Category Archives: Blog

… musings on order and chaos …

As an example, not a general theory, a parent who habitually keeps everything organised, clean and in place, may feel displeasure when their child does not follow this model. Sensing displeasure, the child may feel restrained and controlled, and possibly develop a reaction via contrary behaviour. Of course, reactions to initial conditions are way more complex. But both, excessive order and excessive chaos in the early environment set a tone.

My early impressions were in the middle, yet plenty of condensed experiences pull me into repetitive behaviour. But people for whom, let’s say, the organised model felt intolerable, meeting an adult partner who likes order, even in a mild way, easily hooks into their initial reaction. The desire for order is stability, beauty, keeping the wild and unpredictable at bay, and also serves as a buffer against anxiety. But someone who felt restricted by order may easily feel controlled. In this two-way process, any projection also frames the projector, and various complex relationships are such defined, with children, partners, work colleagues, mentors, groups, and even political parties. The irony is that instead of choosing a partner or group where this conflict does not arise, we often unconsciously attract an early model we disliked, maybe because of its familiarity, maybe because of the implied challenge. I assume it’s a psychological trick allowing for lessons in tolerance and, hopefully in time, a reframing of one’s life story.

While periods of stability are necessary, it is from chaos that creativity is born and new forms emerge, which is why some artists embrace chaos, allowing for the spontaneous discovery of new patterns and hidden harmonies.

To voluntary endure the dissonance between order and chaos is a spiritual quest towards an attitude of transcendence.

In this sense, and with the emphasis on becoming, my Sufi teacher, Fazal Inayat-Khan, who was also a musician and poet, used to orchestrate chaos in workshops for his students to great effect. He trained us well for the turbulent cultural changes that are now upon us, a global rite of passage we best consciously engage with. Faith in the unknown tends to signal our guiding spirit to open unsuspected doors towards a deeper resonance with the collective psyche.

“Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.’ — Fyodor Dostoevsky

‘The Gods envy the perfection of man, because perfection has no need of the Gods. But since no one is perfect, we need the Gods.’ … Carl Jung, Liber Novus, page 244

‘The ideal is the means; its breaking is the goal.’ Hazrat Inayat Khan

Ever since I came upon James Gleick’s book ‘Chaos,’ the William Heinemann Ltd 1988 edition, I was fascinated by the concept which has radically changed scientific enquiries, as well as giving new meaning to my practice of transpersonal therapy.

James Gleick’s book also contains the amazing Mandelbrot set. Here a short introduction …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3orIIcKD8p4

James Gleick’s newest publication is on ‘Information.’

Phew … here I’m challenged … a new wordpress format with its insistence on ‘blocks,’ disallows me the use of the classic editor. It’s a headache to create a post.

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… families appear throughout life …

To fill in the distorted or simply incomplete gestalt gathered from early caregivers, we find ourselves during our lifetime in families of various constellations … in groupings of friends, educational settings, teams working towards a project, callings, interest groups, animal care, subcultures, political, vocational and spiritual clusters. In these groups we slot into roles we project, or are projected onto us with qualities others are drawn to engage with, for whatever reason, often to explore a hidden part inside, mother, father, sister, brother, child, lover, hidden in the light or hidden in the dark. Much of this search now happens virtually, through screens, though it can’t replace the actual physical resonance a gestalt needs.

Family can also mean a collection of symbolically meaningful objects, toys, letters, books, art, tools, stones. I collect stones and endow them with memories. My ex-husband extended his loving father role to string instruments. (I wrote about his loss in my previous post.)

In the 1969 movie Alice’s Restaurant … with Arlo Guthrie, Pat Quinn & James Broderick, you can do anything you want. Alice tries to satisfy the motherly expectations of an eccentric hippie group, a powerful dream, which ends when she marries. The last image in the film shows her standing alone in front of the old church her husband plans on selling, to create a more ideal community in the countryside, though Alice’s hippie children have grown and left.  In the poignant last image of the film Alice stands alone, waking from a dream, debts paid and debts made. Psychotherapy can accelerate this archetypal demand for clarity and cohesion of one’s myth, but soul-making must continue for consciousness to expand.

At stages in our life we fit, or are fitted, into a network of psychological potential. These are intense phases. Yet irrespective of time gone since people parted ways,  families dispersed, places were lost … when a former close friend dies, insight descends, rises, arrives from the past, from the future and from spheres unknown. Memories will shift their meaning. Slowly our sense of self is re-aligned. We capture a condensation of what was symbolically exchanged, essence is revealed.

In this gentle way we unravel the knots of entangled bonds. I’m wary of this advice … let it go!  Grieving for a loss needs to ripen. While unripe apples fall from trees all the time, it is a sad waste to rip them from branches, we deprive our selves of what a ripe apple is for, to be eaten and digested for nourishment.

My lover, mourner and philosopher could have pulled this theme in ten different directions. I kept it short and leave associations to you.

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… so now I am dead …

This is an imagined monologue of my ex-husband, Soren (Shamshir) Venema, who died in his sleep last week, a short stretch off his 69th birthday. This morning I sensed a faint sound seeking a body. It took a while to clear. The slow translating voice is of course my own. I better post this before I overthink it

So now I’m dead. Nxt birthday cancelled. I hear yur whispers … yu may hear mine and womder if I fund whut I ws seekn or whut looked for me. Won’t reveal my heart’s desire. Yu must fund yus yuself.

This life was a strange dream with others who wer seekin und hiding.

Yu know em by somthing in the eyes. Afar away up or down look. A longin.

We bump into each other in our blind search. They call it love, a deep term that teared at me. The way I saw it …. at random junctions we hold hands and travel together for a while, deeply connected, but lightly bonded.

My juggling across the deep psychic sea gathered an emotional gravity in others. I still puzzle about the phenomenon. While hidden connections pulled, I wanted em kept safe deep down, not intrude with a flashlight. I trusted the lot, like seeds trust dirt and earth and listen to the music of light.

Marvels happen. A son was called and came. He gave me joy with his joy. Witnessing my child grow fanned some scary heat in the heart.

The mother was a hermit, like me, though a bit over-responsible for the deep stuff, her own and others’, and heck, mine too. I couldn’t help putting up a little fence, which annoyed and upset her. Then again, we both sensed each other’s truth from that dark realm where wishes are embodied, where deep connections attract each other into nets of meaning, though I was never tempted by meaning and order. It seemed a little dull to me.

My friends were gold. And my little sister was a treasure I protected.

I had talents, far too many, confusing, so I wandered as hermit.

My longin ws for a hidden tune. As a writer searches among words, so I searched among sounds, high, low, deep, warm, sharp, strong, or soft breaths quivering in bodies of all forms and ages. A tight string or a tight skin over a hollowed body … they hold echoes from many worlds.

Now I’m hailed as an expert about string instruments, and considered as some kind of genius. An image in the Dutch Parool shows I developed a tower above my brow. That’s where half cooked wisdom lingered and intrigued, deep sounds too, dear and familiar sounds, best shareable through sound alone. Long sensitive fingers help.

Correction: This writer’s sincere apology, the image is actually of Nico Dijkshoorn, a Dutch journalist, the one who wrote a good article about Soren. Uncanny likeness of features and expression.

So let’s say this life was full of sounds, which helped me pitch my instrument to the empty void where my sought tune is hiding. An if ya are tuned too, we’ll swing and sing and dance together. May it bring yu to yur heart’s desire.

In the media they say my collections of guitars are children left in the house without father.

Well, that’s company for my son now.

*   *   *

Only last week, Soren shared, unusually, a dream about a friend and mentor of ours, Abdul Aziz Said, who recently died. I wrote about him here in Nov 2015.

In the dream Abdul Aziz  Said played a mouth harp, and Soren played on a rare flute. He was sad about having forgotten the tune. I hope he’s now found it.

Press this link to a recent poignant documentary about Soren on yourtube … Living treasure.

Every day I ask
What is this Soul
That looks out through my eyes –
I did not arrive here alone
and will not depart alone.
Whoever brought me here
Will have to take me home …       Rumi

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… to shift my thoughts, I read poems by Wislawa Szymborska …

One book of poems I have always at my bedside, for when I need to shift my thoughts, is Wislawa Szymborka’s New and Collected poems 1957 -1997, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavenagh, published by Faber and Faber 1999

She lived from July 2, 1923–February 1, 2012

Apologies for not having the photographers’ names for the two images of her that are spanning decades.

I like the humour, the ironic style, the contradictions running through the poems like a clear spring.

I thought I share a poem in full, since I posted a fragment on Twitter the other day. And also because I remember the protagonist in my novel, Course Mirrors,’ is in search of The Real.

THE REAL WORLD

The real world doesn’t take flight
the way dreams do.
No muffled voice, no doorbell
can dispel it,
no shriek, no crash
can cut it short.

Images in dream
are hazy and ambiguous,
and can generally be explained
in many different ways.
Reality means reality:
that’s tougher nut to crack.

Dreams have keys.
The real world opens on its own
and can’t be shut.
Report cards and stars
pour from it,
butterflies and flatiron warmers
shower down,
headless caps
and shards of clouds.
Together they form a rebus
that can’t be solved.

Without us dreams couldn’t exist.
The one on whom the real world depends
is still unknown,
and the products of his insomnia
are available to anyone
who wakes up.

Dreams aren’t crazy—
it’s the real world that’s insane,
if only in the stubbornness
with which it sticks
to the current of events.

In dreams our recently deceased
are still alive,
in perfect health, no less,
and restored to the full bloom of youth.
The real world lays the corpse
in front of us.
The real world doesn’t blink an eye.

Dreams are featherweights,
and memory can shake them off with ease.
The real world doesn’t have to fear forgetfulness.
It’s a tough customer.
It sits on our shoulders,
weighs on our hearts,
tumbles to our feet.

There’s no escaping it,
it tags along each time we flee.
And there’s no stop
along our escape route
where reality isn’t expecting us.

Wislawa Szymborska 

Her Nobel Prize speech inspires … if you are shy to call yourself a poet, follow this link and soak it up.

Poets, not being profitable, get little screen-time. Wislawa Szymborska says … ‘Their work is hopelessly unphotogenic. Someone sits at a table or lies on a sofa while staring motionless at a wall or ceiling. Once in a while this person writes down seven lines only to cross out one of them fifteen minutes later, and then another hour passes, during which nothing happens … Who could stand to watch this kind of thing?’

‘I’ve mentioned inspiration. Contemporary poets answer evasively when asked what it is, and if it actually exists. It’s not that they’ve never known the blessing of this inner impulse. It’s just not easy to explain something to someone else that you don’t understand yourself.’

‘Whatever inspiration is, it’s born from a continuous “I don’t know.’

Her words bring to mind a Rumi quote: ‘Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.’ 

Follow this link to Brainpickings and find a number of write ups about Wislawa Szymborska

Brainpicking’s Bulgarian creator, Maria Popova honours language, and somehow manages to bring context and coherence to the irrational and the imagination. Her curiosity is unlimited. She writes about my favourite people in the world. Among them are poets like Wislawa Szymborska.

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… so I had my jab …

The friendly GP at the hospital corona area asked me, ‘Do you like getting the vaccination?’

‘Not really. It’s for peace of mind,’ I said.

He smiled. ‘The main thing is to relax the muscle.’ This I did.

Afterwards I asked, ‘Why don’t they test for antibodies before these vaccinations?’

‘Good questions,’ he said, and added, ‘We just do as we’re told.’ Not reassuring, of course. Then again, I was just curious, not seeking reassurances.

The GP advised me to sit nearby for fifteen minutes, in case any side effects occurred. Nothing! The jab might as well have been a placebo, which, given the massive fear machine in operation would make sense. I shut my eyes while waiting. The murmur of voices from orderlies, the line of vaccination stations and the people waiting in the hall felt like the gentle surf at a sunny sea shore. I had missed the soothing surf of voices for many months. A revelation! I don’t care for noisy crowds, but the quiet chatter of people in close vicinity fills me with a gratitude for kinship and community.

In no way is this post meant as advice. I remain ambivalent about the pandemic phenomena and the measures employed to stem its spread, including conspiracy theories, acknowledging there may be hidden grains of truth with any perspective. I struggled with the decision of getting a jab, having read and explored opinions, a lot. Nothing seemed conclusive. It was an entirely personal decision. I’m not a martyr for rights or wrongs. The choice was for peace of mind. I’ve family, friends, and my writing to attend to, that’s all.

This Sufi story, re-posted last year is interesting in that respect. https://courseofmirrors.com/2020/04/12/when-the-waters-were-changed-2/

 

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The Story of Mushkil Gusha – a Sufi Tale

When life was a little more predictable, I used to host fortnightly small dream-sharing groups on Thursdays. Our regular way to start out was reading ‘The Story of Mushkil Gusha,’ as it appears in ‘Caravan of Dreams’ by Idries Shah. As often happens with traditional Sufi stories, we discovered ever new aspects of personal interpretations. At times we also made sketches of particular images that impressed us, just as we did for the dreams we shared.

Today, it being Thursday in the UK, I’ll share this story with you, while eating dates. Find out why. If you’re not into reading a few pages, you can listen to The Story of Mushkil Gusha on Your Tube. (15 minutes) The link opens a new tab. You won’t lose this page.

           

The Story of Mushkil Gusha

ONCE upon a time, not a thousand miles from here, there lived a poor old woodcutter, who was a widower, and his little daughter. He used to go every day into the mountains to cut firewood which he brought home and tied into bundles. Then he used to have breakfast and walk into the nearest town, where he would sell his wood and rest for a time before returning home.

One day, when he got home very late, the girl said to him: ‘Father, I sometimes wish that we would have some nicer food, and more and different kinds of things to eat.’

‘Very well, my child,’ said the old man, ‘tomorrow I shall get up much earlier than I usually do. I shall go further into the mountains where there is more wood, and I shall bring back a much larger quantity than usual. I will get home earlier and I will be able to bundle the wood sooner, and I will go into town and sell it so that we can have more money and I shall bring you back all kinds of nice things to eat.’

The next morning the woodcutter rose before dawn and went into the mountains. He worked very hard cutting wood and trimming it and made it into a huge bundle which he carried on his back to his little house.

When he got home, it was still very early. He put his load of wood down, and knocked on the door, saying, ‘Daughter, Daughter, open the door, for I am hungry and thirsty and I need a meal before I go to market.’

But the door was locked. The woodcutter was so tired that he lay down and was soon fast asleep beside his bundle. The little girl, having forgotten all about their conversation the night before, was fast asleep in bed. When he woke up a few hours later, the sun was high. The woodcutter knocked at the door again and again and said, ‘Daughter, Daughter, come quickly; I must have a little food and go to market to sell the wood; for it is already much later than my usual time of starting.’

But, having forgotten all about the conversation the night before, the little girl had meanwhile got up, tidied the house, and gone out for a walk. She had locked the door assuming in her forgetfulness that her father was still in the town.

So the woodcutter thought to himself, ‘It is now rather late to go into the town. I will therefore return to the mountains and cut another bundle of wood, which I will bring home, and tomorrow I will take a double load to market.’

All that day the old man toiled in the mountains cutting wood and shaping the branches. When he got home with the wood on his shoulders, it was evening.

He put down his burden behind the house, knocked on the door and said, ‘Daughter, Daughter, open the door for I am tired and I have eaten nothing all the day. I have a double bundle of wood, which I hope to take to market tomorrow. Tonight I must sleep well so that I will be strong.’

But there was no answer, for the little girl when she came home had felt very sleepy  and had made a meal for herself, and gone to bed. She had been rather worried at first that her father was not at home, but she decided that he must have arranged to stay in the town overnight.

Once again the woodcutter, finding that he could not get into the house, tired, hungry and thirsty, lay down by his bundles of wood and fell fast asleep. He could not keep awake, although he was fearful for what might have happened to the little girl.

Now the woodcutter, because he was so cold and hungry and tired, woke up very, very early the next morning: before it was even light.

He sat up, and looked around, but he could not see anything. And then a strange thing happened. The woodcutter thought he heard a voice saying: ‘Hurry, hurry! Leave your wood and come this way. If you need enough, and you want little enough, you shall have delicious food.’

The woodcutter stood up and walked in the direction of the voice. And he walked and he walked; but he found nothing.

By now he was colder and hungrier and more tired than ever, and he was lost. He had been full of hope, but that did not seem to have helped him. Now he felt sad, and he wanted to cry. But he realized that crying would not help him either, so he lay down and fell asleep.

Quite soon he woke up again. It was too cold, and he was too hungry, to sleep. So he decided to tell himself, as if in a story, everything that had happened to him since his little daughter had first said that she wanted a different kind of food.

As soon as he had finished his story, he thought he heard another voice, saying, somewhere above him, out of the dawn, ‘Old man, what are you doing sitting there?’

‘I am telling myself my own story,’ said the woodcutter.

‘And what is that?’ said the voice.

The old man repeated his tale. ‘Very well,’ said the voice. And then the voice told the old woodcutter to close his eyes and to mount as it were, a step. ‘But I do not see any step,’ said the old man. ‘Never mind, but do as I say,’ said the voice.

The old man did as he was told. As soon as he had closed his eyes he found that he was standing up and as he raised his right foot he felt that there was something like a step under it. He started to ascend what seemed to be a staircase. Suddenly the whole flight of steps started to move, very fast, and the voice said, ‘Do not open your eyes until I tell you to do so.’

In a very short time, the voice told the old man to open his eyes. When he did he found that he was in a place, which looked rather like a desert, with the sun beating down on him. He was surrounded by masses and masses of pebbles; pebbles of all colours: red, green, blue and white. But he seemed to be alone. He looked all around him, and could not see anyone, but the voice started to speak again.

‘Take up as many of these stones as you can,’ said the voice, ‘Then close your eyes, and walk down the steps once more.’

The woodcutter did as he was told, and he found himself, when he opened his eyes again at the voice’s bidding, standing before the door of his own house.

He knocked at the door and his little daughter answered it. She asked him where he had been, and he told her, although she could hardly understand what he was saying, it all sounded so confusing.

They went into the house, and the little girl and her father shared the last food which they had, which was a handful of dried dates. When they had finished, the old man thought that he heard the voice speaking to him again, a voice just like the other one which had told him to climb the stairs.

The voice said, ‘Although you may not know it yet, you have been saved by Mushkil Gusha. Remember that Mushkil Gusha is always here. Make sure that every Thursday night you eat some dates and give some to any needy person, and tell the story of Mushkil Gusha. Or give a gift in the name of Mushkil Gusha to someone who will help the needy. Make sure that the story of Mushkil Gusha is never, never forgotten. If you do this, and if this is done by those to whom you tell the story, the people who are in real need will always find their way.’

The woodcutter put all the stones which he had brought back from the desert in a corner of his little house. They looked very much like ordinary stones, and he did not know what to do with them.

The next day he took his two enormous bundles of wood to the market, and sold them easily for a high price. When he got home he took his daughter all sort of delicious kinds of food, which she had never tasted before. And when they had eaten it, the old woodcutter said, ‘Now I am going to tell you the whole story of Mushkil Gusha. Mushkil Gusha is the remover of all difficulties. Our difficulties have been removed through Mushkil Gusha and we must always remember it.’

For nearly a week after that the old man carried on as usual. He went into the mountains, brought back wood, had a meal, took the wood to market and sold it. He always found a buyer without difficulty.

Now the next Thursday came, and, as it is the way of men, the woodcutter forgot to repeat the tale of Mushkil Gusha.

Late that evening, in the house of the woodcutter’s neighbours, the fire had gone out. The neighbours had nothing with which to re-light the fire, and they went to the house of the woodcutter. They said, ‘Neighbour, neighbour, please give us a light from those wonderful lamps of yours which we see shining through the window.’

‘What lamps?’ said the woodcutter.

‘Come outside,’ said the neighbours, ‘and see what we mean.’

So the woodcutter went outside and then he saw, sure enough, all kinds brilliant lights shining through the window from the inside.

He went back to the house, and saw that the light was streaming from the pile of pebbles which he had put in the corner. But the rays of light were cold, and it was not possible to use them to light a fire. So he went out to the neighbors and said, ‘Neighbors, I am sorry, but I have no fire.’ And he banged the door in their faces. They were annoyed and confused, and went back to their house, muttering. They leave our story here.

The woodcutter and his daughter quickly covered up the brilliant lights with every piece of cloth they could find, for fear that anyone would see what a
treasure they had. The next morning, when they uncovered the stones, they discovered that they were precious, luminous gems.

They took the jewels, one by one, to neighboring towns, where they sold them for a huge price. Now the woodcutter decided to build for himself and for his daughter a wonderful palace. They chose a site just opposite the castle of the king of their country. In a very short time a marvelous building had come into being.

Now that particular king had a beautiful daughter, and one day when she got up in the morning, she saw a sort of fairy-tale castle just opposite her father’s and she was amazed. She asked her servants, ‘Who has built this castle? What right have these people to do such a thing so near to our home?’

The servants went away and made enquiries and they came back and told the story, as far as they could collect it, to the princess.

The princess called for the little daughter of the woodcutter, for she was angry with her, but when the two girls met and talked they soon became fast friends. They started to meet every day and went to swim and play in the stream which had been made for the princess by her father. A few days after they first met, the princess took off a beautiful and valuable necklace and hung it up on a tree just beside the stream. She forgot to take it down when she came out of the water, and when she got home she thought it must have been lost.

The princess thought a little and then decided that the daughter of the woodcutter had stolen her necklace. So she told her father, and he had the
woodcutter arrested; he confiscated the castle and declared forfeit everything that the woodcutter had. The old man was thrown into prison, and the daughter was put into an orphanage.

As it was the custom in that country, after a period of time the woodcutter was taken from the dungeon and put in the public square, chained to a post, with a sign around his neck. On the sign was written ‘This is what happens to those who steal from Kings.’

At first people gathered around him, and jeered and threw things at him. He was most unhappy.

But quite soon, as is the way of men, everyone became used to the sight of the old man sitting there by his post, and took very little notice of him. Sometimes people threw him scraps of food, sometimes they did not.

One day he overheard somebody saying that it was Thursday afternoon. Suddenly, the thought came into his mind that it would soon be the evening of Mushkil Gusha, the remover of all difficulties, and that he had forgotten to commemorate him for so many days. No sooner had this thought come into his head, than a charitable man, passing by, threw him a tiny coin. The woodcutter called out: ‘Generous friend, you have given me money, which is of no use to me. If, however, your kindness could extend to buying one or two dates and coming and sitting and eating them with me, I would be eternally grateful to you.’

The other man went and bought a few dates. And they sat and ate them together. When they had finished, the woodcutter told the other man the story of Mushkil Gusha. ‘I think you must be mad,’ said the generous man. But he was a kindly person who himself had many difficulties. When he arrived home after this incident, he found that all his problems had disappeared. And that made him start to think a great deal about Mushkil Gusha. But he leaves our story here.

The very next morning the princess went back to her bathing-place. As she was about to go into the water, she saw what looked like her necklace down at the bottom of the stream. As she was going to dive in to try to get it back, she happened to sneeze. Her head went up, and she saw that what she had thought was the necklace was only its reflection in the water. It was hanging on the bough of the tree where she had left it such a long time before. Taking the necklace down, the princess ran excitedly to her father and told him what had happened. The King gave orders for the woodcutter to be released and given a public apology. The little girl was brought back from the orphanage, and everyone lived happily ever after.

These are some of the incidents in the story of Mushkil Gusha. It is a very long tale and it is never ended. It has many forms. Some of them are even not called the story of Mushkil Gusha at all, so people do not recognise it. But it is because of Mushkil Gusha that his story, in whatever form, is remembered by somebody, somewhere in the world, day and night, wherever there are people. As his story had always been recited, so it will always continue to be told.

*    *    *

While searching for the podcast, I spotted this lovely site by Jason Stern … learning to be human. I liked this paragraph he used when introducing The Story of Mushkil Gusha …

… ‘The story conveys a kind of formula by which one can become open to receiving help. The sense of hopelessness or helplessness, in this case, is not a negative or bad thing. It is simply a sign that one has exhausted one’s known resources and has become, in a sense, empty. It is into the vessel of emptiness that something can be received. The source of help is both outside and inside, which is neither here nor there. The help arises from beyond the known and familiar.’ …

Seems appropriate to the present situation around the globe.

If it’s of interest, @mushkilgusha is my twitter handle, in case anyone wants to follow me there.

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… Morocco adventure, fourth part …

31st Dec 2007 … The dogs must have eaten something unsavoury during their beach run. Ulla worries. Ali is unwell, though recovers during the afternoon. After fresh prepared fish meal for lunch, I consult the I Ging. It’s tempting to veer decades back into the past, a time I consulted the oracle daily during my solo trips through Italy in my VW Bus. Such free strands of associations would easily make a novel of this report.

Anyway, the I Ging brings up ‘determination. What the heck for?’ Not having to make decisions is a fascinating experience for me, if slightly unsettling. I reckon Ulla’s moods slow my futile attempt at reducing ruminating thoughts, like I puzzle over how frequently she marks events in a negative frame. ‘I knew it was going to be a bad day,’ that sort. I made the decision (ha ha, I made a decision after all)  to trust in her powerful guardian angel. The sharp way she sums up the occasional unpleasant person we meet, I fully admit, creates an instant emotional clearance, which I like, as long as an analysis of my congruence follows. I was born that way, and too easily succumbed to my mother tabooing cuss words from my vocabulary. Further, with vital exception in cases of injustice, or when pushed too far by idiots, which sparks pure anger in me, I tend to neutralise my attitude when negative reactions towards people perk up. That is to say I trained myself stepping into other people’s shoes, even when they pinch. I fully own the torture of this tricky ideology. I’d not recommend the style. Phew, that was a droll effort at self-observation.

1st January 2008 … Last night was a non-event, though a hilarious late TV show diverted me away from sulking. We wait ages for a camel dish. I’m unsure about eating the mutton of such useful and loyal creatures. The dish tastes fine, but scenes I witnessed of how animals are treated before slaughter always trouble me. Just then Ulla storms off in disgust as a truck with cramped chicken cages arrives at the restaurant. She eventually returns. Our waiter friend packs up the content of her plate for us to take along. On way back to Bou Jerif we almost turn around when another troupe of four-wheel drivers showers us with clouds of dust. Short of time, we call the fort and order a tent for me. All turns out well. I get a tower room for the price of a tent. And the manic French group leaves shortly, for whatever reason.

2nd to 3d January 2008 … After a walk following a parched river bed with patches of blooming desert, we return to an Oasis below Bou Jerif. Later Ulla takes the van to the fort to recharge batteries, while I have a hot shower, and read. Tomorrow we’ll head up the Atlantic coast.

4th – 5th   January … We get meat for the dogs in Goulimine and drive on to Sidni Ifni for a late lunch at Suerto Lorca. My choice is octopus. I’ve run out of colour film and have been using a spare black and white film for a while. We plan to shop in Tiznit. I access my email to check whether Julio has answered my query re: a room at his Marrakech Riad, Dar Pangal for the day before my flight back to London. No luck so far. Off to Tiznit. After I rent a room for the night, we have lunch and go shopping. Ulla strikes a bargain for a beautiful hand-embroidered Kaftan, intended for cushions. She frowns when the trader asks her to smile. A deal that is not sealed with smiles seems to signal disapproval here. The trader relents, is forgiving, ‘Inshallah.’

Near Agadir we stop for the night at a place called Paradise de Nomade. I’m impressed by the fresh sheets in my Berber tent. And the massive boulders in the dry riverbed nearby are an epic sight. Unfortunately the night turns noisy from 11:30 pm onwards. Four wheel drivers arrive, dogs bark, music, jolly talking … until 3 am.

Next morning we hear the sudden influx was due to a desert rally being called off at short notice, because four French tourists were murdered in Mauretania. The locals, it was said, asked the party for some money and were refused, so they killed them. Sadly, past political grievances, lack of deep listening, arrogance, and the refusal of dialogue can have terrible consequences. Morocco has a complex history and a hard won independence.

6th Jan … Images along the road to Essaouira, and some reflective thoughts … As the light, colours, food, scents, the warmth and hospitality of ordinary people in Morocco grow on me, I ponder on how outer impressions oscillate with my inner pilgrimage. Sound plays a powerful role in stirring the unconscious. The tunes I hum unawares, I realise, include folk themes, lyrics from German romantic poets set to music by Schubert, even Kurt Weil songs; melancholic echoes from childhood and teen days. Yet even then I probed the meaning of home, of belonging. Being a stranger seemed more exciting. There is a kind of accord with other strangers around the world, due to a gap in narratives, demanding keen attention, shaking up perceptions and allowing for the unfamiliar to astonish.

On this stretch of road, the predominant sound, whenever Ulla stops the engine, is the rhythmic surf of the Atlantic, Sea of the Atlas, into which many rivers flow, and which, through a narrow strait, connects to my beloved Mediterranean. The high and low tides of this expansive body of salt water, dividing Europe from North America, and Africa from South America, make up the drone to dreams criss-crossing cultures from East to West, with ancient legends adding a shimmer to images that present themselves each day. To these inter penetrating worlds a constant wind adds turbulence, creative chaos.

Approaching Essaouira, we’re both a bit tense. Neither of us slept well at Paradis de Nomade. We search a hotel for me, after Ulla missed the earmarked camping place. She has the beach in mind, to give Ali and Leila their deserved run. Her stress and impatience adding to mine, I accept a hotel at the outskirts of Essaouira. The receptionist makes to pretence about relishing my embarrassment when I mistake E120 for 120 Dirham. A shock, considering my dwindling finances, but I can’t just walk out and sit on the curb. Overcoming the inner struggle, I decide to switch attitude, enjoy a hot shower and have sublimely quiet night.

7th of Jan 2008 … I find my kind of place, affordable and relaxed, in the Medina of Essaouira. At Hotel Souiri my inner harmony is restored. Ulla and I meet at 2 pm for a meal of irresistible fresh-smoked sardines at the harbour. The dogs enjoy a walk along the fortress walls, but are less pleased when we trundle through narrow streets in search for bargains. We both find items after appropriate spans of haggling. I buy a carpet runner to cheer up my kitchen at home. The labyrinth Medina has a lively and friendly atmosphere, and a well sustained patina of hippy charm, inviting a longer stay, but not this time, since I must catch a plane in two days.

Ulla offers to drive me to Marrakech.  In hindsight, I should’ve made the decision to refuse and organised a bus. Marrakech does not welcome dogs, which traditionalists consider unclean in Morocco. We were rejected at the outside table of a restaurant at central market place, Jemaa el-Fnaa,  even while sitting on the fringe, because our lovely friends, Ali and Leila were unwelcome. It was a sad downer.

In all, the journey reminded how moving to England in 1978 marked a departure from my crazy life in Germany, with all its professional successes and private failures, opening another crazy section of my life, with equal successes and failures, coinciding with a change of my name. The bridge I crossed then, offered a deep learning, and it allowed me eventually, through another language, to find my way back to writing. But that’s a story in itself.

My friend and travel companion, I must add, while inclined to retreat into her shell, is to my heart an iridescent pearl. I’m grateful she suggested the pilgrimage, and thank her for her companionship during these remarkable weeks.

Note: Please ignore grammar quirks in this spontaneous sharing. Thanks .Also, the underlined blue words in this text open safe links to Wikipedia, and bring up a separate screen.

Blessings for 2021. Wishing you, us, a better year ahead, one that makes pilgrimages possible again.

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… Morocco adventure, third part …

27th Dec. 2007. Instead of committing to another night at Bou Jarif, we decide on a day trip to Plage Blanche and perhaps return for the night, or the next day, depending on whether I can occupy one of those deserted cottages at Plage Blanche we heard about. Turns out I can. The former manager of the dilapidated Hotel, if it ever was a hotel, sweeps out the layers of sand from one of the cottages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He’s a loner, let-the-world-go-by kind of man. Ulla speaks French with him. I get the gist. The planned facilities for the hotel got stuck, were too unrealistic, never happened. The plot was apparently sold to another developer.  Our hermit says he bides his time until the machinery moves in … probably never. His story has holes. Truth balances on a thin edge around here. Still, having apparently resisted threats and bribes, he holds his fragile station and is cheered to have visitors. The splendour of the dunes settles it. Our stroll along the beach is crowned by the brilliant orange sun slipping over the horizon. Not for the first time, I wonder if by photographing such  moments I diminish deeper absorption. Yet here I am, sharing the image of a sunset with you, my readers, who have seen many fabulous sunsets in their lifetime, if only to re-spark such beauty in your memory.  Even without water in my cottage, and no toilet use, the minimal décor appeals. I make myself an oasis with candles and a red shawl for colour. The steady sound of the Atlantic surf rolling in and out is softened by the dunes. The clear night ocean above me sparkles with galaxies. Bliss.

28th Dec. 2007, Ulla has taken the dogs for a run along the beach. I furtively look for a spot to dig a hole for what finally stirs in my intestines, since I never use the chemical toilet in the van. The spot I find looks upon miles of surf before the Atlantic horizon. The occasion allows for a most spectacularly relieving bowel movement, certainly with the best view ever. The argan oil I soaked yesterday’s excellent local bread in must have worked the magic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Argan oil is harvested and processed via many small co-operatives, run by women. Goats treasure its fruit and climb high into the trees for it, a surreal sight. They remain natural harvester in some areas, since kernels containing the valuable oil remain unharmed in the animal’s droppings, which are then collected.

I see Ulla returning from miles away. I ask her to take the above photo in the dunes of me. Later we walk along an estuary teeming with birds. A young man on a moped sells fresh fish to Ulla, filleted on sight. I set up a folding chair along the sacred line that marks the boundary between reality and dream, a place of sweet solitude.

 

 

 

 

 

The world intrudes. An elderly English woman parks her caravan near Ulla’s van. She, too, has two dogs. Based on that association she relates a horror story to us, of how her husband was killed (murdered) near the area some years ago by a ten year old Moroccan boy. Since then the woman makes a yearly pilgrimage. The boy, she says, drove his bicycle down a hill at full speed and rammed into her husband while he locked his car, on purpose. Their planned coffee break never happened. I wonder about the truth of the matter. Ongoing legal proceedings are swallowing up the woman’s savings. Consumed by this ghastly event, fate teases with endless plots crowding her imagination, a horrific trauma that seemed to have no absolution, apart from finding listeners. We listen.

 

29th Dec 2007. Ulla and I share a grief from way back for the untimely loss of a dear Sufi friend. Though every grief has its own constellation and depth, improvised travelling, demanding total presence, tends to soothe sorrows. As for me, hardly did a grunt or a sigh escape me on this journey. Daily a new horizon open, like the breath-taking rock formations found along hidden beaches. Each obstacle requires a surrender to circumstances. Western visitors fare best when adopting the shoulder shrug which is second nature to Moroccans, signifying their readiness of trusting in God’s will, ‘Inshallah.’ While I enjoy the sense of being lost between dream and reality, I drive Ulla crazy with the tunes I hum unawares. The melodies arrive from nowhere; old songs from the 70s, or themes from symphonies and operas. Brought to my attention, I try to place the tunes and can’t rest until I do. This peculiar habit of mine taps into an unconscious matrix where emotional memories find fresh connections, a kind of dark and invisible womb in which experiences are recorded. I feel embarrassed when Ulla admits irritation, though I thank her for bringing this habit to my attention. I learned to value this unconscious process as a mnemonic tool in the process of writing.

We drive an hour back to Goulimine and enjoy lunch in a restaurant with a familiar friendly waiter. He accepts and arranges for the fish which Ulla bought from a young man in the dunes to be prepared. I later get two bottles of wine for the next four days from the known secret corner in the souk.

Driving toward Tan Tan Plage, we divert to Ksar Tafnidilt, yet another nerve wrecking track leading to a 5star desert palace that includes a camping area. Like Bou Jarif, the abode was built to accommodate French tourists. A few four wheel drivers blast their horns and impatiently overtake us. The passion of these people is racing their sturdy vehicles at high speed along the sandy coastline at low tide. It’s a noisy hazard, and worth keeping in mind when paddling unawares in the surf.

I inspect a lovely tower room at Ksar Tafnidilt, but my budget is dwindling. So after some dreaming of luxury, it’s back to the main road. The four wheel drivers have churned some nasty holes in the sand. At one point we collect rocks to make a passage. Ulla’s bondage to the van conjures up her fears that we’ll get stuck. The scary possibility sparks my usually drowsy determination into action, physically and mentally. All went well in the end. We continue towards Tan Tan Plage.

A fourth part of this journey will be coming next: Tan Tan Plage, New Year, TV, dreaming in the philosophy zone, worlds within, symbols, returning via Goulimine, Bou Jerif, Sidi Ifni and Tiznit, before heading up the coast towards Agadir and Essaouria, a lovely small town. I think as an old hippy I could live there 🙂

These are spontaneous posts, so please ignore possible grammar slips.

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… Morocco adventure, second part …

21st Dec,. 2007. Ulla and I head to Tiznit, and on to Playa Aglou, where I book into a hotel at the beach for two nights at reduced price. I sleep well after two glasses of red from the bottle I brought along from Agadir. We have a morning walk under spectacular skies along the coast.

Here happens the image for the title of my novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ with clouds brilliantly reflecting on the water. The dogs race on the moist sand. Late afternoon it rains a little. Next day we make a short trip south, exploring hidden bays with otherworldly rocks.

22nd Dec. We go shopping in Tiznit, for candles, water, yogurt and postcards. The souk is empty, maybe because of the holiday. Afternoon we walk along the coast, with two, three, four bands of surf under a misty sunset with pink clouds, and also stroll along Aglou promenade.  We contemplate renting a flat for a few days. A Moroccan scout suggests a few, but they’re all in a dire state … half functioning appliances, smelly and dirty, nothing that couldn’t be righted with a little effort, but we are in conflict whether to commit to one place or push on.

23d Dec. Massive rainfall, through which I run to make it dry to the breakfast terrace. The sky clears quickly. By lunchtime we drive on towards Sidi Ifni,  stopping in Mirleft for lunch. As only customers we are served like royalty.

Later on I hold my breath, while Ulla, seemingly fearless, navigates the heavy van descending a scary steep rubble track, the last stretch bringing us to the legendary Legzira beach. This heart stopping moment brings back a time when I had my own, smaller VW bus, and got stuck ascending a vertical narrow road in the mountains of South Tirol. I was younger then, with more guts. I relied on my handbrake to exit the car and put rocks under the back tires, mainly to gain time and catch my breath. In the end you do what needs doing. Once you’re on a sheer slope you keep your nerve. Gliders have most excellent nerves around here and, for us, Legzira’s red rocks were well worth the  effort.

Sidi Ifni was relinquished back to Morocco by Spain in 1969. The beach is massively dirty, yet overall the place has an odd charm, and seems to have escaped mass tourism.

I book into Suerte Loca. It’s a full moon night. My room is shared with one lazy fly, which, in my dream, I pursue with a formidable army of girls, equipped with arrows.

The terrace with a view up the road is lovely, though it connects with three other rooms, something I feel uneasy about. There were once plans to build an airport here, but the designated area remained empty. I like this photo I managed to take. Developers overestimated Sidi Ifni’s attraction to tourists. Some months after our visit there were violent protests by the unemployed, who blockaded the port. Maybe things changed.

24th Dec. No tinsel or jolly Christmas bells for most Moroccans. French people living in Morocco tend to spread the tradition, though not in the Oasis where we arrive today. Domain Khattab has camping facilities and a few small bungalows, all set in a desolate landscape not far from Goulimine, the gateway to the desert. I rent a little bungalow. Before bedtime Ulla serves a vegetable stew done on her camping stove. We share reminiscences. Happy Christmas, I say, with some irony. Ulla believes in nothing, and why not. Traditions that lose symbolic value degenerate. When I think of how Christmases have changed since my childhood, I despair at the monster enterprise it now stands for. It is bitter cold, hard to sleep, even under several layers of blankets. Dogs are barking on and off during the night. The place has a filthy kind of allure. Only a trickle of water in the bathroom, and the toilet doesn’t work. A helpful man brings a bucket of water, and then another for the next flush. Unfortunately the toilet bowl leaks, which I discover in the morning when I step into ice cold puddles that soaks my leg warmers. Despite all these discomforts, there is something refreshingly disorientating about travelling along unknown roads.

25th Dec. Christmas day. The sun brings a little warmth. I pay what I think is sufficient for the lack of much, which is accepted. Breakfast is delayed, because someone overslept. We meet a Swedish woman who travels alone via public transport. I admire her good faith. We are off to Goulimine to get some shopping done. A young man shows me the one place that sells wine, in a dark corner of the souk.

For our next destination we drive a dangerously bumpy track to Fort Bou Jerif. The stillness among the bare hills is eerie. Not a soul for miles on end. Lost in the desert, the fort attracts visitors because of its stunning ruins. The guest quarter, including a camping area, run by French people, has a Disney feel and lacks authenticity. Only mad tourists like us attempt this arduous journey, which should require a 4×4 vehicle. The room I book is expensive, sigh, but since everything is clean and well cared for, I anticipate the unique pleasure of a hot shower. Close by is a river with a palm grove oasis. We opt for a tagine dinner in front of Ulla’s van, prepared traditionally on a wood fire by a clever trader hiding among the bushes. It tastes delicious, and we enjoy the sunset with a full moon rising. Tomorrow we’ll explore the ruins.

26th Dec. A fairly comfortable night, for Ulla in her van, and for me in my snug room, where I sketch some furniture details. We set out to explore the crumbling ruins. Apparently the fort was built by the French around the 1930s and abandoned once Morocco obtained its independence in 1956.

The hot shower was overstated. To safe costs, I opt for a tent for the second night, spreading a sea of tiny tea lights around me for comfort. Still, the cold prevents me from sleeping, until Ulla saves me by supplying a cashmere blanket, which I wrap around my neck. It also helps to muffle the noise of barking dogs.

Choosing images is difficult, there being so many, in different folders. I hope the ones chosen add a taste to the journey. More adventures to come, hopefully to cheer those of us in lock down.

The lone warrior at Plage Blanche, back to Goulimine, and on towards Tan Tan via Ksar Tafnidilt.

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… Morocco adventure 2007, first part …

Marrakech airport, 16th Dec 2007 … new arrivals are greeted by hundreds of placards. I scan the display showing names of people, Hotels, and Riads, until I spot Dar Pangal, my Riad. In the rush my top heavy case topples and grazes a man’s toes. He shouts an avalanche of abuse, in French. I say, ‘Sorry,’ which raises his blood pressure even more. My understanding of French being embarrassingly basic, I do grasp the questions he hurls at me like projectiles. ‘Where do you come from? Why do you come here?’ His insolence finally riles me. ‘Why do you want to know?’ I ask. He snaps back in English, ‘Shut up.’ Young Saladin, who will bring me to my Riad in the Medina, casts his eyes to heaven and shrugs his shoulders, so do I.

Anything on wheels ages well here. Old bangers zip through the buzzing crowd. Some cars, and bikes, have well-fed goat tied up in the backseat. ‘Feasts are ahead,’ Saladin says, in perfect English. ‘Sacrificing goats for celebrations and sharing their mutton with family, friends and neighbours is an honoured tradition in these parts of the world.’

Turning into a narrow backstreet, we arrive at Dar Pangal. The inner courtyard is an island of peace. Julio offers a warm welcome. He’s South American, but spent years in Paris, working as a designer. He likes Werner Herzog films, and once met Klaus Kinsky. Eccentric people fascinate him. I reveal how I worked for some of these eccentric people in the past. On that wavelength we share reminiscences over mint tea. Using a mobile and texting is a new experience for me. Somewhat nervous, I practice sending messages to Ulla, Ruth and Zohra. Connections work well. A hot shower also works well, and helps me to sleep after a long day.

17th Dec. 2007 … A knock on the door. 7 am and pitch dark. Latifa opens the shutters and invites me to have breakfast. Later I explore Julio’s roof terrace, with sweeping views over the medina roofs, which carry a field of satellites. Seems Marrakech is well wired up through gold vision orbs.

I find an exchange office to buy dirham cash, and then stroll through the Souk, taking my time, feasting on spicy smells and deep colours. An exotic trance battles with my intention to look purposeful, to avoid harassment. Charmed by a timeworn caravanserai, I calculate the exchange rate in my head and bargain over a holdall made from a Berber saddle back. In the process I lose a knitted hat I’d bought for my son. His taste in clothing has become refined, so maybe I should find a different present. I notice that most people don’t like to be photographed without permission, which I respect. The plenty starved cats have no objection.

18th Dec. 2007 … Saladin learns there are no places on trains to Agadir on the Atlantic coast, where I am supposed to meet my friend, Ulla, with her VW bus and her two dogs. We manage to find a seat for me in a grand taxi, an old Mercedes already cramped with Moroccan men heading to Agadir for family gatherings. To ease their fare the men wedge me into the backseat. Pressure of time cancels choice, so I trust the arrangement. Magnificent white clouds over the Atlas Mountains compensate. A short cigarette stop provides a memorable photo. After an hour being cramped together, the men invite me to mint tea and pancakes. We communicate in made-up language, hand gestures and smiles.

I meet up with Ulla, her van and her dog family, a Dalmatian, Leila, and an adorable adopted Moroccan street dog, Ali, in the parking area of Marjane Shopping Mall. I had visited Ulla’s home a year earlier, refreshing a connection from eventful past decades that combined in our memory. Besides, there was our joint mother tongue. Mine had become rusty. Being challenged to speak German brought not only forgotten words to the surface, but also forgotten experiences. Where I can be hesitant and avoid conflict, she has a no-nonsense manner, often with an edge I admire. Shouting the name ‘Ali’ down the road for your dog to behave, is potentially asking for trouble, that is, in Morocco. The predictable raised eyebrows before the penny drops remind me of childhood pranks my mother used to censor. We make an interesting pair of travellers.

Two friends Ulla met on the road, Peter and his partner, have their camper parked nearby. Peter knows everything there is to know about Morocco, including where to find my rolling tobacco, and how to achieve reduced deals for lodgings. Useful, since Ulla’s dog friends own any spare space in her van.

19th Dec 2007 … We are en route through the Anti-Atlas Mountains and along steeply winding roads, with an almost invisible turnoff towards the hidden Berber oasis of Tafraoute. I sign in at Hotel Salama. We have a fabulous meal at a tiny Berber restaurant. The owner, I learn later, married an English Writer, and back in the UK, I discovered by chance a proof copy of her novel in a charity shop. I wrote a spontaneous review.

 

 

 

 

 

The landscape surrounding Tafraout is littered with spectacular rocks. In 1984, a Belgian artist, Jean Verame, painted a cluster of rocks blue. I prefer land-art created with earth materials, not tons of paint. Still, it was done, and these rocks look as if the sky dropped a spot of its blue on them.

Our next destination was Tiznit, and from there on all the way to Tan Tan, near Mauritania, and up again along the Atlantic coast to Essaouira. Given the present surreal lock downs, I may share more episodes of this adventure.

Photography fans may like my album on Morocco at  https://500px.com/p/ashen?view=galleries

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