Tuesday, September 8, 2009

August and everything after

We spent almost as much of August away from Norwich as we spent in it. First came our trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. My first time in Scotland, first time in Edinburgh, first time that far north, first time to the Fringe. After only seeing Albertan Fringe Festivals, to be in the city where it all began some 60 years ago demanded another level of awe and respect for the organization needed to produce a Festival of this magnitude. Hundreds of venues spread over the city centre, weaved into castles, churches, assembly halls, downstairs pubs, restaurants, and city streets. Seventeen hours of theatre in 72 hours. We stayed with Tom's friend Simon, a filmmaker living in the heart of the city, so we could walk to all the venues. I occasionally ran - twice I sandwiched a show in between two others, so I needed to sprint across the city to ensure I made it to the next one in time. We ate a lot of meals "on the hoof" ("on the go" to us North Americans) as we wove through the majestic city of stone in the (mostly) good weather as vast green hills loomed up from in between and behind the buildings. All this running around only added to the frenetic energy of the festival. Tom's friends put on a musical called Barbershopera II, the second collaboration of their barbershop-quartet-inspired musicals. Two of the cast also starred in Afternoon Delight, an acoustic guitar performance of comedy songs from "The Dinosaurs Were Gay" (an explanation of why the reptiles really went extinct) to "Man Boobs" (a lament of one of the guy's issues with his large-ish mammary glands) to "Green Party, Get Sexy" (an appeal to a national political party to stop wearing socks and sandals so as to appeal to younger, hipper, constituents). Hilarious. I also saw Janeane Garafalo do stand up, but that was mostly to satisfy my adolescent nostalgia from watching her on Reality Bites. One of my favourite pieces was a one-woman show that told of one woman's experience of four morning-afters: grating, bracing, and honest. But my number one was a dance/movement piece called The Chair by C-12, a four person company (http://www.c-12dancetheatre.com/). It told of a black man's childhood of abuse and relationship with his mother, his later affair with a white woman, and his subsequent imprisonment as he looks back at his life and forward to the future he's lost. They told the story completely through movement and a soundtrack of 30's/40's ragtime juxtaposed with evocative piano solos. Stunning. After sixteen shows in three days, we kissed Edinburgh good-bye to go home for a solid week of work before journeying to...

Snape, a village in Suffolk, the county south of us. Snape was once home to a maltings, a collection of buildings that soaked and dried barley to transform it into malt for beer and whiskey. As the production of these goods became more consolidated, maltings closed up and down the country. Most are derelict and unused, but this particular maltings was restored by Benjamin Britten, a British opera composer, who transformed the main building into a music hall. Now it hosts the Addleburgh Music Festival and Snape Proms, the name for their own little festival. Tom and I spent two nights in a cute little B&B. During the day we walked in the fields and on the marshes, perused the gift shops and nibbled at the caf├ęs at the maltings, brought the median age down by about twenty years, and ascertained that even though we were probably on the smallest of incomes we seemed to be the only ones not complaining about the prices or the food. On the first night we saw The Puppini Sisters (http://www.thepuppinisisters.com/) whose CDs are amazing with their updated versions of wartime classics and their doo-wop adaptations of modern pop songs (check out their Walk Like An Egyptian cover). The performance, unfortunately, didn't quite live up to our expectations. They had terrible sound quality in the first half, and their on-stage schtick faltered because of it. Still, their energy and vocal proficiency astounds. The second night we heard three poets read their work: South African Finuala Dowling, Briton Alan Brownjohn, and American Sharon Olds. I could take or leaves Brownjohn, but Dowling mixed the hilarious with the hearwrenching with aptitude, and Olds cut me to the quick. She described the book of poetry she wrote about her father as "poems about my relationship with a...difficult man." This piece grabbed tears from my eyes and wrung them down my cheeks.

The Race by Sharon Olds

When I got to the airport I rushed up to the desk,
bought a ticket, ten minutes later
they told me the flight was cancelled, the doctors

had said my father would not live through the night
and the flight was cancelled. A young man
with a dark brown moustache told me
another airline had a nonstop
leaving in seven minutes. See that
elevator over there, well go

down to the first floor, make a right, you'll
see a yellow bus, get off at the

second Pan Am terminal, I
ran, I who have no sense of direction
raced exactly where he'd told me, a fish

slipping upstream deftly against
the flow of the river. I jumped off that bus with those
bags I had thrown everything into

in five minutes, and ran, the bags
wagged me from side to side as if
to prove I was under the claims of the material,

I ran up to a man with a flower on his breast,
I who always go to the end of the line, I said
Help me. He looked at my ticket, he said
Make a left and then a right, go up the moving stairs and then

run. I lumbered up the moving stairs,
at the top I saw the corridor,

and then I took a deep breath, I said
goodbye to my body, goodbye to comfort,
I used my legs and heart as if I would
gladly use them up for this,
to touch him again in this life. I ran, and the

bags banged against me, wheeled and coursed
in skewed orbits, I have seen pictures of
women running, their belongings tied
in scarves grasped in their fists, I blessed my

long legs he gave me, my strong
heart I abandoned to its own purpose,
I ran to Gate 17 and they were

just lifting the thick white
lozenge of the door to fit it into
the socket of the plane. Like the one who is not
too rich, I turned sideways and
slipped through the needle's eye, and then
I walked down the aisle toward my father. The jet

was full, and people's hair was shining, they were
smiling, the interior of the plane was filled with a
mist of gold endorphin light,
I wept as people weep when they enter heaven,

in massive relief. We lifted up
gently from one tip of the continent
and did not stop until we set down lightly on the

other edge, I walked into his room
and watched his chest rise slowly
and sink again, all night
I watched him breathe.

After the frantic pace of Edinburgh (and that poem), the calm of Snape, plus the two hours of languid train journeys, put me in relax mode. Home in time for one night in our own bed before I packed my tent and my sleeping bag and headed off to...

Buddhafield East, also in Suffolk, but only a 25 minute drive away. I went to the same event last year as a cautious Canadian in England on a visa who found meditation uncomfortable but essential and who wasn't sure about all this Buddhist stuff. This year I arrived a married Buddhist (with leave to remain in the country!) who still found meditation uncomfortable most of the time.

I pitched my tent, rolled out my sleeping bag, set out my Wellie boots, and went to sit by the fire. Last year it was rainy and cold, this year was sunny and toasty (helped by the duvet I brought with me this time). Last year I oscillated between wanting to belong and demanding to be left alone, between feeling needy for talking to people and feeling stand-offish for taking refuge in my tent; this year I jumped in with two feet, and when I wanted to talk to someone I started a conversation, and when I wanted to be alone I went off on my own. No guilt, no second guessing, just being myself and resonating with my choices. I sat in workshops on Non-Violent Communication and caught a glimpse of how to talk to people I don't like or don't want to connect with in a way that doesn't exacerbate those sentiments. I woke up to meditate at half seven every morning (except Sunday). We had a puja (ritual) every night. I practiced yoga under the sky. I met inspiring order members as well as non-Buddhists. I got an English tan. But what transformed me, what made everything else seem like candles against the light of its fire, were the workshops by Vajradaka. An ordained member since 1971, he articulated and explained the Mindfulness of Breathing and the Metta Bhavna to me so that I felt I meditated for the first time in his workshops. Now I meditate with curiousity, with excitement, with alacrity. My practice is now usually joyous and fruitful - and always worthwhile.

So now I am at home, at rest, and ready for the next bit. May you all be well. Lots of love, namaste, Andrea

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