Madeira’s Verticals

I laugh and say I’m a travel tramp. A new place to see? How soon can we leave? After a holiday is really just the break before the next trip. But a few months ago I was working very very hard to finish my second novel. In my family we’re One-Tracks, and when we’re focused on a project the outside world vanishes. For the first time in our marriage, this year Uwe had to bribe me to go on vacation….

“How about a week on Madeira?” he suggested. “You can write while we’re there. What do you say to a working holiday?”

In the capitol Funchal

In the capitol Funchal

We were on the island a decade ago, and I liked the idea of returning. A place has a personality. You just can’t talk about the Greek islands or the Tunisia coastline without making mention of the quality of light and blue paint contrasting with whitewashed stairs and walls. My visit to Uwe when he was working in northern Sweden was all about snow and the aurora borealis.

Madeira means verticals. This Portuguese possession is located 520 km (280 nautical miles) from the coast of Africa. It’s lush. Madeira advertises itself as the garden island, and it’s a paradise of vivid flowering plants and trees.D70_1207_DxO10

D70_1262_DxO10

 

D70_1206_DxO10D70_1253_DxO10Madeira is also impossibly steep.

Funchal cable car

Cable car from Funchal, southern coast of Madeira

We took the cable cars from the capitol of Funchal up to the various parks and botanical gardens. Later we rented a car and went exploring. Achadas da Cruz (Porto Moniz), population 159, on the northwest corner was a delightful highlight. The fields are down on the waterfront. To reach them the farmers use the cable car known as teleférico, a descent of 500 meters or over 1,500 feet. Prior to the opening of the teleférico in 2004, they made a steep hike of 5 kilometers down to their fields. Now, that’s dedication!D70_1413_DxO10D70_1407_DxO10

D70_1405_DxO10D70_1402_DxO10D70_1396_DxO10

While the teleférico is popular with tourists and costs only 3€ for a one-way trip, the cable car really is used by farmers to transport crops.

Madeira was voted Europe’s Leading Island Destination in 2013. There are ample opportunities for hiking along the traditional water canals known as levadas. The island’s famous for Madeira wine, forests of bay laurels, and black scabbard fish.

Fresh catch of black scabbard fish at Funchal Market

Fresh catch of black scabbard fish at Funchal Market

D70_1028_DxO10 D70_1029_DxO10

The black scabbard or Espada Preta is one ugly fish. It is found only in extremely deep waters like those of Madeira’s coastline. The fish are abundant in waters between 800 and 1300 meters deep; adult fish swim at depths of 200-2000 metres and easily live and feed at substantially greater depths. Almost nothing is known about its life cycle!

A dish of black scabbard and bananas is the island meal (it’s okay. We preferred the fish cooked other ways: with garlic and wine, or in a fish soup, or…) The fish has no scales, and the delicate flesh melts in your mouth no matter how it’s prepared.

Bom Proveito!

NOTES: All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s pictures from Madeira and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de. For more on the One-Tracks go to: Meet the One-Tracks. Northern Sweden: It Was a Bitterly Cold -22°. My new novel: Tsunami Cowboys.

 

 

In the Heat of the Spa

I wrote as free lance European Correspondent about massage and healing techniques around the world for about a decade. I interviewed therapists. I got (and still get) lots of massages. I drank stinky healing waters and sat in hot mineral waters, cold mineral waters, and peat bog mud (really!). [1]

I was transformed into a human pretzel in Thailand and had my back walked on by a barefoot Hanoi therapist as she held onto ceiling railings.

I wrote the following article not long after I came to Germany…

Spa Mud Mask

My first spa massage: I had exotic visions of a sea algae wrap first, steaming fluffy hot towels wrapped deliciously around my entire body, perhaps a dip in a pool filled with aromatic, green mud. Sea Spa Salt and Mud MaskDon’t ask me where these visions came from. All I know is that when I made my appointment at Das Leuze Spa in Bad Cannstatt, Germany, this was what I hoped to experience.Spa cucumber mud mask

The reality was… well, more realistic. I had to wait a week for a time slot. There wasn’t any possibility of an hour-long or longer massage; half an hour was the time limit. Patients come with a doctor’s prescription and German insurance covers the therapy sessions. But private patients aren’t so unusual, and I had no trouble getting an appointment.

I showed up twenty minutes early as requested. I paid roughly $18 at the appointments window and, taking my receipt, wandered towards the spa massage rooms. I had some time before my massage, so I decided to look around a little bit.

It was the 4th of July in southern Germany and we were having the hottest summer in recorded weather history – which meant the hottest summer in over two hundred years. I looked longingly over the grounds towards a spa pool. The water looked so cool and inviting. But I was here to research European massage methods. Plus my shoulders had been killing me for weeks; I really needed this massage.

I turned back and saw a woman dressed in white with a name tag on her shirt. I showed her my appointment slip and receipt, and asked if I was in the right area. She smiled and answered yes, got a half-sheet from a hallway closet and led me into a treatment room.

“What do I do with the sheet?” I asked. “Climb under it?” It seemed pretty hot for a cover, but what the hey. How was I supposed to know?

“Lay the sheet down on the table and lie on top of it.” She smiled encouragingly as she closed the door behind her.

I looked around the room to see where I could set my clothing. The room had an open window that looked out on a pool, the Mineralbad Berg. I peeked through the doorway: the next room contained a huge tub. I must be in one of the two Quiet Rooms attached to every hydrotherapy room. I knew these Quiet Rooms are sometimes used to give massages, or the patients rest on the massage tables after hydro treatments.

There were hooks on the wall and a handy string bag in which to place clothes and jewelry. I looked over and noticed a wool blanket hanging from a rung. Just looking at it made me itchy. Why didn’t the rest of the world catch on to air conditioning or fans? Germans consider AC umweltunfreundlich (bad for the environment and energy drains to boot) but I longed for a waft of breeze. Anything to make the day less sticky.

There was a knock on the door and in walked my massage therapist. He said hello and began without ceremony on the bottom of my legs with effleurage [2].

“I like deep tissue work,” I said. “And my back and shoulders need special attention.” If he was surprised that I had a special request, he didn’t show it. My calves began to melt. He noticed they were tight. He worked his way along my hamstrings and used an inverted J stroke from my sacrum to my neck. There he somehow screwed his knuckles into my shoulder. It felt wonderful! How was he doing that? I hated to interrupt the massage by asking. I also didn’t want to distract myself from the way my shoulders were finally loosening up, so I gave myself mental requests to shut up and stop analysing the massage. Relax! He worked the right side of my back and then the left, and raked my ribs as I lay there prone.

I could feel my stress slip away. Then I felt something drip. Was he applying more oil? I didn’t feel a break in his massage rhythm. A few more drops came. Then I realized: my massage therapist was dripping sweat on me.

Water Drop Stock Image

Yes, it was hot as hell, he was working hard, there wasn’t any air conditioning… but still. Uggh. I suddenly felt squeamish. This had never happened to me before. Before I could decide what to say, he stopped and asked me to turn over.

He used too much pressure on my quadriceps. I had to tell him it hurt, and he eased up. The massage strokes were mostly a flowing effleurage that was quite penetrating and a deep petrissage [3], plus that same interesting J stroke.

Afterwards I sat up and slowly stretched my limbs. Everything felt good. The crepitus in my shoulders had disappeared.

I left feeling looser, definitely sweatier (and it wasn’t even my sweat), and thoughtful about the difference between massage as a professional medical service versus the tentative situation that still exists in some parts of America.

The things I liked about the spa massage? The massage was extremely competent, did me much physical and emotional good and was everything I could ask from a session with a skilled therapist. The facility is absolutely top-notch even without air conditioning. It has everything you could dream of: Hydrotherapy. Fango mud treatments. Wet and dry saunas. Therapies of a wide range and variety. The spa grounds are in a beautiful natural setting. At no time did I feel awkward, either as a foreigner or wandering around as I found my way to my therapy room.

All in all, my spa massage was a positive experience and one I wouldn’t mind repeating… maybe sometime when the weather’s not so hot.

Water Drop Stock Image

NOTES: [1] The spas of Baden-Baden, Germany; Pammukale, Turkey; Karlovy Vary and Marianske Lazne, Czech Republic, and Bad Kohlgrub, Germany.

[2] Effleurage is a series of long smooth strokes used in Swedish massage to warm up the connective tissues and underlying muscles.

[3] Petrissage may be squeezing, kneading, wringing or skin rolling, and massages more deeply into the muscles.

This article first appeared in slightly different form: Campbell JB. In the Heat of the Spa. Massage Jul/Aug 1995; 56:114, 117-9.

Go to my earlier posts A Massage at Wat Pho, Massage in Indonesia: Java, and Massage in Indonesia: Lombok for more on healing techniques around the world.

Photos courtesy of Dreamstime.com. Drips are © Kirsty Pargeter | Dreamstime Stock Photos.

Egypt 2: Along the Nile

Cleopatra: He’s speaking now, Or murmuring ‘Where’s my serpent of old Nile?’ — Shakespeare Antony and Cleopatra, Act I, Scene 4

This is Part 2 to my post about our brief trip to Luxor, Egypt. As I look through Uwe’s photographs from that week I’m struck by his images of the Nile.

D31_8536_DxO10 D31_8660_DxO8 D31_9064_DxO8

There is something sensuous about this river… One of my very favorite Shakespeare plays is Antony and Cleopatra. Here is the description of Cleopatra floating down the Nile:

Enobarbus: The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne,
Burned on the water; the poop was beaten gold,
Purple the sails, and so perfumed, that
The winds were love-sick with them, the oars were silver,
Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made
The water which they beat to follow faster,
As amorous of their strokes.

…From the barge
A strange invisible perfume hits the sense
Of the adjacent wharfs. The city cast
Her people out upon her, and Antony,
Enthroned i’ the market-place, did sit alone,
Whistling to the air; which, but for vacancy,
Had gone to gaze on Cleopatra too
And made a gap in nature.

Agrippa: Rare Egyptian! (Act II, Scene 2)D31_8592_DxO10

The Nile is iconic. It’s the longest river in the world, around 4,160 miles or 6,670 kilometers The Nile originates at Lake Victoria and Lake Tana, and ends at the Mediterranean. It flows northward through Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, and Egypt.

D31_8643_DxO8

D31_8954_DxO8

It is the largest oasis on the planet. When we visited in May 2013 tourism had declined so far that there were no longer any direct flights to Luxor. Instead, we flew to Hurghada on the Red Sea and a van met us. We drove for four hours across the barest desert landscape imaginable. No nomads, no towns, no vegetation or animal life to be seen. When we reached the Nile, visible signs of life appeared again.

D31_7870_DxO8 D31_7871_DxO8 D31_7872_DxO8All of the great ancient cities we visited are on the river’s banks. Karnak, Luxor/Thebes. Dendera, Edfu. From our hotel balcony we gazed directly across the river to the Valley of the Kings. The Valleys of the Kings, the Queens and the Nobles are on the west bank of the Nile River as you must be buried on that side in order to enter the afterlife.

D31_8743_DxO10

We sailed downriver to Dendera, enjoying the scenery that flowed slowly past. D31_8555_DxO8

D31_8564_DxO8

The fertile Nile was the original source of Egypt’s wealth and today 40 million Egyptians (50% of the population) live near its banks. There was life on the shores and in the water everywhere we looked.

Cleopatra: …we’ll to th’ river: there, My music playing far off, I will betray Tawny-finned fishes. (Act II, Scene 5)D31_8562_DxO8

D31_8737_DxO8

D31_8627_DxO8Antony: The higher Nilus swells, The more it promises; as it ebbs, the seedsman Upon the slime and ooze scatters his grain, And shortly comes to harvest. (Act II, Scene 7)

The Egyptian calendar was based on the Nile’s three flood cycles. According to Wikipedia, “[t]hese seasons, each consisting of four months of thirty days each, were called Akhet, Peret, and Shemu. Akhet, which means inundation, was the time of the year when the Nile flooded, leaving several layers of fertile soil behind, aiding in agricultural growth. Peret was the growing season, and Shemu, the last season, was the harvest season when there were no rains.” [1]

As I looked out at the river and thought about my mother, I sensed the rhythms of life and death more clearly than ever before.

D31_8613_DxO8

D31_8557_DxO8To the ancients, the Nile was the River Ar meaning “black” because of the rich, fertile sediment left on the banks from the Nile’s flooding. When the Aswan Dam was built in 1970, the annual flooding ended. But by the time we left I knew why Shakespeare’s hero confessed,

Antony: Egypt, thou knew’st too well My heart was to thy rudder tied by th’ strings, And thou shouldst tow me after. (Act III, Scene 9)

NOTES: [1] Wikipedia: Season of the Harvest

http://interesting-africa-facts.com/Africa-Landforms/Nile-River-Facts.html

http://www.ancient-egypt-online.com/river-nile-facts.html

http://www.sciencekids.co.nz/sciencefacts/earth/nileriver.html

All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s pictures from Egypt and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Egypt 1: We had the entire Valley of the Kings to Ourselves

D31_8306_DxO8

Karnak with almost no tourists

 

D31_8452_DxO8

Medinet Habu, the Mortuary Temple of Ramses III, with none

Let’s get one thing clear right away: Uwe and I are NOT danger chasers. We don’t pick areas to visit that are experiencing unrest or natural disasters. D31_7958_DxO8When we went to Luxor for a week in May 2013, tourism in the area was wa-a-y down. But it’s so far from Cairo that we never felt threatened.

D31_8032_DxO8

Edfu – Temple of Horus

A week after we were there Egypt imploded, and we would not have made that trip. As it was we had Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, and the ruins up and down the Nile banks to ourselves. What an experience, like getting a private tour of the world’s greatest antiquities!

D31_8772_DxO8

Dendera Temple

 

D31_8467_DxO8

Egypt was a special wish of mine for decades.  My mom was a teacher, and when she died the last unit she was teaching was on ancient Egypt. At her funeral my family was touched to receive drawings from the children she’d taught. They’d drawn mummies, and Mom’s spirit as a bird. There was even a drawing of a mummified feline with a caption: Mrs. Campbell’s cat.

Luxor

Luxor Temple

Pillars like lotus

Pillars like lotus

D31_7925_DxO8Some of the world’s most spectacular ruins, and there were almost no other tourists. Occasionally a lone bus pulled in with a group from a cruise ship or daytrippers from Hurghada on the coast, but most of the week we wandered in amazement all by ourselves.

D31_8379_DxO8

Deir el-Bahari, Temple of Queen Hathsephut

I can’t even begin to understand Egyptian iconography. Gods with the heads of cows?

Hathor

The goddess Hathor

or an ibis? how about an alligator? A giant scarab as an object of worship — huhhh? It’s so foreign to me that Luxor was a glorious dip into an age that I didn’t even bother trying to grasp.

The scale of what we were looking at was also beyond my imagination, both in age and in sheer height! At each site we admired impossibly high ceilings. We could see the original paint, thousands of years later.

Original blue paint 1

Original blue paint

Original blue paint 2D31_8458_DxO8D31_8459_DxO8Even the air feels like it contains the dusty molecules of ancient dynasties…. We sat each evening on the hotel balcony and enjoyed the view and the heat. On the day that I became older than my mother was when she passed away, I sat looking out over the Nile.

The ageless Nile River

The ageless Nile River

D31_8999_DxO8

Aside from dishonest horse carriage drivers, the Egyptians were all kind, helpful, and incredibly friendly. I look forward to returning!

Waiting.

Waiting.

NOTES: All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s images from Egypt and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

A Leibster Award…

Jadi Campbell:

I’m pleased to reblog for the first time. Meet the gracious Robin Gott, a Brit in chilly Sweden, fellow therapist, and artist of wit and whimsy. Happy New Year to all! —Jadi

Originally posted on The Forsyth Sagas:

lieber-awardI’m very pleased to have been nominated for a Leibster Award by Nu Tenshi, also known as “The Girl in Converse”. Check out her lovely, lively blog here:

http://thegirlinaconverse.wordpress.com

A few random facts about myself:

1. My real name is “Robster the Liebster Lobster”

2. Daniel Radcliffe went to the same school as me (but I’m not quite as famous)

3. I grew up in the same house as Boris Karloff (but I’m not quite as scary)

4. I don’t like sushi

5. I’m crazy about books

6. I have a Swedish wife and two children.

7. I once got Michael Palin’s autograph written with his wife’s eyebrow pencil on a paper plate

8. I’m from England but have lived in Sweden since 1994

9. I’m going bald, so I like low-maintenance haircuts

10. I teach Alexander Technique to actors, musicians and dancers

11. I love cooking

Nu’s Questions for…

View original 187 more words

The Erotic Architecture of Khajuraho

Uwe and I put an exclamation point at the end whenever we talk about Khajuraho! We visited last January, and we’re still talking about it.D31_9516_DxO8

In the interests of proper grammar I’m leaving out the exclamation point from now on. You may add it in for yourselves if you like.…

When we visited, Khajuraho could only be reached via a long trek on bad roads. Since we’re talking about India, this means the roads are bad indeed.

Where'd the road go?

Where’d the road go?

Down here maybe?

The driver we’d hired was there to meet us at our hotel in Agra, and off we went. Five bone-jolting hours later we reached our destination.

Along with its inaccessibility, Khajuraho is notorious for 1,000 year old, perfectly preserved, UNESCO World Heritage erotic carvings.

Somehow this site survived a millennia (millennia, people!), in a spot that had no fortresses or fortifications to speak of. The temple complex existed simply for the purpose of worship.

D31_9609_DxO8

And what worship. Every single inch of the temple buildings are carved in high relief, depicting gods, tender lovers, voluptuous attendants, monkeys, elephants, assistants for the sexual act…. D31_9553_DxO8D31_9545_DxO8

D31_9495_DxO8Hundreds of skilled stonemasons were hired to build the site. The Khajuraho region has excellent sandstone, and the sandstone temples were built with granite foundations. All were constructed without mortar! Instead, gravity holds the stones together with mortise and tenon joints. D31_9641_DxO8D31_9640_DxO8D31_9626_DxO8D31_9625_DxO8Some of these stones are megaliths weighing up to 20 tons.D31_9520_DxO8

The glory of sandstone is that it loans itself to delicate carving. Even viewing the temple walls from the ground we could see the wrinkles in Ganesh’s trunk; the fingernails of the apsaras and the beads in their strands of jewelry; the sheer layers of veils over their thighs and buttocks.D31_9543_DxO8

D31_9519_DxO8Uwe vanished almost immediately with his camera, leaving me alone with the young male guide. I could feel my face go red, and it wasn’t a hot flash or sunburn. I was terribly afraid of how embarrassed I was going to be. But the guide pointed out the various depictions of the act of love and spoke in a clear calm voice, explaining the significance (pull your minds of out the gutter, dear readers) in terms of energy, religion, and esoteric philosophy.D31_9510_DxO8

It was mid-January, past the usual Christmas tourist season. It was also a two-week period when northern and central India get swathed in fogs – something smarter tourists than we knew. As a result, we had the pleasure of being two of the few Westerners at the site.

Most of the others were Indians on holiday, and I was touched to see that at Khajuraho, this meant young married couples. They walked around the compound, standing in front of particularly erotic carved panels, heads together in discussion.

How about the next panel?

How about the next panel?

D31_9631_DxO8

Is that a new yoga position?

While only 10% of the carvings depict sexual acts, you can guess which panels were eliciting the most commentary. These were the love-making couples known as maithunas. Other carvings depict everyday activities: playing musicians, potters, farmers, soldiers on horseback, etc.

Musicians

Musicians

The temples were probably built in the one hundred year period between 950 and 1050 AD, during the Rajput Chandella dynasty. According to historical records, by 1100 Khajuraho contained 85 temples covering 20 square kilometers. Roughly 20 temples still stand. They were located 60 kilometers from Mahoba, the medieval capital of the Chandela kingdom.

Khajuraho was mentioned by the Arabic historian Abu Rihan-al-Biruni, in 1022 AD, and by Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan traveler, in 1335 AD.

When Muslim rulers took control, heathen places of worship were systematically destroyed. Ironically, even centuries ago the remoteness of these temples helped secure their survival. Nature did the rest as vegetation and forest reclaimed the site. For years the temples were covered by dense date palm trees which gave the city its name: in Hindi, Khajur = date. (The more ancient name was Vatsa.)

The scenes explain Hinduism’s four goals for life: dharma (right way of living), kama (aesthetic enjoyment), artha (prosperity) and moksha (libertion). The complexity of the geometric layout and the grid pattern of the temples with their circles, squares and triangles, the importance of geographic orientation and bodies of water and the carvings’ iconography is beyond my very weak grasp. Instead, here is an excerpt from the UNESCO website:

Greatly influenced by the Tantric school of thought, the Chandela kings promoted various Tantric doctrines through royal monuments, including temples. Sculptors of Khajuraho depicted all aspects of life. The society of the time believed in dealing frankly and openly with all aspects of life, including sex. Sex is important because Tantric cosmos is divided into the male and female principle. Male principle has the form and potential, female has the energy. According to Hindu and Tantric philosophy, one cannot achieve anything without the other, as they manifest themselves in all aspects of the universe. Nothing can exist without their cooperation and coexistence. In accordance with ancient treaties on architecture, erotic depictions were reserved for specific parts of the temples only. The rest of the temple was profusely covered with other aspects of life, secular and spiritual. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHCD31_9478_DxO8

Khajuraho remained forgotten by the outside world until 1838 when a British army engineer, Captain T.S. Burt, was carried in via palanquin. I laughed so hard when I read that the Victorian officer was shocked by what he found….

Khajuraho!

NOTES :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khajuraho_Group_of_Monuments

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/madhya-pradesh-and-chhattisgarh/khajuraho/history#ixzz3JWuMCco9

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/240

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/240/video

Go to my earlier posts Travel Karma & Remind Me Again: What Are We Doing Here? to read about our visits to India. All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s pictures from India and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Tsunami Cowboys

Tsunami Cowboys

Prepare to meet Todd, a hero with dangerous fantasies. Coreen, trapped in a cult. Ronnie, dreaming other people’s futures. Guy, waiting for disaster at a Christmas Market. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train with a seductive stranger. By turns terrifying and funny, this is the story of people riding life’s waves… the tsunami cowboys.

It’s official: My new novel Tsunami Cowboys is available in paperback and eBook versions. Look for it on Amazon around the world. The following links will get you there for the US and Germany:Tsunami Cowboys (for Amazon.com) Tsunami Cowboys  (Amazon.de)

I’m excited and proud and tired and floating on air. This book is the results of the last two years of writing. Thanks for your encouragement and support. It has made this journey a real pleasure.