Sunday, December 27, 2015

Wait For The Wind

It probably has happened to every salty-dog sailor while crossing the sea—doldrums are encountered, the breeze stops blowing, and the vessel slows to wait for the wind again to fill its sails. The travelers are at an impasse, unable to go forward or back. I am at an impasse in this voyage around the world. Here in Bali, I can stay a month, but was planning to leave sooner and go to Papua New Guinea. My original thought was to end by traveling in Ecuador before flying home to the USA. I invent as I go along, and have discovered New Guinea surprisingly expensive, as is Australia, and likewise getting to South America from anywhere in these parts. I feel stranded and realize I need to make plans quickly to book the passages I need and get the best opportunities. Maybe I don't know what I want.

This feeling of being stranded in my personal life has occasionally come upon me, and it is like the sailor in doldrums. What can one do but wait for the wind?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Smile In Return For A Smile

The poor jungle nations of Asia never appealed to me. Cambodia fell further in my opinion after learning of the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime during the civil war, 1991-1997, when millions were ruthlessly massacred. So I arrived in Cambodia after a sojourn in Thailand with trepidation, and have been pleasantly surprised. The people are gracious, more fluent in English, and smiling too. Cambodia is the country cousin to Thailand, without an ultra modern city like Bangkok.

My journey to Siem Reap from Bangkok went smooth enough, and when I arrived at my hotel after 10 in the evening, I found my room spacious and comfortable. The next morning complimentary breakfast satisfied my taste, especially with a cook in the room making custom omelets to order, and after walking around the neighborhood visiting a nearby grand temple and old town with bustling market full of foods, fabrics, and arts & crafts, my previous attitude melted away.

If there were any doubts of the value of being in Cambodia, they have been completely erased by Angkor Wat and the cheerful beauty of Cambodians. I had seen photos of the largest temple complex in the world and was not impressed by the drab colors and jungle scenery. I did not know that it is the most visited sacred site in the world, and if I did, that would have discouraged me further.

I set out this morning before dawn with Francesca, an Italian I met on the flight from Bangkok and became friends with, and Dara, our trusted and smiling tuktuk driver. Even before we got on the road to the temple, tuktuks with passengers were everywhere going in the same direction through the darkness. Fifteen minutes and we were pulling up to Angkor Wat and joining a throng of people walking toward the featureless dark temple. A crowd was already massed at a lake, unable to go further until opening time. As the sun rose the sky brightened behind the spiraling domes and slowly the temple features became visible in bluish tinges with a rosy sky above, embellished by fluffy clouds of purple. We were a bit in awe and simultaneously disappointed to be at the back of a crowd, unable to get the pictures we wanted. Surprisingly, a charming little girl arrived by our side in the half-light and took an order for coffee, then dutifully arrived back in minutes with tasty hot drinks. When we continued forward my impressions steadily rose at the base of the complex while I looked up at the massive scale of the carved rock and orderly beauty of the temple. As we strolled, it became apparent we were in no ordinary place. The crowds quickly thinned so we were actually quite alone. The place is so huge, people set out in all directions by foot and tuktuk. Our wandering excursion took seven hours and there is far more to see, but we were overwhelmed, hot, and growing tired. I bought a ticket that allows for two more visits.
At various times Dara would find us and drive us from temple to temple. Always, the beauty was great along with the dimensions, especially in grandness of design and the ubiquitous stone carvings adorning every facade and corner. Angkor Wat is more interesting for the fact that it began Hindu and later shifted to Buddhist, so the two influences are mingled. The jungle through the ages has entwined with structures, so that huge trees are often seen growing out of temples and snake-like roots wrap around carved block. Many stone faces appear, sphinx like and huge in improbable places high above, adorning towers. Often, monks in orange saffron robes are seen making an accent amid the monotone structures, and I loved taking their picture. Always a smile in return for a smile. And that is the way it has been in Cambodia so far.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

One Experience Flows Into The Next

The Lavender Umbrella, Chiang Mai, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 cm
Like unstoppable sand falling to the bottom of an hour glass, my time in Thailand is running out. I have to leave within a week, and although just stepping across the border to Cambodia, thinking of going away brings tinges of remorse.

I have Thai friends here in Chiang Mai, the streets are no longer confusing, I like riding my motorcycle, the cost of living is low, the climate is great, I have had good apartments including now when I can go swimming at the pool every day, I have made paintings and captured wonderful photographs. There is much more to explore—yet I am leaving. Thailand visa requires a limit of thirty days. I can turn around and come back immediately and stay longer, but THE DREAM is carrying me around the world and I must arrive again in the United States.

Papua New Guinea has always held an attraction for me, ever since I saw photographs in National Geographic of fearsome men in makeup and bones through their noses. I am making my way there, and have found that one of the cheapest routes is through Bali, where I arrive Christmas night.

In dreams, one experience flows into the next, with grand eloquence and abundance of awe inspiring surprise. This is THE DREAM, and I know it has many dimensions. I will stay in touch with my Thai friends, think fondly of them and keep them in my heart as I do with everyone that I meet along the way. With some people, it is never good-bye, but rather, we will see each other again.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Everything Is Part Of Everything

Life cannot be held, only experienced. To try and hold it is when we realize it is but a dream. When we believe we are in possession of something, in fact, this is illusion too, for nothing can truly be possessed, everything is part of everything else and is continually transforming and subject to external forces beyond personality.

When I lost my eldest daughter at age nineteen, after watching her suffer for two years while receiving the most skilled treatments and care, is when I truly became detached from holding on to anything of this world. Nobody can hold on to their most precious possession—their mortal frame, and I saw how much she loved hers and tried to keep it.

Certainly since her passing, from her vantage point of pure spirit in divine love within illimitable space, she has guided me to experience the world fully without fear, knowing it is a dream unfolding.

The traveling I am doing is full of dream sequences, beginning this year in September, living in Venice, Italy. My apartment was above a little stone bridge that spanned a canal that gondolas passed beneath each day. Nearby was a campo over a thousand years old. I like to paint, take photographs and write each day. After six weeks in Venice, THE DREAM took me to Cinqueterra on the Mediterranean coast, with its five magical villages hugging the steep, rocky shore, almost falling into the sea. From there, Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance and high art, where my apartment sat steps away from Michelangelo’s marble sculpture masterpiece, David. Each day, the DREAM wind blew me through the fabled streets, until one day it took me to Rome—the eternal city where it is said all roads lead. I have been there many times before and it reawakened an awe of human ingenuity and achievement, with its vast architectural wonders from the time of empire. I heard through the ages the echo of horses hooves as they pulled gladiator carts, and listened to stringed instruments play in markets bustling with commerce just outside marbled churches filled with masterpieces of art. In Rome I relished a stunning art exhibition by a contemporary artist who filled me with inspiration to carry into my own work.

From Rome, into the sky again to land six hours later in New Delhi, India and then to arrive in Varanasi, one of the oldest living cities on earth. Cows roam the streets amid the crush of people, with bodies arriving every day from all parts of the globe to be burned on cremation pyres that are always blazing. The ashes thrown into the sacred Ganges River mean that salvation is assured for the believers. I floated on the Ganges in a boat to watch candles lit and placed in baskets to drift on the water, and experienced the thunder of explosions marking the Diwali Festival. THE DREAM introduced bacteria into my body and intestinal illness, as it happened before when I visited India. I continued painting, but spent more time with photography, taking some powerful images, especially with an American friend who modeled in flowing cloth on temple steps overlooking the Ganges.

Almost in a daze of altered perception, a train ride of twenty hours brought me to the heart of the continent, to Pushkar, the home of the only Brahma temple in India, where I arrived at the beginning of a famous once yearly festival. Thousands of camels were brought there to be traded and sold, with gorgeous horses, tents, festivities and excitement. THE DREAM introduced a young boy to my side one morning to take me to his family who live in tents on a hilltop. The man is a maker of folk instruments, and he and his wife sang and made music for me. We become friends, and THE DREAM brought money to them through one my friends on Facebook who took compassion on their difficult life of extreme poverty.
I am in other worlds, and far from the events of America and other places where news of violence and political intrigue comes to me in bits and pieces.

Now I am in northern Thailand, and do not see camels but plenty of monks in flowing saffron robes amid ornate Buddhist temples with soaring spires above intricate gabled roofs and dragons guarding the doors. My stomach ailments have mostly gone away, and each day is exploration, photography, and either painting or writing. THE DREAM has brought me together after seven years with Thai friends from the past. Our lives are woven in DREAM.

As THE DREAM continues unfolding, I wonder where it goes and where it leads. Soon it will lead to Cambodia but after that, I do not have a clear picture of what lays ahead. Perhaps the misty mountaintop needs time for the the wind to blow away the shrouding haze—and reveal itself entirely in glory.