The Gift of Gab

I’ve belonged to a writers’ group for two years. How did I survive so long without the company of my crazy peers and fellow wordsmiths? I have no idea what I did before I hooked up with these people.

In my group you find: Short stories. Essays. Erotic (really erotic) poetry. Autobiographies. Journalism. Novels. Urban fantasy. Flash fiction. Song lyrics. Wistful thinking (this is how a member explains what he writes, and I love his description).

We come together to share and critique works-in-progress. We use writing exercises to loosen up our creative muscles. And we’re committed to public readings.

Two roosters singing at a microphone, isolated Stock Photo

A little café named Wir Sind Babel was one venue. A brightly lit coffee house with marble floors and comfy chairs was another. And the last one…. well, that venue gets a blog post all its own.

An Irish pub I’ll call The Blarney Stone seemed like the ideal spot. The bar’s slowest weeknight was the perfect time.

We could use a side room for our event. The space looked like a library room filled with bookcases, a perfect setting for our brilliant words. Even better, the owner promised us  if we could total 50 people we’d get the main room – and he had a microphone we could use! They often feature live musical acts and the entire bar was already wired to hear us. Sweet!

A Toast Master offered to be our MC. He’d read short bios to introduce each reader. We printed up fliers for the tables and info sheets to hand out ahead of time. It was all perfect…

Doesn’t this sound too good to be true?

That Tuesday we arrived with high expectations. The bar was packed. Our side room grew too small for all our friends and guests, but the main room had filled with patrons who, sadly, were not there for our earthshaking literary creations.

Every chair was taken and people sat and stood everywhere. Waiters and waitresses had to slither their way with plates and drinks through the crowds. Then we realized our side room had no door, and that meant no barriers against the noise levels that kept increasing.

No worries. We were as cool as the collective cucumber, because we had the ultimate secret weapon: the microphone. The first reader began to recite her piece.

And then the m crophone we were loan d began sh rt ng out w th ever sec nd sente ce and nex with ev ry thi d word. It g t wors . The m ke beg n to let o t awf l and ear splitt ng sccccrrre eee ee ech hhhhiiiing fee eeedb ck. We checked that the batteries were fresh and the wiring solid. We tried holding the mike in different parts of the room, closer to our lips, away from our mouths, up in the air. We recited louder, and then more quietly; none of it made a difference.

At that point every writer in the room knew we’d been rat f cked. Without saying much (not that we could have heard one another anyway over the noise in the pub) we had that group moment of grokking that this evening would not be the literary triumph we’d all awaited.

The first reader gamely made it through her piece. The second reader performed in a different corner of the room. By the time it was my turn to read I lay the mike down on the pult and basically yelled out my piece, observing every pause, emphasis and careful nuance I’d practiced.No one heard a word over the pub din.

But I am so very proud of all of us. We observed grace under pressure. We went forward despite impossible conditions (and false promises made to us). We made the best out of the debacle… and it really brought us together as fellow failed performers.

The pub owner got more than fifty extra paying guests on what was his slowest night of the week! I’d like to say he bought us a round of drinks to make up for it. I’d really like to say that our words triumphed over noise decibels. But no, that night the gift of gab got stuck in a malfunctioning microphone.

Microphone Stock PhotographyMicrophone Stock PhotographyMicrophone Stock Photography

Our next public reading is in a month, and it will not be held in an Irish pub. The first moral of the story? To get over stage fright, sometimes you have to scream. The second moral to the story? Don’t mess with writers, because at some point we will write about you and what you did.

We’ll be back at the newly renovated Wir Sind Babel. The date is Thursday, May 22. Doors open at 1900. Hope to see you all there!

NOTES:

http://www.wirsindbabel.de/selbst.html

Eckladen Uhlandstrasse 26 am Olgaeck /70182 Stuttgart
0711-620 2118

Images courtesy of dreamstime.com

Hit & Run 4

Inevitably Joe’s determined curiosity widened to include the rest of the world. As his medical condition worsened, his parents curtailed family outings without saying a word or ever referring to the involuntary confined nature of the shorter vacations. “Any chance of a trip somewhere exotic, Dad?” he asked, once. He saw the anguished looks and exchanged, entrapped glance they shared over his head. Joey never asked again.

Joey’s queries toned down and became more secretive. On his way to the public library, he discovered a table covered with stacks of old postcards in a junk shop. Joey fanned out sanitized images of capitol cities and stared transfixed. He fingered the old thick cardboard and posited himself there, an alternate Joe someplace seen by him only in his imagination. He knew kismet had randomly assigned him the death card.

Perhaps a few freebies were in the mix as well.

Some magazines had coupons for glossy brochures of vacation getaways. He filled out coupons in his careful script and sent them off. He started writing away to travel agencies and to the embassies of foreign countries.

Descriptions began pouring in from around the globe and woke a deep hunger in him for all the things and places he’d never get to see. His reading matter shifted to books about exotic locales. Joey did weeks of research on the wide, wide world in the library’s travel and geography stacks. He read about Europe first, and next he planned to move on to Africa, and South America, and Asia, last stop the Antarctic!

Lou found an application sheet his brother had hidden. “A new opportunity for a new life …Whatever your origins, nationality or religion might be, whatever qualifications you may or may not have, whatever your social or professional status might be, whether you are married or single, the French Foreign Legion offers you a chance to start a new life…”

Lou went on reading, incredulous. Joey had filled out the forms right up to the paragraph indicating that selection for the Legion was carried out in person near Marseille, and that the applicant had to be physically fit to serve at all times in all places. Lou put the form back in the desk and never told his brother he’d seen it.

– from my short story “Hit and Run” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available as paperback or eBook at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. Go to my posts Hit & Run 1, 2 & 3 for more on Joey, Lou and Margaret.

Massage in Indonesia: Lombok

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Lombok basketry

On the island of Lombok we’re literally at the end of the road. We look at a map and decide that where the one road going inland up in the mountains stops, we’ll stop too. We end up in a small village called Tetebatu.

We walk through Tetebatu along the one street and everywhere people stand or crouch. They sit in the open thatched huts built on stilts to keep people off the ground when it rains. It rains every afternoon, non-stop torrents for 3 hours, and the shelters are full then.

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Clean water for homes is provided by fountains and wells. The locals wash themselves, their clothes, and their animals in them. But I see an ancient looking woman in a sarong carrying a flat woven basket full of rice. She kneels in front of her house and washes the kernels in the open stream that runs in a gully down the side of the street. Tropical medicine experts estimate that 80% of the Indonesian population have guts full of parasites, and it is evident to me why this should be so.

She looks up and gives me a smile so open, so beautiful, that I am temporarily blinded.

That afternoon a Danish couple accompanied by an Indonesian man and boy check in. The couple take the room next to us, while the Indonesians stay in the next bungalow. We exchange smiles and hellos, but nothing more. We’re at the end of the road on the other side of the world, and I savor the sense of isolation from the familiar and known.

The air is significantly cooler up here in the mountains. For the first time in our trip to Indonesia we both wear jeans. Uwe puts on a jacket and I pull out a sweater. That night the Indonesian in the next bungalow comes out on his porch. He has wrapped himself in the blanket from his bed against the chilly air.

“Good evening!” he says, and comes and stands by the little low gate that leads up to our bungalow.

Uwe and I sit under the porch lights reading and chewing on bags of nuts we’d bought at the coastal market a few days earlier. We pull up another chair and ask him to join us. His name is Udin. He lives on Gili Meno, a little island northwest of Lombok. He’s in Tetebatu as guide and translator for the Danish couple we’d exchanged nods with earlier.

The Danes are medical researchers investigating the local plant life. They are asking the native Sasaks which plants they use for healing and in what capacity. That afternoon we’d seen the three of them, Udin’s son trailing a few feet behind, walk around the grounds and stand by various shrubs and trees and bushes on the property. Since everything is unbelievably lush, and either flowering or bearing fruit, I had not thought twice about their activity. The fecundity of the landscape is a wonder. I keep stopping too, to crow over some gaudy flower or vivid tree.

“From here we will go to visit my mother,” Udin says. She lives in a village further south on Lombok. Although on a map the two locations are within spitting distance of one another, it’s too expensive for him to make the trip more often. He hasn’t seen her in over a year.

This is the first time in his life that he’s been in a hotel room. Udin feels very fortunate to have hooked up with the Danish couple. He switches from talk about himself and asks us about ourselves with the innate charm and politeness of the Indonesians. What are we doing here? Where are we from?

Udin looks alert when I say I’m a massage therapist.

“I have great pain here and here,” he says, and points to his calves and the small of his back. “I worked since I was 8 years old carrying sacks of rice weighing 60 kilos from the rice fields. Then I worked on a fishing boat. I was wet and cold all the time. Now that I am older I ache always in these places.”

He tells us about the hard life on Lombok. “Bali is rich. Here, you might earn 2,500 rupiahs for a day’s labor. But then the economy collapsed. A kilo of rice has gone up in price in the last 2 years from 500 rupiahs to 3,000.” He mentions again that his body aches from the hard labor he’s done all his life.

“Would you allow me to give you a massage?” I feel sure that this is what he wants to request, without being so forward as to actually ask.

Udin promptly says yes and moves over to stand in front of me. I am a little concerned. It is now night and I am about to do massage on someone standing on a porch in the middle of nowhere. Also, if Udin is from Lombok he must be Muslim. I recall the occasional male patients I can’t treat in the medical clinic back in Stuttgart.

“Is it permissible for me as a woman to touch you?” I ask.

“Of course, it is no problem,” he answers.

Compressions and cross fiber friction, I finally decide. I start to work. Udin’s muscles are ropy. He has no extraneous fatty tissue anywhere after a lifetime of hard work and rice. Udin grimaces once or twice, but remains standing. I work on him for perhaps 20 minutes and stop. We talk a while longer. Then Udin excuses himself and heads to bed.

The next morning Uwe and I have coffee on the outdoor patio of the hotel. The Danish couple and Udin come up for breakfast before leaving. To my surprise the Danish couple head straight over to our table and shake our hands.

“I hear you’re medical researchers,” I say, intensely curious about them.

“Yes, and we hear that Udin got a massage last night. He’s always working,” they answer, and begin to ask us questions. The acknowledgement from them is rewarding and sweet.

Udin sits with us for a few minutes. “How are you feeling?” I ask.

“I feel well. I am well for the first time in many years. I am without pain!”

I’m inexplicably moved, and glad I took the time the night before to help this man.  Maybe, I think, maybe I earned us some good travel karma.

***

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Udin on Lombok, 1999

NOTES: For more on Indonesia go to my posts Baum, Bats, and Monkeys and Massage in Indonesia: Java. A common topic thread is Travel Karma.

Photo Copyright © 2013 Jadi Campbell or Uwe Hartmann. (All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.) More photos of our trip to Indonesia and Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Remind Me Again: What Are We Doing Here?

“A brave heart and a courteous tongue,” said he. “They shall carry thee far through the jungle, manling.” —The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling (1865 – 1936)

We’re in India for a few weeks and currently we’re riding in the back of an open jeep. We spent the better part of 5 hours each day on really bad roads to get here. D31_9982_DxO8Now we’re layered in the few long-sleeved clothes we brought along. How cold can it be if you’re not way up north trekking in the Himalyas?

How cold? Man, it’s effing freezing.

It’s shortly after 6 a.m. in the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve and we’ve been up since 5. “Remind me,” I beg. “What are we doing here?” I wrap the blanket the tiger lodge lent us tighter around my body. (What I really want is a sub zero temperatures sleeping bag.) “Remind me,” I ask again. “Why are we doing this?”

“You wanted to come back to India,” Uwe prompts.

“Oh, yeah. Now I remember.” And it’s true: I was really excited to return. I fell in love with the subcontinent when we visited a decade ago. In Goa we walked miles of pristine beaches. In Karnataka we attended an astonishing Nandi Purnima, the full moon festival, and Hampi was a bare landscape filled with gigantic boulders and ancient temples.

In a country this exotic and large, surely we’d experience something new when we came back. What I did not expect was that I’d be freezing my ass off.

***

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Entrance to Bandhavgahr National Park

We’re doing a mix of culture and nature. India is one of the two most populated countries on the planet, and we thought it would be smart to schedule some time in quieter areas too. I’m glad we did. The north central region of Madya Pradesh is green and varied and home to some of the few remaining wild Bengal tiger populations.

So for two days at Bandhavgarh and a day at Kanha National Park*, we haul our sorry butts out of bed at the crack of dawn, pull on all our clothes and drape ourselves in borrowed blankets. 6 a.m.-1 p.m. for the early safari; 3-6 p.m. for the afternoon attempt. If we’re lucky, we’ll spot a big cat.

We’re not lucky. We’re cold.

***

Later we shed layers as the day warms up. The parks contain barking and spotted deer, D32_0066_DxO8gaurs, nilgai, D31_9870_DxO8

lemurs and langurs, D31_9944_DxO8

D31_9854_DxO8wild peacocks and other birdlife, D31_9997_DxO8

Green bee-eater
Green bee-eater

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Crested hawk-eagle
Crested hawk-eagle

wild boar, D32_0649_DxO8and a landscape filled with watering holes and high grasses, forest and farmers’ villages. On the second day at Bandhavgarh our jeep carries a park ranger to inspect a water buffalo kill from the night before. It occurred just outside the official boundary of the preserve and the farmer will be reimbursed for the animal the tiger took down.

One dead water buffalo
One dead water buffalo

We aren’t allowed to leave the jeep – ever – and the ranger approaches the carcass very slowly.

Park Ranger inspecting water buffalo carcass
Be sure you notice that the ranger’s got on lots of clothes too.

Where there’s a fresh kill, the big cat can’t be far.

I mean it: it's really cold out.
I mean it: it’s really cold out.

By the third day I’ve perfected what I name the mummy wrap. I have myself wrapped so tight that I literally can’t move, but this way the blanket doesn’t unwind in the cold wind.

Brr.

And, suddenly, a tiger leaps from the forest, followed by his mate. He moves into the reeds and returns dragging a dead spotted deer by the neck.

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D32_0376_DxO8

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D32_0402_DxO8 We see them for less than a minute and those seconds are absolutely worth the days of waiting. My God, they’re magnificent! During the afternoon safari we get lucky again: 10 seconds of spotting a shyer, rarer leopard.

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The leopard moved unconcerned in the back through the high grass

Uwe captures the group of spotted deer nervously fleeing the leopard. He’s in Photographer Heaven.

Naturally we’re already dreaming about an African safari (… and I’ll pack a wool jacket, just in case…).

NOTES: *Kanha National Park provided the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. Go to my earlier post Travel Karma to read about our first visit to India. More pictures from India and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bandhavgarh_National_Park

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanha_National_Park

One Versatile-ly Lovely Blog. Two Awards.

Holy Moly. In the space of a month I’ve been nominated for not one but two blogger awards: The Versatile Blogger Award and One Lovely Blog Award. Why doesn’t every year begin this way?

The rules: Thank the person who nominated you. Share 7 things about yourself. Nominate 15 bloggers. Notify the nominees. Put the logo of the award on your blog.

The wonderful blogs that nominated me are http://julianaleewriter.com/ (Versatile Blogger) and http://joeyfullystated.wordpress.com/ (One Lovely Blog). Juliana and Joey, thank you. Both of you rock.

With a nod to Vanity Fair, here are 7 facts about me.

  1. State of mind: Blissful. I was presented with 2 awards!
  2. Next move: Back to the drawing board. Oh, heck: I can’t draw. Back to the laptop key board.
  3. Listening to: http://www.radioparadise.com  Nancy over at Laughing Maus  — who is also a member of my writers’ circle here – turned me on to this commercial free, listener supported indie station. They play an amazingly eclectic mix of music. Check it out (you’ll thank me later).
  4. Trait I most admire in others: Grace under pressure.
  5. Trait I find saddest: Fear of change. Unwillingness to admit a mistake. I know that’s two traits, but I can’t decide between them.
  6. Weirdest personal trait: About two years ago, I began to wake throughout the night while dreaming. I can recall every dream in vivid detail.
  7. Current physical condition: Tired. I was up all night dreaming.

My Versatile Blogger Award nominations go to:

  1. http://aprayerlikegravity.wordpress.com
  2. http://bluefishway.com
  3. http://dreaminginarabic.wordpress.com
  4. http://gallivance.net
  5. http://ididnthavemyglasseson.com
  6. http://ironicmom.wordpress.com
  7. http://juliannevictoria.com
  8. http://journeysofthefabulist.wordpress.com
  9. http://laughingmaus.com/
  10. http://randomactsofwriting.wordpress.com
  11. http://suellewellyn2011.wordpress.com/
  12. http://tonningsen.wordpress.com
  13. http://thewritingwaters.wordpress.com/
  14. http://valeriedavies.com
  15. http://the-tin-man.com/

onelovelyblog

:

My One Lovely Blog Award nominations go to:

  1. http://barbtaub.com/
  2. http://arranqhenderson.com
  3. http://athingforwordsjahesch.wordpress.com
  4. http://bethannchiles.com
  5. http://www.bloodfaces.com/
  6. http://codymccullough.wordpress.com/
  7. http://honeydidyouseethat.wordpress.com
  8. http://iamforchange.wordpress.com
  9. http://intothebardo.wordpress.com
  10. http://mylinesmylife.blogspot.de/
  11. http://ramblingwoods.com
  12. http://raysharp.wordpress.com
  13. http://thewhyaboutthis.com
  14. http://travel-stained.com
  15. http://unpackedwriter.com

The rules for both awards are the same. You can view them here: http://versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com/vba-rules/

But really all my nominees could accept either – or both – as many have been nominated numerous times (for either. Or both.) They’re all terrific.

Now if you don’t mind, I need to go turn up Radio Paradise!

Hit & Run 3

He entered magazine contests and it didn’t matter what the prizes were. Mrs. Bocci was the first housewife in their neighborhood to own a brand new Maytag dishwasher. He won an extra dryer, which his parents passed on to their aunt and uncle for Christmas that year when his newest cousin was born.

He loved the surprise of each free gift. Sur-prizes, he called them. Joey sent away for samples of things just for the hell of it. He had the time; what else was he going to do with all those hours stuck sitting in his wheel chair? His family received the first volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica. A through Androphagi. He kept Mom in perfume and the rest of the family in soap and shampoo. Any time a new product came out, such as the first mint toothpaste, Joey ordered it. The Boccis were always the first ones on the block to try any of them.

His past time took on epic proportions. They didn’t just have free food samples to try. Joey ordered free animal feed samples too: packets of birdseed. Hamster food. Gold fish pellet food. Pouches of cat food and dog food, even horse feed. His parents finally told Joey to stop with the animal feed already; they couldn’t even have any pets because of the danger of allergies or infection from scratches. Joey’s dad donated it all to the local animal shelter.

Once or twice a week the mailman delivered a package containing free items with company logos. Joey would read about a new product being promoted and bing, the coupons were clipped and filled out and in the mail before anyone could stop him. The Bocci household received free tote bags, baseball caps, tee shirts and socks and other products. Actually his parents didn’t try to stop him from sending away for those items once they realized how much money his obsession was saving them on clothes.

He won a ride in the local weather helicopter – and because he couldn’t fly because of air pressure and collapsing sinus issues, Lou and Mr. Bocci went in his place. Now that was cool!

Here the tale ended abruptly, the silence Margaret’s cue to ask questions. It didn’t matter what she asked, really, as long as it gave Lou an idea of what she wanted to hear about next. “Was he persistent or just incredibly lucky?”

“Margaret,” Lou explained patiently, “no one was ever stupid enough to call Joey lucky. But yes, he had a run of luck where it seemed like the Universe was giving him a break to make up for the crap cards he’d been dealt just by being born. He really did have fun entering contests and winning stuff.”

“What’s the coolest thing he ever won?”

Lou frowned. “I just told you: the helicopter ride. At least to me and my Dad it was the coolest,” he amended, yielding to the apologetic look on his girlfriend’s face. “And he won fourth prize in a contest for a new Pontiac. My parents took the cash from that one and put into savings bonds. That money helped put me through college.”

“It was okay with Joe? He didn’t want the money for himself?”

“Well,” Lou said slowly, “by then his lucky streak was running out. Joey hid it from the rest of us. He’d started getting weaker again instead of stronger… He didn’t have a whole lot of time left. And I think he was trying to win money and prizes for us to make up for the gap that would be there after he was gone.”

Margaret sighed and hugged her boyfriend. “Jesus, Lou. How could your family stand it?”

Lou shrugged. “We didn’t get calloused or anything, but it wasn’t like any of us didn’t know the end was coming. We just kind of… went on as we had been. What else is there to say? Joey was the glue for a broken situation; it was broke from the minute he was born. He was the glue holding the entire family together in spite of everything.”

“I just think, I mean, I can’t imagine how you all dealt with it.”

“Margaret, I never cease to be amazed at what people just deal with when they have to. How did my family deal with stuff? We just, did. Until we couldn’t any longer. When Joey went in the hospital the last time we thought it was temporary, just more of the usual batteries of tests. When his doctors found the tumor I think everyone knew that this was going to be it.”

“At least you all had each other. Your family was so strong!”

He looked at her with a strange expression. “Babe, that’s the whole point of what I’ve been telling you. We weren’t strong. Joey was! We were people he was supporting through his illness. The only thing we had in common was the DNA connection. Joey was never related to anybody I could figure out, not really, unless it was some kind of genetically defective super hero who hasn’t been invented or born yet.”

– from my short story “Hit and Run” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. Go to my posts Hit & Run 1 & 2 for more on Joey, Lou and Margaret.

Hit & Run 2

Joey sat in the school library for hours. He hid there during recess and lunch periods, but the sounds of everyone out on the playground came through the open windows. Hearing the sound of other children shrieking was bad, and as Joey listened he tried to imagine it came from children somewhere far away. When he did see them the distance apparent between what they could do and what he could not was too terrible. He would perch at the dark wood of the windowsill, holding himself upright and steady with one hand as he watched. Children in groups skipped ropes, chased balls, played tag. The teacher with recess duty wore a light jacket and an expression of endless weary patience. He or she sometimes called out across the tarmac, “Hey! That’s enough of that, Loreen!”

Unseen and unimportant, from the high window Joey observed when the teacher rushed to the aid of a fallen child or broke up a playground fight. He hated it. Watching reminded him that no one would ever need to run to prevent him from doing something he shouldn’t; watching only reminded him that he couldn’t run.

Joey moved to a table where he could sit with his back to the windows. Determinedly Joey closed his ears to the cries of his peers playing outside the walls and forever beyond his ken.

Eventually Joey made his way through all of the school magazines. He began to take the bus to the public library. After school Joey sat among the adult publications where he felt less excluded. Around him sat members of his home city’s increasing homeless population, noisily turning pages and keeping a careful eye on their oversized bags of belongings. There were a few students, or grown ups coming in to claim the copies of recent novels they had put on hold, and every so often a class of younger children arrived for reading hour. Otherwise though, Joey could feel like he was simply another library user, ageless and without handicaps.

This was when he discovered adult magazines with their endless advertisements for write-in contests, coupons to win prizes, and teasers to learn more about great deals. Joey flipped pages hunting for things to win, things to present to his parents. Joey wanted, Lou said thoughtfully, to present them with distractions from the nonrefundable item they’d brought home from the hospital: their youngest son and his damaged body.

– from my short story “Hit and Run” in Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. Go to my post Hit & Run 1 for more on Joey, Lou and Margaret.

The United Buddy Bears

Many people feel Berlin is now the cultural heart of Europe. Creative impulses come from Germany’s capitol and spread from there. One of the quirkiest is the Buddy Bears.

Circle of United Buddy Bears, Stuttgart
Circle of United Buddy Bears, Stuttgart

The Buddy Bears creators were  inspired by the cow parades in New York and Zurich. Eva and Klaus Herlitz of Berlin wanted to initiate a similar street art project. The bear is the icon of Berlin, and thus in 2001, the Herlitzes created the first bear with a sculptor named Roman Strobl.

United Buddy Bear New Zealand
New Zealand

Their projected expanded, and in 2002 it went international. They had a bear created for every country the UN acknowledges, all designed by artists native to each country. To date 148 2-meter high fiberglass United Buddy Bears have been painted. The bears have their arms raised as if they’re holding hands. (This can also be described as the laughing Buddha pose.)

The first display took place in a circle around Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate. One and a half million people saw the exhibit, always free of charge. The circle symbolizes the Art of Tolerance. Since then, they’ve toured 5 continents and stood in an alphabetical circle in the centers of 17 host cities.*

Uzbekistan and Uruguay
Uzbekistan and Uruguay
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Panama

In 2008 the Buddy Bears came to the Schlossplatz in downtown Stuttgart. (Read my post The Year the World Came to Party about how the 2006 Soccer World Cup transformed Germany. The Schlossplatz is where Uwe and I went each night with friends to watch the games on big screens.)

The United Buddy Bears send a message about peace, understanding, love and tolerance among the world’s nations, cultures and religions. Each bear is painted with images of the culture, history, landscape, economy, art and music of its country.

IMG_2487When new bears are commissioned, the older ones are auctioned off. All monies go to UNICEF and other childrens’ charities. To date (December 2013), over 2 million Euros have been raised for charities such as Eva Herlitz’s Buddy Bear Help!

Over 240 artists have been involved in the project, and more than 30 million visitors have seen the United Buddy Bears. A smaller circle of United Buddy Bears-The Minis (1 meter high) also tours.

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South and North Korea, side by side
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Brazil and Bulgaria

IMG_2452 IMG_2453 IMG_2454The United Buddy Bears exhibitions are always opened by national and foreign dignitaries. They even have a Special Ambassador:  the actress Dennenesch Zoudé. After he saw the bears in  Berlin, actor Jackie Chan made sure the bears came to Hong Kong.  UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Sir Peter Ustinov saw them and he insisted that Iraq be represented.IMG_2464

There is one very special grey and white bear, a polar bear. He has the image of Albert Einstein and the following quote: ‘Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding’.

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Kirgyzstan, Columbia, Congo and Congo-Brazzaville

NOTE: * It’s fascinating to consider that United Buddy Bears change their order as they travel. The circle is always organized in the language of the host country. Buddy Bears may suddenly hold hands with distant or hostile neighbors…IMG_2495

http://www.buddy-baer.com/en.html

Selected Bibliography:

Herlitz, Eva & Klaus, United Buddy Bears — Die Kunst der Toleranz. Bostelmann & Siebenhaar Publishers, 2003. ISBN 3-936962-00-6.

Herlitz, Eva & Klaus, United Buddy Bears — World Tour. NeptunArt Publisher, 2006. ISBN 3-85820-189-8.

Herlitz, Eva & Klaus, United Buddy Bears — The Art of Tolerance. 384 pages, English/German, December 2009, ISBN 978-3-00-029417-4.

Photos Copyright © 2013 Jadi Campbell. (All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres

D31_2822_DxOWe’ve come to Paris for a quick getaway, and Stuttgart is less than 4 hours by direct fast train. As we think about what we want to do and see, we realize neither of us have ever visited Chartres.

Uwe and I go out of our way to see sacred places around the globe. (See my posts The Cult of Bà Chúa Xứ or The Music of the Heavenly Spheres for some photos and tales from other sacred spots.) Energies gather in some unlikely places. Sometimes I stand in famous spots and am disappointed, while a place less known for religion makes me feel the presence of the divine.

Chartres. I’ve been trying for days – weeks, actually – to summarize the “facts” about this site. It was built 1140-1260 and the labyrinth was laid in the first decade of the 13th century. I wonder what to mention about Chartres’ 1,000 years as a pilgrimage destination, or the female energies of the cathedral and their tenderness. Mary’s tunic, the Sancta Camisia worn at the birth of Jesus Christ, was brought here by Charlemagne. The king in turn had been given the relic as a gift during a trip to Jerusalem.

When the earlier church building burned on June 10, 1194, the Sancta Camisia miraculously survived. Chartres remains an important Marian pilgrimage center, and the faithful still come from around the world over to honor it.D31_2829_DxO

Chartres is one of the most impressive Gothic cathedrals on Earth. Back in my college days at the University of Oregon, Professor James Boren in his Chaucer and Medieval Literature classes explained Chartres as literally turning the architectural form inside out. For the first time the ribs holding up the entire structure had been placed outside, allowing the inside heart of the structure to soar up into the Heavens, seemingly without limits. The support of flying buttresses was necessary because of the unprecedented size and heights of the stained glass windows and the nave. Professor Boren’s face glowed; this stern and learned man radiated as he lectured about a place that he said changed him when he saw it. That lecture and the look on his face stayed with me. Chartres: someday I would see it.D31_2883_DxO

***

Chartres Cathedral contains one of the few remaining medieval labyrinths. It’s large with a circumference of 131 feet, almost exactly the same size as the West Rose window.

Rose Window
Rose Window

In the Middle Ages, French church labyrinths were the sites of Easter dances involving clergy and the tossing of a leather ball. Sadly, the labyrinths were destroyed, covered over, or hidden by Church authorities suspicious of their powers and pagan beginnings. (Labyrinths, including Chartres’, traditionally had an disk or placque of Theseus and Ariadne and the Minotaur at their centers. In fact, another name for a cathedral that contained a labyrinth was the “Domus Daedali” [House of Daedalus], a nod to antiquity’s Daedalus, designer of the labyrinth that held the Minotaur in Knossos.) *

But, Chartres’ labyrinth survived. I learn that while it’s covered by chairs most of the time, the labyrinth is made free for visitors to enter on Fridays. My one request to Uwe for our trip becomes, “Please let’s go to Chartres on Friday!”

So here we are, entering one of the holy pilgrimage destinations in Christianity.

Chartres. Once inside, the cathedral’s beauty immediately takes my breath away. I am so deeply moved that in the next moment I’m close to tears. Whatever I expected, this sacred soaring space is beyond all imagination. Light streams in through the windows and illuminates the visitors, pilgrims, and the simply curious. All of us are suffused in colors.

For a while I just walk around. Uwe’s already moved off with his camera, ready as always to use his art with photography to capture in images what my brain grapples with in words.

As the minutes pass I grow more and more stunned. And I remain dangerously, or is that gorgeously, close to breaking into tears. There is an energy to this place, a sense of the holy and the really, really blessed, that I have seldom felt anywhere.D31_2796_DxO

The Schwedagon Pagoda in Burma comes to mind. It is the most important pagoda in the country, and I felt the top of my head buzz like it was going to blow off from the concentration of religious energies. Or a back pond in the Adirondacks with only my family as fellow witnesses: loons with a pair of chicks calling in low cries to one another as they eyed us but didn’t swim away. Or a tiny Greek Orthodox church in Thessaloniki, supposedly built on the site where Apostle Paul preached. I attended on Sunday with my friend Cynthia and our Greek host Fotis, who led us up to an altar surrounded by burning, hand-dipped wax tapers. Fotis insisted we take bread from the common basket. Tears streamed on both our faces; I finally felt the deeper meaning of breaking bread in fellowship.

All of these places’ sacred energies are present in Chartres. It is so much more than I deserve or had awaited. I take a deep breath to center myself, and move forward to stand poised at the entry to the labyrinth.

***

“A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. …D31_2798_DxO

“A labyrinth is an archetype with which we can have a direct experience. … It is a metaphor for life’s journey. It is a symbol that creates a sacred space and place and takes us out of our ego to “That Which Is Within.” At its most basic level the labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are. …D31_2790_DxO

“A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is like a puzzle to be solved. It has twists, turns, and blind alleys. It is a left brain task that requires logical, sequential, analytical activity to find the correct path into the maze and out. A labyrinth has only one path. It is unicursal. The way in is the way out. There are no blind alleys. The path leads you on a circuitous path to the center and out again.D31_2788_DxO

“A labyrinth is a right brain task. It involves intuition, creativity, and imagery. With a maze many choices must be made and an active mind is needed to solve the problem of finding the center. With a labyrinth there is only one choice to be made. The choice is to enter or not. A more passive, receptive mindset is needed. The choice is whether or not to walk a spiritual path.” – Dan Johnston, Ph.D. at www.lessons4living.com

Exterior Chartres Cathedral
Exterior Chartres Cathedral

While I walk the labyrinth and contemplate the mystery of the sacred**, Uwe photographs me. When I see his photos later I’m surprised, and glad.

***

NOTES: * Another name for the eleven-circuit labyrinth is the “Chemin de Jerusalem” or Road of Jerusalem. Walking the labyrinth in Chartres or other places could be made instead of making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

** I haven’t even tried to talk about the lunations of the labyrinth. Their meaning is still debated. A celestial calendar? Esoteric design of the deeper mysteries?

Walking a Sacred Path. Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. Dr. Lauren Artress, Riverhead Books, 1995.

http://www.sacred-destinations.com/france/chartres-cathedral

http://www.labyrinthos.net

http://www.lessons4living.com/chartres_labyrinth.htm

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from France and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.