My mother and I can never agree on which year we travelled to Madeira. But I have journals for every year, and so I have checked. It was 2004. At the airport, we were unable to resist buying a Bird of Paradise bulb. It held promise, and we were prepared to be patient. We waited and watched over the plant as it grew and grew, green, leafy, tall. But we were really waiting for the flash of orange beak and blue headdress. It has taken nine years for the first flower to grace us with her presence. NINE! I feel anticipation of something special heralded and, at the same time, desperate - imagine waiting on a flower!
The sun is shining today, and I am twice returned: once from a flying visit to Ireland again, to attend the first public reading Marian Keyes has done in four years, since the axis of her world shifted into the worst of the horrors. Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin last night witnessed many transformations in her audience, from raucous, joyous laughter to the raw ache of mirroring each others' human suffering. Yes, we wanted to cry out to her, yes! Just exactly that. The soul laid bare quivers, pulls itself taut, appears impenetrable, hard as bone, and as easily shattered as bone.
I breathe. 2004 turns to 2005 and the dissolution of my own mind, cracked wide open by unbearable pain of optic nerve damage, of corneal ulcers, of catatonia until sunset when the painkillers had numbed me enough to descend the stairs and make a cup of tea for my father and myself to discuss death with biscuits. Chocolate cake might mysteriously appear if it had been a particularly brutal day. It took years for the edge to begin to soften. That's what I call it. The Edge. I can taste it against my teeth. I fear it. And I try not to fear it. My surgeon saw it all and continues to infuse me with optimism inspite of some bleak realities, but my eyes are unpredictable. Which is why, sitting opposite him today, having a relatively gentle procedure felt like small waves of torment. My eye wept for itself, pooling a little river by my chin like the Walrus in Alice in Wonderland ('I weep for you,' the Walrus said, I deeply sympathise... Holding his pocket-handkerchief before his streaming eyes'). 'It's been a while since you've made me cry,' I snarked at Blue Eyes, which actually made me feel much better, because it has been a while. And I have come leagues and travelled miles, and been blessed with new friends, new horizons, glorious humour and extraordinary kindness. And leprechauns. Shur, how can I forget the leprechauns?
We move forwards, ever conscious of the road ahead, gripping on for dear life to any vine of light. We want life.
E. M. Forster teaches us the way forward when he begins Howard's End:
If I may be morbid for a moment, I think I'd quite like to have this poem by Auden recited in my dying hour as I'm drifting away like the Lady of Shalott downstream to Camelot. Mind you, I might be so swept up by the beauty of the poem that I refuse to die... "Bring me a pen! Quick!" I'll command, (in a croaky voice), "I've a last poem in me..."
Meanwhile the blossom is being driven away by rain, and meanwhile my major eye operation has been temporarily set aside for a gentler approach; one last gasp before the surgeon decides whether the second tube is necessary after all. I should be ecstatic at the reprieve, but truthfully, my left eye is a torment to me anyway. Some days the little hot nerve centre of pain is so bad I want to be sick, but I try not be faithless. Everything is bright and glorious and green and lit around me. I am trying not to be faithless.
A bright red tractor just rolled by across the field at the bottom of our garden. A bright yellow butterfly just floated by the window of my little writing room in the garden. Bright, bright day today, the first of the summer to come, and the cherry is finally in bloom. Father is the only one tall enough to detect that fine sakura scent...
I have, as you may know, another major eye operation coming up soon, and as is my wont, I have been packing in SIGHTS. After Ireland, I scuttled off to visit my beloved friends Mary and John in Chichester, and filled my eyes with swans at Bosham, and caught the beginning of lambing season at West Dean College...
I have known Mary since I was 15 years old, and newly arrived on English soil. She was a soulmate of my Father's long before I was born and one of the great joys of our lives has been to hear Mary play Bach, Mozart, Beethoven on the piano (even though she denies any extraordinary talent - "Hang it all, I do have judgment you know!"). I cannot play the piano, so to me it is a magical, wizardish gift.
Last week at the hospital, someone presented me with more magic. A doctor, who recently read my blog, felt moved enough to compose a piece of music - a beautiful, haunting piece, which she permitted me to listen to on the ward. She says I inspire her. She is presenting my case to the British Society of Rhuematologists tomorrow and is going to weave in some of my poems - fame, my beloveds, fame! No longer a number, they will know my NAME! :)
I'm not sure I need any more gift of blarney, having been blessed with a naturally chatty tongue, BUT who could say no to kissing the famous stone?!
Am only slightly (very) terrified about visiting Ireland at a time described by my Irish friends as Baltic, but I have dreamed of setting foot in Ireland since I first read Yeats, curled up in the heat of an ordinary Indian summer... Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths... I shall arise and go now, and go to Innisfree... and most of all, listening to my grandfather and great-great grandmother singing 'It's a long way to Tipperary, it's a long way to go...', which of course it was, from Bombay...
I was chattering to a Polish taxi driver today, spilling over with excitement about my trip to Ireland; he asked me where, in Ireland... Tipperary, says I, smiling. Never heard of that one, sez he... So naturally I had to sing him The Song. Clearly he didn't have ancient relatives crooning Irish tunes through his childhood. It was something to do with the war, I think... my grandfather was seconded to the British army (a captain), my great uncle (Brigadier Jim) led the Gurkhas, and music somehow passed through the allied nations, like a gentle daisy chain, unsuspected by the enemies. Who notices the passing on of daisy chains?
Here's my mother's portrait of her father... handsome, wasn't he? And the sweetest, gentlest grandfather a girl could hope for... can't wait to make him smile wherever he is when I set foot in (jump up and down like a crazy leprechaun in) Tipperary!!
remembering light. - Shaista Tayabali, 2013 There are still swathes of snowdrops around, so Spring hasn't sprung yet. Meanwhile March has taken on a martial air. The Blue Eyed Surgeon has determined that the time has come for a Second Tube in my eye. A SECOND TUBE!! I contemplated leaping out of the window but there were all sorts of ophthalmic instruments in the way. And anyway, Blue Eyes is about to get his Black Belt in Karate... I could probably take him (I know my Kata Fukyu Ichi and jodan tsuki) but I opted for the demure approach, pretending to accept my fate. Seven years ago was the darkest year of my life, so a piece of me feels crumbly inside. It won't be as bad - I know it won't because... well, it just can't. I won't let it. But to help me pretend to myself, I employed London - the brilliance and grace of the sublime art of Federico Barocci at the National Gallery helped...
The Virgin Mary, the Angel and the sleeping cat soothed, but not enough, so I went to a concert in St Martin-in-the-Fields (the Church with the Ever Open Door). The Mozart was fine but by the end of Beethoven's Serenade I was swiping away tears by candlelight. At the interval, my companions turned to me and said, "Wasn't that a wonderfully light and airy piece? Lovely! Delightful!" Er... Right. Stop thinking about The Tube, I admonished self sternly. I gathered myself with Haydn and Schubert and by the second Mozart Flute quartet I was all smiles - the cellist, one Christopher Suckling, was the most expressive musician I have ever seen, second only to Lang Lang - and anyone with that level of enthusiasm deserves a smiling enchanted audience. So there you have it - the darkness and the light. My friends Liv and Niamh have been worrying about me, so this post is to comfort and amuse them, as is this picture I took at the bottom of the garden - I see two hearts in the centre - do you see leaves or hearts?
There was a mix up with the hospital booking today, and so, instead of being hooked up to an IV drip for my Valentine, I had a day all to myself to make as magical as I wished. On my younger sister's clever advice, I went to the Fitz and drank in Quentin Blake's exhibition of pen and inks, and then next door to glazed Jingdezhen Porcelain, exquisitely crafted.
Continuing with sisterly advice, I stopped by Kings and sampled some (ok, fine, bought some) fudge from the Fudge Kitchen...
then visited the Haunted Bookstore where I ignored the ominous bat, offered the shop owner some fudge (she said No thanks, I'm a cheese woman)...
and went in search of Cicely Mary Barker's Heart's Ease fairy instead... you know the song? Come away and seek me when the year is young, Through the open ploughlands, beyond the garden wall...
While waiting for the ward manager to sort out the mix up, my companion in the waiting room shared both grisly and endearing details of her life. The operation, the cancer, her Bucket List and her cat. Her cat, who was abandoned on Valentine's Day by her previous owners. The cat, who responds to Darling now, and has the power to turn her new owner's cheeks blush pink with joy. Who needs a boy, anyway?
Was it only yesterday, that mysterious period of time, when I was a butterfly in Bali, my toes hot pink, and my soul snuggled into the villa lounger, glad of shelter from the late morning sun?
And did I really travel from sun to snow to see the last of the winter flowers?
So ends the dramatic Year of the Dragon and heralds the Year of the Black Water Snake...
Ancient wisdom tells us to be careful, cautious, slow and methodical this year... and that Monday is the lucky day of the week for Snakes... Ha! Monday! The world's least loved day!
But never mind Monday. This Sunday is a double celebration day - as paper snakes and red lanterns are twisted around doorways and set off into night skies, we celebrate my mother's birthday. My talented and conscientious mother, who doesn't need this to be the Year of the Snake to be thoughtful and particular about her actions and words. Beautiful is as beautiful does was never truer.
One of the most invaluable lessons my mother taught us was how to learn to share. Everything was shared as equally as possible between my brothers and myself. Across the globe, the nephew, decked in red, is learning to exchange oranges and share school life celebrations of Chinese New Year
and having spent many hours of fake cooking with me, is clearly able to take on a real birthday cake now!
GONG XI FA CAI my beloveds, and a Happy Happy Birthday to my beautiful Mother!!
We make an accidental stop
to taste coffee expelled
by the Luwak monkey 'Most Expensive In The World':
a tray of coffees and teas to tempt
the palate and the wallet;
But here, at this height,
we feel wealthy enough,
and soon heady drunk enough
on Arabica and Robusta,
My heart gives out
on the way down to the paddy fields
and I return.
Dragonflies like birds
circle the rice
and visit me
in my bamboo cave;
What can be heard
but not seen -
the song of mosquitoes
THE PLACE WHERE THE LOTUS LEAVES FALL
We take a different route
you and I
when we pass through archways
or slip inside doorways
but we always meet
on the other side.
My sister-in-law asked me, oh so casually, if I wanted to join her in a family reunion in Bali. I booked that ticket so fast I can't decide if she was impressed or in shock since I normally live my life at the pace of a snail :) These excerpts are from my Bali journal, but the last image is of a butterfly I met in Kuala Lumpur.
Have you heard of Somaly Mam? She is Cambodian, survived slavery, and transforms the lives of young girls every moment she lives and breathes.
I keep my guru in my heart, and Gandhi in my head.
Tenzin Tsundue is a Tibetan poet and activist, currently residing in exile, in Dharamsala.
Reading Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is,you must lose things,feel the future dissolve in a moment,like salt in a weakened broth.What you held in your hand, what you counted and carefully saved,all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness.
Strengthened by Frida Kahlo
“I leave you my portrait so that you will have my presence all the days and nights that I am away from you.”
Une Envie de Sel
The Unbearable Lightness of being Q... and her family by Maia Chavez Larkin
On Wu Feng Road
Blog Like No One's Reading
Agnes'_Pages_, one of my favourite places to travel.
it is only with the heart that one can see rightly
What is essential is invisible to the eye
Dr Karen Woo, the softly spoken British humanitarian aid worker, who was killed in Afghanistan last year. She was a dancer for years before realising she could not truly help be a changemaker through ballet.
In Shaista's Library
A Year With Rilke
Daily readings of the maestro, by Ruth and Lorenzo...
A place I draw inspiration from. My happy place :)