And then you wake (Reprise)

Dream pop Courtenay Bluebird Faux Noir Cover

Well, what can I say? It’s been one helluva month, that’s what I can say.

In any which case, I missed you. Can you tell that I was trying to make a photograph that looked like one of those late 1960s pallet-knife paintings? Science fiction paperbacks used that style a lot. So did pulp novels. You know what those look like, right?

Tell you what—What I really want to hear is a story about the cover of your favorite paperback book.

[5-Minute Dance Party] Libertango

I am always amazed

at what the tango can do

when matched with the right dancer.

Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango” may be the most recognizable work of nuevo tango music in the world as well as the most accessible. For how can you not feel excitement when you hear Piazzolla’s sharp, moody masterpiece?

Here’s the problem with masterpieces: People adore masterpieces so much that they feel the need to add their own messy thumbprint to them. Like most composers, Piazzolla played the music he created, and a pretty thorough display of those legitimate recordings can be found on the All Music database. I like Piazzolla’s versions of his own pieces best—they have bite and intellectual fervor without removing a single slice of their original use as music for dance.

Some versions don’t fare so well. Piazzolla’s “Libertango” bloats in the orchestral version with sobbing strings used for “The Tango Lesson,” and nearly lays down and quits in the recording of Piazzolla’s ‘Libertango” duet with Yo-Yo Ma. (What genius would drown out Piazzolla’s accordion playing—in a tango, no less—to make room for cellist Yo-Yo Ma? I did mention this was tango music, didn’t I?)

And those are the legit versions. On Amazon, I found a pirated version of “Libertango” that appeared to be an arrangement of “Libertango” cassette recording and bucket drum. (It could’ve been worse, right? It could have been an arrangement of kitchen sink and kazoo.)

This version was arranged and produced by Michal Dvořák (with Jiří Janouch) for Vivaldianno MMXII featuring cellist Jaroslav Svěcený, accompanied by Michal Dvořák on keyboards and a host of celebrated professional musicians.

The dancer in this music video—who is amazing, yes?—is Johanka Hájková

If you’re still yearning for the original Piazzolla-played “Libertango,” may I suggest The Soul of Tango, which is a legitimate, beautifully produced collection of premier Piazzolla classics played by the master himself. How novel! How gorgeous! How true!

Our Sunday Best: {Truth Makes Contact} The weight of light

Matthew Brady, first known war photographer, looking stern in self-portrait contact sheet.

Whatever the photographers brought into a place was carried on their backs, and sometimes in their minds. There were the cameras and the film and the light meters and the lens brushes. There were the tripods and the black bags for the exposed film. Their bodies were crisscrossed in straps that held the cameras easily at hand when they traveled on foot, and the straps dug into their flesh, mapping and marking them, so that when they removed their clothes at night, they would look down in wonder at this accidental cartography. Another day, another arrangement of straps, and bruises like the heels of mountains would begin to rise on the photographers’ bodies wherever their cameras swayed and hit. Sometimes the photographers shot pictures.

The photographers found themselves welcomed wherever they arrived, except for those places where they weren’t welcome at all. In those unwelcome places, they hid their cameras and changed their names and took pictures from behind the broken bones of buildings where the bombs had stripped away architectural flesh. In the places where they were welcomed, the local people examined them and asked them questions if they shared a language or two, and if no language bridged the barrier of photographer to man, they relied on other ways of speaking to one another: pantomime being a common favorite, but even that was known to fail. Sometimes the man in charge just looked the photographer in the eye to see if he was a good man or if he could be made use of in some way. It was up to the photographer to understand how this might go.

Some of the photographers were honest in their intentions, as much as a photographer can be honest about what they haven’t seen yet. Really, it is never in the best interest of any subject in the field to have their picture taken because the subject cannot control the variables—the light in the sky and the temperament of the photographer could make some unhappy results. A strong photograph or four or six can topple an empire—everyone came to understand that pretty quickly. And some of the photographers were liars—their job, as they saw it, was to expose historical events, but what those photographers wanted was to be at the center of history, so the pictures they took skewed the story and shifted the outcome of what would have been to what these photographers decided it must be.

But worse still were the earnest photographers in the field that functioned like sensitive eyes. These photographers had the unhappiest luck of all—they often found themselves in the unenviable position of having to decide whether to try to save a single person from tragedy or to take a horrifying picture that might rescue an entire country. Sometimes there was no time. Sometimes there was no real choice. No one could cost out the expense of a single person’s life and yet those photographers would spend the rest of their nights and their days trying to sort out the ghoulish mathematics of what they did and what they saw.

When all was done, the photographers packed up their rucksacks and tore down their tripods and left little behind to remind anyone of who they actually were. And they trekked back through the dark and the light places of this earth to wherever it was that would welcome them home, but they never came home as heroes. The city men and city women called the photographers witnesses and observers to their faces, but these same citizens felt uneasy around the photographers and their cameras. For what do you call an instrument that can topple a king and a mountain and a regime with the simple release of a trigger? And what do you call the person who carries this deadly instrument?

And the photographers were afraid of the city men and the city women. The photographer’s faces said, You asked us to bear witness for you and we have done it. Now you cannot meet our eyes? It was too much to take. The photographers began to pack. They picked up their bags and their cameras with the straps that crisscrossed their bruised torsos. They hoisted the tripods and checked their pockets for extra film and lens cloths. Some of the photographers wanted to weep—they were tired of loud noises and strange meetings with powerful men—but they did not weep. They would go. And some of the citizens felt guilty but said nothing as the photographers walked out of sight of the city.

Soon the distant photographs would come, and with them the stories, and the city men and the city women would sit in cafés at night and argue the merits of these stories and pictures, when all the while the photographers were out there with the journalists, names forgotten, good deeds unknown. At night in these faraway places, the photographers went into tents and into rented rooms, removed their shirts or blouses and lay down on beds and bedrolls to consider solitary thoughts. Sometimes their tired fingers traced lazy streets into the places where the straps of their cameras had worn thin crisscrossed scars over the years. Sometimes, when the photographers slept, they did not dream of home.



The weight of light is part of Courtenay Bluebird’s ongoing history of modern photography, which has been featured on Bluebird Blvd.’s wholly original long-running celebrated weekly feature story series, OUR SUNDAY BEST. (This particular piece is based on a composite of various biographies I’ve read about famous and not-so-famous war correspondents who spent extensive time in the field/in country.)

To read more selections from this chapter, please go to Our Sunday Best {Truth Makes Contact}. Some of those stories are serious doozies, y’all. Wait until you hear about our man, W. Eugene Smith. He’s a wild one!

The image featured today is a contact sheet of some self-portraits shot by Matthew Brady, considered to be one of the first—if not the first—war photographer. What war did he photograph? The Civil War! Brady’s intrepidness changed our understanding of current events. We are deeply in his debt. Speaking of which, much thanks to the women and men who undertake the difficult task of photographing conflict all over the world. You are our eyes, our ears, and our hearts. Thank goodness for photojournalists.

[5-Minute Dance Party] Shozo Kato – Way of the Sword

However, I believe

your ultimate foe is your own self.

In Kendo, even the sword is poetry. Nobody knows this better than Shozo Kato, Kendo and Iendo Sensai, who gracefully explains in less than three minutes the difference between Western and Eastern ideas of beauty, mental stillness and movement, and so much more.


Way of the Sword was produced by The Avant/Garde Diaries for MB!, the Mercedes-Benz art and culture website.

Trust me on this: Watching this short film will be the best-spent three minutes of your day.

[Super-Secret Friday Night 5-Minute Dance Party] My Country

i got me, you’ve got you

that’s one plus one plus two

i never told you what to do

and then you put me in some box

Three things, and then I’ll leave you in peace to enjoy Merrill Garbus of tUnE-yArDs singing her true-blue hit, “My Country.”

1) I get the feeling that Garbus really remembers her childhood. If she doesn’t, she has a remarkable understanding of how children think. (So does filmmaker Mimi Cave, yeah?)

2) Since we’re getting kinda sorta personal, I like very much that Garbus appears to be at home with her own body. She’s self-possessed in a way that I wish more women could be. To me this is the ne plus ultra of cool.

3) A true happy accident: tUnE-yArDs has a new album coming out in May! I had no idea, did you? Initial reviews Garbus’ third album have been unreservedly enthusiastic—I went ahead and pre-ordered my copy from Amazon here: Nikki Nack. However, there are some pretty sweet Nikki Nack t-shirt and CD bundles you might want to check out on the official tUnE-yArDs site.

From the WE GO EAST AND WE GO WEST, AND NOTHING IS EVER THE SAME DEPT.: The Ouroboros Chain. (Don’t worry, we’ll take you with us!)

The Ouroboros Chain

Franz von Stuck  "The Sin"

Wise men say, and not without reason, that whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times.

Niccolò Machiavelli

In the last month of winter, I bought a clock from a man in Latvia who deals exclusively in time. I say he deals in time and not clocks because he is a master watchmaker who forges the instruments that measure and mark the physical hour, much like a maker of the sea-bound sextant fashions objects that illuminate the actuality of place. Each instrument measures what was once beyond the grasp of exactness; each is an idea and an object; a tool and a weapon. Empires were forged in steel as a result of the sextant and the clock. As a person whose private life is unlatched from both time and place, it seems fitting that I remain in awe of those who can latch and fix east to west and noon to midnight.

In any which case, I bought an alarm clock from a clock-seller in Latvia, a country close to a principality by a sea I’ve never seen where a man I cannot know boarded a ship to avoid a war I barely understand. He came to this country and bore a son who bore a son who bore a daughter whose lips have never tasted the salt air of the sea. And this is why I purchased a timepiece from a Latvian watchmaker, which arrived in a heavy swaddling of bubble wrap and tape, safe inside of a box that was wrapped with crisp brown paper, on which my address and the watchmaker’s address were written in a fine English hand with a charming trace of the native speaker’s Cyrillic, using a fading blue ballpoint pen that was carefully set down next to a vast handful of small stamps the color of old Wedgwood plates.


The world is circular north to south and east to west; time is supposedly linear, but it depends on what you’re measuring. The numbers remain the same in one cycle or another. It does not matter whether you count each hour up to 24, or count twelves and twelves, you return to where you began in a rather brief amount of time. Seasons also bend back to meet themselves at the beginning; all four manage to remain in their natural order despite our messing about. The body ages from the moment it is born to the moment it dies, but in its ever-dying midst the cycle begins again with another child slipping anew into the hands of this world, so the story is carried on. There are always endings and beginnings. There is, for the moment, always time.

In the last month of winter,
I bought a clock
from a man in Latvia
who deals in time.

Exactness eludes me, but my fading memory brings me to the Ouroboros, my beloved snake-that-eats-its-own tail, and Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent, a creature that seems to have wound itself around every story on every page I’ve ever attempted to write. I am lucky the Ourboros stays around to connect me to myself. Otherwise, what would happen to me? My blood is divided neatly in half, east and west, each side facing a different troubled sea, each side known for its storytellers and its cliffs and lowlands and its natural aversion to the empires that rolled through and decided that this country was a good buffer, an excellent place to set down the guard gate and man it with the threat of beasts and war.


I am east; I am west; I am nowhere; I am in-between. The gate drops and my story does not get told. The gate opens and I flee, leaving the accumulated wealth that is history behind me. Quetzalcoatl opens one sleepy leonine eye and marks my passage across two brisk edges of the world. He will meet me in the middle—he always does. He meets everyone, but not everyone meets him. In me, the trail of two stories fades off and tapers to a thin knife edge of memory that lingers before it cuts. My story lacks the exactness of time and place. No compass can find me; no clock can mark me; no sextant can pin me to any center of the always-shifting ever-turning fortune of the world.

What I have instead is two of each of these: the sea, the hunger, the war, and the escape. Only the Ouroboros knows my true names. Only Quetzalcoatl knows my story. I am the daughter that slipped through the dark reach of two empires; I am the riddle that eludes each still-grasping fist. I am born from the union of transgressor and trickster—I can hear the war drums beating in the distance, but they do not beat for me.


I write to the Latvian time-maker: How do I care for this strange Soviet clock? You must wind it every day, he replies in his beautiful, cautious English. Do not overwind, he says. I cannot stress this enough. In five years time, take it to a master watchmaker to have him put oil to the stones. It’s a tiny touch. A master knows how much. There is a pause, and in that pause, lands the tick of this clock winding down to ring and roar. There is silence before action: Everyone can hear it. It’s the ending of a story rolling up to meet its beginning again. It is so quiet, I can hear my blood pulse a beat inside the deep curve of my ear.—The master watchmaker writes back in a hurry: Do not forget to wind the clock today. If you do not hear the tik-tack, you must shake the clock gently. Only this will make it go.


*Artist Franz von Stuck painted The Sin—”Die Sine” in 1883.


*The illustration of the Ouroboros (alternately titled Uroboros) is by the 3rd or 4th century figure Cleopatra the Alchemist, whose real name has been lost to war and to time.

[5-Minute Dance Party] Jimmy’s Gang


It may be the grayest spring in recent memory— but it doesn’t mean we can’t dance, right? What I love about Parov Stelar‘s take on electro swing is his use of a live band. (Do you want to see Parov Stelar actually play this piece? Here’s Jimmy’s Gang (Unplugged)

Today’s upcoming story is one of love and obsession and mythology, so it felt appropriate to post a music video built on the lexicon of dream logic. Are you excited? We’re excited! Let’s go-go-go!

Sports Mania SPECIAL broadcast: Post-Saint Patrick’s Day wrap-up

Action shot of Irish Stepdancers in Ireland.

BRIGHT BLUE SET of SPORTS MANIA television sports show. Newscasters CHET and ERNESTO sit behind a bright blue DESK tapping their PAPERS and chatting as the Sports Mania’s THEME MUSIC plays.

(ESTABLISHING SHOT of Ernesto and Chet sitting behind a bright blue desk of bright blue Sports Mania set.)

Chet: (Deep in conversation with Ernesto)…so then I sez to the produce guy, I sez to him—

(CUT TO: MEDIUM SHOT of Ernesto and Chet.)

Ernesto: What’d you say to him? Jeeeezuuuu— (Startled. Realizes show just started.)-ssssszzz. (Clears throat.) Hello! And welcome to Sports Mania’s St. Patrick’s Day post-game wrap-up. It was an exciting St. Patrick’s Day this year wasn’t it, Chet?

Chet: (Professional smile) It sure was, Ernesto! We had wins and losses all over the map! From Omsk, Russia to Lowell, Massachusetts, Irish Stepdancers and local revellers went head to head!

Ernesto: (Professional laugh.) They sure did, Chet! But there was one memorable moment from yesterday, wasn’t there? Let’s go to our interview with Niamh Ni Dálaigh, Irish stepdancer. (Trim dark-haired young woman comes up on a built in screen behind the Sports Mania desk. Ernesto and Chet turn to face screen) Niamh, how are you this morning?

Niamh Ni Dálaigh: (Sounds tired and hoarse.) I’m fine, Ernesto—just fine, all things considered.

(CUT TO: CLOSE-UP. Ernesto and Chet share a SPLIT SCREEN with NIAMH NI DÁLAIGH.)

Ernesto: (Serious face.) Now, Niamh, I’d like to show the footage from your midnight St. Patrick’s Day performance at the Wise Rhino last night. Sports fans, let me set up this clip for you. The Wise Rhino is a pub infamous for packing in the St. Patrick’s Day crowds and skimping on stage space. Niamh, how big was the stage where you danced your final show last night?

Niamh: Two feet by two feet, plus two feet high. (Pause.) And I had to share it with the band and five other dancers.

Chet: Well, that is one small stage, Niamh!

(Niamh laughs uncomfortably.)

Ernesto: (Cutting off Chet.) If you’re tuning into the broadcast just now, Irish Dancer Niamh Ni Dálaigh from Reno, Nevada is talking about last night’s performance.

Chet: Let’s run that tape.

(Footage shows Niamh dancing in place on a two-foot high stage. Amateur drunks are standing in front of the stage bobbing and weaving and shouting. The traditional Irish band sits behind her—they’re nearly sitting in each other’s laps.)

Chet: Now, watch carefully as this guy over here— (Circles a drunk guy in front and to the left of Niamh with a green screen pen.) —starts to reach out to touch Niamh’s dancing costume right here. (Chet draws wobbly green screen arrow to Niamh’s dress.)

(Footage continues. Drunk guy starts to grab the skirt of Niamh’s $1500 performance dress. Niamh executes a quick turn, yanking the dress out of his hand, but the turn sends her sprawling into the band right behind her. )

Chet: (Excitedly.) Right there— (Draws six green screen arrows on the footage.)

Ernesto: (Slaps pen out of Chet’s hand.) Shhhh!

(Niamh, still on the split screen, covers her eyes with one hand.)

(Footage: A random drunk hand goes over the lens of the camera, but viewers can hear a SQUEAK and a YELP and the WHINE-POP-PING of several squashed INSTRUMENTS.)

Chet: (Excitedly.) Wow, I’ve never seen—

Ernesto: Shhhh!

(Niamh, still on the split screen, covers her entire face with her hands.)

(Footage: Normal filming resumes. A stunned Niamh sits sprawl-legged on stage surrounded by pieces of mandolin. Three of the four musicians are wearing the remains of a smashed hammer dulcimer. The fourth, a CONCERTINA PLAYER, has the bellows of his instrument wrapped around his neck, which he’s clawing to remove. The dulcimer player is weeping loudly. His tweed vest is in ribbons. )

Chet: Can I—(Waits to be shushed again, by Ernesto. Ernesto nods.)—talk now? (A beat.) So, Niamh, what was going through your mind when you executed that turn?

Niamh: Well, not much of anything, Chet. That was my 40th performance in three cities in five days—

Ernesto: (Looking at camera.) —the standard lead-up to St. Patrick’s Day, right?

Niamh: Yes. Yes, it is. (A pause.) —but, like I said, like every year, I’d been doing these performances since the first of March, really, and by last night, I didn’t even know my own name. Ernesto, I was so tired that I put on one soft shoe and one hard shoe at the beginning of that performance, and I would have gone on stage like that had another dancer not stopped me.

Chet: Wow, that IS tired, Niamh!

Niamh: (Nods.) Yeah. So, if I was thinking anything, I don’t remember it. But I remember what happened after the drunk guy grabbed the skirt part of my solo costume. I fell into the band, Chet. And all you could hear around me in the blur of the moment was Pop! Twaaaa-aaaang! Blawwp!

Niamh: (Continues.) I was smacked in the shoulder with that concertina—that thing should always be holstered when not in use—and somehow I sat on Jim’s mandolin. (Covers eyes.) All those smashed instruments and crying men. I’m never going to get that sound out of my ears, Chet. Never.

Ernesto: We’ve only got another minute here, Niamh. What I want to know is, what happened to the original drunk guy who grabbed your dress?

Niamh: Well… (Hand covers her mouth.) He started laughing.

Chet: Wow! What did you do?

Niamh: At first I was too stunned from the accident, but then I saw him doubled over, and like I said, he was laughing at us.

Ernesto and Chet: (Spellbound.) Yes?

Niamh: So I, uh, got up from the stage floor. (A final pause.) And then I walked over and punched him in the nose.

Ernesto: Whoa! That’s a serious party foul! How many Feiseanna do you have to sit out for this penalty?

Niamh: (Genuine smile.) Six. My Claddagh ring broke off in the drunk guy’s left nostril, and he smashed his face with his own beer bottle trying to pull it out. So, I’m out for one dance competition per stitch.

Chet: (Mouth open.) How much of your Claddagh ring ended up in his nose?

Niamh: The heart, the hands, and the entire crown broke off inside his nose, Chet. It was bad. It was really bad.

Ernesto: If you had to do last night all over again, would you have done anything differently?

(Niamh hesitates, then—)

Niamh: Yeah. (A beat.) I would have worn a bigger ring.

(Sports Mania theme music plays.)

Chet: Folks at home, we’ll see you after the commercial break. We’d like to thank our guest, Niamh Ni Dálaigh, who had to wake up before noon on the day after St. Patrick’s Day to be with us!

( Niamh waves a bleary hand at the camera. The split screen dissolves.)

(MEDIUM SHOT of Ernesto and Chet behind Sports Mania desk.)

Ernesto: (Continuing on.) After the break, we’re going to talk to a an eight-hand Irish figures team who got into a fight with half of the metropolitan symphony in Poughkeepsee, New York! This is Ernesto—

Chet: —and Chet. Live, with our day after St. Patrick’s Day wrap up on—

Ernesto and Chet: Sports Mania!

(Theme music swells.)



Niamh Ni Dálaigh   NEEV   NEH DOHL-lee 

(Irish name. “Ni” replaces “O’” in feminine names.)

Feiseanna  Fesh-eAN-na  

(Irish Stepdancing competitions.)

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