October 7, 2000

The howling of a coyote woke me to the cold darkness of my room. I would sleep and wake and it seemed the same coyote was still howling. As I was finally wide awake, I heard another coyote, much, much closer (like right outside the thin wooden wall) answered and then all was quiet.

Time for me to think. To plan my day. When to shower, what to wear, what to carry down the mesa, when to come back up, when and where to eat. I thought of getting up to write in my journal but the idea of sticking my arms out into the coldness around my cheeks convinced me I was happiest under my six thin thermal blankets. Then I began to recall the tour of O'Keeffe's house as I tried to remember the arrangements of the rooms. The desire to make a sketch was enough to get me up. I was thankful that was alone in my room and was not constrained to lie in the dark out of consideration for strangers' snoring. The light bulbs seemed to warm the room slightly. Especially after I closed the window. I do want to go out to greet the dawn.

The dawn came in such small pieces it was nearly noon before the sun began to warm into a normal day. I skipped breakfast and used the time to walk down to the conference room. It took me 25 minutes – longer than I had planned it would. I was just able to slip into an empty seat in the last row. It was harder to see over the ninety other heads, but I could hear just fine.

First of all, Bly's Indian son-in-law, Sunil Dutta (who worked with him on the translations) played his tambour (as advertisement for the concert tonight). Sunil would recite from memory the ghazal in Urdu while accompanying himself on the huge instrument and then Bly would read his translation from the book. All too soon this commercial was over and Bly was expounding on his ideas of the soul. I took lots of notes even though I disagreed with him on nearly every point.

(Notes from the Bly lecture:)

Bly: The original soul sacrifices itself so the being can survive. If we understood the beauty, special-ness of the original soul we would die.

(?How can we kill a soul? Isn't usually understood that 'soul' is the undying part of ourselves?)

Bly: To take the place of the original soul we fabricate a soul or center. It is our fabricated soul that we use to make judgments. It is with our fabricated soul that we learn to hate. We learn to hate our parents because they were the ones who caused us to let our original souls die.

(? How can this be. If he says we must let our original souls 'die' in order for us to survive, how is that our parents' fault?)

Bly: The fabricated soul manifests in shaming. Anytime anyone shames us, it comes not from his or her original soul but from his or her fabricated soul.

(?If the original soul had been replaced by the fabricated soul, then all action, good and 'bad' comes from that soul.)

Bly: There is no way out of shame. Yet the fabricated soul tries to erase feelings. The fabricated soul is 1/4th stronger than the original soul.

(?Isn't this rather 'off the wall'?)

Bly: Romantic love is the meeting of two original souls.

(?In our teen-age years we suddenly get our original soul back?)

Finally one guy spoke up, pointing out Bly's inconsistencies that felt to be on the tips of all our tongues. Bly began to bluster in confusion, then caught himself and attacked the man, his looks, his 'smallness'. I was shocked and angered. I could not believe how strongly I wished to go walk up on the stage to strike him physically to get him to stop attacking this man who was right in my eyes.

Gioia moved into her role as peacemaker, deflected the energy by starting to tell us a story. She thinks I am more interested in her Jewish-Sicilian connection than I am; but I will admit she does a great job of telling a story and she is excellent at tempering Bly's blankness. During the break, as we women stood in line to use the one toilet, several took the opportunity to thank Gioia for telling him this morning how wrong he was to shame the woman last night over her metaphor.

her bra strap
the morning story

Later, with cups of tea, I was telling Katie how much Bly's attitudes were bothering me. Raising her eyebrow, she said, "He is standing right behind you." Without turning around, I said, "Good, then he knows how wrong he is." Katie howled with her whole being.

After the break it was Martin's turn to lecture. He had some positive assignments for getting in touch with what he called our 'indigenous souls'. He suggested that our lives are too much surrounded by inanimate things. To regain touch with our indigenous souls we should establish a corner in our rooms in which everything there is made by someone we know. Or at least who made them, even if we cannot know the person ourselves. For depression he prescribed looking at one's navel. Nothing is funnier that this little knob on our bellies and from it we can follow a thread of thought to our parents and even back to our ancestors. As an exercise in connecting with our ancestors he suggested learning their language. And if that is the language we now speak, then we should learn the language of our ancestor's enemies.

Then he described (in an elaboration on the incident from his book of when his first son, Jorge was born) on how babies are sung out of the womb in Guatemala. How important it is that we are sung into life and that we should also be sung out of life. The first sound of grief that is the exact same thing as joy. We are carried on these sounds of our village. Soon I had tears trickling down my face. I simply could not stop crying. As we left to walk to the dining hall, I tried to thank the guy who had corrected Bly but my voice broke as I continued to weep. He and another guy stopped to hold me until the racking sobs let go of me. Then he and I began to discussing other things while he showed me the routine for getting food. We were having such a great discussion at the table, another guy (much younger) joined in. Soon the table was filled with an exchange of marvelous ideas and feelings. The young guy carried my backpack, heavy with my gratitude, up the mesa to my room .

For the afternoon session the group was to be broken down into three parts so each could meet with one of the presenters. They passed around a basket from which we pulled slips of paper. When I saw I had pulled Bly's group, it took me about one minute before simply deciding to attend Martin's group instead. So I did. Still I got very little out of it except the great view from the glass wall window I was facing. The session only lasted one and a half hours and most of the time was spent in learning a song, the words of which had no meaning to me, and a dance that was painful to my tendon and seemed senseless. He hastily gave us two assignments: one to write a poem beginning with a phrase used by my ancestors and to write a love letter to the earth. The theme of the workshop is "Love Letters to the Flowering Earth" so this fits. I have my first draft done but it has everything to do with Martin's style of writing and nothing from me. I know that my body is my love letter to the earth and my emotions are the flowers I give back to it. There are no words so eloquent as my living body, old and ragged as it is.

I am very eager for tonight's concert but instead of my lovely dress I'm wearing my sweat pants. The weather has turned very cold today. It feels like snow in the air and I am sure that on some peak it is falling right now. I did wash my hair and take a shower in very hot water – hot enough to keep me warm as I walked from one building to another. I have the lights on more for warmth than the light.

Martin had promised us that his eighteen-year-old son, Santiago, would play flamenco guitar for the evening entertainment. Everyone was there, dressed up (many) and eager (all). Not wanting to be late as I had been for the morning session I had gone down very early so again I was able to save a front seat by laying my cane across it. How touched I was later to find that the guys from 'our table' were sitting around me. The evening kept getting later and later and we drank more and more tea and still the principals seemed to have abandoned us. Finally they arrived and we all dashed to our seats in quick expectation. Santiago kept fussing with the chairs and mics. He was so freaked out he was stumbling with nervousness. Martin tried to help him by tuning the guitars but he insisted on redoing it himself. After one more trip to the bathroom he came on stage with a taller, older man introduced as Manuel, who was dressed totally in a black suit and shirt and wearing sunglasses and very long flowing hair.

Santiago began playing to our hushed expectation, but even the least musical of us could feel how rough it was going for him. Manuel tried to guide him by clapping and rocking but it took a long time until Santiago was playing up to his expectations. When he had gotten Santiago to the place within the music he wanted him to be, Manuel began to sing. We were not prepared for the primal howling cries that came from this man. After the first shock of the rawness of his wordless sounds the crowd quickly appreciated how special he was and sat enthralled.

From song to song the music only got better. We applauded until our hands were as raw as his voice. His wildness called to our wildness and we answered in gratitude. Then suddenly Santiago began to play alone and very softly. In the stillness tears came flooding down our cheeks. Again and again Manuel would incite us to madness with his screaming voices and Santiago would wash us with tears with his singular gentleness.

Then Martin got on stage with them and all found renewed energy and were really cooking. Truly inspired. It was clear though, that the two were superior to even Martin so he dropped back out. But he was so proud of his son he was very much a part of the rest of the concert as he sat there beaming as if his chest would split like a birthday piñata.

Then it was Bly's turn to join the party. He came up on the stage and sat down to read a poem of Lorca's (a great one) that he had translated. The idea was that he would read a line and the three guitarists would riff between. Somehow the three never got on the same wavelength and when Bly insisted they repeat the act I groaned inwardly. It was so painful to watch; especially after being so transported by the music. Manuel and Santiago seemed to know we needed to be repaired after this, so they gave us song after song into the night. We hated to let them go until long after midnight.

Marilyn was in charge of transporting Santiago back home so through this I was able to see him, to give him my thanks. When I went back inside to try to find another ride up the mesa, there was Manuel and his Japanese girlfriend. As I shyly shook his hand, I bowed and touched his hand with my forehead. Then he repeated the gesture for me, saying, "Senorita." Never had the word touched me so deeply.

Finally I found out Clayton would drove us four of us "old" ladies up to the mesa. There in the tent area we found Lindsay from Riversong who had locked herself out of her car where she had put her sleeping bag in an effort to be warmer. Others took her into their room since they were closer to the parking lot. I admit I was glad not to have to share my cold room and the six thin blankets.


Copyright © Jane Reichhold 2000.

To learn more about Martín Prechtel and his valuable work, check out his web site.


More from HOLY GHOST October 8.