Novelist Henning Mankell’s Flotilla Diary

Flotilla raid diary: ‘A man is shot. I am seeing it happen’
The prize-winning writer and creator of Wallander was among those on board the Gaza flotilla. Here he shares his private diary of the events leading to his capture
Henning Mankell
The Guardian, Saturday 5 June 2010
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On board the Mavi Marmara: ‘The Israelis have behaved like pirates.’ Photograph: Kate Geraghty/Sydney Morning Her/Getty Images
Tuesday 25 May, Nice

It is five o’clock in the morning and I’m standing in the street waiting for the taxi that will take me to the airport in Nice. It’s the first time in ages E and I have had some time off together. Initially we thought we’d be able to stretch it to two weeks. It turned out to be five days. Ship to Gaza finally seems to be ready to set off and I’m to travel to Cyprus to join it, as arranged.

As instructed, I’ve limited my luggage to a rucksack weighing no more than 10 kilos. Ship to Gaza has a clearly defined goal: to break Israel’s illegal blockade. After the war a year ago, life has become more and more unbearable for the Palestinians who live in Gaza. There is a huge shortage of the bare necessities for living any sort of decent life.

But the aim of the voyage is of course more explicit. Deeds, not words, I think. It’s easy to say you support or defend or oppose this, that and the other. But only action can provide proof of your words.

The Palestinians who have been forced by the Israelis to live in this misery need to know that they are not alone, not forgotten. The world has to be reminded of their existence. And we can do that by loading some ships with what they need most of all: medicines, desalination plants for drinking water, cement.

The taxi arrives, we agree a price – extortionate! – and drive to the airport through empty, early morning streets. It comes to me now that I made my first note, there in the taxi. I don’t remember the exact words, but I’m suddenly disconcerted by a sense of not quite having managed to register that this is a project so hated by the Israelis that they might try to stop the convoy by violent means.

By the time I get to the airport, the thought has gone. On this point, too, the project is very clearly defined. We are to use non-violent tactics; there are no weapons, no intention of physical confrontation. If we’re stopped, it ought to happen in a way that doesn’t put our lives at risk.

Wednesday 26 May, Nicosia

It’s warmer than in Nice. Those who are to board the ships somewhere off the coast of Cyprus are gathering at Hotel Centrum in Nicosia. It’s like being in an old Graham Greene novel. A collection of odd people assembling in some godforsaken place to set off on a journey together. We’re going to break an illegal blockade. The words are repeated in a variety of languages. But suddenly there’s a great sense of uncertainty.

The ships are late, various problems have arisen, the coordinates still haven’t been set for the actual rendezvous. The only thing that’s certain is that it will be out at sea. Cyprus doesn’t want our six ships putting in here. Presumably Israel has applied pressure.

Now and then I also note tensions between the various groups that make up the leadership of this unwieldy project. The breakfast room has been pressed into service as a secretive meeting room. We are called in to write details of our next of kin, in case of the worst. Everyone writes away busily. Then we are told to wait. Watch and wait. Those are the words that will be used most often, like a mantra, in the coming days. Wait. Watch and wait.

Thursday 27 May, Nicosia

Wait. Watch and wait. Oppressive heat.

Friday 28 May, Nicosia

I suddenly start to wonder whether I may have to leave the island without getting onto a ship. There seems to be a shortage of places. There are apparently waiting lists for this project of solidarity. But K, the friendly Swedish MP, and S, the Swedish female doctor, who are travelling with me help keep my spirits up. Travel by ship always involves some kind of bother, I think. We carry on with our task. Of waiting. Watching and waiting.

Saturday 29 May, Nicosia

Suddenly everything happens very quickly. We are now, but of course still only maybe, to travel sometime today on a different, faster ship to the point out at sea where the coordinates meet, and there we will join the convoy of five other vessels that will then head as a single flotilla for the Gaza Strip.

We carry on waiting. But at about 5pm the port authorities finally give us permission to board a ship called the Challenge, which will take us at a speed of 15 knots to the rendezvous point, where we will transfer to the cargo ship Sophia. There are already lots of people aboard the Challenge.

They seem a bit disappointed to see the three of us turn up. They had been hoping for some Irish campaigners who have, however, suddenly given up the idea and gone home. We climb aboard, say hello, quickly learn the rules. It’s very cramped, plastic bags full of shoes everywhere, but the mood is good, calm. All the question marks seem to have been ironed out now. Soon after the two diesel engines rumble into life. We’re finally underway.


I’ve found a chair on the rear deck. The wind is not blowing hard, but enough to make a lot of the passengers seasick. I have wrapped myself up in blankets, and watch the moon cast an illuminated trail across the sea. I think to myself that solidarity actions can take many forms. The rumbling means there is not a lot of conversation. Just now, the journey feels very peaceful. But deceptively so.

Sunday 30 May, at sea, south-east of Cyprus, 01.00

I can see the glimmer of lights in various directions. The captain, whose name I never manage to learn, has slowed his speed. The lights flickering in the distance are the navigation lights of two of the other ships in the convoy. We are going to lie here until daylight, when people can be transferred to other vessels. But I still can’t find anywhere to sleep. I stay in my wet chair and doze.

Solidarity is born in dampness and waiting; but we are helping others to get roofs over their heads.


The sea is calmer. We are approaching the largest vessel in the flotilla. It’s a passenger ferry, the “queen” of the ships in the convoy. There are hundreds of people on board. There has been much discussion of the likelihood of the Israelis focusing their efforts on this particular ship.

What efforts? We’ve naturally been chewing that over ever since the start of the project. Nothing can be known with any certainty. Will the Israeli navy sink the ships? Or repel them by some other means? Is there any chance the Israelis will let us through, and repair their tarnished reputation? Nobody knows. But it seems most likely that we’ll be challenged at the border with Israeli territorial waters by threatening voices from loudspeakers on naval vessels. If we fail to stop, they will probably knock out our propellers or rudders, then tow us somewhere for repair.


The three of us transfer to the Sophia by rope ladder. She is a limping old cargo ship, with plenty of rust and an affectionate crew. I calculate that we are about 25 people in all. The cargo includes cement, reinforcement bars and prefabricated wooden houses. I am given a cabin to share with the MP, whom I view after the long days in Nicosia more and more as a very old friend. We find it has no electric light. We’ll have to catch up on our reading some other time.


The convoy has assembled. We head for Gaza.


We gather in the improvised dining area between the cargo hatches and the ship’s superstructure. The grey-haired Greek who is responsible for security and organisation on board, apart from the nautical aspects, speaks softly and immediately inspires confidence. Words like “wait” and “watch” no longer exist. Now we are getting close. The only question is: what are we getting close to?

Nobody knows what the Israelis will come up with. We only know that their statements have been menacing, announcing that the convoy will be repelled with all the means at their disposal. But what does that mean? Torpedoes? Hawsers? Soldiers let down from helicopters? We can’t know. But violence will not be met with violence from our side.

Only elementary self-defence. We can, on the other hand, make things harder for our attackers. Barbed wire is to be strung all round the ship’s rail. In addition, we are all to get used to wearing life jackets, lookouts are to be posted and we will be told where to assemble if foreign soldiers come aboard. Our last bastion will be the bridge.

Then we eat. The cook is from Egypt, and suffers with a bad leg. But he cooks great food.

Monday 31 May, midnight

I share the watch on the port side from midnight to 3am. The moon is still big, though occasionally obscured by cloud. The sea is calm. The navigation lights gleam. The three hours pass quickly. I notice I am tired when someone else takes over. It’s still a long way to anything like a territorial boundary the Israelis could legitimately defend. I should try to snatch a few hours’ sleep.

I drink tea, chat to a Greek crewman whose English is very poor but who insists he wants to know what my books are about. It’s almost four before I get to lie down.


I’ve just dropped off when I am woken again. Out on deck I see that the big passenger ferry is floodlit. Suddenly there is the sound of gunfire. So now I know that Israel has chosen the route of brutal confrontation. In international waters.

It takes exactly an hour for the speeding black rubber dinghies with the masked soldiers to reach us and start to board. We gather, up on the bridge. The soldiers are impatient and want us down on deck. Someone who is going too slowly immediately gets a stun device fired into his arm. He falls. Another man who is not moving fast enough is shot with a rubber bullet. I think: I am seeing this happen right beside me. It is an absolute reality. People who have done nothing being driven like animals, being punished for their slowness.

We are put in a group down on the deck. Where we will then stay for 11 hours, until the ship docks in Israel. Every so often we are filmed. When I jot down a few notes, a soldier comes over at once and asks what I am writing. That’s the only time I lose my temper, and tell him it’s none of his business. I can only see his eyes; don’t know what he is thinking. But he turns and goes.

Eleven hours, unable to move, packed together in the heat. If we want to go for a pee, we have to ask permission. The food they give us is biscuits, rusks and apples. We’re not allowed to make coffee, even though we could do it where we are sitting. We take a collective decision: not to ask if we can cook food.

Then they would film us. It would be presented as showing how generously the soldiers had treated us. We stick to the biscuits and rusks. It is degradation beyond compare. (Meanwhile, the soldiers who are off-duty have dragged mattresses out of the cabins and are sleeping at the back of the deck.)

So in those 11 hours, I have time to take stock. We have been attacked while in international waters. That means the Israelis have behaved like pirates, no better than those who operate off the coast of Somalia. The moment they start to steer this ship towards Israel, we have also been kidnapped. The whole action is illegal.We try to talk among ourselves, work out what might happen, and not least how the Israelis could opt for a course of action that means painting themselves into a corner.

The soldiers watch us. Some pretend not to understand English. But they all do. There are a couple of girls among the soldiers. They look the most embarrassed. Maybe they are the sort who will escape to Goa and fall into drug addiction when their military service is over? It happens all the time.


Quayside somewhere in Israel. I don’t know where. We are taken ashore and forced to run the gauntlet of rows of soldiers while military TV films us. It suddenly hits me that this is something I shall never forgive them. At that moment they are nothing more to my mind than pigs and bastards.

We are split up, no one is allowed to talk to anyone else. Suddenly a man from the Israeli ministry for foreign affairs appears at my side. I realise he is there to make sure I am not treated too harshly. I am, after all, known as a writer in Israel. I’ve been translated into Hebrew. He asks if I need anything.

‘My freedom and everybody else’s,’ I say. He doesn’t answer. I ask him to go. He takes one step back. But he stays.

I admit to nothing, of course, and am told I am to be deported. The man who says this also says he rates my books highly. That makes me consider ensuring nothing I write is ever translated into Hebrew again.

Agitation and chaos reign in this “asylum-seekers’ reception centre”. Every so often, someone is knocked to the ground, tied up and handcuffed. I think several times that no one will believe me when I tell them about this. But there are many eyes to see it. Many people will be obliged to admit that I am telling the truth. There are a lot of us who can bear witness.

A single example will do. Right beside me, a man suddenly refuses to have his fingerprints taken. He accepts being photographed. But fingerprints? He doesn’t consider he has done anything wrong. He resists. And is beaten to the ground. They drag him off. I don’t know where. What word can I use? Loathsome? Inhuman? There are plenty to choose from.


We, the MP, the doctor and I, are taken to a prison for those refused right of entry. There we are split up. We are thrown a few sandwiches that taste like old dishcloths. It’s a long night. I use my trainers as a pillow.

Tuesday 1 June, afternoon

Without any warning, the MP and I are taken to a Lufthansa plane. We are to be deported. We refuse to go until we know what is happening to S Once we have assured ourselves that she, too, is on her way, we leave our cell.

On board the plane, the air hostess gives me a pair of socks. Because mine were stolen by one of the commandos who attacked the boat I was on.

The myth of the brave and utterly infallible Israeli soldier is shattered. Now we can add: they are common thieves. For I was not the only one to be robbed of my money, credit card, clothes, MP3 player, laptop; the same happened to many others on the same ship as me, which was attacked early one morning by masked Israeli soldiers, who were thus in fact nothing other than lying pirates.

By late evening we are back in Sweden. I talk to some journalists. Then I sit for a while in the darkness outside the house where I live. E doesn’t say much.

Wednesday 2 June, afternoon

I listen to the blackbird. A song for those who died.

Now it is still all left to do. So as not to lose sight of the goal, which is to lift the brutal blockade of Gaza. That will happen.

Beyond that goal, others are waiting. Demolishing a system of apartheid takes time. But not an eternity.

Copyright Henning Mankell. This article was translated by Sarah Death © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010




Folly Island Coast

55th drum

Drum and cap of the Massachusetts 55th Regiment

Civil War Buff Tries to Honor Mass. Soldiers
Wants S.C. Monument Where Many From Black Bay State Regiment Died

By Brian R. Ballou, Globe Staff | October 24, 2009

Palmetto trees and other vegetation covered the stretch of sand Robert E. Bohrn longed to sweep with his metal detector, but then bulldozers came and uprooted the wild growth and scraped away several feet of sand, unearthing a neatly combed relic hunter’s dream.

The year was 1987, and the development of a subdivision was underway on Folly Island, S.C. Bohrn, a Civil War buff, visited the cleared space with Eric Croen, another relic hunter, and they began finding corroded Union buttons and other fragments of the country’s volatile past.

And then Croen found something bordering on macabre: a human femur. Bohrn dug deeper and found more bones and other indicators that the remnants and skeletal remains had belonged to Civil War soldiers who were part of a regiment from Massachusetts.

Twenty-three years later, Bohrn is raising money to bring recognition to the men of the 55th, an all-black volunteer regiment that fought for the Union. He is attempting to have a monument placed on Folly Island, where the men served and died in the early 1860s.

“It’s one thing to find the artifacts; it’s another thing to find the men who wore them,’’ Bohrn said during a recent telephone interview.

The South Carolina Institute of Archeology and Anthropology excavated the remains of 19 African-American soldiers from the wartime burial site. They determined the soldiers had been members of the 55th Regiment from Massachusetts, part of the overflow unit of the famed all-black volunteer 54th, portrayed in the movie “Glory.’’ Both regiments, made up of free-born African-Americans, were assembled in Massachusetts and trained in the Readville section of Boston before heading south to fight the Confederacy.

Bohrn is working with officials in his state to erect a monument at the site. Specialists believe the soldiers died mostly of disease, particularly dysentery. Their remains were reburied in 1989 at Beaufort National Cemetery in South Carolina, an event attended by Michael S. Dukakis, then the governor of Massachusetts.

“This is something that is extremely personal to me. When I found those bones, it changed my life,’’ said Bohrn, of Rock Hill, S.C. Trained as a chef, he owned and operated a Civil War-period tavern. Disabled by Crohn’s disease, Bohrn has been divorced for eight years and is raising two daughters.

Tracy Power, coordinator of the South Carolina Historical Marker Program, said there were few African-American units in the war, so “the fact that there was a camp on Folly Island, discovered by accident, is certainly significant and unusual. “This find and the work of Mr. Bohrn allows for the knowledge of what happened there to be shared for future generations.’’

But the site has been lost to development – as have many in the Charleston area – so the chance of having it recognized as a National Historical Place, like famous Civil War battlefields, has been lost, said Power, a Civil War historian. “There is no site any more; the context has been lost,’’ he said.

The state requires historical markers to be privately funded, and while Bohrn has raised more than half of the $1,830 needed for the monument, he would like to see some donations come from Massachusetts. “It would be very poignant for the citizens of the Commonwealth to donate to this,’’ he said.

Bohrn, 52, said he would have tried to bring the monument to Folly Island earlier, but he has been slowed by his medical condition. Earlier this year, he found a website,, for people who search for artifacts, and in a meeting with some members, decided now is the time to see the project through.

Bohrn is working on the text for a 42-by-32-inch marker, which he plans to send to Power for revision. Once the text is finalized and approved, an order will be placed at Sewah Studios in Marietta, Ohio, a maker of historical markers. Bohrn hopes that on May 8, 2010, on the 23d anniversary of the discovery of the graves, the monument will be erected on Folly Island.

Hari Jones, curator of the African-American Civil War Museum in Washington, D.C., said members of the 55th served in the shadows of those in the 54th.

The latter was composed of men who passed a rigorous physical training program and who were sons or relatives of well-known abolitionists, such as Frederick Douglass. Some of the volunteers were already well-trained soldiers, having belonged to private militias, Jones said. “They were the cream of the crop.’’

The 55th was composed of men who did not meet the standard of the 54th,’’ Jones said.

After the 54th’s assault on Fort Wagner, in which many of the regiment’s soldiers were killed, the 55th answered the Union’s call for reinforcements. But they mostly did detail duty, such as building entrenchments and unloading shipments.

The 55th, with roughly 1,000 soldiers, saw action in 1864 on James Island near Charleston and fought in the Battle of Honey Hill, south of Charleston, joining ranks with the 54th and other black regiments.

About 64 men from the 55th were killed or mortally wounded in battle and approximately 128 died from diseases. Some of their remains wound up on Folly Island.

Jones said: “This really would be a memorial to the quintessential American Freedom Fighter. These men fought to extend the blessings of liberty to everyone in this country, and all Americans are indebted.’’

Beverly Hector Smith’s great-great-grandfather, Charles Henry Tyler, was a member of the all-black Fifth Regiment, which also trained at Camp Meigs in Readville. In a telephone interview from her home in Natick, she applauded the fund-raising effort. “I know how proud I am of my ancestor, and I think it is wonderful what is being done to commemorate the sacrifice that the soldiers of the 55th gave for this country.’’

Smith, 72, said Tyler joined the Fifth in 1864 and served for about 18 months, seeing battle in Richmond. “Many of these soldiers had been forgotten in history, but lately, it seems like they’re slowly getting the attention they deserve.’’

© Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company



I visited Suzanne Wenger, known as priestess Adunni Osun, at Osogbo and have a metal fish pendant she gave me. She died on January 12, 2009.


Wole Soyinka on Adunni Osun

Years before Fela Anikulapo was tagged with the media ascription, Susanne Wenger, later to be known as Adunni Olorisa, was the original, quintessential abami eda of the Nigerian art scene, but most particularly of the Yoruba cultural community. Her passage of revelation was quite uncomplicated.

To resort to my favourite summation of her experience: she came, she saw and was conquered. An internal, as yet undefined spiritual quest, too personal for outsiders to understand, had come to fulfilment, and there was no turning back. I glimpsed this phase of illumination at our very first meeting, all the way back in the early sixties.

Thinking of Fela at the time of Susanne’s passing comes to me quite naturally, quite apart from the fact that I did try to induce Fela to visit Osun on a few occasions, confident that he might thereby deepen his affinity to the Yoruba world.

There were quite a few similarities – and contrasts – between her and my cousin, who came to be known even more widely as abami eda.

Both created their own worlds – communalistic in temper, internally regulated, and defended with a passion. Both were ardent promoters of Yoruba culture, although, in Fela’s case, he had a generally permissive cultural amalgam that went by the name ‘African culture’.

There, perhaps, the convergence ends. Susanne’s cultural space was a space of tranquility and meditation that transmitted a unique aura.

She hated showmanship, and was somewhat reproachful of Fela’s treatment of a shared resource, her eyes being always tuned inwards, communing with her private Muse in a secretive zone filled with images, with intimations of godhead, constantly homing in on what would be the guiding passage from her history and cultural antecedents to this world that reached out to her so compulsively.

She found that passage in the depths of Osun, and Osun became not merely her physical, creative retreat, but her spiritual refuge and inspiration.

Let this be clearly stated; Susanne Wenger never attempted nor pretended to be Yoruba. Even in her very last interviews, she took pains to stress this.

She was European, Austrian, yet a being of the universal spirit who found the truths of existence not in Europe, nor Austria, but in a place she had never heard of until brought thither in the most ordinary of circumstances.

Yet she recognized that space at once, intuitively, unquestioning. Austria lost an artist; Oshogbo gained one, a spiritual seeker and guide, community leader – despite herself – and creative mentor all in one.

No community imbued with any cultural pride and self-confidence in its authentic heritage, yet with openness to the offerings of external insights, could ask for more. The symbiotic relationship could proceed, at its own pace, and unfettered.

There is a lesson in this for all of us, viewed conversely. There is nothing strange in Africans, with their wealth of spiritual and cultural resources, seeking or voluntarily embracing spiritual affinities anywhere – from Rome to Mecca, from Jerusalem to Canterbury.

It is when these latter-day convertites assume the mantle of Absolute, Incontrovertible Truths to the extent that they affect to despise other Truths, destroy their icons, mutilate their heritage and embark on orgies of intolerance, even to a homicidal extent, that they declare themselves subhuman, and earn the righteous wrath of other claimants to the altar of spiritual verities.

Susanne Wenger, re-named Adunni Olorisa, mapped out the path of tolerance, of spiritual ecumenism, the choice of being true to oneself yet accommodative of others.

All she demanded, indeed insisted upon, was the sanctity of the spiritual space of her adoptive community. Let the warring dacoits of foreign deities take note, and place a check on their fanaticisms and bigotries. Believe and worship what you will, but let others also believe, and worship in their chosen mode.

What the Africans took to, and continues to thrive within nations such as Brazil, Cuba, Columbia and other Caribbean communities on island and landmass, Adunni-Osun found by accident – or guidance – in its original home, the abode of the orisa.

She dedicated her life to enhancing a preserve that spoke meaningfully to her, enabling a community of creative minds and hands in various genres, protecting, exploring and expressing outwardly the eternal essence of its sacred grove with the reverence of the imaginative spirit.

Such creative devotion does not fail to renew the spiritual dimension that lies at the heart of all religions, by whatever names they are called, and whatever their claims to world status in the directory of religions.

Adunni-Osun is how integrated she surfaces in my recall of her. She conveyed a variety of emotions, lessons, unresolved intimations to many, black, white, or bronze, from within the Nigerian nation space and from far distant lands, not excepting even tourists for whom she had little toleration.

For all however, this irreducible mantra, epitomized by the career of a questing stranger who came, saw, and was conquered:

“Go to the orisa, learn from the orisa, and be wise.”




And other Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest questions, answered by the Explainer.

By Brian Palmer

Posted Wednesday, July 22, 2009, at 5:07 PM ET

Prosecutors dropped all charges against Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Tuesday. The prominent Harvard professor had been charged with disorderly conduct after breaking into his own home in Cambridge, Mass. This bizarre episode, which some say is an example of racial profiling—Gates is! African-American—raises all sorts of questions for the Explainer.

Gates repeatedly requested the arresting officer’s name and badge number. Gates says the officer provided neither, although the officer claims that he did, in fact, state his name. Was the officer required to provide this information?

Yes. Massachusetts law requires police officers to carry identification cards and present them upon request. Officers are also required to wear a “badge, tag, or label” with their name and/or identifying number. The law is aimed at precisely the situation in question—suspects who feel their rights are being violated. Few other states impose this requirement on their officers as a matter of law, but many individual police departm! ents, such as the New York Police Department, have adopted it (PDF) as a matter of policy.

Gates initially refused to emerge from his home and provide identification. Was he required to?

No. There’s nothing to stop an officer from requesting your presence on the front porch or asking you questions, but he cannot force you to identify yourself or come out of your house without probable cause. (The rules are different for drivers and immigrants, who are required to provide identification upon request.) If you don’t feel like chatting, ask the officer whether you are free to go about your business. If he answers no, you are being detained, which means the officer must acknowledge and abide by your full menu of civil! rights, including the famousMiranda warnings.

The arresting officer alleges that Gates shouted at him and threatened to speak to his “mama.” He then arrested Gates for disorderly conduct. What, exactly, is disorderly conduct?

Behavior that might cause a riot. Massachusetts courts have limited the definition of disorderly conduct to: fighting or threatening, violent or tumultuous behavior, or creating a hazardous or physically offensive condition for no legitimate purpose other than to cause public annoyance or alarm. (The statute, however, just says “idle and disorderly persons,” a formulation that is, on its own, pa! tently unconstitutional.) Violators may be imprisoned for up to six months, fined a maximum of $200, or both.

The stilted language in the Gates police report is intended to mirror the courts’ awkward phrasing, but the state could never make the charge stick. The law is aimed not at mere irascibility but rather at unruly behavior likely to set off wider unrest. Accordingly, the behavior must take place in public or on private property where people tend to gather. While the police allege that a crowd had formed outside Gates’ property, it is rare to see a disorderly conduct conviction for behavior on the suspect’s own front porch. In addition, political speech is excluded fr! om the statutebecause of the First Amendment. Alleging racial bia s, as Gates was doing, and protesting arrest both represent core political speech.

Got a question about today’s news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Carol Rose and Sarah Wunsch of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Brian Palmer is a freelance writer living in New York City.

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Copyright 2009 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC


“Bristling innovation and mainstream melody-making classical modernism and free jazz Improvisation – all these elements, and others, converge when the CJP takes the stage.”
– Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune

Orbert Davis’s history as a gifted trumpeter, composer and visionary founder of the spectacular Chicago Jazz Philharmonic is evident once again in the brilliant new CD COLLECTIVE CREATIVITY.

Davis is not one to shy away from monumental undertakings, as he proved with his symphonic suite “Hope in Action” honoring Nelson Mandela, which was performed in Chicago’s Millennium Park to outstanding reviews.

– In 1994 he successfully integrated jazz rhythms with lush strings and formed the superb ensemble “Orbert Davis with Strings Attached”.

– In November 1998 he presented the world premiere of his classical composition, “Concerto for Jazz Quartet and Orchestra” performed by the Chicago Sinfonietta at Symphony Center Chicago.

– In 2003, Davis premiered his complex “Four Tone Poems for Jazz Quintet and Orchestra” at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall with his ensemble and the Chicago Sinfonietta.

– In July 2005 Davis’s 55-piece classical-and-jazz-combining Chicago Jazz Philharmonic collaborated with the AACM on Millennium Park’s stage.

The cover art for this new CD is an original painting by the late artist, musician, teacher and writer, Ben Richardson.

Davis: ‘This band is about breaking down barriers’

Chicago Tribune

Can genre-defying CJP’s meteoric rise be sustained? Imagine a thundering symphony orchestra that swings as hard as the sharpest jazz quintet. An ensemble that plays Ellington and Strayhorn with the technical bravura usually reserved for Beethoven and Brahms, but also with a sense of freedom and individuality unique to jazz.

Then imagine this unusually versatile organization led by a world-class trumpeter who has been compared to Wynton Marsalis — as virtuoso instrumentalist, music educator and visionary composer.

That confluence of musical possibilities might seem about as likely to occur as a series of lunar eclipses. Yet for Chicagoans, it requires no act of imagination at all.

For on the basis of just four performances since 2004, trumpeter Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic has fulfilled the aforementioned description, and then some. Though its funding is precarious, its resume brief and its economic prospects uncertain at best, the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic already ranks as a supernova in Chicago jazz, its ultra-high-profile bookings at Millennium Park, Grant Park and the Auditorium Theatre an inarguable sign of its stature.

Moreover, this band has no peer in the United States, for it not only gleefully ignores boundaries that long have separated classical music and jazz, it unveils a stack of impossible-to-categorize, world-premiere compositions at every performance.

“We’re breaking down barriers,” says Davis, 47, in explaining why he’s attempting to pull together so many art forms for this biggest concert yet in the CJP’s existence.

“I believe we’ve not only redefined the boundaries of two genres,” adds Davis, referring to classical and jazz, “but we may be creating a new one.”

If so, it has no name, because the Third Stream appellation long used to describe jazz-meets-the-classics scores seems far too corny and ancient for Davis’ freewheeling, genre-defying venture.

Just last June, for instance, Davis and the CJP gave listeners at the Auditorium Theatre the world premiere of a ragtime piano concerto — of all things — inspired by music of MacArthur “genius” award winner Reginald Robinson, who brilliantly played the solo part. Though the piece must be considered a work-in-progress because Davis clearly needs to bulk up two of the movements, the aptly titled “Concerto for a Genius” literally has no equivalent in the entire jazz or classical repertory (James P. Johnson’s brief “Yamekraw” is a trifle by comparison).

Two years earlier, at Millennium Park, Davis and the CJP presented another striking world premiere: his audacious”Collective Creativity Suite.” Here was a vast symphonic work that dared to embrace the “free jazz” improvisational techniques of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). The CJP’s classical string players, in other words, were liberated from merely interpreting the score, as classical musicians are trained to do. Instead, in several passages they spontaneously invented music alongside such AACM giants as flutist Nicole Mitchell and saxophonist Ari Brown. And because Davis in this piece drew inspiration from scores by the Russian modernist Igor Stravinsky — of all things — listeners had the rare pleasure of hearing the haunting “Berceuse” from “The Firebird” suite reinvented as a sensuous, earthy blues (in tenor saxophonist Brown’s gorgeous rendition).

Every CJP program has contained revelations of that caliber, but the journey to these moments has been more arduous than observers may realize, given the band’s meteoric rise.

“What we learned is that it’s real expensive,” says Mark Ingram, executive director of the CJP and Davis’ best friend since high school

“It’s such a vast undertaking, you have no idea. So we have losses.”

The Auditorium Theatre concert featuring “Concerto for a Genius” and a litany of other provocative Davis orchestral compositions, for instance, established a new artistic high point for the band and attracted its largest paying audience to date: Virtually the entire main floor of the Auditorium was filled on a lovely June weekend when graduations and other warm-weather activities posed significant competition.

Yet this breakthrough event lost money for the CJP, despite the large house and funding from Boeing and the Chicago Community Trust, among other benefactors.

How could this be?



Ahhhh . . . imagine how it must feel to wear this amazing Luly Yang Butterfly Dress!




Dear Mr. Lincoln
We Coloreds have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!

In fact we held a big meeting and took a vote in Kansas City this week. We voted to condemn a political revival of that old abolitionist spirit called the ‘tea party movement’.

The tea party position to “end the bailouts” for example is just silly. Bailouts are just big money welfare and isn’t that what we want all Coloreds to strive for? What kind of racist would want to end big money welfare? What they need to do is start handing the bail outs directly to us coloreds! Of course, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the only responsible party that should be granted the right to disperse the funds.

And the ridiculous idea of “reduce[ing] the size and intrusiveness of government.” What kind of massa would ever not want to control my life? As Coloreds we must have somebody care for us otherwise we would be on our own, have to think for ourselves and make decisions!

The racist tea parties also demand that the government “stop the out of control spending.” Again, they directly target coloreds. That means we Coloreds would have to compete for jobs like everybody else and that is just not right.

Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government “stop raising our taxes.” That is outrageous! How will we coloreds ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?

Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.

Precious Ben Jealous, Tom’s Nephew NAACP Head Colored Person


Salman Rushdie writes in VANITY FAIR about his late friend Christopher Hitchens.

Hitch-22 was a title born of the silly word games we played, one of which was “Titles that don’t quite make it,” among which were A Farewell to Weapons, For Whom the Bell Rings, To Kill a Hummingbird, The Catcher in the Wheat, Mr Zhivago and Toby-Dick, aka Moby-Cock. And, as the not-quite version of Joseph Heller’s comic masterpiece, Hitch-22. Christopher rescued this last title from the slush pile of our catechism of failures and redeemed it by giving it to the text which now stands as his best memorial.

Laughter and Hitchens were inseparable companions, and comedy was one of the most powerful weapons in his arsenal. When we were both on Real Time with Bill Maher along with Mos Defand the rapper began to offer up a series of cockeyed animadversions about Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, Christopher became almost ferally polite, addressing Mos, as he tore into his ideas, by the faux-respectful moniker “Mr Definitely,” a name so belittlingly funny that it rendered even more risible the risible notions which Mr D was trying to advance.

Behind the laughter was what his friend Ian McEwan called “his Rolls-Royce mind,” that organ of improbable erudition and frequently brilliant, though occasionally flawed, perception. The Hitch mind was indeed a sleek and purring machine trimmed with elegant fittings, but his was not a rarefied sensibility. He was an intellectual with the instincts of a street brawler, never happier than when engaged in moral or political fisticuffs. When I became involved in a public disagreement with the eminent spy novelist John le Carré, Hitchens leapt unbidden into the fray and ratcheted the insult-level up many notches, comparing the great man’s conduct to “that of a man who, having relieved himself in his own hat, makeshaste to clamp the  brimming chapeau on his head.” The argument, I’m sorry to report, grew uglier after the Hitch’s intervention.

The le Carré dispute took place during the long years of argument and danger that followed the publication of my novel The Satanic Verses and the attack upon its author, publishers, translators and booksellers by the minions and successors of the theocratic tyrant of Iran, Ruhollah Khomeini. It was during these years that Christopher, a good but not intimate friend since the mid-1980s, drew closer to me, becoming the most indefatigable of allies and the most eloquent of defenders.

I have often been asked if Christopher defended me because he was my close friend. The truth is that he became my close friend because he wanted to defend me.

The spectacle of a despotic cleric with antiquated ideas issuing a death warrant for a writer living in another country, and then sending death squads to carry out the edict, changed something in Christopher. It made him understand that a new danger had been unleashed upon the earth, that a new totalizing ideology had stepped into the down-at-heel shoes of Soviet Communism. And when the brute hostility of British and American conservatives (Podhoretz and Krauthammer, Hugh Trevor-Roper and Paul Johnson) joined forces with the appeasement politics of sections of the Western left, and both  sides began to offer sympathetic analyses of the assault, his outrage grew. In the eyes of the Right, I was a cultural “traitor” and, in Christopher’s words, an “uppity wog,” and in the opinion of the Left, the People could never be wrong, and the cause of the Oppressed People, a category into which the Islamist opponents of my novel fell, was doubly justified. Voices as diverse as the Pope, the Cardinal of New York, the British Chief Rabbi, and John Berger and Germaine Greer “understood the insult” and failed to be outraged; and Christopher went to war.

He and I found ourselves describing our ideas, without conferring, in almost identical terms. I began to understand that while I had not chosen the battle, it was at least the right battle, because in it everything that I loved and valued (literature, freedom, irreverence, freedom, irreligion, freedom) was ranged against everything I detested (fanaticism, violence, bigotry, humorlessness, philistinism, and the new offence-culture of the age). Then I read Christopher using exactly the same everything-he-loved-versus-everything-he-hated trope, and felt…understood.

He, too, saw that the attack on The Satanic Verses was not an isolated occurrence; that, across the Muslim world, writers and journalists and artists were being accused of the same crimes – blasphemy, heresy, apostasy, and their modern-day associates, “insult” and “offence.” And he intuited that beyond this intellectual assault lay the possibility of an attack on a broader front. He quoted Heine to me. Where they burn books they will afterwards burn people. (And reminded me, with his profound sense of irony, that Heine’s line, in his playAlmansor, had referred to the burning of the Qur’an.) And on September 11, 2001, he, and all of us, understood that what began with a book-burning in Bradford, Yorkshire, had now burst upon the whole world’s consciousness in the form of those tragically burning buildings.

During the campaign against the fatwa, the British government and various human rights groups pressed the case for a visit by me to the Clinton White House, to demonstrate the strength of the new administration’s support for the cause. A visit was offered, then delayed, then offered again. It was unclear until the last minute if President Clinton himself would meet me, or if the encounter would be left to National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and perhaps Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State. Hitch worked tirelessly to impress on Clinton’s people the importance of POTUS greeting me in person. His friendship with George Stephanopoulos was perhaps the critical factor. Stephanopoulos’s arguments prevailed and I was led into the Presidential presence. Stephanopoulos called Christopher at once, telling him, triumphantly: “The Eagle has landed.”

(On that visit to DC I stayed in the Hitchens apartment, and he was afterwards warned  by a State Department spook that my having been his house guest might have drawn the danger towards him; maybe it would be a good idea if he moved house? He remained contemptuously unmoved.)

Christopher came to believe that the people who understood the dangers posed by radical Islam were on the Right, that his erstwhile comrades on the Left were arranging  with one another to miss what seemed to him like a pretty obvious point; and so, never one to do things by halves, he made what looked to many people like a U-turn across the political highway to join forces with the warmakers of George W. Bush’s administration. He became oddly enamoured of Paul Wolfowitz. One night I happened to be at his apartment in DC when Wolfowitz, who had just left the administration, stopped by for a late night drink, and proceeded to deliver a critique of the Iraq war (all Rumsfeld’s fault, apparently) which left me, at least, speechless. The Wolfowitz doctrine, Wolfowitz was saying, had not been Wolfowitz’s idea. Indeed Wolfowitz had been anti-Wolfowitz-doctrine from the beginning. This was an argument worthy of a character from Catch-22. I wondered how long Christopher would be able to tolerate such bedfellows.

Paradoxically, it was God who saved Christopher Hitchens from the Right. Nobody who detested God as viscerally, intelligently, originally and comically as C. Hitchens could stay in the pocket of god-bothered American Conservatism for long. When he bared his fangs and went for God’s jugular, just as he had previously fanged Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa and Bill Clinton, the resulting book, God Is Not Great, carried Hitch away from the American Right and back towards his natural, liberal, ungodly constituency. He became an extraordinarily beloved figure in his last years, and it was his magnificent war upon God, and then his equally magnificent argument with his last enemy, Death, that brought him “home” at last from the misconceived war in Iraq.


Last things.

When I completed a draft of my memoir I sent a copy to Christopher, who was by this time very unwell. I didn’t expect him to do more than glance at it. Instead I received a longish email containing a full critique of the text, pointing out errors of fact and quotation I’d made about Rupert Brooke and P.G. Wodehouse.

There was a last dinner in New York, at which James Fenton and I, by previous agreement, set out to make him laugh as much as possible. Distressingly, this unleashed, at least once, a terrifying coughing fit. But he enjoyed himself that evening. It was the only gift his friends could give him near the end: an hour or two of being himself as he had always wished to be, the Hitch mighty and ample amongst the ones he loved, and not the diminishing Hitch having the life slowly squeezed out of him by the Destroyer of Days.

Richard Dawkins wrote to Christopher ten days before he died, telling him that an asteroid had been named after him. Christopher was greatly delighted and told all his friends about the Asteroid Hitchens. “Finally!” he emailed us. “Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!” I replied, paraphrasing the last line of Lewis Carroll’s verse. “Bravo! You’re a tea-tray in the sky!” It was our last exchange.

On his sixty-second birthday – his last birthday, a painful phrase to write – I had been with him and Carol and other comrades at the Houston home of his friend Michael Zilkha, and we had been photographed standing on either side of a bust of Voltaire. That photograph is now one of my most treasured possessions; me and the two Voltaires, one of stone and one still very much alive. Now they are both gone, and one can only try to believe, as the philosopher Pangloss insisted to Candide in the elder Voltaire’s masterpiece, that “everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”

It doesn’t feel like that today.

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One response to “Pages

  1. Hello from Ireland! I came across this blog by accident, looking for a pic of Frederico Lorca to use on my own blog. But I like what I see so will link it for you and visit again soon to read some of your stuff. Keep it up!


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