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!.


Lydia V. said...

I recently met Marcel at a Farmers Market giving away flags and information. He's quite the charmer.
-- Lydia

Anonymous said...

It might be that Marcel was not invited to some of the local schools because he intimidates some of the teachers, who don't know a lot of what he knows.
Fisher Middle School Staff, Los Gatos
P.S. Everyone should experience him.

Bill Sherer said...

Anyone under ten who can tell you anything about Jared Diamond deserves attention.

Bill Sherer said...

Anyone under ten who can tell you anything about Jared Diamond deserves attention.

Bud Gray said...

Thank-you! for sending in your Geography Test so that I could post it at my website.

Best wishes to you!

Bud Gray
Editor, Trumpet America

Nikita Barlow said...

Bravo, Marcel! With your talent and passion for geography, you would make a wonderful host of a television show for kids, and one that grown-ups would enjoy, too.

Derrick Jensen said...

What a gift to the world is this child. He reveals what children are capable of if only they are allowed--encouraged--to bloom. Thank you.

Derrick Jensen

Lulu said...

Hello Marcel. You are going to be the youngest Ambassador and Friend of Somaliland. We are lucky to have you and will welcome you with open arms and warm heart. We're sure you will be a good role model for the children of Somaliland, Africa and our global citizens.

Please keep up with the good work. Big hugs on behalf of all the Children Somaliland .

Also special thank you on behalf of Somaliland, SIRAG and the Diaspora.

Omar and Sarah are also sending you lots of hugs, love and warm wishes.

Keep up nurturing the warm spirit of humanity.

Lulu, mother of Omar and Sarah.
Chair of SIRAG

Omar said...

Hi Marcel I just came back from France yesterday. It was really fun there I especialy liked the teachers, they were really nice. But that is nothing compared to you Marcel you are so smart and intelligent, I think that I could learn a few things from you. Something is telling me that you and I are going to be good friends. I really liked doing sculptures and also mozaic in my trip. I wonder if you have any intrests in art.

Best friends


Sarah said...

Hello Marcel. I like your blog. Just like you I like Thomas the Tank Engine. I also like African music especially the drum. I like art especially drawing. When my mummy designs a weblog for me than I can share my art and stories with you especially about Somaliland. I love drawing rainbow for mummy all the time.


Anonymous said...

Hi Marcel
Thank you being apart of our Sharing Africa program at the Alum Rock Library. Your flags, interest and enthusiasm for Africa help to make the day. Thanks you to your parents who also helped. Please come and see us again sometime.

Sharon Snow

Anonymous said...

Hi, Marcel.

This is all lovely, delightful, and I cheer you on!

I have lived in Turkey and would be interested in what you've learned about this wonderful land. Perhaps we can have some exchanges on your blog about Turkey?

I also extend an open invitation to you if you ever visit Colorado to join us at three schools and a farmer's market within walking distance of my house and meet the families here.

Here's a: BIG HUG

Marcel said...

Turkey...bi-continental...with the Kumyk and Kurds not treated very well...but the EU being racist towards Turks, "unfair" too.... Why did they have to do what they did to Cyprus? Earthquakes at least as bad as California. My Papi loves their coffee.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that coffee is lovely, sweet, and thick. I hope no one has fiddled with it since I was there.

The history of Turkey’s flag is interesting. If you look for the history, take care with the information at Wiki – Flag of Turkey. That information doesn’t match the stories my Turkish friends told me, which have a lot more to do with Sultan Selim III

Oh, and the tea. Called cay ("chai" - there's no letter "h" in the Turkish alphabet but try the link below to see the correct spelling), sometimes made in a samovar, and served very hot with sugar in small glasses anywhere you go. If you want to make a new friend, you can sit right down, at any table, with your chai and chat.

There’s a picture of a samovar and glass of Turkish tea here:

Anonymous said...

Marcel, in my last post I left off a response to your question about Cyprus.

Well, I don't know all the details.

It seems to me that these things don't take place without the say-so of the world's supervisor.

When I lived in Ankara, we sometimes at night had to turn off all the lights and hang blankets in our windows so the Greek air force, flying overhead, couldn't find us in the dark.

But you know, in daytime, my friends Nilufir (Turkish) and Suli (Greek) and I played together in a patch of land where the gypsies camped.

Marcel said...

It's terrible how almost all the Europeans treat the Roma.

Anonymous said...

Hello there Richard (and Marcel).

This is Cassidy, Randy's neighbor in Soquel. We met last week and spoke briefly about writing and literature - Kerouac and Henry Miller. Just thought I'd touch bases.

You sound like a cool kid, Marcel. Good luck to you!

(831) 247-3750

Annette said...

It was wonderful meeting you and your parents at Lemo's tent at the Los Gatos Farmer's Market, Marcel. I wish we didn't have to leave so early and could have spent more time visiting with you. I can't wait to see you on the Tonight Show! I'm sure your papi will stay in touch.

Annette (Francois) Hancock

Anonymous said...

hello Marcel

Here is a geography test for you:

In which place/country in the world:

[1]is heterogenite a major export that in 2004 amounted to approximately 228 million dollars a month?
[2] is Barrick Gold -- a George Herbert Walker Bush concern -- secretly operating?
[3] Did former president of Liberia Charles Taylor get his education and later end up in Jail before being broken out (circa 1983) -- the only man in the jails' history -- and turning back up in Liberia as president?
[4] is the assasinated black liberation leader Patrice Lumumba from?
[5] do they speak lingala, french and swahili?
[6] have more people died in since WW II than anywhere else?

All Things Pass, so Too Will I.

LemLive said...

Hey Mr. Marcel,

I know your parents are super proud of you so keep on doing all the fun things that you do! It was so nice meeting you at the market and I enjoyed the little time we had and you telling me about my country, Trinidad & Tobago! Yes Marcel, the capital of my country is Port-Of-Spain :)

Much love to you my little friend and have fun on the Tonight Show!

Love & Light

Lemo (LeMessy)

Marcel said...

Contact me if you want the answers to Keith Harmon Snow's questions above.
-- Marcel

Kari Saidi said...

Hi Marcel,
I learnt about you recently from your dad. I would like to thank you for caring for unrepresented and unrecognized peoples and nations of the world. I represent one of them, the indigenous and ethnic Ahwazi-Arab people of southwestern Iran, Khuzestan (local people call it al-Ahwaz). It's great to work and help nations whose language, culture, traditions...are about to be destroyed due to greed and disrespect from other more poweful nations and peoples. thanks again and hope to see you on TV. regards
Karim Saidi
Ahwazi-Arab Human Rights Activist

Anonymous said...

hey Marcel!
I met you at the Darfur demonstration at the Los Gatos High School near the end of April. I am incredibly impressed with you, as is the undeniable case with any of those you interact with. I would like more information about your appearance on Jay Leno this month, IF you would be so kind as to relate it to me..
-Charles Stauss (cjstauss@comcast.net)

MarketingSomaliland said...

Hiya Marcel,
I am a student from the University of Wolverhampton [UK-Birmingham]

I too share the samilar values as you interms of Geography. [But not as advance as you,, lol] and as a employee of Marketing Birmingham [tourism promoting agency] I began to setup my own company. It is called Marketing Somaliland [website-under construction] the aim is promote the destination to a wider spectrum. As you are an Ambasador keep an eye of Marketing Somaliland

the aim of Marketing Somaliland is unite the private and public sectors to share information and ideas. and offcourse attracting sustainable/ethical tourism development.


[www.MarketingSomaliland.com]- under construction

kind regards Abdi Rahman

liban said...

Hello Marcel.
wooow amizing Marcel! With your talent and passion for geography,
Thank you being friend of somaliland and also Thanks to your parents
they are lucky having child like u bless u

I have Also FOR U special thank you on behalf of Somaliland people in UK
I am britsh from somaliand orginly I am dancer and also DANCE TEACHER for a latino dance salsa.rumba tango.and ballrom too and also I am model u can see my dance web at
or model www.purestrom.com search model number 116411

keep on doing all the amizing things that you are doing

Anonymous said...

It is wonderful to know someone so young is interested in the world. I wish I had the knowledge you do when I was your age. I wish you the best for your Somaliland endeavors. I suspect relations between their neighbors in Puntland will become more tense in the near future. Unfortunately, I do not have any whitty geography questions for you. I myself am looking into southwestern Cameroon, which is desperately trying to become autonomous. You may also find studies on the old African Kingdoms and Secondary Empires fascinating if you haven't looked into them already.

Best Wishes,

David Barouski.

Anonymous said...

Most people see Marcel as a genius. But his "secret identity" is just a sweet little kid who rides his Big Wheels or his Razor scooter up and down the driveway in front of my house. He likes to get my mail from the box at the end of the driveway and bring it to me at my door. He likes to play Frisbee with his Poppi too. He likes cats. I like Marcel. He is my neighbor and my friend. Oh, and he likes geography too.

alona said...

Hi Marcel,

We've met a couple of days ago in Los Gatos, and you played for a little bit with my kids... Your dad suggested that I visit your blog, so here I am.

I was really hoping to see more of your own ideas and thoughts in here. Are you planning to post more soon?

Anyway, here's a fun little Geography puzzle I found at a book by Peter Winkler. It's not at all important, but it's surprising, and very good to confuse people with. Order the following world cities from North to South:

1. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
2. Algiers, Algeria
3. Tokyo, Japan
4. Venice, Italy

Take care,

- A. A.

Robert said...

Hi Marcel and Family,

Seems like Marcel must be an unschooled child, am I right?

I'd be very interested to hear his views on the Basque situation - speaking as an English resident of Bilbao, with two little girls (Sofi, 4, and Nora, 1 3/4) who have grown up here, and who I'm doing my best to unschool in a culture that doesn't really go in for that sort of thing.

If you are ever in this neck of the woods, we'd be delighted to meet you. Have a look at our community's website - www.zorrozaurre.org



Marcel said...

I just sent you an email response, Robert, from my new email address headburg@yahoo.com. This is Marcel's dad. I can certainly tell you that Marcel would be supportive of Basque efforts to preserve their own identity... to separate themselves from the Spanish mainstream. Yes, we home school Marcel. Thank goodness! His scenario is not for everyone, but I do think it's quite safe to say that most formal schooling is an absolute horror on several counts. Being encouraged to bow to authority, not question beyond certain parameters, stifle one's creativity in the name of conformity, etc., etc. are no light matters. Marcel is not destined to contribute to war or heavy consumerism, that's for sure.