Wednesday, March 21, 2012
The film was screened last night at the Madison Morgan Cultural Center in beautiful Madison, GA to an enthusiastic audience, several of whom are friends with OUR friends Tom and Lisa Hammet from Blacksburg, who once lived in Madison. Lisa was the director of the cultural center here.
In other news, our great friend and the narrator of the film, Lisa Mullins of WGBH radio in Boston, has been announced as this year's winner of the Gracie Award for excellence as a broadcast anchorperson. Here's the story that ran in the Boston Globe: way to go, Lisa!
Sunday, March 4, 2012
Sunday, November 20, 2011
It was at that high school where I saw my first video camera: a thing so bulky that you had to wheel a cart around with it to contain the giant recorder and all of the electronics needed to make it work, and the arts teachers there taught me a lot of things I still use every day: how to speak extemporaneously, how to work as a part of a team to produce professional quality work, and how to evaluate your own work to continuously improve. I was honored that my best childhood friend John Klasing came to the talk, and he chimed in a few times with good suggestions of stories to share with the kids.
Then, that night we showed the film to a group of about 120 people, many of whom were old friends from my childhood church and high school pals and people I'd never met who heard about the show. I was honored that two Tibetans we'd met during my visit to Indy showed up to see the movie: they said that they only knew of 6 Tibetans in the whole city, and I hope they enjoyed seeing familiar scenes on the screen. The projection equipment and screen were provided by the people from the Heartland Film Festival, and the film looked great because of it.
Thanks to everyone who came out!
Thursday, November 3, 2011
If you'd like one last chance to view the paintings and to hear Jane talk about them, come to the gallery at 309 First Street (near the intersection of 1st and Church) this Friday during the monthly Art by Night studio/gallery tour. To read more about the gallery, you can see this story about the opening from the Roanoke Times:
Sunday, July 31, 2011
October 26, 2011 to November 04, 2011. We don't know our screening date yet, but would love to see our friends from Abingdon and Bristol find us there!
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Community welcomes artist home
About 150 people attended the June 14 showing of A Gift for the Village. The award-winning documentary chronicles Vance's travels to Nepal to deliver her painting of a Tibetan leader and healer.
Some 150 people gathered June 14 at Johnston Community College to welcome home artist Jane Lillian Vance.
Vance, a Smithfield native who lives in Blacksburg, Va., came to the college to promote her painting exhibit and the award-winning documentary "A Gift for the Village."
Created by filmmakers Tom Landon and Jenna Swann, the documentary chronicles the delivery of Vance's painting "Amchi" to a Tibetan
village leader in Nepal. The film also serves as a bridge between the cultures of Nepal and the Western world.
Vance lived in Smithfield during her high school years, and many community members came out to view the documentary and to see the artist's paintings on display in the Frank Creech Art Gallery.
After the film showing and a question-and-answer session, guests observed 25 of Vance's oils on canvas. With vibrant colors and intricate detail, Vance tells stories of life in two communities on opposite sides of the globe.
"We are so grateful for this opportunity to showcase Jane Lillian Vance, her magnificent artwork and the fascinating documentary," said David Johnson, JCC president. "The turnout from our community to welcome Jane home was tremendous. Everyone was awestruck by the beauty of the evening."
Allison Elsee, a Smithfield native and friend of Vance's, was instrumental in bringing her to the college. She said she was thrilled by the local support for the event. "Jane's message of cultural harmony resonated with her hometown audience, who witnessed firsthand the wisdom that can come from visiting foreign lands and interacting with citizens of the world," Elsee said. "I have been overjoyed by the unanimously positive response from the packed house that attended our event. For Johnston Community College to host such an enriching evening demonstrates its dedication to global awareness."
Vance said she was humbled by the outpouring of support from the community that made such a lasting impression on her childhood. "It is so gratifying to be welcomed so graciously by my hometown and acknowledged by such important business and educational leaders," Vance said. "The Frank Creech Art Gallery is a wonderful testament to JCC's commitment to art and cultural education. I am proud to have my paintings hanging at such a beautiful space in my hometown."
Vance attended the College of William and Mary, Exeter University in Devon, England, and Virginia Tech. She teaches creative process in the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
The Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers is a program of South Arts. Southern Circuit screenings are funded in part by a grant from South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts. Special support for Southern Circuit was provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. SouthArts selected 21 films this year and provides support for a filmmaker to travel with 6 other producer/directors to 5 cities in the south. The tours start in the fall and continue throughout the year. We were given a slot in March, and while we are still working out the details, we do know when and where the film will be shown.
Here are the dates:
March 17: St. Paddy's Day screening in Hapeville, GA (Atlanta suburb)
March 20: Madison, GA
March 22: South Carolina State U: Orangeburg, SC
March 23: Gainesville, GA
March 24: Manteo, NC
We don't know much about the other films yet, other than their names, but we'll be getting in touch with the other filmmakers as the dates get closer. Here are the other films we'll be traveling with:
1. A Bird of the Air: Margaret Whitten. Lyman (Jackson Hurst) is a loner whose job patrolling highways at night, aiding stranded motorists keeps him at a distance from other people. When a rare, highly talkative parrot flies into his home one day, Lyman needs to figure out where the bird comes from and tries to decode its often cryptic utterances. Enlisting the aid of Fiona (Rachel Nichols), an unconventional librarian who is as interested in Lymanʼs secrets as she is in the bird’s, the pair set off on a search that doesn’t always lead them where they think they’re going, but gradually leads them to one another.
2. Ahead of Time: Zeva Oelbaum. Born in Brooklyn in 1911, Ruth Gruber defied tradition from the moment she became the world’s youngest PhD at the age of 20 in 1931. She went on to become the eyes and conscience of the world as a journalist, photo-journalist and member of the Roosevelt administration. The first journalist to enter the Soviet Arctic in 1935, Ruth traveled to Alaska for the U.S. Dept of Interior in 1942, and was chosen to escort 1000 Holocaust refugees to America in 1944. Ruth turns 100 years old in October 2011 and the film reveals that her trail-blazing spirit and moxie are still inspiring to this day.
3. Barbershop Punk: Sugimora Archer, Kristin Armfield: Is “The Man” controlling the vertical, the horizontal, and the channel you’ll be on? In a privatized American Internet, is big business “Big Brother” or does the free market protect and serve the needs of the average citizen with its invisible hand? With the simple act of swapping files, barbershop quartet baritone Robb Topolski finds himself at ground zero of a landmark case whose outcome will affect the rights of every American citizen.
4. You Don't Know What I Got: Linda Duvoisin. Life. Love. Passion. Five women lay their heart and soul on the line: singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco, activist/poet Linda Finney, police officer Julie Brunzell, artist/architect Myrtle Stedman and housekeeper Jimmie Woodruff. Through a tapestry of homespun stories, confessions, advice, music and poetry, we discover a cross-section of American women with an extraordinary passion for life.
5. Louder Than A Bomb: Greg Jacobs and John Siskel. “Louder Than a Bomb” is a film about passion, competition, teamwork, and trust. It’s about the joy of being young and the pain of growing up. It’s about speaking out, making noise, and finding your voice…it also just happens to be about poetry.
If you live nearby or know someone who does, mark your calendars.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
We are super pleased to be able to say that A Gift for the Village is now an award winning film! At the Virginia Indie Film Festival in Richmond, VA last weekend the film won Best Documentary and People's Choice (documentary) to sweep the awards in our category.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Read the story here.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Monday, January 17, 2011
Sunday, January 16, 2011
For me, each time I see the film I find myself criticizing small things in my head - little things that I might like to fix, color I'd like to correct, an audio level that I might want to make a little louder or softer in a few spots. But even more than looking at "mistakes" I catch myself wondering about the hundreds of things that fell into place during the making of the film. My favorite shot? It's either the hummingbird that appears as if on cue to drink from the flowers over Jane's shoulder during her first "interview" appearance in the film, or a low angle shot of goats coming toward the camera while I crouched down in front of them. Or maybe the cloth blowing in the breeze in the door of a monastery, or a shot Jenna got that pans down from the Phadmasambhava cave in Lo that shows just how treacherous the walk was, or the serendipity of capturing a bullseye during the archery scene...
But I digress. What I really want to say is that I'm grateful for the chance to watch the film in the company of others. We spent so much time huddled at our computers working on the film that to share it with others is a real treat. To hear people laugh, or gasp, or sob while watching is a rare chance in this life for affirmation that you've done a good job, and I think it will be awhile before we tire of watching this film in the company of friends. In many respects I think THIS film is especially suited to communal viewing. After all, some of its first screenings were projected on monastery walls in the restricted region of Lo, in Upper Mustang in Nepal, followed by intimate screenings at the Kathmandu residence of the American Ambassador to Nepal and an impromptu showing on the side of my brother's house in Vermont the night before his wedding.
Now, that said, we have just added a little "buy now" button to the blog, which allows you to purchase a copy of A Gift for the Village using your credit card and having it shipped anywhere in the US. We hope that if you DO elect to own a copy of our film, you'll share it with friends and talk about it after, just as we continue to do in screenings.
Friday, January 7, 2011
We'll soon also have news of a show of over 70 paintings by Jane Vance at a gallery space in Roanoke, so stay tuned. The gallery will be open to the public on the evening of February 3, details to follow.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Bridging Cultures: Blacksburg and the Diaspora of Tibet
Jane Vance likes to quote Georgia O’Keeffe. “Fill a space in a beautiful way,” she always says. And she does. Vance is bewitched by detail, and that makes her art, well, bewitching.
Vance is an adjunct professor of The Creative Process at Virginia Tech, among many other activities. She also spends her days working with special needs middle schoolers. So why did a small Nepali village throw this Blacksburg local such an extravagant, two-day celebration?
Her art. For over twenty years, South Asian cultures enchanted Vance. After developing a close relationship with Tsampa Ngawang Lama, a Buddhist monk, and housing him as a guest professor for her class, the lama agreed to have Vance paint his lineage portrait. This Amchi portrait has major significance for Tibetan Buddhists.
Vance is the first female westerner to produce art of this religious worth.
“The painting is a lineage portrait, which means it places an individual in his historical context. It explains how he is an encyclopedic representative of his culture’s traditions,” explained Vance.
It took Vance 10 months to complete the portrait. She scrupulously painted Tsampa Ngawang’s story of his visit to Virginia Tech, and his importance in his own culture in both Tibetan and English. The entire canvas, seven and a half feet tall by six and a half feet wide, is completely covered in vibrant oil paint. With its silk brocade frame, it became 13 and a half by nine and a half feet. Tsampa Ngawang Lama sits cross-legged in the middle, surrounded by prayers, gods, swirls of color, and flowers of both Tibet and Southwest Virginia.
“In all the Tibetan paintings before this one, the flowers were either lotuses or chrysanthemums. But for the first time this hybrid painting shows flowers from our Appalachian woods, from wild bird-on-the-wing to wisteria to apple blossoms, and many garden flowers as well. This was the story of a man making a bridge between his Asian, Himalayan village and our Appalachian village so I bridged with flowers as well as with the story,” Vance said.
In June, 2007, Vance and her team traveled 13,000 miles, riding rickety planes and trekking over a hundred miles through the Himalayas, with the large, fragile portrait. The festival was in western Nepal, in a remote region called Mustang.
“To travel to Tsampa’s village requires 13,000 miles and three flights before the long walk. You travel from jungle to moonscape in the remote western Nepal,” said Vance.
A Gift for the Village, a documentary about Vance’s journey to Nepal to deliver the artwork, hopes to bring awareness to the United States about the difficult situation Tibetans have been in since the 1950’s.
For thousands of years, Tibet was peopled with peace-loving Buddhists. High up in the Himalayas, this country was untouched by other cultures for a very long time. In 1950, after the Communist revolution, China invaded Tibet. Worshipping peace, war was not a language the Tibetans understood, and they crumpled under the unrelenting People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Since then, Tibetans have been persecuted and tortured. The Dalai Lama, the religious and political leader of Tibet, hasn’t been able to return safely to his own land since 1959.
Millions of Tibetans have died because of the Chinese invasion. Tens of thousands of others live outside the borders of their homeland.
“Tibetans have been called the most successful exiles in the world. They maintain their traditions of wisdom and compassion. His Holiness often reminds us that the hope for Tibet is really the responsibility of the free peoples of this world. The first step westerners can take is to learn the history of Tibet.”
Friday, November 5, 2010
Link to the interview
If you have trouble with the link -- go to the main page of the 1015themusicplace.com website -- a link to the show appears on the bottom left column. The list of all October Shows is under the photo of Bruce with the megaphone....so scroll down a bit and you'll see us.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
On behalf of my film team, let me express our thanks to the University of Virginia, in particular to Pat Lampkin, who reached out to us while we were still in Kathmandu this past summer.
Pat; Dan, Gil, and Alex; my film team; my own two children Iris and Emerson who are both here at UVa, David; and assembled guests: thank you all for being here today.
I am here, because of my fortune to have been Morgan Harrington's teacher.
I taught Morgan a course offered through Virginia Tech's Department of Religion and Culture, called The Creative Process.
In my course, I suggest to my students that love and loss are the two tributaries of the creative impulse--that cherishing causes the sensual hieroglyphics of generosity, and that grieving causes the agonized braille of memorial.
Morgan, who was expressive, conceptual, artistic--brilliant--sat with perfect front-row posture before these ideas.
Allow me to share with you a little about this young woman, who is being honored today, from when she was my student.
In The Creative Process, after reading Gita Mehta's A River Sutra, Morgan wrote about the psychological clash of old village India and cyberspace. She concluded that, especially if you view your life as a pilgrimage, it is poisonous to repudiate your past. She loved, instead, Walt Whitman's idea of synthesis: Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large--I contain multitudes.
Morgan collaged for me about the national bruise inflicted by Hurricane Katrina and about New Orleans' brave, creative community responses to its unprecedented damage. She relished Truman Capote's vignettes in Music for Chameleons, and loved Capote's designation of fireworks--and conversation--as his favorite art forms. She sparked when I said there doesn't need to be much difference between the two.
In my course, Morgan read a book called The Voice That Remembers, written by a Tibetan woman who endured nearly three decades of degradation and torture in labor camps. Morgan learned why His Holiness the Dalai Lama believes that Tibetan Buddhism is so relevant to the West, as a spiritual technology, not a religion; a technology of mind, compatible with any faith, or any culture.
Morgan designed a Tibetan-style shrine to enfold her own core values and nascent aspirations. Allow me to quote from Morgan's accompanying essay: she wrote--
"One of the central objects of my shrine is a huge, comfy chair that my Dad sits in every night to finish his work from the office. All throughout my youth I would jump up on his lap to share this chair, and nudge his pile of never-ending work aside with grass-stained toes. He would never shove me off and continue work, as some adults might have done. Instead, he always took the extra minutes to cuddle, and show that he loved me, despite all of his expectations at work.
" I balanced an incense burner near the bottom of my shrine to symbolize spirituality and larger than life ideals that I struggle to accept. My maternal grandparents helped shape who I am because they raised the most important person in my life, my mother--a lock of her strawberry blonde hair is nestled into the deep center of my [imagined] shrine as the relic because I love
her so much and strive to be more like her. I look to my mom as a spiritual example because she is so open-minded. She is a very spiritual person and I see how this trust enriches her life, so I plan to spend more time exploring higher powers and positive energies instead of focusing on things that are insignificant in comparison. It is easy to get in a monotonous routine and
forget about the changes that I need to make in my life. With these objects places on my shrine, I have a higher likelihood of succeeding in these changes because the reminders will be ever-present."
As it happens, Morgan appears, breifly, three times in the film you are about to see. We did not edit her in. She was simply there, in our story, standing right beside Amchi Tsampa, the subject of our film when he visited our Virginia Tech Creative Process class during my semester with Morgan. And again, there was Morgan, at my home, with her classmates, as Jenna Swann filmed. You will see Morgan there for a moment, on my living room floor. She is the student who
Morgan would have traveled with my film team and me this past summer for the world premiere of our film in Nepal. She wanted to go trek to meet the people with the fierce and gentle spiritual technology we studied. She told me that she wanted this experience because she was going to become a teacher.
I hope you enjoy our documentary. Morgan saw parts of it in early drafts. Our co-producers Jenna Swann and Tom Landon have edited for years to bring you this story.
And now it is my privilege to present our narrator, Lisa Mullins, whose incredible voice most of you know from her brilliant Public Radio International work. Lisa, will you please do us the honor of presenting A Gift for the Village, which is dedicated--from my heart--to my front-row girl, my teacher, Morgan Harrington.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
The list of people to thank is too long and fraught with the possibility of leaving someone off of it, but thanks to Heather Anderson and the Taubman, to Stephanie Koehler for helping in every way, to Andrew and Tammy for manning the merchandise table, to Ella and Mary and Will for being most excellent ticket takers, to Beth and Reba for handling the tickets, to the security guard who pointed everyone in the right direction, to John and Bruce for taking pictures, to Ron Rordam who read the comments of the American Ambassador at the reception, to Gil Harrington for bringing 20 people to see the film, to our families for making the journey to see the film, the list could go on and on and on.
We hope that those of you who were unable to make it might be able to come to one of our upcoming screenings.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
I have titled my blog entry here to allude to my friend Suzi Gablik's most recent blog entry on her site, www.virgilspeaks.blogspot.com, which she has titled, About Things Standing and Not Standing. Take a look: all in the same collaged stew, Suzi collects the grand old chestnut tree out Anne Frank's window (which recently fell to fungal disease), an eerie-spooky broom that likes to stand upright on its own in the middle of a haunted boiler room (you'll see), Sarah Palin, Martin Luther King, Jr., Glenn Beck, President Obama, and the American (or human?) assumption that better times are ahead.
Autumn (or April, the cruelest month, or When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd--writers face Suzi's question about what stands and what does not stand in every season) is certainly one natural time to see the evergreen and the deciduous, the perennial and the annual, the possible and the lost, the hibernating and the dead.
Along with my friend Jenna, in this decade, I saw Amchi Tsampa, the extraordinary man whose lineage painting I was to make, come to
America for the first time. I saw him see September 11th happen on American television. I have seen the only existing photographs of the Dalai Lama's entire family--when he was just a little guy, before he was officially revealed as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama, more than seventy years ago--published for the first time--from a long-lost roll of film I found in Sedona, Arizona. I have walked incredibly difficult miles at extreme altitudes to have a conversation with an old King. I have seen many of the best treasures of what remains of old Tibet. I have been as rich as a human can be with love and friendship. My daughter Iris is in her third year of medical school at UVa. Five years ago this week she spent one semester at Virginia Tech, here with me, as her Tulane University spluttered and gasped to reopen after Hurricane Katrina drowned and broke people, pets, and property. My son Emerson is in his first semester of UVa's law school. He spent July with our film team and with me, in Nepal, revisiting the shrines, rickshaws, gardens, and mountains of his childhood. My children have supported A Gift for the Village at every stage of our work. And like everyone who reads this paragraph, I have also suffered. I have been afraid. I have seen some beautiful things recede.
But this month, let the red fireflies of the Annapurna Himalayan night skies, and the purple, gold, and green of Mardi Gras, and the chartreuse and magenta and mango of the carved flowers and candles on Suzi Gablik's dining room table, and the pink of my Strawberry Buddha painting, and the curries-burgundies-bluegreys & shell whites of the rock-silt pigment we collected this summer in Upper Mustang--let ALL the colors in this world know that our film is completed; Jenna Swann and Tom Landon and I have not missed ONE of them in A Gift for the Village. Every color stands.
My film team is so incredible. Thank you, Jenna. Thank you, Tom. Thank you, Lisa Mullins, for letting your absolutely gorgeous voice bring our script to life. Thank you, Ambassador and Mrs. DeLisi for celebrating our work in Nepal. Thank you, Gil and Dan Harrington, for allowing me to carry Morgan's ashes to sacred places.
Thanks to all of you who continue to express interest in our work, and who will be joining us on the evening of September 16th at The Taubman Museum in Roanoke, for the American Premiere of our documentary, A Gift for the Village. Ten years fit into one hour! So please, no blinking allowed.
I look forward to speaking about our work six days before the Premiere, at noon, on Friday, September 10th, in the Taubman Museum, as part of their Box Lunch series. Please join me there.
So much will never recede. So much does stand. Jane
Monday, August 9, 2010
Next question: Was I there, in Nepal, on business? No, I answer again, but if you want to talk about spiritual profits, then yes. Am I carrying any food into the country? I 'fess up. Yes, I stammer, and unzip my luggage to show my plastic-sealed Haldiram's bhujia. "That's okay," he concedes, but he misses by thousands of miles. A bag of bhujia is the life of my pre-dawn parties since I've been back. Awake at 4 a.m.? No problem. Put on the kettle to make my first cups of Darjeeling tea, and unzip the bhujia. It's called Indian and Nepali junk food, but please: its crunchy vermicelli-tiny bits of chick pea flour squiggle, with salt and chili powder. If Paul Simon had traveled to Nepal, he would have written the song about Bhujia instead of Kodachrome. Same tune, and same refrain: Please don't take my bhujia away. Bhujia is what Jenna and I took to the Ambassador and his wife when we went for dinner on our final night in Nepal. Jenna defended our choice as we handed over a giant bag of bhujia. "No," the Ambassador intervened. "This stuff is great."
So now (this is my wild pre-dawn party) I sit in a house full of cats and paintings and objects collected since my first travels to south Asia in 1985. I walk around the yard (even before it is light outside--I want to hear the shy wood thrushes). Tall phlox is the flower of the week, taller than I am, with clusters of Pepto Bismol pink and lavender-pink blossoms that look spectacular against my turquoise house. Their perfume is like a sweet black pepper, especially in the dark.
On my lap is Mary, my oldest cat, who lived through a horrible injury just before I traveled in June, and who had to have stints and antibiotics while I was away. Only because my friends Jessica and Barbara Vance and Marlene Benson, who care for the cats while I am away--only because these women have absolute compassion for life--could my old friend Mary live for us to sit together again. Mary is not going to live long--she is skeletal. But her face and her eyes are bright. And she is purring.
I have just turned the calendar page to August. I have a great Frida Kahlo calendar, and this month, the painting is one of her zigzag cut watermelons, into one of whose drenched pink insides is written, Viva la vida. Long live life.
That's the motto for my wild pre-dawn parties from now on. Whenever I may have the chance again to travel and return, to be charged as I am now with the warp of circumscribing the planet, whenever, from now on, I feel home and far from home, Frida's invocation will be my banner. Long live life. And let's toast also (lift your cup of Darjeeling with mine) to what Buddha said: As you walk and eat and travel, be wherever you are; otherwise, you will miss most of your own life.
We DO miss Nepal already. Scott and Leija DeLisi, our new friends--what an inspiring last evening with you. We miss you. And all of our old friends, weeping with us at the airport, we miss you.
But let's see what new happinesses we can grow here, now, like a crop: what new paintings, and what other new reasons for wild pre-dawn parties like mine today, right now. Here are the seeds and the supplies I have: my family, my friends, my animals, my gardens, my woods, my students, my paintings, and one more unsiezed bag of bhujia. Viva la vida. Jane
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
We went by our friend Firdoz's gem shop to say goodbye and promise to keep in touch. He especially wants Mary and Ella to email his children so they can remember each other and maybe see each other again. We stopped in the photo shop where our friend Rajif, who has printed hundreds of photos for us, has asked us about our names, jobs, families and insisted we come say goodbye before we leave. Even the street people, as I call them, who walk around and approach you with their musical instruments or little purses, or the rickshaw drivers who ask you for the 10th time if you want a ride, know how many days we have left because every day they ask. I'm trying to resist the urge to buy those little things that I have eyed for days. Things I don't really need, but just like. Feeding Mary and Ella here is costing me enough rupees per day, so I have tried to be conservative, although you won't believe me when you see some of the things I bring home :)
The shop owners who called out to us insistently the first few days to come into their shop, "Please come look, looking is free, Madam!", now just nod politely or say "Namaste!" when we pass. The ones who have not been too pushy, who have treated us like guests and not like tourists, I have tried to at least visit their shops and support them a bit.
I logged on this morning, our last morning, to do a last minute email check to be sure nothing has changed with flights or our DC pickup. I found emails from friends wishing us a safe journey home. I read the sweetest comments ever on our blog or on Facebook. Now I'm getting all emotional, darn it, to see you all. I will refrain from getting all sappy, except to say thanks. Your time reading and commenting, your thoughts and prayer....it means everything.
See you soon.
Tuesday, August 3, 2010
Hi Friends, I should say, I THINK it is our last full day in Kathmandu.
It's the morning of the 4th in Kathmandu, and the evening of the 3rd in Blacksburg, and as yet we have no printed tickets (e-ticketing makes me anxious), but today, the gods and the electricity willing, we will see actual plane tickets for tomorrow afternoon's flight to Delhi, and then onward home.
We have packing to do.
And goodbyes. To our friends, Pema Dhoka and Tenjin Thakuri, Mr. Bhatt and Yusef, to Sunil and Sarita, to Firdoze, to Narayan, to our new English friend, Tracy Litterick, on her way to Tibet, to Mingma Sherpa, and to all of our old friends at the Kathmandu Guest House, from the CEO, Rajan Sakya, to the housekeepers and the amazing gardener, to the tame supermodel-thin cats who are allowed to sleep in the garden in exchange for ratting duties.
Once we get to Delhi, we also have to say goodbye to Ashleigh Shepherd and to Mika Maloney (who returned to Kathmandu last night,
having spent glorious days in Pokhara, after her trek around the full circuit of the Annapurna; Moms and Dads, both Ashleigh and Mika look glamorous and glowing). We will miss them both terribly, but both are on their way to India for their first visits. They go with our admiration and love. Our summer was richer for their presence, and I am confident that their experience of Nepal will bloom into greater and greater
meaning, once they return to Virginia.
I hope so. My son, Emerson, about to start law school at UVa, says that his weeks with us at the beginning of this trip are definitely blooming for him. My daughter Iris, in med school at UVa, who has so sweetly followed every move and twitch of this trip, and who these
places when she was a child, still feels the exquisite effects of knowing Nepal.
Mary and Ella Hoffman, although they are only 12 and 8, have grown into capable world travelers in these six weeks, and, thanks to their amazing Mom's brilliant job mothering AND sharing her kids, Mary and Ella already plan their own returns.
We have already said our goodbyes to Tsampa and his family--they are all in Jomsom now, out west, in the high country--a world away. They will spend the day pitting apricots, and harvesting apples from Tsampa's orchard in Dhumpa.
Thank goodness it isn't easy to bring Nepali cats--and dogs--back to Virginia. I would be in real trouble.
Tonight, Jenna and I are invited back to His Excellency Ambassador Scott DeLisi's home, for a private, casual dinner with him and his wife Leija. How fortunate to have their company as a send-off. We liked them so much at the gala event they hosted to show A Gift for the Village to 52 amazing people this past Saturday evening. We are honored.
There is no re-capping a trip like this, but it is worth recalling that at the beginning of our Summer 2010 in Nepal, our hopes were to have the film shown in Kathmandu--which we have done, with great success; we didn't know back in June that our documentary would show in the Ambassador's home, as well as at the incredible Indigo Gallery, thanks to director/curator/artistic powerhouse of Nepal, James Giambrone, as well as in the Kathmandu Guest House Film Hall.
We had the dream of walking our film 155 miles, to show the film to the 25th hereditary King of Lo. We didn't know back in June that in fact the film would first have a private audience first with the Prince's nephew, our friend Raju Bista, in the beautiful Upper Mustang village of Ghemi, who is Pema Dhoka's brother-in-law, and then a private audience screening with the King, the Prince, and the Princess.
And then, on July 17 evening, with explicit royal permission and request, a screening indeed on the Palace adobe outer wall, for the village of Lo.
I must say that the generator and the sound system were perfect there, and that, seeing our film show in huge and perfect focus on that dark evening, on the medieval wall of Lo Monthang's Palace, at the request of King Jigme Palwar Bista, was a feeling I will never forget.
Our audience that night included villagers, the few other trekkers who had made it to Lo, and our incredible friend Luigi Fieni, the head of restoration for the American Himalayan Foundation, who has spent twelve years, so far, restoring the oldest giant temple in Lo, so important in part because there are several fresco Tibetan deities painted there that are to be found nowhere else in the world.
The next morning, Jenna filmed a rooftop conversation between Luigi and me, one of our favorite hours in Nepal. What impressed youa bout the film, we asked, and Luigi was extremely supportive. My compliment from him was that what surprised him, seeing a Gift for the Village and my commitment to Tibetan art and its ideas was, "Ahh, here is a Lady Luigi."
Such a beautiful Italian man, and such a charismatic compliment. He laughed hard when I rejoined, "Ahh, you meant to say, here (pointing to him) is a Gentleman Jane."
Luigi and Jenna and I hope to collaborate on a show--we double-promised to do so. His photographs, with my paintings, with Jenna's videography documenting, and to some extent creating, the effects of this blend. I can't wait.
I never want to end a trip to Nepal without thanking Jenna, my best friend and travel partner since 1999. I said, at the end of our 2007 trip, that Jenna continues to amaze me. She still does.
Jenna and Tracy (from Sheffield, England) went mountain-biking with our guide Narayan yesterday--an epic adventure that included riding on top of a crazy bus, WITH their bikes, over seriously bumpy roads and on cliff edges, bouncing and screaming and laughing, ducking powerlines and being slapped by tree limbs--let alone the hour of riding IN Kathmandu traffic, to Bhaktapur, sucking diesel smoke and eating grit. The bikes, Tracy added, didn't really have brakes. But they went up to Nagarkot, and rode down, and lived to tell the story. They probably went 25 miles, each safe rotation of their wheels a miracle.
Jenna came back grinning from the adventure. One day, when she turns 108 (lucky Buddhist number) and she does leave this earth, look for her as a cloud shaped like a superfit woman riding a superslick mountain bike (a supercool videocamera strapped to her supermuscular back).
And, once you have spotted her, just TRY to clock the speed with which that beautiful cloud--unlike all the other clouds in the sky, who have all accepted preconceptions about the limited things a cloud can do--just TRY to clock the speed, or measure the grace--as that Jenna-form takes off.
Many thanks to all of you who have followed our trip.
I give a talk at The Taubman Museum, part of their midday Lunchbox Series, a few days before our film premiere on the evening of September 16th. Tom Landon will help post (please, Tom!) the time and date of that presentation. I have worked on it in the last few days in Kathmandu, and feel pleased with finished essay.
Tashi deleg and orche to all of our friends and family here and back home. So so so so la! Victory to the gods. Victory over the causes of suffering. Victory to the wisdom and compassion in the human heart. Jane
Sunday, August 1, 2010
Next we were invited to the home of Firdos, who runs the Gem Empire store where Mary and Ella got beautiful necklaces. Mary's is a black opal set with a green amethyst, Ella chose a gorgeous tiger-eye. Firdos has many finished pieces, but Mary and Ella sat down and went through his collection of loose stones and chose their favorites (within a reasonable price range) and he put them in silver settings.
We walked with Firdos to his home after he closed his shop one evening, and as we entered his home, his mother was doing her evening prayers on the kitchen floor. They are Muslim, and it was quite the culteral experience for all of us. We entered a room and sat on the floor, and Firdos brought us the food prepared by his wife. He told us that he would not be eating with us, but would eat later with the family. His 6 year old son, Aaman, ate with us. He was studying English in school and could understand our questions, and answered in very good English. He also had some well-rehearsed speeches that he recited for us. Atiya is Firdos' 8 year old daughter who was too shy to interact with us, although she watched and listened.
Firdos' parents and brother also live there, and we had an audience while we ate. It was odd to me, being invited to dinner but not eating with our hosts. I have no experience and very little knowledge of the Muslim faith and customs, but I felt so welcomed and comfortable. I'm not sure if our limited contact with his wife was a cultural thing or whether it was due to her inability to talk with us, but his mother, who also did not speak English, came in and sat down with us. Several times she fussed at us through Firdos that we were not eating enough.
Finally, yesterday we went to our upper Mustang guide Narayan's home. His wife delivered their second child, a son, just 10 days ago while we were returning from our trek. They share their home with Narayan's brother who is an artist, and his sister, who lost her husband a year ago and has a young daughter. Juice first, then tea, then french fries and vegetable pokura, then finally dhal batt with rice and greens. Then tea again. We were there for four hours, holding the baby and playing with his smart 5 year old daughter, Nikita, who loved Ella.
We are so lucky. We are guests here, and like other tourists have visited the popular sites, eaten in the restaurants and stayed in guest houses. But I wonder how many visitors to Nepal get invited into homes for meals and are treated like family? Mary and Ella have had very rich experiences and interactions here, and have been very well recieved. I hope the impression we have left is a favorable one.
In all three Nepali homes, extended families live together. They work together and share everything, and I can't help but notice how happy they all seem to be, especially the kids. How wonderful for these children to have so much family around them to depend on. I want this for all kids. For my kids.
Which reminds me of how much I miss everyone back home. I can't wait to be with family and friends again, even to talk about routine things and catch up on thier lives. I'm anxious to hear the stories Mary and Ella will tell their dad, my Mom and Dad, Grandma Rose, Kristi, Lawrence and Rachel, and Grandpa Richard. It will be so much fun to hear it all again from their perspective.
See you all soon. We love you.
Friends, It has taken me 24 hours to think of how to begin this e-mail.
What if suddenly there were a new color, a lemonwhite, for example, off the ordinarily visible chart, that has a scent associated, gardenia and frangipani, jasmine and New Orleans ginger blanc and tea olive, all at once, a heaven of white flower perfumes blending into a color so soothing and exciting and sweet, we can barely imagine it.
This clear, sweet, unimaginable perfume was our evening at His Excellency Ambassador Scott DeLisi and his wife Leija DeLisi's home last night.
Fifty-two incredibly accomplished people, including the Ambassadors from Switzerland and Holland, filmmakers, the best bronze and thangka artists and monastery restorers in Nepal, newspaper columnists, authors, doctors, television reporters, humanitarians, healers: these stunningly gracious, highly skilled professionals, each one friendly and intelligent, beautiful and poised, all gathered and heard the most elegant, seemingly impromptu introductions from the Ambassador, who didn't need a single note in front of him. Only when I heard Jane Goodall speak did I see this level of calm mastery and absolutely flawless eloquent delivery.
After greeting us personally with rich blessing scarves, and greeting all of his other guests, the Ambassador introduced the evening, and his words were all about A Gift for the Village as an example of the bridges we all need to attempt, that Nepal itself needs to attempt within its politics, that are every individual's greatest goals to aspire to help build. Jenna and Tsampa (in his most formal electric-marigold lama robes) and I could not have been accorded greater honor.
Ambassador DeLisi is an incredible statesman and an inspirational orator, and a gem of a human being, and Leia is brilliant and generous. What a night.
The film showed, followed by an incredible dinner at tables all around their magnificent home full of breathtaking art, and everyone circulated and told each other stories and very lavishly praised our film.
Jenna and I have been invited to return on our last night in Nepal for a very casual private dinner with the Ambassador and his wife. We can't wait.
A Gift for the Village grew wings last night. So did we. Jane
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Thursday, July 29, 2010
The Ambassador of the United States of America
and Mrs. Scott H. DeLisi
request the pleasure of the company of
Ms. Jane Vance
at the screening of "A Gift for the Village" with the Amchi Lama
followed by Buffet Dinner
on Saturday, July 31, 2010
at six-thirty o'clock p.m.
Included in each envelope is also a nice synopsis of our project and an introduction to the film.
Dress, praise the gods for my sake, is casual. Jenna has bought a beautiful salwar khameez--a long, flowing top and Arabian pants--in hot terracotta shades, so she will look ravishing, whereas my beauty will reside (where else?) in my necklaces.
I am so proud of my team, that this film now creates an evening event for an American Ambassador and his guests. How exciting.
I am so grateful to be part of a collaboration based on gifts. The heart of our film, in my mind, happens when Jenna speaks, near the end: "The gift happened long before the festival." She talks about reciprocation, and the synchronicity and confluence of so much generosity when two cultures really come together to share an experience.
We can't wait to bring the film to American audiences as well, once we are home. Jane
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
A big congratulation to you on your documentary film!
Although we, the people of Lo (Mustang), don't know much
about modern art, you've touched our hearts and minds with your art and
inspired us. The various colors that you used in the painting and the amount of
detail you paid attention to is remarkable. I hope there will be aspiring artists in Mustang in the years to come.
I say this with immense gratitude that you have in a way contributed
in conserving our culture and traditions. I'm certain many will watch it with
great interest and enthusiasm.
I wish you luck and happiness.
Jigme S. P. Bista.
(Former Prince of Mustang)
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Today, our chivalrous, handsome, selfless guide for the extreme Upper Mustang trek, Narayan Bhatta, wrote me a very sweet e-mail in response to a request he made early on our last morning in Jomsom, when he told me that he had just learned he had a new son--born in the wee hours of July 23rd. He requested that I give his son one name--which will stay with him, and be joined by a Nepali name, once the priests decide which name is right--in about five months.
I wrote Narayan with my suggestion, and tonight, I got this response:
Dear Jane mom
Thank you so much for your kind mail, i feel so good mom, and glad to have a son name, thank you so much for lovely name, from now he's name is Emerson Bhatta.
This news marks one of the sweetest parts yet of our bridge now between America and Nepal. Emerson Bhatta, like my own son Emerson, is family.
My friend in Blacksburg, Alwyn Moss, has written about the importance of naming, and Narayan's sweet e-mail has got me thinking tonight about this idea, about names, and giving a name, and naming what you give.
If you do not give something a name, you may not see it.
If you never see it, you may not believe there is anything there to take care of.
If you have no obligations toward it, you have no need to give.
And, as the proverb from the poorest slums of Calcutta, India, teaches (quoted in Dominique LaPierre's great book, City of Joy), Everything not given is lost.
Jenna and I love that proverb. So does our friend Lucinda Roy.
Everything not given is lost.
Before I left for Nepal, I visited my student Morgan Harrington's mother, Gil. I wrote to Mrs. Harrington because I had two of Morgan's essays, in the original, with two of her drawings.
I had contacted detectives early during what turned out to be 101 days of searching for Morgan before we all learned that she had been murdered. Morgan was in my Creative Process class the semester before she died, and I loved her. She sat in the front row. All of my other students in that class remember her, bright, beautiful, witty, humble.
Just a week after Morgan was missing, a wonderful, gentle, patient special agent came to Blacksburg and interviewed me for two hours, talking about Morgan, her writing for my class, my impressions, every angle of intuition and possibility I could brainstorm. I wanted with all my heart to be helpful.
The agent allowed that if Morgan were alive, and in some kind of hostage situation, she might--possibly--somehow--be allowed to see who was trying to write to her, in which case, he advised, it might be good if I wrote to her, as her professor.
In those 101 days, I wrote sixty e-mails to Morgan. She had expressed a strong interest in coming to Nepal with me one day, and especially in seeing the Elements Temple at Mukhtinath which 8-year-old Ella Hoffman wrote about a few days ago. I promised her that I would take her.
After her class visited, Morgan also said that she needed to show my house and the paintings to her parents. Yes, I said. Please bring them to my home one day.
As it happens, Morgan is in our documentary, three times. First, when Jenna filmed a class at my home--each of my Creative Process classes comes to my home for dinner at the end of the semester, while I teach a lesson on Visual Yoga and Narrative Art--the class she happened to film was Morgan's. There is Morgan, sitting on my living room floor, beaming, as she takes in the large paintings all around her.
Secondly, we also use a still photograph of Tsampa when he was at Virginia Tech, after teaching my class for an afternoon, all of us standing before the chalkboard. In the photograph, a group shot, I am standing to Tsampa's immediate right. To his immediate left stands Morgan, looking especially beautiful.
I had not contacted the Harringtons during the 101 days of their ordeal, when Morgan was missing. I did not know them--only their daughter--though she had written intimately to me of her intense admiration and love for her mother and her father. I did not want to cause them any grain of additional pain, being a stranger, contacting them possibly at some wrong moment.
But before this trip to Nepal, I wrote to them. I introduced myself, and explained that I had some of Morgan's work, and that I wanted them to have it when the time was right. Before a hard trip to Nepal, with the uncertainties of our long trek, I wanted to be sure I contacted the Harringtons, because I had what belonged to them.
Gil Harrington wrote back to me immediately, with breathtaking graciousness, and invited me to her home--just days before I left on this trip.
I drove there, and I can not remember spending a more powerful few hours in my life.
For me, Morgan's professor, to be led upstairs to her room--to see the copy of the Amchi painting that I had signed for her, framed and opposite her bed--to see Morgan's closet, her walls, her own stunning paintings--to see the house that was her home--to sit with her mother--to be with Gil while she read the incredible, detailed dedications that Morgan wrote about both of her parents--to comprehend that Morgan had INSISTED that I keep these papers. "But Morgan, these are YOUR papers. Make me a copy. You have gotten A's on them, really strong A's. Your parents will want to see this work," I had said at the end of the semester. "No," she had said, "YOU keep these."
And although we met during the week of my departure, Gil and I felt so much kinship that we squeezed in Morgan's wish for her parents to come and see my home, and the paintings, before I left for Nepal. I didn't know I could love anyone quite in the way I love Gil, but I love Dan that much, too. What incredible human beings, BOTH Dan and Gil. We had the best evening together, a feast of companionship. No wonder Morgan wrote with such wisdom and compassion. No wonder she was so beautiful.
Gil and Dan gave me the extreme honor of bringing some of Morgan's ashes to the Himalayas.
I carried them in a beautiful packet which had Morgan's photograph on it, hidden among my traveler's cheques and identification cards. Often, I checked the packet, and looked at Morgan.
When our team reached the west of Nepal, I had to give her up.
And I found that I was terribly emotional, really resistant, to give up Morgan's ashes.
But I had carried them to give them, the way you give a name.
And as I have given two Emersons, I gave Morgan to two places. She is at Mukhtinath, the Elements Temple, at 14,000 feet, and when I delivered her ashes there, dozens of Tibetan nuns happened to be chanting on three sides inside the shrine, like a vibrating hive of otherworldly bees. I have been to Mukhtinath three times, but this was the first time nuns were there, singing prayers and smiling and nodding as our team came in--the only visitors--and smiling, as I wept, to give up part of Morgan.
The other part, I gave to Tsampa, after explaining Morgan's murder. He took the other part of her ashes to do an extremely special ceremony on Dhumpa Mountain, where the air is full of dakinis, sky-dancers, female wisdom-beings who can contact a consciousness after it has left its body, who can remove obstacles for that consciousness, and who can empower a happy and richly enabled rebirth. Tsampa's tradition and training are rare, and his rituals are old and strong. I was thrilled that he offered this gift to Morgan. This was the greatest honor I could have hoped for her ashes.
And so, like a name, they are given.
The third and final time Morgan Harrington appears in A Gift for the Village is her name. When what you have is a name, and you love that name, you give it as a dedication. At the end, our documentary is honored to carry and to give Morgan's beautiful name.
Everything not given is lost.
I also believe in the sweet corollary: Everything given goes on. Jane
The Kathmandu Valley is shaped like a circle, twenty-five miles in diameter, ringed by the Himalayas. On some edges of the valley there is still a sense of clean air, pastoral green, and wildlife. We went to those greener places.
We started in Patan, a former kingdom unto itself, with possibly the richest collection of wood and sundried brick pagodas and ornate resplendent Hindu and Buddhist temples in the Valley. We saw the Temple of the Thousand Buddhas, temples to preservers and destroyers and creators, temples to rare forms of certain gods and goddesses, temples so old that their central stone images--having been touched so much over the centuries--are soft illegible stone forms, worn down like fading sandcastles. We saw tables and tables of split coconuts, red hibiscus flowers, marigolds, neem leaves, and sequined gauze napkins, offerings to the images.
In the shops, we saw some of the best bronze statues in the world, and small exquisite Buddhas carved with the help of the artists' magnifying glasses into the spines of conch shells. We saw crystal Padmasambhavas and crystal phurbus, studded with emeralds and raw rubies.
We visited an old village, Bungamati, a sleepy two-street settlement which is a carver's village. I bought a sublime camphorwood Buddha, smelling like eucalyptus and peppermint all at once. Pema and her husband Tenjin Serap Thakuri found us--thanks to our friends' cell phones and Tenjin's motorcycle--and she presented me with a red birthday blessing scarf, a wooden sugarbowl, and a bronze protector Buddha. Hand in hand, I walked with Pema, past the watertank where the water buffalo were being allowed to bathe and dally; past the small clusters of mallards, past the old women with their earthen feet crossed at the ankle, past the medieval brick homes with their huge braids of red chilies and garlic hanging Rapunzel-fashion.
We drive on to Chobar Gorge, where Manjushri's sword--in mythological time--cut the earth, and the Kathmandu Valley, having once been a lake full of Nagas, drained.
We visited many amazing places, like the hilltop village of Kirtipur, where the fierce god Bhairav is worshiped in his tiger form, Singhabhairava. Dozens of cobwebbed buffalo skulls hung on the old mural walls there, with ghee-gooey bronze bells in huge metal snarls, and weapons in the multiple hands of all the wooden hipshot gods and goddesses on the second- and third-level pagoda temple struts: each weapon, a way to cut your own ego, to remove your mind from old habits of self-worship and other forms of illusion that lead to our old friends, sorrow, anxiety, and confusion. I for one need the whole arsenal.
Back at the Guest House, I had a message from the Cultural Affairs Officer for the American Ambassador here in Kathmandu. The Ambassador requested that I write a brief biography of Tsampa Ngawang, the amazing individual in the painting I began in 2001, which became the ostensible Gift for the Village. The Ambassador also requested an early copy of our documentary, so that he could tailor his remarks on the evening of the 31st, when we attend an event at his private home, in honor of our film. A runner from the American Embassy picked up A Gift for the Village this morning. I was told I will be asked to speak about our project, to forty assembled dignitaries and guests. What an honor, to have our film requested by the Ambassador! As another honor, the Ambassador has also extended airplane tickets to Tsampa from Jomsom to Kathmandu and back so that he and his daughter Lhakpa Dhoma can also attend the film event at his home. So Amchi Tsampa flies to town today.
Thanks for my birthday wishes, from my old friend Waruna, in the hills of Sri Lanka, and from my children, and from such great friends. Much love from Kathmandu, Jane
Saturday, July 24, 2010
A smile like rain quenching thirst,
Mr. Bhakti gives.
Jomsom sits by a river that has carved, for endless years, painted canyons of tundra-like majesty. Sheer, steep cliffs made of scree and compressed threads of prehistoric sediments. Cy and I find, in winding conversation, that this place reminds us both of the Beartooths in southern Montana mixed with the mountainous deserts of Idaho with a hint of California scrub. But, comparisons will not do: the wind of this valley is unlike any current I have every met.
Animals graze in high mountain-top pastures, quietly hidden in the clouds. I love how farmers set their animals free during the summer months--they can look after themselves as the rains fall on the valley. Amidst the rock and dust and afternoon wind that howls and screams and beats on our faces and fingers, are green fields: of the greenest I've ever seen. I realize how skilled the Mustang farmers are with their systems of irrigation. As the documentary shows, Mustang farmers have built wood-cast and stone channels that guide the flow of the waters so it will be most effective. People of Mustang are proud of their land and excitedly show us the way to their fields and describe every plant new and old, its properties, challenges and successes in growing AND offer us gifts of fruits and jam to take for the journey. Like Mr. Bhakti of Marpha, a town just an hour's walk from Jomsom. He greets us with great enthusiasm and quickly rearranges his day so that he can be our devoted guide. His name suits him: Bhakti means Devotion in Sanskrit.
Mr. Bhakti is a very accomplished man. He calls himself a social-worker. Even in our brief visit, I gather that he is a dedicated community leader. With great English, Mr. Bhakti weaves stories of apricot trees, Maoist infiltration, global warming and medicinal flowers. He offers us seabuckthorn berry juice and handfuls of fresh apricots: two varieties, local and Kashmiri. "Different taste," he says with a smile. He leads us along a pathway that opens at the edge of green fields. Each field is marked with a white stone at the center. The stone identifies to whom the field belongs. He joyfully shares news of his latest projects: he recently built solar powered showers and a clothes-washing tap for the lower caste people of his village, who cannot afford to wash. "This way, in my village, there is a smaller gap between rich and poor." He also talks about how, in Marpha, prices are adjusted for those families who cannot afford to pay full price on food and goods. What a noble man. His commitment, his devotion to making change happen NOW inspires me to commit to a community and, with courage and humility, become the change I wish to see in the world. Many thanks to our friend Mr. Bhakti.
Who can paint the wind?
Prayer flags in Upper Mustang.
Dust-storm dancing, blow.
...and so this is Kagbeni: the gateway to Upper Mustang, the gateway to restricted territory. From the edge of town, we see the door to the canyon, cliff-crossing trek that will lead us to Lo Manthang. Prayers are carved in stone and fingertips turn prayer-wheels to offer blessings to the wind. I imagine, for a moment, that wind is the breath of the world and we now reside in one of the windiest stone villages on earth. My face is covered in a layer of dust; my eyes squint with a thousand tiny sand crystals peeking through. The wind sweeps prayers and breath and even energy, perhaps -- but this sacred, quiet expanse nourishes the exhaustion back to life: as if we could be liberated of all our lesser qualities as the wind passes through. And what remains? A strong skeleton of possibility: naked and ready for seeds of newness. This is where I am: Kagbeni; wind-city; the gateway to Upper Mustang.
Red rock and windswept daydream,
This land makes me feel quiet. How else to respond to something so unbelievable? The painted canyons carved like the red-heartwood of madrone or fallen oak; scratched by the claws of a giant cat: panther in the sky, snow-leopard paw. This land makes one believe in fantastical creatures. What else to say? I feel quiet. Riverbed, sharp canyon, speckled tundra, snow-capped peaks, irrigated green harvest. Pema Dhoka runs from the field to greet us. Her hands are covered in ashen earth from digging potatoes. She rushes to make us tea, make us lunch. Hardly stopping to take a breath, but always smiling. She loves to shower us with the gifts she knows, the abundance she grows and the spirit of the windy land she calls home. Gratitude.
Jaw drops at first sight,
Silk riverbeds grow gray gold.
Painted canyons hum.
Jane calls out: "Isn't this beautiful!" I laugh a little through my smile thinking of how I would be blind to disagree. I am drowning in disbelief: entering into a fantasy world where sheer red cliffs rise from silk riverbeds whose stones are fossilized history books of what flows and grows and changes as water passes over rock. What is most shocking is the contrast of colors and shapes and textures. The red-orange drip-castle shapes of Canyonlands, Utah (stretched in breadth and height) rise through a magnifying glass toward the sky. And burnt-purple embers burned by ash, not by fire; resin cooked in smoke, not in flame. The gray dust that sparkles blue in the sunlight and ices the red castles like sugar on gingerbread cookies. No -- more magnificent and robust than gingerbread cookies. ...The gray dust that sparkles blue in the sunlight and ices the red castles like like clear shoe polish, but more surprising. With my camera angled just-so, I try to capture the palette of colors laid bare before my eyes: Quartz white speckled with river-stones of blue, gray and golden-brown. Dry-wood brown sediment compressed flat by weight and time. Virginia red-clay angled like shards of glass or books stacked sideways. Dusty-green paint, almost like ether, speckling the tundra, but smoother than speckled. And the riverbed mud shines like fools gold. I resist the temptation of stopping every few meters to snap a photos of the marble blues and grays and whites: swirling, curling, playing with the trickle of the tiny streams like hair-strands or witch-fingers. Swimming in beauty. We walk across scree and sandy earth and wind plays with our scarves and hair. The climate is extreme: when the wind blows, it Blows. When the sun shines, it Beats down like a hot iron. When the clouds roll in, they are low and full and heavy. We enjoy the rise and fall of this land: remarkable and remote.
...Remote for but a few years longer. The government is funding the building of roads into Upper Mustang. As we walked out of Kagbeni, we had to share the road with a monstrous leveling machine. The one whose wheels look like a centipede rolling, rolling, rolling and flattening the rocky earth: making way for more landslides, more traffic, more tourists sleeping in the back of tour-buses. I felt like an insect in the Ferngully Forest, being ground to dust by the neon noise. After the unlikely and incredible bridge built by 10 years of hard work on A Gift for the Village, perhaps the most outstanding characteristic of our journey to Lo Manthang is the timing. Machines move quickly: uprooting earth that has kept the secrets of this land for centuries.
But for now, my heart is grateful to witness the grandeur of the gray-gold rivers, the blood-red pulsing canyons, the blue-ether painted watercolor mountains, the sharp snow-capped magic high peaks, and the sunlight-colored generosity of the friends and strangers we meet. Thank you, Jane and Jenna, for welcoming me on the journey. Just breathing here expands my belief in what is possible.
I guess my focus has been how different this trip has been for me because of the girls. Our friend Pema, who lives in Kagbeni at the famous Red House, went with us to Lo. She said that we needed 7 people, because 7 was luckier than 6. She took her horse Sakpa for Ella to ride. Before we left for the trek, the girls came running into our room telling me that Pema showed them how to milk her cow!
Carol, Pema has the sign that your students made for her when she visited your classroom framed and hanging in the Red House!
When we get past Jomsom, the toilets are squats, not commodes. Ella would try, but she just couldn't let go when she was in there. She was so worried that she would get her clothes wet, so I started undressing her from the waist down every time she needed to go. Suddenly, she announced to me that she could use the "squattee" by herself and didn't need me anymore. We teased Mary that although she was potty trained before Ella, Ella was "squattee-trained" at an earlier age than she was.
Our second night, Mary woke me up at midnight (we went to bed at 8) with a stomach ache. We have to get up and get dressed and get a head lamp to go to the toilet (which is a separate, closet sized room from the bath (shower) room. Actually, there isn't a toilet at all, but a squat, and Mary has the distinction of being the first to throw up in a squattee. That night for me was anxious, because after 2 days of trekking in the middle of what feels like nowhere, I was scared to death that Mary was really ill and I was wondering what I was going to do. There were no cars...would I stay behind with her for a day and let her rest? I thought I could get her a horse but would she be able to ride? I knew Narayan would help me but in the middle of the night I didn't know what that help would be, so I lay awake, questioning for the first time my decision to bring the girls with me.
Thankfully she slept the rest of the night with no more vomiting, and announced at breakfast that she was fine and ate 2 packets of oatmeal. She wanted no part of riding Sakpa, she wanted to walk. I could have danced with joy. I love my tough girl!
Ella draws a lot of attention. Several times as we walk through villages, especially the older women will blow past all of us and walk up to Ella, smiling and holding her face in their hands. Because of her short hair, she is often thought to be a boy, but she takes it all in stride and smiles and gives them her sweetest "Namaste." They are sweet to Mary, too, but she is taller than most of them, and I don't think they realize she is only 12.
The girls don't mind the DAYS between showers. The only warm one on our trek was at Pema's sister Thari's guest house. There we were also able to wash out some laundry, by hand, in a bucket in the shower. I got to do pants, underwear, shirts, socks times THREE! Ella helped me rinse and hang everything on the line.
The trekking is HARD. I am well aware now of how old and NOT in shape I am. I think, after a 45 minute steep, zig-zagged climb, that it HAS to be the end of climbing for the day. But no.......we start descending, then cross a stream, then back up we go. Then we do it two more times. My legs feel like a combination of twisted knots and jello. Whenever one of us stumbles on a rock or slides on loose dirt, we say, "Nice Yak-Dance!" The porters are great, and one of them stays right with each of us. They are very watchful for dangerous places, and especially great about knowing when to get Ella off her horse to walk. We see wild blue sheep, running up and down sheer cliffs that I can't imagine a bug walking without falling.
Watching Mary walking way ahead with the strong girls Jenna and Ashley, watching the porters shower Ella with protective and playful attention, listening to Narayan, our guide, tell the girls the story of why the mountains are three different colors (ask one of them to tell you), the shock of walking into Karma's kithcn in the Dancing Yak and seeing Ella in her chuba Pema gave her, chopping greens and cauliflower and washing dishes, acting quite at home....these are some of my many memories. And they solidify my decision to bring them here with me.
We miss everyone back home. Mary and Ella talk about who they want to see, who they will tell/show different things, what they want to eat when they get back to Blacksburg. Ella REALLY wants a Mike's burger. Please know that all of your comments are like the baked chocolate Snickers...real cherished treats.
Thanks for thinking of us.
We stayed in Kagbeni at Pema's house. She gave me her horse Sakpa to ride on the trek. He was the best horse I have ever ridden, aka, the only horse I have ever ridden! But every stumble and trip he did, I still loved him. Pema also gave me a Tibetan dress called a chuba that belonged to her oldest daughter, who is also 8. Her name is Tcheten. Her middle daughter is Nima she is 6 and her youngest is Sela Lillian she is 1 or 2.
In Jomsom we stayed at the Dancing Yak. I worked there! I washed dishes while squatting on the side of the sink with Laxmi. I cooked and served food, and cleaned. It was very very fun.
I miss Dad. And I LOVE BABY MONKEYS!
Friday, July 23, 2010
What I chose to write about is our return to The Cave of the Snow Leopard.
Three years ago, in 2007, our Gift for the Village team became (as we explain in our documentary) the third group of climbers to reach this recently rediscovered cave, which is chiseled out of a sheer 16,000-foot cliff. The back wall of the cave is entirely covered with fresco, a thousand years old. In our documentary, we theorize about who may have painted these excellent panels, and our conclusions hint at a tremendously unexpected story about the cave's artist.
As a flightless gnat would labor with a sense of inadequacy and even deformity to climb and descend skyscraper after skyscraper, so we struggled. This ascent, or series of ascents, was the most difficult of many intense climbs, although I am not speaking exclusively about technical difficulties like elevation or angle.
Here, you do not proceed with pride, and pride is a hard backpack to leave behind. There should be no frivolity on this walk. This climb is a pilgrimage, because the cave frescoes which have watched a thousand winter blizzards swirl past are painted prayers, homages and thanks to a series of the artist's teachers. This place is a cave which honors the idea of relationship, teaching, guru wisdom, and humility.
Be quiet here. See the beautiful landscape on the way to the Cave, of course, but turn your mind toward what you do not see. Do not poeticize your lovely heartbeat or your flights of gratitude here. Do not marvel about your skin tingling or your smile broadening to fit the enormous landscape. Be quiet. Stop seeing yourself.
Tsampa has taught me this much.
To reach the Cave, you must walk for hours past Lo Monthang, which is itself described as the Holy Grail of remote places.
You must enter a tiny village and find the Keeper of the Key, a local man whose ancient, wrapped rag contains the Key to the Cliff Door. He must walk with you past the Valley of the White Rocks, where, a quarter century ago, a glacial avalanche sent down a shattering of icy river and hundreds of thousands of huge, tumbling, snow-white boulders, some like basketballs, some like elepahants.
This torrent hit Chosar Valley at midnight. Ninety percent of the homes, the animals, and the villagers were never found. The Chosar Valley, with its white boulder tombstones, covers that midnight of agony. The Keeper of the Key, walking with us, was a young child at the time. He lost most people he knew, his village, and its landscape. He told his story to Pema, who translated for us, as we walked through that Valley, the Valley of the White Shadow of Death. I could not help but think of the skeletons beneath us, in archaeopteryx positions, the fossils of a terrible night.
You walk past a sky-burial site, a long flat boulder, a little like an ossified lounge chair, shin-high. The rock would not be noticeable except for the heavy ropes that tie around it, and, since Tsampa showed us last time, for the nearby rock, under which are tucked three rustworn handmade blades belonging to the sky burial priest, and the rag-clothing he wears during the rites he perform.
In Tibet, there is a saying: Everyone should see a sky burial at least once, in order to understand impermanence.
But first, allow me to explain: in Tibetan Buddhism, there are five types of burial, to match the five elements.
Earth burials, in Upper Mustang, are virtually impossible, because there is no earth to dig. The land here is rock, or rock-silt. Water-burial isn't tasteful, because, although a chopped corpse benefits the tiny fish in the rivers here, the body pollutes the water for the villagers downstream.
Cremation, or fire-burial, is a highly respectful form, but costly to the Mustangis. Our friend Pema explained that the wood which is piled all along every Mustang home is not primarily firewood, but "our wealth, and our duty." At death-time, a family needs enough wood to cremate the body. Not having this wood is considered shameful. Upper Mustang is high-desert, and wood is rare; there are no trees to fell--only the bonsai-twisted stubs of tortured juniper or other low-scrub. But this wood is necessary for a cremation, and fire is considered extremely clean. A cremation is an honor.
There are two other kinds of burial in Tibetan Buddhism. One, the rarest, is mind-burial. Mind is the fifth element as Tibetans organize the universe. (In China, the fifth element, or sometimes the sixth, is, instead, iron.) Highly-accomplished practitioners of Buddhist mind and body control can decide consciously to leave their body in order to choose a specific rebirth. Tibetans believe in a space between death and rebirth called The Bardo. In this in-between realm, which is not a holding tank, but more like a wind-tunnel, your consciousness goes careening.
Think of your after-death consciousness as a Kleenex blown forcefully into a completely dark wind-tunnel. You go zooming and twisting and fluttering, upside-down, a parachutist without a familiar body, but with some sense of your own blind being. It is a terrifying disorienting tumble--UNLESS you have trained for it. The meditations that His Holiness the Dalai Lama does, for instance, prepare his unbodied consciousness for this ride. Only, he will be able to steer.
There are Tibetan lamas (teachers, priests) so accomplished and learned that they can not only speak to a dying person's mind as the body dies, to help instruct the mind during the transition into the windy Bardo, but who can find a consciousness even after it has tumbled and taken rebirth, and educate the consciousness about how to prepare for the next death and the next chance to steer into a better next rebirth.
Sky-burial causes rainbows--not big arches--but tiny wisps of rainbow, which jet more like butterflies. The rainbow body of a mind burial may last for days, like evanescent northern lights, but in the daytime. Tibetans point to a place in the distant landscape and say, "Ah! Such and such lama has died. See the rainbow body."
But back to the fourth kind of burial: sky-burial. Sky-burial is the most visceral, and, for my temperament, the burial of choice. A corpse is taken to a long-frequented rock (as in, hundreds of years of use), like the one we stood before on our walk to the Cave of the Snow Leopard. A qualified Buddhist cuts the hard corpse into cubes, and powders them with roasted barley flour. These cubes are scattered out to the lammergiers, the giant condor-like Himalayan vultures. They are called the corpse-eaters, and I have one of their gigantic feathers from this trek. When I am home, I will make a strong painting called The Corpse-Eater's Feather.
These birds know the ritual. The body is cubed and fed to them, and they take flight. Their enormous messy nests are dinosaur confabulations that you sometimes see high on the most inaccessible cliffs. Their fledglings are fed with the power of the corpses that their mothers have gulped, and then the young lammergiers grow their own feathers. The birds fledge, and reincarnated forms festoon the thin air.
The ropes on the rock, Tsampa explained three years ago, are to thwart the lammmergiers' over-eagerness. Yes, they know the ritual, but the birds would just as soon get to the point. These animals are so massive, their talons so tiger-like, that they sometimes pick up entire corpses and lift them up to their cliff-nests. But this frenzy reeks of greed, and the sky-burial wants to show hor forms give to one another, not take for themselves. Thus the ropes: they hold down the impulse to take too much.
Such are the landmarks on the way to the climb to the Cave.
And then, on a frighteningly thin cliff edge, you find, preposterously, suddenly, a door. A door with a lock.
The door is built into nowhere. It is simply a door, in a door frame, upright on the trail itself. There is no building anywhere.
The door divides, seemingly, nothing from nothing.
It can be opened only with the Keeper's Key.
I was told three years ago, after much discussion as I first beheld this cliff-door, that it stands as a kind of compassionate warning. Its meaning? After this point, the trail really becomes difficult.
Our Roanoke friend, Stephanie Koehler, saw a photograph of this door on my bedroom wall, and by now she may have written a blog about it.
I told Stephanie that I am awed by the idea of this social symbol, this physical prompt that what you are about to enter is extremely difficult. What a gift! A door to tell you the truth. There are few enough such doors. Conversations with my friend Suzi Gablik feel like this door. Even being near my children Iris and Emerson, and seeing how they tailor their studies toward the opportunity to help people, feels like this door. Every word and every idea my best friend Jenna shares, how I always see her treat people and think of what other people need, feels like this door. My team, and why we have worked so hard to make this film, feels like this door. I see the two sides separated: where we learn and love--at any cost--and where we have nothing but our own self-interest ahead of us, a ghastly-thin, fearful trail. May the gods always provide such doors. May all sentient beings be allowed the fortune to go beyond them.
The last part of the trail is "improved." This year, there is a thin wire, somewhat staked into the ground, wrapped in a twirl of hairy yak rawhide. You can hold this "rope" to scale down one of the worst vertical descents. Because of this "improvement," you now pay one hundred rupees to continue from this point. Pema slipped here--badly--and would have dropped thousands of feet to her almost certain death. But two porters caught her. And then we reached the Cave.
In three years, the Cave of the Snow Leopard has suffered more damage than in its lonely thousand. In 2007, I did see a set of claw marks from a snow leopard's stretching. Those parallel marks seemed the best signature in the Himalayas.
This time, there were other problems, and Jenna spent much of her time there, explaining how much good work the guide had in his power, to ask people not to rest their hands on the surface of the paintings, and not to carve out indentations to hold sticks of incense. And definitely not to redraw the faded lines of the worn faces. The Cave is not ruined, but many of its subtleties are gone.
Still, I visited with old friends. In 2009, I made an oil painting called The Cave of the Snow Leopard, for which I used our photographs of the frescoes for the background. The King of Lo, and the monastery restorer Luigi Fieni, really liked this painting. It was wonderful to be near the unruined details of some of my favorite panels. And to observe a few new details, a few new secrets.
Photography is no longer allowed in the Cave, which seems a kindness, at this point.
We heard later from Luigi that one visitor in the intervening years has brought her infant to the Cave. But Mary and Ella are the youngest self-propelled kids ever to see The Cave of the Snow Leopard, which looks out onto Tibet, and where, I like to think, snow leopards on the far cliffs had their green eyes trained on us.
Last night, I got an e-mail bearing unbearable news. My old friend Anna Sankei died three days ago of a heart attack, in Lier, Norway. She was waiting for a bus to go to a ceremony where her older daughter, Tina, was to receive a medal for her six months of military service in Afghanistan. Her younger daughter Agnes would have been there too.
I met Anna on our first day of class, freshman year, 1976, at William and Mary. We were the two who were early, waiting for the door to be unlocked. The course was called Contemporary Religious Thought. By the time the professor and the other four students arrived, Anna and I were friends.
She lived in a place where she liked to find ostrich eggs in her garden, which she would bead. One day I could visit her village, she said, across the Rift Valley, in Kenya. I would see many giraffes on my way. I should notice their eyelashes.
That Thanksgiving, Anna spent with me, at my parents' home in North Carolina. She lived with two rather cheerless nuns, back in Virginia, who never knew about my naughty father's gift to Anna, as she took the bus back from Raleigh to Hampton. She carried two huge bottles of Johnston County moonshine, strong enough to unlacquer your living room furniture.
Anna sang "Oh, Shenendoah, I love to hear you, oh, away, you raging river," in the prettiest Kenyan-English I have ever heard. My tears stream to think of that singing. We were eighteen years old then. In two days, I turn 52.
I did go to Anna's Kenyan village. I met her beautiful mother. Anna showed me lions, wild ones in the bush, and she showed me the Mara River hippos. She told me that the Cape Buffalo were the only grouches in Africa. They would charge just out of meanness. I took my baby Iris there when she was four months old. I loved Anna that much.
And Anna brought her daughters to see me, in America, twice. Jenna took Tina white-water rafting. When Agnes was a little girl, she hid in my wood shed, because she didn't want to leave.
This morning, having awakened to a full day in which there is no Anna on this earth, I must braid a bridge to cross this sadness.
I must see a door on a thin cliff-trail, and go through the door.
I must send my mind spinning out to Gil and Dan Harrington, because there is no Morgan on this earth, and to my niece and nephew Maura and Vance, because there is no Neal on this earth, and to my friend Bailey, who rides Emily Jane Hilscher's favorite Virginia Tech horse, Impulse, a swatch of whose mane now flies in Upper Mustang (thank you, Bailey, for helping me honor your friend and her love of horses; Emily died on April 16th in our Virginia Tech massacre).
I must be small. And see the swirls of all the elements diminishing every form as I also diminish.
But: in the brief time I have to see, I must love as hard and as impassively as the snow leopard gazes. Love, in order to find the most remote safe places, past the most daunting doors, in the most treacherous wilds. I must see from Kenya to Norway to Virginia and North Carolina to Kathmandu, and see from now to yesterday and now to tomorrow.
All we have are these doors and these bridges. This good vision, this astonishing view, our brief gardens. "Safe" means only a place where what we do reincarnates, finds some other form; where, amazingly enough, what has been beautiful is not altogether lost.
My love to Tina and Agnes. Your mother was a strong and beautiful woman. She loved you both so incredibly much. She was brave enough to be unselfish, and to act with kindness toward whomever happened into her life, whatever the impact, whatever the seeming impracticality of the broad reach of her heart. I will always carry your mother, wherever I go. I will never forget Anna Sankei. Farewell, beautiful friend. May we find one another again. Jane