My uncle thinks it is a messy and chaotic city. I think that is hilarious.

Had coffee at the best place in Rome today, Tazzo d Oro °cup of gold°, near the Pantheon. It was good, the best in Italy yet, but Peters coffee is much better, seriously, we who drink with him have it goooooood.Big thunderstorm here last night, crack of lightening that lifted me from my bed. The tiber is flooding. Venice has flooded badly as most of you may know, thats the north though, another country.

Had dinner with a lovely lady from Sicily. A very elegant apartment, her husbands father built the building. so simple, so good, formal but informal all at the same time. They use a little cart near the table to serve and clear courses from. My uncle was embarrassed I put my watercress on the same plate with the potatoes, not done! But Maria was fine with me of course.

Maria is from the area near Mount Etna, people described her personality as °volcanic°. She is very speedy. She came over yesterday and i taught her some yoga breathing. thats what I do right?

Where is Peter,s family from in Sicily, perhaps you are cousins?

Having been doing Ammagis IAM meditation technique in the cathedrals. The buildings are amazing with art and architecture and ornamentation, but do nothing much for me spiritually. So Amma helps me put the space to use.

Rome is almost like India in that it is layered with culture and history for thousands of years. The Pantheon is a building like the Taj Mahal in that you feel transported when around it or in it. Turning it into a church saved it but really is a loss to its essential nature.

Rome is getting ready for Christmas and it is bella, bella. Will bring Panettone home for us.

Love to you all, not as interesting now, hugh?

 

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The term for making contact with a saint, guru, divine form, holy person is “darshan°. It is from the Sanskrit root °dri° which has to do with looking or gazing. In yoga we hear the word °drishti” pertaining to where to focus ones eyes.

I arrived in Rome on Sunday afternoon; my paternal uncle met me at the airport. It felt very different to be in Europe. I passed through London already, but now it is official, I am not in Asia anymore.

It feels so easy here, so quiet and calm and sane. My uncle thinks this is odd as for him Rome is crazy and erratic, compared to San Francisco or Paris, his two other favorite cities.

On the plane I sat next to a Sikh woman from Chandigarh. She was young and beautiful with long dark hair pulled back in a braid. She was wearing innumerous bangles on both arms and rings on every finger. She was nervous and commanding, with extra baggage and needing lots of male support to hoist her things into the overhead compartment. During the 9 hour flight we talked a bit and it turns out that her hair is long as it is a Sikh custom to not cut their hair, that the bangles indicate that she is recently married and she will wear them for 1 year, that she has all her jewelry on as she is en route to her new husband in Canada and her inlaws instructed her that this was the safest route to carry her valuables, that she is commanding because she is used to having servants at home, that she is nervous because she is flying for the first time, leaving home for good, heading to her husband’s family that will now be her family. It was of course an arranged marriage, but in this case, they met through the internet, within 3 months it was all decided. Another Sikh family, the same caste or class. In Canada though, no servants. She will need to learn how to do things herself. With her in laws guiding her of course.

In Italy, my uncle lives with his partner and his childhood friend from Chicago, Sandy, who knew my parents as well. Her and my mom were the same age and had their first child at the same time. They were both very beautiful and wild. The children slowed them down, but their natures were not dissimilar. We all go to dinner at °Ensalata Rica° which is a good salad chain. I eat raw food for the first time in weeks and drink white wine. Olive Oil, sun dried tomatoes, olives, parmesan cheese, corn, Italian Bread, balsamic vinegar. It all tastes more delicious than ever before.

The next day Gerald and I go for a walk in his beloved City. He lives in the shadow of the Coliseum. We walk down the °Via Emperiali°, a street created by Mussolini with ancient looking columns that actually credit him and reference his dream to create a new modern Roman empire. We pass the Roman forum and Trajan’s marketplace. We come to the Piazza Venezia, where Mussolini gave a famous speech from the balcony of a palace, we wander by the Parliament buildings and ancient churches. Gerald can decode everything i am seeing. He knows Rome’s history from its beginnings to the present moment and speaks Italian fluently. It is a special odd holiday this day, °The feast of the Immaculate Conception° of Mary. A strange holiday declared only 150 years ago that says that Mary was conceived normally, yet immaculately, thus making her the proper vehicle for the birth of Christ. Got it? People are roaming the streets in a casual way as it is holiday.

Gerald and I get 3 special treats on our way back. An old palace is open, with an art show, and we can wander in and see the grand rooms- the modern art is nothing compared to the rooms. The Chapel of °San Marco°, closed most of the time, is open and we can see some of the ancient mosaics. Coming out, I notice there is a commotion. People are lining the streets and there are police lights flashing. Something is happening.

Looking up the street, we see a procession. People are getting very excited. It is the pope mobile! The pope is standing in his modern chariot, in his red and white garb, waving and smiling. Like any good Italian Catholic (were American Jews mind you) we wave and smile. The crowd is thin enough to see and be seen clearly. I look at him, he looks at me. We smile. There you have it, Darshan with Pope Benedict XVI.

A post as I stop over in Delhi on my way to my Uncle Gerald in Rome:

I was only in Nepal for 6 days but it was lovely. My main host, Nabeen, created a full agenda and I visited almost every important place in the Valley. There is more, but he made sure I hit the majors and had a personal family or friend guiding me the whole time. Today on the way to the airport he said, I forgot to schedule you “alone” time to explor the city yourself ( which is very true!) but then said my visit was simply too short for that!

I saw Swayambunath (spelling wrong) a major Buddhist stupa with Praveen my first day. Praveen has his green card in Canada but is in Kathmandu for his first child’s birth. He had been in Tucson one visit for gem show and stayed with us and knew my mom so it was sweet. In fact, she had done his astrology chart and he said it was all coming to pass. The stupa is on top of a hill and is a great walk/hike that gives you a view of the valley as well as the spiritual value of the stupa and monastery upon it.

The next day I went with Prabina and her friend Prabakar to one of the village schools they are running a program with. It was interesting to see what they are doing- creating programs that bridge the gap between village children, their illiterate parents (in most cases), and teachers. Then we went to “Pattan”- a seperate enclave of the valley that has its own history and series of fascinating shrines.

The next day we went to Nagarkot, a 2 hour drive up from the valley to see the sunset. Something like heading up to Mount Lemmon for you Tucson folks reading, only your backdrop in one direction is the awesome Himalayas. We spent the night and had some good belly laughs. I slept with Nabeens mother who only speaks Newari and we figured out how to communicate in our own way. She has been teaching me some Newari words as well which has been great fun. She howls at the way I pronounce things. It is of course a struggle for the Newari people to keep their language alive. The older folks speak it to each other, the younger ones can speak it to their parents, but speak Nepali to each other, the newest generation only gets what their grandparents give them or pieces from their parents.

The sunrise was not as we would have liked. We got up at 6am to begin watching and continued to 9:30 or so. The sun appeared but it was not clear so the Himalayas were not fully visable- only pieces. Nabeen has this funny sound he makes when he is frustrated and it definitely was being heard. I had a great time trying to catch it, with wonderful company, so I was not disappointed in the least. I think I glimpsed Mount Everest for a moment, 142 kilometers away.

We then headed to “Baktapur” another small enclave like Pattan. It has an entrance fee for tourists but Nabeen was determined to avoid it. He bushwhacked his way to an obscure entrance, told me to lay low, and gunned it past the guards who saw Nepali people rather than tourists. Quite funny, hugh? Baktapur is well organized for tourists so you see wonderful stupas and shrines, some active and some dormant. You see some residents doing their thing but mainly it is geared towards tourists. You feel a bit like you are on a set for “Kathmandu” of yore. They are famous for their curd or yogurt, so we had some. Nabeen and Prabeena found a small shop that sold it, were aghast at the price, talked her down a bit, and we proceeded to enjoy. A sweet soft curd made in earthen ware vessels. It is one of my best food memories so far.

The next day Nireesh took my to Bouddhanath and Pashupati Temple to top off the list of majors. Bouddanath is the biggest stupa in the valley and a world heritage site. It is the central hub of Tibetan Buddhist activity and pilgrimage in Nepal. It is large and again, well organized for the tourist. We spun prayer wheels as we entered, gave acknowledgement to the Buddha’s and deities that mark the entrance, passed our hands over the flame that burns in the front, circumambulated the large structure.

I noticed lots of prayer flags extending from the top point down and wondered if they were placed for people who had died. Nabeen told me earlier that was what they were for when we had seen them atop the tallest tower in Nagarkot.

I asked, via Nireesh who speaks Nepali, how much it was to string my own and the man selling flags told me the price and procedure. It took 10 separate strings of flags, I should write who I was wanting to honor on the flag in marker, and some of the young boys would climb up and attach them. They searched for a marker and I proceeded to assign one string to each person that came to mind.

Foremost in my mind was my mother of course who felt deep love for and found great consolation from the Tibetan tradition, and who dreamt of coming to Kathmandu, but never made it. I spelled out her whole name- Sharon Rose Veronica O’Connor Korshak “Grihananda”. I included other people who died in her lifetime- her whole family (minus Aunt Valerie), my father and his mom Shirley, a few others that came to my mind from my recent past.

They showed me where they would string them and then we watched, payment upon completion. It was one of the highlights of my trip so far, a perfect, natural moment where I realized I had completed something spiritually very significant.

We had chanted the Tibentan Prayer for the Dead for 49 days after she died, her Guru Kriyananda had done the Kriya rituals for her as well, we had a memorial in Tucson, Chicago, and then the release of the ashes into Lake Michigan. But this was the world of her vivid imagination, and I was here at one of its center points, placing the flags with her and others we loved in mind. Now they will wave, disintegrate, and thus scatter their prayers into the atmosphere. Om Mane Padme Hum. May All Beings Be Enlightened.

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I arrived in Nepal Sunday and have been settling into a new but similar country. My Nepalese friends suggested I do India first and it was a good choice as I was ready to appreciate the contrast more.

In short, Nepal is softer than India and cleaner. It is a blend of so much. I had heard that, read that, but being here I see it for real. It is here between India and China- massive countries and powers- and below Tibet. These are just things we use to categorize, but really India is many worlds in and of itself as I suppose China is as Tibet is as parts of Nepal are. Does this make any sense?

What I am trying to say is that I see people who look Tibetan, Chinese, Indian, Nepalese and more. I don’t know what Nepalese is exactly, except for my friends who I have known for 10 years almost. They are Newari to be specific- the native people of the Kathmandu valley. They speak Newari, Nepali, Hindi, and English as well as other languages they may pick up when traveling or interacting with foreigners. They are a blend of Hindu and Buddhist. There are strict Hindus here, probably from Indian origin. There are strict Buddhists here, probably from Tibet. They are definitively both.

Going to the temples and shrines, like India is casual and common place. Perhaps even more so as the shrines are everywhere here- a type of fashion statement put in place by the Malla kings who ruled here over 200 years ago. There are deities I have never heard of, or have heard of but they are slightly altered here. There is a deity or shrine for everything and it is not superstition. All people use these shrines as they move to and from places in a highly chaotic, ancient urban jumble.
People may use a temple regularly- like Prabina, my hostess who goes to the next door Ganesha temple every morning for Puja. Two large, shallow baskets of golden marigolds are on the floor in the kitchen. She buys them in bulk and will use them up day by day for the puja each morning. She sprinkles them with water and keeps them on the roof to keep them fresh.

People may use shrines casually, like Nabin, my host who has walked me around and drove me around in numerous directions- acknowledging some shrines simply through a gesture and chant and others through the lighting of candles and the red mark of a ticka on the forehead. The other night he took me to a white Avaloketishvara shrine that was breathtaking. I can’t describe it in any way to give it justice. The street is crazy, we take a turn off of it towards the temple and it gets quieter, we see her/him from a distance and already he/she glows. The temple has layers that are open that lead you towards the central chamber where the image is sheltered. There are certain steps people take, not always the same to approach the center, once there you can pay a few rupees for “butter light candles” which you light from a burning candle, circle three times clockwise in front of your face and the statue as you perhaps pray, an attendant, not necessarily a priest then takes it and offers it directly to the statue, then returns it to a platter. You then wave your hands over the flame and bring it to your eyes, crown, heart, whatever, and then take a ticka or a few flower petals and leave the front to make way for someone else. In this case the shrine was quite empty and felt very intimate and alive. We may have spun prayer wheels as we circumambulate the central chamber and then reached up to strike a bell as we exited. Then we are back onto the chaotic street in route to something mundane.

A funny side note to this story is as we approached the central chamber, Nabin got a phone call, answered it, stood in front of the shrine and talked for a few moments, then signed off and proceeded. For me this is a big deal, for him it is life, no disrespect to the great Avaloketeshvara.

There is more and more of course- a few more notes and then goodnight.

I have decided that the sound of Asia so far, is a honking horn. That and a man “hacking”- clearing his chest and throat, then spitting up and out what is willing to go. this is sad of course- an indication of modernization/westernization coming too fast for peoples good.

In India and here men are very affectionate with each other. They wrap their arms around each other, interlace arms and hands, stand back to front, I have even seen men standing front to front. these are not gay men, this is the culture.

Dogs have it a bit better here than in India I think.still roaming freely, but not as mangy looking. The fact that our dogs and cats live with us is pretty odd to most of them.

People work really hard here-in India and Nepal, I have taken many pictures of people carrying heavy, heavy loads on their heads or shoulders or backs. they are walking as cars and trucks wiz buy. There must be an easier way, but meanwhile they are strong and do what they need to to get paid or get their materials to market.
To wear a pollution mask is an enlightened thing to do here. Earplugs wouldn’t be a bad idea either. I can enjoy these things for awhile but to live in it would be treacherous. But then again they are strong,right? Right.

Load Setting- I think that is what it is called. Kathmandu areas/zones lose power at scheduled intervals every day. For 45 hours a week total. This means that the power goes out and everyone in that zone must make due for a few hours- 3 or 4. Some people have generators but most either go dark or light candles. Tonight, it goes out as Nabin and I are walking down a busy street. There is a collective gasp. Everyone knows it is coming, but it still is a bit of a shock. Now only the motorbike lights illuminate the street. Again, small generator lamps go on in some shops and candles in most. It is actually quite interesting for me to experience and gives the town a slower and softer quality that I appreciate.

I am slow by nature, but can dodge bikes, rickshaws, motorbikes and cars as well as anyone native. It is a simple matter of survival instinct and no thinking, meditation background helps with that.

I used to not like crowds but now feel fine in them. You become anonymous and yet have your intention to get somewhere. It is like a big video game, virtual reality of sorts. It will feel lonely to be back in the USA with all that space and relative calm and quiet.

Goodnight for now. Blessings, Natasha

 

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