26… TwentySIX

Ireland

twentySIX-reeditSheep were first domesticated by early Mesopotamian humans around 10 thousand years ago, the practice spread quickly throughout Europe and into Ireland.  The sheep provide wool and meat and milk for their human counterparts.  The humans provide protection and ensure that the sheep in their care have sufficient plant life to graze on.  This symbiosis is often forgotten when we think of the term domestication.  Unless we have a more personal experience of the process we imagine domestication as a system of humans dominating animals.  There is a family run Spanish farm; “La Pateria de Sousa” which produces award winning foie gras by practicing domestication as symbiosis.  They carefully cultivate their lands with intentionally selected plants that the geese love to eat and which in turn after filtering through their happy bodies provide a complex and beautiful flavor in the goose liver.  This is a rare example in the foie gras industry where the standard and relatively brutal forced feeding techniques typically engage domestication as a method of fulfilling the one-sided goal of the farmer.  Travel is much like making a fantastic tasting foie gras from delighted geese or enjoying the benefit generated when caring for domesticated sheep- it is symbiotic.

As I had set out that morning for a day of hiking in the surrounding hillside which crowned the Dingle peninsula the friendly couple running my hotel offered local insight on the surrounding area. I had no map and the area where I had chosen to get off the bus was not in my guide book, so their information was very useful as I followed a one lane road into the wilderness.  About two hours down the road I approached a small cottage and an elderly man stopped what he was doing in the front garden as I drew near.   As he returned my smile I saw that he was missing several of his front teeth and noticed that he must smile often as the wrinkles around his eyes were as well worn as the faded denim overalls he was wearing.  I stopped when he asked me where I was headed to and explained that I had no real destination in mind, only out for a walk in the sunshine.  Taking the opportunity to show off the beauty of his homeland he insisted that I take a trail running alongside his property which lead to a hillside of local renown, bearing a name which I could not understand.

The trail was lined with towering foxgloves swirling with butterflies and I was immediately happy to have been directed to such and enchanting landscape.  The flowers and trees began thinning out and an emerald sea of hills stretched gently upwards, carrying the trail along with it.  So I climbed, scrambling over the fences which crossed the path in order to keep herds of sheep seperated, each group distinguished from one another using brightly colored spray painted marks on their fat woolly bodies.  After spending several hours following the path I found a soft patch of grass surrounding a sunny bolder against which I could lean and take in the view.  Apart from the wind, the only sound was that of the sheep occasionally bleating our their salutations and of the waterfall which I now faced across the valley.  I stayed late into the afternoon, eyes closed listening and enjoying the solitude.

From Dingle I headed north to a small town called Doolin.  I had read that this was one of the most authentic places to hear transitional Irish music and I was very curious about taking it in.  Doolin has three pubs, several bed and breakfasts, and a growing number of hostels.  I chose one along the river just outside of town where I was installed in a bed below a skylight just like the one I had in my childhood.  The hostel itself was converted old farm house and after a bit of exploring I discovered the back door.  Several young people were congregating at the picnic table perched above the river.  One of them cradled a bagpipe in their arms and another an Irish fiddle as they casually played their instruments I lifted myself up onto the stone wall nearby to listen.  I love music, all kinds of music and especially live music.  As a visual-centric person being able to watch the musician experience making their music enriches the way I perceive the sound they produce.  Framed by the river, the old farmhouse and the sweetly melancholic landscape the afternoon turned to the deep glow of twilight and we all went in to make our dinners in the communal kitchen.  After dinner there was some discussion about what pub had the group playing that evening and the table divided with everyone heading in smaller groups to their preferred establishments.  Without any real knowledge of the differences, I opted for the pub that was the oldest in town figuring I would start at the beginning.  There were several Bodhran Irish drummers and a couple of fiddle players along with a dreadlocked didgeridoo player and silver flute player all in full momentum when I ordered a pint at the bar.  Everyone talked with everyone, and I was quickly absorbed into the communal spirit of the small pub. Suddenly the young woman drinking and clapping next to me set her glass down and launched into a fury of Irish dance which only got more passionate as the crowds encouraged her which in turn caused the musicians to play with more and more enthusiasm as she danced until performer and audience transformed completely in a kind of symbiotic alchemy.

As I was swept up with back slapping and hearty laughs and carried to the next pub an equally raucous group passed us headed to the pub behind us and I could see another leaving the one were about to enter, as if great tidal forces were moving the whole town between three moons.  Many hours later as I was leaving the third pub and heading for bed,  I reunited with a group walking back to the farmhouse singing their way to the front door.

Enjoying the blues change to oranges and then soft yellows in the sky above my bed, I drifted off to sleep with the sounds of fiddles and song still echoing in my mind.

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25……TwentyFIVE

Ireland

Monday 25.3FINAL

 Nearly two an a half centuries were required to complete The Book of Kells, one of the finest examples of illuminated manuscripts in Western Europe.  Intended to transform darkness into light, the skins of 150 calves were used to create its high quality vellum pages and the expert craftsmanship of monks dedicating entire lifetimes towards its completion.  Of the four volumes two are on permanent display at Trinity College in Dublin.  So ferocious is the security that only after  seven years spent developing a new method utilizing suction techniques for copying the pages was the preeminent Swiss publishing house, Faksimile-Verlag Luzern, permitted access to the volumes.  Much as a family guards the graves of its ancestors, The Book of Kells is likewise protected and venerated by the Irish.

Ripping off another piece of baguette I sat staring at fishing boats oozing into the dark mud of the shoreline.  It was low tide and I had fortuitously discovered a little bench from which I could contemplate the horizon while eating my lunch.  The bus had arrived at the small French fishing village behind schedule the day before and I was delayed in my journey to Ireland.  That evening I was to board a ferry that would cross the gap between the two countries during the night.

As usual I opted for the cheapest possible fare and this landed me in a hard seat just above the engine room.  The ferry was surprisingly large, housing a live concert hall several pubs and restaurants and long hallways lined with sofa chairs where one could sit and enjoy the view.  While there was still a view to be seen, I sat in one such chair reading and listening to music.  As night fell the chair grew rigid and I returned to the belly of the boat.  I quickly discovered that most travelers were well aware of the horrible conditions presented by a room above the engine and I was nearly alone in the great dark expanse.  I carefully arranged a few of my sturdiest items and stretched out on the vibrating floor down one of the empty rows.  It was not  my deepest night of sleep.

The next morning I woke early and watched silently as the ferry floated into the Irish port.  After disembarking, I was quickly on a train to Dublin.  Relaxing into the emerald-green velvet seats, I watched the landscape roll by my window and I strangely felt like I was returning home.  Like nearly all citizens of the United States I can claim possibly a handful of generations of history in the country, before that the lineage of our ancestors are shadowy mixtures – part mythic, part lost and part hidden in the politics of their time.  Because of this I found that the small fragments of history, off-hand comments made  during my childhood and roughly stitched together using my imagination had become a deep part of my understanding of “my people”.  My father always spoke proudly of his Irish roots and even though I had no direct experience of Ireland or of my Irish relatives, looking out over the rolling green and ash blue stone, it felt sweet to imagine them.

After a shower and some real sleep, I left the hostel to find a pint of Guinness.  I love beer and was very much looking forward to an authentic experience of an Irish pub.  As I was on my own and didn’t know anyone in Dublin, I decided on a mixed approach of travel book and serendipity.  Dublin was a great city at night, the bridges gave the city a certain old world hue.  A few hours later I walked through the doors of The Boar’s Head Pub on Capel St.  Inside, a live trio was playing traditional Irish music for a moist crowd and I made my way to the bar.  Over the course  of ordering a pint I made friends with a few of the locals hanging out near the taps and when they discovered it was my very first pint of Guinness in Ireland, the pints began in earnest.  It seemed like the whole of the pub was drinking together, the musicians finished but were instantly bought pints of their own.  I went radiantly to bed that evening humming to myself.

I was mostly in Dublin for the pubs and a window into Irish urban life.  But there was one specific visit I wanted to make and that was to Trinity College where The Book of Kells was publicly displayed.  The curators have two volumes of the four on display, turning the page in each once a day.  The unusual darkness of the room has the effect of making the yellow glow of the display even more brilliant, heavenly.  When I finally peered over the display shoulder to shoulder with a crowd that seemed to represent every possible nationality, it was instantly clear why the room was silent.    The book’s pages are so densely packed with artistic focus they are almost painful to study.  Gorgeous, perfect lines follow and frame imagery inspired by the gospels and treat the very letters as if they were each a secret masterpiece.

Back on the train I was planning to spend a couple of days exploring south-western Ireland.  The most popular way to explore the idyllic landscape is Killarney and touring the Ring of Kerry, but the moment I stepped off the train I realized I wanted to go the opposite direction as quickly as possible.  Hundreds of people stuffed giant tour busses like fat sausages and then spilling themselves onto the pavement proceeded to herd like pack animals completely destroying any sense of mystic self-reflection that may have been possible in such intense surroundings.  I caught a bus to the nearby Dingle Peninsula, more and more assured of my decision as I watched  local after local board the bus and we left the chaos behind.  The scenery that followed was metaphysical, the further into the wild we went the more I could perceive my ancestors and this sensation had the most electrifying effect on my perception of myself, as if I finally discovered proof of my very real place in the collective history.

24……TwentyFOUR

France

Sat-24

“It is clear that much of humanity is suffering and that I am the cause of some of that suffering, what can I do to help relieve it instead?”  The sweet wrinkled face of the woman across from me smiled and quickly answered in Vietnamese “Become a nun.”

The alarm went off very early the next day, switching on the light, I looked for my sweatshirt.  The night before I had returned to Plum Village after settling my bill in Bourdeaux.  Now that I was officially part of the residential community I was required to take part in the daily activities of the monastery alongside the nuns, and every day they started with a long seated meditation.  Exiting the dormitory, several silent figures floated past me and across the grounds towards the meditation hall, their robes gently following them.  Once inside, I followed as each of the women settled down onto one of the neatly spaced cushions and crossed their legs, preparing for their practice.

I had been studying meditation for the last eight years and had carefully listened to a number of suggestions and approaches from a variety of Buddhist teachers.  My approach had always been one of philosophical interest, the religious fervor, while I respected the importance for the speaker, never interested me.  Basically I felt that everyone’s experience of the same piece of knowledge is different and like chemistry reacts to the existing conditions within each person.  We are all composed of a universe of moments colliding or finding synergy. Mediation is simply breathing and looking closely at the present moment, being fully alive and a wake to every experience or emotion you have as a result and not turning away.

“Breathing in I see myself as a flower, Breathing out I feel fresh.  Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain, breathing out, I feel solid.  Breathing in, I make myself still, like a pond on a mountain, and, breathing out, I reflect things as they are.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Perhaps the build up of residue caused by US advertising and self-promotion or perhaps as a result of who I would have been regardless of birthplace, I have always been fiercely protective of my independence.  It may be this that prevents me from accepting that a “guru”  is the answer to recovering yourself from the abyss of never-ending distraction.  This is not to say that I do not find some teachers words inspiring or admire their choices but that I do not believe anyone can accurately dictate the direction of personal evolution for another.  Meditating as an act of exploring living has proved the best guide for me so far and I welcome insight regarding technique from teachers of all disciplines, although ultimately it is my own dedication that will prevail as the most useful.

Seated meditation can include long hours of stillness in the same position and occasionally pain can arise as the experience, many teachers will describe this pain as an opportunity to regain your attention on the present moment.  The first morning in the meditation hall, stiff and cold, several months of traveling and without regular practice, I experienced some leg cramps for the first  hour.  It was with was with some relief that the large metal bowl was struck signifying the end of that mornings session.  The sun was rising over the tree tops and beginning to chase the dew away as we stepped out of the hall and slipped back into our shoes.  We walked together silently and a deep tranquility permeated the atmosphere.  It was a kind of calm and peace that had been built up and reinforced like a habit over thousands of mornings like this one and I smiled to think of it.

All meals at the monastery were silent and it was during this time that the sounding of the 15 minute bell most connected the purpose of the community.  Everyone stopping and reconnecting with their surroundings – dropping back down out of their minds and returning to life together.  Later in the day I took part in a few hours of service, working to help clean one of the guest house buildings with a group of the nuns.  Before beginning our work, we climbed up onto the small balcony of the house a gorgeous green canopy above us swaying and dripping shadows onto the unfinished wood deck.  One of the nuns responsible for organizing the task that afternoon took out a small tangerine for each of us.  With everyone facing each other she explained “Tangerine Meditation”.  The instructions were simple; silently peel and eat the tangerine and while doing so fully taste the flavors of the fruit and delight in the complete experience of eating a tangerine.  Notice the texture of the peel as it came off into your hand, the tenderness of the segments inside, the smell of the fruit as you brought it to your mouth, etc…  By doing this together, she explained, we would be sharing the simple beauty present in our human sensation of eating a tangerine.

After several days of living at Plum Village, mediating, working, eating and walking amongst the nuns, it was announced that we were going to share the day with the monks down the road – the monastery was dived along gender lines.   Additionally  Thich Nhat Hanh had returned to Plum Village and would be giving a teaching later that day.  The atmosphere of calm reflection changed drastically and I remembered that the women around me had committed their lives to this teacher.  They had left their families and homes to live a life solely dedicated to his teachings.   I felt simultaneously envious of their clarity and disappointed to remember that the utopian life I had been enjoying had a ruler.

As we were preparing to leave as a group, one of the nuns who had taken a leader role at the monastery pulled me aside to explain that I needed to cover up my shoulders as I would be disrespecting the practice of the monks by tempting them sexually.  Europe was in the middle of a heat wave, the temperatures were sweltering and I was wearing a tank top.  Returning to the dormitory while the rest of the group started off down the road, I initially felt anger at being singled out, then shame at having been inappropriate and then acknowledgement of the human-ness of the community in which I was a guest.  I chose a shawl and began walking silently with a young french nun who had been waiting.  As we followed a dirt road through the surrounding vineyards, I let my emotions air out like opening the windows in a smoke-filled house.  After I had thoroughly calmed down I was left with the feeling that we were all so very fragile, that our paths even though chosen, could become difficult to follow.

The rest of the day, I barely spoke at all; observing the lecture given by a man I greatly admire and respect, eating a plate of food in the sunshine, participating in a long walking meditation, helping to wash dishes and eventually returning down the dirt road back to the dormitory.  Later that evening I sat on a plastic stool in the orchard reflecting on my experience of the previous twelve hours.  The condition of being human offers us the ability to feel compassion and desire, to feel tranquility and love.  It also creates the ideal conditions for experiencing suffering, despair, pain and loneliness.  It was clear I would not be joining the monastery as a nun, but the last ten days had reminded that courageously turning towards this uncertainty in my own life and in the lives around me was the path I had chosen to experiencing humanity.

23 …… TwentyTHREE

France

Returning home from school one afternoon I informed my mother that I was, from that moment on, going to be Jewish. Careful thought was given to choosing a menorah and plans to start learning Hebrew; I was eleven.   My mother identified with my longing for spiritual community and decided to take the journey with me.   Shortly after my declaration she brought home a large hardcover book.  Reading “An Encyclopedia of World Faiths” became a nightly ritual – discussing and examining each tradition.  It was not until we reached the pages detailing Buddhist ideology that we set the book aside to look for experiential research.

Conveniently, Boulder Colorado has a very strong Buddhist community with an incredibly active lecture circuit, university and prominent meditation hall.  After several years of study, discussion and practice we joined the local Shambhala training; a weekend-long meditation course.  Shortly after we came across the teachings of a Vietnamese monk and both resonated deeply with the simplicity of his messages of peace.  Exiled from Vietnam as a result of his attempts to bring resolution between the French and Vietnamese during the war, he established several spiritual retreat centers in both France and the United States.

I pressed the enter key on a grimy keyboard in an Internet café in Barcelona and sent a message to Plum Village requesting to visit with them in France.  The monastery was located outside of Bordeaux and I was not at all certain that it was possible to arrange a stay of any length on such short notice, but I was chasing my own serenity and boarding the train that afternoon I was determined not to let it slip from my grip.  Once I was reasonably settled in the cheap French hotel near a park I went looking for somewhere to check my email and then somewhere to spend the rest of the afternoon after discovering an empty inbox.

It turns out that Bordeaux has a fascinating natural history museum, eerie, desolate and somewhat forgotten – the museum was in fact as much a relic as were it’s poorly finished taxidermy specimens.  Towards the back of the museum was a room with a warning hand painted in French on a wooden sign nailed to the wall above the doorway.  My curiosity piqued I entered to discover dozens of glass jars of varying sizes and contents – all displaying the most bizarre of scientific anomalies.   For the rest of the day I sat in the park on a bench watching the clouds pass and the light fade thinking about genetics.

The next morning I received a reply from the monastery about my request for a visit.  They requested that I meet their van at a station about an hour from where I was staying.  Not wanting to be intrusive, I had only asked to visit for the day and because of this I left all of my belongings in the hotel as I planned to return that evening.   The countryside was quaint and the train enveloped me in a classic European charm so complete that it was hard to imagine I was headed for a Vietnamese Buddhist monastery.

The short drive led us through sloping, curving, sun drenched roads twisting through vineyards in full mid-summer regalia.  We arrived at a very humble gate and a young French woman welcomed me, the soft pink skin of her scalp glowing and freshly shaven.  She led me into the dining hall and we sat at one of the long bench style tables.  Just as we sat down a bell chimed from the clock mounted on the wall.   My new companion stopped moving, closed her eyes and took several deep breaths.  Then she opened her eyes again and explained that every 15 minutes the bell sounds and it is a chance for everyone to stop whatever they are doing and reconnect with what they are experiencing in that moment.  To stop thinking, talking, acting and start being again.   After a short talk about this and other practices taking place at Plum Village, walked slowly around the property admiring the lotus pond and the beautiful meditation halls.

Lunch was served in a buffet style with everyone helping themselves to the simple, yet delicious vegetarian cuisine; silently.  No one spoke while they ate, they just ate and enjoyed the flavors and textures that had been prepared for them by their comrades, all of whom were women as the genders were separated between two distinct properties.  As I ate I noticed a piece of yellowed paper that was tacked up above the window.  It read:

I see in this food before me the presence of the entire

Universe – here to support my existence.

 

It was a profound reminder; each ingredient was cared for in some way by the sun and the soil, the rain and the atmosphere, then protected and harvested and transported by many human hands all in order to reach this tiny kitchen and then to be prepared for us by the efforts of the community now sitting around us sharing the benefits of it’s nutritious value.   The though caused my eyes to soften and my senses to come alive to the full experience and appreciation of my meal.

After lunch I spent some time walking around the pond and contemplating in one of the hammocks set up on the grounds.   When I asked about returning to the hotel that evening, one of the older nuns was instant that I stay with them overnight.  Overhearing our conversation several of the other nuns joined in explaining that “Thay” or Thich Nhat Hanh would be returning to the monastery in a couple of days and that I should stay with them until then.  A few minutes of quick logistics planning and it was settled.  I would return to the hotel the next evening on the shuttle and check out of my hotel in order to return to Plum Village to live – for the next 10 days – at the monastery.

22……. TwentyTWO

SPAIN

Hieronymus Bosh worked as a Dutch painter at the beginning of the 16th century.   Religious iconography and biblical symbolism were obsessively represented in his work.  Clearly aligned with the Christian ideology Bosh had an unusual style entangling scholars in heated debate still today.  One triptych has received special attention; being picked over, dissected, and analyzed as only art historians can do.  Each fingertip or fold of cloth a vital part of a deeper message. Clearly the debate is self-indulgent as even the original title for the triptych was lost years ago; The Garden of Earthly Delights (it’s posthumous title) was enshrined at the Prado Museum in Madrid.

I was sitting at the counter in the dining car, sipping at my already cold instant coffee when the sun rose.  Somewhere after 12 hours I had given into the offensive prices in order to save myself from the florescent nicotine-saturated box of hell.   We were cruising on a flat stretch of track and the sun seeped its golden hue into the dry grassland like honey, it was beautiful.

I sat entranced, possibly delirious, absorbing the sweetness deeply and the announcement was made – we were approaching the station in Madrid.

Still aching from the unexpected expense of the dining car and fueled by honeyed sunshine I strapped into my pack and sought out the very cheapest hostel I could find… with a hot shower.  Bathed and paid for, I slept for the rest of the day.  Only after the sun had returned behind the horizon line was I able to collect myself enough to find some bread and cheese for my dinner – the struggle to find a more interesting option not even registering as a possibility.

Completely recovered the next morning, I walked from my hotel through the city until I found my way to the “Paseo del Prado”.  The canopy occasionally breaking for a fountain, affording me a nomadic afternoon – traveling bench to bench, I stopped to enjoy the sunlight filtering through the leaves overhead.   Eventually, the benches led inside the Prado museum and the pedestrians transformed into patrons, the trees into painted canvas and I continued to move through the building much the same way I had traveled along the Paseo outside.

The Prado is said to own over 21,000 pieces of art, while at any given time only about 1,300 are actually on display for public viewing in Madrid.  An additional 3,000 are on loan internationally.  That means that over 17,000 pieces of artwork are merely stored, in warehouses unseen.    One of he lucky works that make it onto the wall permanently at the Prado is a triptych painting depicting the Garden of Eden, humanities lascivious fall, and then realms of hell.  Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights is an immense, some may say surreal, painting usually interpreted as a loose story-line beginning on the left panel in the Garden of Eden idyllic, peaceful and serene.  For the middle panel, Bosch featured strangely erotic menageries of animal and fruit, humans and fantastical architecture.  The final panel depicting images crafted to cause a sense of unease in the viewer; dark, infused with demonic reference, a portrayal of a nightmarish inferno.  When ‘reading’ the painting in this order you are suggested a sense of pity, as ultimately paradise is lost.

After a few days walking the scorching streets of Madrid I pointed towards north.

It was very early in the morning when I squeezed up the stairway, trying not to scrape off the carelessly posted flyers that haphazardly climbing their way towards the ceiling.  On my way from Madrid to Barcelona I had identified this as the ideal hostel, ideal location for experiencing the festival.

Sonar is an event spanning three days and nights in locations across Barcelona.  Touted as a hyper cutting-edge mixture of live acts and multimedia art pieces, every year it attracts tens of thousands of people from all of over the world.  Logically accommodation was in high demand, and even arriving before 7am only got me onto the waiting list.   The construction was in full swing all around us, electricity cables hanging unattended, plastic sheets draping the hallways – all setting the stage for the loud and very loud power tools busy transforming the environment.  I was directed to a small seat in the closet-sized entrance joining a dozen other hopefuls lining the walls…waiting.  Mine was the last name they called at the 10am check-in.

My good luck continued, the room I would be sharing was filled with other travelers planning on attending the festival and quite naturally joined forces.   That afternoon after eating falafels we crossed the city and entered the Contemporary Art Museum for the afternoon concert.  An artificial picnic style atmosphere had been constructed with Astroturf and lawn chairs.  That afternoon I was looking forward to seeing DoseOne and Sage Francis a couple of hip-hop MCs and the intimate uber-relaxed atmosphere was a perfect compliment to their politically charged densely spoken-word style show.  Before the evening set began we returned to the hostel, napped and then returned to the streets to drink a never-ending stream of cheap beer sold by peddlers in the plaza.  That evening the event was held in a much larger arena, a network of giant, people-filled rooms opening onto people-filled rooms, spilling lasers shows and baselines into each other seamlessly.  The hostel clan was on the patio eating doughnuts in between Giles Peterson and house music inspired dance sessions.  For a couple of hours I joined them before re-submerging for a low liquid set performed by Dj Krush- a Japanese hip-hop DJ I had loved for years…. finding my way to the hostel bunk bed sometime after breakfast.

Sonar closed with Bjork’s mega production and her show was the most chaotic, the doors opened late and by the time they did the line had metamorphosed into a sea of anxious fans, indistinguishable form one another as the pressure behind them built.  I had managed a spot near the coned-off police line and was able to maintain some breathing room before the floodgates opened and we all filled the enormous warehouse.  I had attended the evening alone and because of this was able to maneuver my way towards the stage and achieved a great perch from which to watch the grand finale.  Bjork is as famous for her unique scream-sing style and unusual Icelandic accent as she is for her powerful visual productions and the show exceeded all expectation.

Perhaps inspired by the afternoon concerts, the next day I left the market with a picnic and sought out grassy hills facing the ocean.   The weather was fantastic … a fresh breeze swooped over the hills and I sipped a plastic cup of supermarket wine, sliced another piece of cheese and sunk my toes into the grass.  A kaleidoscope of images from the past three-days of debaucherous combinations still rotated through my mind and I was reminded of the Bosch painting in Madrid.  For a moment I contemplated my progress across the triptych and decided that my journey was moving in the opposite direction.  I had been delivered from the hellish realms into an explosion of hedonism.  It was then that I decided it was time to seek out the third panel and regain paradise.

21 …. TWENTYONE

SPAIN

400,000 years ago Homo erectus learned to control fire.  An incredible feat if you are able to consider the place fire held in the lives of these early hominids.  Danger, destruction, decimation of their food and resources.  Somehow our early human ancestors were able to set their fear aside in order to get close enough to examine its behavior, its potential.  Soon they learned that by using the light fire provided they were able to free themselves from a schedule dictated by sunlight.  They were able to protect themselves from various biting insects and dangerous mammals more effectively and  they were able to utilize the culinary landscape to a greater degree, rendering many toxic plants edible and benefiting from more of the nutritious value available in the meats they consumed.   It is through thousands of years of relating to and negotiating with fire that we have forged a dualistic understanding; fire as protector and provider on one side and fire as weapon and destroyer on the other.  Throughout the world fire is featured prominently in ritualistic ceremony and celebration while simultaneously used to obliterate entire cities and torture non-believers.   Although one of our very first tools it still ignites our divine imagination as well as our instinctual fears.

I watched apprehensively as the machine gobbled up my last five Euros and I boarded the shuttle bus back to Porto.  The last three hours had been spent with the DHL staff attempting to locate my package until finally driving me out to an enormous warehouse to retrieve it personally.  The small box now safely on my lap, I gripped it tightly and tried to breathe normally; I had nothing left except for a three night hotel bill and a growling stomach.  I was so far inside my mind that the scenery outside the window seemed like an Impressionist painting, colors softly blurring together as I battled “worst case scenarios”.

Finally standing in front of the ATM downtown Porto I slid the card through the reader and entered my PIN number.  A few electronic clicks and a whirr had never caused such a sense of profound relief in all my life, the gun-metal grey door slid open and there before me was cash, was freedom and security, was the rest of my journey beginning.  Immediately I returned to the hotel.  It was already evening and the landlady was in her dingy nightgown doing laundry, the filtered sunlight creeping back up the walls of the inner courtyard.  I paid her, packed my bags and went directly to the train station and boarded  the next train to Lisbon, hoping never to see Porto again.

Arriving in Lisbon late that evening, I discovered that the overnight train to Madrid was leaving in a couple of hours and there were only “hard seats” available.  Without much thought I purchased a ticket and  sat down in the lobby to wait for the boarding announcement.  It had been a long day and the adrenaline was starting to give way to the fatigue when I was finally able to jostle my way to the last train car and find a seat.  It was instantly clear what the teller was trying to explain when I inquired about the term, the seats were nothing but “hard”- moulded plastic with low metal dividers used as armrests.  My next half delirious realization was that I had found myself in a smoking car and it was quickly apparent that my fellow travelers were well stocked and planning to keep a night-long vigil of tobacco and lighters in the small cabin.  Before I could fling myself from the train, give in to exhaustion and splurge on a hotel room for the night, the train started to pull out of the station and into the darkness.I comforted myself with the thoughts that I could sleep through the fluorescent lights and heavy pale blue air and in doing so wrapped a scarf around my face and burrowed into the sharp corner of my seat.   It was only 11 hours after all.

Several hours later, my eyes a striking crimson color I decided to seek refuge in the dining car.  A few minutes later returning after the sad realization that in order to stay in the dining car, you had to actually purchase one of their criminally overpriced snack items…only doubling the regret that I didn’t choose a hotel room that night instead of this hellish Las Vegas vending machine of which I was now a prisoner.  Another few hours of acrobatic positioning and the train seemed to be slowing down for something.  According to my time estimates we should be nearly 5 hours away from Madrid, looking for confirmation would give me a convenient reason to escape to the dining car for at least a few minutes.  Sliding the glass door behind me, I stepped into the cool, fresh air envying the passengers seated comfortably snacking on 10 euro peanuts and 12 euro colas.   Slowly I approached the bar, savoring every moment away from the company of my  “hard seat” companions.  Carefully I asked about the estimate time of our arrival in Madrid, and that’s when I saw it.  The waiter turned to look at me with deep pity, not only the kind of “you-are-swimming-in-a-cloud-of-cigarette-smoke-in-the-worst-cabin-in-the-worst-seat-at-the-end-of-the-packed-train-where-the-overhead-lights-never-shut-off-and-you-cannot-afford-the-peanuts” pity, now it was compounded with “AND your intercom system is broken” kind of pity.

There was a serious wildfire which had consumed the tracks ahead of us and the train had been forced to re-route in order to connect with Madrid.  Our arrival would be delayed at least 8 additional hours.  EIGHT HOURS…  the words rang in my head like my skull was a Tibetan singing bowl and I couldn’t stop the reverberation from circling around and around … EIGHT MORE HOURS.  When I finally recovered from the deep stupor the news had plunged me into I returned, defeated, back to my assigned cabin.  Scanning the train car, I realized there was a door at the end.  As if the universe conspired to give me at least a little glimmer of hope, the door opened slightly and I if I sat in the right position on the floor against the back wall I could get a small breeze and was able to see out the back of the train.  The moon was out and the tracks behind us seemed eerily quiet and peaceful as the stretched further and further away.  A passenger nearby light another cigarette and the control with which he maneuvered the glowing red ember seemed a stark contrast to the raging fire out there somewhere in the night from which we now fled.

20 …… TWENTY

Portugal

Ferdinand Magellan’s body was never found.  He was born near Porto and completed several naval missions for the Portuguese monarchy.  After falling out of favor with his home country he was hired by the Spanish crown to find a western sea route to the Spice Islands.  By the time his expedition was crossing the Strait of Magellan, as it would later be named in his honor,  they had already endured a sailor’s life for several months.  It is not difficult to imagine, therefore, the impact several tropical islands emerging on the horizon had on their spirits.  Arriving in the Philippines, the crew exchanged gifts with the native leaders and generally enjoying their stay on dry land.  Through an unfortunate series of power plays between the leaders Magellan became embroiled in a battle that cost him his life.  Terribly outnumbered and leading a pointless attack, he was killed in the shallow waters off the shore of an island controlled by chieftain Lapu-Lapu.  So angry were the warriors that they slashed his body to bits and it was never recovered from the surf.  Only one of the original ships from the expedition ever made it back to Spain and in doing so had completed the first recorded circumnavigation of the globe.

I did not envy my brother as he waved to us from the airport terminal – he was returning home, his girlfriend and I were about to travel north.  From Lisbon we took a train to Porto, where we spent the rest of the day negotiating bus fare with several tired station employees.  Peneda Geres, the only national park in Portugal, was a few hours drive along a pine studded two-lane highway.  That evening we checked into a rustic hotel on the edge of a dark, green abyss and we fell asleep that night to the sound of the forest.  In the morning, after consulting our maps, we set out for a trail that led up to a small peak which we imagined to have a beautiful view.  At first the path lead us through a lush landscape – dense emerald roof above us and a wild carpet of Calla Lilies below, we were lost for an hour exploring the undergrowth before continuing onto the main road.  Another hour of hiking and we realized the peak was much further than we had imagined originally.  A BMW with a young couple came gliding up the road behind us and we stuck out our thumbs.  A few minutes later we were enjoying the fresh breeze rolling into the back of the car where we sat lounging on the black leather seats and enjoying the song of the couple as they chatted to each other in Spanish.  The peak came and went , without a word from the young couple.  In fact it seemed as if they had forgotten us completely, we politely confirmed that we were headed to “the peak”.  The couple assured us not to worry and that they would be sure to drop us off at “the peak”.  When we arrived at the Portuguese/Spanish border our slight anxiety turned to panic, we whispered back and forth desperately trying to think of any Spanish word that could clarify the situation.  Finally we decided that it was completely out of control and with some urgency I demanded they stop the car and let us out.  Which they did, leaving us on the side of the highway very far from our hotel and all our resources.  Twenty minutes later we turned to see a flat-bed truck full of laborers coming up the highway behind us and after exchanging an apprehensive glance we stuck our thumbs out for the second time that day.

Not yet fully recovered even by breakfast the next day, we packed up our room and boarded the bus headed back to Porto.  A day or so after my bag was stolen in Seville, I got in touch with my mother and asked her to cancel my debit card and cell phone service.  As she looked into it we quickly discovered that in less than 72 hours $500 worth of long distance telephone calls had been made which now, according to my contract, had to pay.  A new debt card would have to be shipped to me in Portugal – after investigations and some estimates we agreed on sending the package to the Porto.  Which was where I stood as my companion gave me a hug and all the Euros she had left in her pocket before boarding her flight back to the US.

The DHL Office was in a warehouse on a lot nearby the airport and using a few of the 20 Euro I had left I took a shuttle from the terminal.  The office was surprisingly quiet for its enormous size, the man staffing the reception desk was on the phone.  I made eye contact and then sat politely in the waiting area, alone.  After 15 minutes he was still on the phone.  After 30 minutes he was still on the phone and I was starting to get nervous.  The initial waves of dread were beginning to wash over me and I frantically looked around the warehouse for someone who could help me.  There was no one else in the building as far as I could tell.  45 minutes and he was still talking, 55 minutes…  Now I was standing in front of the window, polite was so 55 minutes ago.  After a few minutes of the uncomfortable showdown he hung up the phone and asked me what I needed.  I explained the situation as quickly as I could and gave him my tracking number.  He dialed a few numbers and exchanged a few exasperated words in Portuguese before informing me that the office was now closed and he would be unable to locate my package that day.  Terror, pure terror now rippled through my bloodstream, overtaking the annoyance and anger that I hurtled telepathically towards this man, staring at him blankly.  It was Friday and the DHL office would not be open again until Monday, that meant I had nearly three days and two nights in Porto, alone, with 18 Euros…and I still needed to pay for the shuttle and then the train back into the city.

My plan was to find a hotel where I could pay for my stay when I checked out instead of up front, if I could manage this then I could get through the weekend with enough money to eat.  The first problem I encountered was that in order to check into the nicer hotels, where payment upon departure was quite common, I needed to put a credit card on file.  The second problem was checking into a hostel, wary of hit and run travelers, were dubious of my offer to pay “in a few days”.  As I made my way further and further away from the downtown area I came across a small sign in front of an unpainted door and decided to knock. The receptionist who was also the maid, and the cook, and the concierge, listened carefully as I tried to explain my situation and then studied my drawings and pictograms in all earnest before agreeing to my terms.  The room she arranged for me was towards the back of the building opening onto a service courtyard and the toilet was a proud statue standing alone in one corner of the room, no door or even walls around it.  The room was dirty and the windows did not lock, that night I slept with a chair hooked under the doorknob and a canister of mace gripped tightly under my pillow.  Awake all night, prepared for a siege that never came.  My housing now secured I went to the supermarket.  With my last 12 Euro, apart from the 3 Euro fare I needed to get back out to the DHL office, I bought food.  I had no utensils or ways to cook for the next two days and so I was limited to yogurt, bread, cheese and apples.  Both Saturday and Sunday were spent in the park sitting on a bench, comforted by the sun and writing in my sketch book.

I packed the last of my yogurt and my last apple into a bag and caught the train, it was Monday morning at last.  As I sat on the loading dock, relieved and waiting for DHL to locate my package I noticed a cluster of wild flowers growing against a chain link fence next to the building.  The wind was disturbing them slightly and they twitched back and forth as a result.  They struck me as amazing; these little flowers uncared for, unnoticed, struggling on even in the most dire of conditions without any encouragement or direction.  How easy it would have been for them to fail, as they were growing to make one small movement differently and be destroyed by much stronger forces because of it.  Of course there is no way of knowing if these small flowers understood the great success of their choices.   In this moment it occurred to me that not until you are waist deep with the water rising do you ever really know what your choices will cost you.

19…..NINETEEN

Portugal, SPAIN

Romance is immortal.  Industry in the machine age can only become a machine without it… Without Romance the essential joy of living as distinguished from pleasure is not alive… – Frank Lloyd Wright’s words in regards to being a romantic architect.  “The Creative Professions” as they are sometimes called (a title I will use only temporarily as to not deny the creativity inherent to all professions) are very fond of using the term Romantic.  Much the same way popular culture uses the term to signify a magnetism which leads to some sort of seductive process, Romantic for The Creatives are acutely aware of the natural world – the world outside of our control – seducing us to duplicate its engineering, describe its colors, represent its systems and pay homage to its power.

We passed the morning drinking arabic-style tea from delicately painted glass cups, at home on the table of any little girls tea party, and enjoying the slow pace of the small plaza.  Nestled into a corner of metal folding tables, the dozen or so patrons of the cafe were all afforded a wonderful perch from which to observe the activity on the plaza pass by undisturbed.  After we had finished our tea and paid the bill we started out for the bus station, looking for a bus that would take us to Seville. My brother had the Puente del Alamillo in his sights.  Designed in 1992 by Spanish structural engineer/architect Santiago Calatrava the bridge, like many of  his larger projects, clearly echoes the Modernist themes present in contemporaries such as Gaudi or Candela.  He managed to do so while simultaneously presenting  the viewer with his unique personal affinity for combining elements of  human anatomy and those of the natural world.

The several hours it took to reach Seville were spent comfortably enjoying the endless fields of vibrant yellow flowers and a shared picnic lunch as we sped along the open highway.  Seville is a relatively small city embraced by the Guadalquivir River and after a short walk we were at its banks.  To view the bridge with my brother recalled countless family dinners eating out.  Even now, our father is an interior designer for restaurants and it is not unusual for him to turn a chair over in the middle of dinner, to see who the manufacturer is.  I may have seen it as a rather nice chair or maybe not even noticed it at all until he was already startling the other diners.  But he was seduced by a future with the chair; he could imagine a potential relationship, the perfect solution to the patio space he was currently designing or one to buy as a sample to show clients, whatever the vision- everything else stopped for a second.  It was like this with my brother and the Puente del Alamillo.  The bridge had engaged him in a secret dialogue that none of us could hear, it was whispering things to him that made him smile, without even knowing it.   And this, in turn, made me smile and appreciate the bridge through him.

After a very brief stay in Seville we took the train to Lisbon, crossing the Spanish/Portuguese border in the south of the country.  Portugal was not at all as I expected.  Somehow I had a sense it would be more latin, more vibrant and “in your face”.   I have no idea where I picked up this conception, but as a result I needed to do some adjusting as we walked around the city.  The people were stoic, quiet, and they looked at us as if there was some kind of code we had failed to interpret.  The next morning we decided to take a day trip out of the city and headed west on a quaint rural train to a small area called Sintra.  We had read that Sintra had a very unusual castle well worth the excursion.

Pena National Palace is surprising example of Romantic architecture, said to be one of the best from the 19th century in the world.  Segments of the building complex are painted bright yellow, some a contrasting pale red and some the deep bluish grey of the original stone.  Fantastical creatures carved from the walls, whimsical tiled-mosaics, gargoyles and towers that begged for locked-away princesses, it was clear to see we were walking inside of a vision come to life.   The palace was surrounded by a forest of equally surprising components.  Apparently the same seduction that had directed the architecture also made its way into the landscaping, there were trees and ferns from all over the world; China, The Americas, many of the distant corners of Europe… The thick imaginative nature of the entire experience left us all floating slightly as we boarded the train back to Lisbon that evening.

We spent several days in Lisbon, disquieted by the ghost of our expectations.  What we discovered is that Lisbon is filled with stairways and has one really great vegetarian restaurant.  My self-imposed dietary restrictions were especially difficult to meet in Lisbon and it was beginning to wear on my fellow travelers.  As a vegetarian you not only need to find a “non dead animal” option on the menu, but one you have not already eaten that day, one that looks appetizing in that moment, one that gives as close to a balanced meal as possible and one you can afford.  In a word…quasi-impossible.  Fortunately on one of our treks up one the numerous staircases in the city we discovered an excellent vegetarian restaurant which quickly became my solution for at least one meal a day.

When I was 10 years old I developed my own secret dialogue, with food.  I formed a romantic view of myself as a vegetarian and for the substantial majority of the next 11 years of my life the discussion dominated the way I thought about eating.  I had grown accustomed to explaining why I chose to eat differently than almost everyone around me  and as I grew older my explanations became more sophisticated, but never ceased in creating serious logistical problems.  Regardless of the relative suffering of my comrades, I refused to make exceptions to my vegetarian life-style… the whispering seduction of my own essential vision was holding fast.

18…..EIGHTEEN

SPAIN

Monday- 18.2.2

Seemingly infinite tessellation carved from the walls of the Alhambra inspired much of the artist M.C Escher’s work.  During a journey through Spain in 1922 Escher explored the palace and halls of the 10th century Islamic fortress in Granada.  As is custom, the artists commissioned to adorn the buildings did not depict a single image of  sentient beings, the entire building complex is covered with poetry and pattern – or tessellation.  Tessellation is the process of repeating geometric patterns without any gaps or overlapping shapes.  One room in particular, The Hall of Two Sisters, presents the viewer with a domed ceiling encrusted with a honeycomb of 5,000 cells… each unique and intricately designed by hand to fit perfectly together.  An impressive example of “Stalactite Vaulting” – as it is called by architects and art historians, represents the Moorish reverence for symmetry and design found in nature.  The idea of the  interdependence of precise mathematical equations and undeniable aesthetic beauty remained with Escher throughout his career.  From it he illustrated impossible worlds, infinite loops and layers where each form was carefully weighed and measured against all others.

Our plan, before it went horribly wrong, was to continue from Barcelona along the Spanish coastline to Valencia.  From Valencia we would meet my brother’s girlfriend further down Costa Blanca and the three of us would visit Granada and Seville before crossing into Portugal.  And it was with this plan in mind that we boarded the afternoon south-bound train leaving Barcelona behind.  Maybe it was because I could feel the roots of the city tightening their grasp or maybe I was tired and my pack was heavy… whatever the reason on that particular afternoon I was in a tempestuous mood.  I climbed into my seat on the train and stared out through the thick glass window without really seeing anything at all.  By the time we arrived in Valencia I was a human storm cloud and it was all I could do to keep from unleashing the gales building inside.  The next morning we took a quiet walk on the beach and then found our way back to the train station.

Valencia’s train station was humming with the frantic crisscrossing of people pulling, dragging, hauling all manners of things – luggage, children, merchandise, sports equipment…  We sought refuge at one of the many structural pillars which had been outfitted with wooden plank benches arching their way around the full circumference and providing a very welcome place to set down our rather cumbersome packs.  My skies had remained dark and my mood stubbornly foul this combined with the intriguing architecture of the station and we decided it was the perfect opportunity to allow for a little space between us.   My brother went first and as was agreed, I stayed with the packs  until he returned.    We had each brought a day pack, smaller and lighter meant for the travel necessities one requires close at hand, in addition to the two larger packs where everything else was kept.  I slouched against the pole and my brother escaped into crowds to explore the building alone.

After half an hour or so he resurfaced clearly happy to have had the break from both me and the responsibility of  his heavy bags.  He sat down and I set off to find the amenities and to stretch my legs unburdened.  For around thirty minutes I wandered around the station watching the people hustling around and trying to put it all in perspective.  It was nearing the time our train was scheduled to depart and I returned to collect my things and board the train.  Approaching the pole where I could see my brother and our mountains of zippers, straps and buckles as still as an oasis surrounded by chaos, I instinctively scanned the bags.  One was missing.  When he sat down he had transitioned my daypack to the floor near his feet to make room between the two larger packs.  Amazingly while he had been sitting there someone had climbed under the benches and snatched my bag without making a disturbance… at least not then.

My stomach started rolling around inside me and as if to keep my heart from stopping I mindlessly began patting my chest as I went over the contents of that bag: sunglasses, a novel I had been reading, my sketch book, debit card, rented cell phone, my digital camera… ALL documentation of the sculptural work I had completed  in Florence during the last four months.  It couldn’t be gone, I couldn’t accept it.  I decided that the thief would have probably removed all things of value and ditched the bag somewhere around the station, maybe in a dumpster or garbage can close by.  I circumnavigated the station and surrounding neighborhoods several times, furiously patting my chest and trying to breathe, before accepting that we needed to file a police report and get on a train.  The afternoon was maturing and our fellow traveler would doubtless be waiting – growing increasingly worried as we failed to arrive on train after train to meet her that evening.  Reluctantly and significantly defeated, I left the Valenica station behind.  The train speeding into the night, I opening the first of several bottles of wine as I sought consolation and to  resign myself to the loss.

We arrived in the small town on what seemed to be the last train of the evening.  I was put in charge of finding a hotel with vacancies while he went by bus to find the airport, we were to reunite at the station in one hour.  After a number of failed attempts, two rooms were finally secured.  There were still twenty minutes before I needed to meet them back at the station and so I sat down on the couch in the busy lobby.  Doubt arose about the type of establishment I had just arranged for us when a deep fever began to wash over me and I felt my skin shiver.  The wine made it difficult to assess my condition clearly, but later that night as I lay in a noisy hotel room the sickness descended upon me without confusion.  My temperature skyrocketed and I had horrible stomach pains, following frequent fits of delirium I slept awash in sweat and twisted by muscle spasms.

The next day, loaded up with fever reducer and liters of water we took the train to Granada.

The Alhambra is incredibly serene and walking though its halls and along its beautiful gardens, a water bottle clutched tightly in my hand, I was soothed.  The melancholia and physical sickness  I was experiencing as a result of having lost a huge portion of my artistic portfolio, found peace in the gracefully repeating patterns and images of nature that surrounded me.  The towering vaulted ceilings and perfectly engineered fountains comforted me with their order, with their reliability.  Outside, sitting in the rose garden, sunlight ricocheting off the surface of a small pond I found a strange type of solace.  The same set of abilities used to calculate the physics of a moment, to measure the distances, to weigh the visibility or velocity of an object – were all used by both my thief as well as the master artists who built the walls I had just been admiring.

17 ……. SEVENTEEN

SPAIN

There are cities you visit, cities you check off your list – Barcelona tilled my subconscious soil and planted something inside of me.  Its roots started growing and Barcelona claimed me for itself.  Nine years later when people ask me why I moved to Tokyo, as if describing a lover betrayed I explain why Barcelona was left at the proverbial altar. Outrageous; how the decisions of a small network of people can direct the course of, for them, completely anonymous individual lives.

My first step off the train in Barcelona, I could tell we had changed directions.   We rang the bell of a small hotel under a canopy of flowers several stories thick.  A loud monophonic buzzing sound followed and we were admitted .  One at a time, we climbed the antique staircase which opened onto a hallway whose centerpiece was a very dusty, ornately carved, couch.  Realizing this was the lobby, we set our bags down and waited silently.  After a few minutes a small door opened  and an equally small woman warmly greeted us as if she were our grandmother, relived to see us safely home.  Strangely settled, and returned to the city street and we navigated to the closest plaza anxious to enjoy an afternoon of  homemade sangria, conversation, people watching and a general state of well-being.

Later on we made our way to the art museum, which apparently doubled as a decent skate park.  A dozen skateboarders were flipping and slapping their decks against the contours of modern architecture, it was somehow a perfect living orchestration of exhilaration, movement and defiance – much of what the art inside was attempting to interpret for its admission-paying viewers.  Another few hours and we were exploring the side streets again, this time happening upon a crusades-era stone doorway, dimly lit and offering a free design exhibit inside.  Museums have an important role in preserving and cataloguing the work of artists for later generations and some museums are able to display genuinely stunning collections.  The problem with museums is that ultimately they are institutions and because of this they are subject to the typical bureaucracy, regulations and agendas of all institutions.   As a result it is nearly impossible for them to engage with artists taking risks, those still untested by the market.  While I usually enjoy art museums,  I must also admit at times it feels more like visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with the focus on the incredible celebrity status of the artists instead of their incredibly inspired ideas.   A hundred times more interesting, the designers were just starting out – just beginning to be able to express their ideas in public.  When an artist is still unknown they work harder to communicate and make a connection with the viewer. The pieces were brave and dramatic – fearless.  I had taken part in several art shows, many in places like this…unused and beautifully raw, but this level of sophistication and innovation was something completely new.  Nearly every piece inspired me, excited me.  I yearned to be a part of it, to be driven and share in the moment of brilliance about to shine on these newly budded creators.  But I was just a viewer and it was time to move on.

The next morning on La Rambla, an extensive pedestrian wonderland  winding through downtown Barcelona, we grabbed a coffee and started walking.  La Rambla was filled with street performers and buskers offering a lot of eye-candy, but I was more impressed with the market.  Drawn in by the stained glass sign and the glimpse of a myriad of delicacies, La Boqueria is a market that haunts me still.  I remained a stubborn vegetarian at this point, mesmerized and floating between overflowing fruit stands.  Never venturing into the visceral legacy held within the market’s core.  The humid blood soaked passageways of the inner sanctum retained their treasures.  Still now these ghosts tempt me while I sleep, with all that I missed as I made selections from the glossy, recognizable bits – the untold pleasures escaped me and for this I am ever repentant.

Sacrilegiously we left the market with a bag of strawberries, not without irony we aimed for La Famila Sagrada.  Antoni Gaudi was an accomplished architect and his iconic style echoes Egyptian design, Gothic architecture and naturalistic themes.  The massive church “La Famila Sagrada – The Sacred Family” even now remains uncompleted, years after his death.  As a building it brings joy, the facade is covered with all manner of creatures, the central towers stretching up like tree branches.  Even the cranes and machinery do nothing to interrupt the sheer glory one feels when gazing skyward.  Taking a breath, it was as if the whole city knew there were more important things for us all to do, more for us to contemplate, to dedicate ourselves to – more ways for us all to use the fertilized soils of our past to produce the gorgeous and newly imagined fruits of our future.