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19 July 1999 Prague
This trip is all about accepting whatever happens as part of the plan. So far I have lost my sunglasses and the butterfly case that kept them safe. I have lost my sandals and my sense of time. My mind is a demon on a playground. A frenziful perched thing, a gargoyle on a bridge with a tape recorder. I am lying in bed now thinking of how vicious the mosquitoes in Vienna were. I have a bite on my forehead and a splinter in my cheek from the wood table I slept on in the mountains. My legs are bruised and I can’t figure out how that happened. I have still more mosquito bites all over my body that I scratch at until they stain my hostel sheet.
A quiet hum comes through the window. I just returned from wandering the streets of Prague alone hoping to find my way to the Charles Bridge but getting side tracked. Instead, I went to an all-night store and got water in a blue bottle, a Cherry Coke (despite my pledge for no more bubbles), a vegetarian sandwich repackaged that says ‘Crocodile’ and a strawberry roll of some sort, that when I asked the cashier if it was fresh, he pointed to his mouth and said ‘sweet’.
I arrived here this morning from Vienna. I slept on the train a bit. I stretched out in my green dress as an American dancer spoke Czech with a handsome man. I could see they were enjoying each other and I could feel my eyes closing involuntarily as the scenery passed by. If I have ever known complete exhaustion, it would have to be today, after Vienna; my adventurous evenings and inspirational wanderings, digging into the well of ‘what’s that?’ ‘where does that lead?’ and ‘where AM I?’
I find that each new city has a bottom of its own well. I dive deep into these places and splash in the bucket resting quietly at the end and bungie jump snap myself back to the surface and beyond, landing in another city with slightly different expectations.
The dancer smiled at me when I awoke all crumpled on the seat. I sat up, removing my ear plugs and the train rattling filled me with a desire to write postcards. So I did and soon the dancer told me the next stop was Prague. I got my stuff together and as we pulled into Holesivice Station, I could feel myself leaping ahead of the rest of the people on cue to depart the train. Oddly, my body remained relaxed and patient going through the motions of currency exchange and deciphering signs. I was just getting used to the German language and now I get hit over the head with this crazy Czech language where there are no vowels and lots of crazy concoctions of dialect. The dancer told me to call a taxi, not to take one at the train station but I couldn’t figure out how to the telephone so I took the first taxi I saw and carelessly paid double what I should. Everything supposedly is so cheap here anyway. I got my Austrian currency mixed up with the Czech currency. It is strange handing over a bill that says 100 and I only bought two beverages and a sandwich.
Travelling the way I am, I find it useless to question the way things just are. I am a salt stone in the ocean and my thoughts make me sink or swim, depending on how much I dilute to my surroundings. The strawberry roll hits my empty belly and all kinds of growling armies subside, taking a breather. I have not been eating or sleeping in any kind of predictable pattern. I’m a ‘rockstar on tour’ and those rules don’t apply.
The taxi driver told me that the 100 crowns was around 3 US dollars and that my entire cab ride would be around $20 which was just fine with me. So I accepted the ride and lay back and opened the window to make hand birds out the window as the driver pointed out Prague’s sites. I found my curiousity giving me whiplash but I knew I really didn’t want to ask questions yet until I had the entire day of figuring it out myself. Oooooh, cherry coke makes me dizzy!
I checked into Hostel Advantage and this girl with a low cut shirt humored me in broken English telling me breakfast was at 7:30 and handed me a key that read ’27’. It was on the second floor, four people to a room but no one was occupying this room but me. I am thankful for that, I think I need this night alone; just this one night. A day of travelling is like a month in the regular world. I will recover by tomorrow; well, in a few short hours when the sun rises and Prague becomes something bigger than these thoughts that I can jump into, but for now it’s just my messy room with a newspaper someone left here that I hesitatingly flip through.
This morning I was told that JFK, Jr. died in a plane accident but that they haven’t found his body. That is the only bit of news from America that I have had this entire trip so far.
And… it’s my fizzing Cherry Coke
and my confused by digesting belly
and 3 untouched dormatory style beds
my bare thighs on itchy seats cushions and
pale blue towels that i wasn’t supposed to use
….but did anyway.
It’s the moth that erratically flew in the window
and the creaking of a door down the hall
and my velvet coat thrown over the bed.
I ordered a glass of red wine and ‘anything vegetarian, surprise me’. I am among American tourists and old Prague streets and I just spent more on a session at an internet cafe than I did on my accommodations.
I slow down my mind. I have no where I have to be and I am enjoying every moment of it. I am drunk in Prague and all on my own.
8pm – spent hours on the 22 tram. Wonderful way to sightsee. I am introducing myself slowly to Prague, being patient with my homesickness. Today I emailed everyone at home my ‘captains log’ and then collected myself up, kicked my ass, put on my wings, pressed play on my walkman and boarded the tram. I passed a million statues and bridges and small streets; the Jewish quarter, Charles Bridge, the cemetery.
Now I am lost, way outside Prague’s city center. I have a Coca-cola, my journal and a warmer shirt in my bag. I can ride the tram back and see what is out the window on the other side. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do… no no~ wow! Wow! Wow! As I was waiting for the tram to go back into the city, I caught the most wonderful mirage to my left. A spectacular view of prague. Wow! And the sky! The sky! Is white puffy things and grey and pink and I am on the top stair of the highest cathedral looking down a steep hill and the green spires and dark hills encompassing the city and flowers hanging from windowsills near me and Underworld’s ‘rez’ is in my ears and sunset sunset sunset! Cobblestone streets that make me dizzy. This is beyond photographing… no, it isn’t.
Wandering on… I balance on a thin wall of stones down a hill. A girl passes me. She is doing the same thing, backpack in tow; smiling and lost. We smile like old friends but continue on passed each other. I descend the steep hills towards what must be the river. The sky is lavendar. I stare into the eyes of a pompous statue embedded under sinister angels. I press ‘fast forward’ on my walkman as I cross the chain link fence separating cars from an empty fountain. There is a statue of a dark figure holding a gold flame. The moon makes me cry. The lighter side of a cloud fans out under it and it rises above a sign that says ‘concert in the open air’.
Excerpt from a letter home “the sun is making a beautiful spectacle from where I sit. I am writing from the Charles Bridge at sunset. The wind whips my hair into my eyes and I am in love with all i see! The half moon is bright as I look up through the cobwebs on a blackened statue. Every moment the sky turns a different color and street lamps and cobblestones and legends float around my head. I am approached by many people this evening and I’ve taken the oath of mute faerie tonight, at least for a while; too much to take in and I’m still recovering from my time in vienna. It is quite funny how I stumbled on this bridge. I wasn’t planning on coming here until late tomorrow night actually. Today I resolved to sightsee only by tram and remain unattatched and alone. But I got too excited when I saw a steep descending cobble stone hill. My intention was to snap a photo and hop back on the tram but my feet wouldn’t listen. They took a left and a right…. Ah! The moon! The moon! It has now formed a haze and as I stare at it, it seems to disappear behind the clouds. The sun has gone down; the spires of Prague are all beginning to light up, the sillouettes of the statues against the pink and cobalt sky are quite unreal. I cannot even breathe…. wow! Wow! Lightning now! Lightning passed by the hill to my left horizontal striking a tower! It’s going to rain! yeah yeah! Rainrainrain! I want to be on a boat now. Sick of trams. Oh, to finish my story. So I turn down a narrow alley and before me is a bridge. There are many bridges in Prague. And I thought ‘no…can’t be’ and then the statues are there and the towers and then I start spinning around and around like Mary Tyler Moore. The Charles Bridge found ME! Ah ha ha ha! And people stare at me because I’m laughing out loud, sitting in the middle of the bridge. I ask a souvenier vender which bridge this is and she says ‘Charles Bridge’ and I skip all crazy from one end to the other and take photos and ask tourists to take my photo. Oh, now it’s really raining! It’s raining and I have no where to go and now the orange streetlights turn on and the pink of the sky is still there and birds hide and lightning, horizontal lightning now and I’m so excited right now I might bounce off this bridge and up to the highest spire! …eep! I’m taking cover now. I throw on another shirt and little moths fly around the lamp posts and it’s raining and people are running away and I think one of those little moths is a huge mosquito that just bit my nose.
21 july 2:24pm outside a prague cafe
wicker chairs, marble tables, plain mineral water and throbbing feet. I have been on the go since 8am. I am across from the Old-New Synogogue in the Jewish Quarter. I am sunburnt and ready for more. But first, recollection.
I took a tram and got off at Bohemian Bagels since it was recommended in a travel book. An everything bagel is called a ‘supreme bage’ but they have nothing on Ess-a-Bagel in New York, although their chocolate chip cookies were good and messy. I took the tram again and got off at Malostranske. Walking across the bridge bouncing, hooking my finger into the stirrups of my backpack and taking up more space than necessary on the sidewalk.
Today I conquered Stare Mesto, twirling around Old Town Square at all the towers, squinting up at the astronomical clock at noon when these two windows are pulled back and a skeleton and other figures dance around and then the windows close again. Most tourists were disappointed. I stayed until the crowd disappeared and stared at the zodiac signs and detail around the clock. There was a gold angel with shining wings and a skeleton whose ribs inspired an off center photo. Other photos were of shimmering sidewalks, a statue in the middle of the square and a man playing the hammer dolcimer. Mmmm….espresso is good good good with a ton of sugar! And the spires of Tyn Church, Franz Kafka’s home, medieval homes and the Baroque archecture.
My eyes were too wide to call it a day and I didn’t feel like getting lost again (which so far has been my primary form of sightseeing). So I consulted a travel book and my Streetwise Prague map and set my dial to the Jewish Quarter. I took a roundabout way that led me through the back alleys first and then into tourist hell. I bought a ticket to the Jewish Museum and cemetery. I got a discount using my GO25 card. (utilizing at least SOME of my planning).
In the museum I touched the wall with all the names and tried to look for anyone with my last name. They were not alphabetical but just thinking that the only remnant of all the relatives I’ve ever known could be in only that room, gave me a longing feeling, a sense of sadness and an urge to go outside quickly. The cemetery tour was boring and in too many languages so I trailed behind, taking photos. I thought of the video of INXS shot there.
I finish the rest of my espresso, convince myself to stop playing with the black olives in my Greek salad and pay the bill. I have had a full day and yet the sun is still strong.
5pm at the hostel
I drag my sorry excuse of a siteseeing body up the concrete stairs to the white brown and grey room that is my rub-off-a-few-zzz’s-and-wash-away-the-hippy-traveller-stench residence until Saturday. I peel off all my clothes and feel the heels of my feet squealing for elevation. Nine hours straight of walking around Prague. I don’t know what day it is. I wonder if anyone works in this town. Everyone seems to be tourists and bums washing themselves in the fountains outside the Narodni museum. I hold the cool bottle of Bon Aqua (carbonated – DRATS!) water to my head and realize that it’s probably even more refreshing if I open it and pour it into my belly. I am so tired that I thought the label said ‘contaminated table water’ all elegant when in reality it says ‘carbonated table water’.
My bag is now full of marionettes and postcards. I currently have six rolls of film at various film processing stores throughout Prague and will probably not remember how to get to all of them. I am almost out of ink in this, the last of 7 pens that I have brought with me.
2:30am – at a club, the Roxy
The dance floor is scattered with people. Images projected on screens, red floors and writhing people. I am at Andy’s cafe now, the only all-night place listed in the pages of the travel book that I tore out. Prague is so damn cheap! My hand is stained with the Roxy logo.
My ankles twist when I walk over deep stoned streets. I am craving french fries but the menu is in Czech. Techno is playing in the cafe now. My waitress looks stoned.
Andreas, a boy I met earlier, found me at Andy’s cafe. He helped me finish my pasta. He speaks Swedish, Russian, Czech and English. He spent some time in Russia before coming to Prague and says all my stereotypes about there never being any toilet paper in Russia are untrue. We talked about homesickenss. I showed him a photo of my cats and explained their names to him. I wanted chocolate but they didn’t have any at the cafe. He asked me what my plans were. I whispered slowly that …I had no plans. He offered to walk me to wherever it was that I had no plans to go to. We ended up in the old town square. We took photos of each other in front of the central statue and then we climbed it.
The police came and wanted to take us to jail but I didn’t have my passport. Andreas pleaded our case of ‘stupid tourist’ while I laughed and took photos. He said the fine was 1000 crowns for climbing the statue and that made me laugh more. They wanted us to give them 100 crowns as a bribe but we didn’t. A lot of foreign talk was exchanged and we were let go. But not before they brought us over to the plaque that said in every conceivable language ‘do not step on the statue’. He lit it up with his flashlight from left to right slowly staring at us as he did it. Walking away we burst out laughing like teenagers. Andreas swung me around and said ‘this is living!’ and then we debated who was more scared.
He wanted to walk me to the Charles Bridge but it was time for a solo mad adventure and we parted ways exchanging information. I snaked my way past the street lights that look like rusty soccer balls, shimmering with gold stones and hidden street signs. Tram rails embedded in the streets as cars passed over them noisily. I found myself sobering up at the horse statue, listening to Chemical Brothers and feeling less homesick and in the mood for squishy bread.
22 july at an early morning restaurant where all they serve is apple strudel and ice cream
That girl at the hostel wasn’t kidding when she said that in this country breakfast is toast and coffee and that’s it.
3:13pm – at the toy museum
Had to walk up a wooden bell tower to reach it and footsteps echoed throughout. A woman that looked like a dusty doll herself took my ticket. I took photos of the devil there and the bell tower view.
Sightseeing solo is the best! There are no ‘hey, look at this” and “wait up” and “I’m tired, wait here”‘s . I walk at my natural pace and think into my innards about all I see. I am at Prague Castle now. I will go see the gardens. I took photos of St. Vitus Cathedral within the castle and still have not paid for a tram.
5:30pm at a restaurant with lazy music
Red table cloths, springy dark wood floorboards, antique lighting and old b+w photos on the wall. Spent the day wandering down the steep slope that is Nerudova Street. At the end I turned left and there were steps that turned into more neverending steps and after much excitement over the view passed, I found myself back at Prague Castle again.
I am now at a cafe, having bought art nouveau images. I am drinking iced tea with lemon and it is delicious. I am getting used to the toilets here now. I thankfully haven’t had the need to be overly acquainted with them. I am really enjoying my time in Prague.
23 july 6:30am – watching the sun get higher in the sky.
I miss my cats so much that the gargoyles below the spires of the medieval homes turn into their faces. Wandering around the city until 3am, I found the humor in the flower stickers pressed to the glass fronts of the hardware stores. Last night I definately saw a more dismal sight of Prague. There are quite a lot of homeless people and they seem to use their dogs to get more money. So far all the pets I’ve seen here have been the happy kind but last night I saw some too upsetting to mention. I had a night of reflection, an evening of silent observer leaning on statues and club hopping. Jen reminded me via email today that this is what this trip is all about; fighting for my independence. I didn’t realize I’d be fighting myself.
Last night I had chocolate for dinner and this morning, my breakfast is a glass of red wine. My neighbors at the hostel are a couple from Denmark, Andrea and Thomas. The two times I’ve seen them, they look afraid of me. I am definately done with Prague having now seen all there is to see. Today is laundry day, internet time for the 2nd installation of my captain’s log, postcards, journal writing and picking up my black and white film if I can find the store.
1pm – at a laundermat
My clothes are all dirty and the only thing I can wear is this sundress and it’s cold and no one speaks English. A German boy finally pointed me in the right direction. It took me an hour and a half to find this laundermat. When I saw the blue on white sign Prague Laundermat with the word ‘internet’ vertically between the words I laughed and threw my bag of clothes into a machine that sounded like it was eating them. I am on cue to use the computers. There are four of them and they all have hotmail up on the screen. I should watch my clothes to make sure no one steals them but i don’t care. I SHOULD care – this sundress is butt ugly!
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July 1999 – Vienna
Jutta, Niko and I went to an amusement park in Vienna today. We went on a roller coaster that brought us up over Vienna slowly backwards and then plunged into breakneck speeds going upside down and crazy crazy crazy. There was another ride that was a cylinder that shot right up over Vienna at a million miles per hour and then bounced up and down and then shot straight up again. I opened my eyes only when the view was too unreal to miss. I screamed each time we shot up to the sky and was thankful to be on solid ground. The last ride we went on was a ride that used centrifugal force to spin us around and then it turned upside down and I could look up over eyebrows at all of Vienna.
Either they played Michael Jackson too loud or they kept us upside down too long because after the ride ended we were all tripping. We had to sit on a bench leaning on each other in silence to get a grip. The effect lasted for hours. Then we went to the funhouse. It was insane. It wasn’t as if we weren’t already dizzy beyond repair! There were floors that moved, electric swirly things and a room with mirrors. We were all still tripping from the Michael Jackson ride and sat in an empty parking lot for a long time drinking Shark and Red Bull energy drinks.
We walked to a gallery showing the most disgusting exhibition I’ve ever been to… this guy… this exhibit… ugh! People, while still alive, agree to let his…guy (who I can’t figure out if he is a madman or a scientist or an artist or just a hell bent necropheliac) let him cut up all their body parts and plastify them. There are stripped corpses all out in the open all disgustingly touchable. There were (real, mind you) skeletons with the muscles attached and a pregnant woman with her womb open so you could see the fetus there upside down. And then, and this really got to me, there were corpses of dead babies, all deformed, some without brains. They were displayed on a revolving black enclosed glass tiered case like prizes in an arcade attraction. Some of their eyes were open. This was one spectacle I can never forget! A body with every single part removed and floating on strings. The title of it in German was something like ‘completely disengaged body’. I mean, the eyes were just floating by fish wire from the ceiling, the brain suspended, and the hideous way they showcased it, like with spot lights off to the sides. One of the women who died with a fetus inside her was propped up in a suggestive position with her head resting on her hand, her elbow on the table, her womb open and all her skin peeled off! I almost cried; almost horrifically ran out of there screaming. Needless to say, it took an hour to recover from the odd combination of fun and death.
The next day we went to Krems, a small town in the hills of Austria. I drank Shark and the Red Bull energy drinks to keep awake. The sun was strong but the wind was cold as I put my arm out the window cruising 80 mph on an Austrian highway. We drove along the Danube River, which starts and ends as one river but through Vienna’s city center it splits into three separate rivers. Krems is 1000 years old. The car ride was an hour and the wind was deafening as we sped along through color-washed houses and wineries and farmland. It was a beautiful little town; old signs, peeling walls exposing the original sidings. There were statues there that were 500 years old. I took photos of windows, curving alleyways, ivy and quaint unimaginable scenes of Austrian beauty. Wrought iron lamp posts and Austrian flags hang down sporadically across the old streets. There were places to buy postcards and souvenirs but for the most part the town preserves it’s antiquity and timelessness.
Our mission in Krems was to attend the Helmwein show ‘Apokalypse’ at the Weinstadt Museum. The artist’s name was Gottfried Helnwein and his huge images were mixed media hanging from the ceiling of a church connected to a gallery. There were several images called ‘Sleeping Angel’. The largest one took up the width of the altar of the church and when someone told me in German that photographs are prohibited i said ‘Your mother’ and took another one. I am pickin up more and more of the language and absorbing culture like a sponge. The buildings in Krems (which I hideously pronounced ‘CRAMPS’ in proper Jersey-eeze) seemed to be made of chalk.
The sky was darkening in patches above us as we drove back to Vienna. We played a game of ‘no highways’ as we crept back to the city. We passed fields of wheat and sunflowers and neat rows of trees. There was a small earth-toned ruin of a small village that we went exploring in as the cold summer droplets of rain blurred my camera lens. There was an old church with wide open doors and a cemetery behind it within a field. It reminded me of what a religious mission in Spain might have looked like a few centuries back. The rain got harder and my skin clung to my bones and we ran into the empty church. It was quiet and small and sensually misplaced. We ate Pop Rocks with a lollipop under a tree before continuing our journey back to where time resumes in a city beyond that village’s reach. It was a timeless spirit I took with me from that village as we drove on passed intricately colored wine cellars disguised as pastel-washed roadside barns. Earlier we had stocked up on candy and ice cream from a neon-colored supermarket and I was busy eating a vanilla cylinder thing with mild pink pop rocks covering it. I saved the wrapper and sung it’s praises in place of photographing the wine cellars.
The rain picked up as we got closer to Vienna. Layers of billowing supernature filled the sky in front of strips of pink light showing promise. We drove to a cafe to meet the infamous ‘Crazy Paul.’ Paul is someone Daniel told me stories about when he was here. I now realize they were second-hand stories. Paul had, in my mind, become one of Vienna’s most cultural sites; a hidden humorous quirk of the town like how catacombs sometimes are. We sat at a large dark wood table and I repeated to Niko what he had ordered in German, much to his surprise (and mine) that I was picking up some more words.
Paul showed up wearing wild eyes and a nonsensical shirt. We had left a message on his answering machine earlier and his outgoing message just says it all. “Hi. This is Paul.” and then hysterical over-the-top madman laughter and then ‘beeeeep’. Paul didn’t remember Daniel. He said he had hung out stoned with rockstars the night before and then he poured sugar into Niko’s beer. It was the night before our mountain trip.
After an afternoon hike up a mountain filled with butterflies, trees, mud, green green green alive things, grasshoppers and giggling life, Jutta, Niko and I found ourselves inside the Austrian mountains, four hours outside of Vienna. My sandals wer caked with mud. My toe nails, freshly painted, laughed at the flaking dirt. We drank from icy streams in the afternoon sun as we followed the sound of cow bells and trails of buttercup flowers. I called my father from a cell phone and told him what I saw; told him I loved him and to tell my mother that I was alive.
Perched on a wood fence, I was intimidated by a cow with a large copper cowbell three feet away. She was rubbing her head on the tree between us and eyeing me shyly; her white lashes batting sweetly. Behind me was the cabin. I thought of making a run for it. The cow was coming closer. Jutta laughed at me from a distance as I just wished the cow would go away. She breathed like a frothing tomb and followed me with her eyes. There was nothing all around except mountains, brilliant Austrian mountains, baby blue sky, wispy clouds that have three times turned into perfect heart shapes; gray stone mountains behind smaller mountains of green. The sun was shining brilliant gold on them and that small oasis was in the shadow of the mountains. In front of the green sunlit mountains was a valley and there were large dripping evergreens silhouetted behind a wood barn with cows and a fence. That same devil cow was leaning her head over it starting at me like a lost puppy. I was warm and perched in a stone window; the glass was divided four times and the view was unreal.
A man with a large backpack approached the window. He settled his bag down and said hello to me through the glass. He had kind eyes and a gold belt. He drank a large beer and leaned on the outside table contently. There were foreign languages all around me. The dog of the house barked territorially. There must have been 100 people there in that amazing cabin in the middle of nowhere. There was no water or electricity there but there was laughter and sleeping bags and peace. A self contained but all-consuming rustic paradise existed there.
The cows looked bored and tiny insects clung to the window. I remembered that I had a candy bar with my name on it and I traveled through a multi-level maze of wood watching people through the square window in the stairwell. They were sitting around tables outside. The band that was playing that night was rehearsing in a nearby room. They are the ‘vegetable musicians.’ It sounded like they were playing bazookas but as the concert began that night we all saw they were actually playing their vegetables as instruments.
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It was just the most insane evening I had ever had. The conductor of the veggie concert held a long wooden spoon and the seriousness of the musicians was so funny. The look of stern artistry, possibly mock, was hysterical. Afterward the chef of the house with his white chef costume made us soup from the instruments. The room filled with candlelight smoke and the aroma of chopped celery. I was draining a bottle of tequilla and laughing. One of the most animated of the musicians used celery as a violin and was a skinny guy with blonde dreadlocks who danced through the rest of the night as others banged glasses and stools and tables. As dawn neared, he howled at the sky and as the sun came up, I found him still dancing.
Jutta, Niko and I wrapped ourselves in a wool poncho and sat on a table outside watching falling stars and ufo’s.
Later I went into the main room where three people began banging things. One had a drum, one had a chair, and one was testing out the tones of how a glass bottle sounds against a beer mug. When they picked up speed, people began adding to the banging. It became an overwhelmingly tribal pandora’s box and stools were being handed over and a space made in the center of the table where all the broken glass accumulated. More candles were lit and the dread-locked celery-violin-twig man bounced into the room smiling and dancing like a rubberband to the hedonistic sounds echoing off all the mountains outside and shaking the house.
The most amazing part of the evening was when I was pulled outside to the edge and told to look up at the sky. A white star shone directly on us. It was so bright that I tried to shake it away. It was an asterisk shape, thin perfect spires of light glowing. No doubt it was the north star. The image of, not just that, but of everything that night is forever imprinted inside me. Staring up into the sky, I felt love, wonder, amazement, a sense of smallness, a sense of clarity. It was an entire evening of pulling back the veil. Shooting stars dripped down over us. That night was it’s own soothsayer, a spectacular chariot and the reigns were being held by all the hippies and vegetable musicians and poets and writers up there in our woodland sanctuary. Coming down off that mountain experience was intense and I boarded a train to Prague, sadly leaving Niko and Jutta behind.
my next destination… Amsterdam…
Four hours after my arrival in Amsterdam, I found myself lying in the grass in a park picking out clovers. Everyone was getting around on bicycles yet it seemed most were too stoned to ride. There was graffiti on security gates of naked people hanging from clothes lines. In the front of my hostel, The Flying Pig, was a trip-out den with deep bass and pillows; a great room to relax in and meet people. Flying, I understood, but I didn’t get the pig thing.
I had spent my first day in Amsterdam walking along thin waterways. I watched a white dog on a bow of a boat being steered so fast that his fur was pulled back. I walked through the red light district too early. There were stuffed pigs and photos of lucky pigs all over my hostel ~ the flying pig downtown hostel.
In the park, these people from Mongolia were under a bridge playing string instruments and making guttural noises. This one guy, who sounded most of the time like a digeradoo vocally, made his voice then sound like a flute. I heard it and looked to his left expecting another musician but there was none and I saw his mouth all twisted up into some minimum effort form and a flute sound was coming out of it! They wore bright purple robes with gold decorations. These two shirtless stoners licked a joint closed, slowly staring at the Mongolian musicians; sometimes entranced, sometimes upset. It was hysterical!
“What is this?” I ask Matt, my new friend from Toronto, pointing to the silver bracelet he was wearing.
“Oh…this? This is slavery.” He said and we talked about people that have never seen the ocean. I told him that part of childhood is hearing those waves and your mother calling your name. His girlfriend broke up with him and since then, he has lived everywhere “for two months”. He wore a multicolored outfit, not matching in any deliberate intention. We talked on the equally mismatched carpet of the happy room at the hostel and I met the three British girls that are sharing my room.
A visit to Anne Frank’s house left me speechless; the eyes in her photos, the actual pages of her journals, the interview of her father in 1979 and a schoolmate of hers talking about throwing packages for her over the fence.
I sat outside recovering from the Anne Frank Haus experience and I got confused as to which country I was in. Vienna felt like so long. I got an email from Jutta and she said that although she missed me, she is glad to sleep regularly. She also mentioned that I got her friend addicted to Pop Rocks.
“How are your space cakes?” Matt asked the long-haired shaggy British ex-musician behind the counter with too many necklaces. “A sweet old lady fixes them for us….sweet…like me mum” said the man. and so we divided a space cake that he got out of a locked glass refrigerator. It tasted like incense.
We went exploring and I was overwhelmed how every store was packed with unimaginable things. Munchies of all flavors were prominently displayed in store windows. My favorite was the chocolate covered waffles. They had chocolate covered everything there! I definitely got back my appetite in Amsterdam.
An old man gave me money today. “For Deutschland” he said chuckling. I wondered if I looked homeless. I certainly didn’t feel homeless….although I couldn’t seem to remember my address.
I had just ordered falafel as my three teenage British roommates found me. They were tripping on mushrooms again and playing all over the room, giggling like girls. My best Amsterdam memory was riding on the back of Matt’s bicycle.
I said goodbye to the Brits, said goodbye to Matt from Toronto last night. He gave me his address on the back of a poem. We hugged and off he went, leaving me comfty in the happy room at Flying Pig. At Centraal Station I almost boarded the wrong train. Thankfully a conductor told me to get off two minutes before the doors closed. I met a boy on the train platform, Anders from Santa Barbara. He had been traveling for two months and said he was ready to go home.
“Homesick?” i asked him sympathetically.
“No…..i just want to go home.”
“Two space cakes and a coffee. Breakfast of champions!” He said and we both realized that we truly didn’t remember our time in Amsterdam. We’d both wanted to take a boat ride but couldn’t quite get it together. He had been to France and Italy; said that Paris people don’t just hate Americans; they hate everything, including each other. He also told me that Australians are allowed to work in London.
We parted ways in Belgium exchanging email addresses that we would never use. I went walking to the train station, my entire immediate life on my back which was officially breaking. I had some time left on my calling card from the last time I passed through Belgium. I had 20 minutes before I boarded the Eurostar so I called home and checked in.
As I boarded the train and took a seat, I pressed play on a cassette mix I had made before leaving New York City. It was cued to a perfect song by Donovan. “Little human upon the sand / from where I’m lying here in your hand / you to me are but a passing breeze / the sun will always shine where you stand / depending on which land you may find yourself / now you have my blessing / go away…. happiness runs in a circular motion / thought is like a little boat upon the sea / everybody is a part of everything anyway / you can have everything if you let yourself be.”
The sun was a great star shining hot on me draggin its gold energy all over me, making me ready and strong. The world was a ball I slipped all over and fell from and centered myself on again and again. Amsterdam clicked it all together. My breathing and thinking slowed. It all made sense… my state of mind, the journey, people in my life, my whole other life which happened to be in a busy city, on an Eastern coast on another continent, in a place far from here but not that far. I saw clearly how the rushing I had done in the past was hurting me. I saw see why….habit… It was all just habit. A lifestyle I had picked up. I decided that from that moment on I would be retraining my thinking. To live IN the world, I think it’s important to SEE the world! It is important to do things that you may not be used to… just to shake up your bones and have them settle in a crazy Iching pattern somewhere different inside yourself.
A plane flew low boldly, a solid whale of transportation. Birds flapped mockingly under it like messengers under a tomb; silly scribes over orange fields. A young squinting boy in front of me was reading a Tom Wolfe novel. There were freckles on his nose, slow perspiration beads on mine and hidden wide eyes behind sunglasses. A boy bit his tongue and stood before his mother crying for consolation. His mother, with two long black braids, cradled him as he cried harder into her neck holding his teeth.
I arrived in England in no time. The Eurostar was one fast banana! I navigated train stations, dining cars and airport transfers like no one’s business. It was no hassle, just part of the adventure. The next day began our tour of England’s sacred sites. ‘Mists of Avalon’ was quite fresh in my mind and I jumped at the opportunity to live it.
I got to take one of those great big London taxi cabs. London is already old hat because I got the twenty minute drive-through once before. This time I got dropped off in front of a luxury hotel. The bell hops brought up my dusty backpack after opening the taxi door for me and everything was florally decorated and pretty , not like the hostels at TALL. I entered a room with two beds. Linda, my roommate wasn’t there yet. She was so nice to let me stay in her room the night before the tour began.
I opened the window and breathed in London urchin star style. There were cars passing below and people in the park across the street. The wind was making the sheer white fabric flow into the room like the train of a wedding dress.
Linda was such a character! “Did I sleep with him?” she yelled with her arm around me talking about a man originally from Scotland, now a cab driver that she had been emailing. “Yes, I slept with him!” she screamed. she lived alone on a farm in Maine and hosted full moon rituals there. She showed me photos of her altar and tried on her green cloak. 56 years old and vibrantly off-center. She was married but her husband lived in NJ and won’t give her a divorce. She broke her neck thirteen years ago in a sled accident and had an out-of-body experience. She said she’s just ‘having fun’ with that man, that he has too much on his plate and that she doesn’t want to fix anyone anymore. “Here here!’ I agreed as we drank red wine at an Italian restaurant in London. She appeared to me slightly crazy as she talked in octaves higher tones out the side of her mouth with a country accent. But she was cute and comfortable to be around.
At 1am I walked to a nightclub called The Velvet Room. I met a boy there. His name was Charles from South Africa. I also met two boys on line; Philippe from France, who owns a record store in London and didn’t like trance techno. He said he liked ‘funky techno’. And another boy from France whose name I forgot. Charles went to get me a drink. We talked about film and photography. He was working as a bartender and said he saved all his money. He said he wanted to buy a camera. He said that he had been drinking whisky all day ‘but in moderation’.
“Do you have your card key?” the late night desk manager asked me as dawn approached and I plopped down on the ground to unload my bag filled with club passes. She waited until I found it to open the door. “Sorry,” she said, “It’s just late night procedure.” “Yeahyeah, I know I look dangerous…” i said swinging my purple boa. Charles and I left the club in search of trouble but none was found. Instead we stole a green construction cone and took photos of each other in front of red telephone booths.
As the mini-bus full of thirteen soul searchers took off my mind began a silent sucking. There was a feather in the sky; a distinct plume, a writing implement; and under the feather were sheep jumping over dark green bits of grass. It amazed me that sheep really jump.
I traveled with twelve others in a white minivan from London to Bath. It was like the Pagan Partridge Family! A mother and her daughter sang songs in harmony. “Miss American Pie”, songs by Queen and on and on. Lori, the organizer of the tour, was driving. She had sunflower eyes. From the mirror hung four feathers and an amulet. “Bath is a roman city” her husband, Connor, reminded us as we got lost over and over, turning around and around patiently.
Connor, Lori’s husband, helped me with my bag up the carpeted twisted steps of the bed and breakfast where we were staying. Linda was my roommate again and we are excited about the bathtub and the make up vanity, complete with antique comb brush and silver mirror. He peeked his head into the carpeted bathroom and Linda said something about doing his make-up and he made a joke about past lives. Linda hung her cloak up behind the bathroom door and handed me two Sudafed. I wam fighting a cold. I unpacked and put a silver angel wing, found in Amsterdam, in the window and fell asleep.
The morning sun reflected off the moonstone on my ring. It flickered on grass blades. The sun lost its strength and the hair on my arms pricked up. Suddenly, exchanging currency and buying another pair of hiking sandals didn’t feel too appealing. All the houses were old, Roman and beautiful. I learned that day that bees are attracted to red yellow and blue, that they are not colorblind. I also learned that they have the same birds in Toronto as they do in New York. I also learned that when cells stop strengthening themselves, people get sick and that QiGong helps cells regenerate. After QiGong I napped on the grass. I awoke trying to feel my body. I flexed my toes, moved my head… I caught sight of a butterfly and went back to sleep, awakened yet again to the full force of the sun and a fifteen minute warning that we were leaving for an adventure.
I climbed a steep hill and sat at an obelisk way atop a hill in England somewhere. Pulling on long grass, I secured my footing, following nothing but the next clump of grass. From where I sat the world was amazing! Deep green hills overlapped each other, small trees, a crop circle. houses way in the distance.
“I wonder how much language is going to change in the next 3,000 years,” Chantal said. She was from Canada and I connected with her the most out of everyone although i have not talked much. Earlier we had explored a crop circle. Connor explained that he believed that crop circles were made not by ufo’s but by the earth itself. I made a mental note to ask him to elaborate more on that later.
We walked through waist-high wheat. I laid my palms down on them as I walked to the center of the crop circle. We all stood in the circle, eventually holding hands and as we all breathed deep in silence. A sweet wind lifted the bottom of my skirt and I opened my eyes to giggle at Amber, twelve years old, the youngest of our group. We walked to the edge of a white horse etched into the hill. The eye was a coarse rock, buzzing everywhere, sheep calling, sheep answering. The vibration was low; almost a metallic groaning and nothing on the horse moved. It was as old as time. My cold had gotten worse.
At Uffington horse, we had a picnic but i didn’t have any pic to nic so I went to the Faerie shop when we stopped in the town of Marlboro instead of the food market. I think better anyway on an empty stomach. We parked the minivan next to a car with three wheels and found a patch of rough grass without sheep lumps to have our picnic. Linda bought beets. What a nut! She talked with every muscle in her face and cried when she first sees every sacred site. I relate to Connor and Chantal the most. Lori and Sabine too. The landscape was amazing. It looked like Ireland, felt like Ireland but with coarser grass. I liked when we sat in circles.
After the picnic, we went exploring Uffington Horse. I walked along the horse’s tail down a steep hill. There were two sheep, one darker than the other. They were like the keepers of the gate, like the griffins in ‘Neverending Story’. One of them ran towards me and I froze. He inspected me and then ran off onto higher ground with his friend in tow.
I ran up the stairs to the mound called ‘Dragons Mound’. Lori renamed it ‘Dancers Mound’ after five of us held hands and made a faerie round complete with shouting and jumping, spinning a braided circle there and ending with falling on the ground with my heart beating loud in two strange places; my neck and my stomach. We laughed alot and then like marbles, we split up again.
The horse itself was hard to see if you weren’t further away. There was a beautiful valley; sweeping hills like a birth canal and a tiny baby horse at the end of it. They say the large horse honors the Goddess Epona and there is no interpretation for the smaller one. Connor and I sat cloudbusting for a while as he told me how he feels when he lays his hands on the land. He said he saw faces of people he used to know. There were triangles and angels in the sky….
As dawn approached the next day, we had an experience of a lifetime… witnessing sunrise from inside Stonehenge. I saw the red sun just visible over some distant mountain. I fell down… and stayed there. We were inside the stones, only us… no one else in sight. The mists were still rising. I watched the sun until my eyes couldn’t stare at it anymore and what I saw was… time standing still. Connor said that Stonehenge was built 10,000 years before they say it was built and was made by levitation. Ravens passed between the stones and Connor spoke in tongues. I came away with wide eyes and Stonehenge sucked my fresh camera battery dead!
I later climbed up Silbury Hill and made a tiara from tall grass with Amber. We walked down a different path and climbed over a different part of the fence where Amber was hesitant to show her green underwear. We trailed behind the group walking to a burial chamber recently unearthed. Connor stopped to wait for us. I was making friends with a butterfly hopping. She couldn’t fly and the highway was too noisy so I laid my thumb in front of her. One small arm tested it and then she hopped on. We walked together for some time and I set her free near the burial chamber. I put her in the grass with the snails and when I went to check up on her she had gone…
We travelled on to Avebury. It was a town surrounded by 200 standing stones. It seemed there was a druid levitation party there; stones everywhere! It’s the largest stone circle in the world. There was no sound there but the buzzing of a bee, bird calls and the slow steady glug glug of my water bottle. I found a beautifully ancient mound to take it all in; a succession of mounds continued on from where I sat. Ravens flew overhead. A descending spectacle of flowers tumbled down the hill and there was a brilliant sea of burnt yellow ground, fields of wheat for miles.
I napped and then headed into town with Amber and her mom, Sherrie. We wandered around the streets of Bath, passing stores that were closed and watching the sun set. We’d awoken to greet dawn at Stonehenge that morning, that greater-than-life feminine goliath and then watched the pinks and oranges of sunset. One complete day of SO much… We passed the Roman baths, which were natural springs with architecture built around it. Through the glass we saw the hot springs bubbling up, old as time, and the green peaceful water. The sunlight entered the room like a great sweeping blue-green thing. The doorman of the museum for the King and Queen’s bath said they were rebuilding that bath and that all the Roman baths have not been open to the public for over twenty years. He was an old man with white hair and a patient way of relaying information. We bought things in the gift shop there, took photos of angels climbing stairs to heaven outside the abbey where one guy was giving a solo performance. A mike, guitar, really bad English humor, and an equally bad voice. That was when I noticed the two angels climbing down from heaven among the ones ascending…. We weaved around the Roman streets and then headed back to the bed and breakfast but not before stopping off to buy Whistle Pops. We played the ‘oh-ee-oh-waaaaay-oh’ from the Wizard of Oz on our Melody Pops.
I bought faerie wings the next day and wore them around Bath. Two boys chased after me calling me ‘Butterfly! Butterfly!’ I also bought alot of small musical things. My plan was to try to collect as many small instruments as possible. I already had a penny whistle, a small tambourine, pan pipe, gourd with beads on it and two acorn-like things with beans inside attached by a cord. Enough for a proper faerie marching band!
Another amazing highlight of the journey was climbing Glastonbury Tor. All of my favorite images from “Mists of Avalon” came to mind. The Tor was an easy climb with a stone ruin of an open-aired church spire on top of a green labyrinth hill with an amazing view. Male English voices echoed inside the stones. It was overcast but there was no time for cloud busting.
At the base of the Tor was the Chalice Well. The water, tasting of blood and staining the path of the current red, flowed down through a beautiful garden. The water trickled down a mushroom shaped stone, spilling over in glass water currents into a double-tiered interlocking pool. The sun glowed white as the water cascaded; ever moving, ever carrying the self contained legends. Christians got the idea of baptism from that well. The entry way for it has a heavy circular wooden door with wrought iron hinges. Women with long gray hair filled up worn Evian bottles at the lion’s mouth a few feet away from the well.
Connor said that the Romans designed the layout and people were lowered into the well and pulled up as they were baptized. The water was said to have healing properties and that the Holy Grail with Christ’s blood spilled there and that accounted for the taste of blood. Scientifically, it is said that it is the iron. The iron deposits made stains on all the water touched. I took home with me two bottles of water from the Chalice Well.
At Glastonbury Abbey, I laid in King Arthur’s tomb. It had been a full day. Besides getting into a water fight at the Chalice well and doing cartwheels at the top of the Tor, I also bought a wand from a Merlin named Jiva who, upon walking into the room asked if we had met before.
Upon arrival at Bodmin Moor, an arctic chill had sent me shivering. The wind rushed fast through the overcast sky. The clouds spilled faster across the one stream of blue overhead. Bodmin Moor was flat land with grassy bogs and three stone circles. There was a stone formation called the Whispering Winds. The most recent name for it was the Cheesewring because it looked like cheese. The whole moor went from a sacred site to a stone quarry but the stone circles have remained. I climbed up the rocks in the rain, my hair dripping with sky dew and my purple velvet coat getting heavier and heavier. The mists were thick, the wind strong, my footing uncertain…. the whispering winds were said to have been created by druid levitation as well. They call it that because if you go inside it and press your back to the stones, the wind rushes through at deafening speed.
As we wandered down into the moor from there I sang ‘The hills are alive with the sound of sheep cakes’ and the rain became even colder. In one of the stone circles Connor explained to us about the power of the center stone; how the highest druid would touch it with the collected energy of the circle and send the energy straight up. There was a sun stone to the left embedded in the ground and beyond the circles in the distance were two stones, a person’s width apart. This was a portal, a doorway where they would touch both stones standing between them.
We went to a small restaurant to have cream tea. Our waiter was an older English man who told us the place that we are staying at (Penhallow Manor House in Altarnun) was one of the most haunted houses in Cornwall. When he was pressed further for stories, he told us to ask the people who run the house. He also said that the population of the town was 132. “One person died last year and one was born” he said. We returned to Penhallow spooked and I lay in the bath soaking up heat from the center of my feet to my ears. I played Frisbee in the dark and then wandered around an old cemetery the next morning taking photos.
It was a strong sunny day, ice cold in the shadows but dry and clear. We ate breakfast together and then headed out to Dozemary Pool where it is said that one of King Arthur’s men threw his sword, Excaliber into it and the hand of the Lady of the Lake caught it and brought it down into the water. The land reeked of legend and myth and made my knees tingle.
The silver water of Dozemary Pool held a black yearling cow wading with grey sky behind her at it’s shore. Her eyes of wide calm stared at me non-threatening. There was a commotion downcurrent over one white goat, a Goddess symbol, incredibly sweet that came up to each one of us. The goat had gold eyes with a black rectangle in the center. It had long ears that twitched and a lovable presence that followed us all the way back to the minivan. A thorn-eating Goddess creature! It was all just too incredible; the water, the sun, the one hill in the distance, the amethyst and rose quartz we found at the shore. Connor gave me one. Lori the other. The black cow resumed her same posture as Connor offered me a feather. I held the quill to the sun and noticed how brilliantly hollow it is. I had finally gotten over my fear of cows. The dark sweet gaze of the yearling knee deep in the silver water stayed with me.
As we drove to Tintagel, Chantal gave massages. It smelled of lavendar. Adrian melted under her touch; her rosy cheeks and black eyes smiled. I saw a perfect ohm symbol in a low drifting cloud. Susan saw it too and told everyone. We then tried to draw it but couldn’t.
At St Nectan’s Glen in Tintagel, I watched a yellow leaf turn in the water running over mad white light in the stream from the waterfall, green and brown glistening. Someone played a recorder. There was a hole in the rock where the waterfall billowed through. Stacks of dark rock protruded around the waterfall and I, at the base, felt like such a small oval-mouthed thing staring up down and around in wonder. There were vines hanging down; the flitter of blue inside the white reflected by the sky overhead, the fleshy rocks and deafening noise. Being there made the green ivy within me move in time to its counterpart; underwater, crisp and singing and all shades of emerald shimmering.
“I’ll go if you do” I said to the boy standing next to me staring in awe at Merlin’s Cave. The tide was high in the aquamarine water between the caves.
“Skinny dipping, you mean?” he said a bit scared in a perfect British accent. The water was a cold ice sheet covering me to my neck and I swam out, pale as the sun, into the center by Giant’s cove. The water felt like shimmering silver flecks moving an inch before I swam, completely covered me in wonder. The seagulls hovered in the sky. There was a sea lion in the distance and a jagged stone closer to Merlin’s cave jutting out from the water. Eye level with the cave, my legs kicked like a frog; my arms glided through the sea. I swam away from the boy after a time and he got out from fear of hypothermia. We’d talked a bit though before I couldn’t talk anymore. He was from London, traveled with friends. The sun eventually warmed the water slightly and I emerged on shore to a hug from Amber and my teeth all a-chatter. The memory was precious…the caves, birds and the blue blue sky; the cold inconsequential. People had gathered wrapped in their coats by a rail staring at me.
“I missed the European version of you” Connor said “We saw purple hair from way up there” and I followed his gaze realizing disappointedly that I never quite made it to the ruins of the castle above the cliffs that is king Arthur’s birthplace. The group split up. Connor and I sat at the mouth of Giant’s Cave awaiting the tide to go in so we could walk into Merlin’s cave. I was feeling kinetic and refreshed beyond words. He taught me how to communicate with animals. He explained that they think in pictures and if they are staring at you they are reading the pictures in your head.
The tide had turned low making a sandy pathway to Merlin’s cave that we could walk over. Our time in Tintagel was drawing to a close so we went into the cave quickly. Upon entering the cave, grey was the permeating color. Coming out, however, was a different story. I trailed behind taking photos.
Three dogs followed close behind. One of them was blind but maneuvered expertly. One of its owners was behind me and we both said ‘Whoa!’ at the same time shifting our gazes skyward. Around by the end of the main cave was a larger set of rocks to climb up, snaking back and up to a darker smaller cave which was where Merlin sealed off the rest. The entire cave was made out of crystal! You can really see it after you climb to the darkest part where you can’t go anymore. Connor led a group of us there. We had to feel our way using the walls and ducking down. the sound of the sea and the haze it created at the other open end of the cave was amazing! We headed toward the opening. The shock of how many colors in that cave just blew my mind. There was only grey when we entered and then we saw the glowing green and oranges and all the different hues that crystals give out. It was surreal!
I sifted through the water back toward the sky and the warmer water where everyone seemed to be swimming now. The dizziness of being in the water for most of the day and the experience of Merln’s cave made Connor and I slightly mad. We felt like doing a thousand things at once. He wanted to know if that’s how I live in my head all the time. “Exactly!” I told him and we laughed.
St. Michael’s Mount in Marazion was a windy seaside town. It was interesting to me how some of the sacred sites are accessible only when the tide is low. St Michael’s Mount used to be a temple for the sun god, Bel. We took a small boat to get to the island. It was a mirage-type scene from a distance but as we hurdled the deep grooves of the sea it became unreal. It was our last stop on the Dragon Ley Line (also known as St Michael’s Ley Line). Ley lines are energy lines that run all over the earth. They curve and run diagonal, vertical and horizontal and where they intersect is quite powerful; places like Sedona, Arizona.
There were gardens and mists over the land across the sea at St. Michaels Mount. I sat on a cannon overlooking where the water pounded the jagged rocks. I watched Connor as he tracked low flying birds… and then i ran through the castle quickly.
Another sacred sight that we visited was called Men an Tol (Hole in the Stone). Children were passed three times naked through it to prevent or cure rickets, a vitamin D deficiency. It was also used for fertility. There was a stone before it and a stone after. You kneel at the first stone staring through it at the other stone focusing your intent. “Fertility comes in many ways” Connor whispered as I stared through the hole. The air was like heat coming up off a grill. I thought of creativity. I saw my book, the fiction novel always brewing in my head. I imagined holding the book in my hands. With the thought of creativity in my mind, I climbed head first through the stone touching the stone with my writing hand and walked away.
I had an epiphany to extend my trip to experience the solar eclipse a few days after my originally-intended departure. The next one in Britain won’t be until the year 2090. Chantal, Sabine and I talked about it and planned to leave our stuff in London, hop on a bus to Penzance and see the total eclipse in the 100% zone. I was very aware that there was a life with my name and social security number on it somewhere but I was riding my magic carpet and my neck wouldn’t turn over my shoulder just yet. The world was a sacred abrupt thing that I was not likely to step off from anytime soon.
We were driving through narrow English roads listening to Mary Jane Lamont scraping against tall hedges of heather, thistle, all kinds of yellow and green. There was nothing but stone fences for miles; rocks piled high, vegetation uneven, wild and complimentary. A bright white horizon lengthened the sky off in the horizon where hills overlap and we are all silent in our own domes of thought.
In New Forest, I went to dinner with Chantal and Linda and met a local boy called Jem (short for Jeremy). He was 37 years old, lived in Lyndhurst. His profession was building waterfalls, a total drifter. He had been to India and said things like ‘shite’. He said his aunt is psychic and his mom collected faeries. He told me that Alice from Alice in Wonderland was a real person that lived there in Lyndhurst in Hampshire and was buried down the road. Also Mary Cicely Barker, who made the flower faerie books was an American. She had a faerie house somewhere near there. We went on a walk in New Forest. Wild ponies roamed the land. Some of them I was able to pet and bond with; their new tails all afluff and their small softness and curling legs so baby-like. Their mothers were closeby as we cooed at them.
We were leaving early the next day. It was the end of the tour; some people were going to the airport; others were traveling on. Chantal and I made up our minds to go see the eclipse. I called my job in NYC and after gushing hugs to my boss, KT, asked her if I could stay in England and come back to work the next monday. “OK”, she said and I jumped up and down in a red booth “but on Monday you’ve got to hit the ground running!”
Chantal and I hopped on the tube in London after saying goodbye to everyone. Connor gave me the rune amulet necklace he’d been wearing. He made it himself. It said ‘World Tree’ on the back and a rune symbol for July, both our birthday months.
Being in London alone was a strange change of pace. We had taken the DLR and transferred to the underground. Chantal needed time alone so I unzipped my daypack from my main bag and headed out with a yellow Post-It note with scribbled directions and my map. I worked the transportation system out like a pro ending up on Regent Street, eating an $8 lunch of cous-cous salad and fruit.
I made a stop at British Airways to change my flight. I clutched my necklace five times an hour wondering where my butterfly necklace had gone remembering that I gave it to Connor. I had been so ‘out there’ that to use a telephone and to hear it ring sounded like an intrusion. At that exact same time a day earlier, I had my forehead to a tree in New Forest. I was collecting sticks from damp moss-covered groves and being taught to make them fly on the wind’s back… and then I found myself sitting in a blue and green plaid chair at the British Airways ticket office holding a small pager that said ‘Please wait for service’ and I was nervous for it to beep knowing there was a chance of me falling off the chair from the shock of technology again. I had only checked my email once while on the sacred site tour and even that was difficult to navigate. Buttons are so small and forests so big!
We stayed at Chantal’s friend, Jeanette’s place where her roommate, Johnathan’s cat quacks like a duck and the wine was flowing. Johnathan had just gotten back from Denmark. He had a smile like permagrin from a holiday with his boyfriend, Milan who was an underwear model. He wound his watch, drank a glass of wine in five minutes and fidgetted, laughing about how they never left the room. He refilled his glass and called me ‘the new girl’. He spoke Danish and informed us that we were celebrating his “Glorious, glorious holiday!” Then he hopped up shrieking about his plants. “My plants are alive? I’m going to do a spot check. Ahhhh! My mangos! They’re not doing well…” Jeannette casually said that she forgot to water them.
“OK, I forgive you… just this once.” He said and he brought them into the kitchen to be watered. He stopped to look at me and said he’ll blow my mind when I told him that I love hyper people.
“Where’d you get…THIS?” he asked Chantal pointing to me.
“On my tour” she said smiling.
Jeannette and Johnathan are both Australian. She brought down Australian money for Chantal and I hold it up to the light. There’s a window that you can see right through their currency. Jeannette went to Africa for six months. She had malaria and hepatitis. “Before I had hep, I had straight hair”. She saw a tiger drag an antelope up a tree that was having a fight with a baboon. “Africa is brilliant.” she said
“It’s wild.” Johnathan added and then told a story about being in Cambia sleeping in a mud hut and lying awake at 3am. He made a noise like a fly and said it took him four hours to get it and kill it. He started out the story describing how he sat in bed with a torch but then jumped into another story about a dutch woman imitating a monkey.
“Ricky Martin is my god!” he said gyrating on the couch with an ice pack on his face and a viking hat. He followed me into the sunroom as I wrote by candlelight and said “This is amazing. You have to try this.” And he strapped the ice mask to my face making me promise not to take it off for ten minutes.
The next day’s journey on top of a double decker bus from London to Penzance, we listened to INXS’ Kick cassette. The red curtains swayed; the strings of ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ lulled me to sleep. There was an ever-growing road in front of us… the wide wild road back from where chantal and I had just come from… the magickal world of Cornwall. “We all have wings but some of us don’t know whyy-eye-eye-eye-eye-eye-eye”
We pulled into Penzance after eight hours on a bus. Chantal and I had begun to get a bit of cabin fever and started singing Cat Steven’s ‘Moonshadow’ and playing with this stuffed tiger toy tied to the zipper of her bag. I kept tying the cord around his neck and messing up his whiskers but then I would poke his nose and he would jump up and down happy.
As the bus turned off, the bus driver said “Welcome to Penzance, the center of the world these days it seems.” Seagulls the size of cats flew down the street away from us. We met up with Sabine and went on a hunt for tea and meade which we found at a restaurant with pirate decorations on the walls and flickering orange lights on large round wood light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. There were small red lights with wispy lampshades over them on the table. Chantal had meade for the first time. They make it homemade here in Cornwall. Elderberry was our favorite. Strawberry tasted like medicine. They also had apricot, peach and other fruits.
We didn’t know where we’d stay. We saw a white minibus that was giving rides to an all night party and I really wanted to do that but suddenly the meade hit and I didn’t care where I was. We walked into the YWCA with Sabine and crashed on the hard smelly floor.
The next morning was full of excitement. It was two hours before the solar eclipse and we found ourselves on a hill above Penzance. The sky was a sheet of glass moving over us. No one else was in sight. We walked an hour to get out of the city into the forest, eating blackberries off the vines. We were silent and focused on the sky; birds were calling, veg pasty aroma. there was a whispering lull to the world as it prepared for the ultimate alignment.
An hour before the eclipse, it began to rain so we raided a campsite a little ways off. We were sitting under their tarp and no one seemed to be there; just the sounds of helicopters, cows, a horse, the patter of rain drops above our heads. The clouds drifted in all directions as the rain strengthened. With each fierce upswing we all laughed and huddled close as a stream flowed down off the tarp raised above our heads. It poured even harder and we laughed hysterically.
“I like being outside in the rain actually without getting wet” Chantal said as she good-naturedly tried to pick out something pleasant about the experience. “It’s like a Far Side comic. This is the eclipse with us three girls sitting on a bench under a tarp and torrential rain spilling down and the eclipse is behind us above a mile of thick clouds!”
The eclipse was not disappointing. It was a dome of awe! All the animals went dead silent and all the humans screamed. We could hear them for miles around. An orange misty haze was all we could see. The sky went dark black. We were tripping on nature staring at our hands and each other. The rain entirely stopped. We were alone in a field, a ghost town campground doing cartwheels, screaming echoing the screams in the distance. As soon as the moon passed and unleashed the sun again, dozens of birds flew overhead towards the growing sliver of light. Fireworks exploded in the distance. I was scared when it hit. Chantal screamed for me to stop doing cartwheels and to come over to her. I was spinning then in a field and then i saw how dark it was getting and then we got real real scared. I thought something was going to fall on my head…. and magickally the rain resumed. It was as if the clouds were stunned into holding their water. Horses peered out hesitantly between trees and the sporatic birdcall resumed. We were all staring at the one sliver of light saying “Don’t go out. Don’t go out” and at the same time we wanted to be in complete dark. It was like we were going to come unstuck from the world and just go spinning off into those dark clouds as if we could feel we were upside down. Two minutes went by quickly and as it got brighter we held hands and screamed, tearing back the moon.
Later that day, Chantal and I said goodbye to Sabine and we took a train to Castle Cary as we made our way back to Glastonbury for two nights. We met Steve from Australia. He worked building grain silos out of steel in Germany. He was born in Scotland and grew up in Australia. He hadn’t been to Amsterdam. He was traveling with his friend, Karim from France. They just ran into each other coincidentally after the eclipse. I made him a newspaper hat and gave him a wishing flower.
After a long sleep, I left the hostel alone at 5:30am and sought out Glastonbury Tor alone. The sun was almost up. The sky changed colors moment by moment. I went up twisting paths led only by ravens and the occasional site of the Tor looming above the town. I would come to a fork in the road and not know which way to go and a raven would fly dramatically in front of me, turning and waiting. And another one would come picking up the trail as one flew away and i found myself at the beginning of the path up the hill. A young girl peered out of a tent and we nodded silently to each other.
I climbed the hill and saw a man at the edge facing sunrise through the castle archway. He walked over to me and we got to talking. I asked him about his pentacle. He made it himself out of sycamore. He is an older man with grey-dark hair fastened back behind his neck, round glasses and the gift of gab. We tore away from chatter to stare in awe all around us as the sun’s rays were coming through the clouds lifting the mists. He wanted to take a photo with the sun at the crown of my head. He called me ‘Pixie’.
“Why did you call me Pixie?” I asked astonished that anyone here would know my nickname.
“Well, that’s what came to mind when I saw you. You are Pixie, are you not?” and I laughed tell tale as he snapped a photo.
The wind was a whipping thing and we had to take shelter inside the castle. He told me he is at the end of his life and now he’s just working on tying up loose ends. He has two children. One of them is my age. He told me that he feels strengthened by our time together.
I tore away again to brave the wind as morning was becoming an impassable reality. The clouds were layering higher and higher in pink and orange. The sun was bursting through lighting up the Tor. When I got back to the hostel, Chantal was still asleep and I showered, power-napped and went to the Blue Note Cafe for eggs on toast and tomato. I was in a Tor buzz and unable to think of the next moment. It was our shopping day so I thankfully didn’t have to worry about it.
I saw a butterfly in a case at the Kimberly Store. The lady took it out for me. It was silver and beautiful but it was a brooch. I wanted it to be a necklace so I tossed around ideas in my head, asked some shop owners about the possibilities and I was sent to a man named Mel at this small store in an alley off the main road called ‘Fingers and Thumbs’. He had wonderful ideas, also called me Pixie.
“Why did you call me that!?” I demanded, my cover thrown.
“Well, that’s what you are…” and dismissed me like a buzzing bee, telling me to come back in an hour. The necklace is the most amazing thing I’d ever seen and when I wore it, i felt the Glastonbury morning.
As night fell, we went the bar at the hostel. We sat next to two boys from Scotland, one of which kept staring at me. We were drinking “vodka and splash”.
“What’s splash?” we’d asked the bartender.
“Lemonade, Coke, ya know…”
So we drank three vodka and 7ups before last call which was way too early 11:30pm. The staring boy invited us over to the two empty seats near them. All around people were leaving and the bartender was putting empty chairs on top of the tables and collecting empty glasses but we stayed on for a bit. His name was Paul. He’s from Glasgow, Scotland and it was his birthday the day before. His birthday was 11 August at 11am. He turned 30 years old the same hour of the eclipse!
I told him I was going to the Tor that night, that it was supposed to be really scary with no lights and pitch black darkness. He wanted to come. He’d never been to the Tor and had never tasted the water from the Chalice Well. Chantal went back to the hostel. Simon, his friend, went to bed as well…and Paul and I walked to the Tor at midnight.
As we turned into the street with the White Spring store, the blackness of night sunk us to our nerves. We went to the well and drank the water. He was in shock how it tastes like blood.
“I can’t believe it!” he said “It tastes like I cut my finger!”
And then the real challenge… the darkness at the foot of the Tor… “I’m shitting me self” he said and I walked him through the fear until we were halfway up and able to make out the faint outline of the castle on top of the hill. I told him the part in ‘Mists of Avalon’ where Morgaine and Lancelot climb the Tor. In the book it seemed a perfect day, the perfect place and in reality, living the faerytale it was all that as well.
A black shadow of a man came into our path and I felt Paul shudder. We arrived on the top of the Tor to people playing the didge and drums and two dogs were running around greeting people as their owners set up tents. I talked with this girl, Sarah for a bit hiding from the wind.
Walking back to my hostel the next morning I told Paul that I was leaving that day. We only had two hours… and then I got on a bus to Bristol heading to London. He walked us to the bus station. I paid my fare and found my seat next to Chantal. We waved and blew kisses….
I slept for an hour until we reached Bristol, which was an industrial town “where drum and bass music originated” Chantal said. We got off at the station transferring to a bus to London two and a half hours away. The bus driver was mean and made Chantal throw out her french fries which she had just poured vinegar on. I watched her get off the bus in a huff and throw out the fries in a trash can quite angry and return mumbling about no signs and that she was hungry.
We dragged ourselves to Jeannette’s house in London where we had left our stuff. It was 7pm when I fell asleep for a nap and slept straight through until morning, awakening at 5am to wet laundry hanging above my head in the sun room and the kitty, Shooshy, no where to be found.
My European summer was over. I was heading back to NYC that day. As I secured my backpack and tied on my combat boots, I caught my reflection in the fish tank. It was a stranger there but one that needed to be introduced sooner than later. Chantal said that I look more like a woman, less a girl, than when we first met just a few short weeks ago. Maybe life is not lived consciencely, as previously thought. Maybe life is just something you… just do.
i am small, like the wren, and my hair is bold, like the chestnut burr, and my eyes, like the sherry in the glass that the guest leaves – emily dickenson