Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Long Weekend in New Orleans

DSC02422 St Louis Cathedral angel

My daughter and I are off to New Orleans, where the street signs offer a mini history lesson,

DSC02415 New Orleans Calle de San Luis

and other architectural details are celebrated:

DSC02538 New Orleans Cornstalk Fence

DSC02540 cornstalk fence

DSC00117 Tulane University architectural detail

DSC00120  Non Sibi Sed Suis 1834

We will return Wednesday night.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

El Cóndor Pasa

DSC02034 Andean Condor

We heard it everywhere we traveled on our trip to South America. Every establishment we entered played it, either live or piped in from the sound system. They played it on the street in Quito, on our ship in Galápagos Islands, in the hotel in Lima, in restaurants in Cusco, and on the train to and from Machu Picchu. It was a tacit agreement, it must be present in every playlist. You could change the instrumentation, you could change the tempo, you could sing the lyrics, or not, but play it you must.

We started placing bets.

“I think it’s coming up next.”

“Nah, too soon.”

If it came up unexpectedly, we briefly shot each other a knowing look with index finger in the air. It always drew a smile.

Thank goodness it’s a great song - a classic, timeless, ancient. Or at least that’s what I thought. According to Wikipedia, El Condor Pasa (Flight of the Condor, literally: The Condor Passes Through) was written less than one hundred years ago, in 1913, by Peruvian composer and ethnomusicologist Daniel Alomía Robles. The song has an ancient sound because Alomia Robles wrote the song based on the Andean folk songs he studied and collected.

Simon and Garfunkel popularized the song by covering it on their 1969 album Bridge over Troubled Waters. I always felt that the English lyrics that Paul Simon composed for the song were incongruous to the title and the strength of the song, but I am grateful to him for bringing this wonderful music to our households. Simon first heard El Cóndor Pasa performed by the Peruvian musical group “Los Incas” while he was in Paris. Here is “Los Incas’” 1963 version of the song:


One day, while in Cusco, we came face to face with the subject of this song, the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus):

DSC02032 Andean Condor

Domesticated, sadly. Seeing this magnificent bird anchored to the earth by its clipped wings poses a dilemma. On the one hand, your heart aches as you wonder whether this wondrous bird will ever soar over the Andes Mountains again. Can one justify taming this near-threatened vulture as part of wildlife education that is so critical for conservation? On the other hand, I wonder how many family members of this enterprising young man is able to feed with the tips tourists give him for the privilege of taking a photograph. Is it ever ethical to domesticate wild animals in today’s world?
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