amazing people, travel

At the ruins of Great Zimbabwe

Great Zimbabwe

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea

A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day, one magic day
He passed my way, and while we spoke
Of many things, fools and kings
This he said to me

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return”

(from Nature Boy by eden ahbez, 1947)

Kris wrote last night from the ruins of Great Zimbabwe…a major stop along his bicycle route around Africa.

This place holds special personal significance, and walking around the ruins was a sentimental experience for him. Kris grew up in the drab, oppressive environment of Czechoslovakian Communism. Everyone lived in fear or suspicion. The state determined every step of your life for you, well in advance. You were not encouraged to shine, or dream, or even enjoy your life. His father was a government official, but even they fell out of favour regularly, and when Kris was 13 his father died in a car ‘accident’ in which his brake cables had been cut. Needless to say, travel was not allowed (beyond the borders of neighboring Communist countries).

Yet, somehow, ten-year-old Kris—a voracious reader, and a serious, thoughtful child—managed to develop and nurture an adventurous, determined spirit. He tried to build a boat out of scrap wood in his apartment building’s communal courtyard, and he compiled a list of many countries, many places in the world that he wanted to see with his own eyes. Family, school and state did their best to squash such fanciful dreams, but I suspect they only sharpened the edge of his will. Eventually he escaped, traveling around the world, ticking off his list as he went, in his search for a new home, and finally settled in Australia. The ruins of Great Zimbabwe was one of the must-see places on his childhood list.

Every time Kris manages to reach one of the places on that list (and there have been many, now) it is an exultant declaration of his independence. It is the universe telling him that he is worthy of love. It is an affirmation of the validity, the possibility of his dreams. And it is another deep hurt, inflicted by his past, that life has kissed and made better.

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life, travel

landfall

i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

I came home last Wednesday night to the best thing possible: four long letters from Kris in my Inbox! Forty-five days after leaving Darwin, he was in Pemba, Mozambique.

My heart is singing, morning and night.

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Kakadu wildflowers

I got very little in the way of creative work done this past weekend. I took my bicycle to town for serious repairs. From there I walked to the optometrist to get my eyesight checked (and she confirmed that my perfect vision is, alas, a thing of the past) SO I then got fitted for my very first pair of glasses…the cheapest frames they had, and still the bill came to 350 smackeroos…which stung, I tell you…OUCH!!!). On another day there were trips—on foot—to post offices, to the bank, and an all-day lunch with a friend…

Tomorrow, it’s off on foot again to pick up my bike, and another visit to the bank…don’t forget that I must take the tides into account, and this week the lowest tides are smack in the middle of the day, so if I want to be ashore anytime before 3 p.m., I have to leave the boat at 11:30 a.m., and find ways to kill all that time. *sigh* Where did my weekend go?

BUT! Look what I found in my flickr sets! Never-before-seen photos of a trip Kris and I took to Kakadu in late July, some years ago. Can’t believe I never posted about the trip, or shared these. Some gorgeous wild country out there…and lots of small wildflowers, as I discovered once I started looking for them.

a prehistoric home overlooking the wetlands

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Kakadu wildflowers

Kakadu wildflowers

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Darwin, Australia, Inspirations, photography, travel

Snapshots of the Northern Territory

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Inspirations, journaling + mail art, paints and pens, stuff i've made, travel

Islands

wind rose
I have been making small paintings that look like collages of torn postcards and mail art…although the only real paper in these are the postage stamps…everything else is done with paint (including the “Air Mail” labels. This is a backup project for the Tactile Arts’ “Text” members’ exhibition, since there is a slight possibility that my original embroidered piece may garner disapproval for the word ‘fucking‘ that I have used in it. Fair enough, it’s a craft organization and not an art organization, and self-expression takes a back seat to tradition and execution in the world of craft. I’m going to make it, anyway, because I want it for our own boat.

The alternative project is not a lesser one…these postcard paintings are an old theme of mine, and I always did want to make more of them.

postcards from the equator

The paintings start with some text…often something lifted out of my journals from when Kris and I lived in El Nido, Palawan; sometimes just a story or description that I remember from those days—an image or experience that I treasure. I write/paint the story on the canvas (as much of it as will fit!) and then start to layer ‘torn paper’ effects, images, patterns, stuff related to the story. I pick a complementary postage stamp (I bought a beautiful antique stamp collection, from a dealer in old coins, that I keep for collage work like this), paint on a faux label, add finishing touches like gold leaf, and then varnish the piece.
WIP postcards from the equator
It’s been lovely, nostalgic work…re-reading my journals, resurrecting memories from our time among the islands, looking at our old photos, browsing through the stamp collection, digging up the poetry books that were my constant companions during those years.

Dilumacad Island
Islands
By Yusef Komunyakaa

For Derek Walcott

An island is one great eye
gazing out, a beckoning lighthouse,
searchlight, a wishbone compass,
or counterweight to the stars.
When it comes to outlook & point
of view, a figure stands on a rocky ledge
peering out toward an archipelago
of glass on the mainland, a seagull’s
wings touching the tip of a high wave,
out to where the brain may stumble.

But when a mind climbs down
from its high craggy lookout
we know it is truly a stubborn thing,
& has to leaf through pages of dust
& light, through pre-memory & folklore,
remembering fires roared down there
till they pushed up through the seafloor
& plumes of ash covered the dead
shaken awake worlds away, & silence
filled up with centuries of waiting.

Sea urchin, turtle, & crab
came with earthly know-how,
& one bird arrived with a sprig in its beak,
before everything clouded with cries,
a millennium of small deaths now topsoil
& seasons of blossoms in a single seed.
Light edged along salt-crusted stones,
across a cataract of blue water,
& lost sailors’ parrots spoke of sirens,
the last words of men buried at sea.

Someone could stand here
contemplating the future, leafing
through torn pages of St. Augustine
or the prophecies by fishermen,
translating spore & folly down to taproot.
The dreamy-eyed boy still in the man,
the girl in the woman, a sunny forecast
behind today, but tomorrow’s beyond
words. To behold a body of water
is to know pig iron & mother wit.

Whoever this figure is,
he will soon return to dancing
through the aroma of dagger’s log,
ginger lily, & bougainvillea,
between chants & strings struck
till gourds rally the healing air,
& till the church-steeple birds
fly sweet darkness home.
Whoever this friend or lover is,
he intones redemptive harmonies.

To lie down in remembrance
is to know each of us is a prodigal
son or daughter, looking out beyond land
& sky, the chemical & metaphysical
beyond falling & turning waterwheels
in the colossal brain of damnable gods,
a Eureka held up to the sun’s blinding eye,
born to gaze into fire. After conquering
frontiers, the mind comes back to rest,
stretching out over the white sand.

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Darwin, Australia, travel

Rock art :: Kris goes walkabout

a pile of human bones

Kris left home last Monday to walk and hitchhike his way to some river-and-sandstone country, 600 kms. from Darwin. Rocky climbing terrain, he decided to leave his bicycle behind, this time, or he’d end up carrying it on his shoulder for most of the way.

He traveled light…a jerrycan of water, a loaf of bread, a sleeping bag, a small Canon powershot. This let him walk further into the area than if he had a heap of gear, and transportation, with him, and he found this large cave, 50 meters long, dry and well-ventilated, flooded with sunlight, and full of ancient Aboriginal rock art paintings. Some natural disaster (locals say ball lightning) had wiped out the clan that lived here, and after that the place was abandoned by those people. The bones of the ones who died there are still spread over a square patch of ground at the cave’s entrance, although they have been picked over by the odd explorer, and the ‘good bits’ like skulls and tools are gone.

Kris estimates that the last time people lived in the cave was about 200 years ago. More pictures, as well as descriptions of the cave, are on his blog.

little man with parachute?

prime real estate...floor to ceiling windows

Rock art.

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amazing people, books + poetry, Inspirations, life, philosophy, travel

A hippie Christmas in India : : an excerpt from Kris’ latest book

Victoria terminus in mumbai

Victoria terminus in mumbai (Photo credit: Sofi Lundin)

Kris still hasn’t arrived from Bali, and it’s starting to look like I’ll be spending my holiday break alone on this boat: embroidering, folding origami and doing other Batty Old Lady things. I miss him; as I’ve mentioned before, it doesn’t matter how often he’s away, I never get used to it. ‘Pining’ is the word that comes to mind. I often scold myself for “putting all my eggs in one basket”, so to speak; Kris is my best friend, my most-esteemed colleague, my best teacher (and also my best student), my Belovéd, my mentor, my role-model, my solace, okay, you get the picture… :D

Where was I going with this? He’s written a fourth book, Out of Census—about his years as a student in Prague, how he ran away from Communist Czechoslovakia, and his years as a wanderer through Europe and the Indian subcontinent—and I was re-reading it tonight (it makes me feel close to him to read stories from his life, written in the same slightly-off Eastern-European English that he normally speaks with. This is my personal favorite of all his books.)

This story takes place in India in the late 70s, around Christmastime and the New Year, which I thought apt…although it isn’t a Christmas story, please be warned! It’s bleak, and very alien to what we think of as Christmastime stories…but, like all of Kris’s accounts of his life, it makes me think, it inspires me to be less afraid and to take more risks, and it opens my mind up just a little bit more.


Bedlam spread into the lofty Victoria Terminal. Whole families were living on the floor of the waiting platforms….In a quiet corner I saw a man lying on the floor by himself, fully dressed in filthy European jeans-jacket and long pants, the soles of his bare feet black as a bitumen road. As I looked at him, the destitute beggar turned over and I saw his face; he was a young, white hippie…pale, with sunken eyes the color of wilted lemons, protruding cheekbones, evidently gravely ill, abandoned by his friends, and he was sheltering from the sun and crowds on the station. With a groan he passed out, exhausted by the move. I shivered.

I wasn’t feeling well, myself. And it wasn’t the usual gastro discomfort. You get used to intestinal problems in India. Old hands ignore them, pointing out that even such luminaries as Mahatma Gandhi lived their entire lives with chronic dysentery that never improved, in spite of diets and medical attention. “Three solid shits in two years in India is good going,” we used to say. This time I had caught something more serious. I was getting weaker by the day, I had to sit down to rest every half hour; I had lost my appetite altogether. I was pissing dark brown urine, no matter how much liquid I drank…

I made it back to the hotel and went straight to bed. I was running a high fever and I was sure that I was crook as Hell. In the morning, the German girl that I had been traveling with looked into my face and her jaw dropped. “Have you looked into your eyes?” she asked. Wearily I turned my face to a little hand-mirror hanging from a nail over the washing basin. My face shocked me. Cadaverous eyes stared back at me, feverish, and instead of the usual red fever tinge they were deep yellow. The penny dropped as I reviewed my symptoms. I had hepatitis. I reached for my liver and yelped in pain. It was swollen sticking out from my side under the ribs, tender and painful. No wonder I was off food, weak as a fly, pissing blood. My liver was shot….

Generally, I am fairly resistant; my stomach is strong, but I am prone to attacks of malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. Hep was another matter. It was a serious blow, as there was no cure for it. There still isn’t. Several dozen known causes can lead to hepatitis, which is the generic name for inflammation of the liver, but there is no medicine to combat it directly. You can strengthen your body’s immune system as it is fighting, but you have to wait, two to six weeks, until it conquers the invasion by itself.

Our gang panicked; hep was a major scarecrow on the road. Within an hour I was alone. Fools. I had been spreading germs amongst them for days, as my disease incubated, before the symptoms became manifest. It was too late to run, now. What’s more, many strains of hepatitis are not directly contagious…not by simple contact or by sharing food.

This desertion by friends hurt. We had traveled together since Quetta…we were a gang. I had known some of them since Istanbul. I did not blame them—we did not know much about hepatitis—but I resolved not to travel with Germans again.

Picking up my backpack, I focused my fuzzy mind on one task: I had to get out of Bombay, or I would die like a beggar I had seen on the street, the previous day. A picture of the unfortunate hippie in the filthy jeans jacket, lying on the platform, also danced in front of my eyes…

I dragged myself down the street, bound for the railway station. Every fifty meters I had to stop and sit down. The only place to sit down was in the dirt of the pavement. Each time, I collapsed amid the rubbish, rat shit, and sweepings of the street. Even the homeless who lined the street averted their eyes when I encroached upon their domain. One insistent tune occupied my mind like a mantra…the first two lines of a Simon and Garfunkel song: “Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme…” I only knew those two lines, and I kept stubbornly repeating them, humming them in defiance as I focused on reaching the Victoria Terminal. It wasn’t a song, anymore; it was a chant of determination. I was telling myself “I am gonna make it, I will pull through.”

Three years later I heard Simon and Garfunkel sing Scarborough Fair, live on the stage, in Wellington, New Zealand, and I wept without shame—all the crushing emotions of being alone and ill in Bombay sweeping back over me….

I did get to the station without help, and I bought a second class ticket to Madras. Still humming Scarborough Fair through clenched teeth, I boarded the train. I was powerless to argue about seats. The weak and ill have no chance of negotiating in India. I could not care less about the world around me. I took down the bags and suitcases that other passengers had stuffed into the overhead luggage rack and, with effort, crawled up there, myself—stretching in the netting, stowing my own bag under my head—just like a rough bivouac in a hammock on a rock wall. One passenger got up to complain about my behaviour. I stared in silence down into his raving face, and when he stopped for a breath I opened my eyes with my fingers to show him the yellow color, and I whispered: “I have hepatitis. And I do not give a damn.” That shut him up.

It was Christmas Day. My first Christmas away from Europe, and I spent it curled up in an overhead luggage rack on the Madras Express, for the entire 36-hour trip….By the time I slid down the two steps to the platform in Madurai, I knew that I had broken the sickness’ back, and my body was on its way to recovery.

…I took a small clean room on the ground floor of a pension around the corner from the main temple, and I settled in to wait until I felt better. Christmas I had spent curled up like a used paper bag in a luggage rack on a train. On New Year’s Eve I felt strong enough to venture into the streets, to celebrate. Indian street life continues vigorously into the late hours…not as revelry, but as ordinary activity in the cool evenings. On the last day of the year there was nothing to distinguish it from any other day. By midnight everyone was asleep, streets were dead, resonating to the snores of the homeless bedded on the pavement. Indians do not celebrate the same New Year that we do. Nobody took any notice, nobody lit fireworks, nobody cared. The central government in Delhi ran its affairs by Western calendar, but both main religions, Hinduism and Islam, counted time in their own ways, aligned with the moon.

New Year in Madurai awakened me to the fact that even basic preconceptions that we assume to be universal do not reach past Istanbul. White man, in his cultural arrogance, because he doesn’t know any other way of looking at things, thinks everyone else in the world agrees with his point of view. Sitting on the pavement that night, reflecting on the different calendars that people use today, I came to realise that what we think of as the world, or the world that counts—this essentially white, Western, Christian world view—is a minority opinion, if you take the earth’s population as a whole. Hindus…the Chinese…one billion Muslims…just these three blocks comprise more than half the world’s population. Then come smaller groups, like the Japanese, who still count years from the ascension  of the current emperor, and who only celebrate Christmas Day because it happens to be the birthday of their Emperor. Add countless smaller groups who all have their distinct ways of looking at the world, and then tell me: What makes us think that the way we see things is the world norm?

We need to be reminded that the world is a much wider place than what our teachers depicted at school, and that in many places our domineering culture is seen as invasive, immature, barbarian, and not up to the standard. Happy New Year, man.

—text excerpts from Out of Census by Kristian Larsen, 2012. All rights reserved.


I’ve been told that you have never really been to a place until you have been seriously ill there. I also know that there are few things as miserable as getting sick in a strange place..having to find your way to local doctors or pharmacies, having to explain what’s wrong or what’s needed through the language barrier, and having to look after yourself because nobody else is going to do that for you. It’s a very lonely feeling. But if you pull through, something about your relationship with that place is changed. You have been tested, and triumphed. The unfamiliar surroundings hold little terror or fear for you, after the ordeal, and, strangely enough, you feel as though you finally fit in…belong there, just a bit more. A price has been paid, a part of you has been taken, and the place cracks open like a nut, in return.

Often, the only way out of the terror is through the terror. Have you ever taken that path? It can be an amazing experience, and no words can describe the personal power and strength that washes over you when you emerge on the other side.

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bookbinding, classes + workshops, Creative Travel Journal, embroidery and textiles, projects, travel

Week 7 of Designing a Creative Travel Journal

This entire post was copied and pasted from my assignment submission page on Coursera.org…just to let you know where I am at with this project. This was the last assignment of the course…supposed to be the ‘Beta’ of my product, though it’s clearly nowhere near the beta stage yet! But this was all I could do in the one day I had to finish it all.
It’s midnight, I’ve work tomorrow, so this has to go up on the course site tonight…hence the hastily chosen “brand name” and the lousy photos taken with camera flash because it was long past sunset when I took most of these.
REISE
Travel Journal and JacketREISE is German for “journey”

The journal is bound using Longstitch/linkstitch (aka Limp Binding) The pages are stitched to a spine of strong leather, with plenty of space between them for the gradual inclusion of ephemera, postcards, photos, and other souvenirs of the trip. I cut slits into the leather spine to form “loops” through which the elastic strap of the jacket can be threaded.


This view of the inside of the jacket shows the elastic strap for attaching the journal, as well as three pagemarker ribbons, which are part of the jacket.

The elastic strap weaves in and out of the journal’s leather spine…

and is held down by a snap on the outside of the jacket:


Some features of the journal itself are a 20-page fold-out photo album:

A plastic template for square petal envelopes, to make your own little pockets for small things…

using interesting papers (newspaper pages, magazines, decorative papers) that you collect along the way.

Stick these petal envelopes down wherever you need them.


Also, you can rate your travel experiences and flag your entries using the three stamps that are attached to the ends of the page marker ribbons.


When your journal is full, undo it from the jacket, and strap down a new one.


IWWMW design a travel journal (and case) that conveniently combines an artistic/creative traveler’s tools and materials for collecting/recording during a trip, and the finished works of art and memory?

Primary needs:

  • Journal integrates collected souvenirs, and records (in the form of writing, art, photos)
  • Journal has storage space for art materials and journaling tools.
  • Journal is strong, hard-wearing, long-lasting and keeps contents secure.
  • Journal is customisable to a great degree.
  • Journal is convenient to carry.
  • Journal is easy to use/deploy.
  • Journal is a pleasure to use.
  • Journal is comprised of “artist’s grade” materials.
  • Journal has pages of information that is useful while travelling.

Submit a one paragraph description of what the next steps would be to further refine and develop the artifact:

I had one day in the entire week to do my journal prototype, so there are a lot of things that have been left out as I simply did not have the time. Obviously, the actual printed pages of the journal are missing—sections for foreign words & phrases, packing checklists, To-Do or Must-Visit list pages, shopping info (bought what, where, for how much) as well as cultural and foodie notes, and lots of important travel information (itinerary, time and currency conversion, contacts, and so on) It’s also missing customisable page tabs, for different sections.

I did not get around to putting a closure on the jacket. I hoped to add small D-rings for a removable bag strap. And I would have liked the final journal case to be made of very thin but strong leather, instead of linen. A range of designs for the journal jackets (or at least diferent colours) would have to be considered.

Other ideas I had at the start of this project, and which I think are still good, are:

  • a small pamphlet with 50 fun ideas for fresh, quirky, creative ways to fill your travel journal…exercises and such
  • a website where REISE users can upload pictures of their journal pages, share their drawings, photos, collages, doodles…and engage in forums with a community of other artist-travelers.

I know this isn’t “one paragraph”, but I have learned so much from this course, the journey really has been the destination, and its own reward. I don’t think I’ll even bother to find out what my final score is, now, or download some meaningless certificate of completion! What was of real value here, I have already received.

Thanks and good bye!

◊ ◊ ◊

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