Lord’s Prayer in Cuman and in Turkish:

English: Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Cuman: Atamız kim köktesiñ. Alğışlı bolsun seniñ atıñ, kelsin seniñ xanlığıñ, bolsun seniñ tilemekiñ – neçikkim kökte, alay [da] yerde.

Modern Turkish: Atamız sen göktesin. Alkışlı olsun senin adın, gelsin senin hanlığın, olsun senin dileğin– nasıl ki gökte, ve yerde.

Or, if you run the Turkish through the Turkish-English translator, you get:

Our ancestors, you're in heaven. Whether alkışlı your name, let him khanate you get, that's your wish-how in heaven, and on earth.

So much for the Cossacks, to be distinguished from the Kazakhs, to be distinguished from the Dagestans and the Chechens.  And, if you’re going to join in with all the folks playing amateur historian and blaming the Muslims for what these Caucasian boys have gone and done, you'll need to get serious about just who the Caucasians are.  You probably ought to familiarize yourself with the Kartvelian peoples, the Georgians, the Adjarians, the Svans, the Mingrelians and the Lazs.  Then there are the Northeast Caucasians, the Avars and the Andic peoples, the Akhvakh, the Karata, the Botlikh, the Gogoberi, the Chamalal, the Bagvalal and the Tindi.  And the Tsez people, the Tsez, the Hinukh, the Bezhta, the Hunzxib and the Khwarshi.  And the Lezgic people, the Agus, the Lezgins, the Rutuls, the Tabasarans, the Tsakhurs, the Udins the Archins, the Dargins, and the Khinalugs.

Then there are the Laks, which include, besides the Chechens, the Bats, the Kists and the Ingush.  And the Northwest Caucasian people include the  Abkhazians and the Abazins, the Adyghe, the Kabardins, the Circassians and the Ubykh.
How about another Dmitri song.

How about this one, another favorite of mine.  It’s a song about the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, which the Russians lost.  The Japanese won and went on to become major militarists because of it.  You know the results.  The song, “Na sopkakh Manchzhurii” (In the hills of Manchuria).  A lovely, very sad, waltz.   It goes like this:

Around us, it is calm; Hills are covered by mist,
Suddenly, the moon shines through the clouds,
Graves hold their calm.
The white glow of the crosses — heroes are asleep.
The shadows of the past circle around,
Recalling the victims of battles.

Dear mother is shedding tears,
The young wife is weeping,
All like one are crying,
Cursing fate, cursing destiny!

Around us, it’s calm; The wind blew the fog away,
Warriors are asleep on the hills of Manchuria
And they cannot hear the Russian tears.
Let sorghum’s rustling lull you to sleep,
Sleep in peace, heroes of the Russian land,
Dear sons of the Fatherland.

Dear mother is shedding tears,
The young wife is weeping,
All like one are crying,
Cursing fate, cursing destiny!

You fell for Russia, perished for Fatherland,
Believe us, we shall avenge you
And celebrate a bloody wake!

Remember, American amateur historians, there was a time just over a hundred years ago when Russians were fighting a bunch of East Asians Manchuria, the part of the world where the Turkic hoards came from who became, among other things, the “blond” Caucasians, who became the Europeans, which is much of us, and Chechens who ended up fighting the Russians, and some of them came to America and got homesick for their Muslim homeland and went off the deep end and became vicious killers who made their shoplifter mother shout out, “America, what did you do to my children!”

Go ahead.  Wade in to all this and sort it out.

I'll join you in this quest for a historical perspective.

Maybe tomorrow.

Right now, I'm shutting down to spend the rest of the day with Dmitri's gorgeous voice.

source: Tsarnaevs with Uncle photo

Thursday, April 25, 2013

From New England, originally

All the New Englander parts of my identity are dancing up and down at the moment.  Rhode Island, the sixth and final New England state to approve same-sex marriage has just put out the welcome mat.  New England now speaks with one voice, and that voice has said, loud and clear, that the era when gays and lesbians were expected to cower in shame before the boney pointed fingers of bishops and bible thumpers is now done.  At least in New England.

I grew up in Connecticut, went to college in Vermont, was confirmed in a church in New Hampshire.  My father was from New England’s capital, Boston, in Massachusetts.   When asked years ago where I would most like to live, I remember thinking of the coast of Maine, which I knew as a lobster-loving kid.  Rhode Island is the only state I don’t have many connections with, other than learning as a kid it was founded by Roger Williams running from the theocratic Pilgrim fathers, and was a place one could be proud of.  Roger Williams has been referred to as the first abolitionist, and he gets credit, as well, for being the author of the idea of a “wall of separation” between church and state, an idea and a phrase which Thomas Jefferson picked up.  (I was taught by Baptist Sunday School teachers, and some of that religious-nationalist pride has stuck, it would seem.)  Forgive me for my slant on things, thinking the state now has lived up to its potential as a place for free-thinkers.  Took some time getting there, but they’re there.

I left New England for California nearly three quarters of my life ago, and without regrets.  California.  You know.  That state that used to lead in education, in mental health care, in so many ways.    Also, unfortunately, the state that gave us Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and Proposition 8.  You’ll forgive me if once in a while I wonder if my rejection of my New England roots and my total embrace of California was really the right move.

It was.  I have selected one part of New England that is admirable and put it up against parts of California that are not.  An intellectually dishonest comparison and a waste of time.  But I can’t help those thoughts bouncing around in my head right now, which I’m going to give free rein to and say, “New England, I’m glad to know you.  I think you’re mighty fine.”

It’s not yet a done deal, of course.  The Rhode Island house approved it some time ago, and the senate voted yes just yesterday (Wednesday, April 24).  The governor has agreed to sign it.  It just has to go back to the house for approval of the latest changes, basically giving some righteous religious organizations the right to keep their view that there is something wrong with homosexual people. 

The votes are clear victories.  The Rhode Island House approved it 51 to 19 and the Senate 26 to 12.  These are considerable margins, all the more significant when you consider that Rhode Island has the second highest percentage (44.3) of Roman Catholics (after Massachusetts, with 44.9) in the country.  Once again we need to remember that when you hear people speak of “the Catholic vote” or “the Catholic church’s position” that they may be making the erroneous assumption that the hierarchy is the church.

It has been a great run for gay people lately.  I blogged my delight at the Maori love song at the New Zealand parliament the other day.  I apologized (as if they needed it) to Argentina for not making a bigger deal when they extended rights to gays and lesbians we don’t have in this country.  And Uruguay – that country I’ve always given a bad rap to because my pocket got picked once in Montevideo.  (The rap is totally unjustified, by the way, because other Montevideans went out of their way to get my passport and wallet back to me, when the thieves tossed them into the street.)  So bully for Uruguay!

And France!  How about France!  As my friend Elizabeth said once, when complaining about life in Germany – “There’s only two things wrong with these people – they don’t make decent croissants and they’re not French.”

The battle in France is interesting.  In the center of Paris, just a seven minute walk from the Hotel Esmeralda, where my partner and I stayed in a room looking out on Notre Dame, one time – one could never have a more storybook Parisian vacation – just seven minutes from there is the church of St. Nicholas de Chardonnet.  Despite the smile that name should bring to the lips of any wine-loving Francophile, the church is actually a center for an archly conservative Catholic group known as the SSPX, the Society of Saint Pius the Tenth, a group committed to the idea that the reforms of Vatican II were in error and we need to go back to the old ways.   You know the old ways.  Blaming Jews for the death of Christ.  Keeping women barefoot and pregnant.  So conservative they even embarrass the pope.  A kind of Tea Party with überCatholic values.

The church is a center for the opposition forces fighting against the right of  French gays and lesbians to marry and news items lately include images of the good Abbé Beauvais in Roman collar shouting at the CRS (the riot police) to “matraquez les décadents" (club those decadent people!).  So much for the religion of God’s love.  For a more in-depth treatment of the church’s role in the French opposition to marriage equality, see Bill Lindsey’s blog this morning and the John Lichfield article in The Independent to which he refers. 

Fortunately, despite the surprising amount of violence associated with the struggle for this latest step in full equality for LGBT people in France, the French parliament went and did it.  Voted on Tuesday, a day ahead of Rhode Island, for marriage rights to all.  The vote was 331 to 225, another comfortable margin, although four conservatives later claimed they didn’t know what they were voting for because the light was in their eyes.   Just joking.  One guy said there were too many flashing lights on his electronic voting board.  We all get confused.  They allowed him to change his vote.

The Connecticut Senate (yeah, home state!) just voted 34 to 0 to allow gay people who lost their veteran rights under Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell to get those rights back. 

Santa Fe, New Mexico’s city council pulled a Gavin Newsom the other day and voted 5 to 3 to grant marriage licenses to gay people to marry on the grounds there were no laws against it in New Mexico.   (San Francisco’s mayor Gavin Newsom, remember, got the ball rolling which eventually got same-sex marriage rights passed in California before Prop. 8 overturned them.) 

Delaware, Minnesota, Illinois and Nevada are all talking about same-sex marriage rights.  No telling who will get there first and how long it will take the stragglers, but the momentum is unmistakable.   The GOP sees the writing on the wall and one Republican congressman after another is switching sides.  The conservatives in Britain and the socialists in France are both leading the charge.  From mighty world power France to little Rhody, people are coming to recognize the evil that has been done in the name of fear and organized religion, and they are now increasing the pace to put things right.   It feels good to be able to see positive change like this.

And did I tell you I’m from New England, originally?

 photo credit

Monday, April 22, 2013

Swimming the Rapids

So much about American democracy needs fixing.  The planet’s burning up,  and we can’t fix it because we dance to the tune of Exxon, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron and BP.  90% of Americans are in favor of greater gun control and 60% of the Senate votes against.  The media are full of evidence that American democracy is in shambles, and everybody I know has victim fatigue.  Many of my friends tell me they don’t read my downer diatribes anymore.  If you’re going to write, send more music and doggie pictures, they tell me.

Solutions are elusive because the issues are complex.  We don’t want to give up our cars, and Republicans get a lot of mileage out of scaring people about rising gas prices.  The people of Wyoming get the same representation in the Senate as the people of California do, even though we outnumber them 66 to 1.  So while it makes sense for Dick Cheney to go hunting in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, Dianne Feinstein normally doesn’t carry a gun when she goes to Oakland, California.  He speaks of “the rights of law-abiding citizens” to carry guns. She knows how many kids die on the streets of Oakland.  We see things differently, depending on where we come from.

I tried all week to avoid the misery that came out of Boston, but there was no escaping it.  It was top news around the world for a while.  My first encounter with the story came following the Huffington Post coverage, when I found myself getting terribly frustrated by one of the first sources I normally turn to.  They were going on and on about “the suspect’s whereabouts.”  I had tuned in on the chase, so this is perhaps excusable, but I wanted to know why these two young brothers were suspects.  It took me forever to get the story, and in the meantime I was listening to interviews with their mother and father who claimed they were set up.  Considering how common it is to hear of overzealous police and prosecutors, one has to wonder.

I am satisfied, now that it has come out these guys shot and killed some of their pursuers and that they hijacked a car and apparently confessed to its driver that they were indeed the Marathon killers, that “suspects” did in fact mean “killers” in this case.  But it still bothers me that the two words are now apparently used interchangeably by so many people so much of the time.

The whole story went on that way, mixing good news with ugly suspicions.  I was happy to see people burst into applause as the cops drove through Watertown in a kind of victory lap after the capture.  They put their lives at risk and deserved such happy recognition.  But what ruined the scene was the thuggish people shouting U-S-A!  U-S-A! and pumping their fists, suggesting we had just gone to war and won against enemies who had threatened us. 

It’s the whole thing about war.   Some Saudi Islamicists bomb the Twin Towers and we manufacture lies to justify an invasion of Iraq.  Most Americans still today accept that as perhaps a mistake, in retrospect, but no big deal.  A political error.  Out of our hands.

Excesses from the liberation movements of the sixties leave us with a serious drug problem.  Nixon has the opportunity to declare a medical emergency and to identify the addicts as victims.  Instead, he creates "pushers" and "users" as enemies in a “War on Drugs.”   For a history of that folly, see Dan Baum’s Smoke and Mirrors.  

Tamerlan Tsarnaev is now dead.  His little brother, Dzhokhar, is in the hospital in critical condition.  After killing four people at the Boston Marathon and injuring 170, they ran into the great American war machine – a thousand FBI agents, many thousands of SWAT officers, all aided by the fact that everybody and everything is filmed these days, and they were tracked down in very short order.  They contributed to their own demise, by admitting they were the Marathon killers to that guy whose car they hijacked, but mostly it was modern-day sleuthing that got them.  A story with a happy ending.  Really.

I know there’s probably no way to keep this from being defined as a terrorist act.  It was exactly that.  The problem is, once it is so labeled it gets to be part of the “war” on terrorism.  That war on an abstract notion, as opposed to a tracking down and punishing of individuals with brains fried with hatred at real and perceived wrongs done to their religion.

Lindsey Graham, John McCain, Kelly Ayotte and Peter King, the Muslim-hater, Republicans all, are all over this, wanting to make sure young Dzhokhar doesn’t get any legal protection.  No Miranda rights, say our fearless leaders.  Enemy combatant.  Guantanamo for this guy.  Oops, can’t do that, he’s an American citizen.  No matter.  Enemy.  Enemy.  Enemy.  No rights.  

We’re at war, you see.  We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.  No stinkin’ rights.  We can withhold Miranda.  Alan Dershowitz, by the way, is suggesting that decision may bite them in the ass if they want to apply the death penalty.  Dzokhar’s defense lawyer can argue you can withhold Miranda only if there is a clear and present danger and an urgent need to get more information out of the prisoner.  The police had announced they got the guys and the danger was over.  Careless, this is.  All because we need to act like gang busters all the time.  Start with the Big Berthas, bypass the normal procedures.  Go to red alert.  Go to war.

Look at this story.  Two boys from Central Asia, from the Caucasus.  Chechens running from the War in Chechnya with their mother and father.  They come make a home in Boston, where most of America’s Chechens live, I understand.  They grow up here.  Speak English natively.  They are Americans.  Immigrants, like so many of us, but Americans.

Something goes wrong.  They get caught up in religious fanaticism.  Tamarlan does, at any rate.  We don’t know how much independent thinking went on on Dzhokhar’s part.  He seems to have been following the tribal value of following his big brother, not the more common American value of being your own man.  We will have to wait and see if he speaks and if he can tell his story.  At the moment, the injuries to his throat suggest this may be a long way off.  He’s been charged with use of a “weapon of mass destruction” – you know, like the weapons the Americans used in Iraq – for which he could get the death penalty.  

Bottom line here, for me, is that with our clumsy American ways, our bull in the China shop tendency to panic, to shut down the city – effective as it was – to call every conflict a war, thereby laying the ground for military solutions – we’re always going to be destructive instead of smart.

The French sociologist, Olivier Roy, has made the case several times over that France’s problems (and this would apply elsewhere in Europe, as well) with politicized Islamic movements are as much home-grown as they are rooted in terrorism generated abroad.  Young people of Muslim heritage get caught between the religion and ethnic identities of their parents on the one hand, and the outsider label in France, the only home they’ve ever known.  While women in Muslim countries fight to take off the hijab, many French Muslim girls go against their mothers’ wishes and put it on.  I suspect something like this is going on in the case of the Tsarnaev boys.  Just a guess, of course, since my knowledge is limited to my attempts to read between the lines in all the news reports.

But one thing seems clear.  The information-challenged right wingers who want to blame immigrants, or Islam, or some other “other” are wrong.  There may be reason to fear terrorist groups in Pakistan or Yemen or wherever we drop bombs from drones.  But that’s not the whole story, by any means.

You can call this 19-year old Muslim boy named Dzokhar, lying in critical condition in a Jewish hospital, a terrorist if you want.  You’d be technically correct.  But don’t miss the fact that he’s also a boy.  That his horizons up till now have been limited.  That he grew up mostly in Boston and formed his view of the world in large part by what he was exposed to in the United States.  It will be relatively easy to try him, find him guilty, and execute him.  But if you want to understand him, don’t lay the blame on Islam.  Look for answers in the struggle young people go through looking for identity and getting caught in the cracks, being too much exposed to America’s killer side and not enough exposed to its idealism.  Overwhelmed by the challenge to make sense of the fight between tradition and modernity. 

I used to say I was little more than the last book I read.  Susceptibility to fads and to any given zeitgeist is part of the rapids kids have to swim in their teens and twenties.  Dzokhar, I’m convinced, got caught on the rocks. 

We could take any number of paths from here on.  We could try to understand him and educate ourselves about what thousands of young people all over the world are facing in this struggle with modernity.  Or we could do what we are far more likely to do.  Listen to politicians who will whip us up and make us cry for blood, because it will get them votes.

I wish things were otherwise.

photo credit

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Difference a Song Makes

I fell in love with a song yesterday.  Went absolutely ape-shit bonkers over it.  Couldn’t stop listening to it.

The song is the Maori love song, Pokarekare Ana, and it serves as New Zealand’s unofficial national anthem.  Imagine.  A country with a national anthem that is a love song.

I already had a powerful admiration for New Zealand - for its willingness to lead in opposition to nuclear proliferation, for the fact it was the first modern state to have universal suffrage (in 1893), and for being the first country to have its three top positions held by women (Prime Minister, Helen Clark; Governor General, Dame Silvia Cartwright; and Chief Justice, Sian Elias).  But yesterday my admiration went off the charts.  And I can’t be sure whether it was because they became the thirteenth nation to extend the civil right to marry to gays and lesbians, or because when they did so their parliament was ground to a halt by the singing of a love song.   Have a look at the video of the vote count announcement for the full experience.  Make sure you have your hankie at the ready.  

If you’re a New Zealander, you’re probably shaking your head at my naïveté, or wondering where I’ve been all these years that I shouldn’t know this melody.  Or at my presumptuousness to think this song might get picked up by gays and lesbians as their theme song, as well.  I was probably overdoing it there, but no matter.  The song went straight to the heart and began to dance there.

It’s not just the melody that got to me, obviously.  It’s a rather plain song, not in the same league as some of the more dramatic show tunes – think Alfie Boe singing “Bring Him Home,” for example, at the 25th Anniversary performance of Les Misérables at Albert Hall.  It’s more in league, maybe, with Amazing Grace in singability and for the way it lends itself to rich harmonies by choirs and large groups of people.  It’s a song, in other words, that spells community.  And solidarity.  And optimism.  Listen to this version, for example by a college men’s group called the Front Row Chorus.

And that’s not to say it doesn’t hold its own when kicked upstairs (or schmaltzed up, depending on your degree of music snobbery)  and sung by soloists who know how to knock you over with their talent.  This operatic duet version with Welsh tenor Bryn Terfel and that New Zealander popular singer with the purest of voices, Soprano Hayley Dee Westenra.  Or, Hayley Westenra doing it solo.  Here, for example, if you'd like it with Japanese subtitles. 

Then there are the many versions by New Zealand’s own Kiri Te Kanawa, herself of Maori origin. This Millenium New Zealand performance, for example.   Or this one, where she sings it a capella:

Apparently it has made a huge hit not only in Japan, but in Korea, as well.  Here are a couple versions done by Korean groups, here and here.   If your tear ducts haven't had enough flushing, consider that the reason the song is so big in Korea is that Maori soldiers came to the aid of South Korea during the Korean War and taught it to Korean children.  Or so I'm told.  If you'd like to sing along in Korean, here are the words in romaji (with some liberties taken with the English translation, as you can see).

As the periculous storm calms down
[Biba ram E chidun bada, Janjan hae juh oh Myun]
Hoping for your arrival today
[Oh Neul Guh dae oh shi ryeo nah]
Acrossing the sea
[Juh Bada Gunnuh Suh]
Although the shining stars at night are beautiful, you amorous eyes are more beautiful than ever
[Bam ha neul eh ban Jjack E neun byulbit do arumdapjiman Sarang Seurun gue dae nun en, deo ook ah reum da wo rah
I will wait for you, I will wait for my love x2
[gue dae man el, gidariri nae sarang...]
Don't stop here.  The many versions keep spilling out of YouTube like clowns out of a telephone booth.  Some are exquisite, some merely good, some terribly schlocky - the Xena the Amazon Lady version, for example.  Nice harmony, but the video is strictly you gotta be kidding.  

In digging around for more information about New Zealand and about this song, I came up with all sorts of interesting information.  New Zealand has, besides God Save the Queen, I mean, an official national anthem that is also head and shoulders above most national anthems as a beautiful melody.  How do they do it?

And how do they know to treat their Maori minority with such respect?  About half a million of New Zealand’s four million inhabitants are Maori, only just over 160,000 of whom have even conversational ability in the language.  About 70,000 are native speakers today.  But just as Switzerland accepts Romansch as one of its four official languages, New Zealand is not concerned with numbers, but with historical representation and respect.

Not only is their national anthem a thing of beauty, it shouldn’t be missed that it is sung first in Maori, and then in English.

And you haven’t heard it all yet.  Besides considering Pokarekare Ana an unofficial national anthem, they actually have one more official one:  The third language is New Zealand Sign Language.

It occurred to me at some point yesterday while I was going on and on over what had just happened in New Zealand, that I had given Uruguay short shrift.  They, too, had just passed legislation granting same-sex couples the same rights opposite-sex couples have to have their life partnerships recognized officially.  And, for that matter, I didn’t hop up and down when Argentina granted its people those rights, either, despite the fact I have a special affection for Argentina for that wonderful period in my life when I lived there in 2007. 

The only way I can explain it, is that there was something about the music.  Watching people cry and shout with delight is one thing.  Watching them burst into song – a love song, at that – is another.

picture credit of the New Zealand Parliament leader making the announcement that the vote was 77 to 44 in favor.

Don't miss, while you're at it, the great speech by Maurice Williamson leading up to the vote.

And that woman in the rainbow-colored coat at the center of it all in the first video of the vote count announcement?  Her name is Louisa Wall, and she's the Labour MP for Manuwera.   She's the major force behind it all.  Kudos!  Kudos too to the woman behind the woman, her partner, Prue Kapua.