Sanctuary City: Part One

Sanctuary City: Part One

I called this post Sanctuary City for two reasons. One, San Francisco has been a sanctuary city since 1989. We have felt the need for that status more than ever in the political turmoil and unrest that is settling itself around the country right now. The title is a nod to that, for sure, but I also wanted to remind myself that a sanctuary is by definition a safe space, a refuge. San Francisco isn’t just a sanctuary city for the nation, SF is also my actual home, where I come back to after I travel, where I feel safe, where I recharge my battery before I can go back out into the larger world again.

For Part One, I wanted to explore a little of this sanctuary city that I call home, a little corner of my world. For Part Two, I will showcase a little of my actual home and how I bring the world into it. Both posts will be based on my desire to get better at photography this year, so this is less about writing and more about visual storytelling.

I asked everyone for photography lesson books for Christmas and am saving up to get a new lens for my Canon Rebel. With the sun actually out for once, I decided to take a walk down Divisadero St. in San Francisco this week and take pictures of things that I gravitated towards. Here is a little taste of one little street in the great place that I call home.

 

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I wanted to practice using the Macro feature on my camera to explore odd details you wouldn’t necessarily notice. I live in what is considered Lower Pac Heights which is directly above Western Addition. I loved the cracked paint on these old murals and the way the two interplayed with the late morning light.

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My walk took me to the Sunday Farmer’s Market at Divisadero and Grove where I purchased some tasty citrus fruit.

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On the corner is 4505 Burgers and BBQ which is a great place to stop for some brisket and sit out on the picnic tables with a beer in your hand when Karl the Fog takes a break for the day and lets the sun shine.

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I was more interested in the kegs against the red wall then the people eating on the other side.

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Even the dogs are enjoying the nice day
On our way back up the street, we stopped in to two boutiques I’ve always wanted to peruse but stopped myself solely because of my desire to buy things and not being able to afford it. First stop Tanner Goods to find the man a nice leather backpack. The shop was well-manicured and had everything for the SF modern man from bar supplies to hygiene kits. Everything was immaculate and perfect and the price was, not shockingly, well above either of our pay grades so we left empty handed.

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Funky table in the store that draws using a system with weights
I wanted to look at some girly things too so we hopped across the street to The Perish Trust where I could imagine what having a millinery in my kitchen might feel like…and also wish I had a house to interior decorate.

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The Mad Hatter’s closet
It may have all been hipster-inspired madness but I loved the mixture of textured ribbons, wide brimmed hats and checkered floors. I’m still learning the features of my camera and had wanted to focus on the hat in the center, but because of its depth in the back of the room, my camera brought everything in the foreground into clear focus. While not my intention I do love that you can really see all the texture and colors at the front while almost feel like the back of the room is sucking you through a rabbit hole.

As any good San Franciscan will do on a free Sunday, we skipped the line out the door at the Mill (though I love their cinnamon toast) and headed over to Mojo for some equally good Ritual coffee without the wait (Fun Fact: Four Barrel was started by the guy who started Ritual, so same same.) and took that coffee on the road to stop in open houses that we will never be able to afford. Yay SF and being one of the most expensive cities in the world right now. Makes a teacher feel good. After looking at the small three bedroom apartment, we rode the squeaky elevator to the roof and checked out the views of the Victorians across the street.

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I liked the juxtaposition of the two chimneys with the beautiful houses behind them. The chimney stacks look like prison towers. 
Remember this is only a hop, skip and a jump from Alamo Square and the famous Painted Ladies but who says you can’t see equally pretty house fronts from your roof deck.

If you want to get better at photography too, here are the two books I’m working through:

Sidenote: I’m not being paid by DK or Canon, I just really like these products. *I wouldn’t mind being paid by someone to promote their product if I like it so hit me up (wink wink nudge nudge).

Dante’s Eyes

Dante’s Eyes

Another blast from the past. Italy 2004 continued…[Warning: some R content]

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Kim and I lunching in Capri

June 5, 2004 

Frescoes are a poor man’s Bible in a time when a Bible cost as much as a house.

Dante’s eyes in his statue look alive but trapped in stone, possessed or dying. Dante was excommunicated and tried writing very well to be reinstated to Florence. Milan Kundera’s theory is that being excommunicated from your home makes you a better writer.

I need to get kicked out.

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By Bruno Barral CC Wikimedia

 

June 6, 2004

The poppies on the hillside look like light blood stains on green pants, scraped knees and grass stains. Boys playing in fields snatching at footballs and shoulders, tumbling to the ground and bruising. Wrapping their knobby bones and flesh together for mere seconds then pushing apart and running with a continued fervor.

One of the girls on the trip is eating an orange like an apple and biting into the skin and swallowing it.

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Hotel view in Sorrento

We went on the Blue Grotto boat ride around the Isle of Capri. Drove into a cave –sounds of water clapping against polished white walls. Echoes of voices like shards of glass cutting the water and hollowness. The water rises and sinks sending diamond bracelets dangling from stalactite hands. Dipping my palm into the turquoise Mediterranean Sea and when it dries in the Italian sun there is a shimmer of salt coating my fingers.

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Giorgio Sommer [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Statue on the rock in Capri – Scugnizzo

The young man working the snack bar on the jetfoil to Capri looks like a man in a movie, not from good looks but in the nature in which he inhabits the room. Silent, sad eyes. He lightly probes the room. He trails a pretty older lady as she walks by then resigns to making espresso, staring at the slowly filling white cup with the same sad, empty expression. In the movie version of his life, we follow him back to his room. We call him Dante. He’s lonely, horny. He jerks off in his bedroom watching commercials for self-tanner. He imagines himself with the older lady. He lightly touches her breast. The linen of her shirt. Hesitates, pulls his hand away. His sad eyes searching her face. And then he’s back. Back to us, making the cappuccino, back to being alone.

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And for the hell of it, another poem:

Apollo and Daphne

Perhaps the characters will be named

Apollo and Daphne

Chasing one down a long hall of

glowering ancient busts,

Climbing into a laurel tree and

shivering from fear

and the cold night air. A predator

at the base with a gold

Arrow in his hind. Naming

oneself after a Greek myth

is only so cliché that it can

be new again.

The lead in her side causing an itch,

a tearing of the flesh, a vomiting

at the look of those loving eyes.

Let night come! She pleads,

Let the sun go away.

Let the leaves fall around the

Crowns of your head.

In Dante’s writing, the reader visited Heaven and Hell and everything in between…if that sort of fiction interests you, check out my satirical novel about religion on my other site here. A new chapter is posted each Wednesday afternoon. And don’t forget to add your email to both sites to follow all new content.

Notes from Delphi

Notes from Delphi

Today my 23 year old self would like to say hello to you. I am directly dictating a few of my journal entries from 2004. This step back in time highlights when I traveled into Greece from Italy for the first (and so far, only) time.

July 8 2004 – en route to Delphi

The water is beautiful. It’s that turquoise blue right up to the shore like the water at a Caribbean island edge only creeping up to the mountains of the Sierras instead.

Stefiana has a hypnotic voice. In conjunction with the lullaby like rocking of the bus, I fall asleep. I try to listen and learn and keep my eyes open but I’m not even enjoying it because the whole time I’m trying to pry my eyes open.

I hear her, “Beware of the sea orchards!” As we pull up to the seaside restaurant, I realize she means, “Beware of the sea urchins!”

There’s all these pathways and trails in the water from the movement of the ships and boats. Watching the water mark their journey like footprints in sand.

The waiter reeks of B.O. We’re at a roadside family restaurant where we choose our food from a picture menu. We just dipped our feet in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time. Kim’s lotion slipped her feet out of her sandals and now her soles are the red of the earth. This place smells like some sort of pickled fish, like squid or something. It’s not salty and it’s not solely fishy or sweaty, but a little of all.

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To get to Delphi, we travel up a large winding road along the hillside. When we’re almost to the top we look down and there’s a huge valley stretching between the mountains. It’s a dark olive green floor. The valley is composed of a massive olive tree grove.

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Olives must be soaked in salt water for a week, changing the water every couple of days before eating. Too bitter off the tree.

July 9 2004 – Delphi

Delphi, oracle city of Apollo.

Orange dust of walls turns to gold from noon day sun shining on them. Stones falling sounds like laughter.

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View from our hotel room. New part of Delphi

Delphi pulled the city-states together by making them write history in the same language with same religion, becoming one nation, The Greeks. Speaking water of temple gave Castilian girl power to prophesize. When water stopped talking, Ancient Greece ended.

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Ancient Greeks had two sayings left on the door that held their prophecies: Nothing in Excess and Know Thyself. One for balance and the other knowledge. In a place dedicated to a God, they were telling people not to believe a God controls everything and to believe in rational thought. Apollo and Dionsysus. Two opposites. Two paths. Two ways to balance yourself.

Kim and I are given a choice. Walk up the hill to the theater and temple or down to the museum. We take separate paths. I go up and she goes down.

On the way to the temple, Joe says to me, “Don’t worry, there’s a bar at the top.” These jokes are getting old. *

I am sitting under a tree writing, listening to birds chirping and watching yellow butterflies flit among the greenery. Kim and I pass each other on the road. We both decide to choose each path.

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On the right…the omphalos, the navel of the world. 

These Cypress trees are so strange how they spike out of the vast landscape in no general design or order. Loping hills of olive trees and then a lance of a cypress pointing to the blue sky.

In the museum – Charioteer Bronze Statue from 478 BC of a young boy who just won a chariot race in the Pythian games.

He looks content.

From a little further away, he looks slightly sad. From down the ramp, he looks mad. “Don’t walk away,” he says. “Watch my final lap.”

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*Sidenote: Joe was not making an old man joke. He was a 12-14 year old boy who was making fun of how much Kim and I drank on that trip. We were 23 and everyone else were teachers chaperoning children. Cut us some slack.

The All Seeing Eye

The All Seeing Eye

“I’m Jimmy the Gypsy. I’m from Ireland,” a man with faded tattoos down his arms and a toothless grin tells me as I sit in the grass of Jubilee Gardens watching the London Eye during the 2015 Festival of Love in Southbank.

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“I’m a psychic,” he goes on. He and his friend had just finished smoking a joint. I was trying to enjoy my cider alone on this hot day in London. I knew it was risky sitting on this part of the grass so close to these two characters, but almost every inch of space was taken elsewhere by people lounging in the warm day out by the water.

“I’m not interested. I’d just like to be by myself right now,” I tell him.

A few minutes later, he turns around again, sprawled out in the grass under the shade of the tree. The London Eye moves in slow circles in front of us. The water of the Thames sparkles.

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“There’s a woman on your shoulder. She watches out for you.”

I try not to listen. Not to engage. I sip my cider.

“She worries about you. She wants you to find love,” he goes on. I can’t help but be interested. Is he talking about my grandmother, Tutu, who passed away about five years before? A woman who I considered more like a mother than just a grandmother. I had also been dumped two days before and the message about finding love had me hooked.

He asks me to show him my hand. Well, if he wants to read my fortune for free, who am I to stop him, I naively think.

I show him my palm.

He tells me I shouldn’t look for love in empty wells and that there are too many people draining me emotionally in my life. That I am a moon child and I have five good moon child friends and don’t need more than that. I will come into some money in the next two years, big money. I will have many children, three girls and one boy. This makes me nervous, that’s two children too many,  an Indian palm reader told me something similar and I gulp. That’s another story.

He drops my hand. “What do I think that fortune was worth?” he asks.

I have absolutely no money. I only just arrived the day before and hadn’t visited an ATM yet. I tell him this but he doesn’t believe me. I start worrying about Irish gypsy curses. I hand him my cider. “I have this. You can have the rest.”

He pauses for a second, thinking about it. He takes the cider from my hand and gulps it down in one quick sip then throws the empty cup to the grass angrily.

I zip up my boots and jump up from the shade. I don’t want to stick around to see him give me the evil eye and I run away to meet my Afternoon Tea Tour bus.

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B Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus Tour

I try not to feel bad.

Two years later, I find some things interesting. I did lose some friendships in the last years. Friendships that I wish I hadn’t lost but that I needed to let go as they weren’t healthy for me. I did find love. I haven’t seen any of that big money yet or babies.

I also ponder how the fortune shapes the future by the choices you make knowing it. He had also told me I would be with a man with dark curly hair, and he made a gesture that the man would make of sweeping his hair out from his eyes. Jimmy specifically said he saw that man would do that gesture. I dated a man for three months who did just that. He did it early on and I sometimes wonder if I only dated him because of that, even when I knew it was wrong, even when I knew we weren’t right for each other. Would I have wasted that time if I didn’t think it was meant to be? I can’t say, I can’t see the future like that. But I can say, I’m much happier now without the dark haired man who tucked the hair out of his eyes with his left hand.

As we circle around the carousel of a new year with a lot of unknowns, what do we want the future to hold? What parts do we want to shape ourselves? What do we want revealed to us? What do we want to keep mystical and unknown? How can we change things in front of us that seem unchangeable? How can we shift the story the cards are laying out?

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My New Year’s wish for you all is to shape your own future, to do what you can to make this world a better place for all, to find your moon children friends and your place of love and happiness within the world.

Happy New Year and kind wishes for 2017!

Lost Luggage in London

Lost Luggage in London

Summer 2015, IcelandAir lost my luggage on my way to London. The city was in the middle of a record setting heatwave and the only clothes on my back were the ones I was wearing in frigid Iceland the day before, a coat, sweater, pants and heeled boots. My dresses and sandals for a Cambridge study summer were gone and London was sweltering.

I had a few options open to me. I could sit around the airport all day and hope my luggage showed up on a later flight (highly unlikely as it seemed it had been lost back on my first leg through Boston), I could go to my hotel and strip down to my underoos and lay around on the bed postponing the inevitable which was finding things to wear, or I could use the technology in my hand and find a cheap clothing store and get myself kitted out as the British say.

I pulled out my cell phone while I still had airport wifi. I used Google Maps to find London’s version of San Francisco’s Union Square, SOHO, the place where I knew most retail stores would be cobbled so close together that they amassed into a corporation’s wet dream, and I planned my route, taking screenshots for when I knew my data would disappear. I had just finished two days of travel, three plane flights, was looking down the barrel of an hour long train ride and all I wanted to do was sleep, but I knew I could do this, I would get myself clothes to wear. I was born to shop…as we Americans say.

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So tired on the train

Bleary-eyed, tired, literally carrying all I had on my back, I popped out of the Tube at Oxford Circus and followed the crowd of people into the packed intersection like a lemming. There in front of me was the big box glass H&M store, shining like the Eiffel Tower…oh wait, I’m getting my similes wrong. Well, anyway, it was there. I stocked up on a dress, shorts, a skirt, two tank tops. I was hopeful that my luggage would arrive in only a day and wanted to compliment what I already packed rather than doubling up. I opted out on getting a pair of sandals and got some dress flats instead, thinking they would go well with some things I already had to wear.

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I took myself, backpack, shopping bag, camera bag and all to a restaurant for lunch down the street. The waitress sounded familiar, close to home. I told her about my harrowing travels and lost baggage and she brought me a free glass of wine. We got to talking. She was from the San Francisco Bay Area and had moved to London about a year ago to pursue acting. She gave me information for a performance she would be going to later that evening if I wanted to join. The travel writer in me, wished that I had for the story, but the exhausted traveler in me made myself find my hostel so that I could successfully navigate to Cambridge the next day.

I hopped back on the Tube, having gotten the appropriate pass back at the train station, and found my hostel, Clink78, an old courthouse converted into a shared dormitory. In the ten minutes that it took me to walk from the station to the hostel, my new flats opened a large hole in the back of my heel and blood dripped into the sole of my shoe.

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I couldn’t let this get me down though. I was about to shower, change and go to sleep at 7 pm as I always do when I’m jetlagged. I was proud of myself, happy that I wasn’t scared off by an unfamiliar city or lack of sleep or proper clothing to get myself what I needed. I was even more proud of myself, retrospectively, when it turned out that my luggage, that I was told would arrive at Gonville and Caius College the next day, didn’t arrive for another five, leaving me without my belongings for a full week.

I also think my shopping navigation bolstered my solo travel skills that whole trip, causing me to travel to more little pockets of London on my own, then I would have ever considered trying to find by myself before. I went shopping in Notting Hill, wandering down Portobello Rd and brunching at Farm Girl Cafe.  I ventured out to pick up iced cookies (or biscuits) from The Biscuiteers. I walked through Hyde Park, meandering by the Serpentine Gallery and the latest outdoor art pavilion. I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum at 9 in the morning and waited in an hour long line to get tickets to the acclaimed Alexander McQueen exhibit that was hands down one of the best curated museum experiences I have ever had.

 

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Inside the entrance to the V&A

I’ll be leaving for my first winter in Europe in less than a week, heading back to London, but this time with a very private tour guide, my boyfriend, where he will show me all his childhood haunts. In that spirit, I want to look back at some of my favorite memories of trips to England. This one will be my third.

Here are some things I remember and/or look forward to experiencing again:

Men roasting chestnuts outside the Tower of London.

Eating scones and clotted cream in a cozy tea shop.

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Not a scone but a Fitzbillies’ Chelsea bun is a good substitute

Sitting amongst the pink velvet cushions of sketch for afternoon tea and being dazzled by its opulence.

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Punting down the river in Cambridge accidentally feeding ducks and drinking wine.

Traveling on a coach with my fellow high school students visiting historic landmarks like Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the place where King Arthur might be buried if he’s a real person, as well as Stratford-upon-Avon and more.

Being wary of fish pie in a pub when I was fifteen and then later drinking a pint in a pub when I was thirty-three.

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Mayflower Pub in Cambridge

And in that spirit, here’s to all the pints that will be had very shortly. Cheers and Happy Holidays!

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Obligatory telephone booth shot
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One of my happiest moments on the trip…being reunited with my luggage in time for my hiking trip through Iceland.

*Sidenote: The posts have been few and far between as I am on a deadline to finish writing my novel by the end of the year. I hope to start posting more frequently once that is complete. Wish me luck!

Cows, Tigers and Boars! Oh My!

Cows, Tigers and Boars! Oh My!

Getting to the Ranthambore National Park felt like entering a ticket line at an amusement park. There was one road that lead through the city and lining the streets were trucks painted in a plethora of colors, bright and festive like carnival stands. Boars wandered through the gutters and cows were parked in front of buildings with yellow bindi marks on their foreheads. The animals served the role of the actors dressed as cartoon characters, wandering through the manufactured streets, waiting for their photo op. 

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We had been picked up in topless jeeps from our hotel and from curving roads, to stops and starts in traffic, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. I was only waiting for the giant cobra to rear its head and dive for us on a shaky bridge road. Instead I was headed towards the next best thing: Tiger spotting in the jungle.

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Concession Stands

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As the city passed behind us, the one road turned into a landscape of large boulders, sparse green plains and cracked earth. What kind of jungle was this? We lurched up the hill than dropped down the other side of the mountain, emptying at the entrance to Ranthambore where we paid our entrance fees through our driver and continued to sidle in our jeeps on through to the real show, the jungle itself.

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Entering the park

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Finally the landscape was changing. There was tall green grass, more trees, thickets and bushes. Wild animals started to be spotted. A peacock unfurled it’s tail like a giant blue fan. Spotted deer gamboled through the trees nibbling on grass. Birds flitted in and out of mud puddles. Was this Bambi or the Jungle Book? Where were the tigers we paid to see?

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Our guide, Raj, warned us that on some trips there wasn’t a single tiger spotted. We were in the wild after all. It might feel like an amusement park but amusements were not guaranteed. There was no way that they could ensure that a tiger would be seen, we could only follow drivers hunches and where other guests had spotted something a day or two before. Unlike the Serengeti, this jungle ride was not as sprawling. There wasn’t a large savannah reaching in all directions around us. We had only so many roads to follow.

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We ended up in a line of jeeps, trailing along a river on a dirt road. There was only one path to follow, a track so to speak, and there were signs that this track was the right one.

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Tiger footprint spotted

Suddenly the jeeps ahead started to slow. We stood up and peered over the top of the metal bars, whispering between our two jeeps. What was it? Why are we stopping?

“Tiger,” someone spoke from up front.

The jeeps fanned out in a line so that everyone could get a view. Directly in the middle of the dirt road, a large tiger lounged, taking a nap and stopping all vehicles.

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Any position to get the perfect photo, even straddling between two cars.

We got our cameras out and shot like it was nobodies business. This was big game hunting, the catch of a lifetime. A real Bengal tiger in the wild. The drivers refused to get any closer. This tiger was the biggest one in the park and his name was the Cruel One. Rumors said that he got this name because he was the only tiger to have ever attacked anyone in the park.

Was this story true or just something the drivers told us to make the trip feel dangerous, making our visit special in some way? Was every tiger the Cruel One? I don’t know, but it worked. We gaped at the large beast as it suddenly rolled upwards, yawning in a large circle and stretching its limbs like a lazy house cat.

The Cruel One lumbered up and began to walk down the road. The engines of the jeeps roared to life and slowly we inched closer, keeping the same distance between car and tiger but following him down the path nonetheless.

The tiger moved to the side of the road. He stopped, he turned slightly and squatted over a mound of dirt on the side of the road. The tiger took a dump right in front of us as if saying, this is what I think of you and your jeeps and cameras.

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After a sufficient amount of picture time, the drivers decided that it was time to go. We wouldn’t be able to make our way past the Cruel One so each jeep had to do an intricate reversal and head back out the road we came on. As we made our way out of the jungle, a pilgrim walked through the woods with his belongings balanced on his head. Apparently there was a pilgrimage site dead in the jungle and for religious reasons, those who sought it were allowed to travel freely through the park. The drivers warned the man that a tiger was just down the road but he didn’t seem to care or hesitate. Barefoot, he continued on down the road, making his way to make his blessings.

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On our way out, we made our own blessings. As we idled in the jeep waiting for a herd of spotted deer to move across the road, we reflected on seeing an actual wild tiger. Had this just happened? Was this a hologram? No, this wasn’t an amusement park after all. This was the real thing. A buck with giant horns stared us down. It was time to move on, we were beginning to overstay our welcome.

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We exited the park and on our way out of town, we spotted children on rooftops flying kites. It was like the end of the day at Disneyland where children queue up to watch the fireworks at the end of the night and the characters parade down the road. Only we were the characters, we were the ones being watched as we drove out through the city. We, too, were part of the show. 

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Dances with Spirits

Dances with Spirits

“First you dig,” Noa motioned driving a shovel into the dirt. “Then you wipe your sweat.” His little hand reached up to mock wiping sweat from his brow. My dance instructor was a five year old. He knew every step to the dance that symbolized working the harvest (or mining coal-I’m not sure which) but he refused to join the circle. He preferred watching the Bon Dance from the sidelines.

 

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Noa watching from the sidelines with his mom

This Japanese festival was my first. The Bon Festival, or Bon Odori, is a Buddhist festival that honors the deceased ancestors of one’s family. The event takes place in the summer and varies by different regions, but one thing that remains the same is the dancing. I got to experience my first Obon season in O’ahu where Hawaiians take the event very seriously.

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Celebrants wear summer kimonos, yukatas, and move in a type of line dance formation, shuffling in one large circle around the yagura, or tower, in the center of the circle.

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Getting ready for the festival to begin

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Some dances use sticks, fans or clappers, and everyone seems to have their favorite, jumping from their seats and joining the ladies who demonstrate each dance in their beautiful kimonos.

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Young or old, everyone gets into the spirit of the dance.

The event is like a summer fair replete with fried food, more sweets than you can shake a tenugui at and plenty of kids and old folks mingling together. Rather than games (though some Bon Dances have them) the main event is the dancing itself. The dances are slow, long and repeat twice, but it doesn’t stop anyone from participating. In fact, the simplicity of them is what keeps everyone on the dance floor, young and old. A newbie like myself could pick up the movements by the second time the song started up and feel like a rockstar when the electric slide comes on.

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Some homemade goods for sale
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Food stands stay busy all night

The whole evening is kicked off by a monk making offerings to the deceased. 

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Our Bon Dance was capped off by a performance of Japanese drum players, or a taiko group, which seems to be more a mixture of dance and music than pure instrument recital.

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As the three day festival comes to an end, the spirits are guided back home with a fire ceremony, putting them to rest until we welcome them back with a dance the next year. As summer comes to it’s own end and autumn falls around us, Halloween nipping at it’s heels and Dia de los Muertos not far behind, ponder the Bon Dance and its festive celebration of the living honoring the dead through song, dance and food. Think about how you honor your ancestors and consider participating in another cultural event to bring mirth and merry into your ancestral remembrances. Try something new or light a candle. Visit a church or pray with a monk. Join a parade or decorate with marigolds. Find a way to enjoy life while you are part of the living.