Tag Archives: friend

… without sleep & dreams we’d go mad …

Sonnets to Orpheus    

                Part II

          10

All we gained is threatened by the machine

As it assumes possession rather than obeys the mind,

Ignoring the hesitant gesture of a radiant hand

It wilfully forges ahead, cutting sharp into stone.

Nor does it ever slow down enough for us to win distance,

Yet oiled by itself remains in the silent halls of fact.

It circles in living and claims to know best about living,

And with equal resolve creates, destroys, indifferent to all.

Yet our being remains spun in the mysteries of birthing,

Origins from enchanted wells, a play of pristine powers,

To behold only with eyes closed, and in adoration.

Words still softly dissolve before the unspeakable state,

While the most resonant stones give form to ever new sounds,

Gathering music into the divine unmade.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated by Ashen Venema

A friend called earlier, lovingly concerned, wondering why I hadn’t posted anything this month. I don’t plan posts ahead, but asking myself – what lingers in my mind – this poem by R M Rilke asked for attention. I used it to upfront a film degree dissertation (as a mature student) during the mid-90s … ‘Body Electric,’ An Exploration of Human Identity in the Digital Age. Once I discover how to transfer Mac Claris Work from floppy discs into a Word doc. or PDF, I’ll share the dissertation and other articles with my readers.

I like translating poems from German into English, poems by R M Rilke, W Goethe, H Hesse. It’s an adventure to find the right word and phrase. Maybe I should share such translations more often. The title of this post … without sleep and dreams we’d go mad … relates to the above Rilke’s poem, since the internet with its avalanche of information can assume a machine-like relentlessness, and yet, we can’t do without it, which makes me grateful for being able to sleep, so my psyche can assimilate new information during dreams.

8 Comments

Filed under Blog

… 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.

23 Comments

Filed under Blog

… 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

17 Comments

Filed under Blog

… turning a stone – compelled to look deeper …

The year before the millennium, a then dear old friend of mine, Sitara Brutnell (I wrote about her in another post) found a stone on West Wittering beach during one of the little outings we did together. We both loved stones. I sometimes invest my finds with magic power. Those who have read my novel, ‘Course of Mirrors,’ will know a black shiny stone becomes a vital talisman to my protagonist.

As we wandered close to the purling waves brought in by the tide, mesmerised by the sound of pebbles tumbling over each other, we were open for treasures to signal us. I had already discovered a few smooth stones, white, marbled, pink and black, for my collection.

selfie that day, with Nikon suspended exposure

The one stone Sitara picked was uneven, jagged, with the odd spot of glassy flint shining through. Folding her palm around the slimmer end, it could have served as a tool to spark a flame with. She stood a long while contemplating the contours and varied colourings of the stone, turning it over and over.

I became intrigued with Sitara’s jagged stone, which seemed to me a metaphor of her concern for others, their troubles, their sharp edges. An exceptional friend in my life, her special grace was the capacity to forgive, always seeing a person’s character from many sides. The urge for genuine forgiveness shaped her personality, was her path.

Feeling prompted to explore her stone; I was given it on loan, to attempt a few drawings. The recent comment by a Swiss friend, regarding stones, made me dig up my sketches of Sitara’s stone, which explored its charming irregularities.

An ancient story came to mind, probably of Asian origin:

The two Pots

A water bearer in China had two large pots on the ends of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered the full portion of water.

At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. This went on daily, with the bearer only bringing home one-and-a-half pots of water.

The perfect pot was proud of his accomplishment. But the cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection, and miserable about accomplishing only half of what it had been made for.

Two years it endured its bitter failure, until one day it spoke to the water bearer by the stream. ‘I’m ashamed of myself, because the crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.

The bearer said to the pot, ‘Did you notice that flowers grow only on your side of the path? That’s because I’ve always known your flaw and I planted seeds there, and every day while we walked back you watered them. So I’ve been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.

So, all dear crackpots, myself included, we have functions we know nothing about.

Enjoy the full moon. And if your sky is clouded, enjoy at least the special energy.

9 Comments

Filed under Blog

… other-worldly Cornwall’s clay pits …

Some call it a lunar landscape. Wrongly. For lack of atmosphere, as mentioned in my recent post, the moon has no blue dome with cloud beings.

Years ago, my friend, Rahima (aka Elspeth Spottiswood/Milburn,) enticed me to visit the clay pits near St Austell.

While living in Cornwall as a young mother, she often marvelled at the white phenomenon seen from the road. Glowing on the horizon, the then white hills left a deep impression, bringing to her mind a city of temples, namely Ezekiel’s prophetic vision of a New Jerusalem.

This in stark contrast to the black slag heaps of coalmines, which, as a painter, and having grown up in Scotland, visually fascinated Rahima just the same.

In uniquely attuned spiritual warriors mode we conducted many seminars and workshops together, on dreams and archetypes and the imagination.

One day, off to visit the St Austell Clay Pits, we were searching for an entry to the site. During an adventurous process of getting lost among dusty criss-crossing tracks, circling on forever, we finally found ourselves in the heart of and atop the excavation site.

Luck was with us in another sense, the dramatic Cornish light on that day inspired the series of photographs I am sharing here.

I love clouds in any form and shade, regally resting, floating or racing on the breath of the wind, seen from a valley, mountain or plane. Clouds story our skies with magical creatures. Here one of my posts celebrating clouds. 

Human industry values the hidden treasures under the earth, black stuff, white stuff and golden stuff … Cornwall supplies white gold, the clay prized for porcelain, paper, paint and rubber.

Traditionally, china clay was extracted from the kaolinised granite by “wet mining”. High pressure jets of water were used to erode the working faces and wash out the kaolin. The slurry produced would flow down to the base of the pit from where it was pumped to the surface for processing.

In St Austell this process has moved on to dry-mining. In recent years, locals have taken to re-greening the scars of industrial excavations around mining sites, and, in a way, are making the scars less spectacular.

The China Clay Museum, Wheal-Martyn, provides information about Kaolin history and research.

The museum is planning a celebratory exhibition this summer …

There exist more dramatic images of the day, but I leave it as is for now.

Be aware that it may be illegal to enter the Clay Pit site without prior arrangement. We were naive and plain lucky, guided by my friend’s love for the place.

Later that day, Rahima and I travelled along narrow, sun-speckled  Cornish lanes towards Lamorna Bay at the coast.

That’s another story, for another day . I wrote about missing my friend in 2017.

17 Comments

Filed under Blog

… a ginger cat dreams of company in breath …

The woman used to sit in the deckchair with her sleek black friend on her lap, eyes closed, breathing in unison. She calls it meditation. I was jealous, what else.

I’m old and grumpy, a familiar sight. Small chance she wonders where I hang out when not visiting. Today she spotted me – a fluffy ginger ball dozing on a brick wall sheltered by ivy – not my regular spot. I prefer having my daily nap on a bench at the top. From that royal view downhill I keep half an eye on creature traffic, neighbour cats that shamelessly kill fledglings or lame birds, the stray dog or sly fox that slips through the hedge, reckless rodents … but it’s been drizzling all night and my favourite bench is soaking wet this morning.

I get no food here. However, she daily cleans and refills the ceramic bowl near the house with fresh water, just for me to slurp. In such moments we exchange glances, and she nods. What she doesn’t like is when I get too close to her little stone Buddha. Then she shakes her head or steps from the backdoor to clap her hands. I’ve seen her turn the water hose on cats with bad manners. She should know better, I’m not one of them, I have principles.

I bet she misses her companion, glossy and black as a moonless sky. She was gentle and tolerant of me, which is why I used to protect her from a nasty tom. Some years ago the woman dug a deep hole for her friend, near the compost heap. Not the most romantic spot to have one’s bones rest, but due ceremony was observed, which must count for love.

I wouldn’t impose myself. I wonder what attracts me to this human and her world. I’d love being invited in her house, as companion. Nowadays she often sits near the window, staring at some rectangular device like it’s the most fascinating sight in the world, the opening to a mystery, like a warren.

She keeps her distance, wary of attachments. I get it, of course; she doesn’t want her freedom restricted by caring for another cat. Her neighbours used to look after her pet during her absences. Now their health is fragile and can’t be relied upon. She objects to Kennels, rightly. I was put in one, long ago, confined in a cage, horrible.

I doubt she cares where I camp at night. Doesn’t know I endure the stoned torpor of Mr X, lost in a dark place. It’s not a home, the vibes upset me. But each morning I vocally rouse X from his hangovers to alert him to my dry meal. This must be my purpose – my insistence on my existence is how he tracks time, like noticing a new day. Alas, the filthy water bowl is only rarely topped, which is why I’m thankful that the woman got the message …  I’m always thirsty.

The image keeps returning, of her sitting in the garden with her black friend on her lap, eyes closed, breathing in unison. My thirst lives on. It may be complex and beyond measure, or awesomely simple, I don’t know, but company in breath seems the one simple thing of beauty most worth dreaming of.

19 Comments

Filed under Blog

… I lost an ally, but not her frequency …

Launch of 'Heart of a Sufi.'

2011 launch of ‘Heart of a Sufi’ at a friend’s place.

Before I share the book cover of ‘Course of Mirrors,’ my first novel to be released in spring, I must step back and credit once more a book I co-edited and am proud to have helped produce. ‘Heart of a Sufi’ was published by a group of friends in 2011. A limited print-run of hardbacks sold quickly and recouped our expenses. I wrote about the background to this project in honour of Fazal Inayat-Khan here in March 2013.

 

Joe Linker, a blogger friend, wrote only this week a spot-on review of this unusual book – brilliant, heartfelt thanks. One of our small editorial team, Rahima (Elspeth) Milburn, would have been delighted with the review of this book she endorsed with passion. Sadly she died peacefully shortly before 2017 was rung in.

by-ashen-portrait-of-elspeth-spottiswood-smallerI miss her. She was a deep thinking woman, a painter, psychotherapist and lover of poetry, especially Rumi, whose verses she recited often in her very deep and distinctive voice.  She was an inspiration to many. For over ten year, up to 2004, we run monthly seminars and additional workshops together, on themes like mythology, the power of the imagination, and the significance of dreams. I feel deep gratitude for her supportive friendship and feel strongly that her frequency lives on.

The portrait on the right I did in her studio, around the Millennium.

A group of us, companions on her path, will travel to Cornwall next week to join the large Milburn family and send their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother on her journey. Some of my readers may remember a humorous poem I wrote for Rahima and her family – posted here last October:

Regarding ‘Heart of a Sufi’ … while there are only very few of the beautiful hard copies left, some with Watkins in London, the work is also available as an e-book  with Troubador or Amazon.

12 Comments

Filed under Blog