europe, travel log

a season of water and women

gaetan’s hand spreads out over the flats : “all this was water. still would be if it wasn’t for the drains. that’s why it’s flooded right now, with all the rain. this here is the island of avalon, over there by the evergreens they would send off bodies on boats from the isle of the dead. it would all be impenetrable swamps, clouded in mist – you’d need to find a way here then wait for the lady to summon the boat…”

perched on my terrasse, we gaze at the horizon. today the mists of avalon have loosened their grip and the fields are drenched in sunlight. the land here bathed in song as much as it bathed in water. chinese medecine links the element of water to the winter months, and the cards follow suit, leasurely showering a deluge of cups on everyone around me, of water bringing memories, ancestors, connectedness through time and space – incubation.

here i am sitting with women again. i listen to their stories. we’ve had freak february daffodils, gales and a snowball holiday where the town celebrated its 20cm of powder in utter delight. meanwhile, the rest of the island labored in waist-high snow. we pour cups of tea before we start the women’s circle, staring through curtains of endless rain and experiencing leaking dreams : we wander in and out of other women’s heads, curious birds swooping in our wake between the cracks. a woman down the hill dreams of me sitting on a sofa, rain splattering indoors. “that happened – a couple of days ago”. hypnosis summons an image of a radiant bull, leading a herd towards the sun, while the woman sleeping the room next to me sees a cow jumping over the fence, back and forth. tara and kali, smiling at each other from each side of a double page, wreak havoc in dreamed funeral homes and real salt circles. i dream the name of the water god tlaloc, indignant of being treated as if he had no feelings – how many, many more coincidences we would discover if we all constantly shared our dreams with each other… i tattoo a spider on a thigh, an invitation to a certain kind of womanhood, of courage, of connection to the mysteries –  a few days later a woman has to be brave for a younger girl, and lets a tarantula rest on her petrified hand.

i spend a long time blowing steam in the candlelit cave. the numb soles of my bare feet can feel everything. i blink through this deluge and feel the action of the slow drops of healing.

this community of women is like the soft call of home. “take a moment sisters, breathe…” sacred feminine were just words, before. now it’s a feeling with texture and colour. an experience in my pocket. a craving i didn’t know i had.

i’ve had a whole life’s worth of inventive ways and reasons of steering clear of the female community. whether i was a scruffy tomboy, a lone bookworm or an angry punk, the hats i picked up never held any breadcrumbs back to a peer group i could relate to. the word femininity only summoned pink razors, cosmo quizz and other hollow icons of the consumer culture, manufactured to pollute women’s brains with vapid noise. traveling was slowly, steadily unscrewing the bolts of what i knew, but still – the mainstream latino culture of my new homes wanted to know where were my babies, where was my husband, why my hair was short and my jeans torn. i kept my own company. i’d never met a community of sisters and never dreamed such a thing could ever be waiting for me.

but lo and behold – first, i meet kinswomen! this has never happened to me before! wild souls pining for the road or plotting for a roof, depending on the day. they stride into my life one after the other, we wave friendly banner like ships entering a harbour, we trade news from the trail, goods and houses, tattoos, haircuts, massages, plant friends and sponges. i feel like the ugly duckling, looking up to the family of swans.

then there’s all the others, the many faces of the goddess. we connect in the simple way that were used for millenia and buried for centuries. on a new moon we arrive  at the circle depleted and part company elated. leave your archetypes by the door, the maidens, crones, single mothers and tired warriors, the broken-hearted and sick and homeless. here we only have women. drums. songs and shrieks and how can you describe what happens in a circle. “you’ll just have to try this out at home”. a space where the civilized animals are played down. we talk blood and bones. “oh wait, you do that too?”

as the legend goes : we are women, standing on the shoulder of an older woman, who stands on the shoulders of an ever older woman… it’s inexpressible, feeling this umbilical cord of kinship, stretching back through the fabric of time. shining from every eye gazing back from around the fire. suffice it to say i am loved and blessed.

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europe, travel log

nails and armors

after hanging out with so many men our path took a u-turn and we settled into a nest of femininity: we were hosted in a beauty salon. neither of us had ever set foot in one before, and it was delightful : a bunch of women taking care of themselves, making jokes and coffees and chatting, all there to have a good time, to bond and relax and forget their days’ troubles over a foot massage, a manucure, whatever. everybody popping their head in the door, whispering “so what’s up girrrls?”, tiptoeing in and out to check on our progress. candles, music, buddha statues all set and ready before we even arrived, every room vamped up with incense and flowers and attention to the minutest detail. ines, the dazzling owner, telling how women drive one hour to come to her place. that she makes sure her girls are happy, that they can work well and spread the love all around.

we worked intensely on women as family – our customers were mothers and daughters, sisters, and their tattoos were all about each other. the cousins, grandmothers and best friends came in to watch. ines kept joking about her daughter being a mini-ines, and sure enough, they even picked exactly the same tarot card. a mother surprised her daughter by just  coming along, then suddenly getting two big tattoos on her forearms.

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benni

four-hand tattoos

i complete luz’s octopus on andrea’s arm

vivyan and ines

viv and martina

swinging by paris i took part in a little mother-daughter circle myself, cunningly plotting to draw her into experimenting our popular tarot-shiatsu combo. my beloved mother does not believe in cards, or in being taken care of – so it took some plotting to persuade her.

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a pig on a péniche!

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versailles with my mum

i’ve been thinking a lot about armor lately. tarot cards as i read them are forever wary of stagnation and the building of elaborate towers and walls – which shut you in as much as they keep others out. the tower card has kept popping up for men i’ve read for on the road, and one of its meanings is the destruction of old walls that have stood for too long. the line between a castle and a cage, the protective wall and the barrier is always a slippery one.

we build armors from our experiences. from memories of pain and resentment and sadness, we hold onto them to learn, to become tougher. we vow we will never be caught off guard again, be hurt. we establish a security perimeter, where none shall pass, to protect ourselves. we retreat behind a barrier of aggression, silence or the insouciant “i’m fine”. and then we sit there. thinking, safe at last. completely alone.

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pagan otherworlds – a tarot with no armor.

there’s a card called strength. it has no armor, physical or otherwise. while on the battlefield, the vikings had a shield, used both for defense and attack. but no armor. there’s no armor in kung fu either. i was repeatedly taught that for most defenses you only need to move a limb by about 10cm. you deflect the attack, or move yourself out of its way. you use your opponent’s energy, instead of spending a lot of your own trying to block it. 

but armor does use up your energy. it’s complex to make, heavy to carry. it also limits your options. your movements, your angle of vision, your hearing, your power of improvisation – all are limited. armors are crafted for a specific set of circumstances, and if there’s a change, they become dead weight. take one of those fancy full-body medieval tin cans. you’d be baking under the sun and sloshing under the rain, attracting lightning bolts and with frozen articulations in the winter. in these conditions, how good can your response be?

i’ve just watched a great ted talk, where a turkish healer states : “if you want to watch something die, draw a circle around it.” i feel the armor, the walls work in much the same way. you draw a circle around yourself, say this is where you stand, this is your shape, this is what you’re willing to let in – and no more. you close doors. saying no is important, and closing doors too. but just like anything in our funny little cycles, there is a time and a place for that. if you watch life through the narrow slit of an war helmet every day, life can only be perceived as a battlefield.

i feel like our viking friends got it right. if battle you must, what is more efficient than armor is an adequate weapon. wit, empathy, healthy boundaries, communication. and a battleaxe too, why not. a weapon, and flexibility to adapt.

This being human is a guest house
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Rumi

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