Wednesday, November 29, 2006


This picture is tribal reverse embroidery, I am unsure which tribe from the border of Yunnan province with Myanmar [Burma} which is only a little to the south. The spirals are a powerful symbol in many, many cultures and all of us who look at contemporary art quilts know how often they are used by our colleagues. I think it's very beautiful.
Usually when I return from a trip I can hardly think of anything but the wonderful images I've stored up that I want to keep and share with others. I have to bite my tongue not to talk constantly about my trip and wonderful incidents that may bore everyone else. But, of course, I never returned directly to a hospital. So i've been home a week now, and much of the China trip is just photos. I'm thinking much more about what I'm able to do for myself and how I'm going to make good use of this block of time that I will have here at home.
For ages I've mumbled that it would be a good thing to break my leg and have time to catch up on my reading. Moral: be careful what you wish for ... This is not analogous to winning the lottery, but just as there's the thought "if I ..." how would I handle the largess intelligently? I have a largess of time to read, write, quilt, rent movies, whatever. How to use it intelligently? First, of course, I must listen to my body, do as much as I can and not doing too much, pay attention to the physical therapists' rules about what I must not do -- the things that could pop the hip out of place. Heaven forbid!! Also I must listen to my own the recovery process. Rest when I need to rest, eat what my body wants, no more, no less, crunchy veggies when needed, the occasional piece of chocolate. The paying attention is a lesson that 35 years of hatha yoga makes almost second nature.
However I have started working on the "Migrating Monarchs" quilt which I hope will turn out well enough to enter in the Empire Guild's show in March. I had cut and putting together a dozen or fifteen butterflies before the trip but they needed to be appliqued to the batting. So I am doing that and embroidering the distinctive black markings, and the white spots that some have. This is very labor intensive. I'm lucky to have time to do it. I need to make at least a dozen more. As I realize just how long each butterfly takes and that many steps remain once they are embroidered, I am glad I have this time. I set myself a goal each morning and get to work. I have doubts as I work that the whole will meet the picture in my mind. It is not my nature to be a total perfectionist -- in fact it is my nature to be on the sloppy side. I'm fighting those impulses. I will definitely finish the quilt -- and perhaps only then decided if I want to show it. I have other quilts I have not shown in public that I can show as a back up. But the current project always seems the most fascinating and promising.

It's entirely different but, in a sense, this Chinese embroidered picture of fish, reminds me of my vision for the Monarch quilt -- I love the grace of these fish. It is a common design that I saw several times in China but I did not grow tired of it; I find it balanced and beautiful. Although my monarchs will be flying away, not gathering around a central point, I hope they will have the dynamic organization and emotional appeal that this fish design has.
This post rambles and doesn't offer the point of view I hoped to accomplish. I think the mind echoes the body's need for adjustment in new and unusual circumstances. I have always found it fascinating to watch the mind-body interactions in so far as one can get through the subjectivity. So no apologies for rambling but I hope I have been coherent.

Monday, November 27, 2006

An Un-Chinese China

Visiting the tribal peoples of Yunnan province is as different from visiting the Han Chinese who are the majority as visiting a cotton field in Alabama is from visiting a New England village is in America. Don't try to take the analogy any further, it doesn't work. The people of Yunnan often look more like Burmese or Laotians than they do typical Chinese. But Yunnan is a big province and there is a great mixture of people. Interestingly, it seems the Chinese tourist department has decided that Yunnan is a great vacation destination for northern Chinese. They have turned natural sites into easy to enjoy destinations. A truly wonderful waterfall that has passages behind it where one can walk and look out through the water, has excellent walkways, attractively designed stairs and even a tall escalator to take visitors back to the top level after they've walked to the bottom. Like many tourist destinations I've visited in many countries signs in the local language have a laugh inducing English translation. Here a long sentence was translated as "Having Fun Prohibited."
At the labyrinth of wind and rain carved karst standing stones called The Stone Forest, very attractive landscaping includes a big gold fish pond and beautifully manicured lawns. The very clean and new women's toilet had a fresh bouquet of stargazer lilies on the wash basin. In the stall I used was the Asian type squatting trench, that not only automatically flushed when I stood, but while squatting, at eye level, was a small video screen showing scenes inside the Stone Forest.
One of the most charming natural sites was a grotto out of which quantities of water poured into a pond and then spilled down a narrow chasm headed to the Mekong River eventually. We were taken into a series of grottos in a row boat which was rowed very quietly. Inside several large caverns had niches lighted in various fluorescent colors. Our Chinese guide, Ada -- all the young women seem to have adopted European names -- told us the names of a great many formations. On the way out, floating silently through the largest cavern Ada said, "May I sing a folk song for you?" Of course! In a lovely, light soprano she sang a quiet folk song which reverberated in the nooks and crannies of the room.

I like best these quiet moments, and discoveries in places where few tourists are around. In a small monastery complex we saw this 400 year old magnolia tree. It's a venerable presence in it's own special square just outside the entrance to a shrine room with wonderful old frescos. How incredible it must be when flowering in the spring...
The senior citizen couple in the top picture were in the city of Lijiang, a city preserved as it was before cars -- the old part of the city is about a square mile with no cars ... just tourists ... Lots of them. Shops cater exclusively to tourists -- this I find dismaying. However an early morning walk when the old wooden doors were closed was beautiful and a lunch at a canal side outdoor restaurant was a delight -- although dinner at a restaurant in the most active tourist section was anything but peaceful as competing groups of singers on the sidewalk outside sounded like competing fans at a serious football game.
I have to mention that my hotel room in Lijiang. The hotel once, the mansion of a grand family, did not have a conventional lock. From the outside the door looked like two panels of a multi-panel wall design. A padlock closed the two. Inside, was a wooden bar held against being opened by that same padlock being affixed to it. I have little fear of intruders when I am traveling so this primitive lock system did not disturb my sleep at all .
Perhaps I will come back to some more moments in China tomorrow before I begin to write about getting back to my quilting now that I'm home from the hospital and regaining energy after ten days of forced inertia during which I think many of my muscles turned to jello.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

After the Adventure

When last I wrote I was on my way to Yunnan Province in Southwest China. It was to be a ten day vacation but it's turned into a month long something -- if I call it an "adventure" it sounds a bit exciting and a bit up-lifting. So adventurer is the wrong word, and yet I think of it as an adventure. Much of the reason for this trip was to see the tribal people who live in the part of China that is just above the border with Myanmar [Burma]. They are not ethnically Chinese . Here is one Miaou woman with her work and then a Chinese farm woman who works in free time at an embroider factory, sometimes taking 8 to 10 months to complete a piece with thousands of tiny single strand silk thread.

I marveled at this work and resisted the impulse to add pieces to my collection -- except for a batik-ed dragon. Besides displays of thisintricate work many women, both young and older women wore their traditional costumes. Chinese authorities understand that tourists to the area prefer to see "authentic" costumes when they visit the villages. They're learning to commercialize the tribal peoples and likewise the tribal people are learning to sell to the tourists.
Many natural sitesin the area have been "improved" for tourists. I'll write more about some of them in subsequent days. I'll get to the "adventure" part in a bit. On the subject of selling to tourists, the Chinese government is talking advntage of the romance of James Hilton's book, LOST HORIZON, and actually renamed a Western part of Yunnan province -- which is the eastern most reaches of the Himalayan chain and is 2-1/2 miles high, "SHAMBALA". For those who are unfamiliar with Hilton's book, it is about an Englishman who finds himself in a high mountain valley and is taken to a hidden monastery where advanced monks have learned many secrets including eternal life. The book was popular in the 40s and made into a movie with Ronald Coleman. It's a fantasy, of course, feeding the cult of Tibetan magic and mystery. Shambala has long existed as metaphor - a mountain bound Eden. Now it has been added to the official map of China. .
Shambala was the last stop on our itiinerary, We left mile high Lijiang [a beautiful city about which I will write another time] and climbed past Tiger Leaping Gorge, the deepest gorge of the Yangtze River. We had just arrived in the Tibetan area which was 14,000 feet up a brilliantly engineered road that had been open only a few months. A beautiful group of children appeared beside the road and we stopped to photograph and talk to them. Within a single moment my budding experience of the magic of Shambala turned to "adventure" [perhaps trauma is the word]. In jumping up a little embankment to the children, I fell ... entirely on my left hip. And displaced it. And fractured it.
Thus ended my vacation and began my adventure getting home. Steps in the process: x-ray at the local hospital and a prescription for green and white capsules, contents unknown [I think it was morphine] upon which I was acutely dependent for the next 30 hours. Overnight in Shambala, a short plane to Kunming, a longer plane to Beijing. The good luck of getting on a Continental bound for Newark instead of having to overnight in Beijing. An ambulance to NJ hospital, another ambulance to a NYC hospital. Eventually a total hip replacement. Now I'm home, walking, feeling okay and facing several weeks of regaining full mobility.
The medical part of the story is mundane. One of the morals of this story is that I'm happy I was on a trip arranged by Snow Lion Expeditions and that the American guide, Jeff Grinnell, was along. He had smoothed many minor bumps between our desires to see "real" people and the Chinese-supplied local guides who were prepared only to show us the official sites. He is also a seasoned trekking guide and had just come from guiding people to Everest base camp and above. He was the level headed, competant, knowledgeable sort and I was enormously lucky to have him there. He did all the right things, medically and helped tremendously with the changes of tickets to get me home. I cannot conceive how I might has coped without him.

The above picture is a Miaou bridge - a powerful symbol in their belief system we were told. Bridges are powerful symbols for all of us. This trip was a bridge for me. I had hoped to trek on Katchenjenga, the third highest mountain in the world, but decided I'm too old to tackle it; so I turned to my ever increasing interest in textiles and chose to go to Yunnan, but was feeding my fascination with the Tibetan/Shambala wonders too. No sooner did I reach an altitude higher than any in the USA, than I crashed. I feel like Icarus when I think of it that way. So this trip serves as a turning point. I have to regain my mobility in the next several weeks and I have to assess where crossing this bridge has taken me.