Holiday Insurance 1

It was quiet at the animal shelter and I left early. I showed up for my husband’s insurance company’s party after all. A garland hung over the front partition. Lights reflected off strands of silver and gold glitter a secretary had hung around a Christmas tree in careful rows. Somewhere on the floor people were singing an off-color version of Deck the Halls.

I checked Rich’s office, but it was locked. When I got back to the front Miranda, the department coordinator, was at her desk. She bent over, tugging at the stockings she wore under a plaid winter jumper.

“You’re here!” Miranda exclaimed. She recovered quickly. “Hi, Nicole. Rich wasn’t sure if you were coming.” Something in the words was stiff, but Miranda and I had never hit it off.

“Is he around?”

“Everyone just headed for the conference room.”

“Thanks, Miranda.” I walked away before she could pretend to engage me in friendly conversation.

The conference room was filled with staff and their significant others, helping themselves to catered food. Rich and the sales reps stood together. Each was twenty pounds overweight and hungry for a deal. All carried cell phones. They formed a modern day, electronic posse at the OK Corral.

Rich waved his arms for the group to quiet down, his face flushed. “Someone told me a new one yesterday.”

I’d been about to make my presence known, but my husband tells a great joke. “One fine weekend in August Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson went camping,” Rich began. “They found a remote spot in a clearing in the woods. The two set up their tent and fell asleep. Some hours later, Holmes woke his faithful friend.

“‘Watson,’ Sherlock Holmes spoke urgently. ‘Look up at the sky and describe what you see.’

“Watson obediently stared up into the skies. ‘I see millions of stars.’

“‘What do they tell you?’ Holmes asked.

“As usual, his companion was setting a puzzle to be solved. Watson pondered. ‘Their light tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets beyond what I can count. According to the constellations, Jupiter is in Leo. The warm air and the trees’ full foliage indicate late summer. From where the moon is over there on the horizon, time-wise it appears to be a quarter to three. I can see the Milky Way. It follows that tomorrow will be a beautiful day without clouds or rain.We’re in the middle of the wilderness, so it’s evident we are small and insignificant, but safe in the Lord’s hands. What do the stars tell you, Holmes?’

“The great detective was silent for a moment. ‘Watson, you fool, someone’s stolen our tent.'”

The conference room burst into laughter.

“That one’s for my wife Nick, who thinks I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a camp site,” Rich began, and I stepped forward. “Hey! Speak of the devil and she arrives! When did you get here?” My husband put an arm around me and gave me a kiss. It was more than just a display of good will for his colleagues; Rich was genuinely happy to see me. “Look at you!” he exclaimed.

I wore a brocade jacket over a white blouse and narrow black skirt. “I changed before I left the shelter.”

“Babe, you look great. I always tell you, you should dress in skirts more often.”

I opened my mouth to retort that I do wear them, as often as time and place allow. He flushed more deeply.

I walked to the window. Slow traffic crawled along the streets outside the office. Gray snow sprayed from under tires, sludge like my attempt at holiday enthusiasm. We’d had a short thaw, but then the softened snow turned to dangerous black ice.

“While I’m at it, can I get anyone another?” Rich asked the room. How many drinks had Rich had? Later that evening we planned to head to my parents’ house for a family get-together. His hand touched my elbow. “Babe,” he began.

I gave him a wide smile, pretending I didn’t see his guilty expression. “How ‘bout a drink for the spousal unit?”

Rich’s face smoothed out as he realized I was passing on righteous indignation. “I was going to ask if you wanted a gin and tonic,” he lied. “Here – take mine.”

“If you can’t beat’em, join’em!” I brought the glass to my lips. I swallowed and almost choked. It was a double, no, it tasted like a triple. I finished off the drink and followed Rich over to the conference table. He mixed new drinks as he kept up a line of patter.

“Can I get another?”

Rich grinned and refilled my glass.

Gin tonic varied cocktails with lima lemon and grapefruit Royalty Free Stock Photography

© Jadi Campbell 2016. From Grounded. Go to following link to order my books: https://www.amazon.com/author/jadicampbell

Gin and tonic image courtesy of dreamstime.com.

 

# 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 #

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!

My topics bounce all over the place like gleeful ping pong balls. I’ve written about current events like The Death of Robin Williams, Helping Refugees: Part 1 and Tunisia Without Terrorism, to the World Cup in The Year the World Came to Party.

I occasionally write about historic events, too. Several are 8:15 A.M.Amsterdam, and Stolpersteine 1: Tsunami Cowboy’s Stumbling Stones.

I riff on artists in Meet the One-Tracks and art, like the sacred sublime in Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres or sacred sexual in The Erotic Architecture of Khajuraho. I profile art made by human hands Wine and Sculpture, Wildly Creative in Upstate NY: The Ferros of Little York, Egypt 1: We had the entire Valley of the Kings to Ourselves or found in Nature: The Music of the Heavenly Spheres, Steamy Rotorua! and It Was a Bitterly Cold -22°.

Art can serve as reminders to bring us together, as in Stolpersteine 1: Tsunami Cowboy’s Stumbling Stones and The United Buddy Bears.

Of course, I write about writers: My Sister & Maurice Sendak and Baum, Bats, and Monkeys. I quote my beloved Shakespeare with Egypt 2: Along the Nile. Even Colleen McCullough gets a mention in The Outback!

And I write about writing itself: The Gift of Gab, Someone Burned My Book.

Food has been a topic: My Mother-In-Law’s Cookies, Despair Is An Exotic Ingredient, Adventures in China’s New Territories 3: The 100-Pound Fish, Deep Fried and Served with Sweet & Sour Sauce, The Fork is Mightier than the Sword. A Blog Post in Which I eat Paris, The Salt Pits and A Visit to the Food Bank, Part 1 &  2.

Holidays have been fun, from You Rang? (the worst/best Valentine’s Day in history) to Happy Halloween!

My day job is as massage therapist, and sometimes I write about healing and medicine. Helping Refugees: Part 1,  Massage in Indonesia: Lombok, Adventures in China’s New Territories 4: The Gods of Medicine, A Massage at Wat Pho are a few of the posts.

…. 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!!!

# 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99 # 99

Adventures in China's New Territories 3: The 100-Pound Fish, Deep Fried and Served with Sweet & Sour Sauce

IMG_7009IMG_7006My father was a fisherman. If you grow up in the house of someone who takes his fishing seriously, you learn to love fish.

Or not.

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.IMG_6610IMG_7211IMG_7187The 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.

IMG_7186

IMG_7008IMG_6611

IMG_7192Almost all of them keep live fish and crustaceans in tanks out in front.

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IMG_7012Customers 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.

IMG_7005IMG_6612Choosing 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.

IMG_6614What 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?

IMG_7013A 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.

It was good…. but.

Pam and I agreed. Our father’s fish were better.

NOTES: Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the images. Uwe’s photos of our earlier trips to Hong Kong and mainland China and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Tsunami Cowboys

Tsunami Cowboys

Prepare to meet Todd, a hero with dangerous fantasies. Coreen, trapped in a cult. Ronnie, dreaming other people’s futures. Guy, waiting for disaster at a Christmas Market. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train with a seductive stranger. By turns terrifying and funny, this is the story of people riding life’s waves… the tsunami cowboys.

It’s official: My new novel Tsunami Cowboys is available in paperback and eBook versions. Look for it on Amazon around the world. The following links will get you there for the US and Germany:Tsunami Cowboys (for Amazon.com) Tsunami Cowboys  (Amazon.de)

I’m excited and proud and tired and floating on air. This book is the results of the last two years of writing. Thanks for your encouragement and support. It has made this journey a real pleasure.

 

Book Excerpt: The Hostess 2

“I’m Lynn.”

“Josh. Nice to meet you, Lynn.”

“You’re joshing me, right?”

“Yeah, as in, I’m joshing you.” His voice had a strange note as if he were thinking, that old chestnut again.

His gaze swept me up and down. I sum myself up as average weight, median income, medium length brown hair (graying and dyed to hide that fact), and better than average features. Still attractive enough… for middle-aged. But Josh’s frank glance was admiring.

Bemused, I registered the fact that I was flattered.

We began the conversational short hand of strangers. “Lynn, where you off to?”

“I’m heading home.”

“I’m on my way to Portland,” Josh offered. “This is the tail end of a long business trip. I always take the train so I can work. I get a rental car after I arrive. But my God, this train’s packed!”

“I visit the coast the weekend before Thanksgiving, and bring back seafood,” I offered. “I barely fit my bags in the bin.”

The conversation stopped while we studied the menus the waiter brought. “Sea food stew,” I decided aloud. If the taste even remotely resembled the chowder I’d had at Mo’s Restaurant with my parents the day before, I’d be happy.

“The chicken,” Josh requested. “Can I talk the lady into joining me for some wine?”

“Actually, you can. I’d love a glass of rosé or white.” There’s something about train travel indeed… and it wasn’t like I’d be having airplane travel mile high sex with Josh in the bathroom. Is there a name for having sex on a moving train? I wondered suddenly.

Josh added, “…and the Semillon.” This time his smile was filled with promise.

I smiled back. When was the last time I’d flirted with someone?

The train staff had found their rhythms in the busy dining car. Our waiter was back almost immediately. He expertly opened a cabernet sauvignon. Josh swirled the wine in his glass and tried it, nodded his head. The waiter poured more and set the bottle down. Then he opened a second bottle, this one my white wine. “You don’t have to finish it,” Josh said when he saw my expression.

I decided to go with the flow. “Okay,” I nodded, and gave my approval. The wine tasted perfectly cold and crisply dry. The waiter set an ice bucket at the window. “Enjoy,” he said, and vanished back into the galley.

“Cheers.” Josh clicked his glass against mine and drank deeply. “Ah!” he set the empty glass back down and sighed with satisfaction. “So, are you getting out in Portland?”

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fifth chapter is titled, The Hostess.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: The Hostess 1

“Time is the thing I am made of. Time is a river that sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger that tears me apart, but I am the tiger; it is a fire that consumes me, but I am the fire.” – Jorge Luis Borges, “New Refutation of Time”, Other Inquisitions, 1952.

Well Trained

We filled every car and our suitcases, bags and packs threatened to topple from the bins. On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the entire West coast was taking the train.

I tried to read. The book I held dated me: it was three-dimensional and had paper pages. In the seats around me people bent over electronic devices or talked in muted tones. A young couple slept with their arms around one another and a blanket draped across their legs and torsos. The retiree in the window seat ahead of me dozed, his head gently rocking.

The doors to the train car slid open and a good-looking man stepped through. Perhaps in his late forties, he wore a sweater over slacks and loafers, and carried a slim brief case.

I watched him tuck something into his pocket. Small change, I guessed.

His aura called out, inviting me to look closer. He had the tan of a man who went on golf safaris in the Southwest. His well-cut clothes hid the extra pounds around his waist. Perhaps he’d consulted with a wardrobe coordinator; shades of dark green in the nubby sweater suggested understated taste and male power. He passed my seat and I was at eye level to his crotch.

Ooh! I thought. This guy really is a big man.

When he reversed directions and backed up, I bent my head and pretended fascination with the cover of my book. He looked at the purse on the next seat. “I think this spot is mine.”

I moved my bag and he sat down. His smile vanished when he realized there was no room for the expensive brief case.

He stood back up and pushed at a large blue backpack on the rack across the aisle. The hiking boots laced to it swung, but otherwise nothing budged. He turned to the bin above my head as the train jolted. The man lost his balance and a hand smacked my shoulder; it would have stung if he’d been wearing a ring.

When I looked up, I was back at eye level with his crotch.

“I am so sorry,” he apologized as he fussed with the luggage over our seats. Satisfied, he moved out of my personal space. “Stupid space allowance!” He spoke to the air, but a smile was back.

I picked up my purse as he looked a question at me. “Lunch,” I said. I swayed my way through the train to the dining car.

A harried waiter led me to a table for two and asked, “Ma’am, would you mind sharing your table? I know you reserved a table for one, but we can use any free seats. These pre-holiday trains are always totally booked.”

“Of course!”

“We’d sure appreciate that.”

“It’s really no problem,” I assured him, and meant the words. I enjoy the random interaction with other train passengers. And I never cease to be amazed at how much information people willingly reveal about themselves to perfect strangers.

Dining on board a moving train as the landscape glides by is somehow magical. Who’d claim the chair across the table? Someone heading back home for the holidays or making a long trek cross-country? Or someone like me, visiting the coast?

Five minutes later there he was, sitting across rather than next to me: the man with the good clothes and big body. “Well, well. We meet again,” he said.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fifth chapter is titled, The Hostess.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: What A Guy 3

They encountered air turbulence two hours into the flight and the pilots lost time. Air traffic was backed up when they reached European airspace. At last they landed in Frankfurt, ninety minutes late. Guy slumped over in a deep sleep and noticed nothing.

He woke to a strange sensation that was the absence of motion. Denice and Tia wore anxious expressions, waiting for him to rouse. Someone had gotten his carry on suitcase down for him.

Tia clapped her hands while Guy looked around and tried to understand why the plane was empty. “Mr. Guy, you were awfully brave! We hit bumpy air! I thought it was going to be bad, my mommy even got out a barf bag, just in case.”

“Tia!” Denice sighed.

“But Mommy, you didn’t use it. You were fine.” She drew the word out, fi-yine. “Mr. Guy, you slept like a baby, like there was nothing to worry about. That really gave me courage. You were zonked! I watched and did just like you.” Tia put her head against the side of the seat, closed her eyes, and snored loudly.

“I snored?” The child was informing him that he’d passed out.

“Like a trooper! No, that’s for when someone’s swearing! It’s okay, Mommy,” she added serenely. “Mr. Guy snored like a… a brick house. No, that’s not it. Like, a house on fire.”

Guy and Denice laughed and Tia joined in, all three laughing as if they’d never stop. The Lufthansa personnel watching in the aisle laughed too, relieved that they didn’t have a dead drunk – or worse, much worse – dead international passenger on their hands after all.

Denice and Tia retrieved their luggage at Baggage Claim and all three stood before a destinations board in the terminal. “Thanks again for waiting for me,” Guy repeated; he was still groggy. As he stared dispirited at the board, Guy knew he couldn’t face another flight, no matter how short.

They were taking a train on to Landstuhl. “I’ll walk you to the train platforms. I missed my connecting flight so I think I’ll just catch a train. Hey, I’ll go to Stuttgart. Aren’t Porsche and Mercedes Benz there? I’ve always wanted to go to the Porsche factory.” He lied, suddenly inspired. He and his therapist had worked out alternate plans in case Guy reached Europe too jittery to fly on. He’d arrived days before the conference began, so that he might take his time getting there. Progressive, systematic desensitization, he reminded himself.

They followed airport signs to the connected train station. Tia rode on top of the luggage trolley as Guy pushed. “So,” he asked, “will you get to see much in Germany?”

“It was planned as a family vacation. Our trip here.” Denice glanced up at Tia, perched humming. “Joe’s in the hospital,” Denice explained softly. “An IED; they’re telling me his condition is ‘serious but manageable’. Whatever that means. For his sake and Tia’s, I’m trying to stay optimistic. I want to wait until I see him before saying anything to her. It’s bad enough how much I worry.”

“Good heavens.” As they continued walking Guy held Denice’s hand in his for a long minute, a therapist unable to think of a single comforting word to say.

“I have to believe,” Denice’s eyes were tender as she checked again on Tia, “this will have been worth it. Joe still believes freedom to worship and vote and live as you choose are worth fighting for. Regardless of the deeper reasons for the war. My husband’s motivated by wanting a better world. They’re helping local groups rebuild.

“He was standing outside a school for girls when the explosion happened.” She looked at her daughter. “It’s the second time that school’s been destroyed. Like I said: whatever the other dynamics going on, we both hope for a better world for everybody’s children. They feel insurmountable at times, the problems,” she admitted. “But it’s all one world now. We have to believe that, because we’re parents ourselves.”

They reached the train station and Denice and Tia departed on the next train. Guy felt forlorn once they were gone, but he ignored the cold and his sense of foreboding. He tried to be stoic as he waited on the platform. No matter what, he wasn’t climbing on another plane! Maybe, just maybe, I can afford to sail home. I hear the QEII’s nice, he mused as a white and red ICE train approached.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fourth chapter is titled, What A Guy.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: What A Guy 1

Life is like a game in which God shuffles the cards, the devil deals them and we have to play the trumps. – Yugoslav proverb


Come Fly With Me

Everyone watched. A few people muttered and a businessman clapped sarcastically as the big man finally arrived. While he didn’t actually delay their departure, Guy Carnac boarded the plane twenty minutes after everyone else.

“Ladies and gentlemen, now that all passengers are on board we’ll be getting underway. It’ll just be another minute or two,” the captain’s voice soothed.

Guy found his seat, swallowed another pill, and pulled down the shade. He didn’t have a seat behind the bulkhead with legroom, but at least he had a solid wall to lean against. Too bad it had a window.

He tried to settle down, and in. He almost convinced himself that he was ready, doing fine – and ping! The fasten seatbelts lights blinked on. Guy buckled his belt and like the signal for a race, his heart began an adrenaline gallop.

The plane moved away from the gate with the slightest of jolts.

Systematic desensitization, Guy. The laws of aerodynamics will keep the plane in the sky. Calm breathing! But, he reminded himself, you know better than most people that planes crash all the time.

He breathed faster. Get a grip! The facts, doctor, the facts! Fiercely he recited, My name is Dr. Guy Carnac, I’m a respected – highly respected – Seattle-based therapist, I’m a fifty-four year-old male, maybe overweight, maybe my hair’s thinning, but my libido is still intact and not thinning, thank you very much. I’m heading to an international conference of my peers. What’s there to fear?

What’s to fear? For starters, what happens when we can’t lift off? The plane’ll keep rolling, too fast to stop. And we’ll hit a building, or cars on the freeway, or another plane as it taxies in.… Smoke will billow as we’re all engulfed in a fireball. He gripped the seat arms. I’m wheezing. I can’t breathe, is there oxygen? Should I pull down a mask? Why haven’t the meds kicked in? Is it too late to turn back? Can’t they halt the plane? DON’T THE PILOTS REALIZE THEY HAVE TO STOP THIS FLIGHT, RIGHT NOW? Oh God oh God oh God Oh Godohgodohdgodgodgodgod.

The little girl in the middle seat eyed him as she whispered with her mother. Guy closed his eyes and pushed his head hard against the side of the plane. Machinery vibrated under his temple as they accelerated. He whimpered. They left the ground: Breathe!

For the next ten minutes he was afraid he’d pass out or vomit. He fought a need to do both and kept his eyes firmly closed.

Something scratched his right arm.

Guy opened his eyes and blue candy ribbons, pink ponies, and tiny hearts swam in his vision. For a few startled seconds he was sure he was hallucinating. The child in the next seat wore colored barrettes in her braids and a serious expression.

She looked down. Guy followed her pointing finger and saw that he’d wrapped his right hand completely around the seat arm separating their seats.

He unclamped his fingers as they continued to hurtle through space. Was that the start of a nosedive we’re going down I’m trapped really trapped even if I make it out of this seat I’m stuck on this goddamned plane until we crash and – He yanked his thoughts hard from the eventual, inevitable spiral. Guy closed his eyes and began to pray.

The scratching returned, more insistent. “Mister?”

He peeked cautiously.

The child patted his forearm and then his hand for good measure. “I’m scared to fly, too. This is my first time. If you want, you can have my medicine. I aksed my mommy and she says yes. I told her, this guy needs it and I don’t! He’s more of a ‘fraidy cat than me!”

“Than I, Tia. Asked, not ‘aksed’. And we don’t call people names!” Tia’s mother leaned across her daughter and took Guy’s clammy hand in her own warm brown one. “I’m sorry, a little six-year-old here is excited to fly but still learning about verbal filters. This is Tia, and I’m Denice. But the offer is real. Tia was scared about such a long time up in the sky so her doctor suggested we bring along Benadryl, just in case. Somehow I think she’s not going to need it.” The little girl wasn’t listening, her attention focused on the flight magazine page that listed cartoon offerings.

Guy looked at Denice. She was dressed not in loose terry cloth ‘jogging clothes’ but rather in a flowing skirt for comfort, pretty slip-off shoes on her feet and a soft scarf around her neck. Denice smiled, and her aura grounded him.

He loosed his grip on her palm. “I’m Guy Carnac. Thanks!” His smile wobbled. “I’d sure love to take you up on that Benadryl. My own anxiety pills never kicked in.”

“Glad to. It’s in my carry on, Guy, so you just hang on til the all clear to get up. I’ll get it for you.”

Tia had followed their conversation and now she turned back to him. “Your name is Guy, and you’re a guy. You’re funny!”

“Tia! Remember what we tell you about how to address people who are older than you, namely, with respect? This is Mr. Carnac.”

“Thanks for the comment about respect, Denice. I’m not sure I deserve a whole lot right now! How about Tia calls me, Mr. Guy?”

Tia patted Guy’s forearm with her little hand again and gave him a wide grin. “Hey, Mr. Guy, smile. This plane’s not going down!”

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fourth chapter is titled, What A Guy.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

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.

***

Indonesien99_149
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.

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.