In Praise of North

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I never cared for palm trees and coconuts and would trade a week in the tropics for one day in the tundra.

That’s because I love the geographic North. Give me crisp, cold weather, snow, boreal and deciduous forests, icy mountains, northern legends and fairy tales, the aurora borealis, Santa Claus, fur hats and winter clothes, skiing, snow-shoeing, and hunkering down when a huge snowstorm threatens. Is there a softer peace in the world than a new snowfall or a greater exhilaration than a howling winter wind?

In fact, while many imagine a heaven that softly chirps and gurgles across a temperate montage, I hope to spend eternity in a savage and majestic alpine landscape amidst snow-capped peaks, mountain meadows, and glacial lakes, where giant bears, great elk, lynx, eagles, and arctic wolves freely roam. North is more than a direction on the compass—it’s a spiritual guide to a Far Land, pure and remote.

Yes, give me such a climate than stimulates the soul and challenges the mind.

Perhaps it’s because I came into the world during a monumental January blizzard that held my mother snowbound, preventing her from reaching the hospital. Thus, I was born at home in—as I love to reflect—the same room and same bed in which I was conceived and in which, years later, my father on a bright autumn day would pass from the world. Continue reading

Paco de Lucía: 1947–2014

I first heard flamenco music around the age of 8, when an older brother brought home a 33 1/3 LP called Flamenco Fury, a collection of standard “hits” of the genre.

From first hearing, I was mesmerized by the strumming, the pizzicato, the hollow thumping of the instruments, and the Moorish wailing of the singers. The music jumped from the vinyl grooves straight to my young soul. I sat for hours replaying the driving sounds and studying the vivid pictures on the album’s jacket.

Soon after, I saw my first live television performance of a flamenco group—I think on the old Ed Sullivan Show. Watching the dancing and the stroking of the musicians only fueled my love for these noble flamenco men and ladies. They were so… cool, with their deft moves, regal faces, and sublime music.

In the coming years, the more I heard the music, the more I wanted to be like the gypsy musicians—graceful, proud, hardened yet elegant. I wanted to dress like them, call out in Spanish to the music. I longed to sit and drink wine with them, even smoke the same dirty, little cigarettes.

Sadly, this world of heavenly music lost one of its angels with the recent death of Paco de Lucía at the age of 66. Born as Francisco Sánches Gomes in Spain’s Cadiz province, he was the youngest of five children of flamenco guitarist Antonio Sánchez Pecino.

Paco grew to become a celebrated flamenco guitarist, composer, and producer. He was best known for his lightning picados (finger runs), which he often juxtaposed with rasgueados (flamenco strumming).

De Lucía played an important role in legitimizing traditional flamenco while helping to fuse Flamenco with other music genres, such as jazz, classical, Latin music, and others. Contemporaries have described him as a “titanic figure in the world of flamenco guitar” and “one of history’s greatest guitarists.”

The following video of twenty-four-year old Paco with friends and family around a card table captures what I love best about the music and the players. Watch, listen, and be transported.