One of the strangest experiences as a traveler is to visit a place that later vanishes. I’ve visited two countries that no longer exist: West Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Uwe and I once stood on a part of the summit at Mount Etna on Sicily. A few months later a flow of erupting lava buried the very spot where we’d stood. It’s in the nature of Nature to be transitory. Nothing lasts forever.
Maybe that’s why Sicilians pray when they drive by spots where the lava flow stopped just short of towns. Every single time an Italian car passes, the driver makes the sign of the Cross. I laughed – but they sure know something about life’s fragility.
Some changes are somber. In 2009, before Myanmar briefly opened up to the world, Uwe and I spent a month exploring the country. Once known as Burma, Myanmar was closed off to the outside. We needed special permits to be allowed into several places.
We explored spots that seemed to have sprung out of fairy tales, like this market in Sittwe.
We took off our shoes to enter temples.
Those areas of Myanmar are shut tight again. It feels like a book of fairy tales that has been closed and locked away. All the mysterious creatures can’t be seen anymore. But the ogres and demons and the special people with their magic remain…
When places vanish from our consciousness, they aren’t really gone. Sometimes, they are simply hidden.
As you drive past the spot where they were once visible, be sure to make a sign to ward off bad fortune. And make sure you acknowledge the spirits now unseen…. but very much still there.
My books are Broken In: A Novel in Stories, Tsunami Cowboys, Grounded, and The Trail Back Out.
Tsunami Cowboys was longlisted for the 2019 ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Award. The Trail Back Out was honored as 2021 IAN Book of the Year Award Short Story Collection Finalist for the Independent Author Network, and American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Award Finalist: Fiction Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award. Broken In: A Novel in Stories was a semifinalist for the international 2020 Hawk Mountain Short Story Collection Award from Hidden River Arts, and named a Finalist for Greece’s international 2021 Eyelands Book of the Year Award (Short Stories).
Click here for my author page to learn more about me and purchase my books.
In The Trail Back Out two strangers meet in the woods. Children wear masks. A gambler hides in the cellar during a Category Five hurricane. A wife considers a hit-man’s offer. Princess Rain Clouds searches for happiness. An entire village flees, a life is saved, and a tourist in Venice is melting. Everyone keeps trying to make sense of strange events far in the past or about to occur. Let these characters be your guides. Join them on the trail back out – to a familiar world, now unexpectedly changed. The Trail Back Out was named an American Book Fest 2020 Best Book Awards Finalist in the category Fiction: Anthologies. The title story The Trail Back Out was longlisted for the 2021 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Award.
Click here for my author page to learn more about me and buy my books.
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.
Traditionally, artists reproduce religious murals found on the walls of Bagan’s 1,300 temples.  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.
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.” 
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.
I just made my second trip to Myanmar. Or Burma, as the country was once known. My sister Pam and I spent a grand weekend exploring just a few of the thousands of temples at Bagan. [1, 2] Most date back to the 11th – 13th Century.
Along with the temples that seem to grow out of the ground everywhere you look, Bagan is a major center for traditional art forms including lacquerware, sand paintings and wood carving.
On previous trips Pam has purchased hand carved figures from a local artist. We went in search of his shop, and a figure known as a spirit guide accompanied me back to Germany.
Khim Maung Zaw creates and sells from a small shop. He graciously signed the sandalwood figure I wanted, and allowed me to photograph his art.
I am delighted to recommend Mr. Zaw and his beautiful carvings.  His shop’s address is:
I hand-carried lacquer ware and my spirit guide for the long 24 hour journey back home. When I removed all the bubble wrapping he seemed surprisingly alive. I gently unwound the cloth strips, feeling anxious.
I was delighted that he’d survived the trip intact. A spirit guide now stands in my home, pointing the way towards the path to enlightenment.