Tag Archives: travel

Springtime in the Desert

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It has been long and ruthless this winter of 2014.  The winds blasting frigid temperatures into the air, hurricanes devastating entire areas of land and the snow relentless and silent, throwing blankets of ice over the world. While underneath hurrying footsteps nature is sleeping, patiently nurturing seeds and the promise of new life.

This much anticipated event called the Vernal Equinox is due March 20, a date announcing the grand celebration about to take place. Spring is here and the world will once again be painted in exuberant colors

01desert-loot-kalot-shahdad-10-88-01In March of 1976 I was living in Shiraz, Iran with my partner Ed. We had been teaching at the University and were anticipating the closing of schools to celebrate the Iranian New Year or Now-Ruz, welcoming the year 2537. We planned to visit several cities, most particularly the village of Mahan and the shrine of Shah Nematollah Vali, the 14th century Iranian mystic and poet.

01death_valleyWe left Shiraz and headed east towards the desert cities of Kerman, Bam, Yazd and Mahan. Kerman was some 800 kilometers and 12 hours away from Shiraz, quite an undertaking for our little car, our Jyane, an Iranian version of the French 2CV Citroen. But lured by the history of these ancient cities we set out on the adventure accompanied by the hum of our mighty vehicle dashing into the enormous stretches of beige ripples of the Dashte-Lut desert. Then as if a magic wand had tapped into the horizon, villages appeared surrounded by mud walls crowned with blossoms and branches sparkling with tender new leaves. After a while I began recognizing almond trees, orange groves, wild pistachios with lavender heart shaped blossoms. I wondered how people survived here the rest of the year when everything is given up to the heat of a brutal sun. But this was springtime in the desert and all of nature was singing.  Here and there villagers appeared and women carrying earthen jars to collect water from a well. They walked about in striking dresses, their tinseled shawls fired by the noonday sun as they sat by some stream washing their aluminum pots and pans with earth then dipping them into the stream to rinse them out.

01springflower3We stopped for lunch next to a pistachio tree in bloom, their lavender hearts circled by white petals. We were overlooking a valley, above us a clear sky, and the stillness filled with echoes of the earth breathing.

 

The following poem was written in remembrance of Now-Ruz, 2537 in the Dashte-Lut desert, Iran.

My mind wanders
Over her photographs
A sequence of stories
Recorded on the road
Of time
In a land where
I gleaned
Mental jewels
And treasures

In a country
Once called Persia
I remember
A breath
Whispering
Spring is here

I remember
Pistachio trees
Dressed
In lavender veils
Flapping their colors
In the air 

I remember
Almonds buds
Transformed
Into bridal embroidery
Tumbling bouquets
Against crumbling walls
Cascades of flowers
Covering the sand
And branches
Beginning to dance 

I remember faces,faces
Silently watching
The transformation
Silent gazes
Watching
Springtime
Painting the desert
In Iran
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Isfahan – My Valentine

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Isfahan 1 Thirty-five years ago seems like the distant past but not when memories linger, not only in the mind but the heart.  At certain times of the year, especially around the celebration of Valentine’s Day I am reminded of a great love I left behind in the legendary city of Isfahan when I lived in Iran.

Isfahan, the very name conjures up the Arabian Nights and the greatness of the ancient Persian Empire.  Rulers and dynasties left their imprint on old stones transforming them into palaces, mosques, minarets, madrasehs (schools), gardens and bazaars with names that evoke the grandeur of the East and Shah Abbas one of its greatest rulers.

Names like the Maidan-i-Shah (the Royal Place), Masjid-i-Jam (the Friday Mosque),  Chihil Sutun (Pavilion of  Forty Columns),  Bagh-i-Bolbol ( The Garden of the Nightingdale),  and Ali Qapu, the glorious gate once the portal of the Shah’s palace, bewilder the imagination.I only stayed a few days to visit a friend. But that changed when I was   introduced to a man I would never forget. The French have an exquisite expression that captures that moment: “le coup de foudre” lightning striking.  I knew that when his green-gray eyes met mine the world shifted its axis.

Isfahan2We talked until the wee hours of the morning that first night and when the dawn began to clear the sky he asked if I would like to take a walk along the Zayandeh Rud, the river that could be seen a short distance from his house. We stopped on the way in a “ash-paz-khâneh”, a soup kitchen that opens up in the early morning hours for men going to work. It was still winter and the fragrance and warmth that emanated from the kitchen felt like some wondrous gift. When we reached the riverbank we took off our shoes and walked barefoot in the snow. I didn’t feel the cold, only the warmth of his being, the magic of the moment.

I left Isfahan not knowing that it would be for the last time. Although we met  some time later, fate had other plans for us.  He would remain the road not taken. Yet that moment in Isfahan seemed written in the stars.

For R…

Isfahan

 …There was The Friday Mosque
The Maidan-i-Shah Square
Twisted lanes leading
Into the old city
Domed structures and façades
Dressed in jeweled mosaics
 
…There was a madrasah
Nearby at the east end of the mosque
And behind the West Iwan
A winter hall

…There also was
The old bazaar filled with
Fragrant spices
The sound of hammers
Against the copper pans
The colors and flashes
Of the Arabian Nights 

…There was
The Maidan-i-Shah
And the palace of Shah Abbas
Where under the arches
Rivulets of golden stalactites
Were always in bloom 

…There were
Curves and arabesques
Bursting into space
Chihil Sutun, Ali Qapu
Wonders of the past
Adorning the present

…And then
There was you
And I
One morning
In Isfahan
Walking along the river
On the icy lace of the mist
Clothing the cracked face
Of the earth 

…And then
There was you
And the touch of your breath
Against mine
That eternal moment
In time
When your arms
Wrapped me into
The warmth of
Your beating heart
Before the rising dawn
In Isfahan

Rocks and Stones

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IMG_3817 Rocks and stones have been part of our existence for more than 2 million years.  They are responsible for the development of the human race and we are still fascinated by their beauty, their endurance and the mystery of their formation. We travel far and wide to gaze at the magnificence of canyons; we meet the earth and its rocky crust when our heels beat the ground as we hike trails strewn with stones. We take rocks as mementos of our wanderings, knowing that they will faithfully remind us of cherished journeys. We wear them as magnificent jewelry and a whole generation turned them into “pet rocks” secretly wishing that they were imbued with magic powers. Perhaps it is so, as in certain parts of the world it is believed that mountains and rocky slopes are where the gods dwell.

Stones are the keepers of time and history. They have been used by ancient generations to record stories and practice religious rites. We know that as long ago as 7,000 years, enormous stone slabs called “dolmen” were erected for such purposes.  More recent ones can be found in England (Stonehenge), France (Carnac) and many other parts of the world including Spain, IMG_3788Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands and as far away as Korea and India.

I encountered these mysterious stone tables while visiting the little town of Rahier while on vacation in Belgium. It is a quaint village where every house is bedecked with flowers as if expecting some fabulous celebration. The region is known for its stone quarries supplying the material for the construction of these sturdy homes. Another type of stone called schist is also available. It is a remarkable stone that sparkles when the light strikes its mica chips releasing what feels like a magic aura. These stones are easily fabricated into specific shapes and sizes. And what an amazing sight it was to see slabs of these hoisted along the road, like glistening posters upon which were engraved poems dedicated to the trees, the insects, the rain, the old school, furrows where once stood old houses, the cemetery, a 600 year old tree, the church, a gate and a bench where lovers meet. It is like walking through a written ode glorifying the village and the soul that lives there.

IMG_3835These poems are the creation of an elderly couple of former teachers who live in a house that dates back to the 17th century. They live simply and imbue their surroundings with the immense love they have for nature and the world we live in. These poems engraved on stones imbues the onlooker with wonder and awe. It is as if some ancient scriptures from a long ago past have returned to remind us to pause and inhale our moments of beauty.

A few miles down the road are fields where ancient dolmens remind us that long ago the druids practiced their rites under mistletoe hanging from branches of oak trees. Their spirit seems to linger, whispering ancient thoughts into the countryside captured in poems floating on slabs of schist.

 

 

 

Là au creux du vallon

Le village semble aux aguets

Comme une frêle embarcation

Sous l’énorme vague des fôrets

Un ciel de plomb impose

Ses gris, ses noirs moroses

Il pleut

Que surgisse le soleil

Dans le bleu si bleu du ciel

Et les verts éclatent en mille tons

Et le vent entame sa chanson

Il est midi

Mais déjà l’astre est au couchant

Il met le feu à l’horizon, jetant

Ses rouges, ses jaunes, ses oranges

Le ciel deviant symphonie étrange

Voici la nuit

Suzanne et Marcel Mosuy

IMG_3822…To be continued with more poems from Rahier with translations

Walking, Part II

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…yes,  there are colorful blossoms  and lots of bamboo framing the walk snaking through  the outline of buildings and the Paris sky. One has the impression of a bit of heaven captured walking along 4 kilometers where the scent of roses and lavender beckons the onlooker to sit and dream awhile under the foliage of some cherry trees, or garlands of huckleberry blossoms. The Promenade Plantée continues through to the Jardin de Reuilly and finally ends east to the Bois de Vincennes.

02 Luxembourg gardenOften, on my way back from buying petits pains in the local Kayser bakery on the rue d’Assas I would walk a block further east to encounter the Jardin du Luxembourg. Once there I’d find a bench and sit while breaking off a piece of the crusty bread, watching other flâneurs like myself on their way to discover what this extraordinary garden has to offer; chess tables, tennis courts, roundabouts filled with laughing children and a pond where even adults can be seen setting old fashioned miniature sailing boats on their course. And that is what one has to be in Paris: un flâneur which can best be translated as to saunter, to loaf, or perhaps to stroll.

But it is sauntering that has captured my imagination as I discovered its original meaning while reading The Tao of Travel by Paul Theroux.  According to the author, Thoreau (1863) spoke of the word “saunter” as having been derived from the French expression “going to the Holy Land.” Thoreau further states, “I have met but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of walking, that is, of taking walks, who had a genius, so to speak for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages and asked charity under the pretense of going A la Sainte Terre to the Holy land, till the children exclaimed,  “There goes a Sainte-Terrer, a “Saunterer” a Holy-Lander.”  And Thoreau concludes, “…for every walk is a sort of crusade.”

I find it amusing that I can now consider myself a crusader when I walk. Certainly not as understood in the Middle Ages: to go forth and re-conquer the Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels. I understand that in a modern way. While walking one can process a whole range of feelings and learning experiences. And in that way re-conquer one’s own mind.

01 pool in ParisAs I accompanied my friend through the cobbled streets of old Paris, I discovered La Butte aux Cailles, a neighborhood of old houses and streets in the 14th arrondissement bearing the names of flowers. I found myself in a time warp sauntering on winding cobblestone streets, finding quaint little restaurants, and drooling before mounds of freshly baked bread in local boulangeries. Then drinking  fresh water from fountains that are still fed by artesian wells. It is a working class neighborhood where the 1848 Revolution and the Paris Commune took hold. Even today the graffiti reveals an independent spirit as evidenced by the writing and drawings on the walls. There is a lovely arts-and-crafts style indoor swimming pool where the neighborhood kids cool off from the summer heat. And all about one can feast on the sight of flowers and the charming little houses of the Cité Florale.

It is endless, this love the French have for their parks and woods. Even the cemeteries are a place for reverie. In the Montparnasse cemetery, a cool and comforting place when seeking relief from the summer heat, I came across the names of the poet Charles Beaudelaire, Samuel Beckett, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Maupassant, Ionesco and even Frédéric Bartholdi, sculptor of the Statue of Liberty. But most astounding was the hour-long walk taken in the Forêt de Fontainebleau outside Paris where on a detour into the little town of La Samois I found the country hideaway of that extraordinary Belgian gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt.

As I now listen to the music of the virtuoso guitar player Django, I feast on the memory of sauntering in Paris. The unforgettable discoveries still swirl in my01 django mind.

Walking

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Pedestrians in ParisI love Paris. It is the keeper of a multitude of memories for me yet as I return yearly I am still dazzled by constant discoveries.

Upon arrival at the airport I am enchanted by the sound of the French language welcoming me into my new adventure. I know I will soon be sitting at a little café, blissfully inhaling the aroma of a cup of coffee while watching people flowing by.

I hail a taxi and within seconds the driver skillfully weaves into the traffic while I attempt to make my first observations. The cars are smaller and speed like jerky little boxes about to bump into each other. Yet on either side of the road it is all beginning to resemble the dehumanized New Jersey landscape. As if to compound my apprehension, traffic suddenly comes to a halt so that I can see and smell the landscape in slow motion. I gulp down my fear trusting the talkative driver reassuring me that all is well. But I can’t help wonder if the downfall has finally occurred and the city I loved irretrievably changed.

Then a comforting feeling reminds me of the novel I was reading on the plane, Freya Stark’s novel, “The Valleys of the Assassins” and I take solace in the statement “perhaps to find out what one thinks is one of the reasons for travel and for writing too.”  I’m totally captivated by her wisdom as that of Claude Levi Strauss who similarly felt that “Perhaps, then, this was what traveling was (is). An exploration of the deserts of my mind rather than those surrounding me.”  As I contemplate this wisdom sifting into my thoughts I realize we have arrived in Paris.  So much to drink in, sights whizzing by and street names I won’t remember.  All too fast to capture, speeded up as if I were watching an accelerated film.  I am relieved to reach my destination.  As I walk into the lovely apartment I have rented, I am suddenly struck by an enlightened awareness:  Never mind this world speeding into nothingness. I am opting for slow motion and will spend the next few weeks in Paris walking and writing to fill “the desert of my mind”.

My dearest friend soon came to greet me and we decided on a plan. She has been a Parisian practically all of her life and was thrilled at the idea of taking me on a walking adventure. She is not only a well-rounded scholar and lover of literature (French and English) but walks most of the time rather than taking public transportation. She confided that in her readings she learned that the great American writers Whitman and Wordsworth claimed to have been inspired by walking as it eased the mind. Of course the great Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote an entire novel confessing his experience as a solitary walker. He certainly was a perfect example of how loneliness makes things happen.

promenade-planteeAnd before long, trying to keep up with my learned friend I “sauntered” into undiscovered areas of Paris: La Promenade Plantée, a High Line (the one that inspired the New York High Line in 2011) where the railway tracks atop the Viaduc des Arts have been replaced by a promenade planted with a variety of plants and…(to be continued)

Waterzooi (Recipe)

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Waterzooi

la_ville_de_ghent

La Ville de Ghent

Before you know it, summer vacation will be upon us. You may not have made your plans yet but if you like to travel and enjoy good food as well, why not Belgium! The reason is very simple: everybody eats better in Belgium!  I should know because I was born there and I revel in the memory of all those gustatory feasts that made such an impact on my childhood.

It is not well known but Belgium has more three-star restaurants per capita than France. As a people, Belgians are fiercely protective of their culinary status which was well established as a result of the spice trade in the Middle Ages. It has also acquired and preserved in its traditions a rich combination of influences brought about by foreign invasions. If you travel there today you will find out for yourself the delightful variations that exist between the Flemish and Walloon part of the country.

I grew up in the Walloon part of Belgium not far from a monastery in the town of Rochefort known for its extraordinary beer. It was a delightful destination for excursions, especially driving down beautiful country roads before reaching the welcoming abbey. The monks tended their herb garden where I learned to recognize tarragon, thyme, sage, parsley, chives and chervil. But it was the tender leafy chervil I loved the best. To me it was a jewel among all the herbs I watched growing in our garden. It looked and tasted somewhat like parsley but incomparable in its fragrance and taste. I wonder to this day why it is so difficult to find it in the greengrocer shops in New York. But I took back some seeds from Belgium last year and dispersed them among the rocks behind the building where I live in Brooklyn. And when I went out this morning, I was greeted by the most tender green spreading out over the stones. I picked a few leaves and rubbed them into my palms to carry the scent of my childhood for at least part of the day. But today for the delight of my guests, I will recreate a Belgian dish that originates in the city of Ghent in Flanders.

waterzooi_dishAlthough Flanders is in the Flemish speaking part of Belgium, it was quite popular with my aunt Therese who never made such distinctions and prepared it on every special occasion. It’s one of my favorites because the scent and taste of this wondrous stew, like Marcel Proust’s petites madeleines brings me back to a past that lingers in my taste buds. And of course I will garnish the top of the dish with tender snippets of chervil!

Its name derives from the Dutch term “zooien” to boil but it really is a dish prepared with fish or chicken simmered in a soup base of egg-yolk and cream thickened into vegetable broth, carrots, onions, leeks, potatoes, parsley, thyme, bay-leaves, sage and snippets of chervil at the very end of cooking.

A simplified chicken version follows:
Take a plump roasting chicken (cut in pieces)
4 leeks (white parts only)
4 carrots (sliced into rounds)
4 sticks celery( sliced into rounds)
A bouquet garni of bay leaves, fresh parsley, thyme
Minced chervil for garnish
2 large egg yolks
1 cup heavy cream
Some large baking potatoes cut into cubes
4 cups chicken broth
Salt, pepper
2 medium onions (chopped)
3 tbsps. butter

waterzooi_ingredientsMelt the butter in a Dutch oven. Add the onions and cook until translucent. Add the bouquet garni and cook a bit longer. Then place the chicken pieces on top and add enough of the chicken broth to partially cover the chicken. Cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove any fat or foam accumulating at the top. Add the leeks, carrots, and celery. Simmer for another 30 minutes.

Add the cubed potatoes to simmering liquid and cook until the potatoes and chicken are done (chicken will be very tender).

Remove the chicken from broth and place in a large dish. Remove the bouquet garni from the broth.

You will easily remove the skin and bones from the chicken so that you can have bite-size pieces of meat.

Beat the cream and egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Place Dutch oven over medium heat.

waterzooi_imageTake a ladle and remove some of the liquid from pot to slowly add to egg mixture. This is to prevent the eggs from curdling. Then slowly stir mixture into the broth with the vegetables. Cook over low heat, constantly stirring until the sauce thickens. Be careful not to reach boiling point. Return chicken pieces to Dutch oven. Add salt and pepper.

Place the waterzooi in a deep ( and warmed) serving dish and sprinkle tender little chervil leaves on top. A dish to remember!

Mariette Bermowitz is the author of “Mindele’s Journey: Memoir of a Hidden Child of the Holocaust”, available on Amazon. Her story is a testament to a guiding force instilled in her by the nuns who sheltered her during the war. “I know what it’s like to give up hope, but something always drove me on.” says Bermowitz.

Stream of Consciousness

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Where do thoughts come from?

When I allow my mind to wander it comes up with random images and words that seem to float in from another world. I find it most fascinating as if connecting to an alternate reality or some collective imagination inspiring me to see and feel beyond the ordinary.

vladimir_kush

Vladimir Kush

I do have a plethora of adventures to feed my wandering mind for a lifetime. Perhaps it isn’t so extraordinary then, when sitting in the ordinary surroundings of my living room to be summoned by thoughts of exotic music and places I visited in the past. A sound might recall the musicians I met in a village nestled in the foothills of Annapurna in Nepal. A spider sneaking past the window sill suddenly becomes the leader of thousands of white spiders that appeared out of nowhere one morning as I stepped out of my tent while camping under Mount Ararat in Turkey. A figurine on a bookshelf recalls the sacred shrines of worship I visited in desolate places in the valleys of Afghanistan where the wind seemed to whisper secrets from the beyond.

privedentsev_gennady_mountain_butterfly

Gennady Privedentsev – Mountain Butterfly

From there I traveled on a bus to Pakistan through the Khyber Pass and thought I would never live to talk about it. And perhaps I did leave part of my soul somewhere in the Hindu Kush mountains or the desert I saw in the distance beyond the wall of the house where I lived in Shiraz, Iran in the seventies.

I had no radio or TV to interfere with my thoughts back then and read lots of books and wrote poetry, which I addressed to my favorite authors. It was even easier to let my mind wander  as I wrote sentences using several of the languages I knew just like Salvador Dali did. I admired his ramblings and the imagery that sent my imagination soaring into surreal combinations. That was such a long time ago but here it is again, a morphic resonance linking the past and imposing itself on my random thoughts.

And my world is filled once more with sounds that paint images and dreams. I find a poem written by the French poet Andre Breton and am drawn into a surrealist fantasy —

A flanc d’abîme

Construit en pierre philosophale

S’ouvre le château étoilé

And a bit further down on the book shelf I meet Mallarmé who inspired Debussy with his poem:

L’Après Midi d’un Faune.

Yes, I understand you, Mallarmé

I understand your hermetic imagery

tripping into my thoughts

I understand

When by chance

I wandered into your poetry

And touched by your symphony

Have added this, my melody

surrealism

A Poem for Mallarmé

And the Countess addressing the sea and the seagulls flying in pair

Summoned an artist to melt pastel into the air

And add licks of shadows around clouds bathed in pink

Inviting Orpheus to appear beyond the crests of the sea

© Mariette Bermowitz 2012