November 11th, or 11/11, is an odd German holiday known as St. Martin’s Day (Martinstag). St. Martin of Tours (316 – 297 CE) is a saint associated with modesty and altruism (aren’t they all?). Legend has it that St. Martin slashed his cloak in half to save a homeless person from freezing. His holiday used to be followed by a fast that lasted a long, hungry period of weeks, stretching out to Christmas. 
But St. Martin’s Day is celebrated here in southern Germany by eating a special dish of duck or goose (Martinsgans), accompanied by red cabbage cooked with apple, and homemade dumplings known as knödel.
When it gets dark, nighttime glows with candles from lantern processions (Martinsumzüge or Laternenumzüge). The streets fill with adults, accompanying children who carry hand-made lanterns. In our village the procession is led by an actor dressed up as the saint. In some areas the parade follows behind an actor dressed up as a Roman soldier on horseback. 
The tradition to eat a goose (today usually replaced by a duck) on St. Martin’s Day is believed to go back the medieval tax system. November 11th was one of the days when medieval vassals had to pay taxes, and peasants often paid with a goose.  Another popular story is that a gaggle of honking geese betrayed Martin’s hiding place: he hid in a goose pen from the people of Tours when they wanted to make him a bishop. 
All the local restaurants and beer gardens have duck and goose dishes on their menus. Reserve your table now! they cajole.
In all the years I lived in San Francisco, I never ordered or willingly ate duck. Bizarrely shiny, glistening, reddish shellacked duck carcasses hang on meat hooks in the front windows of Chinese restaurants throughout the city. And hang. And hang. And hang. Just the idea of the oldness and congealed fat covered with flies of this ‘special dish’ turned my stomach. Strongly flavored meat that’s been aging for probably as long as the restaurant’s been in business? Yuck! I’ll take a pass…
But I recall with glee the Peking duck Uwe and I ate in Beijing. The restaurant specialized in only Peking duck, along with all the pomp and circumstance such a dish demands.
Our Chinese friend Weiyu orders for us, but every single table wants the same meal. Waiters are formally dressed, complete with chefs’ toques, mouth masks and protective gloves. By the end of the evening they carve hundreds of plates of duck.
May November 11th bring you flights of fancy and a visit from the Bluebird of Happiness. By now the ducks and geese, indeed, all migrating birds have already left for warmer climates. Despite the record-breaking warm days here in Germany, winter is coming (yes, we hear you John Snow).
I present to you installment #7 from my blog thread describing what to call groups of animals … See how many you can guess. Answers listed at the bottom of the page. (I’m especially proud of No. 5 on this week’s list!)
Their knot knotted in the mud.
He heard the murmuration’s murmurs.
Unblinking, the stare stared back.
The dole didn’t look doleful.
The earth’s earth was in the earth. ***
Stuffy noses don’t suit a sute.
Knot of toads 
Murmuration of starlings
Stare of owls 
Dole of turtles 
Earth of foxes; place the vixen (female fox) searches out to raise her kits; ground she finds the earth in. ***3 uses of the word!
I always feel a little strange when I recognize it’s time to mark milestones and I have several to announce.
This is my 99th blog post.
I’ve posted in these virtual pages twice a month since I began way back in September of 2012. It all started with my husband’s suggestion that I establish an Internet presence….
My published books are fiction, and this blog serves as a good place to present excerpts. Potential readers of my books might want a sample of my writing and a glimpse of the human being behind the words. It’s also a place for non-fiction essays. I get to explore ideas and topics that don’t need to be transformed for novels. Posting every other week is great writerly discipline. I’ve never missed a bi-monthly posting date!
…. and this all began simply as a way to introduce my two novels Tsunami Cowboys and Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Both are available at amazon.com in book and eBook form.
It’s been a fun journey these last three years! Thanks to all of you for visiting these pages. I wish everyone the happiest of holidays. I’ll be back in the new year with an announcement. Milestone #2 is on the way!!!
My father was a fisherman. If you grow up in the house of someone who takes his fishing seriously, you learn to love fish.
Although I can’t imagine that scenario.
My childhood was filled with family camping trips where brook trout, large and small mouth bass, sunfish, perch and blue gills filled the menu. This is one of the only times I was glad I don’t have brothers, because my sisters and I got to fish with Bobbo. Now I’m not saying a son would have been his sole fishing companion, but in all likelihood that would’ve been one of their bonds. As it was, one girl rowed the boat while Bobbo and the others cast lines off the back. If we all hiked in to a back pond in the Adirondacks, one of us floated on the second, mini inflatable raft and did her own fishing.
When everyone moved away and established adult lives, visits to see Mom and Bobbo always included a meal of fish. I remain unspeakably moved that my father began to freeze the fish he caught, making sure there’d be enough when everyone came home for the holidays. Every family has its own food traditions. For the Campbells, one of the best is fish for breakfast. The simplest and best of recipes, whether prepared over a campfire or on the stove in your fancy kitchen is: Fry some bacon until crisp. Dredge trout in seasoned corn meal. Fry the fish in the bacon drippings. Serve with the bacon, scrambled eggs, Sandy’s coffee cake or toast with jam (preferably homemade by somebody you know and love), mugs of hot coffee and glasses of juice.
Trust me. I expect to eat this meal in Heaven.
Flash forward to my recent trip to visit my sister Pam in China’s New Territories.The town of Sai Kung receives lots of weekend day trippers from Hong Kong who come for the green scenery and the quieter pace. And to eat, because Sai Kung’s waterfront is lined with restaurants.
Almost all of them keep live fish and crustaceans in tanks out in front.
Customers bring their own catch and pay a fee to have it prepared based on weight, or you can select the seafood of your choice. The restaurant will prepare it steamed with ginger, cooked with soy sauce and scallions, or deep fried and served with a sweet and sour sauce.
Pam and I sat down at an outdoor table to order. The waitress had us follow her over to the live tanks and we chose snapper.
Choosing our meal was more intimidating than it sounds. Some of the fish were ridiculously huge. How much would our fish cost? She eyeballed it and announced, 450$HK, plus the fee to prepare it. Not cheap.
What if a group of customers came in and ordered a one hundred pound fish? What would that cost? Could the cooks prepare it whole? Just how big a fish can a deep fat fryer hold, anyway?
A short time later a man brought out our fried snapper. He gave us a few seconds to appreciate its sizzling and then upended a plate of sweet and sour sauce. The sauce contained bright, chewy, sweet strips that we finally identified as preserved citrus peel. True daughters of a fisherman, we stripped that fish carcass clean.
We’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.
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.
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.
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.
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. …
“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. …
“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.
“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
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.
I think I come from a great family. We’re a lively bunch who cook and eat long meals while everyone laughs and carries on rambling, looping conversations. We genuinely love entertaining others and we’re not afraid of being silly. (Just ask Uwe.) You’d like us. Really!
But the thing is, we’re One-Tracks. Get us on a favorite topic and we’ll crank about our passions all night if you let us. If you want to hear about the intimate lives of gypsy moths, my dad is your man! Or to know about the alternate takes of Beach Boys songs, go to my nephew. I love Shakespeare so much, and have done so for so long, that for a few months around the age of 10 I went around saying things like, “Methink my sister Pam doth stink.”
When we get interested in something we happily spend hours, days, weeks and months learning about that subject. We’re thorough. If a Campbell says he or she knows a bit about the topic you innocently mentioned, trust us: we probably do.
The acknowledged One-Track Supreme of the family is Barb. My sister is an artist, working in clay. She loves ceramics. Her husband Javier Cervantes works in ceramics, too. At their house you eat off hand made plates and cups and bowls. Their work or the work of artists they trade with grace the walls and shelves.
The garden out back is filled with clay pots and figures.
Two kilns occupy the garage (the cars are banished to the front yard) and Barb had a workshop built in back that doubles as an art gallery.
Barb’s obsession with clay goes way back. As children we made annual camping trips in the Adirondacks. (All the Campbells are crazy about the wilderness, so I guess you could say this is a shared One-Track passion.) We’d load the canoe and head in to a remote spot. Often we only saw other people on the trails in to the back ponds or a boat from afar out on the lake.
Barb spent happy, happy hours forming objects from mud and collecting shells and stones. She fetched long sticks for a makeshift store. In the middle of the biggest state park in the USA, Barb peddled her wares to the Great Outdoors.
She played on the completely isolated shore and waited patiently until one of her sisters walked by. “Want to buy something?” she’d ask. Pam and I rolled our eyes and ignored her. (One-Tracks can be cruel to one another. We know it’s dangerous to encourage the madness.)
Nothing deterred Barb, ever. During those weeks in the woods she was simply training for the life and career she was fated to follow. For decades Barb’s done the artist circuit, traveling around the country to art shows. Her work sells in galleries. She and Javier have joint exhibits.
Over the decades I’ve been her booth assistant. I have an object I bought at the last show where I assisted Barb. I went back several times to admire a walnut and curly bigleaf maple salad bowl. The woodworker told me that it sat on his home kitchen counter top for over a year until he was finally ready to part with it. He said he’d looked at that bowl each day. I love knowing that this piece, used for an utterly utilitaritan purpose, had been the object of his meditations.
The atmosphere at art shows is always fun. They’re usually held on summer and autumn weekends in lovely outdoor settings. You see functional and decorative work from all over the country. You wander through rows filled with art that people poured their hearts and dreams into. You step into booths that contain the creations of others who dare to share their visions.
There is magic in the single-minded passion of craftspeople and artists. It’s not simply desire: it’s a need and compulsion to create. Every artist, regardless of the medium they choose (or that chose them), has allowed a Muse to touch their lives. I can’t draw or paint or throw a pot, but I come away jazzed by the energy of all those artists. One-Tracks, all of them!
(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)
Barb’s work can be viewed at http://www.barbcampbellceramics.com
More pictures from the Adirondacks, our trips and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.