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Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Leaving New York

This is my last entry in the blog before I leave New York to start a new life in the UK. I first arrived in the USA towards the end of August 1994, 10 years ago. I've resided full-time in New York City since August 1996. So it seems appropriate that I'm leaving New York at the end of August. The reason for moves in August comes from the fact that my calendar is dominated by my academic life, initially as a student and more recently as a teacher.

The years I've spent in New York have been among happiest of my life so far. There were some intese times too, of course, especially with the September 11 experience, and its political aftermath. Over the past 8 years I have lived in 3 different neighborhoods of NYC: Greenwich Village, the Lower East Side, and Jackson Heights. Each has its own distinctive characteristics and in hindsight seems like the perfect place to live at the time I chose to live there.

The Village was an excellent first location because it's right in the heart of one of the most vibrant areas in NYC and also within walking distance from New York University, which prides itself as having Washington Square on its campus. NYU has expanded well beyond the Village over the years that I've been here, but it will forever be embedded in Greenwich Village.

The Lower East Side offered a larger apartment with a magnificent view of lower Manhattan, including the Twin Towers and the Brooklyn Bridge. The area is not as touristy as the Village, and the gang activity did get a little too overt sometimes. Still, I suppose that's part of what makes this city as exciting and vibrant as most people believe it to be.

Our home in Jackson Heights has really been a home. Although not in Manhattan, we're only about a 15-minute train ride away from Times Square so still close enough to the city centers. Jackson Heights is most attractive because it is the most diverse neighborhood in all of the United States. The broadcast historian in me likes it because the first documented radio advert was for apartments in Jackson Heights.

Now I'm off to finish packing my hand luggage and prepare to head off to the airport. I don't mind flying and crossing the Atlantic is no longer a big deal for anyone who crosses it more than a couple dozen times over a number of years. I dislike all the extra security measures enforced on travelers but I believe that they're as effective as they are inconvenient.

I can't get the new REM song out of my head right now, but if all goes well my next blog entry will come from the wonderful seaside town of Scarborough in North Yorkshire, England.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

An effervescing elephant

The Republican National Convention has come to New York. The convention will take place at Madison Square Garden until Thursday evening, when it comes to an end after George W. Bush accepts his party's nomination to run again for President of the United States.

I believe that the RNC has every right to come to NYC, but did you know that a recent survey by a Manhattan public relations company found 83 percent of those polled do not want the Republican convention in town? When asked why, more than half, 53 percent, were worried about traffic, street closures, and security hassles. So this is not just a partisan matter from an overtly liberal city resisting a conservative party in its midst. It is mostly a nuisance, to say the least, that such a high profile event is taking place in a town that already looks very much like a police state.

There are always protest marches and other such events by activists whenever a political convention takes place. As expected the level of protest for the RNC in NYC is phenomenal! It ranges from people who oppose the presence of the RNC here altogether to champions of liberal causes such as free speech, pro-choice, and anti-war movements.

Last night, my wife and I attended a wonderful service Rev. Billy by Reverend Billy at St. Mark's Church on the Bowery. Rev. Billy's Church of Stop Shopping was established several years ago. Besides the wonderful Reverend, most services feature the Stop Shopping Choir, which since the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq by the US-led military forces has been renamed the Stop Bombing Choir and it is sometimes now also called the First Amendment Gospel Choir, in support of Rev. Billy's sermons against the Patriot Act.

One of the special guests at St. Mark's last night was my friend Ricardo Dominguez from the Electronic Disturbance Theatre who spoke about the chilling case of Dr. Steve Kurtz, a member of the Critical Art Ensemble who is also an Associate Professor of Art at the University of Buffalo, New York. Last spring, Dr. Kurtz called 911 to report that his wife had passed away in her sleep. Rather than taking care of Mrs. Kurtz, the police arrested Dr. Kurtz who was subsequently indicted by the Federal Anti-Terror Police for possessing what they deemed biohazardous equipment. The charges were later dropped, but it should be emphasized that besides the inappropriate arrest and all that, a husband was robbed of the possibility of grieving his wife properly, in the name of anti-terror policing.

This afternoon, Reverend Billy has organized an outdoor ceremony on the side of the Great Lawn in Central Park, renewing people's wedding vows under the auspices of his Church of the First Amendment. I'd have loved to attend this event but because of all the fuss the NY Police Department has made about protesters not being allowed to demonstrate on the Great Lawn this week, I'm afraid that getting wrongfully arrested could mess up my private life substantially right now. I admit that this is a cowardly stance on my part but it's one of those instances where safe is so much better than sorry. Hundreds of arrests have already been made in the days prior to the official opening of the convention, tomorrow evening.

New York City is spending $25 million in security because of the RNC this week. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been assuring us for several weeks that all this is really good for the greatest city in the world. Yet the same poll I mentioned earlier found 70 percent are afraid to go to work this coming week because of security concerns. Tapping into the fear factor, other states are now trying to lure the 8 million residents of this city away for the week. What a great time for me to leave New York!

Protesters march in front of Madison Square Garden during the anti-Bush march organized by United for Peace and Justice in New York Sunday, August 29, 2004, on the eve of the Republican National Convention. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Saturday, August 28, 2004

All that you can leave behind

All my worldly possessions (except for some clothes and the laptop I'm using to write this on) are now in 114 cardboard boxes and packages on their way to the UK. The shipment will take 4 to 6 weeks, so I'll have to live without most of my things for the next few weeks. Right now everything is in an industrial size container on Concorde Avenue in the Bronx, waiting to be taken to New York Harbor.

I'm amazed at how much stuff I've accumulated in the 10 years since I left Malta. When I first left, back in 1994, everything I had could (and did) fit into a large black suitcase. Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm not a very materialistic person. What I've acquired beyond the contents of that large black suitcase are mostly essential things. In my case, most of the things I'm sending to my new home in England are books. Almost all these books are either about performance or creative technologies, in one way or another.

The rest of the stuff is just a modest amount of furniture, most of which belonged to my wife before we ever met. Most of her possessions are also in the 114 cardboard boxes and packages I mentioned above. She has been saying that she's all set to live the life of a Zen nun, during the next couple of months. This private tidbit about her reminds me why she has become the brightest guiding light in my life over this past decade.

It will be truly wonderful to once again imagine no possessions (well, almost!) and see what I can live without during the next couple of months.

Friday, August 27, 2004

My tell-tale heart

This should be the last entry about my heart for a least I hope so!

The matter has now been temporarily settled. The reading of the 24-hour Ambulatory Electrocardiogram shows that I had a brief WPW episode at 3:23am, as I slept. I've always felt that the oddest thing occurred during some nights when I'd wake up with my heart racing as if I had been jumping up and down instead of sleeping soundly. The highest heartbeat rate was recorded while I stood in line for the ATM at the bank on Roosevelt Avenue. Go figure!

I've been meaning to comment on the recent MBA report, which mentioned streaming radio, but I'm a little too busy to focus on that right now. Hopefully I'll get some time to blog about that this weekend. I noticed a couple of other interesting things in the news these past couple of days too, but I suppose that for now I can just link to them. Here they are: Lm200,000 from EU for Maltese interpreters training + Eco-Contribution to be introduced in less than a week.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Another little piece of my heart

I was expecting the doctor to sit with me and discuss the result of my Ambulatory Electrcardiogram this afternoon, but the medical technician said that it will take a couple of days before they can actually run the results from the recording I generated during the last 24 hours. So now I have an appointment to see the cardiologist on Thursday afternoon. And that's that, I suppose.

Meanwhile, I got really exited today about a report that came through the Malta Broadcasting Authority about streaming radio on the Internet. Pierre Cassar is one of the co-authors of this report, so I've emailed him privately to discuss their survey a little before I jump into what will undoubtedly be a heated discussion about the actual reasons why the number of people following Maltese radio online is so low.

There will most certainly be more about the heart stuff and this MBA report in the coming days. Meanwhile I'm really thrilled that my blog has managed to get me in touch again with two people I had lost contact with for about 15 years: Fernand Grima and Lawrence Buttigieg. And I'm sure there are more old friends I'll be hearing from again in the coming weeks and months, thanks to this blog.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Piece of my heart

I have never felt more like a cyborg in my entire life! According to the Cyborg Name Generator, T.O.N.I. stands for Technician Optimized for Nocturnal Infiltration; whatever that means.

So here I am with my first ever Ambulatory Electrocardiograph strapped up to my torso. Six electrodes coming out of a small battery-powered recorder are attached to various parts of my chest and upped abdomen to monitor the electrical activity of my heart while I supposedly go about my usual daily activities.

It feels a little weird to have all these wires around my body, but in some ways it's not too different from times when I spent hours on end in radio studios with headphones or some other wireless monitoring devices on me.

This holter monitor will record about 100,000 heartbeats in 24 hours and is designed to detect any other problems with my heart, either related to the WPW syndrome we discovered earlier this month, or the leak in the valve on my left ventricle, which was detected during last week's echocardiograph.

Much of the dizziness I felt before last week has now all but subsided since I started taking the daily beta-blocker pill prescribed by my doctor. The advantage of ambulatory monitoring is that the heart can be monitored during normal daily activities. Apparently, many heart problems occur only during certain activities, such as exercise, eating, sex, emotional stress, bowel movements, or even sleeping. A continuous 24-hour recording is much more likely to detect any irregular heartbeats that occur during these activities.

I was also given a diary to record any symptoms...and I'm actually starting to feel slightly dizzy, so I guess I'll just go note that in the diary now. I'll blog some more about all this tomorrow after the holter comes off.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

How often do you blog?

I'm really busy getting ready to move from New York to England right now, but this is only one reason why I haven't written anything new on my blog since last Tuesday. The other reason is that there's actually very little I have to say about anything new or interesting. It tends to get that way around mid-August. Many people go on vacation about this time of the year. Or if they're like me, they're wishing they're on vacation!

I know I'll be blogging my visit to the doctor tomorrow because I'll be experiencing something unusual for the first time ever in my life: an ambulatory electrocardiogram monitor, which I have to wear in a holster for about 24 hours. More on that as soon as I have it on and I can get to my computer to blog about it.

Until then I must get back to the cardboard boxes and continue packing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Wacky Races

When I was a little boy, there was a particular Hannah-Barbera cartoon I liked more than any other: Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines. This was the show with many names. Many people know it as Stop The Pigeon, others just called it Dastardly and Muttley. Actually it was a spin-off from another series called Wacky Races.

Besides Muttley's contagiously cute snigger, one catch-phrase has stuck with me since my childhood. This involves Dastardly screaming for help from Muttley at the top of his lungs, promising to give him a medal.

Oddly enough, all this came to mind again these past few days as I followed the Maltese team at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. I really wished that the Maltese team would do better, and I was really hoping that William Chetcuti would come closer to the Olympic bronze medal for shooting.

Olympic medals at the summer games continue to elude the Maltese team. Malta remains one of 86 nations who have never won a medal at the summer games. Only Liechtenstein has been an IOC member for longer without having earned a medal at the summer games.

This also reminds me of Malta's participation in the Eurovision Song Contest. Perhaps this is because it is the other great occasion Malta has to appear in front of millions of television viewers. But now that sports and song contests are no longer the purview of the same ministry, I wonder if this will occur to anyone else who can say or do anything that really matters. Then again, Malta will certainly never ever host the summer Olympic Games, and (unlike the Eurovision Song Contest) I can't imagine anyone in Malta would really want to.

And so I'm left to reminisce about Muttley at the Wacky Races and imagine Dastardly screeching at the top of his lungs: "Malta, do something! I'll give you a medal!!"

Saturday, August 14, 2004

The shape of my heart

Two weeks ago I was diagnosed with WPW syndrome. The emotional impact of that subsided quite quickly due to other events in the last couple of weeks. However, some of the anxiety was rekindled yesterday evening when I went for my scheduled echocardiogram.

This was the second time I'd had an echocardiogram performed on me in three years. I knew what to expect, more or less. All it really involves is a machine (as pictured) that produces an ultrasound image of your heart and its structures. During the test you're asked to lie on your left side, while a medical technician records the images of your heart on videotape and little printouts, using a device that is placed on your chest after some "special gel" is applied to that area of your breast. During the test you hear several strange noises coming from the machine, which are actually only the sound of your blood being pumped through your heart.

According to my doctor, the result of my test shows that I have a small tear in the valve on the lower left chamber of my heart. This is causing a minor blood leak but the symptoms are not severe. I have no shortness of breath, no excessive pulmonary fluids, and no swelling of my feet or legs. Still, the doctor has prescribed a common beta-blocker to be taken orally once a day.

This is the first time I have been prescribed what is essentially a pill to regulate blood pressure. It will also regulate my irregular heartbeat and the occasional palpitations associated with my WPW.

I remember when my father was prescribed a similar beta-blocker. He was in his mid-50s at the time, and I was just a teenager. As I understand it, the hypertension is something I may have inherited from him. He's 75 and doing fine now. So I'm not too concerned about that. What I'm somewhat uncomfortable with is the fact that I'm not even 40 yet and here I am popping a beta-blocker a day already.

The doctor has ordered an ambulatory ECG (or EKG, as it is known here) in about 10 days time. This involves a holster with a portable recording device that is worn for at least 24 hours. You're free to move around normally while the monitor is attached. The purpose of this test is to record symptoms that are intermittent and may not have appeared during the regular ECG/EKG I had a couple of weeks ago.

Stay tuned for that adventure in the continuing saga of my WPW-afflicted bleeding heart.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Olympic games without frontiers?

I'm not much of a sports fan. However, like many people who do not follow an particular sport keenly, I do give some of my free time to things like the Olympic Games. And this weekend sees the beginning of this year's Summer Olympics in Athens, so I suppose a blog entry before the games start is a good idea.

Malta at the Athens 2004 Olympic GamesEarlier today, I was discussing the coverage of the Maltese athletes with Antoine Busuttil,'s sports editor. I believe that this year is the most controversial year for the Maltese Olympic team. I don't mean there's any controversy with the Maltese athletes in Athens, but rather around the Malta Olympic Committee, in it's broader role as administrator of Malta's participation in all Olympic contests.

First we had the case of Marion Vella, which I've already discussed on my blog. And now there's word on the doping case of cyclist Dave Miller. I wonder if any of this will weigh down on Malta's best hope for an Olympic medal, William Chetcuti, who will also be carrying the Maltese flag during the opening ceremony of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games on Friday.

Monday, August 09, 2004

My red bicycle gets a new life

When I first moved to New York I hardly ever left Greenwich Village (where I lived during my first year in the city) except to venture on foot or by bus to the NYU Dental Center (where I worked for a brief period of time) or some other such place. Then I moved to an apartment on the Lower East Side, and found that I really needed a bicycle to get around the city. So, one Saturday morning I headed out to one of the outdoor flea markets in Chelsea and found a lovely little red bike. Apparently it belong to a some aging woman who felt it was too dangerous to ride around on a bike in New York in the 1990s.

The reason I'm bringing this up today is because a couple of hours ago I sold this very same bike to an 11-year-old girl; or rather to her father. I haven't really used the bike in the last couple of years. It's been in our kitchen where the warm temperature and time caused all the air to evaporate from the tyres. And what's more, I thought it would be good to leave it here instead of taking it with me to England a few weeks from now.

It wasn't a great bike, but it was a good bike, and it worked well while I had it. I have a feeling it's about to start a new life in Brooklyn now as the main means of transportation for a girl who's about to start her own journey towards a new life as she enters puberty in the crazy city we know as New York.

Once again I don't own any wheels...and strangely it feels good, at least for now.

Friday, August 06, 2004

The day Uncle Sam dropped the bomb

I first noticed it this morning in the New York Times. Today marks 59 years since the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II, killing an estimated 140,000 people in the first use of a nuclear weapon in warfare. But there was not commentary about this in today's NY Times.

Just a few minutes ago I received an email sent out by Yoko Takahashi (a former student of mine at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts) about this. As soon as I read Yoko's email I realized that I had to write something about all this in my blog. Here's what Yoko wrote:

I wonder how many people in the US know August 6 is the day an atomic bomb was dropped on the people of Hiroshima. They hysterically repeat "Pearl Harbor", but never think about there are still in 2004 so many nuclear victims suffer from heavy aftereffect (blood cancer, ect. generation to generation) and cruel prejudice (limitation of marriage and employment opportunity) by Japanese people.

Please read this article: "HIROSHIMA: WAS IT NECESSARY?" [by Doug Long]

Please think about the victims of radiation sickness caused by American atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Those victims are quietly angry at ignorance and arrogance of world leaders now. Very quietly...

Please pay one minute's silent tribute to the war victims, not only of Hiroshima but also 9/11 attack, Vietnam and Iraq, etc. How come the world strongest political leaders are so arrogant and blind toward non-English speaking countries? The only way to stop terrorist attacks in the US is that the US stop to terrorize other countries where people's language is not English and people are not Caucasians, and realize how much people in USA are so media controlled under the greedy corporate leaders' propaganda.
I want to publicly thank Yoko for sending out this message.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Goodbye Maggie

I'm stunned! Another old friend passed away yesterday: Maggie Borg. I learned this in an email I received this morning from Remo Mifsud, another old friend.

Most people who were active in any environmental movement over the past 25 years knew Maggie. She was an inspiration to many others in Malta in terms of alternative lifestyles. I was first introduced to Maggie by her sister Jenny in 1985. After that we bumped into each other quite often, and I always left with a smile on my face after just a few minutes in her presence.

She will be missed by her many friends and fellow activists around Europe. I believe that I will miss her too, but she's in a safer place now. Rest in peace Maggie.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

What's new pussycat?

Since I've been blogging about relatively personal things these past few days, I thought I'd share an unusual experience I had with my cat yesterday.

It used to be that whenever anyone wanted to take their pet from the USA to Europe (or vice versa), the animal had to be placed in quarantine for 6 months before it would be released into its new home. That changed a couple of years ago. Now you can simply have a microchip implanted into your pet by a vet, do some other minor medical procedures, and your cat or dog can travel with you across the Atlantic.

I took my cat Dina to the vet at the Humane Society of New York. She was treated really well. The staff is exceptionally professional and kind. Dina now has a microchip under her skin, and to my surprise she was quite good about it. She also got two shots: one of which is an obligatory rabies vaccine. Now we need to take her back for a blood test in six weeks. After that blood test, she will be free to travel with us to Europe in six months. She can spend that time in our NY home rather than in some quarantine cage.

After the visit to the vet we took the bus down Lexington Avenue. There were heavily armed police officers and strict security measures in place all around the 52nd Street financial offices. The media circus was there too, of course! All this in response to recently discovered "intelligence" that's already years old. It feels so weird to live in an area with an orange (very high) terror alert.

I've really had it with New York. The re-opening of the Statue of Liberty this morning doesn't make me feel much better either. It's so ironic that this symbol of liberty now has as much surveillance on it as an airport departures lounge...if not more.

It will surely be an interesting experience going through airport security with Dina, when she's ready to move to Europe.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Goodbye Mario

I found two email messages in my inbox this morning informing me that my old friend Mario Ellul passed away last night. Death is most shocking when it touches the young. It is also shocking when it touches those we know and love.

I first met Mario in the early 1980s when we were both philosophy students at the New Lyceum. At that time I was in awe of Fog, the rock band he sang with. Later we became professional colleagues because we both worked at Xandir Malta. Mario became the youngest producer/director at TVM during the years I worked there. Together we created Mill-Garaxx, Blast, and other TV shows, which became yardsticks for many other youth culture TV programmes in the 1990s. This happened especially because Mario kept on working directly with the new generation of broadcasters and singers in the local entertainment scene.

My fondest memory of Mario was when we both performed in the musical Ulied in-Nanna Venut fl-Amerka. Mario played the parish priest, while I played the village idiot savant. Raymond Mahoney and Dominic Galea wrote a wonderful interlude (praising emigration to America!) as well as a makkjetta for us to sing together in that musical.

Our last collaboration was in 1996 when I was trying to bring the Internet to TV in Malta for the first time. Mario was very supportive, but by that time he was working for a private TV production company and the production eventually moved to a different company for financial reasons. I saw him again a couple of times after that, but it's been more than five years since then. The Maltese entertainment scene will surely miss him, and I will miss him too.

May you rest in peace, old friend! And may Grace and your family find all the solace and sympathy they need and deserve right now.