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Book Review

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Book Review: The Monk from Brooklyn

by Lang Reid

Antonio Graceffo is an interesting author. Italian-American from Brooklyn, a former investment banker, martial arts expert and writer, The Monk from Brooklyn (ISBN 1-932966-10-2, Gom Press, 2004) chronicles his life in the Shaolin Temple in China, which is apparently the birthplace of Kung Fu.

In essence, the book is a diary that revolves around Graceffo’s time spent at the famed Shaolin temple in China, to learn their secrets in martial arts. These are the Shaolin monks that have amazed the outside world with their super-athletic feats displayed by their Kung Fu abilities, and to study there was Graceffo’s ambition.

Graceffo writes in a fairly laconic ‘hip’ style, with twists at the tail. “The novice and I hit it off right away. He is 25 years old and a good guy. Also, in the couple of hours I have been there, he hasn’t tried to steal from me.”

Author Graceffo is good at observing the Chinese culture as seen in the Shaolin temple (and as exhibited by visiting Chinese families) and examination of the reasons behind the apparent differences between that culture and his own. For example, the Chinese produced no trash, whilst Graceffo did. “”Everything they eat comes out of the ground. There is no waste at all. I have a pile of trash next to my bed and don’t know what to do with it. There is no mechanism for disposal of trash here.”

Very early in his training, Graceffo looks at the Chinese students with him and writes, “I keep wondering what is the point of all this. For me it is a diversion. I am here to lose weight, improve my health, and learn some kung fu. This program will add to who I am. But for the regular students this program is who they are.”

During this time of self-exploration for Graceffo he deduces one of the cornerstones of capitalism. “We Westerners derive much of our personal power from material wealth. In fact, we confuse purchasing power with personal power.” And a few pages later, “The power of money is amazing. But in the end, it is just a talisman. It is not real, though widely believed to be so.”

However, by half way through his three months training, Graceffo begins to see the realities of living in this Chinese enclave, the tawdriness, the dirt, the intrigue and the deliberate lies. The onset of the SARS epidemic is the final blow, as truths and half truths are manipulated to attempt to exonerate Beijing.

For me it was a very telling book, not so much explaining the intricacies of Kung Fu, but one that showed the chasm that exists between Eastern and Western philosophies. Whilst Antonio Graceffo did eat, sleep and work with the Chinese in the Shaolin temple, in the end, he was just a Chinese-speaking foreigner, as he points out in the epilogue. There are many lessons to be learned from Graceffo’s immersion in Chinese culture that can be applied to us here in Thailand, but not to the extremes, as experienced by this author. This is certainly no Lonely Planet travelogue!


Mott's CD Reviews: Steve Hillman - Opener Of The Ways

Swished by Mott the Dog
Weaved by Ella Crew

5 Sonic Stars

Steve Hillman has recorded four albums for the British based record label Cyclops. First we had ‘Matrix’ (1994), followed by ‘Riding the Storm’ (1996), thirdly there was ‘Convergence’ (1999), and finally ‘Opener Of The Ways (2002).

The first two albums were collections of cleaned up re-recordings from Steve Hillman’s early synthesizer and sequencer past, and very nice collections they were, too.

‘Convergence’ was a leap into the realms of more Progressive Rock influenced material, with Steve foregoing reliance on the machine and bringing his sweeping guitar playing into the front of the mix.

Then in 2002 ‘Opener Of The Ways’ arrived to be placed in the CD player. For ‘Opener Of The Ways’ Steve Hillman went back to the machines to give us another of his marvelous ‘soundscape’ albums. Now, if you want to hear Steve Hillman do structured progressive rock, get ‘Convergence’; if you want to catch up on Steve Hillman’s past, get the first two albums; and if you want to know where Steve Hillman is today, get his latest album.

‘Opener Of The Ways’ takes you on a wonderful journey through the musical mind of the artist. At times the music is lifting you up into the echo peaks of the Nepalese mountains with the wind lashing at your body, trying to fling you into the valleys below, as with opening track ‘Continuum’; or leaving you stranded on the moon, leaping from rock to rock in a weightless world. Both parts of the title track take you up into the lunar skies.

The next minute you are deep in the basement of the Egyptian pyramids, when Steve’s wife Linda steps forward to wave her magic flute over proceedings. The very next moment whisks you down a Swiss gorge with snow whirling around you and your skis gliding over the icy terrain, barely touching the surface, as in the wonderful ‘Night Tides’. ‘Trancer’ is almost hypnotic.

The music on display here is not an easy ride, but well worth the effort. In one heartbeat the music can be taken from nightmarishly disturbing to the feeling of a soothing balm. Listening to Steve Hillman’s music is certainly nothing short of top grade entertainment to be enjoyed time and time again.

There are no vocals on Steve Hillman albums; there is no room for them. The music tells its own story, leaving it up to you to take it as you hear it. All the instruments used are played by Steve Hillman apart from the haunting improvised flute lines from his wife Linda. Linda Hillman also painted the imposing ice castle on the front cover, worth the price of the album on its own.

Steve Hillman’s music should be in your record store racks along with Pink Floyd, Tangerine Dream, and Michael Oldfield. If you have not heard any astonishing new music lately, I strongly suggest you try the taste of Steve Hillman’s majestically visions. A most satisfying journey.

Music played by
Linda Hillman - Improvised flute solos on ‘Golden Flame’ and ‘Sea Child’
Steve Hillman - All Keyboards, Synthesizers, Electric Guitar, Glissando Guitar, Drums

Music Titles

Continuum
Transitions - parts one, two, three
Nebula
Opener Of The Ways - parts one & two
Trancer
Golden Flame
Centre Of Forces - parts one & two
Night Tides
Sea Child
Island - parts one & two
Last Light - parts one & two

To contact Mott the Dog email: [email protected]
Website: http://www.mott-the-dog.com