Monday, June 12, 2006

Betrayed by the Romans

(passive tense intended)

A few nights ago, I saw a BBC program in which the host seemed quite miffed at the Romans. He seemed to believe he had been direly mislead most of his life, to believe the Romans were innovators, inventors, explorers. Instead, in his later life, he has now found them to be more the marauding sort, stealing from the Persians, ripping off Greek ideas, leaving a mess everywhere they went and claiming credit for the things to which they actual, inevitably, consistently, laid waste. He really did a wonderful job of celebrating the Persians in particular, and it was a very refreshing take in comparison to the litany of bullsh*t being posted, reported and dished out about Iran at the moment in the United States.

Also, as it was not much reported on in the United States prior to my leaving, I hadn't realized the World Cup was on, honestly, before I arrived. I had forgotten about it. Here, of course, it's everywhere. English flags, calendars of the schedule up all over town, in every pub, school, library and on the occasional street corner. I quite like watching football (soccer to you Americans), much to the relief of all my European hosts, who will be glued to the television pretty much the length of each of my entire visits. The other night, Iran played Mexico. June and Bruce, the friends I am staying with currently, and I were all secretly cheering on Iran. We couldn't help it - no offense to Mexico, we just couldn't help but think how nice it would be for Iran to win a match. They didn't - in the end it was 3-1, but they did score a point. Not trounced, at least.

The next day, we went to the British Museum hoping to catch the Michelangelo drawing exhibit. We hadn't pre-booked, and so were instead directed (by intuition and by staircase direction) to an exhibit of modern Middle East art. To think of something to this effect being a major exhibit in the States right now, especially featuring so much Iranian art, is unthinkable entirely. I was blown away, both by the exhibit itself which was stunning (it's title is Word into Art, and so is particularily pleasing for me!), but also by its political timing. This is what one poet, Zuhayr ibn Abi Sulma (died 609) has to say about armies and invaders:
How many men dost thou see, whose
abundant merit is admired, when they are
silent, but whose failings are discovered,
as soon as they open their lips!

Half of man is his tongue, and the other
half is his heart: the rest is only an image
composed of blood and flesh.

Couldn't have said it better myself. Certainly better than most Roman war poetry.

Exploring in this direction, doing "vacation research" in Bruce's endless Persian art books and reading poet Etal Adnan (bought a great book at the exhibit, but all of her poetry is amazing), June brought out some of her favorite Christian contemplative writers. She had, rightly, sniffed that Buddhism has opened me, lead me to being more receptive to truly contemplative work (she witnessed it first hand in the large amount of "religious" poetry in the Middle East exhibit) in any tradition. This ecumenical strain of honesty, and open-heartedness in the face of war, returns in the very first page I read of a book of contemplative Christian poetry June loaned me. The biblical verse he is making reference to is John 4:4-10, in which Jesus breaks the Samaritan/Jewish divide by simply asking for a cup of water from "the wrong woman". The poetry is by a chap named Eddie Askew from his book, Breaking the Rules:
Offering me the chance
to leave my warm cocoon,
thermostatically controlled by selfishness,
and take my place with them,
and you.
At risk in real relationships,
where love, not law, defines what I should do.


A few years ago, when we began this war with Iraq (part deux), I made my first "buddhist" sign:
"Fear opens spaces. Please do not fill them."
At the protest, everyone was sure they knew what I meant, that I meant not to bomb people, that the message was directed at "them". But that's not the only thing I meant, of course. With words, with cocoons, with all the things even happy liberal roman ancestors fill things with. TV. Anger. Sadness. It was directed at everyone.

At the Greenwich observatory, on the prime meridian itself, June and I stood over the spot marking Chicago's longitude, our connecting point, and took a photograph of our feet. As the Britons were mostly at home watching the match, we were surrounded more than usual by a bevy of foreign languages. We were both silent, grinning, as the Greenwich mean time, explorers standard, ticked away over our heads. Here we were, being explored, exploring. Inside the museum Harrison's sucesses at setting sea clocks are lauded alongside the earliest Persian clocks and astrology-reading instruments, brass meets brass.

And finally, I am preparing to go study with Natalie Goldberg (of Writing Down the Bones fame, or, as I have told those who don't know her work, "the famous person who does what I do in teaching contemplative writing") in July in Taos (Miriam's summer tour part deux). I have been reading her required and recommended books. I had yet to read her third book on writing, Thunder and Lightning, as for some reason I tend to stave off truly desirable things until I can't resist them anymore (Freudian analysis is welcomed, but privately by email only, please!) and then devour them completely. It is a stunning book, written 20 years after Bones, and this is what she has to say about opening inside spaces (to writing):
"If you want to know what you are made of, if you want to stand on death's dark face and leave behind the weary yellow coat of yourself, then just now -- I hear it -- the heavy wooden doors of the cloister of no return are creaking open. Please enter."

Prayas and I established this blog over a year ago. The last few nights, I have craved it, so much to say, so few places that feel as clear to express all the connections, all the synapses my newly released brain is making. This is how travel is for me, I set off to be open and each thing I encounter just opens me more. I am continually stunned and validated by this process. This Breaking of Rules. This Thunder and Lightning. Doesn't matter if its fear or joy in the end that opens me, that's all plot. I have heard rumor lately on the Shambhala lists that Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (the founder of Shambhala, the buddhist mandala with which I sit and study) spoke a great deal about travel and using travel as an opportunity to open. Until someone tracks down his talks on it (the "folks who know" know the writings are out there, but no one knows where exactly), I'll just have to keep exploring it myself. The old fashioned way: no compass, no clock, no weary yellow coat, just space and companionship and experience as my guides.

1 comment:

  1. I had forgotten that you were studying with Natalie in Taos! I've been reading Julia Cameron's autobiography (which I find a bit horrifying on multiple levels), but the thought of you in Taos makes me happy.

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