NOT the Indian Ocean

Tracy Arms, Sawyer Glaciers

My husband Doug and I departed Montevideo, Uruguay on 29 May 2015 to make a travel dream come true. Although we lived in the Pacific Northwest for years and had visited Alaska many times, we had never cruised the Inside Passage of Alaska. So now that we live a few thousand miles away, near the tip of South America, we decided to make it happen.

Our roundtrip cruise ship left Seattle, Washington at 3:54 PM on Sunday, May 31st 2015 to begin a 7-Day Inside Passage cruise to Alaska. It was all it was promised to be. A luxurious stateroom with a large picture window view of the sea, remarkable service, numerous gourmet dining opportunities, a spacious mid-size ship, and many ‘good life’ days. I even lost 2 kilos by walking daily rounds of the ship’s deck during the journey.

On 02 June we entered Tracy Arm, a fjord near Juneau Alaska. At Stephens Passage, we took a sharp right turn into the Boundary Ranges wilderness area. After a narrow, twisting fjord, with waterfalls at every turn, we saw close-up views of the majestic Sawyer Glaciers and calving icebergs in the jade-colored inland sea. A chorus of “Ooh, Ah, and WOW!” from others on deck filled the air. The breathtaking awesome scenery–reminded me of wooly mammoths and the Ice Age. What a treat to know Alaska protects its unique ecosystem of animals and plants living in the glaciated valley.

We docked in Juneau, the capital of Alaska at 6:42 AM on 03 June. Our ship tethered itself to the dock and lowered a bridge so passengers could walk directly off and into the port of call. I had flown into Juneau many time to teach computer classes. No roads lead to Juneau so it can only be reached by plane or boat. Squeezed between the Gastineau Channel and Coast Mountains, it’s a charming town with its bounty of forests, mountains, and the massive Mendenhall Glacier and the Juneau Ice fields at its back door. The Tongass National Forest stretches away to the northeast. Daylight is bountiful as are wilderness adventures around the area.

Selfie with Totem

We arrived in Sitka at 7:21 AM, 04 June and the ship anchored off shore. Passengers were “tendered” to shore on small tender boats–a five minute ride to the dock. Facing the Pacific Ocean, on Baranof Island, Sitka was once the capital of Russian America. Nestled at the foot of magnificent glacial carved mountains, Sitka is located on the outer coast of Alaska’s Inside Passage. Its colorful past is a blend of native Tlingit culture and Russian history. In 1867, Russia sold Alaska to the United States for $7,200,000.

On 05 June we docked in ‘Misty’ Ketchikan, the rainiest town in southeast Alaska. True to its name, it rained all day. Known as the “Salmon Capital of the World,” Ketchikan clutches the shores of the Tongass Narrows. Stairways are weathered and many shops and houses are built out over the water. Like good tourists, we visited Creek Street, walked up and down wooden stairs and walkways, saw colorful and unique totems, and purchased fudge galore and a handmade native Indian dream catcher.

It was calm seas most of our journey. Only one night of turbulence as we returned and entered the open Pacific Ocean heading to Victoria, British Columbia. The ship’s dining room was almost empty that evening because diners couldn’t weave their way along corridors because of rolling, high seas. By the time we finished sipping our last glass of wine, the waves had subsided and the sea grew calmer. The ocean rocked us to sleep that night

We docked in Victoria on 06 June at 6:15 PM and walked through beautiful downtown neighborhoods, exploring the capital city of British Columbia. Exhilarating scenery surprised me around every corner with cool shops, double-decker buses, horse-drawn carriages, formal flower gardens, historical buildings, the ocean, mountain views, and bike trails all along the sidewalks. Wonderful city!

We returned to the ship at midnight and departed for an overnight to Seattle, Washington. Doug and I are still ambivalent about this cruising-for-the-sake-of-cruising thing. As Doug said the last night, “it’s hard to imagine we only got on this boat a month ago.” I comforted him by saying, “Be glad this is not the Indian Ocean in monsoon season.”

Back to writing “Sandalwood Sanity and Diego Garcia” –my journey of discovery while crossing the wild Indian Ocean in monsoon season in 1975.

Going Home

 

800px-Land_Iguana_Fernandina

Returning home after being away is always thought provoking. For me anyway. My husband and I have just returned to our home in Uruguay after a cruise on the Alaska Inside Passage and a visit with our son in Arizona. Following our arrival in Uruguay, I expressed feeling grateful to be blessed with a comfortable home and loving animals waiting to welcome us. Over the years, when I’ve returned home to various places around the globe, I’ve scribbled notes in my journal of my diverse thoughts about going home. Each time I’m aware that I see ‘home’ in a different light.

When I lived in Germany on my own in the late 70s, I discovered Dory Previn’s music and rediscovered myself after a painful divorce. One of my favorite songs was from her album “Mythical Kings and Iguanas (Going Home is such a Ride).” Her sad but realistic lyrics tell about “a low and lonely ride.” I knew that feeling. The song comforted and inspired me, and I sang it often when I would first arrive home from a journey.

A prolific singer and songwriter, Dory Previn was queen of the seventies confessional songwriters and her honest words and music struck a clear chord that resonated deep within as I searched for meaning in personal relationships and the absurdity of the world around me. My life seemed calm compared to Previn’s troubled one but I found her irony in dealing with religion (she was raised in a strict Catholic upbringing) and psychology most refreshing. Seems she was rediscovering herself as well. I read once about her live performance at Carnegie Hall and how a whole row of nuns got up and walked out when she sang her song, “Did Baby Jesus Have A Baby Sister.” I laughed out loud. Seems the audience did as well.

As I wandered up and down the stairs of my life in Germany and learned to release losses and embrace new horizons, I felt grateful to Dory Previn for her pure and profound poetry encouraging me to dive to the bottom and go “down, down, down where the Iguanas play.”

Thank you Dory Previn for teaching and reaching me.

Different Angle

I love looking at things from a different angle, a different perspective, or a different point of view. And often, when focusing on pieces and parts of an image, I’m amazed at the story a focused image can tell. Reminding me that LESS is often MORE!

A few days ago, my husband (Doug) and I enjoyed lunch at our favorite restaurant, La Corte, in the heart of Old Town Montevideo, Uruguay. A trendy, business-friendly place with excellent food, it’s always crowded at lunch time. When we were seated at a table for two near the entrance, I told Doug, “A great people watching spot.”  While waiting on our server to take our order, I found my eyes focusing on the variety of shoes people were wearing and spent much of my viewing time looking down instead of up. I was amazed at the shapes of footwear entering the restaurant door.  Some shoes were obviously intended to protect and comfort the wearer’s feet while others seemed to make a statement about the wearer. High heels for a busy executive. Low heels for a sensible office worker traversing city streets without tripping, and wild shaped platform shoes for the daring young and fashion conscious 20-something, giggling greeters–tiptoeing or tripping through life. While a greeter chatted with a female professional, we captured in a snapshot the story of different generations and the gap.

shoes-montevideo

After a delicious lunch of fresh fish, we strolled through an adjoining park— Plaza Constitución (Constitution Square),  the oldest plaza in Montevideo and stopped to see the inside of the Montevideo Metropolitan Cathedral. the main Roman Catholic church of Montevideo.  Inside we viewed the sacred alter and images of the Virgin Mary, and the patron saints of Montevideo. Leaving the cathedral, I noticed a sculpture of a sleeping saint. from yet another angle. Doug snapped it and captured this glorious marble sculpture.

SleepingSaint!

As we walked along the city sidewalks back to our parked car, I found my gaze angled downward again inspecting uneven pavers. First and foremost, to prevent an accidental trip on jagged paving stones. Second, to discover unique street art along the way. A few local artists scout out broken pavers and replace them with handmade mosaic tiles in a variety of shapes and colors. I wasn’t disappointed with my findings. This gem seemed especially bright and full of life–weaving fine art into the old city’s walkways.

city-street-art

Sandalwood Sanity and Diego Garcia

800px-Sun_squeezed_in_the_middleExcerpt from Chapter One

“I’m sure they’ll teach us the ropes; how to hoist, and lower sails. Should be easy. Tomorrow,” he said, heading to bed, “we’ll book our tickets.”
I nodded.
“The Cyprus book can happen later. After our return,” he said, kissing me good night.
“Good night” I said. “Think I’ll read for a bit.” Instead I found myself thinking about life and the places it can take you, if you’re open to an adventure. I thought about the influences that move one forward and the obstacles that hold some people back. I remembered the cocktail party friends had in their home to welcome us to LA after the Cyprus War. Lots of interesting, high powered people in the entertainment industry welcoming us into their world. Many mentioned how they wished they could leave it all behind and explore other countries; all had a great excuse for why they couldn’t possibly leave their comfort zone.
Wonder why Charles didn’t want to finish the book? Perhaps he couldn’t? I enjoyed researching and writing. It was a challenge trying to figure out the unknowns surrounding the coup and subsequent Turkish invasion. Maybe Charles wasn’t free to tell his story. If so, why wouldn’t he mention it to me? Was he protecting me by not telling? I pondered that possibility. Oh well, I thought, tomorrow I’ll research Sri Lanka, the Seychelles, pleasure yachting, how to handle sea sickness … and how to avoid drowning at sea. Just in case.
I opened the book I had checked out of the library earlier that day. It was written by Jess Stearn, an author who explored the hidden dimensions of man’s mind. I had read a book by him some years ago about Edgar Cayce: The Sleeping Prophet; a book about an American psychic, a clairvoyant who could, under hypnosis, diagnose physical illness, prescribe cures, and even see a subject’s past and future lives. I had found it comforting after a near death experience following routine surgery in LA years ago. The book explained many things to me—like astral projection, near-death experiences, out of body experiences, and reincarnation.
The Search for a Soul: Taylor Caldwell’s Psychic Lives by Jess Stearn had me hooked from page one when writer friends Stearn and Caldwell are at a social event, debating the concept of reincarnation. She is adamant about not believing in it. He says he is skeptical, but open to the idea. Caldwell is a best selling, award winning author of historical fiction; Stearn is a best selling author of works on spirituality and psychic phenomenon. Stearn is convinced that Caldwell’s brilliant books are a sub-conscious recollection of her own previous lives. She makes light of his suggestion; pooh-poohing the idea, and agrees to go to a hypnotist and be hypnotized to prove her point. In session after session, Taylor Caldwell tells of the many lives she has lived and all seem related to the “fictional history” accounts in her books.
Fascinating. I thought, placing a bookmark into the book.
I went to the kitchen sink, turned on the water and began cleaning the wine glasses. I found myself staring out the window, into the dark of night, imagining being out in the middle of the vastness of the Indian Ocean somewhere.  Seemed profound and overwhelming.

The Emergency, India–June 1975

En route to Calcutta, Charles and I discussed our anxiety over the rising tension following “The Emergency” declaration. Disturbing bits and pieces of information were broadcast daily from BBC news warning people of the extreme changes to laws and announcing that local news was officially banned in many cities. It especially concerned me after having been stuck smack dab in the middle of the coup and the war in Cyprus in July 1974.

images

By the time our flight landed in Calcutta, we were hoping to board the next available plane to Sri Lanka. Unfortunately it was fully booked and we would have to wait three days before we could get seats on a flight to Colombo.

The airport bustled with business travelers, vacationers, and armed soldiers.

We made reservations to stay at a safe, luxury hotel in Calcutta and took a taxi from the airport there. We passed miles of shantytowns along the way; mile after mile of settlements made of sheets of metal, plastic, and cardboard. I wondered how families could survive in such a miserable environment.

The forty-five minute drive was often interrupted with skinny cows, rickshaws, stalled vehicles, and poor crippled people trying to cross the busy road. I winced, seeing that.

Our driver explained that Calcutta was home to many poor people and beautiful colonial-era palaces showing styles imported by the British, the Portuguese, and the French.”A blend of the old and new,” he said.

“The poverty is shocking,” I told Charles. “Much worse than we saw in Bombay or New Delhi.”

With limited time to see the highlights of Calcutta (the former capital of British India, and the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal), I made a list of MUST SEE sights. Our driver gave us information about places that might be of interest.

I wanted to see the Victoria Memorial. More white marble. Charles insisted we fit an afternoon at the horse race track into our schedule. I asked our driver about the Royal Hotel.

“Best Mughlai food in all of India,” he said smiling. “It’s in the Chitpur district. Not far from your hotel. Started as a roadside eatery. Been serving Biriyani and Mutton Chap since 1905.”

“Our hotel clerk in Agri told us about it,” I said.

“Try the rumali roti along with a dish of Firni,” he added, then went on to explain how the mutton swims in a delicious gravy that melts in your mouth.

Just listening to him made my mouth water and I drew a big star by that journal entry. “Sounds heavenly,” I said.

“Oh,” he answered, eyes rolling, “it is.”

As we neared the city, the traffic became more chaotic and much louder. Blaring horns and screeching brakes surrounded us. I thought about the glaring contrast of images in India—from the desperate to the privileged.

“And I thought driving in LA was stressful,” I said to Charles.

He nodded, gripping the door handle as our taxi swerved to avoid an accident.

A few blocks from the hotel, our driver pointed to a tall, fortress looking building. “That’s the Oberei Grand Hotel” he said proudly.

Pulling into the fancy entrance, beggars approached. The driver shooed them away and a hotel bellman hurried to welcome us and collect our luggage.

I smiled and said hello, happy to have reached a peaceful place amid the squalid chaos. How blessed we are, I thought, to afford a refuge from the outside bedlam.

A news broadcast was on and I heard a television reporter claim that “The Emergency has put Indian democracy to death.” In the discussion, another reporter said, “the matter is extremely urgent and the situation is dangerous.”

Checking in, I asked the hotel receptionist if things were getting worse.

She shrugged, not keen to talk about it openly. “No problems for tourists,” she assured. “Travel rules have changed for Indians.”

“That happened to us in Cyprus last year,” I told her. “Foreigners were allowed to leave the country, but not Cypriots.”

She asked about life in Cyprus before the war. I told her it was paradise … until it wasn’t.

Sandalwood and Sanity

An excerpt from my next book about crossing the Indian Ocean in monsoon season in 1975.

Agra, India 1975

TajMahal

We thanked our tour guide and left the magic of the magnificent Taj Mahal behind, and took a rickety cycle rickshaw back into town along a crowded street filled with potholes, constant clatter, markets, bazaars, peddlers, and the usual, always skinny, sacred cows. Traffic along the narrow road came to a halt as a small team of men surrounded wandering cows and attempted to gently coax them out of the way. One cow refused to budge and another knelt down in the middle of the road for a rest and to finish munching vegetables thrown out by street vendors. Our driver explained that the cow was a holy animal and could not be harmed, and feeding them was like receiving a blessing.

I sighed. Charles nodded.

Since we were only a short distance from our hotel, Charles suggested we pay the driver and walk the rest of the way. We ascended into the chaos of blaring taxi horns and shouting rickshaw drivers. I gasped at the sordid sight of starving beggars with limbs missing, slumped amidst haggling housewives in the market stalls. And the sad sight of skinny cows pulling carts behind bullock drivers. Walking along the crowded street, I felt out of sync with the rhythm of poor Indians. India clobbered me with its scenes of despair. Seeing poverty this close up overwhelmed my senses with despair for the doomed of humanity. These disturbing images made me want to stop the world and get off. The heat and the repugnant smells of dung and decay didn’t help.

Why is the cow sacred when humans aren’t?

I thought of all the gold-threaded saris I had seen in the airports and on planes worn by the wealthy and contrasted this to the miserable plight of the lower castes; India’s system of segregation. My thoughts and emotions overpowered me. I called to Charles,“I feel like I’m going to faint.” He assured me the hotel was just around the corner.

And just in time, we entered the pristine clean of our hotel lobby. Taking a deep breath of sweet, sandalwood incense, I paused and felt refreshed by the fragrant air.

I told the hotel receptionist about the cows roadblock earlier and asked her why the cow was sacred.

“For many reasons,” she said. “The cow gives us milk and ghee. It represents life and the sustenance of life. And, it takes nothing but grass, water and a few grains.”

“I’ve always liked cows,” I said. “They’re gentle creatures.”

“They’re vital to life in India,” she answered.

India rope trick?

Thurston_the_famous_magician_-_East_Indian_Rope_Trick-300x924

I’ve been busy writing my next book about crossing the Indian Ocean in 1975 during an extreme monsoon season. For several days now, I’ve gone back in time to Bombay, India where I played tourist before flying onto Sri Lanka and boarding a yacht I would help crew from Trincomalle, Sri Lanka to the Seychelles. Fortunately, notes from my travel journal about this exciting adventure have stirred vivid images.

As a writer, I delve into making descriptions in my story come alive for readers. Yesterday as I wrote about the highlights of Bombay, I remembered my shock at seeing not one but two snake charmers sitting on street corners of Bombay in June 1975. Even though this practice had been banned since 1972, it was for me mind boggling and very strange that people wanted to see sedated cobras and vipers dance in a basket to the vibrations of their master playing flute music. When I had researched the practice before visiting India, it had seemed cruel to keep snakes captive, de-fanged, sedated, and starved in order to entertain tourists.

I didn’t join the crowd around the snake charmers in Bombay; so didn’t see the scene up close. The hotel clerk had warned us of pickpockets who pushed and preyed on curious tourists who were busy watching this inhuman practice.

Happy to report that the snake charming business is prohibited by Indian Wildlife laws; both the python and cobra are now listed under endangered species of wildlife,  thus discouraging this practice.

I was however hoping to see a magician perform an Indian rope trick. Unfortunately,  I didn’t see any baskets filled with levitating ropes ascending skyward. Have you ever seen the Indian rope trick?

Life Mask

 

Masks

I love my life mask! It’s the middle one in the above photo. The mask to the left is one I made while living in Mexico. The one on the right was done by an unknown Mexican mask artist.

My life mask was done by an artist friend when I lived in Frankfurt, Germany in the 70s. She was preparing for a mask art show and had asked me to model several different masks. As I tried on different ones, I was amazed at the freedom I felt when I hid my own identity and allowed myself to become something I wasn’t. Or was I?

She suggested she do a life mask of me to display at the show. We met one afternoon at a craft studio for the casting. She said that President Abraham Lincoln had two life masks made – one in 1860 and another shortly before his death in 1865. She went on to describe the ancient tradition of death masks, always done shortly after a person’s death, and how many cultures believe that death masks breathe life into the dead. Comforting, I thought.

She detailed the procedure of making a negative cast of my face, which would be a mold for the positive image. She warned me that it might feel weird and get warm, but that she would be right there the entire time to make certain all went well. She established a set of signals I could use if I felt uncomfortable in any way. I assured her, “I’ll be fine.”

She greased my face liberally up through the eyebrows and hairline, and explained the importance of covering all hair so the cast could be easily removed. She told me to just relax (easier said than done) and covered my eyebrows and hairline with thin tissue, then began stretching strips of wet gauze around and across my face. When she covered my lips and slightly opened mouth, I wanted to scream, “Stop! Let me out of here.” But I didn’t, and she continued spreading the wet gauze across and around my nose. “I’m leaving holes so you can breathe, she said.” Oh that!, I thought, gasping for air.

Slathering more and more layers of the wet mixture, I wanted to give her a signal that I desperately needed to leave the scene, but instead figured if others had done it throughout history and survived, I could as well. Besides it was a great way to preserve my image at age 30. I also knew, as an artist, how important this exercise was to her. So I tried to calm the uncomfortable feelings of anxiety as she continued to patted my face and assured me it was becoming smoother and smoother. “No rough spots allowed. Perfect,” she said, finally, and left to clean up while the mask dried and set.

After about 20 minutes), it started to itch. I held up my hand to signal the discomfort. She told me to start gently moving facial muscles to loosen it while she slid her fingers under and along the edges, to lift it up and away.

“Whew,” I said, taking a deep breath.

“Wow,” said her assistant, another artist, “I want to have mine done.”

“Only problem,” my friend said, “is your bushy beard.”

“It’s fine,” he said, “I’ll lather it with Vaseline.

“I’m not so sure it will work,” she said.

“Of course it will,” he assured her and insisted on having his life mask done.

One hour later, no matter how hard we tried, the mask would not come off. He was starting to panic. I could see it in the wild of his eyes. I kept telling him it would be fine, that we would call for help.

We got a hose and sprayed water around his face. The mask didn’t budge.

Three hours later, the fire department arrived to help cut the mask off his face; beard and all. Ouch!

He laughed when said he would wait and have another done after his death … or at least wait until he was clean shaven.

I’m curious to know your thoughts on a life mask. Would you consider having one done?