It’s that time again: the World Cup. In honor of the season, I give you 3 posts that (along with a motley bunch of other stuff) mention Fußball, Pink Floyd, a hotel from hell, bar none the largest and greatest party I’ve ever been to, and one damned good pizza.
Laos’s most important religious festival opens with a parade led by monks and government officials, accompanied by musicians in ethnic costumes.
The faithful follow, carrying colorful, decorated structures (wax castles, or phasat).
These are high towers built by hand to resemble castles. But such castles! These beautiful structures are covered with yellow wax flowers, especially scented with honey. Offerings of money and gold paper further decorate the towers, which are carried three times in a clockwise direction around the stupa. The procession is led by the temple’s monks, who are chanting Pali verses. Then the castles are placed on the stupa, and on the ground candles and incense are lit to ask for Buddha’s blessing.
To place castles at this event brings extra-special merit as they are an especially worthy offering. According to legend, a monkey offered the Buddha honey and was rewarded with a human incarnation. The honey in the yellow wax flowers is a symbol of this great honor.
Monks are available to receive offerings of money and place the towers (sometimes precariously!) on the stupa.
The festival brings everyone together, regardless of ethnic group or social standing. The procession shows solidarity among communities as people from all walks of life take part in the festival. Everyone dresses in their best clothes, and people from all over the country attend. Groups across Laos try to bring at least one wax castle to the stupa. The stupa itself is the country’s most important religious edifice, believed to contain a sacred relic of the Buddha.
We spent a long time on the grounds, quietly watching the comings and goings. People laugh and talk and play music as they make their offerings, but the solemnity of the procession made me sorry I didn’t have on a skirt or dress, or pay to rent a sarong for the event. Tourists are welcomed but there is nothing touristy about this sacred ritual. It was an overwhelmingly, intensely Laotian celebration. As always: I feel honored and lucky that Uwe and I were there for that full moon, and that we continue to get to witness the wonders of this precious world.
NOTES: “November 28, 2012 Wax Castle Procession” Vientiane Times, The First National English Language Newspaper
We began our trip to southern Spain in Granada. When I stood inside Granada’s Cathedral, I suddenly – and very vividly – remembered what and how I’d seen it 40 years earlier. At the Alhambra, my memories were blurry remembrances of running water.
A few days later in Córdoba, I had a further experience with spatial imprinting. We spent a half day in the Mezquita, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Mezquita was first built in the mid-6th century as a Visogoth church, built up in the 780s as The Great Mosque of Córdoba, and finally re-dedicated as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción) in 1236. The Mezquita’s altar incorporates and blends Catholic iconography and design into the original Moorish structure.
The early Muslim prayer hall is filled with rows of arches in colored bands of stone. They seem to stretch into Eternity.
This hypostyle hall (meaning that the roof rests on pillars) contains a grand 856 columns of finest jasper, marble, onyx and granite. These columns are topped with the arches, which are futher topped with more arches.
If Granada’s Cathedral is all soaring heights, the Mezquita in Córdoba is an endless repetition of forms. Gaze in any direction and turn your body in a slow circle. The repeating arches always bring the viewer back to the beginning again.
The repeating patterns are beautiful. They’re haunting, too; it’s no accident that what I recall best from my first trip to Andalusia are deeply buried memories of graceful forms in plaster, stone and tiles.
What would I say if you were to ask me to select one thing I remember most after my first visit to the Mezquita as a teenager, all those years ago? I’d say: A sense of wonder.
Islamic architects and artists are masters of geometric decoration. Their patterns’ deeper purpose is to bring visitors and viewers to a sense of another, underlying reality. Maybe it’s just the beauty in the world. Perhaps it’s the presence of God. I’m perfectly fine with either explanation.
I rediscovered the whimsical and the wondrous as I gazed at repeating, interlocking, intertwined squares, circles, triangles, flowers, tessellations and stars.
Artwork both secular and sacred is woven into every stroke of calligraphy that embellishes gorgeous walls and doorways and niches at both the Alhambra and in Córdoba. The effect is one of standing in a house of mirrors or an echo chamber with lights and patterns extending on and out into Forever.
No single detail stayed. Just… a fleeting glimpse of the Divine.
Uwe and I recently went on a holiday in southern Spain. I was excited when we decided Andalusia would be a good spot for an autumn getaway. We’d each been there before, but it would be our first trip to the region as a couple. He was there in his PJ (pre-Jadi) days. I visited much earlier, with a group for my high school Spanish Club. I was 17 years old and on my very first trip out of the country.
I thought back to that high school trip over 40 years ago and wondered what, if anything, I’d remember. That first trip was so exotic! And I had a revelation as I looked back. I realized the chaperoned trip was what set me up for a lifetime of loving travel.
Memory is a funny thing. For the first day or two I felt somehow disappointed. Nothing I saw struck me with that aha! feeling. I didn’t get that rush that comes when you see a beloved place or face again. And then that sense of wonder arrived after all.
We’d started off our trip in Granada and sure enough, memories came back to me. They weren’t at all what I expected, though. I didn’t recognize the lay-out of old city streets or a particular sight. Instead, what happened is this: we went to the Cathedral.
Uwe was off taking photos, so I wandered around the huge space by myself. All at once I had a memory, but the memory that overwhelmed me was spatial. I couldn’t recall a single religious image or statue. What I did recall was all about proportion. What I suddenly knew again was the thickness and height of the cathedral’s pillars as I gazed up.
I was re-experiencing the vastness of this structure. Then, the instant I looked down from the pillars to the floor, all at once I recognized the pattern of black and white floor tile squares.
It was the oddest déjà vu I’ve ever felt. I had visited this space before and tucked a Dimensional memory away in my brain. And it wasn’t just the usual 3-Dimensional memory. I was living an experience occuring on four planes, if you include Time.
In a split second I finally ‘got’ what Einstein told us a century ago about time and space.
It happened several times on this trip. I’ll return soon with new posts to tell you more.
When Kim had told her friends back home about the tour, everyone was excited. “Wow! India! You’ll have incredible adventures! It has the most powerful spiritual energy. They say you go to India and come back changed.”
She’d responded with vague remarks; Kim was a reluctant pilgrim. She didn’t trust people who talked about India as a portal to enlightenment.
But Goa was too Western for her tastes after all. After ten days on the beach, she hungered for the real India… whatever that was. She wouldn’t experience more than a small chunk of the subcontinent. What did she expect, beach parties or yoga in ashrams? Goat curry, or moguls and the Taj Mahal? Ayurveda medicine, or Kashmir shawls? Nonviolent resistance, or gang rape and murder on a public bus? Castes and slums and hovels, or India’s headlong advances as a BRIC nation?
There was surely more than the mutilated saint of Goa’s Catholicism. “There are as many religions as there are people on the planet,” Gandhi had said. India was Hindu and as easily Muslim and Buddhist and Zoroastrian and Christian and Jain and Sikh and Baha’i and….
And, Kim reminded herself, India’s a mirror. Travelers who expect poverty and squalor find both in spades. Visitors seeking enlightenment find that, too. What am I here for? If I stay open minded, what’ll I find? She chewed the tip of her pen. Goa was Portuguese, she considered writing, and gorgeous ocean views, the rave scene and meals eaten in beach shacks. Every sentence sounded like factoids from a travelogue.
I’d been warned: the 5-Star reviews couldn’t last forever. “Be prepared,” people cautioned me. “Trolls are out there and sooner or later one of them will pan a book. It’s going to be ugly.” I don’t check for reviews on Amazon much as I take the long view. Writing a book is a slow process, and building up a list of reviews can take a while. I’ve been pleasantly surprised to receive consistently solid, glowing reviews.
I got my first 1-Star review. The German guy says Tsunami Cowboys is the worst book he’d ever read. He didn’t finish it. And, after page 56, HE BURNED IT.
WTF? Really?? In the 21st century, people are still burning books?!?
I went into shock. I was horrified. Shaken. Ashamed, even. In my worst nightmares, I never ever ever imagined someone would actually destroy my words like this. Until now, it was beyond my powers of imagination.
I got out a copy of the book. What could possibly be so offensive? I opened to page 56 and the peak of a chapter in which Coreen, one of the main characters, is trapped in a cult and can’t get out.
Ok…. Maybe the troll was upset by the topic. I sure was; that’s why I wrote about it. If he’d made it to the end of the book he would have learned the following: I’m religious. I believe in God. My heroine’s story continues well past the page where he stopped reading.
If he’d bothered with the author’s Afterword, he’d have learned my personal reasons for even including this thread in my book.
I’m appalled that someone would be so hateful. I questioned everything I am doing as a writer, and worried about the consequences of exercising my voice. Then I remembered: I just went to a high school reunion. It was a fantastic weekend spent seeing wonderful people again. By far one of the most lovely is a woman who was a missionary.
She’s read both my novels. At the reunion, she made a point of telling me that the story of Coreen and the cult disconcerted her, and she had to put Tsunami Cowboys down for a while. It hit a little too close to home. But, she said, she picked it back up a few months later, read it to the end, and liked the story I told very much.
So that reassures me.
Words contain a lot of power, more than we realize. My encounter with the troll really brings that realization home to me, and in the future I will pay closer attention. His other reviews have the same ugly caustic tone, so I’m not alone. I’m not sure if that makes me feel better, or worse.
As my dear writer buddy Nancy Carroll remarked: “You’re now in good company, Jadi. Think of the books that have been burned through the ages.”
Think about them.
NOTES:  http://www.ala.org/bbooks/
 I swear it just came to my notice that this is Banned Books Week: September 27th – October 3rd.
On July 4th, Germany made soccer history. They are the first country to ever make it to four World Cup Semi-Finals in a row. I’m back in the US for a visit, and watched that game early in the morning on my friend’s couch with the German flag in face paint on my cheeks and a German lei draped around my neck.
I came to soccer late. It wasn’t until after I moved to Europe in 1992 that I realized how exciting the World Cup is. The globe takes its soccer pretty seriously (understatement of the century!); I first became a fan out of a need to share in the experience or miss out on life for weeks at a time. When Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, I became a fan for real. What great matches! What a party!
So here I am in 2014, cheering on everyone. I’ve cajoled my friends into going to pubs and restaurants with wide screen televisions, or watching at home. I was happy to see the USA make it through the elimination round in Group G (the Group of Death), ironically up against Ghana, Portugal, – and Germany. I rooted for both even as I knew Germany would take it.
During the next round I watched the Argentina-Belgium match on a Spanish speaking station. I had the volume turned low, but I love hearing the cheering and chanting of fans in the stands.
The sounds suddenly reminded me of Pink Floyd, of all things. I was 16 when Dark Side of the Moon was released, and if you know me that fact explains everything. But Floyd’s earlier album (and that’s a word that really dates me) Meddle contains the song “Fearless” with a background of singing Liverpool F.C. fans. At the time I didn’t know from soccer. I was sure the sound had to be religious chanting, like the noise of saffron robed Indians on a hillside in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Remember the scene in Dharmsala where they sing out notes and point at the sky? I somehow made a connection between religion, and Pink Floyd, and joyous tones.
It was decades later that I moved to Europe. When I heard the chants of fans in the stadiums I realized with a start that it’s really about soccer.
So it’s all come full circle. I’m back for a visit in the wonderful country of my birth; I’m watching the land I currently call home kick butt and take names as they make sports history; and it’s all accompanied by a soundtrack that returns to me to one of the happiest times of my life.
GO TEAM !!!
A shout out to Mark O’Brien and American Dream Pizza for opening up the bar early so we could watch Germany make more history as they beat Brazil. 7-1, baby! http://www.adpizza.com/
Soccer ball image courtesy http://www.dreamstime.com. Cover art work for Pink Floyd’s Meddle, image courtesy of Wikipedia. Music video courtesy of YouTube.