Seven Star Sisters

Seven star sisters, each a Venus shining in the eastern morning sky.

 

Skin glows like moonbeams in the cloistered light of the hammam

Soft flesh – thighs, breasts and bellies

Hair loosened, free across forehead, neck and shoulder

Eyes half closed

Surrender.

 

Soaking in the warm and cool

pools of sensuous, history and story, ancient rituals

Tender dreams swirl up and through like the sandalwood incense wafting, scenting, sensing.

 

Exotic music out of time and place

Echoes of flamenco before it came to be

Imagining the route taken before making home in these Andalucian hills.

 

Hot honeyed tea, fresh with mint

a balm of generosity

Dates picked fresh

soft and warm and sweet as this moment.

 

Seven sister stars mindlessly float from hot to cool to hot again

Submerged in an elemental expanse of sky, of water

Footsteps languid on smooth clay floors

Two by two, give ourselves over to firm fingers, strong hands, primal stones.

 

Body aches and heart hurts

Monkey mind of spinning thought and worry

Give way to spacious possibility and healing hope

Up the spine.  Down the leg.

 

Tracing steps.

Following routes.

Coming home.

 

 

Linares de la Sierra

Thursday, September 7, 2017 – another small village in the Andalucian hills, Linares de la Sierra held some exquisite surprises!

Another morning walk through the chestnut and olive forests.  Foot paths cross highways.  Pass garden, wooden bench, abandoned stucco and oleandered home. Silent except for shoe and sandal on stone and soil, dry leaves crunching under foot.  Vistas of verdant green and golden grasses.

Silent still as we enter the lower village and are met by a grandmother at fountain, hand drawing water to her granddaughter’s mouth.  The fountain brings spring water to the village and feeds the communal “lavadero” – laundry basins – slightly downhill.

We make our way up cobblestone streets to the local bar for an early breakfast of toast and tomato, slices of jambon.  “Cafe con leche” and fantas, or my regular “coppa de manzanilla,” that refreshing dry sherry that cuts the oil and saltiness of local tapas.  Time to pass, to enjoy the vistas inside and out, red tiled roofs cascading across white stucco and green hillside, families and neighbors sharing gossip and food.

Meandering alone, I encountered a wagon decorated with white and purple paper flowers for tomorrow’s pilgrimage, the Romeria of La Reina de los Angeles, the Sierra Aracena region’s annual homage to its patron saint.  (We will rise very early to travel by car to the village of Higera de la Sierra to walk the route with its townsfolk, joining hundreds who pay tribute.)  Later, I peek into the 18th century church to see the cart, to be driven by oxen oiled and decorated, being washed and regally adorned, ready to bear the village’s icon.

The old bullring, now a sun-baked patio for tavernas, its white walls festooned with colourful murals made by local school children…the local potter selling her vibrant wares…and secretly tucked down a shady, narrow street, the Michelin recommended restaurant, Meson Arrieros.  Oh, to have accepted the owner’s kind invitation, that despite being closed, she’d welcome us to a lunch of gazpacho!  No substitute, but a photo or two would have to suffice, the downside of group travel and established itineraries!

The upside, however, was our visit to the Hammam La Molinilla, where we bathed and soaked in cool and hot pools, spending several hours in the still splendor of our small group’s cloistered company.  Occasionally pausing for mint tea in the sunny patio, or the tenderly administered massage to legs taut from daily hiking, or backs relieved of the weight of daily urban life.  Another gem of surprise, hidden away down the alley, past debris, around the corner, though the slightly open door.

 

Walking to Los Marines

Tuesday, September 5, 2017: a small village of three hundred or so residents located in the Sierra de Aracena within the Sierra Morena mountain range in Andalucia

Crushed leaves of lemon verbena mix with my palms’ sweat, releasing a clean, fresh scent.

Breathing heavy.  Heart beating.

It’s warm nearing hot in these Andalucian hills.

 

We seven star sisters hiked up a creek bed, bone dry and cracked from the heat of a “Lucifero” summer.

Over my shoulder, in the distance, Finca Buenvino glows pink and turquoise in the light shot with sunshine, sparkling with dust motes.

A chirp of birdsong over here.  A roll of truck tires over there.

Pens scratching in little red jot books as we each capture a mindful moment, noticing the beauty of this fine Spanish morning.

 

Finally, a deeper sense of relaxation, a letting go from disappointment and dismay.

Clarity earned from mining deep.

Wise action discerned and taken.

Inner harmony restored.

Presence.

 

The bell tolls.

 

Another From the Little Red Jot Book

Sunday, September 3, 2017: at the old pool in the woods of Finca Buenvino, Spain

Ambling along the wooded path, morning sun dapples.

Gentle veer to the left and a slight decline reveals an old, maybe even ancient, archway.

A threshold into invited imagination.

Broken amphora and tree limbs.

The small square abandoned pool, its once white marble stones now stained from cork and chestnut leaves long dead and decayed.  Its once crystal waters, now dark and stagnant.

What story evoked, mystery imagined here?

She pushes the lattice gate, patina green with age, and enters a space out of time, out of place.  Another era.  Another life.

Walls made of stone and stucco.  Moss fans like sea coral across the surface.

A pool.  Square.  Its surface thick with algae.

Amphora cracked and gaping like a heart that never healed.

She remembers.

A little boy lost.

Following his dog, together running, leaping, caught in a moment of sunshine, lost in the reverie of play.

His mother calls, calls, calls. No reply.

Hot, tired and bitten by honey bees, he follows his dog who, smelling the fresh spring water and overcome by instinct, leaps into the pool below. 

Making his way down the slope, now at the pool’s edge, he wavers.  So hot.  So thirsty.  Overcomes the caution of his mother’s warning.

Splashes. Flounders. Grabs hold of the dog who wiggles out and away.

Kneeling by the edge she peers into the dank and murky depths, mesmerized by memory.

Searching.  Finding.

Lost.  Found.

One From the Little Red Jot Book

Sunday, September 3, 2017: a morning walk on the lands of Finca Buenvino, Spain

The first apple, Eve’s temptation, this golden green orb of bliss.

Quince it’s called today, and many speculate this was the original harbinger of the original sin.

 

“I feel like I’m being taken care of…I didn’t expect that,” she says,

somewhat bewildered,

somewhat bemused,

her words landing softly

so as not to disturb this morning gift of remote stillness,

so different from her hustle-about urban life.

 

It’s what women do so well.

Let our hearts be broken open by love and by care.

By beauty.

Like this walnut, fresh picked from the tree.

This fig warm and honey sweet and sticky.

Juicy like Spanish love on a late summer day.

 

I have arrived, walking now with seven sisters.

Echoes of the Pleiades, that constellation of stars in a black blanket sky.

 

I am here, amidst birdsong and warm breeze.

The song of cicadas and buzzing bees.

 

Even the family’s truffle coloured pup is filled with curiosity.

What now?  Where next?

Venus Burning Bright

A month ago I gazed into the predawn sky and saw Venus burning bright.

Jet-lagged eyes took in the outline of Andalusian hills.

Travel weary body felt the warm, late summer breeze waft through the open window, fluttering my white cotton gown.

It was the beginning of an adventure to collect new impressions.

writing retreat the pretense to come to Spain.  A week at Finca Buenvino, a beautiful shuttered and pink stuccoed villa in the hills of the Aracena National Park, an hour or so northwest of Sevilla.  The owners, long time British expats with their hearts firmly planted in Spanish soil.  An elegant hodgepodge of inherited English antiques and acquired Moorish textiles, Spanish ceramics and Waterford crystal.  Terraces and balconies, salons and reading rooms, bedrooms and bathrooms.

 

 

A kitchen outfitted for skillful chefs, fresh and local ingredients, and cooking school guests eager to measure and stir and taste Jeannie’s flare for concocting.  I took my turn for an afternoon, tossing ground pork and orange zested patties in the coarse flour, soon to be fried and then braised in valencian orange flavoured  tomato sauce. Sauteeing shrimp in smoked paprika butter.  Polishing wine glasses.  Setting the communal table with silver and linen, its place solid under the wisteria laden pergola. (Eating here was a “pinch me” moment, evoking memories of those quintessential photo ads promoting Tuscany.)

Floating on the surface of the infinity pool, thoughts dip and dive like swallows in the sky between the chestnut groves.  (These nuts feed the Iberian pigs, giving fat and flavor to Spain’s famous jamon.)

Lazing on chaises, umbrellas shield skin from blazing siesta sun.

Six women gathered from Britain, Canada, America and France to write in little red notebooks prompted by sights and sounds and tastes as we hiked into local villages – Aracena, Los Marines, Linares – and sipped “coppas” of chilled, pale golden manzanilla sherry, a refreshing pairing with the myriad of tapas flavours.  Red radishes as big as fat thumbs laying in a platter of golden olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt.  Emerald green chiles fried whole in olive oil, then salted.  Toast with seasoned tomato sauce, Spain’s take on bruschetta.  Smokey olives.  Tangy, hard manchego cheese. Lightly battered fresh fried sardines.  Pink-shelled shrimp with heads intact, eagerly peeled and swallowed, releasing their sea salty-sweet juice.

 

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Sitting together, ensconced in the stone walls and cushions of the Moorish terrace, or the shaded studio overlooking the pool, we quickly capture musings in bigger black journals from prompts offered by our host – memories of our mothers’ cooking, how to be a writer, what a line of proffered poetry or name evokes.

I can see nuggets of story, but for now they rest deep inside, needing time, like the sherry aged in wooden casks, to bring out their full flavour.  An alchemical process required by any act of creation.

This morning I gazed into the predawn sky and saw Venus burning bright.

Now home.  Alchemy at work.

The need to simply do quite a bit of not a lot.

It’s a statement I typed in an email to a friend last week.  Unbidden.  True.

I relish the sudden spontaneous emergence of such pithy truths.

Like the time when I asked another friend for the gift of her skillful deep listening as I weighed a hefty matter needing decisive action.  “Winnowing to essence,” came my reply, as I described the simplicity I was after.

Since then, those words have become a mantra for the gradual process of letting go of a lot of my life’s trappings, and committing to exchange things for experiences.

“Quite a bit of not a lot.”

Zen ThingsI like the roll of this in my mouth, piqued by a bit of paradox.  Like a lemon lime lollipop, sweet and tangy.  Evoking, or perhaps subliminally inspired by, this recent Facebook “share.”

It makes deep and abiding sense.

It feels good and right in my body, the reservoir of wordless wisdom.

And it comes.  Remarkably quite easily.  Ceasing blind urgency and habitual headlong over-ride and over-drive.  Giving over to long moments gazing out the window into the now fully green trees.  Pausing between paragraphs and pages of the latest book to wonder into white clouds suspended in signature azure skies.  Going to bed earlier and sleeping later, serenaded by robins.

Winnowing to essence.  Quite a bit of not a lot.

Mirroring for each other an innate way of being, born of aging.

Dreamscape Two – a holy communion

Now the one about the older woman…

She is old.  While taller, by feeling she resembles my Oma, my father’s mother who loved her son, her grandchildren and great grandchildren fiercely.

Always independent, as her husband lay dying of cancer, Oma, in her sixties, learned to drive, maneuvering the freeways, charming the immigration officers as she crossed the bridge to Canada, to us, with her VW Rabbit stuffed with gifts and groceries.  Decades earlier, in the little Black Forest town of Germany, during and after World War II, she worked three jobs to support herself and my father.  Those were her best years, the ones she storied for us with joy, pride and determination.  Until she came to live her last years in Canada, close to her family.

But this woman of my dream is my height and stature.  And she is Italian.

I am in Italy.  I have just finished a simple, homemade, delicious dinner.  I may be with a friend.  I have been staying here for a while, long enough to have become familiar with, close even to the Nonna who prepared this meal.

She has been a teacher to me.  I feel a deep love and appreciation for her in my life.  In my broken Italian, I thank her for the good, good food.  We laugh together at my attempts to say just how good…

”Insalata, ahhhh…. buonissimo!  Si?”

She encourages me, asks me what else I’ll eat.

“Il dolce?” she asks and playfully hugs and tugs at my body to see if I can afford to let myself have this sweet, the sweetest part of the meal, of life?

I hug her and say in Italian “I love you” through the tears I am now crying, through an even deeper sadness that is suddenly coming up from my depths.

Holding her, despite her strength, suddenly I know she is dying.  I see her face and while she is not my Oma, Oma is evoked.  I love this woman very much.  Again, I say, in Italian, “I love you.”

Again, and again.

Epilogue

Last October I awoke quietly crying from this dream.  I was on a favourite island in the Pacific Northwest – it has become one of my heart places – where, without fail, I spend most nights immersed in vivid dreamscapes.

The convergence of mountain, sea and sky energies are a great catalyst for my dream maker’s talents, though I’m not always able to retrieve her creations, so plentiful that I often awake feeling tired for the travelling.  However, that pre-dawn morning, the dream and feelings it evoked, deeply moved me, and stayed with me for hours, making it easy for me to journal, to contemplate, and finally to glean its gift. Even now as I write, it’s easy for me to conjure the scene and its characters, to step back into the story, to taste those feelings.

With reflection I realized that in my dream, in my broken Italian, I had said to this Nonna, “Mi’amo,”  thinking I was saying “I love you” when really I was saying, over and over, “I love me.”  The dream maker never errs.  This was not a Freudian slip.

This wise old woman, this Nonna-Oma feeds me, loves me, plays with me, teaches me.  I eat her food.  I take in her love, her joy, her playfulness.

I ingest her.  I take her into me.  She becomes me and in so doing, is dying.

A holy communion.

A few weeks later, I read a dear wise woman words about the necessity for us each to take back and eat the hope we have projected onto others, to nourish ourselves so as to become our own hope, our own leaders, and our own fiercely loving, joyful, playful Nonna-Omas.

Empathy for Vincent

Vincent Van Gogh is embracing her thick as tree trunk legs, from toe tips to thigh tops.

Stopped at a red light, from my car I watch as she walks across the street, slow, determined steps.  Short of stature and of hair.

Mischievously smiling to myself, I wonder about Vincent’s reaction to this appropriation.  His stars and his steeple now envelop her fashionably feminine butt.

From where I sit, and I confess a bit macabre, enough to cut off another ear with such madness.

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Wednesday Words

Considering Haiku…

I

Predawn April.

Snows have melted.

Darker now than winter even as the sun rises early.

II

Muted edges of night time dreams give way to morning musings.

Which are more real?

Which are more helpful?

III

Candle in the corner illuminates an altar of elements.

A resting place of beauty.

A pause for morning prayer.

Perspectives with Panache, 2017