Disclaimer: This unedited, rough draft material is a year-long project in response to our 2004 theme: pilgrimage. It is meant to be a dialogue between myself and my fellow Mammoths and any of you who happen along. It is intentionally not polished, nor is it finished. Charlie Buchman Ellis
Well. Weíre within a month of halfway on our yearlong trek. I propose the August meeting (at my house, with the purple gardenóat least the hemerocallis, Russian sage, and various annuals in bloom) as a half-way point check-in. The eveningís theme will be that of a caravan serai, a spot along the trade route across the Sahara where travelers might stop, find refreshment, and tell each other stories.
Please come ready to sit around a fire and tell us about the trip.
I wanted to take a couple of minutes, before I start to work out, to flag the topics I want to cover this week: finish Delphi and Delos, finish the honeymoon, and add some new material on what Iím thinking of as the Gyatsho dialogues.
I want to start with the last piece because itís present to me right now. Gyatsho and I had lunch last Thursday and among many interesting topics I put to him the question I raised earlier about the goal of Jungian analysis, focused on the Self, as opposite to the Buddhist ideal of shunyata, or no-self.
Gyatsho knows Jungian thought. He believes Jung addresses what Buddhistís call the primary mind when he refers to the Self. Iím going to do a little research on this, but Buddhism apparently posits a secondary mind and a primary mind. The secondary mind becomes polluted by kharma, but the primary mind, like a nugget of gold that has gathered impurities yet retains its own pure state, remains pristine.
As we remove the kharmic stains, the primary mind, or, Gyatsho said, ďYour buddha-nature.Ē can come to the fore and dominate.
Jungian and Buddhist thought seem on the same track according to this way of looking at it.
Iím not quite sure why, but this relieves me.
My first retraction/correction: Jon is hypothyroid, not hyperthyroid.
Now then, the honeymoon. The difficulties were two and dramatically different:
The first set of difficulties I imposed on myself: alcoholism, arrogance, abandonment ó Triple A. I carried these three burdens into my first two marriages ó completely unconscious in my first, mostly unconscious in the beginning of my second.
Judy and I found each other in a drug-induced haze, our own and the collective, movement high of the late sixties. My arrogance made me ignore graduate school, fellowships in favor of a permanent (sic) relationship with a northern gypsy. Her father, an alcoholic too, and her mother, probably one as well, made me look normal to Judy.
My fear of being alone, left out with nowhere to go after graduationóabandoned again to an uncaring world made me eager to secure whatever stability I could find. What was it about building your house on shifting sand or solid rock? Judy and I stood on shifting sand, slip slidiní away.
I got the message after, and only after, she left me. And she was right to leave me. This lesson, served on a bed of lonely nights, for I was abandoned and this time on a farm outside Nevis, Minnesota, was hard.
Finally, after I got done blaming her; I began to realize some of it might stick to me.
Then, Raeone. At work. I helped her through the aftermath of an abortion. I confused, again, sympathy (on my part) with love. Again, I wanted to not be alone...awkward grammatical construction I know...but accurate. And, I learned again, how lonely it can be with only two in the room.
This time, I got it. I had to get it straight. This was when I met John Desteian and began analysis, a process Iíve engaged with him off and on for the past 18 years. I had sobered up eight years before analysis, so my head was clear. I met the enemy and he was us (all these little personalities/gods) running around without a leash.
Later, after four or five years of analysis, and thirteen years of sobriety, I met Kate. Somehow, I always knew relationships could be easy and this one was.
We had common interests in the fine arts, reading, and, to some extent, travel. We were both ready for intimacy, sexual and emotional, and found both graceful, natural.
Carving away the detritus of two marriages, alcohol addiction, and a distant family took a long time. Of course, the past is never gone, nor forgotten, nor, I believe, ever resolved. What you can learn, I think, is to know the person you were, to embrace that person and to come to them with as much love and understanding as you would a good friend or intimate partner.
So, when I say carving away, I donít mean cutting out Judy and Raeone from my memories, rather, I mean, embracing the Charlie who found something meaningful and lovely in them, but also the Charlie who came to understand, either soon or late, the limitations of relationship with them.
We know this, I think, but let me state it baldlyóin the end the only person who can forgive us is ourselves, and this is the greatest and most difficult act a human can perform. The unforgivable sin is to lack the capacity and insight for forgiveness.
Note that forgiving is not forgetting, forgiving is not absolving nor erasing, it is seeing yourself as God sees you, a limited creature, bound to err, yet, like each other creature, worthy of love. I believe this statement is true even if you donít believe in God. Insert here a reasonable equivalent: as your Self sees you, as you are in the context of Mother Earth, as you are, one of us, an animal in transit from birth to death.
However we understand the context, we need to know ourselves as inherently worthy and fine. It is the journey to the site from which this view becomes possible I had made. No, not completely, not wholly, but a hell of lot further along than ever before.
It was this difficult preparation in the art of relationship with a lover and a beloved, and with mySelf and my self that got me on the road for this pilgrimage, this honeymoon.
Before I go on here, I want to recount something of our meeting at Markís. As I came out, I saw the home going up next to Markís: copper roof, high quality stone work, striped wood panels. Around $2M or so. An attorney from Lindquist and Vennum.
Though the official start of summer was a day behind us, the evening was cool. Mark was there straw hat, Hawaiian shirt, stirring the sloppy joes and the baked beans. His house as much a part of his person as his clothes and the Edina realty signs leaned up against the tree outside. He had a telephone book out; he tried to raise a neighbor whose pontoon was in trouble. No luck.
Markís is a river house. His Apple computer and workstation overlooks the river, as does the big window over his sink and stovetop, and the view continues onto his deck. The St. Croix runs about forty feet below the grade on which his house sits, flowing south toward its rendezvous with the Mississippi near La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Frank Broderick showed up next with tales of Rosebud, Cheyenne, and Pine Ridge. Heíd just drive straight through to get back after delivering gently used 5-gallon cans of paint to various projects on these Lakota reservations.
He visited the home where the sacred bundle holds the Lakota nationís pipe. Even in all his years out there he has seen only the bundle.
Stefan and Paul came in bearing a carousel slide projector. Iím not sure exactly when, but after we moved out to the deck with the chips and Markís homemade salsa (the secret is bananas if it gets too hot.) William (Markís assistant), Scott, and Tom Crane showed up. Warren came a bit later, as did Charlie Haislet.
That was all of us, except for the assistant to the Dolly Lama, Cowboy Jim Johnson, who was home on the range.
We discussed a few bits of business. Markís suggestion that we invite Gyatsho to join our number took a good bit of time with several favorably inclined and a few hesitant. We have always had reticence about new members and the cohesion and success of the Woollyís speaks to the good sense of that caution.
Still, we werenít willing to say no quite yet, so we decided to invite Gyatsho to another meeting or so to get to know him better.
Charlie wants us to read James Hillmanís book, A Terrible Love of War, for our first meeting in his new digs. Heís been in two weeks and says it feels like a good fit. He and Barb wanted a project they could do together. This was it. Almost five years from beginning to execution, moving in represents a lot of change for Charlie and Barb.
The meeting itself was provocative. We offered brief, ten minute, samples of a pilgrimage(s) we had already experienced. Paul talked about his first trip to India with the Mississippi Rotarians. Stefan showed slides from his three-month kayak adventure in the inner passage in Alaska. Frank spoke of Puccini, New York City, and music that inspires him. Mark told us of his intention to go to India in 1969; on the way he fell in love with Greece, and decided to shift his attention to the Holy City Jerusalem. He went there with a specific religious task in mind, reading the New Testament for the first time in the hills of Galilee where Jesus fed the crowd with the loaves and fishes.
William and Charlie both talked about their time in Japan (concurrent for at least some months in the late 60ís, early 70ís). Charlie talked about a trip he and Barbara took in which they visited Zen monasteries and stayed in them as official travelers. He said the monks were always surprised to see Caucasians at the door. William started a nuclear plant, on time, for General Electric and saw the country, too. This was a honeymoon for Bill and Regina.
Warren toured Mexico in a Volkswagen Bus after his first divorce. After seeing ancient Mexico, he participated in some contemporary politics by marching in the streets with some young men. I also talked about my honeymoon, the grand tour with Kate, from Rome to Inverness by train, stopping at many museums along the way. Scott had a journey on fatherís day, Max, his grandson, took him upstairs and down dancing the dragon, pounding the drum. He also recounted the scary ride up, up, up, then down, down, down. This showed, he said, that pilgrimages could be interior, too.
Finally, Tom demurred to an extent, saying he had never had a conscious pilgrimage, but he did aver that his long journey in relationship did feel pilgrimage-like. At any rate it is about to carry him off to Merry Olde Albion, to Bath, Avalon, and the British Museum.
The meeting ended with an unusually stirring rendition of a late 19th century Ghost Dance tune in which Woolly Mammothís circle the earth, spreading their long wing feathers as they fly.
I drove back home across the northern reaches of the metropolitan area and, though I saw neither bear nor wolf nor coyote nor deer, Iím told they are all living among the marshes, swamps and forests, which cover the landscape up here. We are, of course, only minutes from the beginning of the tundra, so itís not unusual to have these boreal creatures here. No moose or lynx sightings as far as I know, but maybe this winter?
In spite of the obvious dangers of a drive across this terrain I did arrive home to my small cabin chinked with moss.
I noticed, as I thought about our pilgrimages already traveled, how many of them happened early in our lives. Now, we only told of one, and we may have many others under belt, and recent ones, too, but for some reason, most of the ones we chose to emphasize Monday night came while we were young, men.
It was, as always, good to gather and be seen and heard at as deep a level as we can achieve, considerable, after 18 years. Thanks, again, for showing up.
Back to Rome. Our hotel, the Internazionale, served Italian espresso and croissants, room service, each morning. I have never had better coffee, anywhere. And I wish I knew why. Iíd like to have it again without having to travel to Italy for it, although...
Click the picture to follow the link. We were a half-block from the top of the Spanish Steps, and down them, and across Piazza de Spagna, formerly Spanish territory as the land around Spainís embassy to the Holy See, is the Via Condotti, one of the fanciest shopping streets in the world. At least Birnbaum thought so; I canít say Iíve seen even Rodeo Drive. Also, right at the bottom of the Spanish Steps Keats and Shelley lived in the pink palazzo.
Donít worry; Iím not going to give you a complete travelogue, just a little flavor at each stop because the inns along the way are the pilgrimage, too, after all.
From Rome we made day trips to Pompeii, Florence (Fierenze), and to the Vatican. Each place took me. Pompeii to the world of early Rome in a gritty way, like a realist novel. The bodies shaped by hot lava, taverns with the bars still standing, villas with fresco paintings and courtyards with mosaic floors. Erotic paintings and sculpture, a Priapis at the door of a fancy home.
In Naples we saw an entire train of Italian communists, all dressed up in the black and white scarves of the intifada, then underway in Israel.
Florence to the Renaissance with the Duomo, the marketplace, David standing in the open air, but, most of all, the Uffizi. Of all the beautiful places and things I saw in Italyóand we saw only a handfulóthe Uffizi was, like the coffee at the Internazionale, the best. Period. Botticelliís Venus, Spring. Fra Lippo. Fra Angelico. Da Vinci. Michelangelo. And on and on. All displayed in quiet taste and dignity.
The Vatican reminded me of the middle ages, before the Renaissance, when the dome of the Western world had its central pillar in St. Peterís Square. The staircase, spiral and wide, leads to the beginning of the Vatican museum, which, like the Uffizi, has treasures beyond the mind or the heartís capacity to absorb in one visit, two visits, probably a life time of visits. The Sistine Chapel, all restored save for the Last Judgment, was more than I imagined. The colors, the skill with the images so high and far away; even the scaffolding still up for the restoration seemed current physical memory of those years Michelangelo spent on the ceiling, away from his true love, sculpture.
After Rome, we took the train to Venice. There the porters carry your luggage from train car to water taxi, so the watery world of Venice embraces you at once. As does a fetid, dank smell and the immediate impression of a literally decadent city. Water, not only during the aqua alta, occupies the basements and first floors of many (most?) Venetian buildings.
We stayed not far from the famed Gritti Palace and Harryís Bar. Our hotel was unremarkable, but pleasant. It had a window overlooking a side canal; this canal, about 200 feet further on, intersected the Grand Canal.
At the time we had hit our first travel plateau, weary after a long train ride and attempting to decode the Italian postal system. While in Venice, we didnít like it, but I found, the further I got from the experience, the better Venice became. Eventually, I used the city in my first novel, Even the Gods Must Die, taking the chirascuro inherent in the narrow canals and dark stone as setting for an immortalís life.
We left Venice for Vienna. We took no food, imagining, silly us, there would be a dining car, or, at least, food trolleys. Hmmm... Mistake.
When the train left Venezia behind and climbed the Dolomites though, both Kate and I looked at each other and had the same reaction. We were home. The cool air, pine trees, and rocky terrain felt like Minnesota. We missed Minnesota just then. And food.
Though we hit Vienna after 10PM the concierge at our hotel pointed us toward a restaurant across the Ringstrasse. Red-checkered table clothes, wiener schnitzel, and Paulener Thomasbrau made Vienna for us.
Here I learned the beauty of traveling with my own personal physician. I came down with pneumonia, so Kate dug around in her luggage and, after she passed the handi-wipes (another story, the Panama Canal) came up with just the right anti-biotic, which she had packed in anticipation of a problem like this one. While I sweated in bed and listened to the disorienting sound of Andean pan-pipes played below our window, Kate toured Vienna.
Later, I did get out to see the Kuntshistoriche and its wonderful collection of Breughels and Arcimboldos. One thing Europe taught me was: If you want to collect really good art, have a monarchy.
After Vienna we trained through the night across Germany, which, by mutual consent, we avoided, and woke up in Paris. The Angleí Terre had an odd-shaped room for us, on sort of floor 1 and 1/2. The elevator was the narrow, iron cage construction seen in many 1920ís movies.
Like many Americans we came prepared to not like Paris, and, for the most part, we didnít. Still, I have learned not to trust first impressions when I travel, since they are so often effected by the vagaries of travel, like recovery from an illness, for example.
Still, the Musee DíOrsay, the Louvre, the Rodin museum, and, oddly, for me, Napoleonís tomb were all amazing. I loved the Redonís at the DíOrsay and the breadth of French antiquarianism on exhibit at the Louvre I have not seen exceeded save in one place, The British Museum. Competing for looting colonial possessions, I guess.
The left bank, location of the Angle Terre, drew me in and made me want to stay. Itís narrow, windy streets, bookstalls on the Seine, students and tourists mingling at outdoor cafes. Nice. I am not as familiar with French culture and history as I am with Italian, Greek, and British, so much of the architecture, Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, for instance, did not stir the deeps as did say, the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, the Pieta in St. Peter, the Coliseum, Pompeii itself, nor did the French countryside we saw draw out of me the sense of home both Kate and I found in Austria.
Oops. I left out Salzburg. Two notable events here.
One, having noticed that many tours available would get us out into the Austrian countryside, we chose one of the few listed that did not feature the Sound of Music. (eat your heart out, Mozart...Oh, wait. Mozartís heart is in the Cathedral in Vienna.) This tour focused on Castles and Lakes.
Yeah, it did. Sort of. That would be Castles and Lakes important to the movie, Sound of Music. I learned the grass was brown when Julie Andrews sang the title tune skipping over this mountain meadow, right here! Big toothy Austrian grin. So they painted it green!
We had an inspirational stop at The Wedding Chapel from the Sound of Music. Plus, the big treat was: music from the Sound of Music playing as we toured Castles and Lakes important to the Sound of Music. All that classical stuff was soooo long ago.
Two, I noticed a restaurant cut into the massive rock wall beneath Hohensalzburg. It had a clover leaf and the legend, 899 AD. Curious. The restaurant had opened long ago under the patronage of Irish monks who had come to Austria to return Christianity back to this land where it had been forgotten. Youíve probably read about this in How the Irish Saved Civilization.
In spite of the constant Sound of Music offerings I liked Salzburg and wished we had more time. Someday the Salzburg Festival would be fun. As far I know, there has never been anything from the Sound of Music played at the Salzburg Festival.
Now we go across Germany to Paris and the Gare du Nord.
We left Paris on the bullet train for Calais. Since this was a pre-Chunnel trip, we did it the old fashioned way and boarded a ferry to cross the English Channel, where we saw the white cliffs of Dover as we approached England.
On the train from the ferry to London sheep munched in orderly fields and looked so aesthetic Kate imagined the English employed sheep placers to enhance the trip.
In London we connected with a train bound for Glasgow, and from there, across the Highlands to Inverness, former capital of the Highlands. We had traveled for over two weeks at this point, endured the usual adjustment related arguments over energy levels, food choices, and sightseeing. By Inverness the honeymoon had worked an alchemy of its own, the hieros gamos happened between us, the sacred marriage, something I had waited for my whole life, a union of two who enhance each other, yet are, in some way, too, one.
This was evident to me the first night in Inverness when we took a walk through the mist-covered darkness of this small Scotís town along the banks of the River Ness. No words. We held hands and a cool dampness surrounded us. I knew we would last. And I was glad.
After Inverness we trained back across the Highlands to Edinburgh where we stayed in the first of two four-star hotels, the Caledonia. It was fine, and we had tired of seeing sights, so we ordered a fancy room service meal, stayed in bed and watched a Star Trek movie.
Edinburgh has much to commend it, more than we saw in the short time we were there, but it felt like home to me. I donít know whether itís my Celtic blood or years in service to the Presbyterian churchóthe State Church of Scotlandóbut Scotís culture and this city felt like places I could stay. I did eat my first shepherdís lunch here and walked the Royal Mile from Holyrood Palace to the castle where the crown jewels of Scotland reside. We also found a marvelous neighborhood filled with Georgian architecture.
After Edinburgh we took a sleeper to London again, then out to Bath. At Bath we stayed at the second four-star hotel, the Royal Crescent. Bath, an old Roman town, is a summer haunt for royalty and aristocracy. Very upscale combined with a sense of antiquity. While staying in Bath we drove (rather, I tried to drive, quit, turned the car over to Kate and she drove) to Glastonbury.
Having read the Mists of Avalon not too long before I had a head full of images. In Venice I had along a copy of John Gardnerís book Becoming a Novelist. While I sat somewhere, perhaps on water taxi, a young woman asked me what I did; fresh from Gardner I looked up and said, ďA writer.Ē She nodded, turned to her mother and said, ďSee. He looks like a writer, doesnít he?Ē
Now, I was on my way to leaving the Presbytery even then, but the combination of a foreign land, Gardner, and a strangerís affirmation sealed the deal. Iíd like to say I never looked back, but it isnít true. (another day)
So, when I came to Glastonbury, fueled by Marion Zimmer Bradley and my then emerging decision to focus my writing on matters Celtic, since Iím of the blood, my heart beat in a way Iíd not known. Fourteen and a half years later, Iím familiar with this sensation, but here in Glastonbury, when I saw the Tor, the chapel of St. Michaelís, the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey and the graves of King Arthur and Guinevere (not real likely, but in a fantasy state of mind veracity takes second seat to, well, fantasy.) I felt it for the first time. The place spoke to my creativity.
Some places, when Iím there, call out to me and want expression, want me to give voice to something about them. Like Glastonbury, the line this inspiration travels is rarely a straight one. Here, for instance, I had a strong sense of the concreteness of legend, and not just any legends, but legends supported by the ethos and mythos of the Celts. Not the Arthurian legends, I never considered working with them, but the Otherworld, faery land, a land populated by little people and strange creatures. It was no longer far away, across an ocean, but right here in front of me.
The Chalice Well where the water has healing properties invested in it by the Grail itself. The tree which grew from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea when he brought his young nephew, the carpenterís son, Jesus from Nazareth with him on a tin buying trip.
It was the intersection of actual place with legend and the combination stirred me. I wanted to write. And write. And write. So, I have.
After Glastonbury Kate and I returned to London where we stayed in a quirky hotel called the Basil Street. I picked it because it had a Womenís Club. Harrodís was not far away. Near Harrodís we found the Reject China Shop where we bought carton after carton of Portmeirion china and had it shipped home. While there, the salesman told Kate that I could find a pub down the street while she shopped. I found a bookstore instead and bought a small print of Glastonbury Tor.
The Basil Street and Reject China were the end of a long, eventful, lovely trip. Kate and I had sealed our promises made at the Landmark Center in St. Paul with a pilgrimage together, a Grand Tour of art and the heart. Neither her life nor mine has been the same since and we are both happy for the change.