In our blog, you’ll find information about metaphysics and spirituality from Lazaris and Jach, excerpts from Lazaris recordings and interviews, and travelogues from Jach’s adventures around the world.
March 7, 2019. A river of color flowing down the street. Hot sun. Gentle breeze. The smells of chorizo grilling. Drums beating, and people everywhere clapping, singing, dancing, and cheering. I sat so still in the chaos and cacophony caught up and lifted by the symphony of mystery and wonder and compassion and beauty. I sat there amazed and knowing I was in the right place and it was the right time. It was one enchanting moment among many such moments during the Carnaval of Barranquilla.
Enrique and I had arrived late Friday evening, March 1, for the four day festival that is akin to the Carnaval of Rio and to Mardi Gras of New Orleans. Each culminates on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. However, this Carnaval is different than the others. It is a people’s Carnaval. Yes, there are corporate floats and groups of participants from companies and stores and banks and investment firms, but mostly there are neighborhood groups that get together to create their costumes and to make their own simple floats, and to coordinate a small group of neighborhood musicians: mostly drummers, a trumpet, a clarinet, maybe a flute. They create their own banners and they come to march in the parades. To march in the heat, under the sun, and to march for four to five hours singing and dancing and laughing and playing all the while. Miles of walking and dancing and being alive.
It’s not the Rose Bowl or the Macy’s Christmas Parade. There are no brass bands. There are people, everyday people, some very young (3 and 4 years old all dressed up in costumes and made up. Adorable) and some very old (ageless old men and women bent by the gravity of age and by the rigors and pains of a hard life) and there are all those in between. They march. Celebrating life. Proud. The very young move haltingly, the very old slowly, not always sure of their step or balance, and the rest move with zeal. They all move with celebratory grace.
We sat in our bleacher section along with family and friends and a whole bunch of strangers. The parade was supposed to begin at 1:00 but in true Colombia style, at 2:00 we were craning our necks looking for the first signs of an actual parade. But it really didn’t matter, we were all engaged in our rituals: drinking Rum disguised as soft drinks, eating grilled chorizo or chicken or pork with a certain type of yucca that looked and tasted like potato, and of course talking and laughing. Suddenly from somewhere behind the bleachers among the charcoal and wood burning grills, music would pound its way out of gigantic speakers and just as suddenly people were on their feet dancing, swaying arms, gyrating hips. The bleachers rocked.
When the parade final began passing by all our attentions turned to the street. With each neighborhood group we’d stand, applaud, and shout. When a group of old women passed by dancing wildly, the crowd went wild. When a group of children with Downs Syndrome marched by sort of dancing yet not quite remembering all the steps and moves, everyone leapt to their feet and the crowd roared. Tears flowed.
We spent three days at the parades. Each day was a gift of beauty, a gift reflecting the undaunted human spirit, and a gift expressing the richness, the compassion, and the love of soul. I came away in gratitude and in humility. I came away with a new and a renewed sense of enchantment and what it means to seek an enchanted life. I was touched in ways I cannot yet describe and in ways that I suspect I won’t want to describe. Ineffable. I thought I was going to a colorful carnival. It was so much more.
October 5, 2018. Three incredible days. No internet. No television. No telephone. Only raw Nature and unabashed beauty that lifts from the valleys of lush shades of green to the majesty of rugged snow capped Himalaya Mountains. Stunning. Unbelievable. Beyond my imagination and beyond anything I could capture in photographs. Yet there I stood surrounded by it all.
I can’t find the right words yet. I stepped far outside my safe places of habits and routines and beyond the safe places of my beliefs about myself. Nepal held great mystery for me and it has become surprisingly revealing as well. I had life changing experiences during these three days that were somewhere in the Between in the folds of Nepal’s mystery, and I am not ready to say how or why. So for now, this is what I can say.
Sunday morning, October 1:
Up at 6:00 a.m., we flew from Rishikesh to Delhi and then on to Kathmandu. Applying and paying for our Nepal Visas and getting through immigration was time consuming but easy enough. We arrived at the Yak & Yeti Hotel around 5:00 p.m.
Kathmandu is the capital and the largest city and the first tourist location in Nepal. In 1972 the population was approximately 350,000 and now, 46 years later, the population is over 6 million people. Traffic is more than crazy, it’s insane. This city is the hub of economic activity in Nepal. It is also a center of sprawling poverty. The paradox is painful as well as shocking and yet the city is vibrant and alive. It’s confusing. It’s intriguing.
Monday morning, October 2:
Another early morning to the airport for a 30 minute flight from Kathmandu to Pokhara, the second major tourist city of Nepal. Immediately I felt a different kind of aliveness in Pokhara. There was an eagerness and a rush of excitement along with a rush of young people from all over the world, each ladened with over sized and over weight duffle bags and back packs. This is a jump off point for trekking in Nepal, the home of the Himalaya Mountains and Mount Everest. Seven of the fifteen highest peaks in the world are in Nepal. We picked our way through the maze of trekkers and made our way the trekking company where we would begin our three day adventure.
After the obligatory ritual of safety instructions, with a hat, backpack and duffle bag provided by the company, we hopped on a bus with all our luggage, two guides, and five porters who would carry all that luggage for the next three days. We bumped and bounced for two hours switchbacking our way up the open road. “Open Road” means a dirt road with countless potholes and deep crusted mud tire ruts that are impervious to rain. The journey was complicated by all the construction work to widen the road. Finally we arrived at a dusty curve. Amid piles of stone, heavy equipment, and workmen with bandanas covering their mouths and noses, our bus stopped, the door opened, and the 10 of us along with the guides and porters were dropped off. Our luggage was piled into five large straw baskets and loaded on the backs of those porters. Do we call them Sherpas? No, they are porters. Men, some older, mostly younger, from the local villages who know the mountains.
The first mile and a half was all uphill. Oh my god, a mile and a half. I measured it on my iWatch. At first we followed the steep dirt open road and then we left the road for an even steeper narrow dirt path that climbed its way between the lush green undergrowth. I stopped often to drink in the view and to find my breath again. Still up. Around each bend I looked in hopes of seeing a flat stretch but the path kept climbing and I kept climbing with it.
Breathe. Inhale through my nose, exhale through my mouth. Breathe. One of the porters stayed behind me, stopping when I stopped. Even when I motioned for him to go ahead, he wouldn’t. Dripping sweat, the sun was brutal. 90+ degrees, sunny, and clear, I was determined to keep walking. Besides, it was too late to turn back. There was no were to go but forward.
Finally we reached a picturesque village. Flat. Stone houses, slate roofs, running mountain streams. We came upon an old woman with sun baked skin and wrinkle crevices, and bright laughing eyes. Her husband sat -- squatted -- watching as she and her daughter plucked beans from a pile of soy plants. There were two goats in one small shed, a cow in another, and a third small shed where they were distilling the local liquor.
We move along. The second mile and a half was all downhill on stone steps. I usually count steps. Don’t know why I do that, but I do. There were too many steps to count. Down, shallow steps and formidable steep steps down. For a mile and a half, step by step, down. Along the way, we crossed a bridge constructed of two long bamboo logs, and then there were more stone steps down. I thought the down would be easier but there were hundreds of steps. Not sure it was easier.
The final mile was sort of flat but it was also a mile of torrential rain. At first I noticed a few drops and then the mountain sky opened up. The porters moved quickly to unpack plastic and ponchos. Plastic to cover their baskets of luggage and ponchos for us. Already soaked in sweat, did I really need a poncho? The dirt path became slippery. Our lodge wasn’t far. Only another mile. We pressed on. One by one, we crossed a suspension bridge over a raging mountain stream and another half mile along a muddy road.
Finally we reached Sanctuary Lodge. As if on cue, the rain stopped. Nestled in the valley, the rustic lodge waited to give us a safe haven, lively conversations spiced with laughter, a great meal, and a wonderful night’s sleep.
Tuesday, October 3:
Up at sunrise to see the mountain peaks before the clouds covered them. Breakfast at 8:00 and ready for our second trek at 9:00. I was scared about this one. The trek was all uphill. All up stone steps. We would climb about 1400 feet in elevation. No flat. No down. All up. At dinner the guide had said this trek was “Up, steep up. Vertical up.”
Sizzling sun early in the morning. Clouds clinging to the mountain peaks but the rest of the sky. Brilliant blue. The steps came quickly and continued endlessly. Breathing loud. Inhaled through my nose, exhale through my mouth. Climb. Climb. Climb. I never asked how much further. I was afraid to hear the answer. I just kept going. After two hours of climbing, I created a pattern. I would climb 25 steps and stop, rest for 20 to 30 seconds. Check my heart rate, and when it dropped 5 points, I would take another 25 steps. We finally reached our second lodge. It was beautiful with phenomenal views.
However, it was the silence that spoke to me. I have never experienced such deep and sensuous silence.
Wednesday, October 4:
I had expected to have a lot of leg pain and body aches, but nothing. I felt great. I felt alive in ways that I’ve never known. It was exhilaration of a different nature. Our third trek was a mix of up, down, and flat. Of the treks, it was the easiest, but no less beautiful. We returned to Pokhara, stayed the night, and then flew back to Kathmandu.
This was an amazing experience. During the September workshops, Lazaris suggested that to truly accept ourself we needed to step beyond our safe place and we needed to step outside our center. To awaken the Magic of Acceptance, we need to step beyond our habits and routines. The Quest in India and Trekking in Nepal have done that and so much more. I have done things I didn’t think I could do. I have discovered things physically, but even more profound, I’ve discovered things emotional and mentally about myself that I never knew and that I suspect I might never have uncovered. My dreams are changing; my visions are shifting.
Nepal and the trekking have changed my life; they have changed me. I can’t say how yet. I can’t find the right words yet. I have to sit with these experiences that have reached far beyond my expectation and my imagination. I have to be still for now.
From the Taj Mahal in Agra, we bused our way to Delhi. It’s the capital of India. Eighteen million people. I expected to experience a big city that could be any big city in the world. I was wrong. Delhi, the old Indian city, and New Delhi, the city that the British created, weave together to create an intricate complexity that has a surprising high resonance. I felt an excitement in Delhi; there seemed to be a buoyant pride and an imposing confidence in the potential of India and in the Indian future. And besides, we met a faerie in Delhi. More on that at another time.
We visited a huge mosque -- the largest in India -- but it was the Gandhi Memorial that spoke to my soul. After India’s independence, Ghandi, almost 80 years old, was staying at the residence of a powerful Indian family, the Birla Family. From his bedroom, Ghandhi walked the pathway to the garden to participate in evening prayers. Along the way he was assassinated. We didn’t walk the path, but we walked beside until the steps stopped. I stood there for a very long time. Silent. Still. Blurry eyed and reverent. It was a quiet highlight of this journey.
We traveled by train from Delphi to Haridwar and then by car to Richikesh. People in India drive exactly like they drive in Colombia. Wild and crazy. Insane. I rode in the front seat of the car we were in and I had a grand time. I love driving in Colombia and I love riding in a car in India.
Rishikesh is a city along the Ganges River best noted for the Ashram of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the home of TM, where the Beatles spent time in 1968 -- 50 years ago. We visited the ashram. It was abandoned in 1971 when the Maharishi left for the Netherlands. It was eery and wonderful.
I could feel the laughter: George and Paul and maybe John. Mia Farrow along with her sister were there. Donovan was there. I could feel the color and the light. The light and the enthusiasm were vibrant. Innocence and eagerness blossomed then. Yet now the loss and the emptiness were almost overwhelming. Abandonment. Forgotten. After there time in the ashram, the Beatles broke up, and each one of them went their own way.. They came to India and the ashram to find themselves. Maybe they did. We didn’t like it, but maybe they did find themselves. Could be.
Once a world famous ashram, now it is Rajiji, a tiger reserve. The buildings are decaying with black algae slowing covering the walls. Broken glass and rotting wood window frames. Weeds growing through the broken concrete. The kitchen, the post office, the printing room, the meditation rooms, the Beatles bungalow, the Maharishi’s bungalow, and the roof top where they all gathered. The memories are all there and the vestiges of that time are also still there. Decaying. Rotting. Yet still clinging to life. It was eery. Depressing and exhilarating.
Rishikesh was our last stop in India. We arrived on September 15. We are leaving on September 30. Only 15 days? No. A lifetime. We are currently in Kathmandu and we are going trekking for the next three days. In the Himalayas, in the quiet villages, and there I will sit with my experiences of India.
It wasn’t what I expected and I suspect it was more.
The Taj Mahal at dawn. I had images in my head: A magical moment, a solitary moment with that majestic structure and its grand gardens. I imagined that a full moon would set just as the sun would rise and it would be a memorable moment, maybe even a defining one. In my imagination, I stood alone, just the Taj Mahal and me.
Once again on the bus at 5:30 for a 10 minute drive to the bus parking lot and then a golf cart type bus ride to the entrance. The moon was amber and, yes, it was full. However there were hundreds of people already there and bus loads of people were arriving by the minute. Scrap the solitary moment.
We got in the men’s queue and waited for the gate to open. We moved quickly and orderly through security and then through the gate. I stood there alone among hundreds of people who, in that moment, all disappeared. I stood alone suspended in silence being held by beauty. The right side of the dome shown bright. Dazzling, while the left side remained in soft shadow. I thought of the quotation: “Beauty is a demanding lover.” I had understood that at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I understood it again this morning. Majestic is too small a word.
Everyone I had talked to had said that the Taj Mahal was so much more than could be captured in photographs. I took photos, and they were right. Even so, I wanted to record a moment. I wanted to create an iconic symbol of a moment that is eternal.
Finally I moved. I walked slowly forward, then down the steps and along the pathway. A long fountain and then a reflective pool to my left and two of the four gardens to my right. Aware of my surroundings, I kept my eye, my focus, on that shimmering white marble sculpture called the Taj Mahal -- that shimmering light that stood there unobstructed against a clear blue sky. There was a reverence there. Serenity. Peace. Sure, there were kids running about and laughing or talking loud, but even they would fall quiet.
Beauty demands respect. It can also awaken respect, and it did.
We were there for only two hours, but when time stops, that is enough.
We were up early Saturday morning. We put our luggage in the hall at 5:30 and went for breakfast. We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 6:15 and to depart for the airport at 6:30. We did surprisingly well. We left for the airport at 6:35. I checked. The check in at the airport went fast. There were every few people there at that early hour and it was a small airport We arrived in Jaipur at 9:36 and by 10:00 we were on the way to the hotel, Taj Jai Mahal Palace Hotel. Another Taj hotel.
It had been a drizzly morning out of Udaipur and the rain continued in Jaipur. I skipped the afternoon excursion to the palace choosing to rest in the hotel instead. I regret that decision because I missed an opportunity to experience the old city market place. I have found that whenever I visit a city, I enjoy being in the old city -- being among the ordinary people living their regular ordinary lives. I am coming to realize and to own that I can feel the spirit or maybe it’s the soul of the people. Perhaps it’s both the spirit and the soul. Not sure.
In Jaipur, I missed the juicy flow of human passion; I missed the heartbeat of the people. I love people watching or people experiencing. It’s as if I can hear their souls speaking to me. I don’t mean that I want to sit and talk to this specific person or that one, however I do come alive with I can observe and feel and connect with the people in general from a distance and then with a particular person also from a distance. I observe and I listen not to words but to their voice. It is as if their voice and their soul speak to me and they tell me their story. It’s somewhat akin to when I work with crystals, but yet it’s different. I can’t explain it; I can only experience it. Now I am coming to own it and I realize that that’s what I want to write about. I don’t know how to do that yet, but I can feel it: I want to write about the soul of a people through writing about the soul and the voice of a person. I want to write about the soul of the land.
I am finding that voice and that soul so present, so alive, here in India and also so absent or beyond my touch here in India. It’s a paradox and it’s fascinating.
Jaipur, like Mumbai, didn’t speak to me. On Sunday we went to the Amber Fort situated atop hills of the foothills leading to mountains beyond. We rode elephants up the switchback roads to the actual fort/palace. That was fun, but it was tainted by the rush of tourists and by the not so subtle demand for tips. Maybe the drizzly weather also dampened my experience, but I was eager to leave Jaipur. We did that on Monday.
We drove eight hours to Agra. Along the way we stopped for to visit Fatehpur Sikri, a World Heritage Site and now an abandoned palace-fort city. Once there were more than 1500 people living in Fatehpr Sikri. This was a mystical place. Abandoned, empty, yet it was so rich and so alive. Again, I can’t find words but as I walked across the vast sandstone courtyards to the Treasury and to the King’s Chamber and the tiny Queen’s Chamber, I could feel the lost passions of a people whose lives changed because of the lack of water. There were very few visitors on Monday, yet as I stepped away for the others members of our group and as I walked alone, I felt I was not alone. I felt the joy that was once there. I felt the peace. As I looked around at the stillness, I also felt the beauty that once thrived here. I also felt the pain of loss. We moved on to Agra arriving after dark.
419 steps. That’s what I figured. There were ramps not actual steps, but I took 12 steps for each inclining ramp, and there were 34 of them. 34 up, up, and more up. At the end, just when I thought I was done, there were 17 stair steps, steep stair steps, to the top of the tower. The views ... there was all of Sevilla. In all directions historic center, old city, new city, expanding city, the river that once was the gateway to the sea, a once thriving trade capital for the Iberian Peninsula and for all of Europe, and now still a growing city finding its new identity. Sevilla. Yes, it was worth the climb.
We had left Madrid Tuesday morning, and we had driven nearly 6 hours to arrive at our hotel in Sevilla, a grand city that is still the capital of the Andalucía region here in Spain. Our hotel, an actual palace in the 1700s, had been restored, refurbished, and transformed into a boutique hotel close to the historic center of Sevilla.
After we checked in, it was early enough to go exploring so off we went. We walked for nearly 2 hours and finally stopped at a delightful restaurant advertising tapas and wine. It was Michelin rated and the food was excellent. It was after 10:00 when we walked out into the cool crisp night air. A sliver moon over head and we were content. Fulfilled. We turned on the GPS on the iPhone and began our journey back to the hotel. Twisting and turning through the charming tiny streets, past tiny tapas bars and hidden courtyards, and soon we realized we were lost. The GPS voice kept talking but the directions made less and less sense and apparently we were getting further and further away from our hotel. When the GPS said we had 2 more kilometers to go, Enrique hailed a taxi. Our driver laughed and told us that it was impossible to find our hotel with Google Maps. I think he was just being polite. He drove us through a maze of alleyways and in roughly 2 kilometers we were home.
Wednesday: We walked the old town and spent the afternoon at Real Alcázar, the major Moorish and then Catholic palace that is still the Sevilla residence for the current royal family. The palace is breathtakingly beautiful with strong Moorish influences that remain from it inception and that were enhanced in the 15th Century, mainly by Charles V and Isabella, and again in the 16th and 17th Centuries by the Catholic Kings. I came away amazed and sad.
Amazed at the beauty of the Moorish and Muslim traditions expressed in the Royal Alcázar Palace. There was such a sense and respect for the romance of life and such a respect and honoring of beauty. The geometric elegance and excellence were fascinating and mesmerizing. I stood in this room and that one -- rooms meticulously measured and designed and adorned with intricate precise tile patterns or mosaics -- and just took in as much as I could. Almost overwhelmed.
Such beauty, such mysticism, such science, such mastery. My eyes often blurred with tears. “Beauty is eternal.” I remembered.
I also came away sad because of what has happened to that richness and that honoring of humanity and humankind that was so profoundly woven into that tradition. Ignorance, a lack of understanding, along with bigotry, anger, hate, and revenge have ravaged so much of human goodness and truth. I also walked away remembering. “Goodness and Truth shall prevail, and Beauty is eternal.” It’s important to remember. There’s magic in remembering.
Thursday: We spent much of Thursday exploring two churches: “El Salvador Divino” (The Divine Savior) and the Cathedral of Seville. In the 12th Century, the conquering Christians pushed the Moors (Muslims) out of Spain. In Sevilla, the conquerors tore down the majestic Mosque and built an even more massive Cathedral. Not more majestic but more massive. The legend says they wanted to build a Cathedral so that (paraphrase) “All who saw it would think they were madmen.”
The smaller church was amazingly beautiful. Stunning. Currently they are cleaning and preparing the huge statutes that will be carried during next week’s Easter Week Processions. The men will be carrying massive statues that weight tons. The platforms rest on the men’s shoulders. Only their feet show as they march slowly and with precision through the streets of Sevilla from noon until 2:00 a.m. Yeah, 14 hours. Unbelievable, but it’s the tradition; it’s the ritual.
The Cathedral, not so beautiful, is huge. Gigantic. It is the third largest in the world next to St. Peter’s in the Vatican and St Paul’s in London, and it’s the number one largest Gothic cathedral in the world. As we were ready to leave the Cathedral, we decided to climb the tower. It was initially the Mosque Tower. Rather than stairs, there were ramps so that the cleric could ride a horse to the top five times per day to call the people to prayer. The Christians didn’t destroy the tower. Instead they added height to it, and the two architectural styles are evident. As I walked I counted steps. Each ramp, 12 to 14 steps so I did the math at 12 steps. For someone young, eager, and naive, it probably would be 10 steps per ramp, but I am not young or naive, so 12 steps. It was a worthy and fitting finish to our church/Cathedral exploration.
Within that historic center there’s the Santa Cruz barrio which is notorious for its even narrower streets that interweave to create a seemingly endless maze. It’s easy to get lost; we did a couple of times. It’s an enchanting area of the city. Tiny shops, tapas bars, small houses with their interior courtyards normally hidden from view, little garden parks, and more tiny alleyways leading to who know where. We returned to this area several times in the daylight just to explore and to feel the energies and to get lost. So alive.
Friday we are on the road again heading to Arco de la Frontera, one of the “Pueblos Blancos” -- the white villages -- of the Andalucía region.
We bought our tickets late Sunday night. We had slept most of the morning adjusting to the six hour time change. It was sunny, brilliant sun, luminously bright, and crisp, refreshingly crisp, sharp, when we began wandering Metro Centro in Madrid. Our first stop was Plaza del Sol and as we were walking into the vast open space the name was obvious. There were hundreds of people strolling through the plaza, a Mariachi Band was playing by the central statue as perhaps 200 people, families with kids and pets, looked on. Enrique stopped to get a Sim card so he could stay in touch with the world, and then we checked our map and headed off to walk the narrow streets. I’ve mentioned it before, I am enamored with the architecture of the apartment buildings that line the narrow streets. There aren’t any daring designs like the Gaudi designs in Barcelona, but there is something that speaks to me. I suppose that something speaks to my soul. As I walk along I look up. I stop. “Oh, my isn’t that beautiful?” I say out loud to myself. The words tumble out. Goosebumps. Then I move along.
We ended up at the Plaza Mayor and then to the San Miguel Mercado again. This time we stayed.
With a glass of Rioja in hand, we went looking for a space to sit. There are long rows of tables with stools lining both sides. Young, old, families with babies in strollers, groups of friends huddled together laughing, all sorts of individuals and groups, mostly tourists from all over the world, gather to enjoy the tapas and tasty treats. Once we found a place, one stool and then another stool, we took turns going off to explore. Enrique would come back with some surprises, we‘d eat them, and then I would go off. I found a Paella stand with six or seven variations. Enrique stopped at the Olive Bar. Amazing “Olive Kebobs.” I had to go to the Mozzarella Bar. It took me a while to find it. The eating was fun but it was the sitting there amid the flow of people that made Sunday afternoon and evening in Madrid special. After three hours, we were ready to leave but first Enrique went looking for a special dessert to share. “Milhojas” -- a thousand leaves -- which is a delicate dessert of flaky pastry filled with lush cream.
We quietly walked back to our hotel. We stopped to talk to the Concierge. We bought tickets to the Prado Museum for Monday.
It was drizzly. A perfect day for museums. With tickets in hand, we walked past the very long line of people waiting, and were shaking off our umbrellas and moving through security in no time. We entered the main hall. The Prado is huge. Second largest museum in the world next to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Wow. We turned around and went looking for a guide, not just the recorded tour, but a live person. We had a wonderful four hours at the Prado. We went back to our hotel to rest a while and then we went out walking again.
We had wanted to go to the Reina Sofia Museum but as we looked at our map, it seemed too far away. So just went walking the narrow streets again. Can never do that too much. Before we realized it, we were only a block away from the Reina Sofia. It’s a beautiful museum. The main building was once a hospital and now it’s a museum of eclectic art with an emphasis on Modern Art. We focused on Cubism. Why? Well, it was close to where we had entered, but once we went into the first exhibition hall, we focused on Cubism because it was an intriguing exhibit.
It was 8:00 when we returned to the street and to our walk. We had dinner plans with friends. We would meet at 9:15. Our friends are Colombians living here in Madrid. Mario, is a marvelous chef and owner of two very successful restaurants in the Metro Centro area of the city. His husband, Juan Pablo, a relative of Enrique’s, is a very successful architect. We had dinner at “Hortencio.” Only Juan Pablo, Enrique, and I sat at the table. Mario was busy preparing an incredible meal for us. A delicate Morel Mushroom soup, Morel Mushrooms garnished with foie gras or egg (egg for me), and I had “La Soup aux Trufa,” which Mario prepared as an homage to the deceased famous French Chef, Paul Bocuse, who first presented this soup on February 25, 1975. It was delicious beyond words. Enrique had a tender lamb dish that was sensational. A dab of Pistachio ice cream added the exclamation point to a culinary delightful evening.
The day was full, and it was wonderful. In the morning we’d be off to Sevilla.
Bumper-to-bumper movement or none at all, we were caught in a traffic jam at the Yumbo Roundabout on our way to the airport in Cali, Colombia. We arrived just as our flight was scheduled to leave. My cellular buzzed with an announcement. Our flight was also delayed. Mechanical trouble, a new plane was en route. Mechanical trouble or magic? I dispelled my building anxiety with a smile.
From Cali to Bogotá with a four hour layover that became two and a half hours, we were off on our overnight to Madrid. We disembarked at 1:30 Saturday afternoon. Friday afternoon we were caught in traffic and less than 24 hours later we were in Madrid. I know it’s a cliche but travel still fascinated me. Thanks to many moving sidewalks, escalators, and trains, we move from gate to immigration and then to baggage claim easily. Waiting for luggage, my anxieties always stir. Today they were broken by a voice.
“Are you from Cali?” I turned to see a young woman with a beautiful smile standing there with who appeared to be her mother.
“Yes.” Maybe I said, “Sí,” not sure.
“I think you’re our neighbor.” She speaks excellent English; very little accent. I wished my Spanish had been that good. “You have two Vizslas, right?”
“Yes! Abbie and Lucas!”
There is only one other Vizsla in our neighborhood. It’s hers. We each knew each other’s dogs -- our kids -- now we met face to face at baggage claim in Madrid. What a world. It was a nice wink as our journey got underway. Rental car picked up, GPS’ed to the hotel with only one missed turn and route correction, and we were resting in our room. After just resting a few hours, knowing better than to go to sleep in the daylight, we bundled up, it was in the low 50’s out there by 6:00 p.m., we headed out walking.
I find Madrid to be a fascinating city, more than most. There is something in the resonance, in the lay of the land, in the architecture of the buildings, in the green trees that line the streets and fill the parks, and in the energy of the people, that is mysterious and intriguing at the same moment. I just love walking the streets and just love looking, looking at everything. It fills me; I feel alive as I walk and look and listen. I think there just might be a common denominator of caring. I don’t think everyone cares about this city, but I think enough people do care, and care with a Latin sense of immediacy and passion, that it makes a difference. Madrid is a different city. Sure there’s some graffiti on the walls of vacant buildings or run down doorways, but not much. Otherwise the streets and the buildings and the windows are amazingly clean. There is a pride along with the caring and I think that matters.
We walked along these delightfully narrow stone slab streets. They are wide enough for single lane car traffic by day but in the evenings pedestrians take them over. Oh, occasionally cars come, but they move meticulously slow and with great caution. People own the streets as the sun sets. Street lights and shop lights and restaurant lights fill the night along with the chatter and laughter of hundreds of people coming alive and filling the nights.
Along the way, we encountered a group of men practicing for an upcoming Easter procession. During Semana Santa -- Easter Week -- there are many parades or processions where people carry huge religious statues for miles and miles. So they practice ahead of time. There were six rows of men. Four per row. They were marching slowly and in precision with each step in unison. They had a wood platform resting on their shoulders. On top of the platform were concrete blocks with a total weight equal to that of the statue they will carry during Semana Santa. See the accompanying photo.
It was early. We walked and meandered for almost an hour making our way along those narrow walkways through several plazas until we reached Plaza Mayor. It’s famous. A tourist attraction. And it’s still grand and majestic and warm and friendly. We found a restaurant and had an easy dinner of tapas and sangria. It was 10:15 when we walked out into the Plaza again. The night was now fully underway. Restaurants were full. Outdoor cafes under blazing gas heaters were full. Rapid fire talking and laughter and an occasional shrill laugh, the night was sizzling.
We walked through the Plaza to the San Miguel Mercado on the far side. Also famous. Also a destination for most tourists, and also a must stop place. It was after 10:00 and people were streaming out. We thought they must be closing.
Oh no. No way were they closing. The places was abuzz with hundreds of people. Four deep standing around a wine bar here or a sangria bar over there. People carrying plates piled high with tapas or other hors d’oeuvres were weaving their way through the jam of people. No, no one was closing. The night had just begun.
San Miguel Mercado is not a farmer’s market or a grocery store. It is an enclosed building with hundreds of vendors: I saw a Mozzarella Bar selling countless culinary treats with mozzarella and buffalo mozzarella, and each was an intricate creation. There were all sorts of tapas vendors, and salad vendors, and ... there was one display of tapas made with olives, just olives of all kinds, olives adorned with all kinds of delicacies.
We slowly made our way through the growing crowds of people. Everyone was smiling, laughing, celebrating, and eating. To me, this is Madrid. This is Spain. As we left the market and walked back through Plaza Mayor, we realized we’d left our street map in the restaurant. We used it to find our way to the Plaza and Market. We were on our own to walk back. A few wrong turns, but soon enough we were at our hotel. We stopped in the lounge for a night cap. Our first day of our road trip complete, now we could go to bed.
4:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. I am lying on a futon with a hard pillow behind my head and a thick down comforter covering me. There is a chill in the air. Sweet. To my right there is a wall of window. In the predawn light, the window frame seems a picture frame that’s framing a Japanese wood block print. Dark gray sky, white cloud mountains and silhouetted trees, stark as if they had been cut out of black construction paper. Beautiful harbinger of the day to come.
Monday was our final day in Tokyo. We went to the Senso Ji or Asakusa Temple. We arrived at the temple gate at 11:00 and it took us 90 minutes to finally enter the actual temple. The walkway and the side streets are lined with hundreds of tiny tourist shops, and there were thousands of people milling about. It was great fun. We bought chop sticks and I bought some postcards. The temple is a Buddhist Temple and the oldest one in Tokyo. The surrounding area is “old Tokyo” offering a view of what Tokyo once was. Enchanting. Charming.
I felt more at home here. Not sure why. It was crowded, hectic, and loud . . . very different than the Meiji Shrine with its elegant and majestic grounds.
Anyway, I had a great time at the Temple and I really enjoyed walking the narrow streets of the surrounding neighborhood. We continued strolling those
narrow street until we found a wonderful lunch place, “Goroku,.” We had what we called Japanese Tapas. I had Assorted Tempura, Pork Rolls, Crab Coquettes,
along with a glass of red wine. Everything was delicious. Ready to go again, we continued walking the area and finally caught a taxi to head to another
part of town for the evening.
40 minutes later we were in a glitzy part of town called Kabukicho in the area called Shinjuku. Bright colorful neon flashing lights. Young, fast paced,
alive. Street barkers encouraging people to eat at this restaurant or to take in that show. The taxi driver got us as close as he could and it was
fun walking the pedestrian streets looking for “Robot Restaurant.” Up this street, down that one, turn left there and then right, we finally found
it. Huge sign nearly 30 feet long. Wow.
We went to the Robot Restaurant for the show. It is not a restaurant and as it turned out it wasn’t really a show, or at least not something I would call
a show. It was the worst “show” I’ve ever seen. The only saving grace was that it was so bad that it was funny, and I was curious to see just how bad
it would be. How bad was it? The bottom.
As we left I smiled and thought about how our universe, a reflection of something more real, expresses itself as a duality. We have experiences the ups,
and now the downs of Tokyo. It’s time to move on.
Tuesday morning we had gone to Tokyo Station and waited on Platform 17 to take the noon Bullet Train to Kyoto. We arrived mid-afternoon at our hotel —
Gion Hatanaka Ryokan. A Ryokan is a traditional Japanese county inn. This one is beautiful. Minimalistic in design with an elegant ambiance. We had
a traditional Japanese dinner served in our room. Several courses, each a work of art as well as a delicious dish — haute cuisine of nine courses.
Beautiful. After dinner our server set up the futon beds, and we went down to the public baths on the lower level of the Ryokan. We will move to a
Western hotel today but we wanted to have one night at a place like this.
It’s now 7:30 a.m. I am still looking out my window. My “Japanese Wood Block” painting has shifted now to become a lush green morning with a soft blue sky. There’s a rainbow arching between the trees. Yes, a beautiful day to come. Our Japanese breakfast will arrive at 8:30 and we will discover what the days holds.
Tokyo is huge and the architecture is fascinating. What seems obvious really became more obvious Sunday morning as we made our way to Ropongi and then to Ropongi Hills, a trendy area of the city not far from our hotel. Near the Grand Hyatt, we got our tickets and took the elevator up 52 floors to the City View — a round glass enclosed observation room with a small cafe, a museum, and incredible views — stunning views — of Tokyo. It was another crisp morning, about 60 degrees F, and the winds were gusting, but the sky was powerfully blue. The city sparkled. Towering buildings, patches of green parks, low warehouses and storage buildings down by the piers, and the deep blues of the seemingly endless bay. Captivating. We were there for more than an hour.
Then we explored the rest of that 52nd floor. There were scale models of the city that filled the side rooms. As many as 30 people at a time stood silently peering over the lucite walls marveling at the detail or identifying neighborhoods and buildings. On the walls, decade by decade descriptions of the development of the modern city of Tokyo. It was all in Japanese, but it was impressive even to my eye. The display in any language, was beautiful.
Finally we left the City View and explored Ropongi Hills. It was Sunday morning and already the foot traffic was building. Yes, a huge city with an increasingly huge population. We found a restaurant for an early lunch and then planned to head out to the Meiji Shrine.
Previously at the hotel when we inquired about the Imperial Palace, the attendant at the front desk took a post-it size paper and wrote the words “Imperial Palace” in Japanese characters. Often taxi drivers don’t know the English names of their shrines and tourist attractions. So rather than pointing to a location on a city map, we gave the driver the paper. Easy. Elegant.
We asked the waiter to write “Meiji Shrine.” Smiling broadly, he returned with a small paper and it said, “I would like to go to the Meiji Shrine,” in characters. We were off in the easy flow of traffic to some other part of the city and one of the most famous and most popular Shrines in Tokyo.
We stood several long minutes at the Gate, the 40 feet tall entrance to the grounds of the Shine. Amazing. Almost immediately we felt the reverence; others did too. As we made our way along the walkway, I listened to the “music.” The crunch of gravel underfoot as hundreds of people walked the pathways in silence that was accentuated as kids intentionally shuffled along. Shush, shush, shush. The call of the ravens in the trees that, at times, swooping low overhead. A soft whisper of a breeze playing in the trees. It all added to majesty of the place and to the honor of the procession of people making their way to the Shrine of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken.
The Emperor Meiji is credited with bringing Japan out of the feudal system and out of over 200 years of isolation. He is credited with introducing Western technology and culture to Japan. He lifted Japan into economic viability and vitality as he ended the Edo Era and as he opened Japan to a new world in which the old structures — structures that needed to be replaced — broke down making room for a new way of living and a new way of being. It felt appropriate to be walking the pathways to the Shrine.
The buildings weren’t that impressive, but the energy was. The several original buildings, some still being restored, were traditional Japanese, Shinto. Practical. Symbolic. Not intended to dazzle. This temple is where the souls of Meiji and his wife are enshrined. There’s a reverence and a reverie here that supersedes the physical design. There is a presence here that is available without being imposing.
Meiji and Shoken wrote “Wakas.” They are 31 syllable Japanese poems intended to offer subtle insight or guidance to living a better life. Meiji wrote over 100,000 of them; Shoken wrote 30,000. I purchased two. I reached into the box and dug around and picked one Waka for me and another for our Asia Excursion.
My Waka: “We shall fall behind our fellows in the world if, when we should advance, we make no move at all.” — Emperor Meiji
I smiled thinking about how God/Goddess/All That Is — God, Goddess — are continually growing, becoming more. Our souls and Higher Selves are continually growing and becoming more. If we aren’t, we are falling behind. I like the phrase, “when we should advance.”
The Waka for our journey: “As clear and refreshing as the rising sun — thus might it always be with the human heart.” — Emperor Meiji
Okay, so I am going to begin each morning of our journey through Asia, with my heart open to the refreshing clarity of a sunrise. Focus on the light of a new dawn, of a new day. Always.
It was a magical afternoon. From the Shrine we walked the grounds. The call of the ravens was loud and persistent. One raven swooped low and landed on a fence. We chatted for a bit and then he flew off. We walked on.
The public access to the Shrine closed at 4:00 and we along with hundreds of people began meandering our way toward the gate. Around 4:30 we move with the steady flow of people through the narrow exit. Ahead of us, a grand boulevard of shops: modern shops, old shops, simple shops, and high end shops. Ahead of us, thousands of people strolling along the sidewalks, sidewalks that are 10 to 12 feet wide and the people are moving like an undulating human river. Amazing. Intriguing. It was Sunday early evening and there were throngs of people walking this shopping highway. I got a photo.
We walked or flowed with the crowd for nearly a half hour. It was our “grounding time.” Hailing a taxi, we made our way back to the New Otani Hotel, Garden Tower. A fine day. A quiet night.
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