Thursday, February 13, 2014

"I used to wonder what friendship could be..."

((This became much longer than anticipated, so bear with me. But pictures!))

Every once in a while I encounter a movie or television show I wouldn’t normally be interested in, but for some reason decide to watch it and in it find unexpected love. Remember "The A-Team?" And I don’t like horror films or zombie movies, but I really liked “Cabin in the Woods,” which is a horror film with zombies.

So having never really been interested in the girly girl world I associated with “My Little Pony,” I never thought I would end up watching the show and falling in love with it. I knew a couple of “bronies” (adult fans, usually heterosexual men) but had no idea what they were so involved in. My sister Liz posted on Facebook that the documentary “Bronies” was available on Netflix and that everyone should watch it. I added it to my queue and promptly forgot about it.

A few days later, I was looking for something to watch and decided to watch the documentary. Suddenly I had a glimpse into this very unusual and very wonderful fandom: people who are not small girls who love “My Little Pony.” The love, friendship, and enthusiasm they shared for Twilight Sparkle and her friends in Ponyville was contagious, and my heart was warmed.

More importantly, I was very interested in what creator Lauren Faust was saying as she talked to the fans about the show. She wanted to create a show that reflected young girls and their interests, which is evident in the show’s production design and writing. But she was also gratified there were all of these people showing support for her creation, proving “that girls and what they are interested in is worthwhile.”

Curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to know what this was all about. I wanted to know what kind of show would create as passionate and large a following as the most recent interpretation of “My Little Pony.” The first episode was enjoyable and entertaining. I liked the bright colors, the interesting characters, and the clever writing. I kept watching. And then this happened.

There is an early episode where the “principal” pony (I say principal, although there is just as much screen time/emphasis on the other ponies in her group of friends), Twilight Sparkle, is practicing magic with her assistant and friend Spike. Later they are walking through Ponyville, and Spike comments on Twilight’s incredible abilities with magic. He says, “I thought unicorns were only supposed to have a little magic that matches their special talents.” And Twilight replies, “True, for ponies whose talents are for things like cooking or singing or math.”

I almost paused the show right then and there. I think I did. Wait a minute. A show for young girls, filled with pink and sparkles and cupcakes, that offers alternatives to domestic pursuits? A show for girls that promotes learning and self-exploration not limited to “traditional gender roles?” I had to keep watching.

And what I saw was incredible. A cast of complex characters living in an elaborate, complicated world. Equestria is a matriarchal society, led by the beautiful and wise Princess Celestia, in which each episode focuses on the adventures of the female ponies of Ponyville. There are stallions around, and although (as one commenter pointed out) they do share important roles in Equestria society, it is not their status that dictates that of the female ponies. Rather, it is the mares who are in positions of authority, and around whom each episode focuses. And each episode delves deeper into the complexities of the diverse group of ponies Twilight befriends.

One could generalize their characters, of course. Twilight is the smart one, Applejack the rustic hard worker, Rainbow Dash is the reckless athlete, Pinkie Pie is the comic relief, Fluttershy is timid, Rarity is snobby. But I could do the same with all my friends and family, and I wouldn’t be doing their profound and intricate personalities justice. The ponies learn and grow in a way that reflects the real world to a startling degree.

In every episode one of the ponies learns a lesson about friendship, but each lesson is both complex and meaningful. In one episode, athlete Rainbow Dash is laid up in the hospital with a hurt wing. Scoffing that “reading is for eggheads,” she refuses to read the books available at the hospital until she is so bored she picks up a recommendation from her more “egghead” friend Twilight. And once she begins, she can’t stop. She comes up with excuses to keep her friends from visiting so she has more time to read. When her wing is healed and she has to leave the book unfinished, she tries sneaking back into the hospital to steal the book so she can find out what happens next. When she finally admits to liking the book and asks to borrow it from Twilight, she says, “I thought reading was only for smart people.” And Twilight replies, “Just because you’re an athlete doesn’t mean you’re not smart.” And just because you like reading doesn’t mean you can’t also be good at sports.

In another episode, cheerful Pinkie Pie, friend to everypony in Ponyville, tries to befriend newcomer Cranky Doodle Donkey. He will have none of it. She persists to an obnoxious degree, desperate to make him smile. In the process she learns he lost his one true love and, after a lifetime of searching for her, has finally given up and is settling down to live alone. She discovers this lost true love is one of her friends living in Ponyville, and succeeds in bringing them together again. She is rewarded with Cranky’s friendship and the smile she was so desperate for. And the lesson she learned is there are different kinds of friends, and that some of them would just like to be left alone, and that’s just fine.

And in one of my favorite episodes, Rarity gets kidnapped by the rough and cruel Diamond Dogs while she’s out searching for gems for the gowns she creates. One of her magic talents is the ability to find jewels, and so she is taken against her will to find gems for the Diamond Dogs. The other ponies (and especially Spike, who has a crush on Rarity) rush off to her rescue, sure that she is helpless against the dirty and disgusting conditions of her capture. When they arrive, however, they find that she has used her wits to outsmart the Diamond Dogs, and they end up leaving with all the jewels she was forced to find for them. The lesson? “Just because a pony is lady-like doesn’t mean she’s weak.”

Each episode follows the same pattern, where a pony learns a lesson in friendship and self-discovery. And each lesson is similarly far from simple, from Fluttershy becoming a bully when she tries to learn to assert herself, to Spike having to decide between his friendship with the ponies and the dragons he wants to impress. And in the finale of Season 3, I can't help but tear up when Celestia sings to Twilight Sparkle about her very real, very great potential. Twilight's journey is far from complete, and Celestia shows her that she has the strength and courage to "go where she will go, and see what she will see." Her potential is unaffected by cultural or personal limitations. It's beautiful and inspiring. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” and “The Legend of Korra” are the only other children’s shows I know that offer comparable lessons in life and friendship.

I have a theory, that we all harbor a human need for imaginative play, a need that extends into adulthood. As children we have free reign to explore this need, but as adults I believe that although the need is still present, we have less “acceptable” avenues to pursue it. That’s why we love films and television. That’s why we cosplay, and why we write stories and songs and plays (and why actors are like children). And that’s why a ridiculous number of adults are fans of “My Little Pony.” We recognize in it the quality of imaginative play we crave as grown-ups, and appreciate the importance the show gives to young girls and their need for positive growth in a sometimes very disheartening world.

And very simply, “My Little Pony” makes me happy. I love the lovely animation and the clever writing. I love that they use colloquialisms like “everypony” and “somepony.” I love that they stamp their hooves to applaud. I love that Equestria is filled with cities like “Cloudsdale,” “Manehatten,” “Trottingham,” and of course the capital is “Canterlot.” I love that I can never tell whether they are calling the head of Ponyville the “mayor” or  the “mare.” And I love that the show is filled with great puns, like my favorite ponies Lickety Split, whose cutie mark is an ice cream sundae, and Minuette, whose cutie mark is an hourglass.

I can be having a terrible day, and I just need to watch an episode of “My Little Pony” to brighten my perspective. I can be reminded of life lessons I have forgotten. I can laugh at Pinkie Pie’s strange antics, and feel connected in Fluttershy’s love of animals. And I can know that there is a television show that celebrates little girls and all that they love, whether it’s pink ruffles or sports or books or nature. So yeah, I guess I am a Brony. And I love every minute of it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


If I looked up
would I see you
an angel with wings of dust
and a halo of morning sunlight
your brown curls fluttering in the wind
beckoning with your long finger
smiling gently
as you floated to the ground
softly as a cherry blossom

Or would you be
long hair streaming behind you
as you rushed heavenward
arms flung back
toes curled
glancing back only once
to wink
and grin
as you flew up
swiftly as a sparrow

Or are you simply
a hole in the sky
swallowed by the dust and debris
by the thousands of other souls
merely lost
as the world collapsed around you
hair tangled
eyes wide with terror
as you disappeared
as completely as the end

When I look up
I see you
in the light
in the twin beams
that rise above the rubble
that illuminate the water
spilling from your name
into the hole in the ground
as dark as your hair
that fills
as you filled me
as richly as forever

Saturday, May 04, 2013

In Memory

I am a part of a writing group called "The Writing Circle" here in Ashland, and we've been involved in a continuing project in which one member of the group chooses a word for the week (some past examples are "heart," "loss," and "speak") and to which we all respond. Our responses may be non-fiction, where we simply discuss the word and what it means to us at the time, or fictional. The stories we write don't have to include the word at all, and we've had some interesting and vivid writings spring up from the strangest inspiration. I've been trying to write more fiction, and sometimes the word inspires me in a completely unexpected way.

This week, for instance, the word was "sweat." The other members of the group wrote some very interesting and thoughtful responses, while the only thing I could think of was an attic, stuffy and warm. This story emerged from that image. It does not have a title, but it is a tribute to the stories my mom used to tell my sister and I growing up, a tradition I hope somehow continues. I can only hope that my memory serves, and does my mom's incredible imagination and storytelling justice.

"She pulled on the thin rope carefully, afraid the attic staircase would come toppling down onto her head. But with an even movement, and one momentary tug, the rectangle of ceiling opened, and with her free hand, Annie reached up and pulled the staircase down. Dust peppered her face and she squinted, shook her head, sneezed. Then, looking up, she climbed the staircase slowly and cautiously, periodically changing her footing to adjust to the shifting wood.

A billow of hot air ballooned around her head as she peeped into the attic, and, panting, she pushed herself up the final few steps and stood, dusting off her jeans and sighing. With hands on hips, Annie glanced around the attic. It was less cluttered than she expected, and in fact there was simply less there than she remembered. The wooden floorboards stretched across the large space, leading her to the circular window that faced the street. She followed their direct path and peered out of the window, greasy with grime and age. Annie sighed again, and turned back to survey the room.

It would not be difficult to clear out the space and turn it into a nursery. There wasn’t much to go through and move, and they could probably sell what they or her sisters didn’t want. It was a surprise to no one she inherited the house, along with all her grandmother’s possessions, to divide as she chose. They had all spent many a summer in the big Victorian house, tromping through the gardens and running up the stairs, but it was Annie who spent the most time with their grandmother, sharing stories and reading aloud when her mother’s mother’s eyes grew weak. And it was Annie who spent the most time in the attic, imagining strange and fantastic adventures among the forgotten detritus of normal life.

Though now she wasn’t really sure why. It was stiflingly hot up there. Annie lifted her hair and let the stuffy air cool the back of her sweating neck. She absently rubbed the inside of her elbows, wiping the sweat onto her jeans. They would definitely have to get some sort of air conditioning up there. She glanced at the ceiling and wondered vaguely if they should install a fan.

She sighed. Nothing had to be decided right away. She was on a reconnaissance mission, and they would figure out the details later. All she needed to know now was that the project was feasible. Later on they could decide if it was practical. Coughing lightly in the hot air, Annie moved back toward the stairs and the fresh, cool air that flowed through the lower part of the house.

As she turned, she saw out of the corner of her eye a trunk. She paused mid-step, then rotated so she was facing the trunk head-on. As the shape became familiar, she rushed forward and knelt in front of it, gently moving aside a large cardboard box that rested on top. Annie’s breath caught as she lifted the lid, thrilled to find it unlocked, and rather uncertain of what she would find inside. As she recognized what she instinctively sought, her eyes lit up with childlike delight, and she reached into the trunk with reverent hands.

A top hat. Resting simply on a pile of loose papers, worn with time and affection, the hat seemed to remember her hands as Annie carefully lifted it from its place. Though it had been years, her body remembered more than her mind, and she automatically flipped the hat so she was gazing down into its cylindrical bowl. Unconsciously wiping away the sweat that brushed her brow, Annie lifted the hat to her face and closed her eyes, inhaling deeply. Fresh air, sunshine, earth, flowers, water, joy. All these scents and a thousand others Annie felt rather than smelled in the lining of the top hat. She bowed her head and moved to place the hat on her head…

And paused. Perhaps it would no longer work. Perhaps the magic faded with time. Or perhaps she was too old. Like Wendy she had grown up and could no longer travel to the strange and distant lands she had visited as a child. Moving with a decision she had not entirely made herself, she completed the action and gingerly put on the hat, now barely fitting on her grown-up head. She closed her eyes, and for a moment she imagined she was growing smaller, shrinking until she was enveloped by the velvet of the hat and sent spinning into another land. Images, fuzzy with memory, passed before her darkened eyes. In one, giant stalks of grass and insects larger than she. In another, a talking dog. And once, darkness and momentary fear. But as she opened her eyes again, Annie saw she was still in the attic, kneeling painfully on the wooden floor, the only smell the twinge of mothballs.

Disappointed, far more than her rational adult mind would allow, she reached up and took off the hat, feeling pain as it clung to a few errant strands of hair. She sighed, and placed the hat back in its former resting place, trying unsuccessfully to keep it aright on top of the papers. It leaned casually, and for a moment Annie imagined she saw a glimmer of gold shining on the black velvet.

She moved to close the lid, and again paused. Looking down at her belly, still flat, she nonetheless placed a hand there, feeling the life that would soon grow and kick and bother. A smile inched its way across her face, and Annie glanced once more at the top hat, resting, waiting. She slowly closed the lid and allowed the smile to linger. She rested a hand tenderly on the trunk, then with both hands pushed herself up. She straightened, once more brushing the sweat from her temples. She smiled again, then turned, and softly, mindfully, walked to the attic staircase. She descended into the cool air, and with a final, sentimental glance at the trunk, she left the airless room for tomorrow."

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Melody of the Blue Mountains

I wrote my first fan fiction. Ever. I'm actually surprised I haven't written anything before, because there are many television shows and books that affect me deeply, and I grow to love and admire the characters within them. I guess it never occurred to me to actually explore those characters more deeply, and allow my imagination to take them to new adventures. Fan fiction is a good exercise, because you have characters and a world already in place, and you just have to work within those parameters as you make up new stories. However, it can also be difficult, because of those parameters. I had to do quite a bit of research before I was satisfied my story would make sense, but it is more rewarding because I didn't take liberties with character and information.

If you've talked with me at all recently, or seen any recent posts on Facebook, you'll know that I have dwarf fever. I've seen "The Hobbit" twice, and I'm seeing it again tomorrow, and while it's not a perfect movie and there are many things I don't like about it, dwarves. Dwarves are the best. My friend Julia and I have been obsessing over dwarves, sharing behind the scenes videos and interviews, and getting ridiculously excited about any dwarf-related material. I was heavily inspired by two pieces of fan fiction Julia wrote (which can be read here: and here:, the second being my particular favourite), and she has encouraged my own exploration in this world. I'm not sure I can explain it, but I've caught dwarf fever and the only prescription is more dwarves. 

My favourite dwarf is Nori:
I can't get over his amazing hair (and eyebrow braids!) and his sense of adventure and mischief. He doesn't have a large role in the films yet, but we'll see how it pans out in the next two.  The second time I watched the film I paid close attention and came away with the following information:
-The number of lines Nori has: 1
-The number of times others call Nori by name: 4, quite possibly 5, but with a Dori and an Ori in the mix sometimes it's hard to distinguish. One of those times is to make Nori pay up because he bet against Bilbo coming on the quest. I shake my head at you, Nori.
-The number of times Nori and Bofur are seen together: 3. This lead me to the conclusion that they are best friends, and because this picture exists: 
my conclusion must be correct. So that is what my story is about. It's quite short, but I have more ideas in the works and because there isn't much about the dwarves outside of "The Hobbit" chronicle, there are all sorts of crazy adventures you can get them into. In the least I'm excited to be writing again.

 So I hope you enjoy my little tale, entitled "A Melody of the Blue Mountains."

    The crisp morning air swept lightly through the streets of the small mountain village, making smells sharper and colours brighter. The sun had barely risen over the towering mountainside, but the streets were already busy, buzzing with the hum of banter and chatter, and the murmur of dwarfish industry.
    Suddenly a shout pierced through the everyday clamour, the cool air buoying it up and sending it racing down to follow its target.
    “Nori! Confound you, you thievin’ little scrap!”
    The young dwarf chuckled lightly to himself as he ran down the path, newly braided beard bouncing on his chest, a mischievous glint permanently housed in the corner of his eyes. He tucked his spoils more deeply into his shirt and picked up speed, dodging through crowds and nipping around houses as he made his way toward the edge of the settlement. He slipped into an alley and settled himself behind a barrel, ear cocked, his light ginger hair sticking stubbornly where the wind whisked it up. Even at normal times his hair stood up at odd angles, despite any attempts at his own dressing. It gave him a distinctive and rather comical appearance, a fact that made keeping from notice difficult, and hiding from local authorities nearly impossible. No matter where he went, he always managed to get into trouble, and it was no different here at one of the dwarfish settlements in the heights of the Blue Mountains.
    He was a young dwarf, his beard hardly long enough to braid, but he was an experienced one. Like the dwarves of Kazad-Dhum and the rest of Durin’s Folk he left Erebor with the coming of Smaug, but unlike the others he did not miss it so sorely. More out of mischievousness than adventure, Nori sought new places eagerly, and quickly became known as a local nuisance.
    When he was sure he wasn’t followed, Nori grinned and leaned against the wall, pulling his prize from near his chest. He admired it in the filtered morning sunlight, eyes crinkling in merry amusement. Then a voice sounded in the shadows, and Nori leapt up, tucking his spoils into his shirt and peering down the alley.
    “I saw you.”
    A moment later, a dwarf stepped out from between two houses, a dwarf around his own age. Nori narrowed his eyes. It was a dwarf he did not know, and clearly not of Durin’s Folk. But Nori was not particular of clan loyalty, and he recognized the faint haunting of the Dread Dragon that he saw only too often in the eyes of the dwarf refugees. It had been a few years since the Desolation, but living in exile did not suit dwarfish temperament. And Nori realized, as he peered at the dwarf, he liked the hint of roguishness in his bearing, so he said nothing, but eyed him warily.
    The dwarf studied him curiously, head cocked to one side, giving his already goofy appearance a decided nod. His brown hair was braided and with the flaps on his hat curved joyfully up toward the sky. His beard, like Nori’s, was not full grown. He spoke again and nodded towards Nori’s chest.
    “What have you got there?”
    Nori hesitated as the tramp of dwarfish boots sounded behind him in the street. The other dwarf looked past his shoulder, but nothing came into the alley after them and the sound faded away. Nori paused again, then pulled forth a wooden flute, beautifully carved and inlaid with patterns of silver. It was a fine instrument, made with a labour of love and care, and sorely missed by its maker. The dwarf stared for a moment, then burst into delighted laughter.
    “What a thing to steal! Have you played it yet?”
    Nori shook his head, then slowly smiled. His smile grew as another dwarf, slightly younger than the two, ambled out into the alley, hugging his considerable girth.
    “You’re too fast,” this new dwarf complained, resting a hand on the wall to catch his breath. “It’s not like we stole anything.”
    The brown bearded dwarf winked at Nori.
    “I’m Bofur,” he said. “And that,” he continued, inclining his head, “is my brother Bombur.”
    Bombur did not reply, but raised a hand in greeting. Nori replied with a slight bow, not bothering to hide his amused smile.
    “Nori,” he replied, and added quietly, “at your service.” Bofur inclined his head in response, then gestured with a large hand.
    “Come on,” he said cheerily. “Let’s go and try out that loot of yours.”
    He turned and lead the way out of the houses, towards the west and the neighboring forest. Nori hesitated for a moment, then followed Bofur along the edge of the village and into the lines of trees, Bombur waddling behind. Nori thought of his own brothers as he walked, to whom he was fervently loyal but most often avoided. Dori, the eldest, was generally cross, cross with the loss of their home and kindred, but he kept an almost motherly watch over their youngest brother Ori, a watch that was too close for Nori's liking. Ori was young, too young to grow a beard even, and was quiet and bookish, but Nori had a soft spot in his heart for the young dwarf. The business of Erebor had been troubling and Dori often reminisced and brooded over the return of their homelands, while Ori looked on thoughtfully. As the middle brother, Nori grew to become fiercely independent and rather reticent, to the annoyance of his brothers. But they could not keep him from his own deeds, which generally involved no small amount of thievery, to Dori’s particular exasperation. Nori smiled as his remembered his latest scrape, where he had stolen a fine pair of knives, but had been unable to produce them at the maker’s request. Despite his searching, Dori could not find them either, and hadn’t spoken to Nori for a week. But far away from their dwarfish mines, good weaponry was hard to come by, and Nori kept the blades, just in case.
    Bofur lead them through the trees to a clearing, gently lit by the rising autumn sun and bordered by a sparkling spring. Nori gazed in appreciation at the spot, quiet and almost warm, but not far enough into the forest to fear the shadows. Bofur seated himself underneath a large tree and took off his hat, leaning back and closing his eyes. A small smile played around his lips. Bombur stumbled into the clearing after them and looked around sadly.
    “Why couldn’t you have stolen something more useful?,” Bombur inquired, gazing forlornly at the flute. “It’s nearly lunch, and I haven’t had a bite to eat since breakfast!”
    Nori’s grinned, and with a free hand reached back into his shirt and pulled out a large and still steaming loaf of bread, smelling sweetly of seeds and honey. He tore it in two, leaving a considerable portion for himself, and tossed half to the younger dwarf, whose eyes lit up as he caught it. He tore into it with small bright teeth, and half the loaf was gone before Nori could blink. Bofur laughed as Bombur divided what was left of the loaf and shared it with his brother.
    “Now all we need is a bit of ale, and we would have a regular feast!” Bofur said.
    Nori’s grin deepened, and an impish glint sparkled in his eyes. He reached into his coat and produced, impossibly, a large tankard, sloshing with fresh and foamy ale. Bofur blinked, then burst out laughing as Nori took a deep swallow then passed the mug along. Bofur swung the tankard up and gulped, then tossed the rest to Bombur, who caught it deftly and drank quickly and noisily. Bofur cheered him on as he swallowed the rest of the ale, burping loudly and long, sending crowds of birds shrieking into the sky.
    Nori sat quietly, watching the two brothers joke and laugh. Though private, Nori was glad to enjoy the company of cheerful dwarves, and to enjoy the calm of the forest so near the mountains of old. At times he missed the great halls of Erebor, grand and fearsome to a young dwarf, but love of the mountains was in his blood, and even here he felt the kinship of the earth and his fellow dwarves. He looked up and watched as leaves fell and birds hopped on springy branches, and did not notice Bofur studying him curiously. He did not see what the other dwarf saw, a lingering sadness beneath his quiet contemplation of the wood. After a bit, Bofur nodded towards the flute, still held lovingly in Nori’s hands.
    “Now why don’t you try it out? You couldn’t have stolen it just to look at it.”
    Nori gazed down at the instrument for a moment, running his fingers along the smooth wood. Then he raised the flute to his lips, and the brisk air filled with a sorrowful tune, played sweetly and carefully. Bofur closed his eyes, and Bombur sat in awe, watching and listening as the young dwarf played songs of home, of mines and mountains, gold and jewels, weapons and tools. The melody drifted in between the trees, and stilled the coming of the day. They sat there for many minutes, passing the flute between the three, and after the last song was played and the final notes hung in the air, the dwarves sighed and the flute was returned to Nori’s eager hands. Then Bofur stood and stretched, planting his hat firmly on his head, and reaching down to lift Bombur, which took a considerable amount of effort. Nori smiled and got to his own feet, and for a moment they stood, remembering and longing. They were young, but history was in their blood, and they felt the years of glory and sorrow twist through their veins. Nori raised his eyes and met Bofur’s, and they smiled at one another, sharing in the comfort of kinship. They knew that though they lived in a world of men and elves, orcs and dragons, the race of dwarves would live on, carved into the mountainside and written in songs played in the forest by young dwarves, eager for adventure.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

So take me back

Istanbul. My favourite stop of the trip. The following are excerpts from my journal.

December 17, 2012

“We reached the city at about noon, and as we were coming into port I stood out on the starboard side of the promenade and watched as we approached the city. Mist enshrouded the buildings, and I heard adhan (the Muslim call to prayer) float eerily across the dark water to meet me. It was an incredible sound, one I have never heard before in life but felt like I had known from forever.

We went to a palace, the Topkapı Palace, built by Medmed II. It was full of interesting things and detailed history, and was very beautiful, but it was the Roman Cistern and the Blue Mosque that so affected me. The Cistern is a couple of stories underground, and it is rows and rows of columns standing in a few feet of water. The ceiling drips, and the columns are lit by a strange red-orange light, and from the steps you can see something moving in the water, which reveals itself to be huge grey fish with silver backs. Indistinct ethereal music floats between the pillars and the whole thing feels quiet eerie and strange. I kept imagining ghosts lurking in the shadows, watching, or taking the form of those big slow fish. It was wonderful and strange.

But it was the Blue Mosque that I will not forget. I came prepared with my head covered, so I just had to slip out of my shoes and step onto the soft red carpet, and I was transfixed and transformed. I raised my eyes and looked and looked, looked at the exquisite painting and architecture, looked at the detail of craftsmanship, looked at every colour in every corner. I looked so hard and it was so beautiful I began to cry. Such beauty and devotion. I did not want to leave, and had to brush tears away as I crossed the threshold. It was a deeply personal and spiritual experience to be there inside the Mosque. As we drove to port, I could faintly hear adhan echoing through the streets, and I closed my eyes and never felt happier.”

December 18, 2012, Deck 13

“The wind is coming from the North, and pushing the clouds ahead of it. The ship’s flags are snapping and the ribbon of my journal fluttering, straining to follow the breeze. I am waiting for adhan, to have those glorious sounds find me on my little perch atop the ship. This ship that’s a small floating city. The sun is trying to break through the clouds, in vain, while seagulls swoop and dip between the boats braving the tumultuous bay, in water that’s so dark the blue is an afterthought. I love the Turkish flag, the bright stamp of red against the brown of winter trees and brick buildings. I love Istanbul. Nothing will compare to the welcoming I received from the city yesterday, but the skyline pricks at my heart with its tall minarets and will leave a treasured scar.

Like the Ottoman kings, I am waxing poetical. I will leave you to your thoughts, and just watch.

My waiting has paid off. Such a wondrous cacophony. I follow the sound as a sunflower follows the sun.”

The rest of the day I wrote about later, and it was wonderful, though in a different way than our first day in Istanbul. Liz, Jacob, Annalicia and I went to the Grand Bazaar by Tram, where I bought two glass tea cups and some apple tea. We just wandered around looking, and though the vendors tried to get our attention no one was ever pushy. In the Bazaar you can get wonderfully lost, and we walked around for a couple of hours, just looking and exploring. At one point adhan echoed through the tunnels with crackling normality, and I was haunted by the sound. Then we got some snacks and returned to the ship.

A grand and glorious adventure I will never forget.  

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Voyager (Part II)

(And yes, that's a Star Trek reference.)

Since Liz already linked my blog in her own account of our adventures, I suppose I ought to finish up here myself. Pictures to come soon; there have been some problems in the sharing of all our photos, so as soon as I figure it out I will share them here.

In the last post I left you at Ephesus, with the great ruins and many cats. Today we sail for Istanbul, my favourite stop on our trip. And as a matter of fact, I will leave that for another post. It is too large to place here with the rest. I will merely say it was one of the most memorable and deeply touching experiences I've ever had, and I will not soon forget it.

After Istanbul we spent two days at sea, as we rounded the boot of Italy toward Naples. The first day in the afternoon we sailed into a storm, and Dad and I were swimming in the rain, but when thunder and lightening appeared we decided to go inside. Isha and I turned off all the lights in our stateroom and sat in our window, and watched the lightening strike the ocean, and then we went up to Deck 13 and watched it from there, talking and dancing to the pop music playing on the lower deck. The lightening over the water was spectacular.

The ship started rocking pretty heavily that evening, though that night I felt fine. Melissa and I went dancing, and it was pretty weird to be dancing and then suddenly the floor would disappear, or it would be too close. And you could see everyone on the dance floor shifting with the ship in one wriggling mass. The next day, however, I did not feel so well, and almost threw up at breakfast (though for some unfathomable reason I did not). I felt pretty blah so I lounged in Liz and Jacob's bed, ordered room service, and then felt better in the afternoon after taking a walk on the promenade. I just took it easy, playing Guitar Hero and singing karaoke. It was fun.

Napoli was fun and interesting. We didn't have a guide, but we paid for a taxi to take us to Pompeii, where we wandered in awe among the great city, erased of life by the wrath of Mount Vesuvius. It was wonderful and unearthly, especially seeing the casts of the molds of people found buried in the ash and lava. It was hauntingly beautiful and one of the creepiest things I've ever seen. Then we went downtown to a place called "il pizzioglio de presidente," where Bill Clinton ate once, and where I had the best margherita pizza I've ever had.  Then we just wandered around, looking at the impressive architecture and admiring the life of the city. We also saw a flash mob in a big covered piazza, where students from a local ballet school did a hip-hop performance. It was pretty awesome, and relaxing. It was nice to just walk around and get a feel for the city. It's a lovely place, and makes me want to live by the sea.

That night was the last on the ship before we returned to Civitavecchia and Rome, so I dressed up and we had dinner and went to the ship's finale show "Elements," which was incredible. So much so that I went twice. The dances were interesting and enjoyable to watch, and Dorota got to dance a short ballet, which was nice to see her in her dance background. But it's nothing compared to her aerial artistry, and you can just see how much more she loves flying. She and Roberto did a couple of pieces, and were a big part of the finale, which was grand and sweeping and gorgeous. It was incredible to watch, especially the individual presences and talents.

The next day we landed in Civitavecchia, waited a bit for a taxi, then arrived in Rome around noon. We got into our suite, a little place called mok house, then at the owner's recommendation had lunch at a tiny place just two doors down. We wanted to have pizza but they only served it for dinner, so we ended up going back there later. It was extremely delicious, and the hostess incredibly kind and welcoming.

That afternoon Liz, Jacob, Isha and I walked down to the Coliseum to look around and then take a bus tour so I could get a quick overview of the city before I had to leave. We explored the Coliseum, imagining it filled with thousand of people watching horrible and grisly things (and imitating those people). Then we got on the bus and sat on top, listening to the commentary and the strange midi-files of Italian music. It was very quick, and the only stop we got off at was the Vatican City, where the light of day was just fading over the piazza. We went into the Basilica, which was beautiful and humbling in a very different way than the Blue Mosque. Inside the Mosque I felt peaceful and awed by the beauty of life and creation, while in the Basilica I felt tiny and insignificant amidst the towering statues and high ceilings. I suppose both feelings have a place in life to some degree. We didn't see the Sistine Chapel because it was closed for the day, but we did see Michelangelo's "Pieta," which was stunning. Such beauty and detail, tension and rest, movement and grace. It was amazing.

By then it was dark, and we got on what appeared to be the Knight Bus from Harry Potter to finish the tour. Seriously, from the top and very front of the bus, any corner we took seemed to narrowly miss parked cars, lamp posts, and pedestrians, and we seemed to slip through the narrowest cracks in traffic. The rest of the tour was a bit of a blur, but I learned that Caesar was not killed in the Forum but at the site of some ancient churches, and I know I loved the feel of Rome at night: the Christmas lights, the bustle of people, the old and grand monuments appearing suddenly around a corner, warmly lit with a yellow glow. The bus dropped us off sooner than expected, so we had to walk to our landmark of the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore and to home. And later after dinner Jacob, Dad, Melissa and I wandered in our neighborhood and found gelato (kaffe gelato! What bliss!) and explored the then-quiet streets. Then I stayed up all night (which turned out to be a terrible idea, those of you who know how sick I got coming back), reading and watching videos online, and listening to the chatter of the Italians at the bar across the street. It was a quick view of the city, only a snapshot, but I loved it and I will return to delve deeper.

It is difficult to describe how I felt overall, but I will try. It is amazing how similar people are, no matter where you go. They may look a little different, speak differently, have different customs, but essentially human beings are all the same. We laugh, we cry, we smile, we get angry, we are curious and stupid, wise and courageous. I wish we could all just see and understand that we all have the same needs and wants, and not fight each other for our inconsequential differences. This trip has filled me with new insight and hope, and a vast and sweeping love of the world. If we only had a taste of another's world, why would we ever want to destroy it? I learned to look inside and listen quietly to myself and the world humming around me. I learned that the ancient world is full of watchful ghosts, that wish us no harm if we tread lightly and respectfully. At times the ancientness of the ground I stood on was so overwhelming I was numb to the wonder of it. I could not grasp in my mind the thousands of years that crossed the spot, or the lives of the thousands of people who lived there, who laughed and worked, had families and friends, were happy or not. They are like stories one can fold up and tuck away. It was baffling and wonderful.

And so it was. Shalom.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013


It has been a long while, and I apologize. I would say my New Year's Resolution would be to write more often, but then I probably wouldn't and be disappointed in myself and eat way to much chocolate in self-pity. So I'll just say I will try to be more present, and share more about the thoughts and experiences I've had in my few days.

I went on a cruise! And it was incredible and life-changing. I won't give a day-by-day account, but rather compose a couple of posts about the highlights of the trip, and my overall thoughts and feelings. I didn't take any pictures, but Liz and Dad did, so hopefully when they share what they took I will add some to these posts.

There was some strange family tension throughout, but we managed to survive, and it was a small piece in the larger puzzle that was our adventure. And we're all so delightfully quirky. We checked into the ship at about noon on 12/12/12, so at 12:12pm and 12 seconds, we did a 12 second dance to celebrate our forthcoming vacation. It was delightful.

It was also nice to be on vacation, to not have to worry about work or any sort of responsibility, but to take time to go exploring or just read. Ah, the time to read! We had several days at sea, and I would find a quiet place on the ship to read or write, and stare out over the rolling waters. The ship itself was wonderful. There were so many fun things to do: arcade games (mainly air hockey and Guitar Hero), karaoke, dancing, shows in the theatre, swimming. It was also fun to just wander around the ship, and see the land and sea sliding by from different vantage points. I loved it, and though one day the rocking of the ship nearly made me sick, I managed to not become fully sick (that came later).

Our first two stops were Olympia and Athens, where we had an amazing tour guide named Niki, who was fun and interesting and funny, and who treated us like friends and not tourists. She took us to out of the way places to sample fresh olive oil and gyros, and was a wealth of information about the sites we visited, like the home of the Olympic Games and the Acropolis. It was wonderful to be in places where there is so much history, and from which so much modern culture comes from. In Olympia I imagined the ghosts that were unearthed with the excavation of the site, and that they were watching us from beneath the shadows of the olive trees. We had fun and it was incredibly interesting, and it was hard to believe it was real and not a reconstruction. It was all so strange and beautiful.

It is hard to say how I felt in many of these places, because I'm not sure I felt much but a numb kind of awe. I have no sense of the kind of history that those people do. It was very strange to walk on the very marble the ancient Greeks walked upon. It's also interesting to see how patriotic each nation is, having hundreds of years of occupancy and liberation, and the fierce feelings it brings up. Going from Greece to Turkey, where the Turks occupied Greece for so long, we didn't even mention it. We were almost afraid to bring it up. The United States is such a young nation, and although we have had our own passionate liberation, our situation is much different. Though of course there are many Americans today who are aggressively patriotic. I've just never felt so young and out of place.

Our first stop in Turkey was Ephesus, which was extraordinary. You enter the site, and there isn't much to see, but you walk a few minutes and all of a sudden the city spreads out in front of you, falling with the hills down into the valley. There is so much history and it's so strange and familiar, I honestly didn't know what to think. There is also a very strange phenomenon at the site of Ephesus, which is the presence of hundreds of cats. There are cats all over the ruins. Everywhere. Some are skinny and sickly but most look clean and well-fed, and some of them have part of their fur shaved, and they have small wounds and stitches, almost all on the left hip. It was inexplicable. Where they there before, or did they come when the site was excavated? It was very strange. Almost as if they were ghosts or gods come to protect the exposed city.

You will see, I believe strongly in ghosts and spirits inhabiting animal forms, and this is a theme that recurs again and again for me on this trip.

One more tidbit, then I'll save the rest (and the best) for the next chapter. After our day in Ephesus, Melissa and I and the parents went to the show on board, which was called "Roberto and Dorota." I had no idea what it was about really, but it had something to do with acrobatics and aerial artistry, and I cannot resist that. It turned out to be incredible, and one of the most amazing parts of the trip. Roberto and Dorota were a married couple from Poland, whose background was in ballet from the Warsaw School of Ballet, and then they lived and studied aerial artistry in France. They began the show with a balancing act (that woman was so strong and graceful), then she did the hoop, he did straps, he did the Spanish web and she joined him, then they closed with an aerial silks routine. They were fun and funny, and they always looked like they were having so much fun, especially together. Dorota always had this little smile on her face, like she knew something about gravity we didn't, a look of pure joy and serenity. I want to see her as Peter Pan. The show was well-produced and designed, particularly the lighting. The show started more simply with the balancing act, then became more dramatic and intense, then ended on a fun and whimsical note. We were so astounded we convinced Liz and Jacob to go to the second show, and I liked it so much I went too. I think I liked it even more after seeing it again. A fantastic show, beautiful and powerful. Here is a link to a trailer of some of their work to get a taste of what I'm talking about: But seeing it in person was simply breathtaking.

I will leave that for now. I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures, and more will come soon! Shalom, dear friends.
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Into the Maze of a Mind by Rebekah Whittaker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.