Some of My Favorite Things of 2012

I am not very fond of the “Year in Review” thing. Most of the time, we don’t want to be reminded of the famous people who died; the inevitable (and increasing number of) natural disasters; the wars; the politicians.

So I just thought I would list (for myself and for you all, if you are interested) some of the things I enjoyed in 2012 – including happy memories of our five-week visit to England in the autumn. It is good to acknowledge and recall all these moments, these things that you have treasured. In no particular order (and I have probably missed out a lot; so much to be thankful for).

My book list is books I have read and enjoyed this year. Music and movies include some new, some old, and some I have loved for years now! And birds are just special.

I haven’t added any photos. This is just a plain list. But I plan to add a photo from each “favorite thing” in the sidebar, each day – starting from the top. Plus, I am going to work on some long-overdue 2012 photo albums over the next few days…

If you are not already celebrating, Happy New Year to you all!

Random moments:

∞   Earth Day with Jamaica Environment Trust. This year’s event was with Jana Bent, who read, sang and danced along with her book “The Reggae Band Rescues Mama Edda Leatherback” – thoroughly enjoyed by the children

∞   Looking up at the mountains from my front gate

∞    Picking blackberries alone, on a hillside in north Cornwall

∞   “Gangnam Style”: Yes, the video is sort of tacky, but it makes people dance, laugh and have fun and that can’t be bad

∞   Bill Maher‘s “New Rules”: Bill is outrageous at times but when he is really wicked and smirks, he makes me shout with laughter

∞   Café Cody: Online radio station ( that plays superb chill out music, a bit of jazz, soul etc… “From Mallorca, Spain

∞   Visiting the Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal Football Club in north London – a pilgrimage with my son

∞   Walking through the autumn fields in Sussex, England with my brother

∞   Walking along Cornish lanes, studying wild flowers and butterflies and eating blackberries, with my husband

∞   The big guango tree in our yard, hardly touched by Hurricane Sandy, always filled with birds and draped with purple vines and bougainvillea

∞   Delighting in the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition at the Tate Gallery with my husband. Favorite painting: The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt

∞   Singing “Hotel California” with my family, brother playing guitar, by the fireside

∞   The bright children at Trench Town Reading Centre planting seeds in pots

∞   Family wedding on Teesside in England, the bride’s veil bathed in sunlight

∞   Capital Pork (yes, that’s the name) at China Express restaurant in Kingston

∞   iPhotos

∞   Sharing serious but empowering conversations on violence with women (and men) at Women’s Media Watch/Prana event

∞   Bill Hader playing “Stefon” on Saturday Night Live: “And the hottest thing in New York is…”

∞   Very cold soursop juice

∞   Deepak Chopra’s “21-Day Meditation Challenge” 

∞   Walking aimlessly round the streets of London as darkness falls and the streets light up

∞   Palm fronds getting in the way

∞   Going through old family photos at my sister’s house in England

∞    Theo Walcott‘s hat trick in the last game of the year – English Premier League match against Newcastle. Gunners won 7-3.

∞    Watching a fox fast asleep in the sun, on the lawn of our friends’ home in London

∞    Garnier Dark Intense Auburn hair color

∞    Mist, drifting cloud and deep green hills in Mavis Bank, Blue Mountains just before Hurricane Sandy

∞    Holding hands with an old gentleman at JN Foundation’s Christmas treat – Golden Age Home, Cluster H, Vineyard Town

∞    Re-connecting and meeting with old friends, thanks to the power of Google and Facebook

∞    “Homeland” with the infuriatingly chin-wobbling, tearful Claire Danes

∞    Sunday morning breakfasts at Café Blue with my husband

∞    Café Latte at Café Blue; strong black coffee at home


◊    Jonsi and Sigur Ros: “Go” and “Valtari” (respective albums). This music is so sublime it is impossible to pick out one favorite track. The ethereal, earthy sound of the Universe according to the Icelandic post-rockers.

◊    Bon Iver“Holocene” from “Bon Iver” and “The Wolves” from “For Emma, Forever Ago”

◊    Youssou N’Dour and the Fathy Salama Orchestra: “Shukran Bamba”  – one of many beautiful songs on “Egypt”

◊    Wilco:  “One Sunday Morning” from the album “The Whole Love”

◊    Kurt Elling“Blue in Green” from “The Gate”

◊    Jimi Hendrix“1983…A Merman I Should Turn to Be” from “Electric Ladyland”

◊    Salif Keita and Cesaria Evora: “Yamore” from “Moffou”

◊    Gustav Mahler:  “Das Lied von der Erde” (Song of the Earth)

◊    Puccini: “Tosca” (from start to finish)

◊    Fleet FoxesBlue Ridge Mountains” from “Fleet Foxes” and “The Shrine/An Argument” from “Helplessness Blues”

◊    Gregg Allman: “Blind Man” from “Low Country Blues”

◊    Frank Ocean: “Thinking About You” from “Channel Orange”

◊    Tedeschi Trucks Band: “Midnight in Harlem”  from “Revelator”

Birds (special section, bear with me): 

♦    Of course, the Petchary: Our summer visitor from South America is noisy and imperious

♦    The Black-Throated Blue Warbler: Bright, beautiful, always close to the house – and close to me when I am in the yard.

♦    All the other warblers: Sweet, charming, occasionally singing delicate, whispering songs – our winter visitors.

♦    The White-Crowned Pigeon or Baldpate: Big, glossy-black, shy and regally beautiful

♦    Mockingbird or “nightingale” in Jamaica: singing his heart out every day, patrolling the front yard.

♦    Jamaican Woodpecker:

♦    Smooth-Billed Anis, huddled together in a group around our bird bath – big, black, floppy-tailed and hook-nosed

♦    Robin: Its sweet, wistful winter song haunted me in the English countryside

♦    Sparrow: The regular chirping of sparrows in the eaves reminds me of my childhood in London – instantly

♦    Blackbird: Its alarm cry in the hedges of the Sussex countryside at evening time is such a nostalgic sound


♥    The Stories of John Cheever

♥     The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

♥    The Rules of the Tunnel by Ned Zeman

♥    Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx

♥    Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories by Raymond Carver

♥    The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea by Philip Hoare

♥    Death of the Adversary by Hans Keilson

♥    The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya

♥   The Magician King by Lev Grossman

♥   The Festival of Wild Orchid: Poems by Ann-Margaret Lim


♣    Blue Valentine with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams

♠    All Good Things with Ryan Gosling and Kirsten Dunst – my two favorite actors

♣   Marie Antoinette with Kirsten Dunst

♠   Batman movies with Christian Bale as Batman – he’s just right

♠   Flight with Denzel Washington

♣   The Band’s Visit with Ronit Elkabetz

♣   Everything is Illuminated with Elijah Wood and Eugene Hutz

♠   The Big Lebowski with Jeff Bridges and John Goodman

♣   That last Spiderman movie

♣    Ten Canoes with David Gulpilil and Crusoe Kurddal

♣   And Daniel Craig is delicious in everything




Kurt Elling – Lush Life

From the album that finally won him a Grammy – the Coltrane/Hartman one. Kurt does the standards so beautifully.
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Effortless Elling

It’s Friday night, and I just played a new CD.  (No, I haven’t mastered iTunes yet… These things take time).

The CD is called “Close Your Eyes,” and it is by the supremely elegant – and at the same time, earthy – jazz singer, Mr. Kurt Elling.

Kurt Elling

The earthy Mr. Elling - his humor and character shine through.

OK, I know jazz is often considered a rather obscure genre, impenetrable to many who are  not accustomed to its wonderful leaps and bounds.  The Petchary herself was fairly immune to its charms in the earlier part of her life, although Nat King Cole‘s velvet tones always beguiled, and Dave Brubeck‘s “Take Five” did get her toes tapping.

Now, I just love jazz.  I am still ignorant of many aspects of its history and development, and compared to Mr. Petchary I am a mere novice (he can sing whole sections of a Coltrane solo, note for note).  But I do know a good singer when I hear one.

And Kurt is a charmer.  Just look at the picture on the cover, leaning back and laughing heartily, his hair pulled back in a modest ponytail (it’s usually slicked back from his face and curled at chin length).  He has a deeply lined face (laughter lines, not frowny ones), a broad forehead, and has a penchant for brown suits.

He speaks languages, and sounds good singing in French.  He’s rather spiritual (he sings about Vishnu and a “Higher Vibe”, a la Courtney Pine), but he’s a man of the world.  He tours a lot with his highly talented quartet, and he’s from Chicago.

Now, this new album is going to take me a little while to master – but there is time, there is always time to indulge in Kurt.  Many Elling elements are contained therein… He lingers over a ballad or two – one of his fortes (can you have more than one forte?  I’m not sure) and in the track “Storyteller experiencing total confusion” turns to poetry – a rather lovely poem called “Approaching a Hill in November,” which he reads out, half way through.  Poetry is another favorite little Elling excursion.  In his album “Man in the Air,” he sings an ironic little song called “The Uncertainty of the Poet,” in which he claims to be very fond of bananas.  And on this album, he does a vocalese version of Brubeck/Desmond’s “Those clouds are heavy, you dig?” (one of the best song titles around) – the words to the music, written by him, are based on a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Yes. I did mention bananas.  Another important Elling characteristic is his delicious humor.  Just when you think he is getting just a touch too pretentious, even for a jazz singer, he says or does something funny.  It’s surprising, and it comes naturally, unaffected.  He seems to be laughing at himself, sometimes.  But he just can’t help the poetry coming out.

Kurt Elling

The sensitive Kurt - he is looking like a poet, here...

So there’s a bit of that.  And, of course, the vocalese (the computer doesn’t seem to like that word, but I am sure I’ve spelt it right?)  Vocalese is a jazz term meaning putting words to a musical solo and – well, just singing it.  Elling is one of the modern-day exponents of this dazzling art form.  On the album “Man in the Air” he puts words to an incredible Coltrane solo, “Resolution.”  It’s a real tour de force.  Vocalese is exciting to listen to.  And Elling can always be exciting.

And did I mention that Elling can also be somewhat… erotic?  His love ballads are so slow and dreamy, his voice so lazy and sweet, that they are perfect for lying in bed with someone… A perfect example of this is his album “Flirting with Twilight,” which doesn’t have an uptempo number on it.  It’s the first album we bought of his (after hearing his luxurious version of “Lil’ Darlin'” on Jamaican radio – thank you Michael Anthony Cuffe, and thank you, now-defunct Radio Mona!)   His voice flows, smooth and rich (but I like the little grating bits that creep in sometimes).  It’s like honey, but never syrupy.

Mr. E has a taste for the avant-garde, too.  On this new one, he does some crazy wild scatting; and one (thankfully short) track includes “music spontaneously composed by Laurence Hobgood.”  But this one is not to be taken too seriously, again; Elling reads another poem, in an odd accent, about pork and beans and diapers.  Yes, sometimes Mr. Elling goes gently off the rails.  But he gets back on track, effortlessly.  It’s just a little tickle he has – “let’s just gently push the envelope, a little.”  That is when he goes into one of his extraordinary Elling vocal excursions.  He has a four-octave range, so you can imagine, these excursions are a lot of fun, too.


A Grammy at LAST! In 2009. And well overdue...

Biographical footnote: Kurt Elling was born in Chicago in 1967, the year of Flower Power.  He did indeed study Divinity for a short while, but then suddenly got diverted into jazz.  A bit of a switch, one would have thought.  But then he had been singing in choirs, even touring with his college choir, lots of classical training there (and you can hear it, in a very good way).  He met pianist Laurence Hobgood, who became his collaborator and musical director, fashioning some sound-perfect arrangements.  Hobgood is admirable and the partnership is fruitful.

Interesting facts:  He bought a condominium in Chicago from Barack Obama in 2005.  He has been nominated for a Grammy nine times, finally winning in 2009 for his lovely album, “Dedicated to You: Kurt Elling sings the music of Coltrane and Hartman.”

Are you sold on Elling yet?  Well, the icing on the cake for me was hearing him live (and you know, jazz is immeasurably more compelling when played live – this I have discovered) at Monterey Jazz Festival.  After his (of course fabulous) performance, and still under his spell, although I am sure he wanted to go home, I managed to drag him to the front of the stage and told him, rather incoherently, how much I loved him and his music.  He listened to my babbling fan-talk gravely, nodding and occasionally saying, “Thank you.”  Eventually I ran out of steam, we smiled at each other, and I forgot to ask him for his autograph.

Here he is:

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