Tuesday, April 11, 2006


"What a gift to the world is this child. He reveals what children are capable of if only they are allowed --encouraged-- to bloom." -- Derrick Jensen, author of The Culture of Make Believe (and much more)

I can remember five-year-old Marcel practicing Geography on the street asking people, "Give me a country." When they complied, he'd invariably offer up unusual bits of information... for any country in the world. Not just capitals and the usual fare, but truly intriguing stuff.

After awhile, however, things changed. I guess he got burned by adults glazing over when he'd say something fascinating like "Ninety million people in Nigeria live on a dollar a day." Repeated lack of interest took its toll, He had felt something about his info; those he encountered did not. Even if they were impressed with the information, he could sense that their hearts were elsewhere.

If you meet Marcel PLEASE don't bring up Geography. Unless he brings up the subject, it would deeply disturb him these days. He's become so frustrated of late with adults who lack an informed social consciousness...he tends to turn to "The Three Looeys" these days (Jordan, Prima and Armstrong), swinging away from discussing geopolitical modern counterparts to Louis the Sun King. He "dances" with flowers now, learning about the nooks and crannies of species, smelling the roses. Marcel's much more into sharing the fruits of his garden, cracking jokes, caring for animals and living through a healthier childhood. He used to be a Mozart of Geography. Today, he's more of a budding Mozart of Organic Companion Planting, and a film historian wannabe. And healthier for it.

Who created Marcel? His mom, Sylvie, didn't. Neither did I. I still do read to him from James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me, but, truth be told, little 'Cello (from Marcello) is quite...his own little man. A very wild child-gosling, inner-directed. Named after Marceau, Duchamp, Proust, Cerdan and more than one (politically) revolutionary Marcel... he leads the way.

He turned eleven in 2011, but he's been fascinated by globes, maps, atlases and flags since 2002! At this juncture, Marcel not only knows all the countries that have a seat at the UN, he even knows lots about some "unrecognized countries," people fighting for independence. Like the Republic of Cabinda, which has made him an honorary citizen, and which issued him an Official Diplomatic Passport recently. He's one of the few citizens I know who is aware of the Chevron-inspired genocide in that country*. And its counterparts elsewhere.

*Do glance at  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VM-Hdn7h7tU#GU5U2spHI_4, especially the final minute or so with the Africans...taken at Stanford University (when he was six!) in prep for the arrival of Nigeria's Wole Soyinka; his blah blah there (mostly centered on world capitals) got him an invitation to the Tonight Show... which we, as a family, turned down. [Bill Hicks knew what he was talking about!] I can give you all the interesting reasons upon request. The video is a shortened version of a glorious performance in and around Bechtel's International Center on campus... where we were asked to leave once we questioned Bechtel's involvement in the privatization of Bolivian water rights.

Adults --including many of my college professor colleagues-- used to be astounded when he would say things like, "The Filipinos turn their flag upside down when they go to war...placing the blood red bravery stripe at the top." Then he started to ask, "Why do people care what the population of Angola is if they don't want to know that there are more landmines than people there?" It was a turning point to see what he saw. For all of us.

He used to be able to effortlessly run through where and when to visit some of the world's little-known attractions, but these days (if he engages in "travel talk" at all) he's inclined to caution people -- for environmental reasons -- about travel; see the family's contribution to this at http://www.parisgraves.com/ and http://www.cancerfreeitaly.com/. He also has http://www.frenchpaintbox.com/, http://useutravel.blogspot.com/, and Customized Travel Counsel as part of his background. Our latest project in international exchange (Native Italy) will be a whole new ball of wax for Marcel once it's operative. We plan to relocate to a non-toxic part of Italy eventually (if possible)... giving him a decent (ongoing) home schooling field trip whilst continuing to work in the travel industry... in a more conscious way than we have in the past. [The archived sites above are all quite dated, embarrassingly so in some cases.] If our projected plans for a Music in Cinema Institute on the Amalfi Coast come together we'll be able to really tone down the most damaging international travel.

For want of a better description, we often refer to Marcel as a kind of Mozart of Geography. I trust people will take this moniker in the proper spirit, however. He's not a genius (to my mind), not driven at all. He's simply "blossom boy." For one and all. A joy who can really stir up your blood: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sosylvie/3594287192/in/photostreamhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/sosylvie/5446566878/; http://www.flickr.com/photos/sosylvie/4064757741/in/set-72157622586379375; http://www.flickr.com/photos/sosylvie/4935387591/in/photostream.

'Cello is quite the garden variety kid 'round the block, though he hasn't been vaccinated and doesn't indulge in the popular diet of bovine growth hormones...as is the case with his generation. We do not push him in the area of geography or in any other realm, and we make it a point to always give him an "out" in any situation, never forcing him to perform like a trained seal. Unlike most adults, he can tell you the "questionable" roots of compulsory schooling, the downside of so-called civilization. Which may be why he isn't inundated with invitations to schools.

Part of what Marcel's been all about with his interest in geography is communicating that there's much more to be had from immersion in the area of social studies than what can be gleaned from rote memorization. The whole family's still somewhat interested in spreading the word that geography needs to be spotlighted more in educational settings, but not in the sense of encouraging children to spout out this or that bit of info. A big "NO" to Geography Bees!

Marcel intuits, as we all do, that ignorance about the earth and its inhabitants is contributing to a momentum that we want to...stop, possibly reverse. And at the very bottom is his desire to scream out about "The Emperor" wearing no clothes! In spite of the seeming futility of it all. He's into a kind of Beckettian "Fail. Fail again. Fail again better" attitude... which doesn't resonate with too many adults. He loves to mess with our atomization, our quietism... even though -- for now -- he's embraced his own version of Voltaire's Garden. He may choose not to talk about it at present, but I don't think he'll ever forget what he learned from the Middle East Children's Alliance or Keith Harmon Snow's work in the Congo. Never stop feeling for other children, innocent victims. I know that he still wants to make a difference.

We have a sense that if Marcel is invited to schools, senior centers, religious centers, bookshops and the like, there's still the potential for him to provide demonstrations that will address our mutual needs...sending a message obliquely (as so much good art does!)...soothing and inspiring. It's quite enjoyable to watch him, to listen to his Voice, regardless of outcome. If he's not into making a solo appearance, he still might agree to accompany me... and be likely to have a positive effect on an audience even if he doesn't speak a word. Ditto for his mom (http://sosylvie.typepad.com/so_sylvie/2009/02/my-3-year-blog-anniversary.html) and his three half-siblings (Noelle, 41... Aja, 27... and Jesse, 25).

Marcel's "services" are offered here free of charge. He used to feel that it was an honor to be invited...anywhere...to focus on geography, whether in a small classroom or on national television. Not now. Now he hesitates. I see that as a sign of health. He's got a lot of what I call Joseph Campbell-perspective.

National TV doesn't lend itself --as a rule-- to permitting Marcel to behave as an unpredictable, truly independent child; major networks are generally too absorbed in the selling of a product, adhering to offensively strict parameters. And schools, for that matter, are too. That's the basis for so much that ails us today, and I think (on some wondrous level) Marcel knows... all that... having tried so long to reach out.

To this day, we still think it was a very healthy decision to turn down Jay Leno's invitation; for one, a million cluster bombs dropped by a U.S. ally just before our expected appearance had been ruled verboten, not to be discussed! "Don't take it personally," they said. Unbearable, yes?

I can see curious beginnings in him...him starting to feel that perhaps feeding a puppy around the corner is as a legitimate use of his heartbeats as trying to motivate adults to act. Even though he still recoils in horror at common facts like West Oakland having only one supermarket for 30,000 people*, he tends to devote himself more and more these days to nonhuman life, music and...the silliest of jokes, as I noted above. Hiking too, honing in on his acorn, I think.

*Particularly since he knows that it's ruled by Archer Daniels Midland and the likes of Monsanto... and he knows what that means.

It sure would be nice to see him playing in Paul Gervais' (and Gil Cohen's) garden in Lucca, Italy (http://www.agardeninlucca.com/welcome.html). Or our very own. He's already had some singular experiences with the great Eric Ossart (http://www.bookfinder.com/author/eric-ossart/) in France. It would be a sweet point of departure for the future, a hands-on lyrical time with the real earth. He's already turned me onto snails (See the article below).

Here's to undermining the psychogeography of our culture which is shaped according to the interests of power, and not in the interests of children.

Blessings in solidarity and silliness,
Marcel's Papi (aptosnews@gmail.com)

Special article I co-wrote, inspired by Marcel years ago:


Other nations might squirm at the sight of snails, but the Gauls, with gastronomic flair, instinctively home in on these delicious morsels

The French love snails -- not in their gardens, of course, but on their plates. In the shell with garlic butter or out of the shell in sauces, soups and salads, some 35 thousand tons of snails are eagerly consumed by Garlic gourmets every year. The problem is that widespread use of pesticides in modern agriculture has made serious inroads into the French snail population. Over 90 percent of the gastropods dished up in France these days are imports from Eastern Europe, where chemical pesticides are not in such wide use. But the breed of snails found in Eastern Europe is tasteless and rubbery compared to those in France.

Luckily, something is being done about it. Three agricultural colleges are offering government-recognized courses in héliciculture (snail farming). Looking at the curriculum of the program at the Site de la Motte Servolex, near Chambéry, in the French Alps, it becomes apparent that there is more to snails than meets the eye. It takes no less than 500 hours of delving into their biology and psychology, studying and practicing breeding techniques at the college's pilot farm and learning how to cook and market them before a fully trained snail farmer can sally forth, diploma in hand.

Snails mate so often and so intensively that half of those selected for breeding subsequently die of happy exhaustion.

Some 250 professional snail farmers have now set up shop in France. It is a small but growing cottage industry, which produces about 600 tons of snails a year.

A snail's love life, restricted as it is by its shell, shows just how inventive Mother Nature can be. Snails are hermaphrodites, but they still pair up, fertilize each other and then both lay eggs. Their genitals are located on their heads, where the right ear would be if a snail had ears. By way of foreplay, each snail shoots a tiny love dart, a miniature Cupid's arrow, to sting its partner into amorous action. Then they stick their heads together. Snails mate so often and so intensively (mating can take all night) that half of those selected for breeding subsequently die of happy exhaustion.

Each snail lays around 100 eggs, which look like small white peas, and after two weeks of incubation, perfectly formed, transparent baby snails emerge.

In August the most strapping specimens are chosen as next year's studs and packed off to hibernate, while the others are gathered to be cooked. Their preparation has to conform to European Union standards of hygiene and humaneness: The end is a quick, painless plunge into boiling water.

Three main varieties of snails are cultivated in France. The large, plump Helix pomatia is best known by the name escargot de Bourgogne, no matter where it hails from, because Burgundy is where it was first raised to culinary star status by being paired with garlic butter. The gros gris (literally "fat gray"), nearly as large, is recognizable by its attractive ringed shell and black "mantle" -- the flesh rimming the shell. Equally good in or out of the shell, it is the most common variety cultivated in southern France. The petit gris is a smaller cousin with a yellowish mantle. Native to Provence, it is most often served in the shell, with aïoli, the knock-your-socks-off regional garlic mayonnaise.

But don't limit yourself to these three varieties: All of the 400 snail species found in the wild in Europe are edible. Legally, "wild" snails may only be sold alive. What wild snails taste like will depend on what they have been eating, and because snails will munch on anything, experienced snail-pickers purge them by keeping them in a covered basket with some flour or thyme for a couple of weeks. After that, it just takes a bit of gastronomic courage to transform a garden pest into a gourmet delicacy. Bon appétit!.