Thursday, December 5, 2013

THE ABSENCE of PRESENCE & Unconducted Wandering

Francesca Woodman

"Finding a sanctuary, a place apart from time, is not so different from finding a faith."
        Pico Ayer, Falling Off the Map:  Some Lonely Places of the World.
 I'm falling off the map for awhile - no maps on my taps - a little soft shoe in Turkey.

I'm flying carpet class

The *friend I'm traveling with & I have had 30+ years of wild & life changing adventures -- from white water rafting on the Colorado River to forging the Narrows during electrical storm in Zion National Park.  Add to those capers some scary Mormon encounters in Utah, bear wrestling in the Tetons, close call on the Stanislaus and a near death experience in the Ventana Wilderness.  (Just kidding about the Mormons). Dottie's the brains behind the operation; I'm there for camel wrangling and comic relief. 

People have nicknamed us Thelma & Louise, but for our Turkish trek we'll be following in the footsteps of two "Unconducted Wanderers":  English women, Rosita Forbes and Freya Stark.  They were part of a new generation of female adventurers in the 1920's & 30's -- Not really explorers since there wasn't much undiscovered territory; they were looking for something far less tangible than picture postcards, souvenirs or male conquests.** 

Freya Stark - "Passionate Nomad" - 1893 -1993

"To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.  You are surrounded by adventure," Stark wrote in Baghdad Sketches.  "You have no idea what is in store for you, but you will, if you are wise and know the art of travel, let yourself go on the stream of the unknown and accept whatever comes in the spirit in which the Gods may offer it." 

Freya Stark
One of the first western women to travel in the Arabian desert, Freya risked her life for a taste of immortality. A charming eccentric & connoisseur of people, she learned Arabic in her 30's.  In the 1950's she voyaged to Turkey and wrote four books on the culture. Traveling with Leica in hand, until she was 90 years old, suffering exotic diseases and pulling herself out of all sorts of improbable scrapes.  She said, "the great and almost only comfort about being a woman, is that one can always pretend to be more stupid than one is and no one is surprised."

Rosita Forbes ("Women Called Wild", "Unconducted Wanderers"), half Scottish and half Spanish with enormous blue eyes and blue-black hair, worked as an ambulance driver during the first World War, receiving a couple of medals from the French government for her service.  She married a soldier & left England to write about China, Tibet, New Guinea, Fiji, Syria, Sudan, and Libya, where she disguised herself as a Bedouin, claiming a Cicassian mother to explain away her lousy Arabic.  Sheikhs found her too scrawny for their harems, but she was often a guest of honor at their tables, where they served her their local delicacy--sheep eyeballs, "glazed and often semi-raw." I don't know if Dottie has ever had sheep's eyeballs, but like Rosita she has faced down sandstorms in the desert, difficult camels and been held prisoner in her own tent (and for good reason!) 

Dottie's doppelganger:  Rosita Forbes - 1893 - 1967
 Appointments in the Sun - Rosita Forbes - "That is the charm of a map.  It represents the other side of the horizon where everything is possible.  It has the magic of anticipation without the toil and sweat...the perfect journey is never finished.  The goal is always just across the next river, round the shoulder of the next mountain.  There is always one more track to follow, one more mirage to explore." Exactement!

Lately I've been thinking a lot about PRESENCE.  The two ladies must have had it in spades.  Even in these old photos their eyes zoom in, direct and knowing.  You know it immediately when you look at a granddaddy tree, a pastel like Sue Lishman's, "The Outing," about a couple she keeps dreaming about, or a horse in a field --it stops you in your tracks-- a sharp intake of breath, no fiddle faddle. 

Kevin under the biggest Chestnut tree I've ever seen - Ruisses Forge
Horse near La Plaigne - The Outing

But nearly as startling is the Absence of Presence.  Do you ever feel like you are talking to someone and they're not really there?  Or worse yet, neither are you.  Bertold Brecht coined a theater term to describe a certain kind of alienation, a distancing effect:  verfremdungseffekt, to prevent an audience from completely losing themselves in the narrative, barring them from feeling empathy.

One experiences a sense of hovering, almost like a ghost, aware of the proceedings, but not able to participate. It's an epidemic these days, this sense of invisibility, of feeling unseen.

George Carlin - 1969
One of my favorite comedians, George Carlin once said:  "I've adopted a new lifestyle, one that doesn't require my presence."
Is there an antidote to the fragmentation we feel?  BE HERE NOW à la Ram Dass? Sometimes it's just a poem (like the one written by my brother below) or a piece of dark chocolate that opens my pores, awakens the senses, smashes the Hall of Mirrors. Sometimes it helps to go into silence, to put down all the gadgets so you can hear yourself weeping by the side of the road. 

Travel can break the heart open & heal it too.  In 11 days the unconducted wanderers pilgrimage will take us to Rumi's grave site in Konya for the 740th anniversary of his passing into the beyond.  Above the entrance to Rumi's shrine, there is a poem inscribed:  "This place is like the Ka'ba for lovers.  All come here broken and incomplete.  All leave whole."   Here's hoping!

Konya dervishes
"A pilgrim travels differently - always in a pilgrimage, there is a change of mind & a change of heart." John O' Donohue. 

Turning the Corner
Some words are like the air,
invisible and necessary.
Tonight, I am holding the word
'turn' in my hands and wondering
what it means, this humble
If you say it aloud without a 
direction, it seems to me to be
Seasons turn.
A pirouette is only a
One good turn.
                                                                   A turn for the
                                                                        -  Mark Kreighbaum

Whirling Dervishes - Konya

Those who don't feel this Love                                                      
pulling them like a river,
those who don't drink dawn                                                                    
like a cup of spring water
or take in sunset like supper,
those who don't want to change,
let them sleep.

This love is beyond the study of theology,
that old trickery and hypocrisy.
If you want to improve your mind that way,
sleep on.

I've given up on my brain.
I've torn the cloth to shreds
and thrown it away.
If you're not completely naked,
wrap your beautiful robe of words
around you,

and sleep.

Rumi - Translated by Coleman Barks

*Dottie Leroux - her documentary: Tuaregs & Toubabs- A Festival in the Desert
**Encylopedia of the Exquisite  

-and thanks to all who came for readings at Le Manoir de Longeveau on Sunday the 1st, for the second year in a row - a wonderful event. I especially enjoyed the two French girls who last year asked me questions about their boyfriends & this year asked me the same questions about different boyfriends.


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