The Sand Painters of Burma

One of the most unique art forms you’ll ever see is the sand paintings of Bagan, Burma. Artists paint on cloth using sand. I visited a hut on stilts where the artists crouched over spanned cloth, painstakingly applying the grains by candle light.

Buddhist image painted with sand, image from a Bagan temple, Burma

Traditionally, artists reproduce religious murals found on the walls of Bagan’s 1,300 temples. [1] Sand paintings may be black and white, or composed of colored sands. When I visited Burma for the first time with Uwe in 2009 there were few tourists. We reached the temples by horse carriage; now mopeds and air-conditioned vans carry visitors to the sites.

Sand painters still sell their work inside or outside small temples or in the courtyards as you approach. Some artists are branching out and painting their personal riffs on traditional images, or creating their own modern ones. Take your time if you are interested in purchasing a painting. Be wary of any artist who claims too aggressively, “This image is my own. I discovered this new technique.” (Amazing how many sand painters simultaneously invented an image involving contemporary animals.…)  But the work is mostly beautiful, and the artists are carrying on a unique tradition.

Foot print of the Buddha

Bagan is also famous for lacquerware, a costly and time-consuming art form. Sand-painting is an easier and less expensive way for local craftspeople to make money. Unlike lacquerware, sand painters can simply roll up and carry their wares to potential customers.

Eturbonews explains the history and process so well that I’ll quote them in entirety here:

“[T]here are dozens of mostly young artists displaying their paintings on the floor of temple compounds. They generally take inspiration from 700-year-old murals who adorn some of the most famous temples, such as Ananda or Gubyaukgyi, where paintings depict the life of the Buddha.

According to locals, Bagan’s artist community emerged following a terrible earthquake in 1975. In the turmoil generated by the earthquake, which saw hundreds of pagodas collapsing, locals got access to the temples and started to copy the murals on carbon. Paintings sold at temples are drawn using a sand technique, a peculiar aspect of Bagan art.

It consists of sketching replicas of murals with a stylus on a piece of cloth, which is then covered by acrylic glue. Then sand is sprinkled over the cloth, precisely following the lines from the drawing. Once the glue is dried, painting is added, giving the finishing a colorful touch to the motif. It takes a couple of days to finish a large-scale painting. The technique requires patience and skill.” [2]

I have given sand paintings as gifts to special friends.

A painting can be expensive to frame as the canvas needs to be stabilized so it won’t sag. On that first visit I purchased 3 paintings that took me forever to finally get framed. Uwe had selected an image with two tigers: I surprised him years later with the framed sand painting for his birthday.

On my first visit to Bagan I discovered artists had covered a temple’s altar with bags of colored sands. The artists brought them as offerings to Buddha. When I returned to Bagan this past spring, I didn’t find that temple again. But I remain delighted to know that it exists.

NOTES: [1] See my earlier post A Burmese Spirit Guide for more on Bagan’s temples and the talented wood carvers who work there. [2] Eturbonews.com   [3] When I view the sand paintings that hang here in my home, I am reminded of the mandalas that Tibetan Buddhist monks paint with colored sand. When the painting is finished, the monks sweep the sands away. It is art as meditation on the temporary nature of all things. Sand mandalas  © Jadi Campbell 2017. To see Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

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The Animal Kingdom: A Cornucopia

I just made a salad for lunch that had a cornucopia. “Ooh! ‘Ow lovely!” you exclaim. I thought so too at first. Cornucopia conjures up autumn bounty.

The word makes me think of a table covered in baskets full of vegetables, bowls of late summer berries and fruits, and vases of showy fall blooms. Oxford Dictionaries define it thus: “A symbol of plenty consisting of a goat’s horn overflowing with flowers, fruit, and corn.”

Merriam-Webster goes Oxford one better, “a curved, hollow goat’s horn or similarly shaped receptacle (such as a horn-shaped basket) that is overflowing especially with fruit and vegetables (such as gourds, ears of corn, apples, and grapes) and that is used as a decorative motif emblematic of abundance — called also horn of plenty”. Vocabulary.com puts it in more simply. “A grocery store with a large selection of fruits and vegetables could be said to have a cornucopia of produce. A cornucopia is a lot of good stuff.”

A cornucopia salad must be tasty, right? Keep reading….

I often buy produce at a family store with greenhouses a few blocks away. She sells a large variety of lettuces and a sign claims they’re all ‘eigene ungespritzt’ or grown in-house, without using sprays or pesticides.

I know from experience her salad greens need washing, and when I got home I set the lettuce in a bowl of water to soak. A few minutes later I returned to the kitchen to drain the water. I discovered a cornucopia floating on top of the bowl.

Three drowning slugs.

The sight got me curious about slugs and their particular animal family. Were they on my list already? In the course of research I learned that in the Animal Kingdom, a cornucopia is the British term for a family of slugs or snails. [1] I also read that most fresh water slugs and snails are hermaphroditic. Further, “[s]ome species regularly self-fertilise. Uniparental reproduction may also occur by apomixis, an asexual process.” [2]

I’m just glad I’d already eaten….

I’ll skip a photograph this time. But I can assure you: the salad was delicious.

“Ooh! ‘Ow lovely!”

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. [1] In the US, it’s named a rout of slugs. [2] Apomixis is explained at Mating of gastropods.

Merriam-Webster.com, Oxford dictionaries.com, Vocabulary.com. More fun animal names from www.writers-free-reference.com, Mother Nature Network and www.reference.com.

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Houston, We Have a Problem

“Houston, we have a problem.” [1]

I watched Hurricane Harvey approach along with my fellow Americans and the rest of the world. Harvey’s Category 4 storm winds devastated Houston, Texas, America’s fourth-largest city. Experts estimate the costs to clean up and rebuild the city at a staggering $75 billion. [2]

Photos of destroyed homes, flooded streets and ruined businesses filled the media. When I watched and listened to footage of interviews with the locals, I had a strange déjà vu.

  • “I know it’s not a safe place to be, but … I don’t know where else I can go.”
  • “I was scared. I’ve seen a lot of things but that terrified me.”
  • “I just lost everything I worked for. Everything. The only thing I got are the clothes on my back.”
  • “We just had to go.”
  • “If they don’t restore power and water for three to six weeks, we have no choice but to leave.”
  • “It’s important for individuals, particularly that are in shelters, to let their family know that they’re safe and well and where they’re at.”
  • “If my kids are safe, my husband is safe, the dogs are with us, who cares.”
  • “There’s no way to get our family out.”

I listened as a young man carrying a small child told reporters that both his home and workplace had been destroyed. He needed shelter and a job, and was afraid he wasn’t going to be able to support his two-year-old daughter. [3]

These quotes come from the survivors of Hurricane Harvey. I’ve heard them before, word for word. These are the interviews I watch on the German nightly news with refugees fleeing Afghanistan, Sudan, Syria, Iraq. These are the stories of the two asylum seekers I massaged to treat their trauma.

The hundreds of thousands Texans and, later, Floridians who were forced out by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma aren’t all that different from the families escaping war zones. It is devastating when your home is gone. William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says “We used to look at citizens as disaster victims. Now they’re looked at as what we call disaster survivors.”

I’m not sure what conclusions (if any) to draw from the many similarities. Perhaps it’s that we’re all connected. Suffering is not limited to any one region or situation. Regardless of nationality, race, or religion, I hope our compassion is universal. Let’s extend it to families everywhere who lost all they had and now struggle to rebuild their lives.

As a survivor bravely added, “Life still goes on.”

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. [1] Phrases.org.uk  [2] “Moody’s Analytics, a New York-based financial analysis company, has pegged the destruction to southeast Texas, which includes the Rockport area where Harvey made landfall, as of mid-morning Aug. 29 at about $75 billion, covering homes, vehicles, businesses, infrastructure and lost economic output. Homes and vehicles alone in the region are expected to suffer about $30 billion to $40 billion in damage, according to an email from a Moody’s representative. Regional businesses could see up to $15 billion in damage.” Bizjournals.com [3] Quotes gathered from The Washington Post, Daily Mail UK, Caller Times, Houston Chronicle and personal interviews.

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The Seeds of Summer

The sun occasionally shines. But the air has a nip today, the wind gusts, and clouds traverse watery blue skies. (In my head the entire cast of A Game of Thrones mutters, “Winter is coming ….”)

Summer’s about to end. I still hear crickets at night outside our windows, but how much longer? When their voices (legs?) go silent, it’s the final signal that autumn is taking over.

Autumn is a beautiful time of year. We went to the Stuttgarter Weindorf last weekend, the annual Wine Village. My meal included sauerkraut (a food I’ve come to love only since living in Germany) and homemade spätzle, the egg noodles that are a specialty of Baden-Württemberg. For dessert I ordered a plum tart, Zwetschgenkuchen. Uwe agreed with me: the Weindorf version tasted like Mama’s. My mother-in-law baked it often, with plums from the fruit trees in their yard. And there it was, a sense of nostalgia.

I’m listening to Radio Paradise as I write this post. They play Jackson Browne’s For a Dancer, from his 1974 album Late for the Sky. Lyrics and melody from long ago weave into this afternoon.

Coins harvested from a money plant and 3 sand dollars

One of my last acts before returning to Germany from the USA two weeks ago was to harvest coins from the money plants in a friend’s garden. I love this description of money plants: “Also known as Honesty, of the genus Lunaria, silver dollar plants are named for their fruit, with pods dry to flat silverish discs about the size of — you guessed it! — silver dollars. They hail from Europe and were one of the first flowers grown in the dooryard gardens of the New World for their pods and edible roots.” [1] I’m harvesting fruit from American plants that were originally European flowers. I myself am a strange kind of transplant, with roots in both places now.

The coins of the flowers are tissue-thin, each containing several dark seeds. I’ll plant them in pots for my balcony, come springtime. What will grow? Will their seeds take root? But I like the uncertainty. These are the seeds of summer, and even as summer dies (don’t forget: “Winter is coming!…”) in them is a chance to grow something new. Numerous chances, actually.

As we enjoy summer’s bounty, reaping what was sown, it’s comforting to know they’ll carry over into seasons to come.

May your summer seeds bloom anew.

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. [1] www.gardeningknowhow.com

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Flags

Bildergebnis für declaration of independence

I just made a visit back to the country of my birth. I had wondered what I’d find there, and quickly realized I’d had no idea about the changes. America has a new president and a new mood in the land. The violent protests at Charlottesville, Virginia occurred during my visit. I tried to follow the arguments for keeping the statue. Heritage. History. Cultural good.

I watched the debacle from the other side of the country. I’m no Southerner; what do I know? And then I met an old college buddy for dinner. He suggested a great Mexican place. It’s in Creswell, a little city just 8 miles outside of Eugene, Oregon. We parked in front of the restaurant, and as I stepped out a big pickup truck raced down the center of the street. Confederate flags flew defiantly from either window. The flags were huge, and meant to be noticed.

“Welcome to my country,” my buddy said. I’d like to say I promptly forgot about the sight, but I haven’t. Let’s be very clear here. The Confederate flag has nothing to do with the history of the Northwest. In the rest of the world, the Confederate flag is a symbol of slavery and white supremacists. The noise of those big flapping flags was a loud slap across the face, a F-You to normal values and behaviors. Donald Trump and others argue that removing flags and statues = removing history.

I climbed on a plane a week later and returned to Germany. Now, if any country lives past, present and future history simultaneously, it is Germany. No busts of Hitler remain. Germans don’t want or need them. Instead, stumbling stones called Stolpersteine mark the last homes of victims murdered in the Holocaust. [1] Outdoor installations like Berlin’s East Side Gallery and the Topography of Terror, or Leipzig’s “Runde Ecke” Memorial Museum and the Stasi Bunker Museum are just a few of the national monuments and exhibits that grapple with the tasks of explaining why Nazi Germany came into being, and dictatorships and fascism in general.

America’s Declaration of Independence states, We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…. [2] As I ponder this truth, I exhale. I held my breath in distress during my visit. I’m told, and I read, that this is who we Americans were all along. Truculent. Armed and angry. Shouting. Unwilling to try to understand how people with views different from our own think, or feel. From this side of the Atlantic, history appears to be repeating itself. We’ve experienced this kind of thinking and acting before. It did not end well.

I hope that the opposite version wins out.

NOTES: [1] Go to my earlier posts Stolpersteine 1: Tsunami Cowboy’s Stumbling Stones and Stolpersteine 2: A Stumbling Stone for Luisa Lepman  to read more about Stolpersteine. [2] http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/

© Jadi Campbell 2017.

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Going Home

Right after I first fell in love with the German man I married, my mother died. (No, the shock didn’t kill her.) Something I recognize but don’t dwell on is that my decision to move to Europe is tied to her death. Somehow the most important link to my life in America suddenly vanished. When I left the States I had a full if overly busy life with two jobs, one which gave me health care and retirement benefits, and close friends. But as I’ve written elsewhere [1], the siren call of a European man and European life style (make that Life and Style) won my heart.

I was surprised – and deeply moved – to discover that my friendships and attachment to places I love stayed alive, even with one or two years or even longer between visits. When I was a kid, my family had moved every few years thanks to my dad’s job with the Forest Service. I know how to make new friendships, and how to keep old ones. The international stuff is harder, but it’s do-able.

My annual visit to the US this year is bathed in wistfulness and memories. This is my first flight back without seeing my father Bobbo. For twenty-five years I believed that losing Mom broke the golden thread connecting me to my old life. Turns out, a less obvious thread – but one equally as golden – tied me to Bobbo. He became my main reason to return. With both parents gone now, my sisters have become guardians. They, and I, are the keepers of the memories.

I write down anecdotes, wanting to get the details right. I fret over the little stuff. Did we really never lock our doors living in Cazenovia? What year was the big snowstorm of our childhoods in Connecticut? I remember Mom sent Bobbo out to meet us  (my sisters and I trudging in rubber snowboots through drifts chest deep, on our way home from my friend Doris’s house). But how old were we? Was it all three of us? And what year was it? Mom and Bobbo would have known these details. My sisters and I have to puzzle them out, placing our recollections together in a common picture.

The particulars are fading. They curl like the edges of old family photographs.

But these pictures make up earlier lives. It’s why we treasure old camera footage, precious cassette tapes of voices long silent. When asked what you would take first if your home was about to go up in flames, people almost always say, the family photographs. Because gazing into the eyes of an old photo is really looking back into what we looked like, and what life felt like.

It’s a way of going home.

NOTES: [1] Go to my post J’aime la Vie to learn why I stayed in Europe! © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

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In Search of Inspiration

If you troll blogs and the Web, there are untold numbers of suggestions on how to find the inspiration to write. Here are my ideas for how to get inspired… all tried, tested, and true. [1]

#1. Lock yourself in a room. More importantly, lock everyone else out.
#2. Leave the room only when the whining of the family dog takes on that frantic the-puddle-that-is-about-to-hit-the-floor-is-going-to-be-your-fault whimper. If the writing is going well, you’ll be dragged out of your writerly trance. If you’re slowly dying in front of a screen that remains blank, this is rescue from your flailing “I am such a loser” writer’s misery.
#3. In either scenario, head outdoors and think about writing while you’re walking. I walk in our village’s Schrebegartens [2] when I need to think through a plot knot or to stretch my legs. Or to get some fresh air finally! Usually I pass people with actual dogs, but if I’m lucky I have the dirt path through the gardens and orchards to myself. A loop takes me about 40 minutes to walk. One very cold grey winter morning, I first heard and then watched a pair of green woodpeckers. They flew from tree bole to tree bole. I stood enchanted and didn’t move.
#4. Find people who actually write. A group that sits and talks about writing and books and movies and culture is good. My group saves those acts till 5:00 p.m. when the drinks are ordered. And then the second round. And then….

#5. Wait, where was I? Oh – find people who write. The clackety clack of a friend’s fickle fingers of fate as they fly over her laptop keys will force you to bitch-shame yourself. Soon you will be outlining, typing, scribbling, anything that makes it look like you’re composing art.
#6. Do the Vampire Energy Suck. This is the same scenario as #5, but now position yourself across the table from your annoyingly prolific writer friend (and did you ever really like him?) Stare as he writes on, oblivious. Imagine an energy transfer taking place across the table, from his creative cloud to yours.
#7. Find someplace impossibly, wildly, improbably inspiring. Find that place – and GO there. While you’re there, WRITE. I’m president of a monthly writers’ group; we meet regularly in a turreted building. I climb up three flights of winding stone steps in a tower. One day a week I go to a café in the medieval square of a nearby town.

The café’s interior has exposed timber beams and archives date the building all the way back to 1566. I want to pinch myself when I am in both spots: I write here! How lucky can I get? Other days I’m more severe: If I can’t get inspired by views and surroundings like these, I’d better hand in my writer’s badge now.

the bells in the clock tower ring every 15 minutes

#8. At least the rounds of drinks always taste right….

… as does the Flammkuchen we always order (thin crust pizza with onion, créme fraisch and bacon)

NOTES: [1] Results from writer to writer may vary. [2] German Schrebegartens are areas designated for gardens and orchards. You can own or rent, and may have a garden house complete with a cellar. But you can’t have electricity or live in the hut. © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Jadi Campbell. To  see some of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

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