Secular Love

If you’ve heard of Michael Ondaatje, it’s probably as the author of The English Patient, which was made into the movie (lampooned by Elaine on Seinfeld). But Ondaatje is that rare author who writes equally well in multiple formats. His memoir, Running in the Family, is a terrific book about growing up in Sri Lanka (the Ceylon), and he has several books of poetry. Today’s poem is from Secular Love, and is one of my favorites.

peelerI can imagine the origin of this poem as a musing–what if I were one of those men peeling cinnamon bark? Then taking off from there, using the richness of those memories to weave into this sensuous love poem.

The Cinnamon Peeler

If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek.
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would stumble
certain of whom they approached,
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon. Continue reading

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A taste of freedom

images-7When I saw signs for Burger King, Subway, KFC, McDonald’s in Russia I thought about how we export the worst of our culture–it contaminates everything. But when I was in St. Petersburg, I read an article by Mitya Kushelevich in the St. Petersburg Times, reprinted from The Calvert Journal. It gave me a different perspective. He was writing about the government’s closure of McDonald’s, allegedly for sanitation reasons, but curiously synchronous with the West’s recent imposition of sanctions. This first McDonald’s in Russia is in a prime Moscow location. I’ll quote from the article at length:

“Everything about this particular branch of the American fast-food giant was iconic for a person born in Soviet Russia.  Just as St. Petersburg was once considered our ‘window to Europe,’ this restaurant was our ‘window to the world.’ Continue reading

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Monday poem

I’ve been thinking about this little syllabic by Sylvia Plath, a riddle of nine lines, each with nine syllables:

Metaphors

I’m a riddle in nine syllables,
An elephant, a ponderous house,
A melon strolling on two tendrils.
O red fruit, ivory, fine timbers!
This loaf’s big with its yeasty rising.
Money’s new-minted in this fat purse.
I’m a means, a stage, a cow in calf.
I’ve eaten a bag of green apples,
Boarded the train there’s no getting off.

Sylvia Plath

Did you get it?

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Final trip post

We are actually safely home, but I do have a few last thoughts on our trip, in no particular order

images-5I loved the big car-free squares and pedestrian walkways of Prague and Krakow. I wish we did something similar here–it makes the city so much more inviting. Combined with excellent public transit, it goes a long way to creating space for people to interact in a leisurely way. In Krakow, they even have an elegant pedestrian bridge across the Vistula, as well as walk and bikeways along the edges.

Continue reading

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A grim visit

images-2Over 500,000 people a year visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, really one big camp separated by two miles of road. It’s hard to say anything about this experience–it seems like science fiction, even though you are walking through it.

The question that occurs over and over is “How could it happen?” and “Could it happen again?” You think, inhuman, but only humans have this methodical malice.   Continue reading

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A miscellany

Today is our last morning in Eastern Europe, but I have several days worth of posts to continue. This one, our day in Kazimierz, the old Jewish section of Krakow. This area seems very lively and energized, with youth hostels competing with museums and ancient synagogues, There is a square with dozens of restaurants stretching between one old synagogue and another. Here are a few shots–one each from the synagogues:

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We happened onto a lovely Klezmer band on the sunny afternoon in Kazimierz, and sat down in an outdoor cafe to listen. Continue reading

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Not typical tourism

IMG_1858A hazy morning. We walked along the Vistula–aren’t all great cities by water?–past the old Jewish section of town, Kazimerz, to the museum that’s been created in the former location of the Schindler factory. The river was lovely, the walk pleasant. On the way, we saw a mural on an abandoned building. Continue reading

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Polish poetry

481cf0f2b6a30ad8986c6e.L._V339163520_SX200_I’ve been reading through the luminous translations Mira Rosenthal has done of the work of Tomasz Różycki, a contemporary Polish poet. It’s a delight to read them here in Krakow, where they take on an additional resonance, although Różycki is from Opole, northeast of Krakow. This poem, dedicated to one of the most famous Polish poets, Czesław Miłosz, gives a sense of a land and a poetic spirit that has survived a tortured history.

The Rainy Season

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxFor Cz. M.

We drove through Wrocław, black sea of ruins,
which exiles later wanted to rebuild
to look at least a little like Lwów
so that it did not become a dream, a dream. Continue reading

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Sights

city_map_of_KrakowThe first thing we do in each new city is get a little tourist map from the hotel that gives a basic outline of the city and lists the main sights. I thought about this wandering around Krakow yesterday, so many of us with our little maps, exploring.

city_sightseeing_route_map_san_franciscoIt made me think about what would be on a tourist map of San Francisco–the museums, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park, Fisherman’s Wharf, the ferries, Alcatraz… and how that wouldn’t be my idea of the city at all. I don’t think you can hope to get to know a city by seeing its sights or even shopping in its markets or going to its museums. Tourists can’t penetrate beyond the outer layer of a city. But still, it’s fun to see the great sights, and for me best of all, to wander the streets somewhat aimlessly.

Being a tourist by definition is being an outsider. And I know as an inhabitant you might never get around to seeing the things on the map. Just the history here is overwhelming–poor Poland, invaded over and over by Tartars, Swedes, Germans, Russians, burned, ravaged, partitioned… And yet, great things happened here.

imagesThe hotel we’re staying in was where Copernicus stayed when he visited the city 500 years ago, writing his tract on a heliocentric universe. The main square has been excavated to discover and display the layers of history going back to over a thousand years. The university is one of the oldest in Europe.

copernNot to mention one of the pleasures of travel–discovering a swimming pool and sauna in the basement of your hotel!

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and a little of the unusual

Of course, one of the real pleasures of travel is seeing the strange and unusual–in Prague, the Dancing House by Frank Ghery, and the views inside and out is a prime example:

dancing houseInside is an exhibit of glass sculpture, the Fred and Ginger restaurant with its titling chandelier, and great views.
glass sculpture

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Across the river, some public sculpture that I think of as the disappearing man:

disappearing menToday, it’s good by to Prague’s whimsey, and on to Poland.

 

 

 

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