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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Les Saintes Maries de la Mer

Les Saintes Maries de la Mer

I've heard "Life is full of disappointment." So it can be true. I keep an open mind, examining both sides of Fate's coin. I am a dreamer and a doer. I move quickly and rarely sit still. Silence is a comfort to me and I have a natural solitary nature. However, when I find familiar minds I am inspired and often overly talkative. These observations are born of a travelers occupation. I have many moments to myself, even amidst busy foreign streets. So often observed and also the observer, I cannot help but to numerate upon myself, my habits, my continual birthing of an authentic identity. 

When I decided I was flying to Europe there was one thing I knew I had to do. At last, I would travel to Southern France and see the legendary white horses of the gypsies in the Carmague of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer. This inspiration gave me strength despite my shy heart. 

Alas, the best fed fantasies can breed bitter disappointment.  I have also heard it said the Universe will answer every prayer with, 'Yes,' ' Not yet,' or ' There is something better.' In this I often find solace.

According to local legend of the Carmague, three biblical Marys arrived at what is now the village of Sainte marie de la Mer from across the Mediterranean Sea. They were Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary, sister of Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene with her infant daughter Sara.

I arrived to the Sainte Maries de la Mer busstop carrying with me a backpack full of unnecessary belongings, my tender heart and a passion resolved to experience something I had read about in novels. I imagined it to be like the unicorns who run through the waves of the desolate castle in the fairytale of The Last Unicorn animation I watched over and over again as a youngun'. 

When my Mother and I stepped off the bus to Sainte  Maries everything appeard more dear than I had dared to hope for. I had little expectations beyond the excitement that I would see these horses dance upon the salt sprayed shores of the majestic Medditeranian sea. Our little cottage proved to be just right and after reheating my lentils prepared the night before in Marseille, I adorned myself in my long flowing linen skirts, scarves, silks and hat all aquired in my travels. I felt beautifully bohemian. I set out to explore the white washed streets of the little village. I was immediately pulled into the wilds of the bird encrusted marshlands that opened a few km away onto the shell littered beaches. 

The unexpected element to this excursion was the terrible wind! It blew me to and fro. My skirts tangling over my legs, holding my hat fast to head. I was quite a romantic spectacle. The roar and rush of the wind through my ears was exhilarating. "Well," I thought to myself, "If Varanassi was representative of the fire element at the burning ghats, Praiano of the Water element in its stormy Seascape then Tuscany was of the Earth element in my daily forested Wildcrafting frolics resulting in wildcrafted meals prepared in a traditional kitchen followed by afternoon naps. 

So surely, this is the Air element adding its magic touch to my journey." I laughed outloud to myself, the sound immediately consumed by the wind blowing sand over the marsh and dunes into my ears and hair. Next day was just the same and it took much effort to forge my way through the windswept seascape into town. Alas, the Cathedral of Sainte Marie was under rennovation, so I did not meet her idol. I visited the monument nearby and then set out seeking someone to rent a riding horse from. This strategy failing, aghast at my inability to communicate to the Catalan peoples in my rough skills of French, I followed a tour group across the dunes to the highway. Just before darkness descended the horizon, I spotted a stable I assumed was a most prophetic sign as it was named 'Tamaris.' I returned the next afternoon, despite the drisly skies and unhappy grimace of my young french speaking guide, having managed to make a deposit in reservation the night before. 

We set out only the two of us, crossing the same marshland filled of flamingos, blue herons, cranes, ducks, seagulls, flickers, birds of all sizes, shapes and varieties. I was in an ecstatic state. As cold and wet as the day was, I felt warm in my old shawl and widebrimed felt hat I had bought from a flamboyant Italian artisan in Siena on another cold raining afternoon. I held the hat on my head with my right hand ducking into the wind, while grasping the reins in my left. At one point my 'trusted stead' decided to turn around and I shouted, " Ánisè!!!!" hilariously into the storm. She was so angry at me, I guessed by her vicious spitting french curses, for not kicking the horses sides to establish my dominance. It was at this moment all my many fleeting experiences of horsemanship came rushing back to me. I nodded assuredly to her that I would behave better, smiling into the rain with sparkling eyes, hopeful we could still carry on. 

We rode through the bay waters out to the seashore and the horses hooves walked upon the sea foam on the sand. I could see the bright clouds moving over the glassy horizon and I took an exhilarant breath of delicious 'dreams-do-come-true' preciousness.  Ànisé asked me to gallop and I thought this was a dangerous but incredibly fun idea...but my ankle was twisting and pain began spiking into my calf an excrutiating stabbing pain. I became worried I'd break my leg or fall off the horse. I stopped. My words were powerless to explain I needed to adjust the stirrups. The straps were 3" too short for my long gangly legs! I was sitting in the saddle with my knees tucked up under me like chicken wings. Why can't she see? And then, Ànisé turned us back. I halted her and my hopes came crashing down. The storm...time rapidly retreating....not possible to go further if I will not gallop. Oh, the agony of not being able to cooperate in the tongue of French language! I cried a little as we turned back. I would not see the wild horses of my dreams. I've traveled so far and yet come so close, 1 more km and I would have nearly touched those white wild manes....

I have resolved in my heart that I must do two things. Learn to better ride life by horseback and also study how to speak French. I am unsure if the spirit of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer has rejected me. Perhaps this is Fate's way to say, "Not yet, there is someting better." Maybe Sainte Marie looks forward to meeting me afterall. Of all the unexpected experiences I have risen to accomplish these past 2 months of travel from India through Italy into France, this journey was the one plan I made for sure. It has fleeted me. And yet, in a way, given me So. Much. More.


Today I am enjoying a hot cup of Cocoa on a rainy day in Budapest Hungary.

Budapest, Hungary

Wait, you thought this was blog post about India? Well, it is. I am finally ready to write about that adventure to Delhi, Reishikesh & Varanasi 3 years later.


In 2016 I drove my friend to the airport in San Francisco. Before I drove home again, I bought a one way ticket to India. In the following month of preparation I renewed my passport, because it had been that long since I left country! (Check out my original Central & South American blog from 2007/08, Adventure Southwards, here)

In that month interim, I also made a plan to take a connecting flight from Delhi to Southern India and then taxi to Kerala. I wanted to start off at an Ashram I'd heard of and get my bearings. I was scared to travel alone after such dangerous adventures in Central and South America. Then, my current bad choice of a boyfriend bought his ticket and flew on to India ahead of me. This created a situation where I was coerced to skip my connecting flight and meet him in Delhi. Well, he showed up late as he is a scoundrel and I was alone in Delhi. I did alright until the following day when, that dirtbag, named appropriately "Soil," decided to meet me afterall and we took a train together to Reishikesh. I remember distinctly, him telling me I needed to "prove myself" to him while I was jet lagged and heart broken over discovering this other woman he had chosen to travel a little with prior to my arrival. Here is some of what I wrote to my friends and family through email correspondence.

Hello my loved ones!

My first week abroad.

2 days of travel to Delhi was quite the experience! My 7 hour layover at JFK tuuned into 10. I made friends with a slew of world traveler Indian women who were very friendly. When we finally boarded the plane I fell alseep only to wake up an hour later and realize we were still on the runway :( By the time I got to Delhi at 5 pm Indian time I was very sore from sitting upright. I skipped my conne ting flight to Kochi and I paid for a cab to take me to Paharganj which is a real India experience and where all the backpackers overnight for cheap. Soil's friend, Chai, was just leaving but met me and we ate dinner and drank Chai. This area is very much poor and I met a begger woman whose face was scarred and burned. Later that night Soil arrived at our room and we left at 5 in the morning to get a train to Haridwar. Only first class sitting available as we bought our tickets last minute. In Haridwar the bus station had moved so it was a long trek with heavy backpacks. We hired a private bus as we rambled along the same road which Paul McCartney was inspired to write the melody for ObladiOblada.

Soil knows Rishikesh very well and it is quite touristed and comfortable. We are staying in Raman Jula at The Last Chance Cafe' which is the last place before you get to the Beatles ashram. Our first morning we snuk into the abandoned ashram. It is very interesting and special.

We have been spending most our time eating good food and wandering the markets and bathing in the Ganga River.

Yesterday we hopped along the river rocks to Lakman Jula then hiked another 5 or so km to a large waterfall where we were invited to stay the night in a small village. We decided to walk home instead and then slept for 11 hours.

The weather has been chilly at night and warm in the afternoon. One day was rainstorms and lots of wind.

Since I last wrote you I made a huge leap of faith in myself and I took an Acro yoga class. This is something I have tried to push myself to do numerous times through the past 12 years since I first injured my C1 and C2 vertabrae in an acro dance rehersal. Given I have been lazy these past 6 months, I did very well. It feels good to have pushed through my fear and accomplished further faith in myself and more trust in others. I am grateful to my Italian teachers who held safe space for this to take place. They were diligent about partnering and spotting one another, something I did not find in these type of classes previously.

Later that very night I took a second class sleeper train from Haridwar (which is where the nearest trainstation is located, about 45 minutes from Rishikesh) to Varnassi. A 12 hour journey that was 15 hours in actuality. It was a late train so slept as well as can be imagined overnight then made friends with a young man from Haridwar named Naveen. He taught me some Hindi and we shared bidis mixed with charis. It was a delightful experience, leaning out the door of the railway and watching Indian canola feilds fly by. Naveen waved his arms and said, "This is India." When we parted ways in Varnassi train station he told me, "Say 'Namaste,' to everyone!"

Varnassi is considered the holiest city in India. It is where the dead are burned and put into the river. Hindi people beleive that in this way their karma is satisfied and they can return to the great abyss from where we all derive. 

The city streets are a winding labyrinth of displaced cobble stones barley wide enough for motor scooters to pass through the crowds, lining up daily to visit the Golden temple. The air is thick with the smoke of burning bodies and pollution. The Ganga river is very low and  looking out across it is another village set back from the desert created by the dry river bank. Our room is at a guesthouse with balcony veiw of Ganga and large shrine to Honuman. It is a popular place for locals and tourists. We are located near the main burning ghat, right in the middle of real Varnassi.

We got sick from the food there. I maybe find a place farther upstream at Assi Ghat where most foreign tourist get away from the filth.
I have a Hindi friend in the city here named Shobhum. He shows me around the shiva temples and escorts me to the sacred fire which has burned over 3000 years. I am told my Hindi is good quite often, but I think maybe people mean that it is good I am trying to speak it. The language is like champagne bubbles and I very much want to learn more.
Yesterday I learned to cook palak paneer and chabati. My teacher was impressed by my chabati skills. It is very much like making a tortilla.

Today I write to you from a German bakery 5 floors high overlooking the smokey city. I hear the little India horns honking below on the main road and the birds and monkeys celebrate this fresh day. Eating curd and papaya and mint tea to refesh my system after sickness last night. Excited to see what my day will bring. There is never a dull moment in India. Everything is new and interesting. The people here are kind and helpful. I am well and I love you all.

Bless bless,

When I made the descision to leave India, I was 89 lbs, menstruating had the flu, a lung infection from the smoke of the burning bodies, blisters on my feet and food poisoning. This is what I wrote: 

"India has shared with me its holy fires and sacred  and secret shadows and divine beauty and filthy sickness and forever dreams. I am grateful to the peoples spirit in this ancient land. Now I am ready to move on..."

A few months later, after I had returned from recovering my health in Europe with my mother, Soil called and apologised. He expressed he had wanted me to get sick to prove myself.

So now I travel alone fearlessly, happily though a little lonely. C'est la vie!