The loss of story – further reflections on the crumbling of perceptual boundaries

When I consider the lessons of our divestment over the past several years, the house on McCollum Street, the house on Park Street, Mama Ganache, a lifetime of acquisitions – I find I always return to the center: what I am, I take with me.

What I am has nothing to do with the things and stories that surround me. It doesn’t need even one suitcase to contain it, much less two. When nostalgia for what I had begins to fill me, wherever I am, I can go to my heart and feel at home with who I am, and that is enough.

Ceiling tile for sale on a street in Morocco

It’s where I find hope, where I can recover that sense of eager anticipation the Hathors recommend in these times of failing expectations and beliefs, the loss of story, and crumbling perceptual boundaries.

One of the seminal books of my hippie years was a typewritten channeled teaching called Season of Changes. I’ve forgotten the details of the predictions, but I’m sure they’ve been borne out or will be soon enough. It was a dark view of the future, full of cataclysm and apocalypse. Written in question and answer format, the last responses concern how to respond to the changes. As I recall, the advice most forcefully given was to practice meditation.

It’s comforting to imagine that more people than ever are doing that, at least in my own bubble. It’s less comforting to remember how tiny a percentage of the world’s population my bubble contains.

But it’s sound advice. When the now threatening storm of storms is full upon us, when that moment of personal and collective apocalypse that we all feel coming finally arrives, it’s the meditators who will be able to hold the rudder.

Storm coming in at our house in Cordes

Meditation takes you to your center, to the center, the one we all have in common. It takes you out of the chaotic whirl of stories to the place of no story, where energy is conserved instead of fueling the miasma of outer experience.

It takes you beyond imagination, beyond the limits of space and time, and beyond the singular focus of our culture on the physical: on acquisition (growth vs. maintenance), on hierarchy (dominion vs. sharing), beyond your own little bit of the apocryphal elephant.

Letting go of the world as we know it, the world of perception, this particular consensus reality, is necessarily heart-breaking. It’s painful to separate from the things and people and stories we love, and love is, after all, what it’s all about.

The tricky part is to connect love to the universal rather than the particular.

And that’s where meditation can take you.

Ninety days outside the Schengen Area – Le Jardin du Safran

After nearly three weeks in the big cities of Morocco, Tom and I headed to the mountains.

Atlas Mountains from the road from Marrakech to Ourika

Tom had visited the Ourika Valley in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains before, so we booked a room at in Tnine, the village he’d visited with a souk where the Berbers came by donkey. We planned to see that on Monday, the day of the week it happens. We arrived on Friday.

Our hosts in Morocco have been very hospitable, but Abdurrahman at the Secret Atlas is by far the most generous and friendly of them all. Using a translator on his phone because he speaks only Arabic, he served us delicious thyme tea on our arrival, told us about his family, and shared beautiful passages from the Koran that explained his exceptional hospitality. For 11€/night, we have a spacious bedroom, living room and kitchen. The extraordinary breakfasts Abdurrahman cooks for us each morning are a few euros more.

Tiles on the wall and floor of the Atlas Secret

Kitchen

The apartment is elegantly spare and spotless, the bed excellent, and views spectacular.

View from the Atlas Secret

We were a little surprised, however, to find that the Secret Atlas is in apartment building on the relatively busy street that connects the two parts of the village. On Airbnb, it’s listed as a “farm stay.”

On our first afternoon in Tnine, we explored the part of the village near the river. It was hot, the pollution from all the cars and motorcycles hung low, and other than offering a window into the lives of ordinary residents of the valley, there wasn’t much to see there.

Street scene, Tnine, Ourika

The next morning, we discovered that other than a couple nice places for tea or a meal, the other end of the village had little to offer either.

We looked on the internet to see what else we could do. Everything looked like it would require another expensive taxi ride. The taxis to and from Marrakech are a bargain because they’re shared by up to seven people, but to call one to go from point A to point B requires paying the fee for the distance traveled to where you are and to where you’re going at the full rate.

But wait. It looked like at least one destination was close by, and it was something neither of us had ever seen: a saffron farm!

Le Jardin du Safran is an easy walk from the Secret Atlas. We’d passed by the dirt road that leads to it the day before.

What an enchanted place! We found the front gate open.

Entrance to Jardin du Safran

A sign told us we were free to wander around but not to pick the fruit or flowers. Pretty soon the farm manager found us and took us on a tour that lasted a couple hours.

Pathways, Le Jardin du Safran

Synchronistically, we’d arrived the day before the four best and busiest days of the year: the saffron harvest. Every year, from November 4 – 8, when the flowers of the crocus sativa bloom, dozens of local women are hired to do the delicate work of pulling the bright red pistils out of the flowers, nipping off the yellow end with their fingernails just so, to produce the tiny strands of highly aromatic spice so highly valued throughout the Mediterranean, and the world.

Crocus flowers harvested the morning of our visit

Pistils

Instead of watching the women at work, we sat down on the stools around one of the round tables and learned how to pull the pistils out of the flowers ourselves! Then we saw the drying process and smelled the exquisitely freshly dried product.

Saffron before drying

The second part of the tour was a leisurely walk through the farm, where a wide array of other herbs are grown, and trees: olive, walnut, persimmon, pomegranate, date, apple, and argan for oil, all arranged around small square plots in which the crocus bulbs were planted. The day’s harvest was already picked, but a few flowers were left for the tourists.

Crocus sativa

Dates

Olives

Tom and our guide

Roses in November

There were also goats and donkeys.

Tomorrow we’ll visit another local farm, one that calls itself the bio-aromatique, organic-aromatic, farm. After today’s surprise, I can’t wait.

I guess it’s a farm stay after all!

Ninety days outside the Schengen area – sacred geometry in Morocco

It was in the Nejjarine Museum of Wood Arts in Fès that the thought struck me. The chaos of the crumbling medina, the vibrancy of the souks, the noise, the pollution, the exploding energy of the colors, and the sheer quantity of stuff –

Souk, medina, Marrakech

– is beautifully balanced by prevalence of the purposeful geometry, sacred geometry, everywhere.

That’s why Morocco is so enchanting.

Souk, medina, Fès, Morocco

Doorway, Marrakech Musèe

Wall, Palais el Mokri

Islam takes the prohibition of worshipping graven images seriously, and discourages figurative art. Like all of life, art should be dedicated to God, and God is only describable as essence. Geometry is essence.

Fountain, Palais Glaoui, Fès

Who can resist being centered by such design?

All my years of studying sacred geometry, beginning even before my Ganesh Baba days, and then Dan Winter and most deeply with Alice O. Howell, peaked at that moment in the museum. I stood at the center of a ideally proportioned room surrounded by mandalas, exquisite symmetry, perfect curves, rhythmic repetition, and profoundly satisfying rectangles and squares.

I wanted to take dozens of pictures, but photography was not allowed, so I was forced to confront the serene beauty of that room face on. It was transformative.

Since then I’ve consciously attuned myself to noticing and letting the geometry take me in.

Palais el Mokri

Medina, Marrakech

Palais el Mokri, Fes

Pastry, souk, medina, Fès

Even contemporary Moroccan design uses the elements of sacred geometry to create beautiful calm spaces, as exemplified by our current Airbnb in the new part of Marrakech.

Magical!

Detail, lamp, Marrakech apartment

Detail, lamp, Marrakech apartment

Dining room table and chairs

Dishes

Bedspread

Gate to new apartment building

Light fixture in our Airbnb apartment in Tnine, Ourika

Living in Cordes – Stone walls

Cordes-sur-Ciel was built as a safe haven for people who lost their homes in the nearby city of Saint Marcel, which was razed during the Albigensian Crusade. Said to be the first of the bastides, it has five walls built in concentric circles.

(More about the history of Cordes-sur-Ciel can be found here.)

A neighbor recently told us that the stone wall across from our home is the unfinished fifth wall. Indeed, our house is just below the Porte de l’Horloge, the eastern entrance to the medieval city, which is in the fourth wall, built between the 14th and 16th century. Our neighborhood, quartier du Barri, is a 17th century suburb of the medieval village.

Cordes sits on a rocky outcropping, and is entirely built of local stone: limestone, sandstone, and dolomite. The houses are stone and the streets in the medieval village are cobbled. Walls surround every garden and line every street.

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There are walls upon walls upon walls.

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Living without a car gives me plenty of time to appreciate stone walls all around. One of the most delightful things about Cordes is its authenticity: it looks like and is a place that has been continually inhabited since the 13th century. The walls reflect its history.

They bring me peace, connectedness, and a sense of stability. They are the keepers of the stories.

I never tire of their variety, their richness, their complexity.

In a village of art, the stone walls are perhaps the greatest art.

 

Living in Cordes – Mornings

Most mornings I wake up before sunrise, open the shutters, roll out my rug and light a candle, and then do some stretches, breathe, and meditate for a while. When I open my eyes, the sun is up – or on its way up – and the view is so lovely, I try to save it in a photo.

These are some of the morning pictures I’ve taken. They begin in early August. The last one was taken this morning, the first day of fall.

Living in Cordes – Mocha

The evening Tom and I returned from Le Havre with our rented van full of the boxes we’d shipped from Los Angeles, our neighbors Ann and Leif greeted us in front of our house with sad news. Andreas, the other newcomer to our neighborhood, a Swiss artist who’d also moved to Cordes from California, had died suddenly.

His dog Mocha was staying with another neighbor, Dominique, who couldn’t keep her until Andreas’s relatives came, which could be several weeks. Not only did Pompom the cat object, but Mocha’s barking was bothering Dominique’s guests.

When we saw that the address on Mocha’s address was Bancroft Way, Berkeley, CA, the solution was obvious. Mocha would come to stay with us until Andreas’s family decided where she would go.

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The next day, after we returned the van to Albi where we’d rented it, we picked Mocha up at Dominique’s house. Mocha was not happy. She didn’t want to stay with us. It was clear that she loved Andreas very much and was grieving deeply.

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So, when Tom opened the door take some empty boxes to the recycling, she was out like a flash.

Naturally, she headed back straight to Andreas’s place. Tom and I managed to corner her briefly, but when a car went by and we had to alter our very strategically chosen positions, she took off again, this time down the street toward the bistro where Andreas, like most Cordais, liked to sit.

We had pictures on my phone, and people knew Mocha, but no one had seen her. She was spotted near Andreas’s place several times. We left a note with Tom’s French phone number on his door; people called, but no one could catch her. Pretty soon half the village was involved.

At 10:30 that night we heard voices in front of our house and looked out the window to see Leif, who told us that Dominique found Mocha sleeping on Andreas’s step, scooped her up, and now had her in her car. She’d be right over.

So Mocha came home. She had chopped sausage and a little duck for dinner. And she went to sleep on our bed.

Day by day she is becoming more accustomed to her new home. She no longer pulls on the leash when we go near Andreas’s house. She enjoys hanging out at the bistro, where she’s very popular.

And she loves being groomed! (Not so much the bath.)

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But a long walk, table food, and sleeping on a good bed suits her very well!

Now we’ve heard from the family that we can keep her!

Thank you, Andreas, for this wonderful new family member.

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Living in Cordes – Beauty all around

Perhaps August is the most beautiful month of the year in this medieval village in southwest France, or maybe it only seems so because it’s the beginning of our new life here and we’re seeing everything with fresh eyes.

Either way, here’s a series of pictures from our first two weeks. A few, like the one above, were taken from our bedroom window first thing in the morning; the view is enchanting.

After dinner we usually climb the hill behind our house. This picture was taken about half way to the top.Our neighbor, Lilliane, who comes from Paris every summer, tells us the best restaurant in the village is at the Hostellerie du Vieux Cordes. Rochelle, Tom, and I sat on the patio there, shaded by a 300 year old wisteria, until a thunderstorm chased us inside. Even inside it was dramatic. As I took the last bite of my oeufs brouillé au truffes (the English menu called them “blurred eggs with truffles”) one of the tall casement windows blew open with a bang, startling everyone in the room.

Later we sheltered under the roof of Les Halles, the covered square at the top of the village, and watched as lightning lit up the sky above the museum of contemporary art, once one of the grand houses of the village.When taking the footpath from our house to the lower village, bring a bucket for all the wild fruit: blackberries, plums, quince, apples and grapes.

I think my favorite meal is soup, salad, and bread, with a Gaillac rosé.

One day we were greeted by traditional Occitan music and dancing when we got off the bus from Albi.

Another view from the window:

A doorway on our street:

After Rochelle left, Garrett, Chris, and Ed visited. Garrett cooked us a spectacular Sichuan Chinese meal.

A walk in the upper village:

And a visit to the Musèe Charles Portal, the history and archeology museum, which rises high above the western gate to the city, the Charles Portal.

Lace-making machinery from the early 20th century:

And more morning pictures:

Including some hot air balloons which floated gently over the village at daybreak.

Really, what more could anyone ask?

Arrived: Cordes-sur-Ciel

Who would have guessed that the line to rent a car at the Bordeaux airport would take 2 1/2 hours? Or that not one of the three agents would adjust their customary style to – at the very least – shorten the conversations they usually enjoy with each customer? Imagine how exciting the story of our journey from California would have been. Arnaud at Avis was particularly skilled at drawing out his clients’ stories, but I kept looking over my shoulder at the dozens of families with small children behind us: a sea of impatient grimaces, hungry whines, and tapping feet. I’m not sure it made any difference.

It took us close to three hours to get onto the road.

Outside, it was 38C, record-breaking heat, but the thoughtful GPS took us along the back roads, so we enjoyed the ride –

– even the muddy track through the cornfields that saved us a good two minutes over the more conventional route.

Eventually we arrived at the office of M. duMartin, the notaire (real estate lawyer), in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val, where the couple from whom we bought the house and our real estate agent were waiting.

I will be eternally grateful that Tom is fluent in French! M. duMartin, jowls and chins indistinguishable, thick steel-colored hair brushed back and plastered to his head, melted into his ornate chair behind the expanse of his ancient desk, and read aloud document after document after document. Do we understand that there can be no changes to the outside of the house, not even to the paint on the blue voleurs (shutters)? And here, this is very important, you see where the back of the house goes under the one on the street above? The well is in your house, but a shaft goes up into the house above…

Periodically a young assistant in short shorts, long legs, and assorted tattoos brought more documents, or copies for us all the sign. M. DuMartin’s wife, gray hair in braids circling her head, appeared behind him from time to time, ghostlike.

It was stiflingly hot in the room. I struggled to follow, using all the skills I’ve acquired from years of hearing loss: catching enough words to get the gist, applying what I know from similar situations, and watching everyone else’s responses very carefully. Still. French legalese!

We signed the papers at last and went to the house with the agent and the sellers for a few lessons in house’s quirks.

And now we are here!

We woke to a gentle breeze coming through the wide open window.

Such a view! Come see us!

Farewell Tour – Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York


After lovely lunch in Albany with old friends, Heather and Norm Mendel, we stopped for coffee in Stockbridge, MA. The former Alice’s Restaurant was closed, but we had the best coffee of our trip at Stockbridge Coffee and Tea.

You can get anything you want…

We spent the night at Kathleen Becker’s beautiful studio in Northampton. What a meal we had at Coco in Easthampton!

Dinner and the next night were spent with Tom’s Neuhaus cousins in New Canaan, CT.

After dropping our trusty rental car in Stamford we took the train into New York City, where we stayed three nights with Elise in Park Slope.

On James’s birthday we took the ferry to Rockaway, and then back to the UN where he gave us an after hours tour.

On Wednesday we met Lenya for breakfast and then went out to Queens to see Mary Kuzma and Tomas Tisch at her studio.

And today it’s packing and organizing for our midnight flight to Bordeaux.

We’re off!

Farewell Tour – the Finger Lakes

We moved through the Finger Lakes from north to south, staying with dear friends all along the way. Echoing my own years of living there, we first stayed in Ovid, NY, about a mile from the beautiful Victorian house my first husband and I bought in 1976 for $22,000, and soon filled with our growing family plus a stream of housemates and guests, including Ganesh Baba and his followers: psychedelic seekers, scientists from Cornell, and hoards of hapless hippies -as he called us- from all over the world.

The Women’s Peace Encampment at Seneca Army Depot was born in that house in 1980 when the young neighbor who babysat for us mentioned that her father dismantled outdated nuclear weapons for a living. As proof she brought over the safety manual given to employees at the local army depot. We were already active in the anti-nuke movement so, through connections with the Syracuse Peace Movement, our friend Fred Wilcox brought a reporter from New York Times to see the manual. The cat was out of the bag.

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Our stay in the area this time was less momentous but considerably more heartwarming. From Roxanne Gupta’s beautiful house in Sheldrake, and Durga Bor’s in Trumansburg, and Kip Wilcox’s in Ithaca, it included a week’s worth of wonderful meals with dear old friends, tasting cider at the Finger Lakes Cider House and cheese at the Muranda Cheese Company, a visit to the Ithaca Farmers Market, a picnic on Cayuga Lake, wine on a friend’s dock, and more at a blueberry farm, a morning at PRI’s Museum of the Earth, and lots of glorious rain. It was especially good to spend time with our old friends’ grown children and their children.

Of course, we went to see Taughannock Falls, site of Tom’s and my first date, and many, many hikes over the years, as often as we could fit it in.

It was hard to leave. So many memories, so many good times, so many dear, dear friends.

Thank you.