The Calm Before

I recently passed my one-year anniversary of moving to Seattle and I’m getting close to the one-year mark for my job at the Triple Door as well. So much has happened in a year – most importantly, I feel like I have made progress in my personal progression and faced down my boogie men, in some ways.

Wednesday we had a gathering in Volunteer Park in honor of Sarah’s impending departure from the city she has called home for three years now. A group of her friends gathered by the blooming dahlias and spread out wine and cheese and fruit and other yummy things on picnic tables. We drank rosé in the fading light and the waning heat of an August evening and released biodegradable balloons with messages of love and well-wishing. The leftover balloons were full of helium, which we sucked after dark, in a circle, singing snippets of songs with our high pitched voices and giggling.

The summer feels like it is winding down already, though we should have another month of sunny days, if we’re lucky.

The beginning of the month was hot and hazy, the skies over Seattle filled with smoke from the wildfires raging in Canada and Montana. On the positive side, the haze made the days less hot and kept things in the 80s instead of the 90s as predicted. It coincided with Seafair, which I recall from last year, when I was still staying with my aunt and uncle in Magnolia and Seattle felt brand new.

This year the Blue Angels roared over my tiny house in Beacon Hill and for three days in a row they made themselves known. After the Fourth of July this year, I’ve realized how much I dislike patriotic displays of war prowess.

Sarah and I have taken good advantage of our time together in Seattle. Since our outing to Victoria, we have gone to The Can Can – a cabaret in Pike Place Market – and returned a couple of times to Capitol Cider for our favorite jazz jam.We even went to Shakespeare in the Park and checked out Rumbar – a place she’d been longing to try.

Tonight we will go to the Triple Door for a cabaret singer I like called Lady Rizo and tomorrow night, Sarah will be on a flight to Columbia.

I sympathize with her feelings of inner conflict – it is hard to leave a job where you love your role and the security and the fact that you’re needed and appreciated. Even if that job isn’t what you ultimately want out of life, it is the end of a certain chapter. I’ve got a bit more time before I’ll similarly be saying goodby to things and this city, assuming all goes well with my visa. So far, so good.

Seattle has been an interesting place to live. I’ve grown to love my co-workers and the environment at the Triple Door, which is such a cool space and which has inspired me in many ways. The people I work with are – in the best possible way – freaks and misfits, in-between travelers, pierced, tattooed, rainbow-haired rebels and youths. Actors, musicians, writers, dancers. There are benefits to working in the service industry. The people are a big one.

But there’s been nothing to hold me here. Now that Sarah is leaving I feel my ties unbinding. I like being here now. But in my mind, I’m shifting. I do love my little cottage, still, and my patio is comfortable and calming, white spots of light dance reflected from the lazy motions of a string of mirrors. My tomatoes grow and peppers are sprouting, cucumbers fattening and basil in bloom.

I think increasingly of Erika, who had such a charming and effortless garden in California. I wish I had moved to the west coast when she was still alive – wouldn’t it be nice if I could simply drive somewhere to see her? Just a day’s drive away in Napa. But her garden is no longer hers, her condo still features the bathroom tiles mom helped Erika install – no doubt some other traces of her still abide, but fainter and fainter.

Her car sits unmoving on the side of my street as I wait for final confirmation of my studies in London. As I hold onto her Rav4, because it is still, every so slightly, part of her. She put most of those dents and scrapes there; she wrote about her little car in her journal. It will be the end of an era to say goodbye to it. Six years have passed so quickly I can scarcely believe it when I see the years the stretch back to our last trip together in Brazil. To fill out my visa application, I had to list all my travels for the last ten years, searching through old emails for dates, reliving the trip to France when I started this blog, glimpsing emails from lovers past, not read in years, but still surprisingly fresh. Did I come back to New York for him and was it a mistake? Am I going to London for the right reasons?

Erika once studied in London for a semester. My mom and I visited her there when I was 17 – another trip abroad I recalled in applying for my visa. For a city I am not overly fond of, many of my life’s turning point moments seem to center on it. Perhaps living there will be better than I previously thought. Meanwhile, I am looking for a houseboat to live on like Anais Nin. I love having a charming living space – it really improves my quality of life. Such a first-world thing to say. Lol!

I’m looking forward to the eclipse in a few days. I always adore the moon and her mysterious movements. I’ve never seen a solar eclipse before and though I’m not driving out of my way to the “path of totality,” I think it will be 90% visible from Seattle.

Sarah will be gone by then. And about a week later my parents will come visit and then the final countdown begins.  Looking forward to seeing what the future holds and playing my piano as much as possible before I have to let it go.

One last note, as Burning Man approaches and mom and I have discussed what sort of shrine to burn for Erika this year: I recently ended up at a park watching a bunch of grown people doing a very fun and whimsical dance in a children’s wading pool at Volunteer Park. I didn’t know it then, but I recently learned that the performance was to honor the last wishes of a dying artist who lived on Vashon Island. She helped plan the music and choreography and costumes and then these people who loved her came together and performed a joyful, magical tribute.

I’m really glad I went. Joyful dancing is the best answer for just about anything, it seems.

Love and miss,

Kira

 

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Homage to a part of her

The other day as I left the house, the sun cast a rainbow onto the sky, arcing high over trees and mountains and bruise gray clouds. Rainbows are my sister’s calling card, ever since we drove into one, chased it into the rain on the highway heading back East from California the day after Erika’s memorial. Her little kitty Rosie was in the car with us, tucked scared and dazed in her little carrier next to me.

rainbow

Rainbow in Seattle – Erika’s calling card.

After I spotted this recent rainbow, I called my mother and she told me that she had just been in the process of writing an email to tell us that Rosie died the day before.

skye

Sister Skye cuddling Rosie in Erika’s condo the week she died.

They had found her curled peacefully outside in her little enclosure, where it had been a warm day and she she looked like she had been napping in the sun.

rosie-futon

Plugged in to recharge!

Rosie was a troubled kitty. She was a lover – a tiny Siamese with creamy short fur and delicate diamond marking on her brow – but she was also a pisser – and shitter! My first encounter with her was when I stayed with Erika in San Fran in 2007. Rosie had gone into my suitcase and peed and pooped on top of all my things, befouling the lot of it. Her gaze registered nothing but sometimes I wondered if there wasn’t a shadow of defiance hidden behind her cloudy blue eyes.

smiling

Rosie squinting happily.

But Erika loved her. And she was cute. Erika had such patience for an animal who might otherwise have been euthanized long ago. She was traumatized by an apartment fire before she came into Erika’s possession and we’re not sure now how old she was. She outlived her savior by a bit more than five years. She lived with me in New York for six months before I decided I needed to leave New York and Rosie returned to my parents in Arkansas.

mojo

Erika with our niece Catelin and Mojo the cat.

I loved her, but her proclivities were maddening and my cat allergies were unfortunately raging. Still, it was like having something of Erika with me – this creature she’d loved and nurtured. I took her to the vet and bought her nice cans of food. I bought her a water fountain and mixed canned pumpkin in with her food. She often crawled under the covers of my bed or curled on the feather puff at the foot of it. She didn’t poo or pee at first, but then she stayed with my cousins over Christmas and pooped on my cousin while she was sleeping. That was the end of the good behavior.

She had a blissful period of living in Erika’s and my old room before she befouled it so terribly that she was banished to the basement, where they furnished her with cushions and all the amenities, plus an enclosed outdoor area. Her first owner had declawed her, so she was pretty defenseless. I know she missed beds, though. Whenever I was home, I brought her up to sleep with me and she was on her best behavior (though my cat, Ivy, who also lives with my parents, was not amused by her presence).

ivy

My little Ivy kitty curling up for me.

She pounced and padded and rolled around on the bed and her enjoyment was palpable. When I brought her to the porch if it was sunny out, she only wanted to be in the bedroom! She had simple desires: a soft bed and yummy food and sweet cuddles.

bed

Erika was always sympathetic to the needs of the voiceless animals. She had such a heart full of love. I’m glad we kept Rosie the problem kitty, in the spirit of my kindhearted sister, who sent a rainbow to remind us she’s not gone – she’s just existing differently than before.

Photo on 4-11-14 at 7.09 PM #5

Erika and Rosie forever in my heart.

My dearest sister is now riding the skies with her sweet celestial Rosie. She’s already a part of the tattoo on my shoulder, held in Erika’s arms. I think this year I’ll have her colors darkened when I get my tattoo touched up.

Love and cuddles,

Kira

 

Burning, Turning

As Fall approaches and Summer prepares to fold up her many-colored tents, Burning Man is mostly emptied by now. Five years ago I flew to Reno to say goodbye to my sister Erika. She was in the hospital after a catastrophic cerebral edema. She looked just as she had in life, but now her life was perpetuated by machines.

Just a couple of days before, she was doing yoga on the Playa with her boyfriend. She was cooking a curry, drinking a Corona, riding her baby blue beach cruiser through the swirling columns of alkaline dust – to the ethereal architecture of the Temple of Transcendence.

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Erika in 2010 at Burning Man

Erika’s edema coincided with the burning of the Man, occurring on the Friday night of the festival. As she was inundated with water, the man was consumed by flames. Now, every year as Labor Day weekend nears, we think of that desert and the flames and the celebration, which coincides with our memory of the day we got the news.

I’m living in Seattle now. Four years ago, I came West for Burning Man and stayed here for a time in the aftermath. Being here again, on the anniversary of Erika’s death, can’t help but remind me of all I was dealing with then. The specter of an old amour even reared his head not so long ago, but otherwise the past seems to be quiet. It is only in memory that I am haunted.

Friday night I was training for a new job as a server in a music venue/dinner theater. Saturday I took the day off, feeling tired and overwhelmed by all the movement of late. I had the feeling as the end of the month approached that I needed to find shelter and prepare for the coming storm of grief. Like a cloud of dust that swirls around one, causing time travel – whisking one away from the present and into the past.

Saturday night, I bought sparkling rose and cheeses. I bought dolmas, which I remembered my love for at Burning Man in 2012. Sarah came over and we feasted and toasted to Erika with the lovely peach-colored bubbles, of which I’m sure she would have approved.

erika-kupfersberger

Erika the Red

In Arkansas, my mother made an effigy of a cat with arched back for her annual Burning Woman ceremony – she said the theme this year was “the year of the cat.” In Florida, Skye and Erika’s friend Lara burned a paper mache lucky cat in their ceremony. I was unable to have a proper burn, as a friend of a friend was using the outdoor firepit to burn a large pile of paperwork and prevented our making use of it. Ah well, at least some sort of purge took place!

The weather has already pivoted toward Fall here in Seattle and I’m staying in a cute little home south of the city. There are all manner of trees in the back yard: figs, walnuts, even a fruitful grapevine. The squirrels are quite numerous, as are the crows.

But this is just my home for September, as I continue to look for my forever home (or at least my “for 6 months” home!). I don’t like living out of suitcases. Sigh.

I’ve been getting the hang of Seattle, taking the lightrail downtown for work.

Plus I’m living in the same city as one of my best friends, Sarah. It’s been fun to spend time with her and see Seattle through her eyes.

Summer is gone so soon and time flies fast since July when I left New York. I drove through Cleveland and stopped to stay with the lovely Ziegenhagens before heading south to spend some time with my daddio. Mom was in Florida at the time, I’ve been so constantly consumed with “devoirs” – duties. But I had a few days off this weekend to wander some local parks with Sarah and we even went to a movie!

It might be a pattern I’ve set up for myself over the last five years: become exhausted in early September either from travels or fashion week or both. It is a sort of ritual, echoing the time after Erika died when I spent many nights wakeful in her little back yard.

Now it feels like things are clearing up a bit. The storm has passed. I heard the song “The Eye” by Brandi Carlile this year as I was driving back to New York from Florida, post X-mas, having hatched the plan to move to Seattle six months on.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wl_eNu4NUVI

I’m glad folk music is making a comeback. I’m hoping it makes a comeback in my own life.

All for now,

Love and miss –

Kira

 

 

The Rites of Spring

I have news! Not only is it the beginning of a new year, with the onset of Spring, but I finally finished my book!

Technically, I wrote most of it by January, but I’ve been working since then to get it down to a reasonable number of pages, since it was 480 at its most bloated.

My book, “Dust and Light,” which is in some ways the culmination of this blog, is about my sister Erika’s death in 2011 at Burning Man, about her life before that point. For the last year, I’ve been incorporating sections of her journals into my manuscript and I finally completed that challenging task, producing a book which, I hope, manages to conjure some of her spirit.

eekaleek

Erika dancing with abandon in Uruguay – January 2011

It is strange being done with it. To have time that can be turned to other pursuits. Other story ideas have come flooding in of late and I’ve had more inclination for strumming on the guitar again. A couple of weekends ago, I managed to break a glass at my apartment and step on it, barefoot, slicing up a couple of toes and bleeding impressively. Yesterday, on Easter morning, the worst of the cuts decided to heal up and rejoin with its separated skin, which is a relief.

This year, as last, I celebrated Nowruz (nav-ruuz) or the Persian tradition of the spring-time New Year. Still celebrated throughout Iran, Afghanistan, and India, this festival probably predates Zoroastrianism and it bears many similarities to the “Christian” tradition of Easter eggs and candy: the Nowruz table holds symbols of the earth’s bounty. Potted plants, flowers, fruit, sprouting lentils, even eggs can make an appearance, though I haven’t bought eggs in some time, so I skip that bit of tradition.

nowruz table

Nowruz (nav-ruuz) table, featuring a copy of Shahnameh and symbolic plants, fruits, and other produce of the Earth

I add another more ancient tradition, mixing a dough from barley syrup and spelt flour and honey. It is a variation of the honey cakes devotees used to offer the Goddess of the earth – Bona Dea, Magna Mater, the Great Mother. In our lust to create a more advanced world, we have forgotten our Mother Earth. We talk about climate change in the abstract, but the truth is that we began down this path the moment we decided to sacrifice the sanctity of our earth for the production of human works. We chose to live at odds with the earth, rather than in harmony with her. We are in the process of destroying the very fertility of our planetary home in order to “progress.”

spring table

My table morphed for the full moon / eclipse – but the message is the same – the Star card is featured because the star goddess has always been associated with Spring.

So it is important, I think, to give thanks to the new fertility of the Earth, reborn in the form of eggs in nests and blossoms on trees. The doves on my fire escape have made their nest in an old pot, left to crumble with only a bit of moss growing on the hardened soil inside. But still, a safe haven for young chicks till they grow big enough to emerge on their own.

In a similar way, New York has been my haven as I completed my book (which no doubt could still use some edits) but it is time for me to start thinking of my future. Music, which has been on the back burner, bubbles up again, along with my passion for fictional tales.

I’ve also been spending time with a 5-year old girl named Eve, which is a lot of fun. As the weather improves, I’m excited to have a good excuse to play in a park, and good company.

me n eve

Eve did my makeup and I did hers – kinda looks like I have a black eye and def have lipstick everywhere. That’s a flower on my face. Proud of the unicorn princess I made her into!

I also got to meet up recently with a friend and former collaborator who switched coasts, the lady Evangeline. I wish we’d taken pics, but instead we ate vegan dim sum and caught up on each others’ lives. She told me she’s started praying to the Virgin Mary – she was raised Catholic, so that is the apparition of the Goddess with which she is most familiar. I was raised Methodist, so we didn’t have the same emphasis on Mary. I told her that Mary, called the Queen of Heaven, resembles in many ways the more ancient goddess forms like Inanna and Ishtar. I observed the ardor for the Virgin Mary expressed in Greece and in France, and I see how natural it is for us to revere a mother figure.

So happy New Year, happy Spring, happy Easter – celebrate your inner goddess and the outer forms of fertility and growth we can observe in the Earth!

Love and miss,

Kira

Athens and Istanbul – The End of My Journey

Since returning to the United States after my time volunteering with the refugees in Lesvos, I’ve been mostly obligated to get to work on the business of paying rent in New York City. I’ve also been able to pick up work on my memoir again, and I’ve made great strides since September, when the world turned and brought me back to this city, this sprawling metropolis of concrete and steel and human desire striving ever upward.

From pouring cups of “haleeb” for wet, frightened children, I went to pouring champagne for VIPs in the Lexus Lounge, for Fashion Week. I was too busy to reflect on how much has shifted in my life since last year’s fall fashion week, when the landscape of my life seemed new and magical – full of potentials that have since withered on the vine, disappeared altogether, like a mirage. I have a habit of confusing endings for beginnings.

While last years deaths (mostly figurative) were difficult veils to pass through, I can look back now and see what I might not have done, had things gone better for me, personally. Had I won my romantic dreams of love, I might have stayed contented in New York, wrapped up in relationship with one man, instead of going into the world and embracing the multitudes of desperate brothers and sisters, mothers and daughters, fathers and sons – whose needs are far greater than mine in this life.

I am fortunate to have been able to afford the time and airfare to go to Greece, as I am fortunate to have been born to a financially and otherwise secure family in a country where, at least historically, human life mattered, and no one was getting killed as a mater of course.

I speak in the past tense, because I am not so sure these things are true of our country anymore, but I digress.

My last few days in the Aegean were spent sightseeing in Athens – it was my first visit there, and time was short, so I scampered like my skirt was on fire to see the National Museum and the Parthenon before catching a bus into the mountains to the northwest of the city, to visit the ancient sanctuary of Gaia at Delphi, where the Oracles made pronouncements and predictions since time immemorial.

Parthenon

Parthenon

The Erechtheion at the Acropolis

The Erechtheion at the Acropolis

View from the Acropolis

View from the Acropolis

The Acropolis from the Acropolis Museum

The Acropolis from the Acropolis Museum

The forested mountains and picturesque towns reminded me of the Alps as the bus wound around the skinny roads till we arrived at Delphi.

The village was very small and I quickly found my hotel, despite my lack of a map, Google or otherwise.

I dropped off my things and set out to explore the city, in search of dinner and water. Lots of water, as I was still dry as a desert from dehydration. Before I’d gone far, I met a local man named Dimitri, who took me down the street on his motorcycle, where we had beer and I devoured half a pizza and drank endless carafes of water.

The restaurant overlooked the steep, impressive mountains, the deep alluvial gorge dove precipitously below us. Dimitri took me to the sacred Castalian Spring, which was below the temple site, spouting into a rock basin before draining elsewhere. I filled up my bottle with the cold, delicious water and drank deeply.

In the morning, I woke early and went to the UNESCO World Heritage Site – the remains of the temples and dedications built at Delphi over hundreds of years. A friendly local pooch walked with me down the road to refill my bottle at the Castalian Spring.A large rock marked the place where the priestesses used to speak their predictions. A dome-shaped rock, representing the omphalos or world navel, sat nearby. I spent an hour or so exploring the site and the site of the nearby Athena temple before refilling my water bottle at the Castalian Spring and going to the museum. It was full of incredible pediments and votive objects I was lucky to see.

Omphalos at Delphi

Omphalos at Delphi

Delphi surroundings

Delphi surroundings

With a sweet kitty at Delphi

With a sweet kitty at Delphi

Delphi

Delphi – the stone of the priestesses

Moi at Delphi

Moi at Delphi – in front of the Apollo Temple

I checked out of my hotel and got my things before shopping for lip balm for my lips, which were dry and chapped to the point of cracking. I ran into Dimitri on the main street and he bought me a Greek coffee – thick with the grounds. Then my bus came and I headed back to Athens, driving the winding roads down from Mount Parnassus.

I had hoped to visit Eleusis, the ancient site of the mystery ritual that was popular throughout the region until paganism was outlawed and the temples destroyed. However, I learned that it was closed on Mondays, so I was thwarted. I got my things from my hotel and got a text from some of my fellow volunteers, who were also in Athens.

I told them where to find me and waited for them outside the hotel. Maya and Kristof – a father and daughter from Berlin – found me and decided to take a room at my hotel, which was only $25 euros. We caught up and smoked a few cigarettes before I got the subway to my new neighborhood.

I was staying my final night near the Acropolis in a hostel, where I thought I might meet some interesting people, and I was right. As I was at the front desk to check in, a couple came in and got a room.

I found my dorm and encountered a French girl called Lea, who spoke perfectly unaccented English – or close enough. We decided to go out later, and in the meantime I figured I’d do some sightseeing in the area. It was late afternoon when I wandered along the base of the Acropolis, in search of the Agora.

I followed my nose (though I had a map, in case of emergency) and found the Agora, bordered by a large museum on one side and a train track running in front. I wandered through the museum and the grounds in the burning sun. I located the Eleusinian temple, which was only foundation stones, and visited the Hephaestus temple, which was beautifully preserved – even down to the colors!

Hunger pangs clanged in my empty belly and I headed back toward the hostel, stopping along the way for souvenirs for my family.

Once back at the hostel, I feasted on cashews and a tin of dolmas and drank a beer in the courtyard. The couple I’d seen at the reception came in and we began conversing. The man was Dutch and his companion was Belgian. I told them about my experiences volunteering in Lesvos, and they listened with great interest.

The man told me that he was ashamed that he, a European, had not done anything to help the refugees, when an American had. It inspired him to do something.

Lea and I went out for drinks to a place recommended by the front desk attendant. I had a feel for the neighborhood now and we walked back toward the Agora and found the rooftop bar, with a view of the Acropolis, where we talked for several hours about our pasts and our upbringings. Lea and I had a lot in common, though of course I was older than she by a decade, since I’m long in the tooth, I suppose, compared to your average backpacker. Nevertheless, it was one of those meetings that makes you glad to travel alone, so as to facilitate encountering strangers.

We went back to the hostel to find the room had filled with my fellow Americans. I packed my things and got ready for the next day’s flight to Istanbul. Someone in the room had set an alarm that went off in the wee hours, interrupting everyone’s sleep – except the culprit, who just kept snoring. There are definitely downfalls to hostel life.

In the morning, I checked out and walked to a nearby square where I got the metro to the airport. While exiting the train, I ran into Kristof and Maya one last time. We said our goodbyes and I changed some money into Turkish Lira before going through security.

I arrived in Istanbul in the late morning and took the train to the tram to get to my hostel. My Greek phone could no longer help me, but I remembered the directions to find the hostel and managed to make it there. I was out of sorts after the crowded tram, in which a man had inappropriately brushed against me, but there were a couple of fellows at the cafe/reception who shared their lunch with me and improved my mood.

One was a Turkish guy, Baran, who the same age as me, and the other was an English chap called Charley, a bit older. They wanted to see my guitar, so I showed it to them and we took turns playing songs for each other.

The two of them were going to the Asian side of the city that afternoon and invited me to come along. Despite my lack of sleep, I said yes. When in Istanbul. . .

We took the ferry across to this other half of the city and walked to the house of some friends, a couple who received us with hospitality. They had two small dogs and a cat running around their sunny apartment. I was allergic, but happy to be with these friendly people and animals.

We took the dogs for a walk to nearby Small Moda Beach, and I brought along my guitar. As the sun set, we sat on the rocks by the water and performed songs for each other. They were a good audience, and some other friends joined us, so we had a bit of a crowd, all drinking beers and eating chips, talking and smoking and singing.

With Baran, Tuba, and Ali at Small Moda Beach in Istanbul

With Baran, Tuba, and Ali at Small Moda Beach in Istanbul

It was after 10 when we headed back to our part of the city. Baran and I went back to the hostel, where the fellow in reception invited us for a drink before we called it a night.

The next day, I was on a mission to see what I could of Istanbul: I took the tram across the Bosphorus and walked up to the Hagia Sophia – the famous former church and mosque that is now a museum open to all.

In front of the Hagia Sophia

In front of the Hagia Sophia

However, the line was huge, so I decided I’d come back around lunch time, when I hoped fewer people would be there. I visited the famous underground Basilica Cistern, leftover from the time of Emperor Justinian (and a pleasant respite from the hot sun).

The Blue Mosque - Istanbul

The Blue Mosque – Istanbul

From there, I went to the archaeological museum, which had a great section on Cypriot and Syrian ancient history.

After that, it was time for the Hagia Sophia, which was finally relatively easy to get into. I wandered around the cavernous, domed building, exploring its nooks and crannies. From there, I got lunch in Sultanahmet before going to see the famous old bazaar. It was a beautiful sprawling network of hallways will high, vaulted ceilings, full of stalls and people buying and selling, bartering and bargaining.

I made my way back to the tram and back to my side of the Bosphorus. Baran was waiting for me, as he hoped to record me playing music in a nearby cafe. However, it was not to be: I discovered I’d lost my credit card and went into panic mode.

Once I’d settled things, we got dinner and took it up to the top of the hill, overlooking the water and the lights of the city. There, we sat playing music and talking till it was almost 2, and time to turn in.

In the morning, I went to the beautiful old Cemberlitas hammam, to get scrubbed clean of the dirt that had been building up since the archaeological dig in Cyprus, and no doubt increased exponentially while I was volunteering in Molyvos. The building was beautiful: a tall marble dome covered the bathing room, a large heated slab of marble was dappled with circles of sunlight, filtering down.

I rinsed off with soap and warm water from marble basins and went to lay on the slab, enjoying the serenity and silence. I had the place to myself, until a woman came in to scrub me. I recalled my visit to my first hammam, in Morocco in 2012. A visit to the hammam is many things: it is about cleanliness, of course, but it is also a ritual performed before praying or religious holidays.

She used soap and warm water to cover me in lather before commencing to scrub me with an exfoliating mitt. My favorite part of going to the hammam is watching the dead skin appear as if by magic.

When the scrub was finished, I rinsed off and returned to sprawl on the warm marble slab for a bit before showering and getting dressed. I tipped my scrubber and headed off toward the hostel on the tram. It was a beautiful blue-skied morning and the Bosphorus was full of boats.

I packed up my things and had one last breakfast with Baran at the cafe. Charley joined up and we walked down to the tram together. I said goodbye to my new friends and headed to the airport.

That afternoon, I flew to Zurich for a long layover and took the train into the city. I had a bed at a New Zealand-owned hostel in a nightlife district only about 15 minutes walk from the central station. The glowering sky let fall its cargo of gentle rain as I made my way across the bridge and past the military grounds.

The hostel had a bar/cafe downstairs and after I checked in, I sipped my glass of complementary rose and wrote about my experiences in Lesvos. A band set up to play a concert and I stepped outside to smoke and ended up talking with a couple of locals about my trip and the refugees. They told me about conservative political views in Switzerland, making it sound not unlike Texas in its stance toward guns and immigration.

I had a few more beers (and a falafel from a nearby Lebanese spot) and chatted with people who came for the concert. Finally, it was time to retire to my upper bunk and get some sleep before heading home to New York the next day.

I flew back to the city on the fourth anniversary of my sister Erika’s death. September 4th is a date that will always have significance for me, though this year the end of my journey had to suffice to mark it, where in previous years, I drank pink bubbles, at the very least. But I think my volunteering also was something I did to honor her, in a way. I try to honor her by living.

My return to the city has been both easy and odd. It is the same old city, but I don’t feel like the same old me. Lighter somehow. Happier with what I have and more grateful.

As my birthday nears (it’s tomorrow!), I’m reflecting on this year and what I’ve gone through. I feel in some ways that I’ve skimmed over the waters of loss without getting pulled in, which is a considerable feat for a Scorpio. I don’t love lightly, and letting go isn’t easy. But I have evolved through change and pain and my perspective is different now. I understand myself better through the difficulties I wouldn’t have chosen to face. The earth must be plowed before it is planted. I hope this next phase will be about that fertility – that loss is behind me for the time. But time will tell.

To quote Casablanca, the problems of two people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

All for now –

Love and miss

Kira

Greek Island Adventures

My last day in Cyprus was spent in Nicosia, the capital of that country. It is divided in two at the border between the Greek speaking part to the south and the Turkish half, to the north. I visited the museum there before heading back to Larnaca to say goodbye to my hosts there and catch my flight.

I left behind Cyprus – the island of Aphrodite – for Crete – the land of the Minoans. I’ve been interested in the Minoan civilization ever since looking through a book about them from my father’s library when I was a girl. I was instantly fascinated by this strange culture of bull-jumping acrobatics and bare-breasted priestesses.

On the flight from Larnaca to Heraklion, I was seated next to a couple of friendly guys from Crete, who live on Cyprus, but were returning to their home island to play traditional Cretan music at a village festival in a town I’d never heard of. Antonious was the one with better English, so we conversed the whole way to Heraklion and he told me about his studies in marine archaeology on Lesvos (aka Lesbos, but “b’s” and “v’s” are a bit mixed up in Greek). When we landed, he said his sister was picking him up, and she could also give me a lift to my hotel!

They kindly waited for me while I waited for my backpack, which I’d had to check, and then I used my magic phone to help navigate to the hotel, by the beach in Amoudara, just outside of the city proper.

Antonious’ sister was called Elisavet (emphasis on the “sa”) – Ellie for short – and she surprised me with her strong Irish accent. At first I thought I must have misunderstood about her being Antonious’ sister, but it turned out she had been living in Dublin for the last 8 years, so came by her brogue honestly.

They dropped me at the hotel and even helped me inside with my things, before leaving with promises to be in touch, and an invitation to join them for the festival in a couple of days.

It was nearly midnight by the time they left and I decided to go for a stroll, just to get a feel for the place. It reminded me a bit of India – I guess mostly Goa, as people were on scooters and it had a similarly tropical vibe. It was pretty calm, though there were some bars on the Amoudara strip playing dance music. I let one of the barkers convince me to stop for a beer at his bar and made small talk with him till I was ready to head home for bed.

I was to stay in an Airbnb rental that night, but in the meantime, my hosts were at work, so I left my things at the hotel and got a bus into the city center.

Heraklion Center

Heraklion Center

Heraklion center was charming and compact with small streets running at odd angles to one another. The city had been conquered by the Venetians, back when they were the major force in the Mediterranean, and they had fortified it with massive stone walls and arrow-shaped gates leading into the old city. I visited the large Greek Orthodox Church of St. Minas – the patron saint of Heraklion – before heading toward the harbor. There, I stopped into the Historical Museum, which was mostly concerned with the Byzantine and Venetian periods of the city (more recent history than really interests me, but it is interesting to see how the ancient traditions carry over, especially in funerary markers and columns).

I continued along the harbor and met a couple of French girls, whom I helped find the bus to Amoudara, as they were in search of the beach. The Archeological Museum of Heraklion was near the central bus stop, so I spent the rest of the afternoon there, steeping myself in the Minoan artifacts there. Among their burial relics were ritual bathtubs, very like the ones I had seen on Cyprus at the Aphrodite Sanctuary in Paphos and elsewhere.

Some of the earliest artifacts were stone-carved fertility goddess figurines, also reminiscent of those on Cyprus.

Once I’d seen everything at the museum, I met up with my Airbnb host at her apartment nearby and got the key before heading back to Amoudara to get my bags. It was a hot afternoon and I dallied at the hotel a while, swimming in the pool and chatting with some of the other travelers there before catching the bus back to the center.

Eiline, my host, had recommended a cute area with tables set up in the tiny cobbled streets. It was charming, indeed, though it felt a bit odd to be there alone, when everyone around me was gleefully talking amongst themselves and sharing the plates of mezze.

Greeks eat rather late, since the day is so hot and there is usually a sort of siesta period in the middle of the afternoon. I didn’t get back to the apartment till after 1 a.m. and I realized the I’d lost a coin from my favorite pair of earrings. I quickly recalled hearing the sound of a coin dropping as I walked toward the restaurant, and when I went to search for it, I miraculously found it on the street!

The next morning I caught the bus to Knossos, one of the famed “palaces” of the Minoan civilization. Though I arrived early, it was already crowded with tourists and difficult to enjoy, but I was able to see all of it except the so-called “King’s Chambers” or throne room, as the line to get in was ridiculous!

Knossos

Knossos

I made it back to the apartment and spent the afternoon packing for the trip that evening, when Ellie and her father would pick me up for the festival in Kamilari, south of Heraklion and on the other side of the mountains in the center of the island. My host, Eiline, came home and we shared my leftover salad from the night before, because I’d ordered way too much food and had barely been able to touch it!

Around 7, Ellie and her dad, Kimon, met me at the main square of Heraklion, and we headed off to the festival. We stopped along the way to pick up some friends of Kimon’s, Ileni and Lambrous, and share some raki with them – the traditional drink of Crete. It’s a strong, clear liquor made from grapes and we had two nips of it, with peanuts to help soak up the alcohol, before driving the short remaining distance to the festival.

The small town of Kamilari was full of people and tables were arranged in tight rows in the village center. A large space was cleared for dancing and in the meantime, everyone shared food and wine and beer and made generally merry. Antonious was there with his friend and musical partner Niko, and they began playing not long after we arrived, around 10 p.m. From then on, the music barely stopped and soon everyone was dancing, holding hands, first in a circle, then spiraling inward to the center of the circle.

Ileni and Lambrous in Kamilari

Ileni and Lambrous in Kamilari

Dancing

Dancing

Dancing in Kamilari

Dancing in Kamilari

Traditional Cretan dancing

Traditional Cretan dancing

Kimon speechifying

Kimon speechifying

Antonious and the band playing - Kamilari

Antonious and the band playing – Kamilari

Ellie and a local friend - Kamilari festival

Ellie and a local friend – Kamilari festival

Ellie taught me a couple of dances and once I got the steps, it was a lot of fun! Antonious was singing and I would occasionally hear my name being called out amidst the lyrics. We danced and drank and chatted till after 4 in the morning and finally it was time for Ellie to drive Antonious and Niko to Chania to catch an early morning flight. I went back to the house of Kimon’s friends in a tiny village called Agios Ioannis – St. John – for a few hours of much needed sleep.

In the morning, I awoke with Ileni, for a quick breakfast of coffee and toast before dressing and walking up the mountain behind the village to go to another Minoan site known as Phaistos or Festos. It is less accessible than Knossos, so there was hardly anyone there when I arrived and I could get a better feel for the place without all of the imaginative reconstruction perpetrated at Knossos by Sir Arthur Evans, who discovered that site.

Phaistos

Phaistos

Phaistos ruins

Phaistos ruins

Phaistos

Phaistos selfie

View from Phaistos

View from Phaistos

From the site, I could see the entire surrounding valleys, covered with olive trees and vineyards. I walked back down the mountain after and hour or so and met up with Kimon, who was giving me a lift to Paleochora, at the far southwestern tip of the island.

Since it was high season, I decided to eschew the hotel search and instead found a campground walking distance from the town center where I could rent a tent with a cot and mattress right by the beach!

Kimon dropped me off and we were both tired to the point of exhaustion. I checked in and headed straight for a swim at the beach across the street, where little juniper-like trees offered shade for the lounge chairs. I went into the crystal clear water and paddled around for a while before heading back for a snooze on my lounge chair, but it was barely a minute before I heard a splat and then another and then it began to rain! I had noticed the dark clouds over the mountains as we drove into Paleochora and asked Kimon if it ever rained there in the summer, to which he responded with a decisive “no.”

Yet rain it did, so I went back into the water and floated on my back, letting the fat drops pelt me softly and wet my tongue. There were just a few of us swimming – a girl called Rania who was working at the campground told me that I must be good luck, because she’d never seen rain like this.

I wrote for a bit that afternoon and met a small kitty near my tent who befriended me immediately. Kitties always feel like they are sent to me by my sister Erika, who was the patron saint of cats.

Beach near my camp - Paleochora

Beach near my camp – Paleochora

Me n Kitty - Paleochora

Me n Kitty – Paleochora

That evening I walked into town to meet Kimon for dinner at his cousin’s restaurant, but the place was packed and I had seen a vegetarian restaurant en route, called The Third Eye, that I was dying to try. Kimon, reminding me of my father, would have nothing to do with the food there, but I ate a curry and samosas with relish, accompanied by a small pitcher of rose. I was just about as happy as I could be.

The owner had lived in India for ten years and told me I looked like Joni Mitchell, traveling with my guitar. He said she’d lived in Crete for a while in the 70s, which I hadn’t heard before, but as I love Joni, I definitely took his comparison as a compliment!

After dinner, Ellie joined us at the family restaurant and I played some music for them on my guitar, attracting some locals to hear me. Before I knew it, it was 1 a.m. and Kimon drove me back to my campground.

I planned to go to bed, but there was traditional music being played in the restaurant there, so I decided to go for a raki and write in my journal for a bit. The manager of the camp brought me some snacks and somehow it was 3 by the time I went to bed!

Music at camping Paleochora

Music at camping Paleochora

The music kept going, though, but I’d had enough raki to knock me out.

The next morning I was feeling the edges of a cold start to take hold, from my many nights of too little sleep. I went for a swim and did some writing and napping before walking into town to meet Ellie as we’d planned to try out the main beach in town. Though it was sand instead of pebbles, I found myself referring the beach by my camp, which was less crowded and had slightly warmer water. Ellie helped me get some medicine to fend off the oncoming cold and then she went home for a nap.

I went back to the Third Eye for a different delicious curry and, afterwards, met up with Ellie and her cousin, Tonia, at a local beauty salon, where Tonia was getting mani-pedi’d. We’d talked about going to the beach club by my camp that night, but Tonia had other plans, so Ellie and I had a glass of sparkling at a place nearby and then she dropped me off at my campground.

My last day in Paleochora, I spent a lot of time talking with a friendly fellow camper named Lisia, who was Greek and a very kind and open person. We talked about many things and I told her about my sister, Erika. She said she’d always wanted a sister, and couldn’t she be my sister? She was very sweet.

Lisia seeing me off - Paleochora

Lisia – Paleochora

I did some much needed laundry and spent some more time in the delicious water before walking into town to have dinner at (you guessed it) The Third Eye. It had been so long since I had proper veg food, I couldn’t get enough! I had yet another kind of curry and then found Ellie and Tonia at the family restaurant, Finakis – The Palm Tree.

I finally left Paleochora and returned to Heraklion by bus to get my ferry the next morning to Santorini. I spent a whirlwind day there visiting the volcanic island and the ruins of the ancient town of Thira.

Santorini

Santorini

Santorini

Santorini

A kind local gave me a ride to the ferry at around 2 am and I continued to Kos, where I saw many refugees there, living in tents and some without even that comfort were just in the shade, whole families with small children.

I took another ferry to Bodrum that evening and spent a night in a backpacker hostel where very unfortunately, my iPhone was stole in the night, as I slept.

The next day I got the bus to Selcuk, where I visited the ruins of the Artemis temple – one of the ancient wonders of the world – and the remains of Ephesus. I stayed two nights there and got the ferry the following day to Samos and then on to Lesvos, at last.

In Lesvos, I had to stay one night in Mitilini, the capital, and again the refugees were everywhere.

The next night I got a ride with some other people coming to Molyvos, where I planned to spend the next two weeks volunteering to help the refugees. But that is for the next installment, as this one is long enough!

Love and miss,

Kira

The next night I got a ride with some other people coming to Molyvos, where I planned to spend the next two weeks volunteering to help the refugees. But that is for the next installment, as this one is long enough!

Love and miss,

Kira

A New Day

My mother has been remarking lately on how fortunate she is to be able to return to the house where she grew up – to sleep in the same bedroom she slept in as a child.

It is a remarkable thing that my grandmother and her house – which is an extension of her aesthetics and personality – are still here to be savored and enjoyed. My mother and I can have the pleasure of making her meals and re-staining the siding on her house – doing the little things for her that, at 92, she has trouble doing for herself.

The same little lake that my mother used to play in as a wild child with her brothers and sisters is still there and mom and I have taken to taking the little kayaks she inherited from a family friend out on the lake around sunset. We paddle around, exploring, disturbing ibises and other waterbirds who are unused to having their calm lake rippled by humans. Diminutive ducks and tall herons eye us warily as we sip our “sundowners” and mom’s little dog, Sprite, fits perfectly into the hold in the back of mom’s boat.

Mama embarking

Mama embarking

Mama with her cargo

Mama with her cargo

The other day, as we made the rounds, a friendly contingent greeted us from the shore. Mom went over to strike up a conversation and it turned out that they were a German family from Wurtzburg – which happens to be where my grandmother (on my dad’s side) relocated once she moved out of Bad Neustadt, where my dad grew up.

We also docked our boats near a new house, still being finished, and went to peek in the windows and check out the design of their dream home. Ah yes, it just isn’t the holidays without a little light trespassing.

Ibises evading us

Ibises evading us

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset

For the full moon two nights ago, we decided to have a little bonfire in the back yard. Mom made my sister Erika’s famous radish crostinis and I made her recipe for bbq jackfruit and even whipped up a key lime pie from limes we picked. We invited Erika’s friend, Lara, over and toasted to my sissy with pink bubbles – her favorite beverage.

Perhaps pink bubbles are her spirit animal 🙂

After dinner we burned the “ghost of Christmas past” as my mom called it: last year’s sad little skeleton of a tree. I played some songs for them on the guitar and then Lara and mama lit a flying paper lantern from the end of the dock, in honor of Erika. We watched it soar away to the north, crossing the full moon and flying higher and higher till it was out of sight.

Mom and Lara lighting a lantern for Erika

Mom and Lara lighting a lantern for Erika

Takeoff

Takeoff

Then we burned this year’s Christmas tree, which mom thought was too green, but it went up in a blaze of glory that was beautiful and bright to behold.

Mom with the bonfire

Mom with the bonfire

Flaming up good!

Flaming up good!

We lit another paper lantern for my uncle Flip and my grandmother came out to the dock to watch it launch.

Flying lantern ignition - for Flip

Flying lantern ignition – for Flip

2011 and 2012 were hard years for my family. Especially hard on my mother and grandmother, because they each lost a child in those two years. Erika’s death was so unexpected – sudden. It was like a flash of lightening that came out of nowhere and changed everything in an instant. Strange to think that she was the same age I am now: 33.

Erika and me with friends - Rio - New Year 2011 - Erika's last

Erika and me with friends – Rio – New Year 2011 – Erika’s last

Flip’s passing was expected, since he’d been suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s for several years. But still it is hard to lose someone so young: he was only 58.

Uncle Flip - Philip Wellford

Uncle Flip – Philip Wellford

We finished the bonfire with a little more music. I played the Rainbow Connection, a song mom and I associate with Erika, and then we went in, leaving the large moon to illuminate the night without the help of our little fiery contributions. Lara headed home and mom and Mutti and I settled in for the premier of Downton Abbey.

The holiday melee of family is drawing to a close – one by one, obligations are finished and family members head back home. Dad made his way back to Arkansas on New Years Eve, after a nice daddy-daughter breakfast. Mom and I dropped him at the airport and went up to Tampa to spend the festivities with my sister and her sweet kiddos. We made food and put together puzzles and set off fireworks and toasted with champagne. It was imminently better than a bar.

Mom, Catelin and moi - NYE

Mom, Catelin and moi – NYE

Skye and baby Cate getting snuggly

Skye and baby Cate getting snuggly

The next day we all went for a walk through one of the wilderness parks near their house before the kids went off for a few days with their dad.

It has been a blessing that this year we were all together in Florida: for the last several years the kids left from before Christmas till after the New Year to be with their dad in Kentucky, but since he’s moved back to the state, we can all be together a bit more.

Soon it’ll be time for me to head back to the chilly north, but I’m getting the feeling that it’s time to start planning my next move. My beloved nephew will come for a visit in the spring, and aside from that, my reasons for staying in the city seem to be disappearing one by one. I’m ready for a change of scene, that’s for sure. And I’d thought I had an inkling of what might come next – the ghost of a plan. But turns out is was more ghost, less plan, so it’s back to the drawing board for me.

It’s a new year, full of possibilities. My heart is full of love and family and hope for a future I can’t yet see. But I have faith.

Love and miss,

Kira

Time and Space – Part 3: France Finale and Camden Town

Well, I’d feel guilty about the time it has taken me to write this, but I have been very busy, and my internet has been down, which is a legitimate excuse, I think.
Anyway, I finally have it back up and so here goes:

In my last installment, I was still in the south of France with my friend Quitterie and her husband Will.

The weather turned rather fallish and damp and I drove out one afternoon to the Grottes de Betharram, not far from Pau. I arrived there with plenty of time, or so I thought. But it was high holiday season, which I hadn’t counted on, and the ticket sellers were announcing that there was a two-hour wait to get into the caves.

I gave up and drove the little Twingo to Lourdes, the town famous for the sacred water that springs from a cave where the Virgin Mary appeared to young Bernadette Soubirous in the mid-1800s. I wasn’t that keen on seeing the touristic town, but it wasn’t far up the road, and since my other cave plans were thwarted, I decided to try it.
Having been overwhelmed by the pilgrim-pedestrians crowding the tiny streets in the center of the city, I took a roundabout route, and ended up looping up and around to find the famous Grotte where miraculous cures have occurred. It turned out to be situated directly underneath the massive basilica, built on the rocks above the cave in the 1950s.

La Grotte - Lourdes

La Grotte – Lourdes

Pilgrims - Lourdes

Pilgrims – Lourdes

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception - Lourdes

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception – Lourdes

I took a sip of water from the fountain where the spring with the sacred water flows and gawped at all the people waiting to gaze on the cave and the statue of the virgin there.  I walked through sprinkling rain along the processional way, where there was, indeed, a procession. August is prime religious festival season in the south of France, and August 15, just a few days before, is the fest of the assumption of Mary.

The city had a palpably strange vibe. I was surprised at the several Sri Lankan restaurants in the town – they are otherwise not very common in France, in my experience. I guess that among the pilgrims who come to Lourdes, there are rather a few Sri Lankans. Stores set up along the skinny streets sold trinkets of faith – salt shakers in the shape of the blue-clad Virgin. Rosaries, water bottles, refrigerator magnets. I searched vaguely for a place to get a pleasant cafe snack, but failed, as each place I passed was more plastic and dingy than the next – not to mention, packed with people! It did remind me, now that I think of it, of some of the touristic places I’ve been in south India, like Kanyakumari, on the southernmost tip of the country. I wandered the streets till there were no more to wander and made my escape from Lourdes at last, with just a few close scrapes as I skidded back to Pau.
Will and I collaborated on dinner of gnocchi and ratatouille and the three of us shared a final late meal as their little one snoozed and played in his pen.

The next day it was laundry and packing as I prepared to head up to London to spend the last couple of weeks of my trip visiting that city where I hadn’t been since 2006. Once I’d packed my things, Quitterie and I were joined by her mom for one last visit to downtown. I had one more crepe at Chez Maman and then it was time to fly.

I was racing a bit to get the rental car to Biarritz, an hour away, to drop it off before catching my flight. The airport there was small and easy to navigate, though complicated to know where to go once we got through security. I had timed it just right and soon enough we were flying north to the land of London.

The woman sitting next to me was a journalist for The Guardian and we had lovely conversation on all manner of topics during the short flight to London. As so often happens, I found myself telling her the story of my sister Erika and how she had died at Burning Man in 2011. I suppose the story gets closer and closer to the surface as the anniversary of her death approaches with the culmination of Burning Man.

I got through customs and picked up my bag, then made my way to the bus depot and was finally on a bus heading for Victoria Station. It was nearly midnight and I was exhausted enough to sleep a while on the long bus ride to town. I got off at the final stop and met up with Dorian to make our way to Camden Town.

London felt comfortable, familiar, despite the chill in the air. I was a bit shocked at how much cooler it was there, but it was also pleasant to be somewhat stationary after so many weeks of moving around. Dorian was an excellent host and took me on walks through the Camden Market and along the canal.

along the canal - Camden

along the canal – Camden

Camden Lock - London

Camden Lock – London

I’d been to Camden Market before, the first time I was in London, at age 17. It was my second time in Europe, my first with my mother  and sister, who was studying abroad in London for a semester. I remember the trip only vaguely and I wasn’t in the habit of journaling back then, but I do recall buying my favorite boots at that very market and I probably got my Manic Panic there, too, when I dyed my hair from blond to pink in the hotel sink. I went with Erika to a tattoo and piercing parlour in Covent Garden and accompanied her when she got her bellybutton pierced. Such rebellious girls!

Most of the touristing I did in London came in the form of long walks along the Thames and exploring the city’s many parks. We climbed Primrose Hill at Regents Park – about which, I winged a bit, because it is a very long hill! But when we got to the top, I was rewarded with a lovely panorama and a William Blake quote: “I have conversed with the spiritual Sun. I saw him on Primrose Hill.” This got us discussing William Blake, who has long been one of my favorite artists.

After some poking around on ye olde internet (have I mentioned how handy it was that my phone works abroad???), I found that the Tate Britain had a Blake collection among their permanent works and resolved to make a visit.

Dorian and I took the famous double-decker buses around town, sitting in the front of the upper deck, visiting the theatre district and Chinatown (which is kind of a street and a half). Many places I had forgotten I’d been before – it seems a lifetime ago that I was there. The last time I was in London was 2006, and as it was a social call, I hadn’t made much effort at seeing things. I had, however, managed to end up in a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown (even though it’s my least fave ethnic food). The things we do for love 🙂

One rare sunny afternoon was spent happily walking along the canal, past the neighborhood of houseboats known as Little Venice. I have always loved seeing houseboats in Paris and Amsterdam and had never seen this little settlement in London. Impractical as it may seem, I dream of living on one of these little boats, if only for a little while.

Houseboat in Little Venice - London

Houseboat in Little Venice – London

IMG_4329

Near Little Venice – London

Houseboat cafe - Little Venice - London

Houseboat cafe – Little Venice – London

We strolled back to Camden, getting sprinkled along the way, but it was nothing serious, in the end.

Picked a pear!

Picked a pear!

It was nice to have a kitchen and certainly the cheapest way to be in London. Also, Dorian brought back an obscene amount of cheese from France and we dispatched it, steadily and with gusto. Oh my, I think I shall never be a vegan. I had lost some kilos from my travels and was in need of fattening up, just a bit.

We cooked in the evenings and stayed in – this final step of my journey reminding a bit of my initial step, when I was with Nora in Copenhagen, despite the difference in weather. I relished the stillness, though, and it made our extended rambles about town all the more enjoyable (with periodic pub stops along the way, of course!).

IMG_4336

yummy nums in Camden

We rambled over to the Tate Britain one night, having seen that it was open late on Fridays, but when we arrived, it was closed up tight and so just sat by the river a bit and then went for Taiwanese food, which was quite yummy.

That Saturday night, I was aware of the fact that, back in my hemisphere, we were nearing the anniversary of Erika’s death – memorialized every year by the burning of the Man in Reno Nevada. Dorian and I made a nice dinner and I picked up a bottle of pink bubbles to drink in her honor. In Florida each year my mother makes her own version of the Burning Man ceremony, which she calls Burning Woman. This year she made a Burning Woman dressed as a skydiver, complete with parachute and, of course, red hair, like Erika.

Burning Woman

Burning Woman

One afternoon, we walked along the Thames – through Borough Market, past Shakespeare’s Globe – to the Tate Modern, converted from an old power station to a lovely contemporary art museum.

The Globe Theatre

The Globe Theatre

Tate Modern - London

Tate Modern – London

View from the Tate Modern

View from the Tate Modern

I think I was traumatized by the first couple of large modern art museums I went to in Europe – the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Ludwig Museum in Koln. Art affects me, I’ve learned, at times physically. The first time I went to Paris I visited the Centre Pompidou alone, and I recall how very abrasive and confrontational much of the art was, at least on the two lower floors. It was a jumble of artists’ personalities screaming for notice and it gave me a stomach ache. I left feeling almost drugged – and not in a good way! Similarly, at the Ludwig once I found myself overcome by the experience and compelled to escape and recover. The Tate was understated in comparison, and Dorian knew the place well and was an excellent guide. I enjoyed it thoroughly, but I still jonsed for William Blake.

Me at the Tate - photo credit Dorian Hirsch :)

Mini  Many Me at the Tate 🙂   (so small!)

Finally, we made it to the Tate Britain. I caught the bus downtown to meet Dorian, who hopped on my exact bus because he is very clever. He also brought us beer and sandwiches and we walked again the familiar path to the museum, this time finding the doors open. We knew where we were headed, so off we went, not really even glancing at the rest of the museum as we bee-lined for Blake.

William Blake has always appealed to me as an artist and poet who wasn’t afraid of his own unique and frankly weird vision – to show the world through his singular lens, making it more magical, mysterious, beautiful and grotesque. Like Mucha, Blake often used allegory and myth to fuel and inspire his compositions. Both of them also had interest in the arcane, the mystical, the ritual. Unlike Mucha, Blake’s style can be free to the point of expressive sloppiness at times, though he could be precise when he chose to be. The mad genius of Henry Darger reminds me a bit of William Blake: compulsive, fantastic, singular.

After satisfying our need for Blake, we enjoyed our sandwiches and beer by the Thames before strolling back toward Camden, stopping off for another beer at the fountain in front of Buckingham Palace in the last glorious and rare rays of afternoon sun.

Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace - London

Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace – London

Buckingham Palace

Buckingham Palace

But my time in London was drawing to a close. Fashion Week in New York was coming right up and I once again had my regular gig pouring champagne in one of the VIP rooms there, so it was time to head back to my side of the Atlantic.

The last full day in London, Dorian and I had planned to go to Avebury where there are neolithic ruins larger by far than Stonehenge (because I like old things and sacred places). However, we were prevented by English insistence on rules and having one’s actual drivers license instead of a copy, and had to settle for a taking our picnic to the London Eye and then we went for one final massive walk along the Thames to Battersea Park.

Big Fella

Big Fella

Many me's! The Thames - London

Many me’s! The Thames – London

Thames!

Thames!

It was the sunniest day of my stay in London and we took full advantage of the beautiful weather before heading back to Camden to get ready for dinner that night with my good friend Nora. She was in town with her twin sister Libby and Libby’s husband, Rupert, visiting Nora’s boyfriend, Anders.

We had a lovely dinner out with the group and it was great to get to see Nora and Libby in a far off land.

The next day it was time to pack up and get ready for my flight in the afternoon. Dorian escorted me to the airport and I was on my flight back to New York in no time.

At 8 AM the following morning, I arrived at Milk Studios for Fashion Week and the next 7 days were full of champagne and celebrities and not very much sleep for me. It was fun to be back there and working with the Lexus Lounge guys again – and I didn’t even get a cold as I sometimes do after so many crazy hours.

Lexus Lounge - My fashion week lair

Lexus Lounge – My fashion week lair

Someone famous and blurry

Someone famous and blurry – ah yes, Amanda Lepore’s ass

Ze models on ze runway

Ze models on ze runway

Fashion Week! Day 1!

Fashion Week! Day 1!

Summer exhaled her last gentle breaths in September and I have taken some advantage of the city and enjoyed catching up with friends between bouts of frenetic working. And now it is already October, my birthday is coming up and so too is another adventure!

More to come!

Love and miss,

Kira

Road Warrior II – Bowl of Cherries

I left off when I arrived in Arkansas after my lovely sojourn in North Carolina.

My mom welcomed me home Wednesday and Friday night we were driving off into the wilderness of the Buffalo River to camp with her friends and fellow protesters of the large-scale hog farms threatening the water table in our beautiful river, which is a National Park. We spent the night on private property abutting the park, in a lovely bit of forest where we sat around a fire despite the warmth of the evening.

One of the protesters had brought his guitar and we played music and talked late into the night about a variety of subjects from consciousness to Buddhism. Finally, it was time for bed and I climbed into the back of the truck where mom had made our beds under the hardshell cover that makes for a convenient mobile bedroom.

The next morning we woke early to head to the river and decorate our kayaks and canoes with signs and balloons – mom made a large pig from bubble wrap and someone else had improvised a pig from a beach ball and a water noodle, among other things. It was a great way to draw attention to the need to protect our local environment and a national treasure from being plundered and destroyed by large corporations with no regard for the state or the future of its natural resources. Go mom!

Miss Piggy

Miss Piggy

the gang

the gang

Mom and her compatriots at the Buffalo

Mom and her compatriots at the Buffalo

supporting my mama and the poor piggies

supporting my mama and the poor piggies

After the protest float, which was a lovely, I drove from the end point back to Green Forest and then to Eureka Springs, where my best friend Jake was celebrating his birthday with his family by Beaver Lake. I found them after some searching at the Dam access and off we went on their boat, zooming across the lake’s glassy green surface.

tattooed man

tattooed man

besties at Beaver Lake

besties at Beaver Lake

 

The whole crew stayed in Eureka that night – Jake’s roommate and three other friends and myself. Jake’s parents had room for us all in their cabin-style place near the lake. We went out to downtown for pizza at Chelsea’s and then ran into my friend Dannelle at a place perhaps called Jack’s – it was new to me and fortuitous that we popped in there for a moment before we headed back to the house, exhausted from so much fun.

The next day we had a little more lake time before Jake et al made their way back to Fayetteville and I meandered back through those mountain roads to my home side of the county for dinner with my folks. It was light out still, till after 7PM and the house is always beautiful in the evening light in early summer.

the house at dusk

the house at dusk

The next day, dad told us about the tree full of cherries in the orchard that needed picking before the birds saw them and ate them all up. We tramped through the now overgrown orchard and harvested a sweet little bowl of cherries!

sour cherries - so yummy!

sour cherries – so lovely!

Wednesday mom’s friend Tina hosted us for a bonfire and cookout at her property and it was a starlit and dog-filled evening.

Mom and I also got to go to a yoga class in Eureka and I found some amazing dresses for amazingly cheap at the Doggie Shop thrift store where mom volunteers. We shared a couple of papusas from the local purveyor, Luna Luna, and then went home where I cooked up some dinner for us and we shared mom’s famous “sundowners”: wine with lime-arita like sangria. We took the elderly dogs for a walk by the Osage creek where it runs not far up the road from our house, munching greenbriar shoots along the road and examining the flora. Smelling the wild roses.

I drove up to Springfield, Missouri to see my friend Amber, another of the best friends I’ve been fortunate to have throughout my life. We had dinner with her kids, Anamei and Gabe, and then got the chance to catch up and chat about life and what’s happened since we last saw one another.

I had thought I might leave Friday or Saturday to be back in North Carolina and eventually New York sooner. However, I am happy to have extended my stay and gone to Jake’s show on Friday night in Fayetteville. I got to see Jake’s sister, Jessica, and her husband Justin, and I got to hang out with my first best friend, Dannelle. It was awesome! And I got to hear Jake’s band Six Hung Sprung rock out!

Jake jamming

Jake exuding frontman charm

with Dannelle and Jessica

with Dannelle and Jessica at George’s Majestic Lounge

Randall Shreve and the Sideshow at George's Majestic

Randall Shreve and the Sideshow at George’s Majestic

new thrift store dress!

new thrift store dress!

I loved getting to see so many great friends! In some ways, I can still go home again.

I headed home that early morning (ouch) to catch a few hours of sleep before mom and I headed out on a river cleaning trip. We joined several other people to paddle down the river and pick up trash, tires, whatever we saw that didn’t belong. It was a beautiful day and we loved every minute of wrestling truck tires from the riverbank’s sandy grasp.

mom found a dessicated gar! she got it for my dad. my family is odd. . .

mom found a dessicated alligator gar! she got it for my dad. my family is odd. . .

At the end of the day we had 25 tires and several bags of trash and we headed back to base for food and drinks. All told we gathered 120 tires and a bunch of other crap that made its way to the river. We had a jolly party and headed toward home, but we made a stop on the way to visit our friend Lisa’s new baby bulldog! She was adorable!

The next day was Sunday, so off to church I went, like a good girl. I miss the old hymns we used to sing – they had more poetry somehow than modern praise songs. Oh well – I go for mom, anyway. And good to see those familiar faces.

That afternoon we took a walk with dad by the creek and this time too Spanky – mom’s so-called “grief dog” – as she was born the year Erika died and mom had welcomed the new puppy to love.

me and my daddio

me and my daddio

mom and dad

mom and dad

walk along the Osage

walk along the Osage

We had dinner together and drank some Erika wine before I focused on packing up for the return trip back to North Carolina, as I got word that my car had been fixed and was drivable now. It was nice to have that extra time with my mom and dad in our lovely home, with our quirky pets.

yummy dessert of blueberry cobbler and icecream mmmm

yummy dessert of blueberry cobbler and icecream mmmm

I left early the next morning and waved goodbye to my parents as I pulled out of the driveway and away from our wilderness wonderland.

The drive to Durham was grueling and long and rainy, but I managed it and arrived late that night – around 2:30AM. I immediately went to bed.

I had a lovely sunny day in Durham to spend with Mary Caton and I even got to go to a lake with Cameron, whom I met on the previous stop through. It was a nice relaxing day after the stress of the drive. That night I met friends at an open mic in Chapel Hill and enjoyed playing and hearing others.

The next morning I needed to get going as it was time to drop off the rental car and make my way to Richmond to get my car. The solution was a bus and so 3+ hours later, I was there, and finally, back in my own saddle.

I realized as I got used to the transmission again, to the higher ride of this car, a maroon Rav 4, that I am thankful it wasn’t totaled. It is one of the few spaces still extant, which she inhabited. My sister Erika, I mean. I didn’t think I was sentimental about it until I thought about losing it. Losing yet another piece of her. I know it is inevitable, since all physical things pass away eventually, and especially objects are impermanent. But still, it was hers.

Erika the Red.

I drove back down to Durham and packed up my things before making another round of my famous green curry and then heading to Chapel Hill for Cameron’s show that evening at The Cave.

It was great to see friends there and meet other people. The music was fun and the beer was cheap. I like North Carolina 🙂

Cameron Stenger and his band at The Cave

Cameron Stenger and his band at The Cave

Though I was out a bit late, as I am wont to do, I made it back to MC’s house for a night of sleep before hitting the road in the morning to head to NYC.

9 hours later, I was in Brooklyn at my cousin Kate’s house, looking after her little bundle of joy (and occasional screams – hey, no one’s perfect!)

I am happy to be back in my own little bed and in a city that, while sometimes cloudy, has not been (knock on wood) as rainy as it could be.

Well, all for now – stay tuned for my further adventures: I am hatching another trip!

Love and miss,

Kira

My Heart on My Sleeve

I must say, I was pretty nervous for this year’s batch of Spring eclipses. Last year’s packed a wallop that reverberates for me still, and just when I thought the world was rosy with possibility.

So far no terrible event or news has materialized. The winter hasn’t yet fully loosened its grip on the city, but what else is new?

My sister Erika’s birthday came around again on Tax Day. She would have turned 36.

 

with Erika and Claire in Brazil - New Year 2011

with Erika and Claire in Brazil – New Year 2011

 

It is strange to think that this year I will turn the same age that she was when she died. Three years. How swiftly time flies. How I wish I still had her companionship, her wit, her personality and sweetness. She cultivated her tender heart and opened it to everyone she met. She is so loved and missed by those of us to whom the world is a far less magical place in her absence. I have learned much about death through losing Erika, as I learned about life through growing up with her and emulating her.

I realize I never unveiled my new Erika tattoo or mentioned it here. I suppose in part because it isn’t really finished, but then, I’m not certain it will ever be finished, really. In the same way that I will be recovering from and coping with her physical absence from my life for the rest of my life, I will always wear a tribute to her on my arm. It is a part of me now, and as we approach the third anniversary of Erika’s death, I know that my grief will evolve and continue evolving for as long as I am on this earth, and though I can’t sit down with her or hug her or get a phone call from her, I can be reminded of her at all times.

 

Erika tattoo after 7-ish hours of work

Erika tattoo after 7-ish hours of work

 

People tend to think that it is Egyptian, I think without looking closely at it. In fact it is mostly inspired by Alfons Mucha – the art nouveau pioneer who designed many beautiful posters and whose graphic style I certainly admire.

 

Mucha's Spring

Mucha’s Spring

 

Erika was born in the spring and since that is the season embodied by this work of Mucha’s, I thought it was appropriate as the starting point for the design.

 

a little closer

a little closer

 

I wanted to frame her with the phases of the moon, as I have a strong association between her and the moon. I also wanted to show her love of animals, so I inserted her kitty, Rosie, into the flowers she is holding and with her other hand she is stroking the head of a fawn. We grew up raising deer and goats and the deer also represents her love for nature and wild animals, while Rosie represents her love for strays of all kinds, but especially cats.

Next to her is a stack of books, because she always loved books and read voraciously – almost compulsively. There is also a glass of wine for Erika’s love of and dedication to learning about wine and making it. It was in many ways a creative outlet for her, I think. All her powers of language and description were put to use in her studies of wine. In the background, vineyards represent her time in the wine country of California and behind that, the mountains and lakes of the Ozarks represent our upbringing in nature. On the other side of her, the background is the desert at Burning Man, with the Man as he looked in 2011, the year my sister died at the festival.

Spanning both sides of the background is a rainbow, which represents so many things: the miraculous in the quotidian, the natural, the ephemeral, the beautiful. Erika was the first person I knew to express strongly and proudly her support for the GLBT community. She was radical in many ways but it was always with an eye for fairness and equality and love.

After Erika died, when my parents and I were driving back across the country from California with the bulk of my sister’s belonging’s in tow, there was a solid 15 minutes where we were driving straight into a rainbow as the storm before us continued apace with our progress. Mom had already started to associate Erika with rainbows and we all felt it was her way of letting us know that she was ok.

I think that over the years I will color more parts and even add more to the design. I have my whole life to build on it, to remember her, to ritualize my grief through physical pain, transmuting it into beauty.

 

Erika on one of her last days at Burning Man - airbrushing and showing off a real tattoo - a butterfly

Erika on one of her last days at Burning Man – airbrushed and showing off a real tattoo – a butterfly

 

Erika was brave and beautiful and I can never really capture her brilliant personality and spirit, her fierce grin, her silliness, her sweetness.

 

To paraphrase Tenacious D, this is just a tribute to the real deal.

 

Tonight comes the second eclipse of the month and though it won’t be visible in this city, I wonder if it will be felt. For now I’m living with the allergies that are a product of this slow-in-coming spring,but I’ll take it, if it means weather warm enough for me to be out on the fire escape enjoying the out of doors again at last.

Love and miss,

Kira