Letters Home and Peter Gabriel

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Alone , with a sack lunch , the gate was left open as I went walking out of the village with no plan , just wanting to feel the hazy spring morning air after having spent so much time indoors constantly feeding fire into the old Turkish wood stove . The scent of coals and smoke seeping into my skin that once ( long ago it seems ) smelled of vanilla . On this narrow road I now follow are no drive thrus , no strip malls , no billboards and no Oriental restaurants … they are only modern world memories lost now in a cage wishing to remain locked . It’s quiet now walking , a pulse of Yogic calm . The worlds quiet voice is spellbinding like a grand slow song . The birds flying overhead sound like symphonies string orchestrations as they drop closer onto new budding branches . The cows are grazing and the women hanging their clothes out to dry are left behind . It takes time to be poor … not to become poor …to be poor . I admire these villagers I live with , depending faithfully on their connection with the land and animals . The sheep herder standing in the fields all day , every day … what is he thinking about … is there a revelation for him too in the light of this day ?

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Up ahead is a large mound that is just visible on a clear day from the outskirts of Gita . It is a wonder to me and I decide to hike to the top . It reminds me of a burial mound I’ve only seen in books . It’s standing far into the middle of plowed fields like a great voice speaking loudly from a balcony . Reaching the top , after discovering animal bones , deep dug out holes and some sort of stone with strange letters engraved , I sit upon it as the earth is covered with dew and taking off my duct tapped together boots , I am amazed by the view that opens a gateway to contemplation , to mystery , to an almighty sound … louder and louder . History is breaking over me .

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In Your Eyes

song lyrics by Peter Gabriel

….. all my instincts , they return

and the grand facade , so soon will burn

without a noise , without my pride

i reach out from inside .

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in your eyes

the light the heat

in your eyes

I am complete

in your eyes

I see the doorway to a thousand churches

in your eyes

the resolution to all the fruitless searches

in your eyes

I see the light and the heat

in your eyes

Oh , I want to be that complete

I want to touch the light

the heat I see in your eyes .

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From my art series “souls appear ” … oil on paper

This country was once , and not so long ago , a satellite state of the Soviet Union . (1946-1990)  And so memories for many of the villagers are like a book chapter read only last week with a growing nostalgia of the older ones towards the Communist regime and the security they felt back then . Danka told me that they didn’t have to work so hard or worry about not having a job and that life seemed simpler with not a lot of choices . And even though now there are so many things in the shops and lots of opportunities so many people just don’t have the money to take advantage of them … and some feel worse than before . There was no liter and no stray dogs (I am perplexed by this) and every Saturday everyone voluntarily cleaned up the streets and tended flower gardens . Booze and cigarettes were cheap so they had lots of parties . But along side this lived terror too when many were tortured and killed and put in camps and sent to Siberia where they died with every mornings hope haunted by yesterday’s nightmare .

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Does the land itself have its memory of all its history ? Its ancient history of battles fought over these valleys I now sit above , where thrashers gather the wheat . And thru these mountains I see in the distance where Ghingas Kahn and his armies of horsemen rode , are their arrows deep in the dirt below ? Did they stand where I now sit on top of a mound with my heart beating like a drum keeping time with everything ? Is the village horse I love a descendent of the mare Alexander the Great rode across this Thracian Empire ?

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How long is 7000 years ago ? Is it part of this moment , 3:02 pm on February 16 , 2014 ? Is it … Now?  And what is that look on little Katias face … an old woman’s face on a five year old girl. What have her eyes seen that her soul expresses that makes me cry and want to hold her in my arms when this innocent child looks like this and I see her fingernails caked with dirt and history is facing me .

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Stopping , I turn and look back on this road going forward . The romance of this land , this land of souls , touches me like Delacroixs “Annunciation”. I try to write it , I try to paint it , everyday I try and many days I cry . I don’t know this feeling that my own finger is inside my body actually touching my heart and blocking my throat with a breath so warm that the blood running thru stops and feels cold , literally ice cold … a sensation that frightens me a bit as I’ve never heard of this before . I miss my family and the arms of Lake Michigan .

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Letters Home continued … excerpts from Bulgaria … February 2014

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I haven’t been out of the village for over a month until once again going to Plovdiv for the third time the other day . I had run out of drawing paper and all of my pens were dry . But once I had arrived the shops didn’t interest me this time and I didn’t desire anything the way I did before , not even the beautiful European clothes in the windows . So I sat in the park and watched the people of this foreign land . Is it true that no two humans look exactly alike ? Does that mean thru out all of history too ?

 

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Photograph by Ellen Rogers

 

An old man gazed at me and I thought he was Ulysses . And some young girls looked like Trojan women . I was sitting near an olive tree wondering if I might decide to travel to Istanbul before leaving here the first of April . It’s a bit risky as my visa has expired now and yet it’s so close with buses leaving and returning three times a day and I could stay over nite in a hostel since my responsibilities with the home owner in Gita end a week before my flight home . The cultural crossroad between Eastern Europe and Asia and the market stalls of Turkey are a huge lure .

 

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I had an hour before the bus left so up the hill I wandered into the old part of the city to the church I had been in before . From my travel book I remembered that it was St. Haralambos Day . I was not prepared ( I never seem to be here in Bulgaria ) for the inner beauty I found on this rather melancholy day . Hundreds of jars of honey in the form of a cross appeared looking like fire from all the candles lit and the glowing chandeliers  . I learned that when consecrated , honey is believed to possess curitive and magical power . All the faces were illuminated and the high priest chanted .

 

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This morning when I went to let the dogs out from the back studio room , I found Polly dead … not in her bed but laying in a cardboard box she had never laid in before . I started to cry a lot . I will have to bury her now . I’ve never done this before . I carried her out and laid her in the grass where I washed her stiff body with warm water and some dried lavender … then watched the sun dry her and made her paw nails as white as I could … wrapped her then like a baby in her favorite blanket … she was curled up on her side … and I placed her in a two foot hole I had dug … she liked to eat the fallen walnuts so I put some in the grave next to her for her departure back into the earth … and on top of the black soil I placed three large stones … she is in the apple orchard now .  I wish I could have embalmed her little animal body with oils and salts and spices and wrapped her instead in linen bandages preserving her for a passage to immortality in paradise . I would have decorated a wooden casing for her to lie in with gold leaf and written , ” Farewell Polly “.

 

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The moon finally receded after a nite of sleepless loneliness . How is it that a new day can appear so unlike the previous one and so suddenly like running deer on the road ahead the way they do back home in Michigan . In the last week the temperature has gone from close to zero to now 55 degrees and my hands are finally warm . I walked alone without my little pal today far out to the fields following the cows . There is an old cement bridge I like to sit on and today I stayed here ( photo below ) most of the day .

 

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I love watching the sparrows and falcons and saw an eagle too , a bird of prey like Peter the Great , with its wide wing span floating over the valley gently like Ghandi . I’m sitting here with my notebook thinking of how I want to live my life when I return home and hoping I take Bulgaria and it’s creative and spiritual realm with me . I feel the eyes of God . Will the vibration follow me … the music …the harmonies … the memories of these days ?  Will you notice that I’ve changed , changed so much and that I am old now … the haunting of Bulgaria embedded on my face …

 

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Letters Home continued … excerpts from Bulgaria ( nov. 2013 )

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There is a daily flow to my life here , alone , that is new to me . An important part of this is that I think of God a lot . His love surrounds me in everything I see , hear , taste and smell . I think there is a spiritual power in repetition , a devotional quality like saying rosaries or reciting mantras . I have found a personal routine that is peaceful in its simplicity . This week my art has become a part of this as I once again am working on sketches for the “momento mori ” series begun this past summer . There is great synchronicity and this awareness brings not only humility but also joy .

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I have become enchanted with the dirt pathways , garden fences  and stone enclosures . I was invited into a village home while on one of my daily walks . I could barely hold back tears as a plastic yard chair was brought into the room for me while everyone else sat on the cracked cement floor and stared at me … a warm fire tended by a father who obviously cherishes his four children and a mother trying her best to keep everything clean with loads of hand washed clothing and blankets hanging on the line on this cloudy , cold day .

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The weather has turned colder now and my fire skills are slowly improving and the routine of chopping wood is making my arms stronger . It is in these daily survival tasks and in picking the apples and walnuts from the orchards that brings meaning to me . You all know that I am not a “foody” but I so much enjoy and appreciate the fresh vegetables and fruit , and because everyone labors so hard on their land , it makes the taste of every bite very delicious … and all organic and I feel the energy of the sun from these foods of the earth . I made kumquat (tree in front) salsa and roasted a large chunk of village made cheese on the open fire , added some chopped walnuts and thought I must be eating the food of the gods !

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My day trip to Stara Zagora … sometimes called “Middle Earth”. It is the 6th largest city with its history going back 7000 years .

The bus driver was so kind . I must have looked a bit lost … and the depot was large . I tried to ask him where the city center was but he spoke very little English and so he left the bus and walked me all the way thru the noisy station and down the street until he pointed to the first street light and motioned three blocks further to the right . And so off I went with a thankful wave not knowing what lay ahead … Seriously , I was guided and blessed this warm autumn day as I wandered and experienced exactly what I had hoped for . I do have a Lonely Planet guide book that Nani told me to buy and I had read about this city the day before . First I came upon a huge and elegant city park as beautiful as any in the large cities of America . Once again , like in Plovdiv , this tree lined park was alive with affectionate families , young children , lovers , and many older men playing chess and just hanging out together talking and laughing , each with woolen caps or berets on and old suit coats , all smoking cigars or cigarettes . Suddenly , in front of me , was the largest open street market I had ever seen , with an amazing array of items from neighboring villages as well as from Turkey and Greece and fish from the Black Sea , pottery and colorful rugs , antique baskets brimming with nuts , flowers , cheeses , sheepskins , hand knit woolen socks and whole pigs hanging on hooks . I was definitely overwhelmed ! So much so that I instinctively turned towards the quieter narrow side streets . And then there it was , right in front of me , a most gloriously beautiful and ancient church .

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I enter and a heavy scent of incense surrounds me like the morning fog hovering over the distant plowed fields I had left only earlier that day . A small choir is singing and grounding the sweet sound of the soprano voices was a deep chanting from a man on the other side of the isle . Hundreds of candles are lit and a priest in resplendent robes of velvet and a crown like high black felted hat trimmed in fur , is also chanting . The walls and ceilings of frescoes of Jesus and religious scenes depicting Biblical stories with gold leafed halos are all shining like stars reflected thru the light from the narrow stained glass windows . The people begin moving down the tiny tiled , wide center aisle  of worn red carpet for the communion sacrament and I find myself amongst them and I am blessed as a young girl next to me sheds silent tears down her cheeks .

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After this wonderful time in the city , I finally had a mishap . I got on the wrong bus once back in Chirpan to go back to my village . I didn’t think it was right but didn’t want to insult the old man who sat next to me on the sidewalk bench and had given me a wrapped hard candy . He kept on nodding that the bus would be coming soon and motioning for me to just sit and wait . A bus came and he smiled letting  me know this was the bus to Gita , my village . I got on and saw that I was headed right back to Stara Zagora as I noticed the turn off dirt road to Gita . I yelled , “Gita ! Gita! Stop , stop “! … so I was dropped off and I knew that it was about an 8 mile walk …. the sun was still shining near the horizon but it would set within an hour and there are no street lights . The valley was very quiet and ……..

…….to be continued

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And so for LIFE , this beautiful life , I remain so grateful . And when the difficulties of our human existence arise , may we seek the light that abides within us and choose to Love , not only others , but ourselves . For it is then that new choices appear and become possibilities and we can act on them …..