Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween on Rue Cartier

Shivering little goblin on my porch
with her little brother, a bumblebee


I drop candy in their bag.

As they climb the steps
to the house next door

a smile still resting
on my face.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Meditating, at Sunrise

I came upon this photograph while searching for something else on the Internet yesterday morning and couldn't stop looking at it.  I wanted to be there, on that wall with those people, meditating, watching the sun rise.  Where was it taken, in what country, and who were these people?

I tracked down the photographer, who was apparently not only an observer but a participant. This photo was taken in early 2008 at Neyur Dam in Kerala, India not far from the Sivananda Ashram.  The photographer, Rishi O., said he used to swim in that lake, "maybe an hour a day."  Rishi blogs from San Francisco (when he's not out taking photos in his photomobile or trekking about India, on projects). 

My armchair travel yesterday morning took me then--thanks to Rishi--to India, where I  watched--through a musically enhanced photographic slideshow on my computer screen--a yoga group in session.  Check it out, it's incredibly enervating, you'll be a 'young soul' again.  Though I am thoroughly unused to such muscle-stretching, body bending exercises, I know and practice a few poses, such as the Salute to the Sun, which I would like to start doing regularly to replace the coffee-and-croissant-first-thing-in-the-morning-while-reading-the-news routine, as a way to start the day. 

Here are some more of Rishi's photos:

Walking into the Ocean

Man wearing one sandal, one shoe.

Two Dancers

Click here for photos of life at the ashram, and here to see a photographic slide show of Indian dancers to the music of  "Dheem Ta Dare".

I also perused some of Rishi's infrequent text postings (the blog is mostly to highlight his splendid photographs).  "I never ask a kid to smile," he says re: taking commissioned pictures of children.  "I like them the way they are."  The photographs he treasures are ones that "capture who you are and not who you want to be."

In one such posting he shares a letter from someone named "Otto" dispensing information about, among other things, healthy eating.  I was amazed to discover that many of Otto's recommendations were things I had already discovered elsewhere, time and again, from numerous sources dating back decades, and in some cases, centuries.  So there must be something to it. 

For example:

The beneficial effect of turmeric; ginger as an anti-carcinogenic [I first learned of this from an African healer from the Congo]; that Type II diabetes has been linked to processed meat and lack of omega-3, severe periodontal disease, lack of exercise, and (of course) being overweight.

My favorite of Otto's suggestions: "Spinach and blueberries preserve the brain." (Likely someone will someday come up with the idea of combining them as an 'energy smoothie', or adding them to tea, as a 'health drink'.  (But as practitioners of food combining will remind you, ha ha,  fruit should be eaten alone.)

Meditating on a wall at sunrise--or at sunset, or at any other time of the day or night--on a beach, on a park bench, sitting crosslegged on a pillow in your living room, or out on the porch before bedtime standing in the night air underneath the stars:  not everyone who meditates joins an ashram or practices yoga or necessarily ascribes to the mindset commonly perceived as associated with the word 'meditation.' 

Sometimes you just fall into it, accidentally.  You're in a doctor's office waiting your turn, you're on a bus stuck in traffic, you're at your kitchen table looking out the window, and you shut your eyes, get very still, block out everything around you.  You begin to become aware of your breathing, you sense the 'self' emptying out of you, and that you're slowly entering into ... nothingness.  This was my introduction to meditation, before I had a name for it, before I learned that millions of people all over the world do this exact same thing, not just accidentally but intentionally; and not just occasionally, but routinely, and reap enormous benefits from it.  I have to thank Rishi O., again, for reminding me, through his photograph of those people on that wall, just how universal is this need to connect with the life forces of the universe.

Images that ... draw you like a magnet, that elicit forgotten memories, that hold you, just for a moment, frozen in time and space.  This photograph did that for me.  As did the one with the woman walking "into" the ocean.  (Notice it's not walking "to" the ocean--Rishi labeled it walking "into" the ocean, as if she's intending to become one with it.)

Well, glad to have met you, Rishi, if only thru the Internets [sic intended].  :)  And thank you for allowing me to share your photographs on this blog.  And for reminding me what it feels like to be on a stone wall in the wee, early hours of the morning, waiting for the sun to pop up behind the mountains, breathing in the fresh, brisk air, meditating (in this case it was Vermont, many years ago, and there was only one other person on the wall, instead of 20).

One of the tangible benefits I neglected to mention, of such endeavors:  unexplained ... happiness.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Morning

Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair ...[1]

Except it's afternoon ... and it's a bulky sweater ... and tea ... and a pear
but sun, yes, there's still sun ...

Nine little punch-yourself-awake reminders from Joe Bageant (writing from Mexico last week) in his take on the state of the U.S. today:
  • We burn the grain supplies of starving nations in our vehicles.  
  • Skilled American construction workers now unemployed drive their big trucks into town and knock at my door asking to rake my leaves for ten bucks. There is nothing ironic in this to their minds. 
  • Energy prices are predicted to stabilize because we intend to burn the state of West Virginia in our power plants. 
  • The corpses of our young people are still being unloaded from cargo planes at Dover Delaware, but from two fronts now. 
  •  Mortgage foreclosures are expected to double before they slacken.
  • Unions have been neutered and taught to beg.
  • We have established a permanent underclass and deindustrialized the country in favor of low wage service industries here and dirt cheap labor from abroad. 
  • We've managed to harden the education and income gap into something an American oligarch can take pride in. 
  • We are the very products and property of these people and their institutions.
"The fiesta is over," says Joe.  "The economy as we knew it is dead."  

He's convinced that "Somewhere in the smoking wreckage lie the solutions" but they won't be tried because Big Money not only calls the shots but is "constitutionally protected."

Kinda makes you want to scream.

As for hoping for "change" -- Joe Bageant isn't terribly optimistic.  He's not alone. Rants and outrage pour out from scattered corners of the country seeping frequently into print or the blogosphere, but little comes of it.  Powerlessness is rampant.  I am optimistic ... but even from outside its borders I feel the collective powerlessness.

Words are sometimes not enough.  People have to care enough to act; and uncertainty, fear and/or apathy prevent most of us from doing anything--even those who most ardently want to.  (Do what, exactly?  If  "it takes a village to raise a child, "[2] what would it take to raise the consciousness of enough beings to work together long enough and hard enough to ensure that a nation--any nation--not collapse upon itself and disintegrate into something no longer recognizable, no longer sustainable, or even livable?)

At evening, casual flocks of pigeons make
Ambiguous undulations as they sink,
Downward to darkness, on extended wing

Meanwhile, back on the tube:  "Balloon Boy Dad Confesses to Hoax."  News at Eleven.

Went out and raked the leaves.  Took a walk.   Made more tea. Things will arrange themselves.  All in good time.

Perhaps ...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

One Foot, Walking

Marking our passage
in snow that's
here today
gone tomorrow



Photo by awyn, taken during afternoon walk on rue Notre Dame Est, Cap-de-la-Madeleine, Oct. 23, 2009

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Bits and Pieces ....

There was a layer of snow on the ground this morning and now the sky is spitting down more of it.  Dark and cold and dreary.

George W. Bush was down in Montreal today.  The Chamber of Commerce paid him $100,000 to share the highlights of his presidency, "a period of great consequence" (you can say that again).   The talk was by invitation only, where for $400 you could sit and listen to him ruminate on his "eight momentous years in the White House and discuss the challenges facing us in the 21st century."

Some Canadians weren't too happy at Mr. Bush's visit and crowds of protesters lined up to greet him, calling for his arrest as a war criminal.  It's going to cost Canadian taxpayers over half a million dollars this year to protect His Irrelevancy from the rowdy masses.[1]  (His speech was at the Montreal hotel made famous by John "Give Peace a Chance" Lennon and Yoko Ono during those other turbulent years.)  CNN won't waste too much footage (if at all) on Bush's vociferous welcoming committee dans la rue because they've still got three or four days to stretch out the Balloon Boy story (they haven't yet interviewed the hoax family's dentist).

Speaking of peace, doesn't anyone find it the least bit ironic that President Obama, who just won the Nobel Peace Prize, backed down[2] from meeting with the Dalai Lama, another recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, because "it might discombobulate a delicate international order."[3]  Musn't upset China.  What would we do without all that imported plastic merchandise headed for Wal-Mart or Dollarama around Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas time?

As for Halloween, now fast upon us, Target and Walgreens had to pull their ads for their illegal alien costume (alien figure wearing an orange jumpsuit, holding a U.S. "green card").[4] Politics!--even the children's arena is not safe from it.

Meanwhile, my inner voice reminds me this is still "Everything About Gypsies" week here on this blog, and I've run fresh out of material.  (Truth be told, there was actually too much and I ended up taking a kazillion little side trips into the cavernous world of informationland, waylaid by exciting finds having nothing whatsoever to do with gypsies.)  But since I started the theme, I can at least post a few amateur attempts at gypsy art.

These are, in case you're wondering, designs for a gypsy headband--that cloth thing one wears around the head to hold the hair in place and out of the eyes. These headbands are created entirely out of various words for 'gypsy' in different languages.  I purposely chose non-Latin alphabets, to make it more interesting. (It was also easier, graphics wise.) 

So this is the first one: a design for a headband using the word for 'gypsy in:

ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิป
  کولی کولی کولی کولی کولی کولی کولی کولی کولی کولی کولی کولی کولی کولی کولی کولی
ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิปซี ยิป ซียิป
Thai and Persian

ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער
 ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער ציגיינער
Yiddish and Japanese

And--my contribution to peace in the Middle East:

لغجر الغجر الغجر الغجر الغجر الغجر الغجر الغجر الغجر الغجر الغجر الغجر الغجر
 צועני צועני צועני צועני צועני צועני צועני צועני צועני צועני צועני צועני
 צועני لغجر צועני لغجر צועני لغجر צועני لغجر צועני لغجر צועני لغجر צועני
Arabic and Hebrew, coexisting together.


Irrelevant aside:

Last night I brought home a giant pumpkin from the supermarket, for a ridiculously low price. Not to cut a face into and put out on the doorstep with a candle inside to attract the wee Halloweeners (simply leaving the light on, on the porch will suffice), but to eat it.  Not an easy job, 'peeling' this thing ('hack' is more like it), but if you scoop out the seeds and cut it into dozens of cubes or squares, bake and serve it with melted butter, it makes the most delicious meal. (Of course, part will go for pumpkin pie!)

My mate was having trouble pronouncing 'pumpkin' last night, especially the "mpk" part.  Native French speakers find English words that start with "th" difficult (he says 'bird day' for birthday; 'turd' for third, etc.) and Native English speakers find certain "el" combinations impossible to pronounce in French (I stumble over the words "oeil" (eye) and "Longueuil" (a suburb of Montreal), for instance.  (You would have to hear it in person to appreciate how tortured is my effort to pronounce these sounds correctly.  It's kind of like the Russian "L" ( л ) when followed by the soft-sign (-ль) which adds a slight 'y' sound to the L sound (hear here ). In any case, I simply can't get my tongue to cooperate so I have no right to chuckle at my husband's attempts to say pumpkin:

pun-kin...  pumppp-in....   pum-kpin....  punpkin.... puckim....   pummm....     LOL.   (Just kidding, darling.    It was the funniest moment and you laughed as well.  Frustrating, but hilarious.  It'll rank as one of my most favorite memories!)   I think I like Pump-kpin the best, especially the "kpin" part.  It could be the name of a character in a children's story.

Found some terrific poems yesterday and hoping the authors will give me permission to share them.

I can't believe Massachusetts got snow before we did this year.  Theirs didn't stay.  Ours won't go away till next April.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Itinerant, by Choice

Sometimes we have occasion to meet someone--whether in person or vicariously-- with whose story we are so taken, that we cannot not share it.

Such a story is that of Rima Staines, nomadic writer and artist, traveling about the English countryside with her partner Tui, in a converted 1976 Bedford Horsebox. (I am not the only blogger to discover, and want to introduce others, to Rima's traveling world of creativity. Look here. )

In keeping with my "Everything Gypsy Week" theme, I have chosen to highlight Rima as my first representative of the 'gypsy soul', as it were. She is not just a mind gypsy, but a real one.   Not everyone deliberately chooses to be itinerant, when other alternatives are possible.  Rima carries her workshop with her, weaving her words and artistry within nature, under the open sky.

Who is this artist and why am I so excited to have found her postings? She describes herself as a "Painter, Illustrator, Maker of Things & Teller of Tales, " and her Hermitage as "a Phantasmagoria of Fancy, Museum of Myth & Realm of the Ridiculous."

Rima grew up in an artistic, loving household where creativity was not only encouraged but strongly supported.  She believes that everything is a story, and "creativity has something to do with the way we look at the world around us, and a desire to express that seeing and the feelings it evokes in us." And create she does--stories and poems and paintings and little videos that introduce us to her marvelous creatures young and old, happy and melancholy, bizarre and wickedly funny.

She reminds her readers of a Rumi saying:  "Let the beauty that you love be what you do", that "There are many ways to kneel and kiss the earth"--and who best to show us this than this artistic nomad?

One of the first things that attracted me to Rima's webpage was her warm and gracious welcome. She seemed to be speaking directly to me, in her "Song of the Periphery People." Periphery people everywhere, will understand what I mean.  (Note that sages, poets and dreamers are included here as Perhiphery People, right up there along with imbeciles, lunatics and scoundrels.)

Ho and come inside
You are welcome all…

Wayfarer and Witch
Jester and Jezebel
Renegrade and Wretch
Urchin and Untouchable
Hermit and Hellhound
Rascal and Rapscallion
Freak and Fremd
Scoundrel and Slubbergullion
Outlaw and Oddity
Vagabond and Villain
Juggler and Gypsy
Mage and Mooncalf
Sage and Simpleton
Madman and Musician
Imp and Imbecile
Fire-eater and Fool
Lunatic and Loner
Mummer and Monster
Devil and Drab
Knave and Necromancer
Peddler and Poet
Beggar and Bedlamite
Tomfool and Trickster
Dreamer and Delinquent
Stranger and Seer
Dreg and Deviant
Oaf and Outcast
Crackpot and Crone
I will build you a home here…

What wonderful cast of characters! Is there anyone she has left out? ha ha

Come visit  The Hermitage and prepare to spend a while.  A long while.  You will not be disappointed.

Travel along with Rima and Tui, as they pass through vagabond villages and transient towns, traveling from town to town on their house on wheels.

It was through Rima's website that I learned about transition towns and realized that there are small groups of people actively trying to address the dilemma of decreasing resources and the problem faced when oil peaks, offering "exciting ways to look at community, and all the many things that come together to create and sustain it", including a drive to self-sufficiency in food, energy and money.

What's it like, really, to live like a gypsy today and travel about, not knowing where you'll be next week, next month, next year?  What's the reaction of people whose town you pull into, and how do you manage to create and sell your art under these circumstances?  Rima describes it in "A Tale of Two Tinkers who travel from town to town selling their wares on Britain's streets and managing to gather pennies enough for life for a while by selling their artwork directly to the people who pass them by.."  How many of us would be willing to live on 'pennies' just to create what we create where and in the way we want?

"Making a living as an artist can often be a trudge down a rocky and pot-holed street," says Rima. As to the two tinker artists:  "Some towns welcome them... and some towns do not understand them and walk by with noses skyward and tuts on their tongues or offer unimaginative taunts, official badges and clipboards...."  But cold weather, unreceptive towns and the difficulties of a life on the road do not deter them.

The Hermitage (Rima's blog) offers something for everyone.  For the more academically inclined, check out her wonderfully illustrated thesis (here) titled "Misrule, Mockery and Monstrosity in Marginal Medieval Art" where she discusses art and people that are marginal, the Outsider Figure, and the concept of 'otherness'--a wealth of interesting information and insight about which I found much to ponder.
There is a difference between engaging in the itinerant life as a project and choosing to do so as a way of life.  Not everyone, I think, could do as Rima and Tui are doing.  (What if I end up without fuel for the winter?  What do I do with all my stuff while I'm out living on the road?  A household's accumulation of 'things' to store: can one's necessary possessions be whittled down enough to fit inside a cramped and crowded box on wheels?).  Rima and Tui represent, in very real terms, two gypsy souls out there putting their principles into practice. 

I am delighted to have made their acquaintance, if only by way of an email.  For me the greatest unexpected surprise that resulted from this was the whirl of new perceptions surfacing regarding Creativity:  where it comes from, what influences or quashes it, how it thrives, where to find it. 

You can see more of Rima's art work here.  As one of her many followers and supporters comments:  "Ah Rima, what wonders you share with us!"

I concur.

Many thanks to Rima Staines for permission to share these photographs.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Everything Gypsy Week

Mind Gypsies

For those who can’t leave,
                       make most of the now.
For those who can’t stay,
                   leave something behind
 (the heart of the womb).
We’re wanderers all,
              tho’ never left home.

The stories we weave
              of  where and of how
we yearn for the day
         as no longer blind.
Depart this dark tomb.
You'll slip and you'll fall....
      continue to roam.

Life’s too short reprieve
                    'gainst wind and the plow…
the struggle, the play
         of passion and mind,
of joy and of doom
encased in a wall
           or words in some tome.

Hearts worn on the sleeve
    yet bound by a vow
n’er finding the way
    ev'n with our own kind
in very same room.
Immune to their call,
more hills left to comb

more hills left to comb.

~~ Annie Wyndham


Next week will be Everything Gypsy Week here on this blog (blogging by theme.  I may soon tire of it but thought it a good practice to muscle up on one's focusing skills).  The above poem was a personal poetic assignment employing that theme:

The Rules:

1.  Write a poem about people who travel mentally, the way gypsies do physically.

2.  Make the last word of each line a single syllable that incorporates the sounds of the vowels "ay", "ee" and "oh" --but leave out the "eye" and the "you".  (Not to make this too hard, you can substitute "oo" for "you", if you want).

3.  Compose four stanzas of seven lines each and a fifth stanza consisting of a single line, in which all 27 lines must contain exactly five syllables each.

4.  The last word of each line in the first stanza must rhyme with the last word of each line in each succeeding  stanza.

5.  Finally, jumble the words and condense into a 7-line mini-text 'encouragement', if you will, suitable for posting on city buses or as a subway ad, letting bored office workers, numbed number crunchers and stressed-out deadline rushers know that it's okay to jump the mental Gypsy Express from time to time, just let go, and soar for a bit, leave behind the soreness of the is, and dance to the what could be.

Condensed Version:

     Encased, worn, bound?
     Yearn to wander?
     Leave now, dark heart.
     You'll slip, fall.
     Continue to roam!
     Hills left to comb!

     Weave stories...

Analyzing the subconscious message to the mind of the author:

Leave now. ( "Sleeve" vow.) Weave how?!  Reprieve: Plow.
Stay behind, dayblind?  Play Mind!  Way ... kind.
Womb=tomb.  Room=Doom.
All wall.  Fall.  Call!
Home. Comb tome. Roam!

What absolute gobbledegook! What am I trying to tell me, ha ha! Okay, think of it as a code. Unravel it. Make sense of it. The words suggest (if it is, indeed, a message) to:

--Eschew inertia.  Nevermind the naysayers.  Tell your stories. There is value in hard work. (Work, my dear. Not word gameplay.)
--Don't stay stuck.  Imagine!  It'll lead to something interesting, and may not be as difficult as you suppose.
--Climb out and breathe.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
--There's a risk.  You may crash.  Ask for help sometimes.
--Where to look for the answer: Do what you love. Words to the rescue! Words that inspire, catch your soul on fire, bring forth your desire, let you see something higher, expose the dark liar, lift you out from the mire (or plunge you into the pyre), words of which you never tire, electrify you like a wire, make you soar like a flyer.

Truth Patrol Disclaimer:  Okay, somebody's eventually gonna figure this out, so I might as well confess.  I made up the rules after I wrote the poem and saw certain similarities.  I tweaked n'er, ev'n, an 'gainst to make what was originally a six-syllable line fit the five-syllable-per-line subsequently imposed rule.  I've never seen the word "against" written as "gainst".  Ever.  Going gainst the rules of grammar will bring out the Grammar Police.  However, am confident the very few readers of this blog will not mind, as they know by now my penchant for word play, even when I perhaps should really be focusing on something else.

As for the mini analysis, stop turning over in your grave, Freud.  The sleeve does not indicate a desire to cover up anything, bound doesn't mean I suffer from constipation, and dark heart doesn't mean I harbor sinister thoughts.  (Although comb tome is remarkably on target in that it captures the essence of what we editors recognize as the curse-of-the-non-sleeping-eye re: printed texts (and which, paradoxically sometimes fails to catch our own typos or faux paws)(all puns intended, whether they actually work or not).

Enough!!  :)

Check out tomorrow's blog posting to meet a real gypsy, a new Internet acquaintance, a truly delightful discovery--an itinerant artist across the pond who follows her heart and dreams, writing and painting on the road.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Only Three, and yet ...

I saw three snowflakes yesterday, sailing past, as I exited the market. 

Her warmth for us is fading.
With a frosty air
Mother Earth teases.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Five Days in the Homeland

Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again, and maybe he's right.  But we do--or try to--even knowing nothing is the same anymore, nor perhaps would we actually want it to be.  Memories locked in our heads confronting the reality of the Now can be disorienting, unnerving--two conflicting scenarios attesting to the inevitability of change. We go back, on nostalgia trips, trying to recapture, if only briefly, those 'other' times, those other important parts of us not so visible anymore.

So there I was again, in the town where I grew up, after many years' absence.  In 1910,  almost 5,000 people lived here.  Today, there's only around 1,200.  Where did everybody go? 

I went swimming for three mornings with my sister in the pool in which I had first learned to swim. How they taught us how to swim was, they took us down to the "deep end", tied a rope around our waists and made us jump in.  I don't remember there being a slow, introductory process leading up to this; for years the image I retained in my mind was that of being thrown into the pool to either sink or swim--but of course that can't be true; no instructor in their right mind would ever do such a thing to little kids, it would have been traumatic.  I do remember flopping and splashing around with the rope tied round my waist trying to practice the doggie paddle, which is a complete waste of energy and just makes you very tired--until I learned one could float. Which I later perfected (the hands-at-the-sides float, the hands-behind-the-head float, the hands-on-the-stomach-twiddling-the-thumbs float--that latter one to show off to people who simply couldn't float, no matter how hard they tried; but that's the thing, you can only do it if you don't try--you have to just let go.  Not everyone is capable of just ... letting go and trusting it will happen.

I learned to swim like a frog, tread quietly like a snake, even get from Point A to Point B with one or both hands held behind my back, as if swimming armless, and then with just the arms propelling me through the water, as if legless.  I thought knowing how to do that might come in handy if I were, say, kidnapped one day and tied up but could escape if there were a body of water nearby.   I even tried swimming as if without arms or legs, but didn't get very far--only plogging mobility and a mouth and nose full of water. It's a great exercise workout, though, if one were so inclined. 

This is the old cemetery on top the hill at the bottom of the hollow where my mother grew up.  There's no  path on this hill but as it's closer to their graves than driving all the way up the road and walking all the way back the length of the cemetery to get there, I chose to climb straight up the hill--which was steeper than I'd remembered it.

Here we are at the top.  These are the gravestones of Dedo and Baba (my grandparents) and three of their infant children, buried together, who didn't make it very far in life ( the middle grave).

Turning to go back down the hill again, I met this wonderful tree, bedecked in red, a splash of color in the otherwise solid green folliage.  The shoes I wore that day were hardly suited to climbing.  Barefoot, it would have been a piece of cake. (It's a matter of knowing where and how to place the foot, rather than the type of shoe.  I do better in snow climbing.)   My loafer-type shoes only made me slip and slide.  Coming down proved harder than going up.  The pictures don't do it justice--the part I climbed up was straight up. Losing my balance and hurtling down headfirst was not an option. So I sat down and slowly slid downhill, one bumpy push at a time, till I reached bottom.  You can take the girl out of the mountain; not so easy to take the mountain out of the girl.  Or something like that.  It wasn't very dignified. Should've just simply taken my shoes off but the ground was wet and cold. (No, says that naggy inner voice ... you should've waited and walked there the Normal way, like everybody else.  Not climb up like you're some mountain goat or something.)  Talk about reliving one's childhood, ha ha.

This is the creek that runs alongside the hollow.  The water's pretty low and some sections are completely dried up. My grandmother, who when my mother was a child, kept a cow in the field at the back of her house, used to draw water from this creek.

At the foot of the mountain is a little natural spring, from which townspeople collect fresh water--a very good thing to have during the eight or so years that the people on the other side of the river have had to boil their water because it was undrinkable due to severely eroding pipes that couldn't be replaced for lack of funding.

This is an old brewery at the foot of the hollow, no longer in use.  What stories its stones could tell!

My mother, as a teenager, used to climb up and peek in the brewery window, for which, I believe, she was roundly scolded. I think at one time they used to hold dances there, or at least that is what she once told me.

This is what's left of the town's former public high school, a massive three-storey building that once commanded the entire lot.  After they built the new school down the road outside of town, this one fell into disuse and began being dissassembled for parts: first the roof, then the beams--which of course caused it to collapse.  It sat like this for years.  Finally someone was contracted to remove what's left of it but he absconded with the funds, leaving it like this, and his working crew and the fence rental people unpaid.

There was a festival in town this weekend and the highlight of the day was the annual parade. 
People were putting out their chairs on the sidewalk two days beforehand, to secure their viewing place.

The Scottish band, with bagpipes and drums, march through the borough.
They are always such a pleasure to watch and listen to.

Parade watcher with her iguana perched on her back.

He poses for a close-up shot.

Barbequed chicken wings to go.

Invasion of the Zombie children

The children's "zombie" dance group performing in front of the judges' stand. 
I'm told they won First Prize

Not everyone in town that day was thrilled with President Obama.  These vendors at the big outdoor flea market flew Confederate flags and sold baseball hats, plastic guns, and signs and bumper stickers showing Obama in a turban and calling for "Palin 2012"

In the local dollar store.  Jesus socks.   :)

The bridge across to town.

The West Branch of the Susquehanna, late afternoon.  Periodically it floods the town.  In 1889, the river overflowed and swept away the town's Opera House, taking with it five other homes.  In 1936, a major flood covered 75% of the town.  In 1942, its waters rose to 19 feet.  There have been at least 11 major floods here over the years.

On the way halfway up Hyner mountain 

View from the top.

You can go hang gliding from up here.
Click here and here, and here, to see what it's like.

A little path if you want to hike back down.  Last year 700 hardy souls took the "Hyner Challenge" and ran up to the top of the mountain and back down again.  (Or was it run first, and then hike up and back down again?)  I think it takes something like two hours (if you're in top shape); more, if not.

It is beautiful here.  The mountains completely surround the town; they look down from every possible vantage point.  You are in a valley enveloped by millions of trees.  Hunters are welcome.   It was bow-and-arrow season last week. (Take note, deer and bear and turkeys!! )  There are scores of ponds and mountain streams to fish for trout, and quiet, peaceful stretches of forest where you will never meet another soul.

The town itself does not have much.  They have no doctor.  (One came but didn't stay long.  He went to lunch one day and never returned.)  Last week a pharmacy opened.  They had been without one for over a year, I'm told.  I think there is only one radio station, and cell phones don't work there. No reception.  There are no taxis and  only one traffic light. The recreation center (with the large, heated swimming pool, which only a handfull of people use regularly, may close for lack of funds to keep it operating.  The Catholic Church bulletin announced last week that the diocese is asking parishes to count attendance at mass, intimating that perhaps not enough people means it, too, may be forced to close one day. 
Driving through town, one sees abandoned buildings, their windows all boarded up, or houses blackened by a fire, uninhabitable, waiting for rehabilitation or demolishment.  A small, unused church just outside the town collapsed last week.  The railroad yards--once the lifeblood of the town--have long since closed down. This week they were auctioning off about 82 railroad cars.  What would one do with a railroad car?  I've seen some turned into funky gift shops.  It could, I suppose, function as a camp, if you were into serious restoring.

The movie theatre that we used to go to for Saturday matinees in my youth, no longer exists.  My high school (the other high school then in town)--gone.  You could buy one of its bricks as a memento; there's nothing there now but an empty lot.  Our favorite ice cream parlor, gone.  The local newspaper, printed once a week, runs about 4-5 pages.  There is no veterinarian, dentist or funeral parlor in town.  You have to drive 28 miles to buy hair color.   Many houses are still heated with coal.  There is no industry here, there are no jobs.  Unemployment is at 9.80%.  Rents are cheap, though, compared to other places.  You can rent a two-bedroom apartment for under $350; people have bought homes here for as little as $1,200.

A paradise of nature (except for the occasional flood).  It's only an hour and fifteen minutes' drive to Penn State, a thriving mini-mini-metropolis whose campus has over 43,000 students.

We visited there, too, one afternoon, kind of a nostalgia trip for me.  I hadn't been back there for decades. A building in which I once lived, has disappeared, replaced by a real estate office and condos.  Scores of cafes and bookstores and restaurants and boutiques, and massive new dorms proliferate--nothing like the quiet little burg it was when I once lived there.   It was a little disorienting.  The memory I carry in my head, still intact, like a photograph, is unchanged.  They're all gone now though, everyone, everything ... it was another life. Happy Valley, it's called.  And it was, in a sense--the happiest and most significant events of my life happened there.

Wolfe said you can't go back. But I did. I just had to see it again.  I hesitated posting some of these photos and comments--personal family gravestones, an economically depressed little town in decline, its citizens struggling to survive in uncertain times, etc.  It's what's happening to a lot of little towns in America today.  What hit me most here, though, was the loss, of all that was poignantly familiar, remembered, and cherished. Some things haven't changed:  At three o'clock one morning I was awakened by the loud, whining sound of an air raid siren and jumped out of bed to look out the window--not at the sky but over towards the town across the river.  It's used as a fire alarm; the number of times the siren wails tells you where the fire is located:  five wails, it's on Fifth Street; seven wails, Seventh Street.

Another thing that has not changed is the friendliness of the people, their pride and love of the area, despite the town's problems, that brings people back, after years of living elsewhere, to spend the remainder of their lives there.  My two sisters, seven cousins, niece and nephew and their children all still live here, so visits back are also family reunions.  You catch up on what's been happening (or not happening) with the town, you find yourself remembering not only the good but the Great times.  Great childhood pastimes like:

-- Swimming in a river whose waters were so pure and so clear you could see Every. Single. Tiny. Pebble.
-- Diving off the big rocks at the eddies and scouring the river bottom to retrieve fish hooks.
-- Finding Indian arrow-heads and remnants of ancient homesteads of the settlers here before us.
-- Swinging from the "monkey vines" on the mountainside, catching bees in our hands, then letting them go ("whiteheads don't sting; yellowheads do" -- I don't know if this is actually true or not, but we acted on it then.  Whiteheads never stung us.)
-- Riding down the river on an innertube, waving to people on the bridge above as you floated by underneath (that bridge is no longer there)
-- Going Halloweening to every house on the block and getting apples or quarters sometimes instead of candy (do kids today get fruit in lieu of chocolate in their Halloween cache?  Does anyone ever give them loose change?  I doubt it, ha ha).  We didn't buy our costumes then--we climbed up to Grandma's attic and rummaged through the mothbally coats and floppy shoes and ribboned velvet hats to dress up like hobos or "fancy ladies" or just plain ghosts (sheet over the head, two holes poked out for vision).  Who still does that today, I wonder.

We must learn where we came from.   This is where I came from.  It is part of me, though I am no longer physically part of It. It was and is still my town. But there have been others, too, ones I've chosen and wholeheartedly became part of.  They are still my towns, too. 

What exactly do we mean by "homeland"?  I don't think, in the end, it's a matter of the land (place).     Places change.  The sense of at-homeness does, as well.  Sometimes you go back and find maybe you no longer feel at home there anymore.  "Home" is a state of mind.  I found other mountains to be at home in again--in Vermont, for example; other lakes and rivers, like Lake Champlain, and the mighty St. Lawrence, equally capable of drawing me like a magnet, the way the Susquehanna did.  (And still does.)  But nowhere have I ever found an experience equivalent to swimming in those pristine waters (now polluted), or felt the joy of those early days exploring the mountains and creeks, or lying in bed wondering what was on the other side of all those mountains.  (The answer:  Other mountains!!!, ha ha). (That old song, "The bear went over the mountain...." comes to mind.  It's true, by the way.)

Van Wagner in his "North of 80", pretty much sums up what it's like there in northcentral Pennsylvania, what it was and how it is today. I give homage to these mountains for launching me, for giving me a memorable childhood, for reminding me of all who came before and what they taught me.

So this was my town.  I'm at home with the memories, and am elsewhere, making new ones.  But I put it all down here, to revisit from time to time.  A mini online scrapbook page, accessible at the touch of a keyboard, from anyplace I happen to be.  And it'll almost be like being there again, when I might not otherwise be able to.

Salut encore, mes montagnes!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Uncelebrating Columbus on Columbus Day

Columbus Day holiday in the U.S., Canadian Thanksgiving holiday here in Quebec-- both celebrated yesterday. Holidays generally mean a day off from work, with banks, schools and the post office closed. If it occurs at either end of a weekend, people usually take off and go somewhere, or they stay home and veg out, or visit friends, go to a movie or head for the mall (if I am to judge by the number of cars in the shopping center parking lots).

As for celebrating whoever the holiday was named after, well ... not a lot of people really think about it too much. Columbus--"founded" America in 1492. That's what they told us in grade school. He didn't just stumble on it and find it--he "founded" it. Wholesale and persistent massacres and strategically planned depopulation by disease are hardly the achievements one normally celebrates, so such events are not often alluded to, except among historians or scholars:

"We gave them two blankets and a handkerchief out of the smallpox hospital. I hope it will have the desired effect." [1]

How come this is rarely mentioned, in connection with the Great Christopher Columbus and his merry band of explorers? (Now, now, stop nitpicking; without him there would be no Columbus Day...)

But what must it have been like, really, to meet the Native American Indians for the first time--and for them to meet these strange new settlers of their land?

"They ... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells," Christopher Columbus wrote in his logbook in 1495.

"They willingly traded everything they owned.... They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane.... They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want. Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold." [2]

I spent Columbus's holiday on the road, in a drafty car, for six and a half hours with a large, elderly dog yawning in the back seat, Yo-Yo Ma and Friends filling the airwaves, winding down dark roads under a star-studded sky; then five and a half hours in an old, crowded, unheated bus chugging across to Canada in bone-chilling, finger-numbing cold (ask my fellow passengers!), to meet yet another bus to go two more hours further north. But I am finally home, and glad to be so.

The community garden people called me today to please come remove my giant cosmos, the only plant still left standing there, as they are going to plough the plots in preparation for winter. The unripened green tomatoes I brought in before the frost got to them and individually wrapped in old newspaper and put in a box in the basement, have all turned red and are now ready to eat.

Thanksgiving Day in Canada is not like Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.
A difference of day and night.

I dream of pumpkin pie ....