Steve : Numen

Writer. Consultant. MBA. Renaissance Man! Choral Singing. Bicycle Race Officiating. Problem Solving. Toastmasters. Married. Two daughters. Artistic wife. Four cats. Two dogs. One house.

Name:
Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Monday, March 13, 2006

A quick weekend getaway to the IZ

"It's Friday the 13th come on a Monday."

If you are much younger than me, you may not be able to put that quotation into context. It is from a wonderful cartoon strip from when I was young (yes, I was young once ...) called "Pogo" which was the "Doonesbury" of its day.

Anyway, today is Monday 13 March, and I am back in Camp Victory, after spending the weekend in the International Zone in Baghdad. I was able to take a helo over there and back, so the journey was fairly short in duration. When one has to take the "Rhino," it takes about 5-6 hours, due to the through-the-neighborhoods-of-Baghdad routing, and checkpoints, and less than trivial inconveniences such as IEDs and RPGs. The distance, as the crow (or helicopter) flies is about 3.5 miles, so I was happy to sign up for SpaceA (space available) and take the trip. I got some nice pictures of Baghdad from about 100 feet up.

One of the more ludicrous experiences for me so far over here (and trust me, there have been a boatload of ludicrous experiences) is that Big Defense Contractor has located the Security/Badging Office inside of a gate through which you must pass with the proper badge. Hello? Can you say Catch-22? I arrive at the gate, intending to proceed to the Badging Office, in order that I might procure a badge, which will allow me through the gate. Have you got the picture crystal clear yet? Yet another outstanding example of less-than-optimal solutions by the mother of all disappointing performers, BDC.

I did get the badge, which allows me free access to all things BDC. Unfortunately (or, if you are the American Ambassador, perhaps you are thinking that your prayers ARE being answered), BDC does NOT run the site where the Embassy is located. I tried the South entrance, heavily guarded by Columbian mercenaries (I am NOT making this up: apparently, they have NO fear, and make wonderful security guards; maybe it's the coca~ne which gives them fearlessness), and was turned away by a soldier who instructed me that BDC uses the Main and North entrances. Fine, I go to the Main entrance, where I am told that BDC must use the South and North entrances. OK, I go to the North entrance, where I am told that BDC must use the South and Main entrance. I put a stop to all this madness, schmoozed the guard in my best street Spanish, and he let me through the gate.

Once inside, I managed to procure some really nice Polo Shirts with United States Embassy - Baghdad and the State Department Eagle embroidered on the front left. I also observed some shirts with the emblem embroidered on the front right, which makes no sense in my world.

I was in the IZ for three full days, having flown there last Thursday morning, and working in the Procurement Offices for BDC on Friday and Saturday. The dining facilities in the Embassy were OUTSTANDING, easily the best so far on my travels through Iraq. But that makes sense, since the personnel eating at the Embassy D-Fac are State Department employees, other contractors, and military types of all flavors (I didn't ask, they didn't tell ...). At the BDC sites in Iraq where I have been working, it's only BDC employees and, for the most part, the Army, which is notoriously forgiving in its consideration for fine dining.

I flew back out on Sunday, and put in a short day at the office.

One of the sanity-saving devices used frequently by me on this trip is iTunes. I have a nice library (thank you, Vector Ivanov), and I have been able to download this season's "Lost" episodes. I watched all of Season 1 of "Lost" in 6 days. 24 episodes in 6 days. Yikes. Since then, I have spaced it out, never more than 2 episodes in a day. The Lovely One was going to send me the DVDs for Season 1, but they did not arrive at our house, so she has not sent them to me, but it all worked out because a colleague here already had them.

Speaking of colleagues, I welcomed back Fearless Leader, Principal, D2, Mongo, and Ken yesterday. They are on a different project and will stay beyond my exit on 31 March. (For those who missed out on last summer's blockbuster blogs: Fearless Leader is the CEO of the consulting firm for which I work; Principal is a colleague who, uh, used to be a principal; D2 is a colleague whose initials are D. D. - duh!; Mongo is 6-5 and weighs 260 and works out and is fit and is also a Doctoral Candidate at UTD in Organizational Change Management; and Ken is Barbie's boyfriend. No, really, I think his wife's name is Barbie.

It's good to have friends around you in a goofy country like Iraq.

All things blog,

Moi

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Catching up on all things Iraq

Howdy, buckaroos! It's your old friend, Moi, and I am here to tell you that things are just ducky in the Beautiful Baghdad Bureau of Big Defense Contractor. I was walking around today, taking the day off, and one of the things I noticed is that people are not very friendly around here. I try to make eye contact with those I encounter on my meanderings, and I say things like "Howdy" or "Hello" or "Howyadoin'?" but I usually encounter mumbled replies, looks of shock, or glares of intrusion-detection.

Do not most of these people come from Texas? What's up with THAT?

I guess it may stem from the personalities of those who choose to come work in the Middle East, although with a civilian population as big as it is here, I would have expected a lot more diversity in the crowd. Loners, though, are the rule here.

I have been on this particular contract since 30 Jan, when I left The Lovely One and the Daughters in Dallas and flew through Frankfurt to Dubai, and then caught the Russian-piloted Phoenix Air Charter from Dubai to Baghdad. I arrived 1 Feb, moved into my delightfully decorated hooch (the previous tenant apparently had a subscription to 'Maxim' magazine, and he was generous enough to paper the walls with the proof), and proceeded to work a few days in BDC's Regional Procurement Office in Camp Liberty, Baghdad. Liberty is a hop, skip and a jump from Camp Victory, where I was working last summer (May/Jun/Jul); it is also where the biggest PX (think Government KMart) is located, and it is also the location of the ever-popular Haji Mart, where local Iraqi vendors sell everything from rugs to knick-knacks to old Iraqi money to china and silver embossed with Saddam's emblem.

I had to go back to Dubai for a seminar, but we were bumped off of our intended flight on Mon 6 Feb, and had to go out Tue 7 Feb instead. If you weren't aware of it, BDC has only the ONE flight out of Baghdad every day, and it is always 100% sold out, although we technically don't BUY our tickets. They put me up in a very nice hotel, the Jumeirah Emirates Towers Hotel (if you go to the website, it's the second tower from the left in the picture; the first tower (the taller one) is the Office Tower).

While we were in Dubai, we went snow skiing. I am not making this up. I have the receipts and the pictures to prove it. Ski Dubai is an artificial mountain inside one of the newest of the 24 malls in and around Dubai (Mall of the Emirates), and it has snow skiing, snowboarding, and other fun snow activities like snowball fights, and falling down, and being kicked off the slopes for not being a skier (this didn't happen to ME, but it did happen to my friends who had never skied before, but who tried to get on the slopes saying that they were accomplished skiers -- HA!). It is fairly amusing to see the UAE natives in snow gear. I still don't know how the women got down that hill in their burkas ...

On our way back from Dubai, I flew to Baghdad twice. The day started, as it always does when flying into Baghdad International Airport (BIAP for short), at 0230 when I gathered up my suitcases, checked out of the Hotel -- you will be happy to know that BDC had a negotiated rate of only 700 Dirhams (~$195) per night, as opposed to me just walking in and getting the standard rate of 1850 Dhs (~$530) per night; Hey, I am glad to save YOUR tax dollars, you know -- and got myself to BDC's Dispatch Hotel, where they loaded us on a bus, gave us the Security briefing, the HR briefing, and the Air Ops briefing, and we went to the airport, arriving around 0330. At 0400, they give us a Boarding Pass, we go through luggage screening, check our luggage, go through Passport Control, a secondary screening, and then we wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Around 0715, we board some more busses just outside the gate, and we are whisked to our lovely Boeing 727 (I could swear that this plane once flew for Braniff Airlines in Dallas) and we take off around 0800.

We fly to within 25 miles of Baghdad (in other words, about 2 hours out of a two-and-a-half hour flight) when the pilot announces that because of "visibility issues" we were turning around and going back to Dubai.

Stunned silence on the jet. My colleague leans across the aisle and asks, "What did he just say the reason for turning around was?"

I reply, "It doesn't matter what the reason was. We are going back to Dubai, and we can ruminate over all the possibilities of why we turned around as we wait to fly back to BIAP."

It's funny, because I talked with more than a few persons in Liberty once we had landed, and they swore up and down that the skies were clear, the sun was shining, and there was no dust in the air. My gut feeling is that the Army (who is nominally in charge of BIAP) probably had some Intel that there were "security issues" that prevented us from landing. In fact, someone should ask Mr. President if anyone in the US was making a call to the insurgents in Baghdad on 11 Feb around 1000 Iraq time ...

I digress, so back to Terminal 2 in Dubai: we sit around in Dubai for almost three hours, and then we finally get the call to "Load 'em up!" and we get back on the busses, get whisked once again to the plane, take off from Dubai for a second time that day, and land around 1930 (that's 7:30 PM for 95% of the WORLD). After an uneventful trip from BIAP to BTC (the Baghdad Transient Center, BDC's way of handling all travellers into and out of Iraq), we claim our luggage and get to our hooches.

It is now 2100 (9 PM), and if you have been following along carefully, you will notice that I have been up since 2:30 AM, and it is now 9 PM, and oh, by the way, when did I eat breakfast? When did I eat lunch? and When did I eat dinner?

So that FASTING thing started a little early for me this year. Usually I wait until Ash Wednesday to cut out things from my regular eating routine, but this year, I started on 11 Feb 2006.

Anyhoo, that's the news from the Middle Eastern Front. More in another missive, at another time.

I miss being at home, with my wife and daughters and friends and dogs and cats. I miss going to The Fig and singing in the Choir there. I miss going to Legal Grounds.

But I'll be back soon. That's a promise.

Moi

Friday, December 30, 2005

End of year update ...

Hello again, from lovely LSA Anaconda, Balad Air Base, Iraq. It has been getting chilly here lately, but at least it's a DRY chill. I was told that November to March is the rainy season in Iraq, but so far? Nada, zip, zilch, nothing. A few unremarkable sprinkles every other week or so for a few minutes, but that's it. Pat Robertson would say that God is punishing Iraq for being an infidel country. Pat Robertson would say that, but I sure wouldn't.

I had a lovely Christmas Dinner last Sunday. The DFAC staff pulled out all the stops on the Christmas decorations, too. Reindeer, Santa Claus, elves, Nativity scenes, camels, wise men, streamers, lights, Merry Christmas banners (none of that Happy Holidays crap over here!), all the usual suspects. They served a pretty good [processed] Turkey, the ham was actually pink (instead of the standard grey and dry), a big steamship round from which they carved Roast Beef, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and Pumpkin Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream. It's not often I say that a meal at the DFAC is good, but this was one of those times. They even served bubbly: carbonated Welch's white grape juice, of course.

Speaking of alcohol, more than 30 Big Defense Contractor employees were issued one-way tickets home in the past couple of days. It seems that BDC Security Ops and HR folks, along with the Military Police, searched a whole slew of hooches -- while the occupants were not there, of course -- and found alcohol, drugs, or pornography in their rooms. Prohibition being what it is, these people found a way to possess some or all of the contraband items, which is a sure-fire way to get fired.

I have noticed that a lot of my speech/writing patterns have taken on a decidedly military slant: sure-fire is one example.

I have received notice that my $ervice$ will be required for a few more weeks, at which point (mid-January) I will be able to come home for a couple of weeks. Of course, I am going to be going to Los Angeles for 5 of those 14 days for a Bike Race (see my Bio at the top of the page), but The Lovely One and The Girls understand. I hope.

About 1 Feb, I will be coming back (Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, murmurs the crowd ...) to the Middle East on yet another project which will take me through 1 April.

Speaking of crowds, I attended the USO Show here at Balad on 23 Dec. You are not going to believe who the emcee of this show was. Here's some hints: Outspoken Liberal. Opposes the Republican Party. Has a radio talk show. Was a writer and actor on Saturday Night Live. Wrote a fairly funny book about Rush Limbaugh and other assorted conservatives.

That's right, folks: Al Franken was over here, and I got my picture taken with him after the show. If I can figure out a way to get my images smaller, I will post pictures from the show. Al did a MEAN Saddam Hussein impression. His co-host was Traylor Howard, the ditzy assistant on "Monk."

A couple of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders were also here, and naturally I got my picture taken with them, too. (Note to TLO: I have been in love with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders since I was, like, 15, so just get over it
.)

This was Al Franken's THIRD year to do the USO Show in Iraq. Although he is decidedly anti-war, he is definitely pro-soldier, and that's what the USO show was all about. There were no politics on the night of the show, just great entertainment (if you like country, you would have LOVED this show) and a boatload of support from the home front. The soldiers warmed up to Al after he did his Saddam impersonation, and they were stompin' and hootin' and hollerin' for most of the show after that. A couple of the C&W guys were veterans: one of them was on the Mogadishu mission which went bad (see the movie "BlackHawk Down"), and another was in Daddy Bush's Gulf War I. They were both big with the crowd.

I got pictures of a couple of the K-9s over here at Anaconda: a German Shepherd/Malinois mix, and a purebred Malinois. Beautiful dogs, and very obedient, too. Just goes to show you what training and discipline will do to a dog.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas season. I wish you all a Happy New Year's! If you are a single-malt lover (Dalwhinnie is my favorite), please indulge yourself on N Y's Eve and have one for me.

Auld Lang Syne,

Moi

Sunday, December 11, 2005

I have been meme'd

... or something like that. My friend Patti was "tagged" by a friend of hers, so she tagged me, and now I have to write 15 fun facts about Books and Me. Here goes:

1. When I was a very young child, about 7 years old, my mom (a teacher) worked during the summer selling World Book Encyclopedia to all our friends. The reward at the end of the summer, besides making a little bit of extra money, was that we received a set of the 1964 World Book Encyclopedia, with Yearbook, and (2-volume) Dictionary. The next summer, we moved into the new house on Windchime, and my mom had a Study on the second floor, right across from the bathroom shared by me and my three siblings. On a shelf in the Study (which was really just a huge walk-in closet with shelves and a window, and room for a desk) sat the nice new, red World Books. I started reading them. Literally. I would grab a volume and head into the bathroom, and read and read and read, much to the chagrin of my sister and brothers. If I knew that I was going to be there for a while, I would grab the 'S' volume; if it was just a short trip, I would grab the 'J-K' volume. The upshot is that by the time I finished elementary school, I had read the entire encyclopedia, and most of the Dictionary. Good news: I found out about a LOT of different things. Bad news: I found out about a LOT of different things, and I have always had an insatiable curiousity to find out more. It was the foundation for my becoming a Renaissance Man. It is a curse to be blessed with a little bit of knowledge about a lot of different things. Heinlein wrote that "specialization is for insects." And I agree with him.

2. By the time I got out of 6th grade, I had read the trilogy "Lord of the Rings."

3. By the time I graduated from high school, I had read the trilogy "Lord of the Rings" two more times. To date, I have read it seven times. I also started in on "Silmarillon" and other fun stuff that Tolkien wrote.

4. I have a weakness for used book stores. The Lovely One and I will go, periodically, to Half Price Books to just walk around and look. She is a big fan of Half.com, a great source for discount-priced books.

5. One of my favorite books ever is "100 Years of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a Nobel-laureate.

6. Over here in Iraq, I just finished reading "Peyton Place" and "Return to Peyton Place." If you have only "heard" about Peyton Place, I commend this book to you. The trick is to remember that these were written in 1956, by a woman. Scandalous.

7. TLO once got me a photo-book by Annie Liebowitz. The best thing is that she stood in line to get it autographed. Sweeeeeeeet!

8. Doctor Sis is always trying to get me to read stuff, but one of her best suggestions was to read "Iron John." Men, if you want to have a clue, you will read and grok this fairy tale.

9. TLO and I try to stay away from NYTimes Bestsellers. I mean, if the masses are reading it, how good can it really be?

10. Ugh. This list is harder than I thought it would be. OK, I have never read "The Idiot" or "The Brothers Karamazov" or anything else by Dostoievski (sp?); I did watch the Flying Karamazov Brothers once on TV.

11. TLO found a book, "Sarum" about the Stonehenge area of England, great writing, tremendous research, the author is an English Michener (Edward Rutherford). While in Iraq, I found another Rutherford tome in the MWR Library: "Russka" about Russia over the centuries. I highly recommend both of them.

12. A friend of mine just got published: "Lord Vishnu's Love Handles" is a spy novel, sorta, and it's about Lakewood, and Dallas, and affluenza, and the CIA, and it's written by Will Clarke. I met Will at Legal Grounds, a most excellent coffee shop in Lakewood.

13. I have read almost everything by John Irving and Kurt Vonnegut. I think Irving has one of the best senses of humor of any writer in America.

14. In a strange twist of fate, my senior thesis in high school was on John Barth. Doctor Sis' PH.D. dissertation was on John Barth. No, we didn't find this out until afterwards. Barth is a crazy guy, but enjoyable reading.

15. I had forgotten that I was such a big Heinlein fan. Time Enough For Love, The Past Through Tomorrow, Job: A Comedy of Justice, Friday, Rocketship Galileo, etc. Heinlein was PROLIFIC. And I think I have read at least 40 of his books.

Ok, so there's my list. And now I tag my nephew Nicolas, my friend Candy, and my friend (and Candy's Hubby) Tom.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

My flight is WHEN?!?

It’s a good thing I like flying, because I have been doing a lot of it recently.

We left Tallil last week, on Thursday 24 Nov. Mongo (the new kid working with me in Tallil and elsewhere: he is 6’4”, about 240 pounds, and works out a LOT) and I had to get up at 5:30 AM in order to catch the bus from the Gazebo (just outside of our hooches) to the Dining Facility. We were standing at the Gazebo, waiting, and watching a beautiful sunrise, and waiting, and watching a couple of buses leave the parking lot – neither of them was going to the DFAC, and waiting, and finally, about 6:20 AM, a bus took us to the DFAC.

This wouldn’t be so bad, except that we were assured, several times, that the busses ran every 15 minutes, or so, and we had very little time to spare. We ate breakfast, and then we were lucky enough to catch a ride back with one of the Big Defense Contractor admins, who had her own vehicle.

We made it back to the hooches, gathered up our gear, and waited on the Gazebo for HR to pick us up at 7:15 AM. They were on time, and we went to Air Ops to “sign in” at 0730. We went through several briefings, and finally about 0930 they told us to be back at 1130.

At 1130, we waited some more, and finally got on a bus which took us to the plane on the tarmac. We lifted off without incident, and about an hour later, we landed in Baghdad.

I overnighted in Camp Parker, and got to visit with Principal and another colleague (I haven’t made up a nickname for him yet).

Friday 25 Nov, I go to the Baghdad Transient Center to sign in at 0730 (after having eaten breakfast, of course!), and they tell us to come back around 0930. At 0930, we start the usual delays associated with travel in and out of Baghdad International (BIAP), but we finally get on the busses to take us to BIAP around 1200. We process through, and then the real waiting begins.

Fast forward through 4½ boring hours and we finally get on a plane bound for Dubai. This is the first time I have been on this charter that it wasn’t chock full of people. It was weird, having all that room on the plane. Normally, these flights are 100% full. Period. No more, no less. I guess everyone that needed to get out before Thanksgiving had already flown.

I was on the exit row, alone, so I had LOTS of leg room, plus three seats to crash out in, and I did. Two and a half hours later, we landed in Dubai.

I spent the rest of Friday night, and all day Saturday, in Dubai, making preparations to go to Tbilisi, Georgia. I had to go buy a winter coat, because it is about 5 degrees Celsius in the mornings here (high 30s). Do you know how hard it is to find a winter coat in Dubai?

I go to sleep Friday night, and I leave a wakeup call for 0100, because I recalled that my flight for Tbilisi left at 0330. I recall thinking to myself that I should check the itinerary again. I sure wish I had, because when the wakeup call came, I got dressed, pulled out the tickets at 0120, and noticed that my flight was at 0210.

Holy S@#$%!!

I went to the airport anyway, hoping for a miracle, but I returned to the hotel, checked back into the room I had just left, and waited for morning to come.

I had a backup plan in place, though: instead of going through Baku on Azerbaijan Airlines, I had reservations to go through Istanbul on Sunday afternoon, so that’s what I did. I flew from Dubai to Istanbul, then Istanbul to Tblisi. Business class on the second leg, and I was able to sit around the airport in the Turkish Airlines CIP lounge (I guess CIP is sort of like VIP, except that it was about the same as a Motel 6 conference room). I can’t complain too much, since the lattes were free, and the Internet connection was fairly solid.

The other nice thing is that I didn’t have to go through Baku, Azerbaijan. Did you guys see where the police and opposition political party had a nice little run-in with each other on Saturday? I know I saw it on My.Yahoo, so I am fairly sure it must have made the mainstream US press.

As soon as I got here in Tbilisi, I started making my plans to leave, and then to get back into Iraq, and get to Camp Anaconda. Travel in the Middle East, and into and out of Iraq, is not quite like going from Houston to Dallas on Southwest Airlines. BDC offers one flight per day, and if you aren’t on it, then you get to spend another day in Paradise. Depending on where you are when you miss the one flight, Paradise could be Dubai. Or it could be Iraq.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving to mit, yduj, and kram

Gentle Reader: you will have to indulge me as I write the following to my brothers and sister. Inasmuch as my PDA battery has died, and Big Defense Contractor doesn't allow me to store "personal" email addresses in their Outlook client, and my Address Book at swbell.net is empty (remind me to start synching my Mac to .Mac! perhaps I can keep track of folks better than this from now on), I am going to send my Thanksgiving message to my siblings via the post below. You can read it if you want to. But you don't have to if you don't.

Dear Buddees,

Since I am the furthest east of all of us, I get to celebrate Thanksgiving before any of you. Yay. It's not quite the same when you are not with family and friends. I had to fly today, from Tallil (a base in southern Iraq) to Baghdad, and tomorrow I go to Dubai. Sunday I will fly to Republic of Georgia (Caspian Sea) and I will be there a week.

I miss you all, but please know that not a day goes by that I don't think about you and your families, usually when I am saying my grace (to myself) before eating. It does not surprise me in the least to see how many soldiers bow their heads and pray before meals. Like me, perhaps they miss those they are not with ...

So Happy Thanksgiving! Indulge yourself in the things I did not get to see this year: pumpkin pie, candied yams/sweet potatoes, really good cornbread stuffing, white meat from the breast of the turkey, Waldorf salad, chocolate cream pie, and a good cup of coffee afterwards. Don't go feeling sorry for me, though: I did have turkey (although it was dark, and seemed to be reconstituted); I had dressing (ok, this is a really liberal use of the word); I had gravy (but NOT homemade); and I did have cranberry sauce (but it wasn't Ocean Spray).

I hope the Cowboys win on Thursday, and I hope the Aggies keep it respectable (or even win? ha!) on Friday.

All my love,

evetS

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Deep in my soul, I cried

I am wrapping up my nice little stay here in lovely LSA Adder, or T1, or Camp Cupcake, whatever you want to call it. Tomorrow I fly to Baghdad International Airport, where I will hopefully have VIP housing for Thursday night (notice that I am flying on a day which I once swore I would never travel on: Thanksgiving -- although the crowds here are nothing like the crowds in America: we tend to wear Personal Protection Equipment as we move around the country). Friday I catch a charter from BIAP to Dubai, and I will probably be in Dubai for a couple of days. I can't wait to go see the Duty Free at Dubai International Airport. It is ACRES and ACRES of some of the best tax-free discount shopping in the world, and I am not making this up. Other airports can pretend that their duty-free is fairly nice, but Dubai sets the standard as far as I can tell.

It's been a fun two weeks. The students have been good, the presentations have been excellent, I have had a chance to sleep in late every now and then (something that escaped me when I was at Camp Victory in May/June/July earlier this year). There's also something nice about having a day off every week. Most of the Big Defense Contractor employees have to work 84 hours a week: that's 7 12-hour days for you non-math majors like my wife, The Lovely One. Of course, my daughter the Math Genius could have given you that equation in about 4 seconds. Did I mention that she WON the Math Olympiad for the whole freaking School District in the Big City last year? I am a proud dad.

The Lovely One did a very lovely thing this week: she sent me an email which had been sent to her, and in it was a link to the website of the Church we used to attend before we transferred to the FigNation up north from where we live (The Cathedral Church of Saint Matthew). This Church has a dynamite music program, and I was lucky enough to be a part of its choir for the better part of 7 years. Anyway, I cruised on over to the website, clicked on the "Listen to the Choir" link, and I was transported, spiritually, to the concert we gave in November of 2004. As I sat and listened to some surprisingly well-recorded hymns, with organ, and horn quartet accompaniement, I recalled the moments with exquisite clarity. I can visualize where I was standing. I recall our Organist/Choirmaster improvising his intros to some well-known and much-loved hymns (it was the Festival of Hymns, after all ...). And as I cued up the last hymn we sang that night (it was the first one listed on the web page because for some reason the webmaster listed them alphabetically rather than in order performed; this is heresy, like making a CD of "Dark Side of the Moon" and ordering the songs alphabetically: it renders the effect of P. Floyd's music inert; it is meant to be played in a certain order; I did the right and proper thing, and played them into my headphones, sitting in my office in Tallil, Iraq, in the order in which we sang them), I recalled why "Abide with me" is my all-time, number one, no questions asked favorite hymn. Even though it makes me sob like a baby. The chord progressions, the tenor lines, all contribute to a greatness, a swelling of heart and soul and body. I had what I like to call a God moment, when it really doesn't matter that I am in Iraq, or that the US may or may not have good reasons for being here, because in the end it doesn't matter anyway: what matters is that I was IN THE MOMENT, and I was present to it, and I was enjoying it, and I was wallowing in it. We have sung this hymn several times in my chorister life, and each time we sang it, there must have been something going on in my life, or it was the occasion in which we sang it (I recall a celebration we did at the Church many years ago for World Aids Day; a lot of friends from the Diocese were there, and as we sang this hymn, processing out at the end of the service, I could not see my hymnbook anymore because my eyes had welled up with water, my throat had thickened, I was stumbling down the aisle in my purple robe and white cotta; I think it was because I was thinking of the friends I saw no more), I just cannot make it all the way through without getting all verklempt.

And I do not want to hear from my really musical friends who don't like this hymn because it is "maudlin" or "mawkish". I don't care, and you can't change my mind, so don't try. This hymn was sung at the wedding of George VI, and at the wedding of his daughter, Elizabeth (now Queen E~ II). So there.

At the Festival, we sang this hymn with standard organ accompaniement on verse 1. Verse 2: cue the horn quartet. By verse 3 (horn descant) I could barely make it through the words. And verse 4 -- starting with a very piano organ which fades to nothingness -- ends up being a cappela, with the choir spread out around the aisles of the nave of the Church. And as a I sat in my dark office in Tallil, late at night, with nothing going on except this hymn, and this moment, I experienced all over again the feelings I had the night that I sang it at the Festival of Hymns. And deep in my soul, I cried.

The text of the song, written by Henry Francis Lyte, 1847
The tune, "Eventide" by William Henry Monk, 1861

Abide with me: fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide:
when other helpers fail and comforts flee,
help of the helpless, O abide with me.

I need thy presence every passing hour;
what but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?
Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;
ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death's dark sting? where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies;
heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.