sun dried sprigs

Greek Greetings,

I am still in Greece and am headed home in one fast week! Time is flying by with my plane ride home a huge punctuation mark in my mind, sometimes dreadful, sometimes not coming fast enough. I feel the whole year right now like a backpack I’m carrying.

I am on the island of Paros, taking embroidery lessons from a woman named Maria. For the past two weeks I took a figure drawing workshop at an incredibly beautiful art school, as a closure treat to myself. It has ended up a nice foil to my textile project — I don’t meet with Maria very often but in the midst of trying to keep up with the workshop it makes me realize how slow, how interpersonal, and how at odds with modern life this project has been. My comfort with it is completely unique to this year and is so satisfying to feel.

I work on Maria’s porch with her five gold necklaces practically blinding me in the sun. She sits with me the whole time, silently because she doesn’t speak English, and sometimes surprises me by erupting passionately into Greek on the phone. She seems fine just sitting there, half the time ripping out my stitches with a jovial chuckle that makes me not mind. Her house is modern with Byzantine icons all over the place, and she has eight cats, one of which vomited on the couch while she was out of the room. I didn’t say anything, which was pretty classic. We can’t talk to each other anyways!

It is amazing how much body language says, I have to keep my body very relaxed to show I am doing fine and am not worried and she has to do the same. Her face has the kindest expression the whole time, which I really appreciate.

When I am not with Maria I am at the beach. I didn’t know water could be this color without coolaid involved! I met great people in the workshop and I feel myself transitioning back to normal life with them alongside me. What a year it has been!!!!

I am going to do a short slideshow of my photos and some presenting/talking about my experience at my house on August 9th – and if you are reading this you are invited! Whoever can make it or is interested is welcome, and feel free to invite anyone who might be as well. More details about the time are to come, I have one more post coming!  For the Love family, I know we have a gathering in Lincoln soon after that that might make it difficult to come so if you are coming to Medal Day on the 14th (hint it’s Tony Morrison this year you should come!) I could to do something afterwards.

sending coolaid water and sun wrinkles,
Annie

 

The Argo Commences in Greece!

Greetings from Greece!

I’m sitting outside an ice cream parlor, letting the waves of culture shock come as I watch people go by in bathing suits. I’m in transition, and in Greece!

I left Ladakh to renew my Indian visa in Nepal, but decided not to bear the Ladakhi altitude again, and chose a totally different part of the world to end the year with.
One second I was witnessing a cremation in Nepal, and the next I was on a boat to Paros island, with a bunch of perfumed ladies, in the Mediterranean! It was the most extreme culture shock I’ve had all year. And this country is so so beautiful.

So far I’ve been wandering the streets squinting at the white buildings in the sun. The ocean is so clear and full of salt that I spend a lot of time floating on my stomach watching the sea urchins and thinking about this place and how I’m going to go about it. It’s looking like the rest of the year might include boat model building, pottery, and lace in Croatia! I am delving into other crafts when I can now…

I have to briefly address that cremation. I was being shown around Kathmandu and we entered a temple, and there was a body being burned down by the water! I was so surprised, and the smoke was so intense everywhere, but of course no one else blinked an eyelash. Coffins floated in the water from earlier cremations, monkeys ran around everywhere in gangs, and painted men lounged along the walls beckoning to me. Whoa!!!!!!! What a country Nepal is! I can safely say there’s no cremations here.

Just a lot of white and blue very beautiful things. All for now- farewell to Ladakh and the wonderful people there. Sending a white town and about a million cats,
Annie

 

Last picture is from Croatia

Ladakh

I have been in Ladakh, the highest desert in the world! For the last month. I am now in Nepal, re-collecting. I lived at an English school for three weeks, and then spent five days in a self sustaining village nearby. Ladakh is a sheer open desert, with a very teal river. I have never been in a desert before, and the heat and openness was amazing. The culture of Ladakh is also very preserved I found, probably because it is so high in the mountains. More preserved, I thought, than anywhere I have been this year.

I think most people hate it when people go on about their trips, but the experience in the village really got me and I’m still kind of there…and not sure how to proceed after doing that…

When I walked in through a gorge on a narrow path (aa!) I didn’t know how they would react to me coming in on them, but when I emerged from the rock wall and an old man saw me, he called to everyone in the village, only 25 people!, and I was welcomed in completely. I farmed with them and tried to learn to spin, and the women graciously acted like they had known me as long as they had know each other. It was amazing.

I think the thing about this textiles project that is most interesting and that makes me kind of teary is that one woman often takes me on as her ‘daughter,’ and calls herself my mother. I was amazed that this time in only five days she had shared so much, created a whole dynamic between us, and cried when I left. It’s weird that I kind of miss this woman that is now so far away from me in so many ways…

The best moment was when I showed interest in their clothes and they brought me inside and dressed one woman who had never been married, in the full bridal outfit, and did a whole dance for me in a field. I couldn’t believe it. The outfit she wore was five hundred years old and had been made in that village!
Something I am thinking about is the three weeks I spent in a Karen village in Thailand, which was very similar. The Ladakhis seemed very content and barely touched the modern world, whereas the Thai village was taken care of by the government, and was a culture preserved not through farming but the work of the women on their heavily embroidered clothes. It has felt strange to be in both, feeling at home even for a moment was completely amazing, but then failing at so many things, and continually feeling like I was seeing things I wasn’t supposed to see….The openness and friendship of the women who opened up to me there I don’t think I will forget, particularly the two ‘mothers’ of these two villages. So strange and so surprising!

Goodbye to Ladakh– bunker style monasteries, sky toilets, and the amazing culture.

Farewell!!

Annie

Shikoku Pilgrimage

I did it! Well I only survived one week of it, but this rather bold digression from my project into religions actually happened, and turned out to be maybe the most incredible and difficult week of the year!

I walked the beginning for three days, then took the train to the end of the trail (thus quickly reaching the stage of enlightenment) and walked the trail backwards for four. My hope was that I would see the culture of honor that surrounded the end of the trail, and I definitely encountered it, as soon as I arrived in the Henro hat and white robe as an official pilgrim.

Most of the time I was visiting zen temples and walking…on trails and unfortunately on a lot of highways, and I basically decided each night I was going to quit the next day. But I quickly discovered that what was most worth while about walking this much was the interactions I had with the local people every day, and the special kind of respect they showed me. Every time I passed anyone they bowed deeply to me, even little kids, and many people offered me rides and any sweets on them, and even money. It was so incredible. A woman who saw me in the grocery store biked up to me ten minutes later with a box of strawberries. At first I felt bad that I hadn’t walked the whole thing, but I discovered that they show the same amount of respect to everyone engaged with it, even those lovely ancients who went by bus.

The map book was often off, and no signs were in English, so a lot of the experience was getting lost and being helped by people ..who couldn’t speak to me. I ended up looking forward to these interactions, as annoying and painstaking as they were. In the beginning it was anything for a moment away from monotonous walking on suburban roads by myself, usually torn between crying and strange elation.

I stayed in Japanese style inns. In totally bare rooms with a little mat on the floor for a bed. And I would wear this heavy robe and eat crazy fish meals that later made me feel strange. At one point they said ‘hot bath’ when I arrived and showed me to a huge public bath inside the tiny inn. What!? I was the only one staying there that night luckily, so I had it to myself, otherwise it would have been a lot of nudity.

I wish I could write about every single interaction I had…but here are the ones that stick out:
(at no point did I ever feel unsafe, Japan is the safest country in the world and especially for the honored pilgrims.)
When I arrived at one inn it was so hot I changed into shorts. When I came down the innkeeper saw this and looked me in the eye with his one eye that was covered in what looked like gray jelly, and mimicked a snake biting my leg with his hand. It was the creepiest but also thoughtful interaction. There are big snakes on that island and it was a good warning. I was terrified of them the rest of the time, mostly because his glazed eye was stuck forever in my mind.

Another time an old woman picked me up to give me a ride to my next inn. She stopped in some kind of office building, it must have been a tourism office, and when we walked in everyone just stared at me, six feet tall and in a medieval pilgrimage outfit. But soon everyone was consumed with helping me, the oldest man pacing the room languidly, smoking a cigarette and giving his thoughtful council to a flurry of people in dated suites crowded around my map. Soon a whole group was driving me personally to my inn, enjoying it very much.

But the best interaction was with an old couple who not only drove me down the mountain from the temple…where they found me staring forlornly at the sun already setting…but took me out to dinner! They talked and talked to me in Japanese, trying to be comforting I think. It was so nice I almost fell asleep at the table it was so relaxing to suddenly have the company.

As amazing as this was, hopefully never again will I walk that much, feel so much soreness in my legs, get lost so often, be alone that much, or have so little English available to me. Or eat fish. It was so hard to have all these things at once. That being said, I loved the temples and would like someday to try the whole thing, when I spontaneously become a muscle man. Or am carried in a litter.

As one person said about the experience, “I learned to get out of my own way.” This effort, combined with seeing five beautiful temples a day and hundreds of Japanese in white zen costumes really does give you a taste for the real zen, and it is so amazing.

And now it’s farewell to Japan as I go to sleep for a long time, and then fly back to India to continue my project on textiles, in Ladakh, a province in the north. I’ll likely be there for the remainder of my year!

Sending one big straw hat and a beautiful coastal Japan,
Annie


Farewell Japan!!

Clay and Fragile Stencils

In an effort to practice traditional crafts in Japan, I went up to Mashiko, a town famous for ceramics. I got off the bus too early and found myself in a liquor store, where the owner personally drove me to the guesthouse (wonderful Japan!). He dropped me at a 200 year old Japanese farmhouse- gorgeous, but I was given a little mud room that ended up freezing me half to death.

By helping out around the studios I was given full reign of the clay and space for a reduced price. Old master potters shuffled around the studios, mumbling to themselves and avoiding me, apparently because they were embarrassed that they didn’t speak English.

My teachers were a Japanese woman, who taught me stenciling on fabric in her free time, and her American fiancé, who taught me ceramics. And he spoke English to me! That was a huge relief, and for the first day or two all I could do was talk. I settled into the repetitive motion of throwing on the wheel and laboring over a stencil, and getting to know this couple.

At one point the couple took me to visit one of the most famous potters in Japan who lived nearby. This visit was a huge honor, and I was speechless the whole time with the formality of it. His wife did the official tea ceremony for us, and he did a demonstration of throwing on the wheel. It was incredible, in one single motion he brought up the sides of the bowl, the whole process taking under ten seconds. He made seven bowls in under a minute!

The yard was filled with pots as big as small bathtubs that had been cracked or misshapen. He told us about his survival of various wars and the philosophy of craft…
I loved  his wife who was a figure painter, and wished I could have worked with her in some way. She was far too formal for this though, and barely spoke. (And wore cut off socks on her wrists while making tea so as to be extra neat).
After a while I became frustrated with throwing, no surprise, and the stenciling was such an ancient method it was hard to master the rice paste. I explored the town on a bike they lent me and visited an old indigo studio. But aware of the health hazards of my mud home, I finished up my mugs – I actually made mugs!- I said goodbye to my hosts.

I came to Kyoto right in the swing of cherry blossom viewing!! The streets are packed with Japanese people picnicking and taking portraits of each other. It feels like the entire country is in Kyoto, in love and in formal clothes. I don’t want to leave and am tired. So tired! But I am just getting to the things I have waited to do all year because they could only happen in the spring. So I am finding different ways to muster energy.

For my next leg, I am nervous. All year I have saved April because I wanted to do this zen-temple walk, as part of my religions side theme. But now that I am upon it, I am terrified! Good lord, nothing sounds more exhausting and scary than walking alone right now. But if I can rest in Kyoto I could do a section of it. I’m hoping maybe…
Sending an entirely pink Kyoto,
Annie

Indigo Japan

I have made it to Japan. What an incredible country! I have been in Kyoto doing craft workshops and planning, and a few days ago I went to the small village of Miyama to meet an indigo dyer I had heard a lot about, named Hiroyuki Shindo.

Shindo’s studio smelled like strange combinations of chemicals and old wood. It took forever to arrange to meet him, but oh my…blue fingernails…Everything was made by Shindo himself, who traveled extensively to learn how to dye, and then recreated the process entirely from memory on his own. He had four round vats of black indigo dye steeping, which he feeds with sake (basically wine!) multiple times a day and takes care of like children. Large mounds of foam called ‘flowers’ tell him how alive and well they are.

He has collected samples of indigo from around the world, which I got to see and drool on at will.

Getting to Miyama I was stranded without a place to stay, thought about camping, and ended up the sole occupant of a cottage by a river for the night! So far I have found a lot of strange twists of fate trying to adjust to this country.

I am shocked by the ABSOLUTE lack of English; its hard to get around, and I feel like I haven’t had a conversation in two weeks. But Kyoto is a spring blossom of activity right now. Young couples are coming out in kimonos to parade the streets and eat ice cream delicately, and the cherry blossoms are ready.

I love Japan. I am leaving the city tomorrow to go to a ceramics and indigo dye studio, where I can hopefully stay for a while and really learn the process of the crafts.

Sending deep deep blue and wafts of spring air,
Annie

 

 

The beauty of Peruvian Senioras

I have been just outside Cusco, learning to weave with Chincherro women! I spent long chunks of time tied to my weaving, tied to a tree. I decided it was time to focus on really learning how to do it.

It was at a weaving center — a courtyard of 40 women all dressed identically in the most beautiful traditional dress of Peru. They worked steadily on all the stages of the weaving process for the entire day, none of us left the courtyard.

I loved seeing the contrast between this place and my last one, because Dorinda explained to me that what the women in Bolivia needed was a space to be together, so that they were not isolated with their weaving at home. This center provided exactly that; these women were having a great time just being around each other, which I loved to see and be around.

Not speaking the language, my days were long, quiet and focused. I can say I finally got it though! And I can weave pretty much anything at this point. I can also say that this craft must be the most tedious one out there. I took a million pictures of the women because they were so incredibly beautiful…here they are…

I took the bus each day to the center from Cusco, so I spent some time just walking the streets. What a gorgeous, altitude sickness inducing city!! I am now working on getting lower… and moving towards…Japan!!!!!
With love and more to come,
Annie

Ps. I suppose I should work on my appearance  because a woman actually crossed herself when she saw me today. What can I say, it has been eight months!:)

 

 

 

this little quote I read a month ago keeps unexpectedly coming back to me and I keep turning it over in my head :

“I would always rather be happy than dignified.” Jane Eyre