innercontinental goes bye-bye

7 06 2010

derek beres and i started innercontinental several years ago to bridge our love of culture. we both eat music and listen to the wisdom of foods from around the world. there’s so much we love about human expressions and creations, and the ways in which we interact with the world around–and within us.

it’s a journey. and ours have taken us into new directions. for one, i am now living in los angeles while derek is still in new york. he continues to teach a million yoga classes each week. derek is also now making music. i suppose all those years of reviewing it and interviewing artists has rubbed off on him ( like thierry in ‘exit through the gift shop’).

my work too has transitioned (look for a website upgrade soon). after years of promoting natural food companies, i have begun writing and editing for actual money! it’s been a long time coming and i’m happy to have made the leap out of sales.

there are certain projects where derek and i will surely collaborate, but we’ve decide that innercontinental no longer needs to be the platform. you can follow derek at www.derekberes.com and i am building up the site http://www.theexister.wordpress.com with a lot more coming soon…..

thanks again for your readership. we love that these articles, essays and stories still bring comments.

see you in the future,

jill





Which Came First: The Yogi Or The Vegetarian?

2 02 2010
sanctuary cow

photo: jill ettinger

By Jill Ettinger

The longer we live, the more we ought to come to appreciate hypocrisy. Not as a flaw, mind you, but as an inherently human trait in all of us, void of any failing. We change our minds, our tastes, and our beliefs as we come to deeper understandings about the changing reality and our place in it. Opinions and actions can transform in an instant after being exposed to a perspective we’d not thought of before. Change of heart can happen at any time to anyone—even those with the most stubborn egos—and that’s perhaps more beautiful and interesting than it is deceptive.

There are few things I say definitely about myself, avoiding the pointed fingers of those who will view my personal adjustments through a condemning lens. From the very innocent changes, such as outgrowing a favorite band in high school, to more shocking shifts like (heaven forbid) voting for a political party I’ve previously pledged not to. Yet there are those things, those preferences that have become rooted in my daily routines. Like bands I loved indisputably in high school, these practices may indeed one day disappear completely, but for most of my adult life they are the closest I have come to truly identifying myself: I am vegan. I practice yoga.

As far back as I can remember, eating animals was a disagreeable concept for me and I went through all the phases a budding vegetarian goes through. It wasn’t until I planted myself in a natural food café as a line cook that I learned to fend for myself in a world of McNuggets and Big Macs. My diet and my world altered in a profound way and I never looked back. Yoga too had a way of creeping in after what seemed like years of being present, however undefined. Both practices became a path, though not a purpose. Like my vegan preference that sent me to work in a café so I could cook learn to for myself, I made the trek to an upstate NY ashram to become a “teacher” of yoga for no other student’s benefit than my own.

At the ashram, we were served a strict vegetarian diet void of heavy spices or sweetness. While many students had a difficult time adjusting to the food, I found it to be full of flavor and satisfying. It varied only slightly from my regular dining at home. I was reminded of all this while reading this bemusing article by Julia Moskin in the NY Times last week. Ms. Moskin peers into the only-in-America yoga ‘practice’ of “Yoga for Foodies,” where students follow yoga class with gourmet meals in the studio, slurping up soup on the sweaty mats they just downward-dogged all over.

Moskin also tackles the interesting subject of “meat-eating yogis.” Like much of India, most of the founding fathers of yoga promoted a  meat-free diet rich in fruits and vegetables to augment the austerity of the physical practice of asanas (yoga postures). Ahimsa is the yogic practice of committing not to harm another. Yet the definition of that commitment (especially for many modern Americans) does not necessarily translate to vegetarianism, let alone veganism.

As someone who followed a vegan diet before beginning a regular yoga practice, it was a step I gave little thought to until those days in the ashram where I heard the moaning of my fellow classmates craving pizza and burgers. At the time, I recall feeling as though my famished classmates “weren’t getting it.” That clearly their inability to adopt a vegetarian diet to further their yoga practice meant they had no real practice at all. It’s easy now to admit my naivete, but back then I was convinced there was only one answer. And what has become clear to me nearly a decade later is that being convinced of anything—especially of what yoga “means”—is not yoga. Not really. Yoga is you. It’s me. How we perceive and react to our world is our own versions of the practice because we can’t practice it as or for anyone but ourselves.

The rigidity and dogma of yoga or any spiritual practice is there for us to use as a way to unravel our own understanding of who we are, and who we are while doing those things. The moment we become attached to it, is the moment it stops having any meaning. I came away from the ashram realizing the whole wide world is an ashram. The practice is always about what I choose. I recall listening to a story told by the devotional singer, Krishna Das, that in Buddha-like effect said the bank robber must rob banks just as the doctor must heal. Neither is right or wrong, they simply are. Taking sides on the meat-eating vs. veg-eating yogis is a choice, just as choosing a diet is to all people who eat.

There’s a yogic mantra “Lokha Samasta Sukinoh Bhavantu,” which roughly translates to “may beings every where be happy and free.” Obviously, we must first understand what it means to be happy and free for ourselves before we can make any sense of what that means to any other being. For some, that sense of happiness may include eating meat. And while that’s not a reality I can personally relate to, I do understand that hypocrisy is little more than a process of understanding and assimilating more of the world than we previously identified with.

The yoga “industry” is a booming $20+billion dollar a year business. There are many practices in the current state of yoga that Swamis of yesteryear could probably never have fathomed, including eating meat. But something tells me that more than anything, they would be delighted to see that so many people are taking steps toward personal transformation in a world that needs yogis, perhaps more than ever before.

Leading by example is valuable, especially to those willing to follow. What’s right and wrong with the food industry and the practice of eating animal products is everyone’s responsibility, yogis or otherwise. Yogis have a long history with dairy, enjoying it as a food and using it as a devotional offering. I remember refusing to participate in a puja (worship) ceremony at the ashram because we’d have to pour milk over a statue. I saw the store bought milk jugs sitting next to the beloved deities that represented purity and austerity. Having seen what goes on in large-scale dairy farms, I knew this “offering” was anything but what it was to represent. Now, I wonder, if maybe that isn’t the point after all. By gesturing with something so far from what it used to mean, we cultivate deeper meaning within ourselves.

Someday, surely, everything will all make sense. Or maybe it won’t. Either way, we must do what it is we are called to do.





What Now, America?

2 04 2009

By Jill Ettinger

Like most Americans, I’ve been consumed with news about the circus our financial system has become, realizing this is probably just the first act of a much bigger show. And like many, I’ll admit my extremely limited knowledge of Wall Street dealings was never much of a concern to me. Yes, I’ve read Matt Taibbi’s enlightening piece in Rolling Stone (April 2009 issue) and Jake DeSantis’ resignation letter to AIG reprinted in the New York Times. I watch The Daily Show and even caught the hilarious latest episode of South Park where Stan tries desperately to return his father’s “Margaritaville” machine all the way down the line to the Treasury Department. And while I now have a much better understanding of what actually is happening to our economy, I’m even more confused as to what I should feel about it all. If I’m angry, who exactly am I angry with? Certainly the greedy criminals who gambled with millions of people’s money deserve any and all punishment that comes their way, but weren’t most of their actions perfectly legal? Should I be disappointed at a political system that bends to lobbyists and corporations that bankroll elected officials so that they can continue doing the things that they’ve done? Should I be chagrined with myself and my fellow Americans for not really paying attention to what we were allowing to happen?

Perhaps because I grew up without much money, I learned to find wealth in things other than yachts, private jets, gaudy jewels or fur coats. I likened those possessions to movie-stuffs, not real goals for real people. I consider myself more of a laughing-listening-to the-birds-on-spring-mornings-singing-songs-in-the-sun kind of gal. Sure, this won’t pay the bills, but it won’t create new ones either. It feels more like a straight karmic exchange of finding incredible value in the simplicity of the moment, and I feel better and clearer and more connected to the world around me when the joys of life come without a price tag. My naivete about the wealthy people allowed me to believe they are philanthropists, spending their time volunteering at hospitals, not really out spending $3000 on a single pair of shoes. That is simply too preposterous to be true, in any economic state.

At times, I’ve had a comfortable amount of savings in the bank, affording me the options of going where I wanted, or buying what I needed from Whole Foods without worrying (too much) about the cost. But most often, I’ve lived needing a regular job just to keep a roof over my head. It seemed perfectly fine to me to measure my riches by waking up in a warm bed and having a hot shower and cup of tea every morning before I start my day. I’m painfully aware of the number of people in the world, and in our own country, who go without these things.

As the market keeps holding its breath, the industry I have made my living in has begun to show the first signs of slowing down since I started working in a food co-op eighteen years ago. My last job, doing marketing and promotions for a leading organic juice company, was eliminated a few weeks ago. It made perfectly legitimate sense to me: operations are key for a business to run effectively, and you must have sales people to keep revenue coming in, but marketing is abstract, hard to measure, especially when every single dollar feels more sacred than ever before. Admittedly, I felt somewhat relieved by the news. I had begun to question the very industry I’d literally grown up in.

To read the full article, click here.





James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade

9 03 2009

James Baldwin’s Turkish Decade: Erotics of Exile
by Magdalena Zaborowska
Duke University Press
January 2009, 416 pages, $24.95

Review by Derek Beres

For a writer who believed that “language is the only homeland”, one would expect James Baldwin to have a difficult time settling into any physical space. He felt ostracized from his New York City homeland; he would argue that one cannot actually leave America—psychologically, culturally—no matter how much one tries. His extended stays in Turkey and France provided temporary and necessary balms to the wound of (self-imposed) exile, though those locations too would fail to offer Baldwin peace of mind. As he said, his home was in words; today he remains one of his country’s finest 20th century figures of that trade.

In her study of Baldwin’s career, Magdalena J. Zaborowska hones in on two particular and, she believes, interlocking pieces of the author’s puzzle: his second home in Turkey, as the title suggests, and as the subtitle hints, his sexuality. The first aspect offers readers an intriguing and underrepresented aspect of Baldwin, one rarely mentioned or brushed over in surveys of his life. The latter is also intriguing—Baldwin had a rare distinction of being a civil rights voice during a time of racial tension in America, and being openly gay, which often resulted in readers clinging to one while denying or denouncing the other side of him—although her speculations sometimes run a bit too wild and gossipy.

When Zaborowska lets Baldwin’s history, and the history of those around him during his stays in Turkey speak, the book is informative and enlightening. Not only did Baldwin escape there to finish one of his classics, Another Country, he quite literally lived through it. There was too much tension in New York, doubled by Baldwin’s own paranoid states (he was in constant fear of losing his passport for political reasons, being oppressed and outcasted, and so on).

Yet at times Zaborowska steps inside the work too much—do we really need to know that she’s a scholar and writing an academic book six times in the first third of the reading? That tendency does tone down (although, unsurprisingly, the very last line of the book returns to her proclaiming herself a scholar, again).

To read the full review on PopMatters click here.





Playing Doctor: Herbal Medicine in a New World Economy

20 02 2009

By Jill Ettinger

The car that hit me was going about 40 mph. The driver sped up as he neared the intersection; the glare from the early Colorado morning sun blinded him. He never saw my 5’6” frame curved around the wheels, gripping the handlebars of my aluminum Trek road bike passing in front of him. I saw glimmers of steel, bumper, and tire before I rolled up on to the windshield leaving it pressing towards his lap as he slammed on the brakes. I still don’t remember hitting the pavement, but my right hip has never forgotten, even almost eleven years later.

As I was lifted up onto the stretcher, I could see my shoes lying silently in the median between a flurry of early morning traffic, and the people who had carried me to the side of the road still watching in horror. The fork and front wheel of my bike had been completely severed from the rest of the frame. I could see the pieces scattered beside the crowd as the ambulance doors closed. The medic was cutting off my clothes while talking to the emergency room via two-way radio, “Possible right hip fracture, left and right ankle fractures. Trauma to head and neck….” I could hear him clearly but the shock had me feeling distant, a million miles from what was happening.

In the emergency room I finally began to feel the pain. It was limitless. X-rays revealed not one broken bone. The doctors were shocked. (I assured them it was my healthy vegetarian diet that gave me super-elastic resiliency.) My grandparents were now sitting with me, my Grandfather chiding me about how I ruined the very best golf game he’d ever played in his seventy-some years that morning. I had been so lucky, unlike my bike.

As gashes and bruises were being cleaned and bandaged, one of the doctors came into the room I had been moved to. They had noticed something unusual on the x-rays taken of my chest. Lymph nodes were highly enlarged and quite visible. Normally they should not show up on an x-ray. These were the size of half dollars. “Hodgkin’s Lymphoma is the most common cancer for your age [25]. We’d like to do a CAT scan while you’re here, to get a better look.”

Read the full article on Reality Sandwich.





Adventurous Listening with Lal Meri

13 02 2009

By Derek Beres

For better or worse (for better and worse), Indian music and instruments have been consumed by producers worldwide, resulting in everything from horrible “world lounge” and “chill out” compilations and jazzy fusions citing McLauhglin and Miles Davis as references (while sounding nothing like the innovators and their inventiveness) to inspired organic and electronic auditory and cultural explorations. When I hear tablas emerge from an overproduced, hygienic drum program, I cringe. When done right, the unique two-drum set makes for adventurous listening, arousing a specific sound without the blatant advertising of so-called exotic rhythms.

The Los Angeles-based trio Lal Meri, whose self-titled debut drops on Six Degrees in a few weeks, does it right. I’ve been a fan of two of the three participants: vocalist Nancy Kaye, who released two albums previously under the name Rosey, and Carmen Rizzo, producer and technician of Persian electronica labelmates Niyaz. In fact, it is probably that project, headed by the unearthly singer Azam Ali, which fueled Rizzo’s creative drive with Lal Meri. (The name is derived from a Sufi folk song.) Kaye was an easy choice for collaboration: her dusty, hearty and soulful voice lends itself to a variety of musical styles; her poetic flourishes offer depth to the gorgeous inflections of her voice.

The third component—Ireesh Lal—I was not aware of, but his trip-hop pedigree is obvious given the album’s tasteful, down- to mid-tempo beat selection. Wherever the three come from — they converged as a result of friends suggesting friends sending MySpace links and so on — they meet in a beautiful and thoughtful space; their songs are musically rich and yet sweet, subtle and tasteful. There are pop sensibilities (the melodies on “Give Your Light,” the entire landscape of “Sweet Love”), but not without an edge (the tabla-driven “Bad Things,” the light dancehall push of the oud-inflected “Take Me As I Am”). Pooja’s folksy vocal help on “Mausam” bring a bit of devotion to the mix; the sound reminds me of an electronified Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay or Shubda Mudgal.

After a few spins in my yoga classes, the album gets a big thumbs up. It’s one of those records that work in many situations, under many circumstances. The producers even pull off something normally taboo in my musical tastes: electro-jazz. The addition of trumpets over beats rarely work; here it does, and well. Placed in a soundscape that includes santurs anddrones, the palette they work from features abundant colors—introspective, songs of seeking, communal. Lal Meri isa refreshing album from three people open to see what their union would bring, and where it will take them. From the sounds of this debut, far.





Global Beat Fusion: Visions of the World

30 01 2009

By Derek Beres

The underlying themes of the following three documentaries represent some form of unity, an exploration at the foundation of indigenous cultures heading into the future with a solid understanding of what has brought them here. With any evolution, growing pains exist, and the directors and producers of these three fine films have done their best to show that while governments and popular media often present one side of a story, many others exist. The unity of Islam through musical means, the convergence of South Asian folk with modern technologies, and the plight of Saharan desert dwellers and their familial and social rites make up this trio of cinematic travels. Sit back and enjoy the ride, for there is much to be learned, and even more to be enjoyed.

Sufi Soul: The Mystic Music of Islam
“Because its bases are in every human mind already,” writes Idries Shah in his celebrated work, The Sufis, “Sufic development must inevitably find its expression everywhere.” Director Simon Broughton and host William Dalrymple explore Sufism, the “mystical” sect of Islam, in this fascinating documentary as ripe with music as it is with messages—namely, the underlying current of all spiritual faiths that bonds and unites humans. Given the diverse nature of the music covered in this brief film, one can expect Sufism to have an inherent flexibility. Indeed, it does.

Sufism is often frowned upon by the Sunni and Shi’a sects of Islam, mostly due to the fact that they attempt to experience the divine, believing the universal energy to be attainable by everyone. Mohammed tapped into this, pointing the way for others to follow; he did not hoard that knowledge and claim that no one else could have it. We have an obvious parallel in a Christian society with followers of Jesus; recall that the Gnostics were derided for claiming God was available to all as well. Through their rituals of music and dance, the Sufis tap into the transcendent possibilities of existence.

It’s the polarization of not only Islam, but faiths in general that Broughton and Dalyrmple address, doing so beautifully in this informational and sonically rich undertaking. The music is what drives this film, which is fitting, because the Sufis believe that music is what drives us. The term “Sufi” has been well-circulated since Coleman Barks’ translations of Rumi’s richly textured verses made him the largest-selling poet in America in the 1990s—no small feat for a man who was born in Afghanistan and spent most of his life in Turkey in the 13th century.

While the faithful claim that Islam is a religion, Sufis would say that Sufism is religion; it is the elemental thread upon which the wool (which is the meaning of the word “Sufi”) is woven. Music is a devotional force in praise of Allah, and from the opening minute of this film we are embraced by Pakistan’s Sain Zahoor, spinning cyclically while fiddling his ektara and singing praiseful lyrics. His voice is heartbreaking; the ghungroos, or ankle bracelets with bells, keep rhythm while he pounces.

Read the full review on PopMatters.








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