Not for Happiness

I just discovered that Khyentse Rinpoche’s new book about Ngöndro practice is available as an eBook on Amazon. It seems they ‘published’ a preview version yesterday, which means there’ll be typos, etc, but if you decide to buy it you can sign up for a copy of the corrected version. I think Khyentse Foundation website has an amazon link that generates money for the foundation, so please consider using that link if you want to buy the book.
I think Rinpoche designed the cover himself, and Vladimir from Prague realized it for him. I love the look of it. What do you think?

Death hath ten thousand several doors…

I’ve never seen the Duchess of Malfi on stage, but I feel as though I know the play quite well from all the references to it that I’ve come across over the years—even in Hollywood movies. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, for example, which is one of my all-time favourites. Reggie is in love with Pandora (Ava Gardner) and because she won’t marry him, takes some poison and dies with the words of the Duchess on his lips. It’s marvellous stuff—both Reggies OTT death and the original scene in what must be one of the bloodiest and most violent of all plays. Not to mention the incest.

But it’s because I’ve seen Pandora so often that the “death hath ten thousand several doors” bit sticks in my memory. Here’s the original text from the play, followed by a clip from the Pandora movie.  Reggie actually dies about 3 mins 45 seconds in, so don’t let the fact this bit is ten minutes long put you off.

DUCHESS. What death?
BOSOLA.       Strangling; here are your executioners.
DUCHESS.  I forgive them:
The apoplexy, catarrh, or cough o’ th’ lungs,
Would do as much as they do.
BOSOLA.  Doth not death fright you?
DUCHESS.                             Who would be afraid on ‘t,
Knowing to meet such excellent company
In th’ other world?
BOSOLA.  Yet, methinks,
The manner of your death should much afflict you:
This cord should terrify you.
DUCHESS.                       Not a whit:
What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut
With diamonds? or to be smothered
With cassia? or to be shot to death with pearls?
I know death hath ten thousand several doors
For men to take their exits; and ’tis found
They go on such strange geometrical hinges,
You may open them both ways:  any way, for heaven-sake,
So I were out of your whispering.  Tell my brothers
That I perceive death, now I am well awake,
Best gift is they can give or I can take.
I would fain put off my last woman’s-fault,
I ‘d not be tedious to you.
FIRST EXECUTIONER.           We are ready.
DUCHESS.  Dispose my breath how please you; but my body
Bestow upon my women, will you?
FIRST EXECUTIONER.               Yes.
DUCHESS.  Pull, and pull strongly, for your able strength
Must pull down heaven upon me:—
Yet stay; heaven-gates are not so highly arch’d
As princes’ palaces; they that enter there
Must go upon their knees [Kneels].—Come, violent death,
Serve for mandragora to make me sleep!—
Go tell my brothers, when I am laid out,
They then may feed in quiet.

Pogorelich, the Concert

Such a sad evening. The Chopin Sonata was unrecognizable, the Mephisto Waltz might just as well have been played backwards, and clearly, the Wunderkind I fell at the feet of thirty years ago has completely lost it. ‘Incoherent’, which is how a journalist at the New York Times described his playing in 2006, was the least of his problems. He no longer appears to have a technique, an appreciation of rhythm, or any memory of the notes. He slammed his foot down on the sustaining pedal with the subtlety of a pneumatic drill. It was both horrifying (that he even gets a gig these days) and tragic (he was such an artist). The best playing he managed was before the concert began, as he sat at the piano wearing a beanie and chatting with passersby (see below). Not a good sign. We left after the first half.

The Konzerthaus itself was as gorgeous and alluring as ever. We sat in Loge 8. We’ve never sat there before, and had never seen the fish (ditto) or the detail on the ceiling (double ditto). The best thing was that the chairs were freestanding and extremely comfortable.

I suffered a fit of nostalgia today, so I played his recording of the Chopin Sonata to Andreas. It was just as fabulous as I remember it. And made me feel even sadder.

The Luck of the Irish

Imagine you were checking in for an international flight and the nice lady at the desk told you that your passport had expired. What would happen next? If it happened to me, nothing would happen next. I’d simply have to accept that the only place I’d be going that day was home.

Now imagine my husband, Andreas, bouncing up to the check-in counter, as he did on Wednesday, and presenting his German ID card to the same nice lady. (Germans don’t need passports on flights within the EU, just their IDs—the kind the English refuse to carry.)

It’s true, he looked shocked for a whole thirty seconds after she told him the ID had expired, but his confusion was over almost as soon as it began. He smiled at the nice lady and asked, politely, if there was anything he could do to resolve the situation. She smiled back and explained, with admirable clarity, about the office in the other building where a nice policeman was waiting to help hapless German-ID-expiry-date-forgetters, and that he should trot over there straight away. There was time, she said, before the almost empty flight to Dublin would close.

So we trotted over. Well, Andreas trotted, I stormed. Again, if this had been me in a similar situation in England, I would have had to walk for half an hour simply to reach the office. Then, even if I found it, the nice policeman would definitely not be nice and anyway, he, or she, would be on a break.

Cut back to Andreas, in Germany, at the old Schönefeld airport, which looks a bit like an IKEA but much smaller. Firstly, the office was precisely where they lady said it would be and it took us five minutes to get there. Secondly, there were two nice policeman ready and willing, nay eager to help. And thirdly… well, thirdly, this is Germany, and everything works.

Andreas isn’t blood Irish, he’s German, but during his many visits to the Emerald Isle has clearly hoovered up a fair amount of her legendary luck, because fifteen minutes and 8 Euros after the initial discovery that the ID had expired, he was back at the check-in counter with a boarding pass in his large hairy paw. He even had time for a couple of cigarettes before going through security. Which is why I want to be Andreas next lifetime.

Anyway, here’s a silly snap of some more art from the streets of Berlin. I think kids painted these knobs, but god knows what they were doing there in the first place.

Pogorelich

So, now my mind is back in the 80s and busily sifting through memories of many wonderful theatrical and musical experiences. Between 1978 and 1985, I usually spent four or five nights a week at some Lonodn theatre or other; these days I prefer a plate of steamed veggies and a dvd. How things change.

I was at music college when the shit hit the fan at the 1980 Warsaw Piano Competition. Ivo Pogorelich, the boy Martha Argerich dubbed ‘a genius’, was placed third by the panel of judges, much to Madame Argerich’s disgust, but had his revenge by going on to become one of the most talked-about pianists of his generation. As I’ve completely forgotten who actually won the Warsaw that year, losing seems to have been a pretty good game-plan.

I was lucky enough get tickets to sit in the orchestra for his Festival Hall debut in 1982. The place was packed, not a seat to be had, and I must say, he gave an astounding performance. Tall, a bit gangly and thin, but very romantically beautiful, not only could I not unglue my eyes from his physical form, what I heard was so intense and unexpected that I could barely breathe. It was all so strong and in-your-face. But there’s no real point in trying to describe in words how he played back then, especially when it’s so easy for you to hear for yourself.

He was also ‘interesting’. All kinds of gossip flew around about his relationship with his piano teacher, who was thirty years older than him (I think he was in his early 20s) and whom he later married. She died a couple of years ago of liver disease. One journalist wrote that as her husband bent down to kiss her good bye, her liver burst, plastering him in her blood. She was dead. And he didn’t wash for days…

Anyway, his debut was stunning. The programme included some Boulez, which I couldn’t be much bothered with, and his supremely muscly interpretation of  Schumann’s Symphonic Studies. I bought the recording the moment I left the concert hall, on credit, naturally, then played it dry.

Ten years later I travelled up to Oxford to hear him at the Bodleian Library. There, instead of the beautiful boy I’d fallen for so heavily a decade before, I found a vile, fat, sycophantic alien who, lacking any semblance of musical aspiration, sneered smugly at his audience then beat the piano into submission with laser-like precision. I endured his Mozart, but left before he started flagellating anything else I loved.

Richter didn’t like him at all. Or at least, he didn’t like his early recordings—I don’t think he ever heard him play in the flesh. I wonder, though, if it was really the wife he didn’t like. I think she turned up on his doorstep to promote her protégé husband and extract some kind of endorsement from him, which, naturally, he twigged immediately and as a result took against her before she’d even opened her mouth. He wrote in his notebook that the boy didn’t understand Beethoven at all. But I loved the Op. 111 recording, and the Schumann (as I’ve already mentioned), and his Gaspard la Nuit was quite astounding.

Pogorelich has played in Berlin since I’ve been here, or at least, advertisements pasted in the U-bahn have announced, optimistically, that he’d been booked at the Philharmonie, or the Konzerthaus, or somewhere. But as far as I can tell he cancels more often than he actually plays. Nevertheless, when the Konzerthaus wrote to me this week saying there were a couple of tickets left for his concert next Tuesday, I snapped them up immediately.

The thing is I really want to love him again. I want to reinstate him in my pantheon of ‘greats’. And that’s why I seized the tickets with such eagerness. So, as part of my attempt to rehabilitate the now Croatian musical superstar, here’s a clip from youtube of one of the pieces he played during his controversial performance at the Warsaw Competition. It’s one of Chopin’s virtually-impossible-to-play Scherzos, and I think this recording shows just how keenly he fingers the keys. My great hope is that the 50 year old Ivo will have rubbed off a few of the sharper corners that afflicted the 30 year old. Let’s see.

Panache

I remember reading an article by Anthony Burgess, or was it in the interview he gave to Antonia Byatt? I can’t remember. What stuck in my mind was his story about being told he had an inoperable brain tumour. Obviously, he recovered, but for a while he thought he was going to die, and made a conscious decision to spend what time he had left making money for his family. So, he started writing novels. Naturally, he had no choice but to work quickly and in this interview/article announced quite coolly that he found it quite easy to knock off 2,000 words before breakfast. I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from the shock of that statement, and ‘2,000 words before breakfast’ has become the unattainable bar of productivity that I never have and never am likely to attain this lifetime. I can barely manage a 300 word daily blog entry…

So, Anthony Burgess has a great deal to answer for, yet until now, I’ve avoided reading his novels. His translation of Cyrano de Bergerac, though, is a great favourite of mine. It was commissioned for a production by the RSC in the early 80s and Derek Jacobi was cast as Cyrano. I went 5 times, and as the RSC tended to decamp to the restaurant I worked at after the performance, I served Derek and his boyfriend, Pete Postlethwaite, Alice Krige and Sinead Cusak, plus many other members of the cast, throughout the play’s run. Gerard Depardieu’s very popular version was in the cinema’s at the same time, but I didn’t like it. I much preferred this theatre piece.

Sadly, one or two prominent critics of the day lambasted the RSC for wasting the talents of their company on such unutterable rubbish. It made me sad at the time because there was so much to enjoy in this extremely rich, albeit extremely romantic play, not least the marvellously vivid language Burgess had conjured from the French original. Personally, I feel it was the end of one of the RSC’s richer periods—especially when you remember that their next big hit was the inexorable ‘Glums’.

Anyway, all the above was inspired by the discovery that some kind soul had videoed the BBC TV presentation of this production that was aired in 1985, and posted it on youtube. I vividly remember sitting on the floor in a friend’s tiny Alma Square apartment (I was crashing on the sofa for a couple of months between ‘jobs’) to watch the show, and both loving and hating it at the same time: ‘loving’ to hear the words again, especially as spoken by the wonderful Derek Jacobi, and ‘hating’ the sad lack of excitement and atmosphere that I always felt in the theatre.

And now, after more than twenty years, we can see it again. True, it’s been broken it up into 17 parts, so if you’re interested, you’ll have to endure a fuzzy picture and ten minute mouthsful, but if it lives up to my memory of it, you’re in for a treat. I feel I can’t wait, but am determined to discipline myself to save it for the weekend.

In the meantime, here’s a good bit— the humour and vibrancy of language deserves the description ‘good’, not the quality of the video. Here’s Cyrano’s first appearance on the stage and his masterclass in wit to the pom-pom wearing men of fashion he despises so roundly. Sadly, this clip lacks the final stanza of the speech, so if you have time, do find the next bit and let Cyrano finish.

The Liebestod

Phil went to the Staatsoper’s Tristan and Isolde last night and it got me thinking about Wagner (a shitty bastard if ever there was one, but quite a musician) and all the Liebestod’s I’ve heard and loved this lifetime. This particular outpouring (one of the most beautiful death scenes ever written) comes, as you know, at the end of a five hour opera. The snag with this opera, though, is that everything interesting has already happened before the curtain rises. Typical Wagner!

The recording I remember owning, which I never once listened to from beginning to end in one go (five hours is a big commitment), was the 1966 live Bayreuth recording with Brigit Nilsson singing the Liebestod. The woman was a force of nature. I have never seen or heard a singer with a more secure technique or such absolute confidence. It doesn’t even occur to her that she might not rise to the many technical and emotional challenges of the piece. Amazing stuff, really.

In my teens, the great Hildegard Behrens was flavour of the month amongst the Wagnerians (I was more interested in the Italians myself) and the only other really great Wagnerian soprano I knew of at that time was Kirsten Flagstad. Most of the Wagnerian spoofs comedians indulged in—back in the heady days when popular culture had the wit to lampoon high culture without worrying about whether or not they were alienating their audience, which these days are assumed to be dimwitted and lowbrow—tended to home in on Flagstad’s and Nilsson’s looks and delivery. A shame really, they were extrordinary singers in so many ways.

Just the idea of posting a recording of Wagner’s music is itself a painful contradiction for Wagnerians (an obsessive and often touchy breed). Although I’m sure Richard himself would not only have embraced today’s new technologies, but have pushed the envelope to the limit, I doubt he’d ever be thrilled by the idea that all the layers of luscious sound he created is so often mashed and filtered through very inadequate speakers. But needs must, and I really don’t care that much about Richard Wagner’s sensibilities.

My offering today is a very bizarre confection. Maria Callas—not a noted Wagnerian, but hired by some madman to sing Isolde and Brünnhilde in her early 20s, if memory serves—recorded the Liebestod in Italian, and amazingly the recording still exists. So although I feel sure I’ve played it for Phil at some time over the past couple of decades, as his memory is even lousier than mine, I’ve decided to play it for him again, to celebrate the loss of his Wagnerian virginity, and hope you too enjoy listening. 

Sunny Days and Sweetness

An old, old friend whom I recently reconnected with on Facebook (we shared a flat together when we were at college in London) posted this photo yesterday. Delicious colours, don’t you think? And this little row of beings create such a marvellous shape.

Another old friend, Dorothy Ianonne, opened a show of her paintings in Berlin yesterday—about a dozen big pieces all sitting together in a small gallery on the Grosser Hamburger Strasse in Mitte. Her palette isn’t exactly the same as the birds’ colouring, but it has the same effect on my mind as it’s bright and joyful and never fails to raise the spirits.

Dorothy is also unfailingly kind and patient, and even though I am a confirmed misanthrope, she still invites me to these splendid occasions when they take place in Berlin. And I must say, it was marvellous to see the pictures and to almost hear her Singing Box. Most of Dorothy’s art celebrates her lifelong pursuit of the highest form of union and is both wildly explicit and tenderly innocent, but never takes itself too seriously. You should see the show if you’re in Berlin. There’s a webpage about Dorothy and the gallery showing her work, but I can’t seem to add the link… so I’m afraid you’ll have to type it in yourself. Go to http://www.peresprojects.com.

But I am such a dead loss when it comes to socializing that I couldn’t quite manage to get to the dinner afterwards. Sorry Dorothy, I’m far better suited to a tête-à-tête and a cup of tea.

Nazi Art

I’m a big fan of Nazi Art. We’re surrounded by Nazi architecture in Berlin and so most of its images (apart from the swastika, which in any case has been obliterated) signal ‘home’ for me. I live near Flughafen Tempelhof, the airport in the centre of the city that was used by the Allies for flying supplies in to keep the Berliners going during the darkest days of the wars. It’s an extraordinary building. Huge and exquisitely proportioned, it exudes limitless power and ambition, even now.

Usually I whizz past on my bike, but I’ve been walking there recently because I’m a wimp and the wind has been too cold to cycle through. Yesterday I wandered into a covered walkway that I’ve seen a million times but never entered before, and found the most marvellous gold mosaic light fittings, perhaps two or three feet in diametre. Very simple, mathematically correct and satisfying, strong yet warm. (see picture below)

I also snapped a shot of one of the eagles I’ve known for nearly twenty years that lives on a wing of one of the surrounding buildings. He’s a really old friend, but we’ve never talked. I’ve always suspected him of being a closet queen. Every time I look at him, I expect him to start kicking his legs in the air like a can-can dancer. Don’t you think those legs are a bit too feathery to be true?  My suspicion is that they’re the eagle’s equivalent of a toupé for legs. I don’t suppose bald, horny claws would have sent the same message as healthy, fat feathered thighs. And Nazis did love to smack their thighs with riding whips at every opportunity…

Berlin is Berlin, as OT Rinpoche might say, and artists tend to make use of the freedom they have always been given here to expose bizarre sexual proclivities. Hints of such things often simmer beneath the surface of a large proportion public and private spectacle, to some degree at least. These days, though, artists no longer hint, so much as rub your nose in their most disturbing fantasies without compunction. But again, this is Berlin. And in the 21st century, ‘subtle’ isn’t a saleable commodity in the global market. Evidence suggests that it wasn’t much valued by the Nazis either.

My eyes grow dim…

Spiritual people, whichever tradition they follow, tend to be quite emotional types. I’ve always felt a certain kinship with some of early Christian writers. The authors of the Psalms, for example, whoever they may be. Here’s the beginning of Psalm 69, which seems to me to describe remarkably accurately, how it feels to flail around on a spiritual path.

Ofcourse, I’m not waiting for God. As a follower of the Buddhadharma I don’t believe that the will of an independent, external deity rules my life. But substitute ‘enlightenment’ for ‘God’, or even ‘realization’, and the verse becomes surprisingly relevant. For me, at least.

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

POSTSCRIPT
A memory of this verse popped into my mind as I was making my breakfast this morning. Banana porridge. And as a result, I burnt it. Perhaps I should convert to Christianity. A quarter of a century of Buddhist practice doesn’t seem to have brought me one ounce of mindfulness.

LSD Therapy

I’m not in the mood to write this morning. Or more accurately, I wasn’t in the mood, until I scanned the BBC news website and read about some studies done in the 60s that have recently been reevaluated. A select band of scientists is now suggesting that LSD may be the most effective temporary ‘cure’ for alcoholism we currently have available. Now, isn’t that the starting point for a wonderful series of character comedy sketches.

Except, as soon as my imagination started flying off into LSD-fueled comedy, I realized that most of the characters I wanted to rely on for the comic bottom-line probably don’t exist in this 21th century world. For example, I’m sure there are loads of rich, bored housewives, but are there any who are so prim and proper that they would go to any length to conceal their weaknesses? I think not. It’s a badge of honour to be an addict of some kind there days. Celebrities own up to it all the time. They chalk up addictions on national telly at an alarming rate, and often don’t appear to have a problem at all—please consider Daniel Radcliffe before you dismiss my claim as the ramblings of a grumpy old woman. LSD itself is deeply unfashionable, isn’t it? Most druggies prefer Coke or Ecstasy or Crack or whatever (I’m sure I’m dating myself by not knowing what the latest drug of choice should be), don’t they?

With Oprah and daytime telly encouraging full disclosure at every opportunity, bored housewives don’t try to conceal their problems at all any more. In fact, nobody does. Which I’m sure is a good thing from many points of view, but the present day propensity for public gut spilling doesn’t make for quite such amusing comic characters. Think of our old friend Basil Fawlty. Would you want him to own up to his hang-ups? If he were a real human being, perhaps, but in the context of comedy, it would be deadly. On the other hand, Basil Fawlty on LSD is an interesting premise for a comedy sketch—but not a long one. I wonder if I’ve finally put my finger on why I no longer even think of watching situation comedy on the telly any more.

And what does all this say about my mind? I recently realized that my view of the world is peopled with caricatures of the TV personalities I grew up with. Sad, but true. I am the product of an education that was built on the somewhat dubious foundations of regular doses of Benny Hill, University Challenge (with Bamber Gascoigne), Randal and Hopkirk (diseased), the Black and White Minstrel Show, the Avengers, The Lightning Tree, Batman (POW! SPLAT!), the Magic Roundabout, Doctor Finlay’s Casebook, Opportunity Knocks (with Hughie Green), Morecome and Wise, The Saint, Doctor in the House and Thunderbirds. So, are you surprised by the result? No wonder I’m both confused and stuck with skewed perceptions. Buddha was right, purifying perception is the only way to go. Hmmnn, perhaps I’m the one who should take a trip to see Lucy…?

Durga

At least, I think this is Durga, mostly because she’s riding a lion. I found her on a house overlooking the Ganga and immediately loved her pointy nose. But she seems to have lost an arm and some implements, which whoever owns the house doesn’t seem remotely bothered by. I, being more superstitious and wary of this great and powerful lady, would probably have done something about the missing bits and pieces by now. But hey, I’m an uptight, fussy English woman who never knows when to let things go, so what do I know?

Sensual pleasures more than a rhino…

Languages are a mystery to me. My own native language, English, remains as mysterious to me today as it was when I first chanted A, B, C in nursery school. Then came French, which I loved the idea of, but hated its finiky reality (and still do.) So why I then took German as my third language I will never know. I have never really learnt a language thoroughly. I just grab at the odd verb and noun and repeat them loudly until someone asks, “Would you rather speak English?” Hard to believe, I know, but after more than eighteen years living in Germany, my German is only slightly more advanced than that of an 18 month old native baby. Sad, no?

All of which made my foray into the world of Tibetan-English translation such an un-get-overable shock. Throughout my career as a Buddhist student, I never once considered learning Tibetan. I can barely bring to mind the most basic terms that have been repeated to me ad nauseam for more than a quarter of a century, and the idea of having to string them together inspires cold sweats and palpitations! Nevertheless, a frisky demon with a highly developed sense of the ridiculous entered the minds of the great and the good who assign me projects, and, for better or for worse, I am now connected with a couple of accomplished Buddhist scholars whose priorities include the translation of Tibetan texts into contemporary English. And it was through them that I came across the rhino.

I mean, what would you have done with a rough translation of the sentence, “I have now experienced sensual pleasures more than a rhino?”

My first thought—although as it turned out, not my best—was that it was a comment on the sex life of a rhinoceros. (A bit obvious, though.) But given that the context was the nam tar of a beloved Tibetan teacher who lived in Kham and who would have been hard pressed to distinguish a rhino from a yak, it seemed unlikely. No other thoughts followed that first stab, so instead of wracking my already throbbing brains, I requested clarification.

The first thing I learnt was that rhinos are not Tibetan natives—which I’d sort fo guessed. That a rhino has never, and probably will never set foot on the plateau did not surprize me in any way. Yet, somewhere back in the mists of time, a Tibetan translator came across a description of a beast with a single horn, and now, god knows how many centuries later, the most recent English equivalent of the metaphor he originated seems to be ‘rhino’. Why not a unicorn, I wondered? Or a narwhal? Then I pulled myself up quite sharply and vowed to stop thinking. Thinking really isn’t much help in the Tibetan Buddhist world.

Then I twigged that it isn’t the rhino that’s the big deal here, it’s his horn (do ‘her’ rhinos also have horns, I wonder?) The single horn. Of course, my clever-dick mind immediately conjured any number of videos and photos of I’ve seen of rhinos and told me, in no uncertain terms, that many rhinos have two horns. But that’s an irrelevant detail from the Tibetan point of view. As far as they are concerned, the rhino has just one horn, and therefore is the perfect candidate to represent the number ‘one.’ A conclusion I don’t think any other nationality would have reached, but which makes perfect sense to a Tibetan mind. Let’s move on…

My next question was, does ‘sensual pleasures’ refer to sex? And again, my modern mind was in entirely the wrong arena. Here ‘sensual pleasures’ means ‘life.’ And as the writer was a great master who had developed absolute renunciation for samsara and nirvana, ‘life’ doesn’t refer to sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and all our modern ideas about living life to the full, but his spiritual life. Which makes the whole phrase mean something like, “I have lived a full life.” One might even extrapolate ‘satisfying.’

So that’s the rhino sorted. On one level at least. There are, as always, outer, inner and secret meanings to be considered, and so if the final draft doesn’t convey any of the above, don’t be surprised. Or I might have misunderstood everything I’ve been told and find I have to start again. Again.

I miss…

…Shivala Ghat and the Ganga. I miss seeing whole families gathering with a priest on the banks of the river to make offerings, solitary devotees saying prayers as the sun rises, the little red shrine, the goats and even the swarms of kids demanding ‘one piece’, or these days ‘ten piece’—inflation affects everyone. What I don’t miss are the piles of shit, the foraging for clean food, and the ache in my heart when I thought of home. Attachment and aversion: alive and well and living in me!

Unexpected Beauty

The things we do for our friends! Heinz, for example. It was his 50th birthday last month, and last night he held a spectacular party to celebrate. Inevitably, there were oceans of champagne (the really good stuff), plus delicious cocktails (not that my liver would allow me to sample them, damn it!), and yummy food (cheese mousse served as finger food!), elegant 1950s coaches to ship 200 drop-dead gorgeous friends from the atmospheric old factory where we gathered to the mysterious party palace that turned out to be Cookie’s place (Cookie is a Berlin institution, but he’s also English…) on the Fredrichstrasse (recently renovated and much improved) where a muscly acrobat performed daring feats with a large hoola hoop and Patti Smith serenaded Heinz until midnight.

Patti was a gift from Heinz’s wife, Julia, for his 50th birthday. Heinz has always had wonderfully good taste, which he demonstrated early on by falling in love with Patti at the age of sixteen. (In stark contrast to myself, whose taste is at best, questionable, and who, at the same age, fell in love with Eric Clapton. Ach ja…)

Anyway, Julia, with a little help from well-connected friends, flew Patti and two musicians from her band over to Berlin, met her three times to plan the gig (heart-fluttering stuff for fans of the lady), managed to keep it all a secret (would you have managed it?) and at around 11pm last night, the curtain rose on nearly an hour of musical ecstasy. What a marvellous thing to do for someone you love, don’t you think?

I’ve never seen Patti live before and I don’t think I ever really got her until last night. Cameras really aren’t her friends and don’t even begin to capture her vital, tender beauty. None of the films I’d seen even hinted at the her radiant charisma and the pure joy with which she fills a room.

Heinz was in seventh heaven, as you might image. And it truly was a joy to be there with him. One of the many things I love about Heinz is that his friends are people he loves, not people who are or could be useful to him. He is genuinely humble about his many achievements and so very appreciative of everyone and everything he encounters in life. For someone as successful and comfortable as he is even to recognize the value of the Buddha’s teachings, especially these days, is itself something of a miracle. As Wim Wenders said last night, he is the sweetest of men.

Happy Birthday Heinz. Thank you for being you! And don’t forget, the best is yet to come…

A Gathering of Goats

…on the the southern-most burning ghat. Although I must say, this photo comes over much better when it’s bigger. I felt a bit self-conscious as I took it because, technically, photo-taking is forbidden on the burning ghats. Noone seemed to mind when I pulled out my camera though, and a couple of would-be-tour guides even tried to steer me to a smouldering pyre so I could capture the final stages of the immolation. It felt wrong, though. I’ve become such an abider-by-rules in my old age. Except rules imposed by publishers, which I seem to break by the bucket load.

Lamentation

I think these towels must belong to one of the more up-market hotels on the Ganga, because after they were washed in the waters of the river, they were then hung rather than spread out to dry. I wish I could like this method for washing clothes. After all, it provides work for launderers who are able to spend their days in the open air (for one whose work ties her to a computer, this is a definite plus), doesn’t use electricity or any kind of technology other than the human body, and provides a vital service. But I can’t. I love my washing machine.

I remember a close friend telling me, at a time when my own finances were teetering perilous close to the abyss of destitution, that she would not hesitate to extend her own sizable debt to buy a new washing machine if hers broke down. I was horrified, but then, I’d never owned a washing machine and instead relied on regular visits to the Launderette around the corner. As far as I remember, in those days I spent most of my money on alcohol and books. The whole business of owning a washing machine seemed to me to be a symbol of settling into a comfortably bourgeois form of slavery, and from my materially unfettered (but debt-ridden) perspective, represented selling out. But I get it now.

What this means is, age has most definitely withered me and with it, my love of physical ease and comfort has wiped out any hint of ‘infinite variety.’ Who would have thought I would come to such a pass? Bugger it!