Thursday, December 5, 2013

THE ABSENCE of PRESENCE & Unconducted Wandering

Francesca Woodman

"Finding a sanctuary, a place apart from time, is not so different from finding a faith."
        Pico Ayer, Falling Off the Map:  Some Lonely Places of the World.
 I'm falling off the map for awhile - no maps on my taps - a little soft shoe in Turkey.

I'm flying carpet class

The *friend I'm traveling with & I have had 30+ years of wild & life changing adventures -- from white water rafting on the Colorado River to forging the Narrows during electrical storm in Zion National Park.  Add to those capers some scary Mormon encounters in Utah, bear wrestling in the Tetons, close call on the Stanislaus and a near death experience in the Ventana Wilderness.  (Just kidding about the Mormons). Dottie's the brains behind the operation; I'm there for camel wrangling and comic relief. 

People have nicknamed us Thelma & Louise, but for our Turkish trek we'll be following in the footsteps of two "Unconducted Wanderers":  English women, Rosita Forbes and Freya Stark.  They were part of a new generation of female adventurers in the 1920's & 30's -- Not really explorers since there wasn't much undiscovered territory; they were looking for something far less tangible than picture postcards, souvenirs or male conquests.** 

Freya Stark - "Passionate Nomad" - 1893 -1993

"To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.  You are surrounded by adventure," Stark wrote in Baghdad Sketches.  "You have no idea what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the Gods may offer it." 

Freya Stark
One of the first western women to travel in the Arabian desert, Freya risked her life for a taste of immortality. A charming eccentric & connoisseur of people, she learned Arabic in her 30's.  In the 1950's she voyaged to Turkey and wrote four books on the culture. Traveling with Leica in hand, until she was 90 years old, suffering exotic diseases and pulling herself out of all sorts of improbable scrapes.  She said, "the great and almost only comfort about being a woman, is that one can always pretend to be more stupid than one is and no one is surprised."

Rosita Forbes ("Women Called Wild", "Unconducted Wanderers"), half Scottish and half Spanish with enormous blue eyes and blue-black hair, worked as an ambulance driver during the first World War, receiving a couple of medals from the French government for her service.  She married a soldier & left England to write about China, Tibet, New Guinea, Fiji, Syria, Sudan, and Libya, where she disguised herself as a Bedouin, claiming a Cicassian mother to explain away her lousy Arabic.  Sheikhs found her too scrawny for their harems, but she was often a guest of honor at their tables, where they served her their local delicacy--sheep eyeballs, "glazed and often semi-raw." I don't know if Dottie has ever had sheep's eyeballs, but like Rosita she has faced down sandstorms in the desert, difficult camels and been held prisoner in her own tent (and for good reason!) 

Dottie's doppelganger:  Rosita Forbes - 1893 - 1967
 Appointments in the Sun - Rosita Forbes - "That is the charm of a map.  It represents the other side of the horizon where everything is possible.  It has the magic of anticipation without the toil and sweat...the perfect journey is never finished.  The goal is always just across the next river, round the shoulder of the next mountain.  There is always one more track to follow, one more mirage to explore." Exactement!

Lately I've been thinking a lot about PRESENCE.  The two ladies must have had it in spades.  Even in these old photos their eyes zoom in, direct and knowing.  You know it immediately when you look at a granddaddy tree, a pastel like Sue Lishman's, "The Outing," about a couple she keeps dreaming about, or a horse in a field --it stops you in your tracks-- a sharp intake of breath, no fiddle faddle. 

Kevin under the biggest Chestnut tree I've ever seen - Ruisses Forge
Horse near La Plaigne - The Outing

But nearly as startling is the Absence of Presence.  Do you ever feel like you are talking to someone and they're not really there?  Or worse yet, neither are you.  Bertold Brecht coined a theater term to describe a certain kind of alienation, a distancing effect:  verfremdungseffekt, to prevent an audience from completely losing themselves in the narrative, barring them from feeling empathy.

One experiences a sense of hovering, almost like a ghost, aware of the proceedings, but not able to participate. It's an epidemic these days, this sense of invisibility, of feeling unseen.

George Carlin - 1969
One of my favorite comedians, George Carlin once said:  "I've adopted a new lifestyle, one that doesn't require my presence."
Is there an antidote to the fragmentation we feel?  BE HERE NOW à la Ram Dass? Sometimes it's just a poem (like the one written by my brother below) or a piece of dark chocolate that opens my pores, awakens the senses, smashes the Hall of Mirrors. Sometimes it helps to go into silence, to put down all the gadgets so you can hear yourself weeping by the side of the road. 

Travel can break the heart open & heal it too.  In 11 days the unconducted wanderers pilgrimage will take us to Rumi's grave site in Konya for the 740th anniversary of his passing into the beyond.  Above the entrance to Rumi's shrine, there is a poem inscribed:  "This place is like the Ka'ba for lovers.  All come here broken and incomplete.  All leave whole."   Here's hoping!

Konya dervishes
"A pilgrim travels differently - always in a pilgrimage, there is a change of mind & a change of heart." John O' Donohue. 

Turning the Corner
Some words are like the air,
invisible and necessary.
Tonight, I am holding the word
'turn' in my hands and wondering
what it means, this humble
If you say it aloud without a 
direction, it seems to me to be
Seasons turn.
A pirouette is only a
One good turn.
                                                                   A turn for the
                                                                        -  Mark Kreighbaum

Whirling Dervishes - Konya

Those who don't feel this Love                                                      
pulling them like a river,
those who don't drink dawn                                                                    
like a cup of spring water
or take in sunset like supper,
those who don't want to change,
let them sleep.

This love is beyond the study of theology,
that old trickery and hypocrisy.
If you want to improve your mind that way,
sleep on.

I've given up on my brain.
I've torn the cloth to shreds
and thrown it away.
If you're not completely naked,
wrap your beautiful robe of words
around you,

and sleep.

Rumi - Translated by Coleman Barks

*Dottie Leroux - her documentary: Tuaregs & Toubabs- A Festival in the Desert
**Encylopedia of the Exquisite  

-and thanks to all who came for readings at Le Manoir de Longeveau on Sunday the 1st, for the second year in a row - a wonderful event. I especially enjoyed the two French girls who last year asked me questions about their boyfriends & this year asked me the same questions about different boyfriends.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

NOVEMBER'S CROC' of Gold - Substance & Shadow

Zimbabwe Artist Susan Lishman -

I love this particular November.  Somber charcoal sketch of a month with tinted trees, musty smells and forests full of fungi just waking up while everything else is starting to slumber. The torrential rains & the bravado of  the late flowers and leaves has me playing cello music...endlessly.  It is an autumnal tonic.  The poet, John O' Donohue spoke of how music is sometimes the only thing that can help us when "the dumbness of sorrow lands upon us."  I discovered Andrea Bauer, a cellist & German composer whose "Song for Eli" from an Iranian film of the same name brings me to a new threshold each time I hear it. You can find it on Youtube.

Forest - Charras
One morning I woke up from a dream about a friend who has trouble in her life.  The sky at sunrise was purple and black like a bruised plum.

Plum sky over balustrades
Early morning in the fields

It stopped raining for a few beats so I went out to feed some apples to the little Arabian up the road.  He reminds me of the feisty Arab named Phoenix we had when we lived out in Pt. Reyes, CA.  He was nicknamed the dumpster by all those he unseated. 

Listening for Apples
While hanging over the fence I remembered a shred more of my dream.  I was at a university studying the alphabet, but it was more than an alphabet because it was set to music, and I felt I could hear the tunes rising from the letters as they floated past me -- a divine music.  My friend's husband was in the dream too; he was working on a computer program that could synthesize letters with sounds that in turn became a healing sort of music.  I've looked at my friend's cards, and I believe she will be alright, but still I worry & want to send her "an apple a day to keep the doctor away."  Instead this guy is getting them all.  But my greedy lad is not getting any saffron.

"I'm just mad about Saffron - 
she's just mad about me."
         Donovan - Mellow Yellow

Crocus sativus Linnaeus
The Saffron Gatherers

I recently found out it is the humble crocus, close relative of the iris family, whose stamens add the fiery stab of gold to the heart of the flowers used to make saffron.  And I always thought it came from a saffron plant!  It comes, not from the common Autumn crocus, but one particular variety:  Crocus sativus Linnaeus. Forget caviar and even truffles - the world's most precious food item is saffron and much of it is produced in our region, the Poitou-Charentes, by a growing number of independent saffron producers.  One of the first historic references to the use of saffron comes from Ancient Egypt where it was used by Cleopatra & other Pharaohs as an aromatic and seductive essence & to make ablutions in temples and sacred places. Is that what the 1960's troubadour Donovan was singing about?

After conquering Gaul the Romans made themselves at home here, planting not only vineyards, but also fields of crocuses which yielded saffron for dyes, and for cleansing the waters of thermal baths.  In the 13th c., thanks to Dominican monks it appeared in Italy. Tuscany, Florence and Siena cultivated the most intense, aromatic saffron. The Poitou Charentes in France became a major producer with the coming of the Black Death in the mid-14th c. Large quantities of saffron were used to disinfect homes of families stricken with the disease.  The Arabs used it in anesthetics as well.

K&I became a bit obsessed with the Sativus Linneaus and set about hunting down some of the "crocs of gold".  We had a flight of fancy about planting them in special secret spots around the chateau grounds and then harvesting them next fall.  During Edward the III's reign in the Middle Ages, there's a legend that says a pilgrim brought a bulb of saffron hidden in a hole in his stick from the Middle East to the town of Walden, where it was grown and reproduced, bringing prosperity to the town.  We figured in the coming hard times this could be both a hedge against poverty AND the Black Death.  Even if we all succumbed to the Plague, the added aphrodisiac element would allow us to slip away with smiles on our faces.  A study of 47 college aged women at the Nara University of Education in Japan who sniffed vaporized saffron revealed significantly lowered anxiety levels.  The trouble is it takes about 85,000 handpicked stamens to produce one kilo of saffron.  I don't think there is a threat to Pfizer yet.

First we went to the Marché du Goût in La Rochefoucauld because we heard one of the major saffron producteurs would be there.  Alas, a no show!  But the chateau there was a consolation prize. 

La Rochefoucauld

Next we tried La Foire aux Dindons (Turkey Festival) at Varaignes.  It's said to date from the 16th c., the time of Henry IV and his right hand man the Duke of Sully; the only fair to be maintained over centuries.  Held every year on the 11th of November, Armistice Day, this little village of the Perigord is the Capital of Cocks.  The French were festooned with red poppies and memories of the war, hundreds in the streets, turkeys gobbling throughout the tiny village. The French never forget the fallen, their losses; history lines their faces. 

Varaignes autrefois
Every farmer brings his most beautiful animals which are led through the village by guards in traditional garb.  Members of the "confrerie du dindon," these guards will meet up with the "confrerie de volailles" (poultry guards).  They go through the market like stars, a little festival of Cannes, and then there is a gigantic banquet for around 700 people.  

Festival of Stars

Maybe there were crocuses and saffron to be found somewhere down the crowded lanes, but we left without them--instead, under our arms were loaves of pain du four, miel de forêt, bottle of Pinaud & a special confiture made from the fruit of the Medlar happy memories.

Later we talked to our resident Medicine Woman, Jacquie, who had planted some crocus bulbs a few years ago, but with little success. She said they were difficult to cultivate and demanded quite specific soil conditions. Plus we'd need a mule because the bulbs are sown by hand & one is forced to walk in a bent position for hundreds of yards while a mule follows with a Roman plough to cover the ridges.  I know where I can find a donkey, but he's really lazy!  Well, we haven't given up.  We'll find some bulbs, plant them in June & by next November we'll have, if not a Croc, a thimble of Gold. 

There's been a cartload of challenges for many this Autumn.  When Mercury goes retrograde as it did from October 21 to November 11th, the prevailing wisdom is to not sign contracts, travel, or marry or touch anything electric.  But then you also have the shadow period, the degrees when Mercury will hit three times.  Oh HERMES, give us a break!  I don't know how the astrologers work this stuff out, bless their hearts, esp. when Mercury is retrograde and you're supposed to stay away from computers, avoiding those mis-steps in communication.   Mars opposition to Neptune connects the fated past with the future.  We might be tempted to get out of our heads thru drugs or some other addiction.  It's a good time to stick to the middle ground, seek balance and maybe put down the I-Phone, the things the old fashioned way, like face to face or a handwritten letter.  Stretch, sing, breathe. Don't get entangled.

The gate to our garden
The enormous full moon in Taurus on the 17th was legendary, like something from Sleepy Hollow. The Native Americans called it "The Beaver Moon, the Frosty Moon and the Geese Going Moon." Neptune poking us with his trident, reminding us to prepare for winter-- make sure your pipes don't freeze so your own dam doesn't burst. 

Heroic Beavers Save Salt Lake City -
Beaver (Castor) moon over La Tour

As an adjunct to some of my readings lately I've been using Ellen Lorenzi-Prince's Dark Goddess Tarot Deck* two card Substance & Shadow spread. As described in her booklet, it gives a quick and incisive look into everyday challenges. I'm falling under its spell. And I keep getting the water suits, perfect for this rainy November.  I like the way she has framed the questions. I find it moodily layered, yet joyously direct...ZING

Like the two cards I pulled after this query:  "How can we forgive the unforgivable?"

Substance & Shadow
1. The Substance: What is the necessity, the reality, the nitty-gritty of the situation? What action is required? =  XX Liberation - Persephone - Greek Goddess of Resurrection.  "The Past is not forgotten, yet life begins anew."

2.  The Shadow:  What is not concrete, yet affects the situation?  What is the hidden influence at work? = Four of Water - Lethe - Greek Goddess of Forgetfulness.  "Let the memory of evil be washed away."      

Life Begins Anew - Sunrise over La Tour

Evil be washed away - Pembrokeshire Wales, Win & Helen

"We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust."  Rumi

I will be reading Tarot at the Marche Zen in Brossac on Sunday, November 24th, same venue that I read for at the Fête des Lumières two years ago.  It's a beautiful setting overlooking the lake with delightful mixture of French and ex-pat participants.  There will be practitioners of all the soothing arts.

 * and maintained by Arnell's Art. 
Yellow Rose of November

Monday, October 28, 2013

OCTOBER'S INCANTATION, Crush Widows, & Chestnuts

Jaquie's Gargoyle - Le Marquisat - Oct. Tarot/Garden Day

Incantation - A charm or spell created using words.  Derived from Latin "incantare", meaning "to chant (a magical spell) upon, "from in- "into, upon" and cantare "to sing".   From the Old French "enchantment" - loaned into English since around AD 1300.    

" Corn and grain, Corn and grain,
 all that falls shall rise again."
 -  Wiccan Harvest Chant
I'm under October's SPELL - filled with longing - embraced by enchantment.  Schopenhauer said that the will is an expression of longing, desire; the insatiable will to life. 

Three Graces - Tuilleries - September, Paris

October = the scent of apples in the air mingling with wood smoke. I see the giant orange pumpkins (though not so many this year) peeking out from behind their leafy foliage.  The French have been out en masse gathering the luscious cepes.  They guard their secret spots, sometimes carrying shotguns - they mean business!  We picked loads of black figs, wrestling them from the wasps.  The giant haul of plums from September is now percolating into wine, along with a champagne apple experiment.  K busy stacking wood.  We missed the walnuts, but the forests are still full of Chataigne (chestnuts) and fungi.

The chestnuts look like spiny sea urchins before they open up.  I've tried preparing them in different ways with very little success.  Easier to go to the Châtaigne Festival in Dournazac, which I did on Sunday.  You can get those "chestnuts roasting on an open fire," Nat King Cole style, or nicely condensed jars of Creme de Marron, even Chestnut beer.  They really are quite beautiful little nuts. The Brits put them on strings and play some kind of crazy game called conkers.  But those are horse chestnuts and I think they are bigger.  They take turns hitting each other's conkers which sounds amusing for three year olds or adults who've had too much Chestnut beer. 

Along the bike path

Left behind to fall back to the earth

Apple Orchard in Ronsenac

Autumn, the harbinger of winter, a time of harvest, of prepping the soil for spring and planting cover crops under the Hunter's Moon. Turning the fresh soil is next to Heaven.

Les Tres Riches Heures du Duc De Berry

 October, Tilling and Sowing

In this illuminated prayer "Book of Hours" painted by the Limbourg Brothers from 1413 to 1416, the massive Louvre overshadows the work of the peasants tilling and sowing their field.  This depiction of the palace is so detailed, that several hundred years after the building was destroyed, a very accurate model was created based on this painting. 

Some days have been soft as bunny fur, others full of mist & mystery -

Mural on farm wall near Doumerac

" I saw old Autumn in the misty morn Stand,
shadowless like Silence, listening to Silence." - Thomas Hood

Pasture near Karena's
Grapevines - Le Marquisat
Et les autres jours, brrrrr - windstorms, tempests of heavy rain & hail. Some of the hail were half the size of pigeon eggs.  Quelle Horreur for the grape growers! the worst harvest in decades.  And sad for Les Veuves de Vendange, the Crush Widows -
all the wives who were left alone while their men worked in the fields bringing in the harvest in September and October.

Swallows (or were they Swifts?) flying in and out of chimneys like upside down confetti -

They really should find a perch and settle in quietly like these two well behaved birds!

Somewhere near Combiers
" He is outside of everything and alien everywhere. He is an aesthetic solitary.  His beautiful, light imagination is the wing that on the Autumn evening just brushes the dusky window." - Henry James

Yesterday at the end of a tarot reading, a client asked me if I could give her a spell to cast on her new squeeze so that he would only have eyes for her.  I said I couldn't do that, but that there is a "cheering charm," which causes the person upon whom the spell is cast to become happy and contented.  It was first seen in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  But you can't be too heavy handed with the spell or the person may break into uncontrollable laughing fits.

I read somewhere that scientists are not too far from creating a "Love potion number 9", something to do with the oxycotin hormone.  But what is more potent is looking at our own beliefs.  Rituals and spells are a lovely form of self-hypnosis, like a prayer circle turned inward, then outward.  Most important is to be conscious of what we wish for! What story are you telling yourself?  Ask yourself more beautiful questions...

Jacquie picks a card - Le Marquisat

The Tarot/Garden event at Le Marquisat October 6th was a grand success.  The tea was poured, the cards were pulled, the futures were flowing -- it felt like we were held in the palm of simultaneity/ synchronicity where past, present and future converged. Several men came for readings.  So much fun to read for, one a footballer from UK & a novelist below.  A day to remember.

Reading for a lovely writer
Le Marquisat - Tarot/Garden Event October


"It lies also in the whole vision of a world in motion, a world not rendered insignificant but made more beautiful by its transience, its erotic energy, its ceaseless change."  
                 - The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt

Casting a spell for "Poetic Inspiration":  Perform on a Wednesday when the moon is waxing.  Best if done when the moon is in Gemini, but it's not required.  Light a purple candle.  You can also burn some jasmine or rose incense if you wish.  Say this incantation:

Oh Goddess Brigit,
bright lady of the flame
blessed mother of the poets.
Lend me such insight, wisdom, and divine inspiration
that the words may flow to me
and that I may craft them beautifully
so that they spin a tapestry of magic
in the hearts of all who hear them.
So mote it be!

Leave the candle to burn itself out.  When it does, put it wherever you keep rituals remnants and give thanks to the Goddess for her gift.  From - Phantom 120

You can also share and find some worldly spells at "Poetic Spells" on Facebook.

Lantern Bearer bringing in the Harvest