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Courage and Magic

I’m sitting up here on the same rooftop deck in Tel Aviv that I started my unforgettable journey almost three weeks ago! The late afternoon sun is starting to set over the Mediterranean Sea and the intoxicating breezes drift over me, telling me that I surely will be back here. I was born to live by the sea, and I am bewitched by this city and country, by the waves and the salt, the sand, the coolness of the ocean air, and the most beautiful boardwalk I have ever seen in which to take it all in.

I left off my last blog about to start my Jordanian cooking class, but I think I just wanted to get some general thoughts and experiences out on paper before I go to pack and get ready for one last night out before flying home tomorrow morning.

Over the last few years, I have had the privilege of traveling – a lot – and to many different countries and cultures. This has not only been a deliberate choice but something that was in my blood I think from an early age. Everyone laughed at me when I said in all the serious thoughtfulness of a young child that I wanted to be a professional tourist when I grew up. I used to pour over maps imagining what it would be like to actually travel to all those countries. I’m a bit obsessed with globes and still pour over maps. I’m curious and I love trying new things. I love meeting new people and making friends. I love home and family and always want a real home to come back to – I don’t think I could be one of those that travel indefinitely over years and years – but there’s nothing quite like the excitement of planning for a trip, the rush of airports, and the deep joy that comes from experiencing moments of breathtaking beauty in this incredible world we live in.

I guess I have heard so many times that traveling is “an escape from reality.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Travel drops you smack right into the middle of reality and demands that you confront what you see, feel, experience. Traveling requires guts. Guts to face the challenges to whatever worldview you might have or been brought up with. It requires courage to face yourself. Wandering through cities or wilderness or wherever by yourself, you are brought face to face with WHO YOU ARE: your assumptions about other people and cultures and countries. Perhaps you start to realize that that upper-middle class white American existence that was all you’ve ever known – and the concomitant worldview that accompanies it – is not the only valid way to think. Perhaps you realize that relationship you’re in is not really the right one for you. Perhaps you become aware of how crazy blessed you are when you see whole villages that have next to nothing and you tell yourself you will never complain about anything again. And because there are so many practical challenges with travel, you also are confronted always with CHOICE. Do you choose to live in and embrace the moment? – The bus schedules written in a foreign language, the missed train, the hard bed and getting lost for hours in a strange city, the forgotten toothbrush, or stolen bag. Of course, we have these opportunities every.single.day. to choose, to change, to examine who we are but all I’m trying to, perhaps inadequately, say is that travel accelerates that process in a crazy way.

And just as travel is about shattering worldviews, confronting assumptions and prejudices, travel is also about MAGIC. I have had my senses filled with so much beauty that the joy threatened to shatter my soul. It seemed at times too big to contain. I will never forget standing in the pure snow of Iceland as it whipped around me gazing into the glowing, gold horizon over a sea fronted by a black beach and the tears just came to my eyes. I thought perhaps it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced. I remember weeping my way through the Jewish center of Prague, just unable to contain the emotion from the thousands of lives lost and the children that had to go through such unspeakable things. I remember where laughter trumped any need for a common language in a little mountain village in Thailand as we sat around sharing a meal and an unforgettable evening. I remember the complete exhilaration of sailboat racing in Sweden with some of the finest people I’ve met in my life: a group of friends whose love for each other was so real and tangible and who opened that love to include me.   And just this trip I remember so much – the moment my guide, Mahmoud, led me blindfolded to the edge of a cliff to surprise me with a view of the Treasury in Petra, the crazy beautiful slot canyons, the delight of scuba diving – always – seeing enormous fish the size of bathtubs, sunken wrecks, crazy funny puffer fish, and the blues, yellows, greens, reds of coral. Its hard to even convey the magic. (and there’s my plug for scuba diving, people…do it. It’s the closest thing I can imagine to being on another planetJ One of my favorite things in all the world. …

Anyway, I’m not really sure I conveyed all that was on my heart, but I guess I’m just trying to encourage everyone to be open to new people, experiences, ideas, cultures. Perhaps the ideas you have about the Middle East are a bit skewed – mine were before coming here. Perhaps you just want to try something new! Don’t be scared! Step out. All I know is that my life has been indelibly changed and enriched by stepping outside my comfort zone and experiencing this awesome world we all share together. Shalom…

Tordstock 200 År

Tordstock 200….

Words to describe this experience…hmmm. It’s tough. A music festival? A camping adventure? A birthday party for 5 Swedish guys all turning 40 (hence the “200” in the festival name)? All of that, yes, but most importantly to me, it was an almost indescribable weekend of witnessing and participating in the beauty of relationships – a celebration held and attended by a community of friends that rivaled, if not exceeded, anything I’ve ever experienced in my life before.

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A little background: My San Diego/Swedish friend Karin has a whole group of close friends back in Sweden, of course, and on the agenda for our trip was this huge birthday weekend for 5 of her good friends who were all turning 40 this year. They had been preparing this event for months and it involved music, stages, grills, hot tubs, campfires, beer, tents, and people – lots of people.

One of the birthday guys has a lovely, rather rural piece of property and had cleared out a gorgeous little plot in the middle of the woods. By the time we Americans showed up (a day early to hang out and help with the last minute prep), there were already multiple booths, stages, grills, hottubs, etc set up. I was extremely impressed! We jumped right in with helping set up tents, make food, test out the beer selection and pretty much laugh our guts out in between the welcoming hugs and extensions of love and friendship.

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The first night  we spent at Karin’s best friend’s home with his lovely family. Omg. The sweetest little family in the world. The next day was unofficially a bit of a more intimate gathering I suppose – which was great for us newbies because we got to meet and get to know some people before the huge Saturday crowd showed up. I think we Americans established ourselves as the master grillers – We really had a blast helping out with everything. It took me right back to the good ol days of my past manning the grill for 1-200 people. Pounds and pounds of Bacon, eggs, hotdogs, hamburgers. Even the Freddie Special (don’t ask…;)

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Ryan manned the woodfired hot tubs! So fun! I guess this is a sorta popular/common thing in Sweden to rent these portable hot tubs. Im so impressed by the lovely portable items you can bring to these festivals – even the mobile port-a-potties were heated and lit. I almost camped out in one it got so cold the first night! J Probably the most impressive piece of equipment was the grill. Johan – who is a genius with his hands – designed and built the one we used. I want one.

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We stayed up till the wee hours of the morning singing and talking around the campfire, hollering out both Swedish and English tunes even if we could only join in in the “lah lah lah’s” of the chorus… Those who know me know that I am quite obsessed with campfires – some of my favorite memories involve friends and campfires and nights under the stars… I was pretty much in Heaven soaking it all in and enjoying the music and keeping the fire stoked. 🙂 We Even busted out another batch of grilled hotdogs at 2AM for those who had worked up an appetite (again)!

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Karin is friends with a rather well-know European musician named “Yellow Mike” and she had secretly arranged with him to stop over on his way up to Oslo for a surprise concert – it was completely amazing. We loved it – his stage presence and music were stellar and it was so kind of him to swing by for a couple hours and honor us with his time and music.

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One of the birthday guys’ brothers has been in a band since 1978. They were the main presenters of the weekend and, gosh, do these guys rock. They sound SO great and filled the woods with such an epic mix of popular songs – both Swedish and English. We stayed up through most of the nights too, just singing around the campfire and enjoying these perfect moments in time.

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So, this is really just barely scratching the surface of an outstanding weekend, but hopefully the pictures will help bring it all together. I know I made some epic memories – the love and laughter, the fun and music, the bonding. I was so touched by the palpable love most of all. There was no holding back on hugs and kisses. You could see, touch, feel and were basically immersed in a mileau of deep comraderie and could clearly see the affection that these special group of friends shared. I feel deeply honored to have been not only invited to share in the activies but to be welcomed warmly into those bonds of friendship.   Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you lovely Swedes. I really do miss you.

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True Currency

100% chance of rain…yeah, I went motorbiking anyway…I’m laughing even now at myself. Sheesh. What an experience. I alternated between singing Eponine’s dying song “A little fall of rain can hardly hurt me now” from Les Mis and grinning my fool head off as I puttered about a very wet Thai countryside taking in the vistas, coffeeshops, elephants, hot springs, and Buddhas. Oh, did I mention it was my first time ever on one of those scooters? Don’t tell my mom, ok?

Anyway, it was exhilarating and beautiful and I got very wet despite my $3 rain jacket. So after a hot shower I’ve been spending the afternoon in my hotel room getting lost in computers and pictures, laundry and writing, and chocolate bars.

…I’ve migrated to a new setting: a lovely little café/restaurant owned by an Italian (yay!). Already ordered a whole carafe of wine (which the owner has already teased me about) and mushroom bruschetta…anyway …this post is supposed to be about my trekking trip to the Karen tribes outside Chaing Mai…

My good Swedish/San Diego friend, Karin, has told me for ages about her time with the village people years ago and what an incredible experience it was (it was partially her stories that started the flame of desire to visit Cambodia); and then one of the British girls I met told me about HER time doing the same thing and how amazing it was. So, I knew then and there if I made it up to chiang Mai, a multi-day trekking tour was a definite must on the agenda.

The way everything worked out still just has me SO grateful!! I ended up with another fantastic group: A dutch guy, another American girl my age and her brother and sister-in-law, and two guys from Paris. We all got along spendidly, laughed and talked a lot and had about the same level of ability and shared topics of interest which just made the experience that much better. Harald, the Dutchman is a great photographer, so we had a lot of fun with that as well.

Our guide, Supot, being half Thai and half Karen brought not only a deep respect and knowledge to our time with the villagers, but the authentic love and friendship between him and the villagers was beautiful and inspiring.

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We drove a couple hours outside chiang Mai before beginning our trek to the first village. The first thing Supot taught us was how to say “hello/thank you/goodbye” – all the same word, which we practiced and used constantly over the next couple days. I might add that I am impossibly hopeless at languages. We enjoyed greeting people as we passed, learning about their culture and watching the kids go through their little kindergarten drills. Supot was amazing: as we trekked up little mountain trails he was constantly pointing out little things from huge termite hills (the villagers put little sticks on the top of them every time they pass one to help out the termites) to huge spider holes; had us chew tangy flower buds and sour monkey fruit. Taught us about bamboo trees. History. Science. Geography. He is a wealth of information with a peaceful, confident demeanor. He spent 12 years as a monk which might explain a lot. I think we all emerged from this experience with a great respect for him. It says a lot about him that his best friend is this 72 y/o Karen elderly man. Wow. I loved that.

We trekked 2-3 hours up to another village, where we spent some time with the villagers before settling in and getting set up for dinner and the night. I had just so much fun getting to know the people and trying to communicate. Its amazing what one can convey with such a great language barrier. One guy I was “talking” to while he cooked us some soup over a little outdoor fire was absolutely ecstatic to learn I was the same age as his (rather shy) wife. They thought it was quite funny that I was mildly distressed by the slaughter of our poor chicken we brought live all the way from the market. Truly farm to table that night. Doesn’t get much more organic than handfuls of herbs from the forest, fresh chicken, open fire…

In the evening, we ate on the floor, family style and just enjoyed the next few hours of each others company – looking at pictures, asking questions. Laughing uproariously. Arm wrestling on the floor. Passing around hand rolled leaf and tobacco cigarettes, shots of (horrific) sake and vodka. Occasionally the villagers would break into a raucous round of “jingle bells” which still makes me laugh. They always loved to get to the “HEYYY!!” part. We kept them up much too late and finally retired to our communal “sleeping” room. Im not sure how much sleep I got –It got VERY cold and I kept waking up. But we had a pretty fun time – felt like a grown up slumber party.

We started trekking again the next morning above the clouds – absolute pure, foggy beauty. Little did we know what was in store for us: this day’s trekking was not for the faint-hearted. It really was TOUGH. We waded through rivers, over slippery rocks, up muddy inclines, clambering along unmarked trails. Wet, bruised, muddy, scraped, we finally made it to a little waterfall oasis where we had lunch and a bit of a swim. It was absolutely amazing: during one of our breaks, these incredibly talented guys MADE us chopsticks for our lunch – out of bamboo – with a MACHETE. They are SO talented with their machetes. Absolutely use them for everything. Same goes for Bamboo: baskets, bridges, houses, chopsticks, cups, railings, etc. etc.

Next came the cave (homemade bamboo torches too of course). I felt exactly like I was in the pages of Jules Verne’s “journey to the center of the earth”. So romantically adventurous – one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

After a VERY hot, sunny uphill climb, we clambered into the back of a truck and started our homeward journey home.

Take-away memories: The universality of love and humor… Language barrier simply fades away. Meeting new people and the kindness of strangers. Attention to details: what a difference it makes (homemade chopsticks! Real bamboo torches! Banana wrapped packed lunches!) . How LABOR intensive life without technology is: we watched these two guys HAND-saw whole planks of teak wood.

Memories I will hold forever.

Traveling has only reinforced my beliefs of the primal needs of the heart for love, belonging, community. No matter where our feet take us, we need that person and/or people with whom we can feel HOME, safe and completely accepted. Personally, I find contentment elusive without that. So, now having almost completed my carafe of wine (no judging)…here’s to unconditional love and friendship.

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” Lester Bangs

Aaaanndd I have all these amazing photos I picked out to go along with this whole trek but I just started shooting in raw format and am not having an easy time figuring out how to transfer to JPEG and upload so I shall have to repost this with pictures or something when I figure it out… sorry!

Art and Social Consciousness

My final project in my Art Appreciation coursework was to create a thematic exhibit of several pieces of artwork and had to include art across different time periods, cultures and continents.  Each piece had to include a description of why I chose it and how it fit into the exhibit.  I thought you all might have some enjoyment walking through my little exhibit.  I love art and I love learning about it so I had a great time researching and putting it together.

Thematic Exhibition on Art and Social Consciousness

“Social conscience: the ability to reflect on deeply held

opinions about social justice and sustainability.”

Myshele Goldberg

 While “social consciousness” initially appears to be a much more modern theme that is more easily found today in venues from memorials to sculptures, posters and paintings, street art and gardens, it is, necessarily, a theme that we find in art going back in time hundreds and even thousands of years.   The human soul always has longed to be able to express its deepest thoughts and passions through art. One of the most powerful tools of connection, art – through writing, music, canvas – has given us, as a species, a method of relaying the profundities of the life and society that is around and inside us.

The following pieces of art all present a theme of social consciousness seen through specific lenses of justice and law, environmental awareness and responsibility, war and its aftermath of desolation, healthcare and suffering, discrimination and genocide.

This exhibition has a seemingly somewhat dark theme, but it is my wish that the viewer leave with his or her soul moved by reflection and hope. Hope that as dark as periods in our history have been, we are learning from those mistakes and making changes for our societies and our world. As long as artists are allowed the freedom to express their consciousness to and about society, we will continue to have an opportunity to seek a better present and future for our world.

Law Code Stele of King Hammurabi (1780 BCE)

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While this may piece of art may seem like a contradiction, when one thinks about art as “social protest” or “social consciousness” or a “memorial or remembrance” against government injustices or political forays or destructive wars and rulers, this stone actually represents a move towards freedom in society: the freedom to not have laws and rulership arbitrary and nebulous. The laws carved out here, yes, seem brutal, perhaps, (“an eye for an eye”) but no longer is action and punishment, consequences and crime left up to moods and whims, subterfuge and scheming, but on a “constitution” of sorts. (Tran, M., 2014). Freedom without laws is really just the worst sort of slavery.

Fever Van by L.S. Lowry (1935).

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“Fever Van” is included in this exhibition as a moving witness of the never-ending issues of healthcare that confront every modern society and country on earth. Birth, life, sickness, death, compassion, money, politics: all are always inevitable involved. This picture depicts the then current practice in Britain, of forcibly taking away a child with an infectious disease to an “isolation hospital” from which they had little chance of ever coming home. (Martin, C., 2013). Lowry is famous for his depictions of the deplorable state of healthcare at that time and his art serves as a reminder for us of the continued need for social reform in this area.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso (1937)

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A contemporary of L.S. Lowry, Picasso became also moved and inflamed by social events surrounding him during the early 20th century. Though specific interpretation of the symbols and images are, in typical Picasso fashion, left up to the viewer to interpret, “Guernica” was an outraged expressionistic response following the bombing of a little town in Spain that left more than 1,000 people dead.   General Franco allowed the German and Italians to bomb Guernica in a hideous experiment to “learn about the psychological effects of air warfare.” (DeWitte, D.J., Larmann, R.M., & Shields, M.K., 2012).

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe by Peter Eisenman (2004)

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Last year, I had the privilege and grave honor of viewing this memorial in Berlin. It is a moving experience to walk through the 2,711 tomb-like structures and contemplate both what the tragic events that the Memorial stands for and what the artist was trying to convey with both the lack and the extremes of symmetry. Like Picasso’s “Guernica,” Eisenman wanted the viewer to interpret the memorial as he or she wishes, and, indeed, many different conclusion have been drawn from viewing and experiencing this memorial of remembrance. Though the article is a general criticism of the memorial, I found the following paragraph written by Richard Brody in The New Yorker particularly expressive of this piece of art:

“…In the shallow corner of the plaza, tourists sit and chat on bench-high stelae, children climb, all enjoy wide-open and thrillingly grand perspectives on the surroundings, including the Tiergarten to the west, and the installation takes on the cast of an austerely modern yet pleasantly welcoming park. But, upon entering the narrow alleys and plunging between higher and higher slabs, perspectives are sliced to a ribbon, other visitors are cut off from view, and an eerie claustrophobia sets in—even as some visitors (not just kids) play little games of hide-and-seek in the rectilinear maze. And the title, striking against the experience, creates sparks of metaphorical extrapolation: The Jews of Europe lived carefree, as in a park, until they wandered into frightening canyons of shadows from which the escape routes were narrow and distant. Yet, even then, amidst terrors and dangers, children played and families cohered, citizens from whose midst neighboring Jews were deported and slaughtered continued to frolic with indifference, exactly as many living in relative comfort do nowadays while political depravities are inflicted daily on far too many in places around the world. When my family and I got back to the bench-high stelae, I, too, sat down and checked messages.”

Cry Freedom (1987)

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This film about apartheid is based on the true story of a South African, black activist, Stephen Biko, and an American, white, liberal journalist. Though there are many films and documentaries made about the issues, times, and people of apartheid in South Africa, I chose this film to be a part of this exhibit both because of the accessibility of the film for viewers and the superb personal stories and acting. I believe that films have ways of raising social awareness that other art cannot as easily. By combining art forms and the ability to capture movement and scenes, film uses our combined senses to emote a response that lingers in one’s mind and heart.

Street Art by “July i”

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On a lighter note, this last piece in my exhibition, reminds us of the issues surrounding us today regarding the environment: pollution and waste are real and we are well-served to remember that each of us can do something about it in our every-day lives. “July i” is an anonymous street artist that in provocative and mostly amusing ways, hones our attention to the beauties and inconsistencies surrounding us. Street art is a valuable form of expression in our communities today and serves to remind us of not only our responsibilities but our connectedness to each other.

Robert Kennedy said,

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”  

Art is one of the most powerful ways of expressing this. As one of my good friends once said, “Art is only good if it moves you somehow.” I hope that you, the viewer of this exhibit, have been moved in some way and are inspired to send out “ripples of hope” into your communities.

References

DeWitte, D.J., Larmann, R.M., & Shields, M.K. (2012). Gateways to art.    New York, New York: Thames & Hudson Inc.

Tran, M. (2014). Ancient Babylonian art shows the origins of justice.                   State Press Magazine. Retrieved from                                                                     http://www.statepress.com/2014/01/29/ancient-art-shows-     the-origins-of-justice/

Martin, C. (2013). Art with a social conscience. The Lancet, volume 382   (issue 9895). Retrieved from                                                                                       http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(13)61850-4/fulltext

Brody, R. (2012). The inadequacy of Berlin’s “Memorial to the        murdered Jews of Europe.” The New Yorker. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/the-front-row/the-inadequacy-of-   berlins-memorial-to-the-murdered-jews-of-europe

Monday Meditation

“How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people.” Albert Einstein

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My sweet gramma.                                   Me and baby sis many years ago…:)