Happy, tired colleagues after Saturday’s performance of The Saltwater Hotel. That’s me and my director Jenny Campbell (photo by Sandie Luna!).
Verse 1: A reason to sing: you caught me ready to remember. I’d take your everything just to try to make a sad song better.
Verse 2: Surrender and swing! You taught me love comes like the weather. What changes may it bring, I would ebb and flow with you forever.
Chorus: You’re a postcard from the road less-traveled, a phone call from the long way home. Morning sees you off with nets to scatter.* Will evening bring you back? I never know. How many days does it take a river to wander to the sea? That’s how long I’ll wait for you to come on home to me.
Verse 3: Of salt and stone you are king*, but you brought me home again to pleasure. I’d hold my breath and swim every tide that brings us home together.
O, while I sleep, come close to my bed, the way that Laura appeared in Petrarch’s room in the night, and as you near me, your breath will touch my skin, and when it does, my lips will part…it will touch my anxious brow, where perhaps a dark dream that has lasted too long is clinging, which your glance will elevate like a star and suddenly my dream will shine with light! And then, on my lips, where a flame is burning, love’s flame that God himself has purified, place a kiss, and as an angel transforms into woman, suddenly my soul will awaken! O, come!…the way that Laura came to Petrarch…
But don’t just believe me! Let Leontyne tell you:
‘Oh! Quand je dors’ Music by Franz Liszt, Poem by Victor Hugo
On one of my afternoons of site-seeing in Delhi, I visited Birla House, where Gandhi spent the last 144 days of his life trying to broker peace between Hindus and Muslims before his assassination in 1948. Meanwhile, at the suggestion of a friend, I had been reading All Art Is Propaganda, a collection of George Orwell’s critical essays, which contains his 1949 Partisan Review essay, ‘Reflections on Gandhi.’ Orwell on the Mahatma:
“It is well to be reminded that Gandhi started out with the normal ambitions of a young Indian student and only adopted his extremist opinions by degrees and, in some cases, rather unwillingly. There was a time, it is interesting to learn, when he wore a top hat, took dancing lessons, studied French and Latin, went up the Eiffel Tower and even tried to learn the violin – all this with the idea of assimilating European civilization as thoroughly as possible. He was not one of those saints who are marked out by their phenomenal piety from childhood onwards, nor one of the other kind who forsake the world after sensational debaucheries…His character was an extraordinarily mixed one, but there was almost nothing in it that you can put your finger on and call bad, and I believe that even Gandhi‘s worst enemies would admit that he was an interesting and unusual man who enriched the world simply by being alive. Whether he was also a lovable man, and whether his teachings can have much value for those who do not accept the religious beliefs on which they are founded, I have never felt fully certain.” (All Art Is Propaganda, ed. George Packer, Mariner Books, 2009).
On the numerous placards hanging on the walls of the museum, one of Gandhi’s quotes really stood out for me: “As I am nearing the end of my earthly life, I can say that purity of life is the highest and truest art.” I considered this statement while studying his scant ‘worldly remains’ and wondered what Orwell might have thought of it. Whatever else you can say about him, with regard to asceticism, Gandhi surely walked the talked. I found that extremely reassuring. Probably Orwell would, too, although not because he would have valued Gandhi’s asceticism per se, as much as the integrity with which he committed to its practice. I also found reassuring the single tchotchke to be found anywhere in the house, and next to his writing desk, no less: a wooden carving of the ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ monkeys – a trustworthy, if trite, old proverb, which suggested to me that even a saint needs to be reminded daily how to live purely.
Seeking refuge in a simple cup of tea is one of my tried and true strategies for feeling at home while I’m on the road. When I’m overwhelmed or unsure of my next move, sipping a hot beverage buys me time to reflect on exactly what in the world is going on around me and how I fit into the picture. Also, tea pairs well with writing in a journal, which I’ve observed, most waiters around the world tend to indulge with a friendly smile, and usually a few curious questions about what I’m writing, where I’m from, etc., etc.. A little caffeine perks me up if I’m weary from my wanderings, and before long I’m ready to venture forth again, into the unfamiliar. What I especially enjoyed about my teatime in India was the experience of the tea tray as still life: a crumbly cookie, pressed linens, flower petals floating in a bowl of water. Composed of slightly more than just the cup of tea I’d ordered, memorable moments were made by a few simple touches of color, texture and taste. A good souvenir to bring home! I also had a cup of tea in the airport while I waited six frustrating hours for my rescheduled flight from Delhi to Udaipur. It came in a tiny red plastic cup, with lots of undissolved white sugar and instant creamer, and, as far as serving its strategic purpose of smoothing the bumps in the road on that particular leg of my journey, it was every bit as memorable as those pictured below.