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.

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.

 

Book Excerpt: The Hostess 2

“I’m Lynn.”

“Josh. Nice to meet you, Lynn.”

“You’re joshing me, right?”

“Yeah, as in, I’m joshing you.” His voice had a strange note as if he were thinking, that old chestnut again.

His gaze swept me up and down. I sum myself up as average weight, median income, medium length brown hair (graying and dyed to hide that fact), and better than average features. Still attractive enough… for middle-aged. But Josh’s frank glance was admiring.

Bemused, I registered the fact that I was flattered.

We began the conversational short hand of strangers. “Lynn, where you off to?”

“I’m heading home.”

“I’m on my way to Portland,” Josh offered. “This is the tail end of a long business trip. I always take the train so I can work. I get a rental car after I arrive. But my God, this train’s packed!”

“I visit the coast the weekend before Thanksgiving, and bring back seafood,” I offered. “I barely fit my bags in the bin.”

The conversation stopped while we studied the menus the waiter brought. “Sea food stew,” I decided aloud. If the taste even remotely resembled the chowder I’d had at Mo’s Restaurant with my parents the day before, I’d be happy.

“The chicken,” Josh requested. “Can I talk the lady into joining me for some wine?”

“Actually, you can. I’d love a glass of rosé or white.” There’s something about train travel indeed… and it wasn’t like I’d be having airplane travel mile high sex with Josh in the bathroom. Is there a name for having sex on a moving train? I wondered suddenly.

Josh added, “…and the Semillon.” This time his smile was filled with promise.

I smiled back. When was the last time I’d flirted with someone?

The train staff had found their rhythms in the busy dining car. Our waiter was back almost immediately. He expertly opened a cabernet sauvignon. Josh swirled the wine in his glass and tried it, nodded his head. The waiter poured more and set the bottle down. Then he opened a second bottle, this one my white wine. “You don’t have to finish it,” Josh said when he saw my expression.

I decided to go with the flow. “Okay,” I nodded, and gave my approval. The wine tasted perfectly cold and crisply dry. The waiter set an ice bucket at the window. “Enjoy,” he said, and vanished back into the galley.

“Cheers.” Josh clicked his glass against mine and drank deeply. “Ah!” he set the empty glass back down and sighed with satisfaction. “So, are you getting out in Portland?”

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fifth chapter is titled, The Hostess.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: What A Guy 3

They encountered air turbulence two hours into the flight and the pilots lost time. Air traffic was backed up when they reached European airspace. At last they landed in Frankfurt, ninety minutes late. Guy slumped over in a deep sleep and noticed nothing.

He woke to a strange sensation that was the absence of motion. Denice and Tia wore anxious expressions, waiting for him to rouse. Someone had gotten his carry on suitcase down for him.

Tia clapped her hands while Guy looked around and tried to understand why the plane was empty. “Mr. Guy, you were awfully brave! We hit bumpy air! I thought it was going to be bad, my mommy even got out a barf bag, just in case.”

“Tia!” Denice sighed.

“But Mommy, you didn’t use it. You were fine.” She drew the word out, fi-yine. “Mr. Guy, you slept like a baby, like there was nothing to worry about. That really gave me courage. You were zonked! I watched and did just like you.” Tia put her head against the side of the seat, closed her eyes, and snored loudly.

“I snored?” The child was informing him that he’d passed out.

“Like a trooper! No, that’s for when someone’s swearing! It’s okay, Mommy,” she added serenely. “Mr. Guy snored like a… a brick house. No, that’s not it. Like, a house on fire.”

Guy and Denice laughed and Tia joined in, all three laughing as if they’d never stop. The Lufthansa personnel watching in the aisle laughed too, relieved that they didn’t have a dead drunk – or worse, much worse – dead international passenger on their hands after all.

Denice and Tia retrieved their luggage at Baggage Claim and all three stood before a destinations board in the terminal. “Thanks again for waiting for me,” Guy repeated; he was still groggy. As he stared dispirited at the board, Guy knew he couldn’t face another flight, no matter how short.

They were taking a train on to Landstuhl. “I’ll walk you to the train platforms. I missed my connecting flight so I think I’ll just catch a train. Hey, I’ll go to Stuttgart. Aren’t Porsche and Mercedes Benz there? I’ve always wanted to go to the Porsche factory.” He lied, suddenly inspired. He and his therapist had worked out alternate plans in case Guy reached Europe too jittery to fly on. He’d arrived days before the conference began, so that he might take his time getting there. Progressive, systematic desensitization, he reminded himself.

They followed airport signs to the connected train station. Tia rode on top of the luggage trolley as Guy pushed. “So,” he asked, “will you get to see much in Germany?”

“It was planned as a family vacation. Our trip here.” Denice glanced up at Tia, perched humming. “Joe’s in the hospital,” Denice explained softly. “An IED; they’re telling me his condition is ‘serious but manageable’. Whatever that means. For his sake and Tia’s, I’m trying to stay optimistic. I want to wait until I see him before saying anything to her. It’s bad enough how much I worry.”

“Good heavens.” As they continued walking Guy held Denice’s hand in his for a long minute, a therapist unable to think of a single comforting word to say.

“I have to believe,” Denice’s eyes were tender as she checked again on Tia, “this will have been worth it. Joe still believes freedom to worship and vote and live as you choose are worth fighting for. Regardless of the deeper reasons for the war. My husband’s motivated by wanting a better world. They’re helping local groups rebuild.

“He was standing outside a school for girls when the explosion happened.” She looked at her daughter. “It’s the second time that school’s been destroyed. Like I said: whatever the other dynamics going on, we both hope for a better world for everybody’s children. They feel insurmountable at times, the problems,” she admitted. “But it’s all one world now. We have to believe that, because we’re parents ourselves.”

They reached the train station and Denice and Tia departed on the next train. Guy felt forlorn once they were gone, but he ignored the cold and his sense of foreboding. He tried to be stoic as he waited on the platform. No matter what, he wasn’t climbing on another plane! Maybe, just maybe, I can afford to sail home. I hear the QEII’s nice, he mused as a white and red ICE train approached.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fourth chapter is titled, What A Guy.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: What A Guy 2

Despite himself he laughed. Where’d this precocious kid get her great outlook?

“I don’t know where she gets these lines. Tia always has such a great outlook.” Denice smiled with wry affection as she read his mind.

“But Mommy, why get scared? Planes only crash in moovies!”

“It’s not that we sit around watching disaster flicks,” Denice qualified. “I don’t need disaster films playing on the screen in our living room; I’ve got the one in my head.”

“We all have our fears,” Guy commiserated, remembering for a second or two that he was a therapist. The plane angled higher in the heavens and they felt the ascent despite the pressurized cabin. He gulped.

“It’s okay, Mr. Guy! We’re going up, not down, silly! Nothing to worry about.” Satisfied she’d calmed the irrational adults sitting to either side, Tia returned to the magazine pictures.

She started a cartoon as Guy and Denice chatted across her head and waited for the plane to reach optimal elevation and level out so Denice could get up.

“What’s taking you to Europe?”

“Her daddy’s currently serving in Afghanistan. Joe already had two tours in Iraq. We have Tia in a wonderful school and I’m reluctant to leave my job, so we stay in the States and meet him for school breaks and furloughs. We’re on our way to a base near Frankfurt,” she looked at her daughter and hesitated. “To Landstuhl,” Denice clarified. “For the holidays. Joe will be home for good soon but we had this trip planned already, a chance to get to see some more of Europe and where he’s been on and off for the last four years. Are you heading to Germany for business or vacation, or traveling somewhere further?”

The seatbelt lights pinged off. Denice stood up and retrieved a bag from the overhead bin.

“I have a layover in Frankfurt.” Guy drained the bottle she handed him. “Thanks! What was your question? Oh, what I’m heading to Europe for: a conference in Zurich. And I have pteromerhanophobia.”

The child looked back up at the sound of the curious word with so many syllables. “What’s that?”

“Fear of flying.”

“Which part?” Tia broke it down matter-of-factly and her manner was eerily similar to his therapist. “Afraid of being stuck inside and you can’t leave? Or something bad happening? That’s silly, because flying’s safer than riding in a car. Are you really scared of being in a plane crash?”

“No!” Guy squinched his eyes tightly closed. When he reopened them, Tia and her mother were staring. “I’m scared of being in another crash. I was in a forced landing once.”

“But, Mr. Guy, you’re alive.” Tia kicked her legs impatiently. “The crash couldn’t have been that bad.”

Denice laid a hand on her daughter’s knees to stop the kicking. “What happened?”

“I was on my way back from a conference, ironically one concerning phobia therapies. Little did I know.”

“But, what happened?” Tia persisted.

“We landed in a field,” Guy told her, but he stopped there. It would be cruel to scare a child. And, as his own therapist kept reminding him, pointless to keep reliving the traumatic event. The landing had been a bumpy one indeed.

After that, he drove the entire distance halfway across the country rather than fly to a symposium. A second professional trip had involved a long train ride. Guy even turned down a vacation with Stan and Lynn, which forced him to acknowledge the problem.

The Jungian conference in Switzerland offered a perfect opportunity to overcome his phobia. Guy had been comforted by the thought of a roomy jumbo plane. And it would be professionally fascinating; he’d made a snap decision to attend. Now he asked himself, Why didn’t I pick a really short hop instead? You idiot! Guy closed his eyes again and wondered when the pills and Benedryl would finally take effect.

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fourth chapter is titled, What A Guy.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

Book Excerpt: What A Guy 1

Life is like a game in which God shuffles the cards, the devil deals them and we have to play the trumps. – Yugoslav proverb


Come Fly With Me

Everyone watched. A few people muttered and a businessman clapped sarcastically as the big man finally arrived. While he didn’t actually delay their departure, Guy Carnac boarded the plane twenty minutes after everyone else.

“Ladies and gentlemen, now that all passengers are on board we’ll be getting underway. It’ll just be another minute or two,” the captain’s voice soothed.

Guy found his seat, swallowed another pill, and pulled down the shade. He didn’t have a seat behind the bulkhead with legroom, but at least he had a solid wall to lean against. Too bad it had a window.

He tried to settle down, and in. He almost convinced himself that he was ready, doing fine – and ping! The fasten seatbelts lights blinked on. Guy buckled his belt and like the signal for a race, his heart began an adrenaline gallop.

The plane moved away from the gate with the slightest of jolts.

Systematic desensitization, Guy. The laws of aerodynamics will keep the plane in the sky. Calm breathing! But, he reminded himself, you know better than most people that planes crash all the time.

He breathed faster. Get a grip! The facts, doctor, the facts! Fiercely he recited, My name is Dr. Guy Carnac, I’m a respected – highly respected – Seattle-based therapist, I’m a fifty-four year-old male, maybe overweight, maybe my hair’s thinning, but my libido is still intact and not thinning, thank you very much. I’m heading to an international conference of my peers. What’s there to fear?

What’s to fear? For starters, what happens when we can’t lift off? The plane’ll keep rolling, too fast to stop. And we’ll hit a building, or cars on the freeway, or another plane as it taxies in.… Smoke will billow as we’re all engulfed in a fireball. He gripped the seat arms. I’m wheezing. I can’t breathe, is there oxygen? Should I pull down a mask? Why haven’t the meds kicked in? Is it too late to turn back? Can’t they halt the plane? DON’T THE PILOTS REALIZE THEY HAVE TO STOP THIS FLIGHT, RIGHT NOW? Oh God oh God oh God Oh Godohgodohdgodgodgodgod.

The little girl in the middle seat eyed him as she whispered with her mother. Guy closed his eyes and pushed his head hard against the side of the plane. Machinery vibrated under his temple as they accelerated. He whimpered. They left the ground: Breathe!

For the next ten minutes he was afraid he’d pass out or vomit. He fought a need to do both and kept his eyes firmly closed.

Something scratched his right arm.

Guy opened his eyes and blue candy ribbons, pink ponies, and tiny hearts swam in his vision. For a few startled seconds he was sure he was hallucinating. The child in the next seat wore colored barrettes in her braids and a serious expression.

She looked down. Guy followed her pointing finger and saw that he’d wrapped his right hand completely around the seat arm separating their seats.

He unclamped his fingers as they continued to hurtle through space. Was that the start of a nosedive we’re going down I’m trapped really trapped even if I make it out of this seat I’m stuck on this goddamned plane until we crash and – He yanked his thoughts hard from the eventual, inevitable spiral. Guy closed his eyes and began to pray.

The scratching returned, more insistent. “Mister?”

He peeked cautiously.

The child patted his forearm and then his hand for good measure. “I’m scared to fly, too. This is my first time. If you want, you can have my medicine. I aksed my mommy and she says yes. I told her, this guy needs it and I don’t! He’s more of a ‘fraidy cat than me!”

“Than I, Tia. Asked, not ‘aksed’. And we don’t call people names!” Tia’s mother leaned across her daughter and took Guy’s clammy hand in her own warm brown one. “I’m sorry, a little six-year-old here is excited to fly but still learning about verbal filters. This is Tia, and I’m Denice. But the offer is real. Tia was scared about such a long time up in the sky so her doctor suggested we bring along Benadryl, just in case. Somehow I think she’s not going to need it.” The little girl wasn’t listening, her attention focused on the flight magazine page that listed cartoon offerings.

Guy looked at Denice. She was dressed not in loose terry cloth ‘jogging clothes’ but rather in a flowing skirt for comfort, pretty slip-off shoes on her feet and a soft scarf around her neck. Denice smiled, and her aura grounded him.

He loosed his grip on her palm. “I’m Guy Carnac. Thanks!” His smile wobbled. “I’d sure love to take you up on that Benadryl. My own anxiety pills never kicked in.”

“Glad to. It’s in my carry on, Guy, so you just hang on til the all clear to get up. I’ll get it for you.”

Tia had followed their conversation and now she turned back to him. “Your name is Guy, and you’re a guy. You’re funny!”

“Tia! Remember what we tell you about how to address people who are older than you, namely, with respect? This is Mr. Carnac.”

“Thanks for the comment about respect, Denice. I’m not sure I deserve a whole lot right now! How about Tia calls me, Mr. Guy?”

Tia patted Guy’s forearm with her little hand again and gave him a wide grin. “Hey, Mr. Guy, smile. This plane’s not going down!”

***

Prepare to meet a hero with dangerous fantasies. A young woman trapped in a cult. A person who dreams other people’s futures. A man drinking glühwein at a Christmas Market as he waits for disaster. And Lynn, the connecting thread, taking a train trip with a seductive stranger. I’ll be posting the first pages to each chapter.

Committing my characters to an appearance on this blog makes them real. As of tonight, they exist beyond my imagination.

Here are the opening pages to my novel Tsunami Cowboys. This fourth chapter is titled, What A Guy.

Tsunami Cowboys will publish with Amazon in December, 2014.

The Death of Robin Williams

Feste the Fool: “This cold night will turn us all to fools and madmen.” —Shakespeare King Lear, Act III, Scene 4

Robin Williams is dead. He killed himself.

Both of these statements shock and sadden me. Put together, they are almost unbearable. Since his passing the nights have been cold indeed, and it’s taken days to reach a place where I can try to write about him.

Caren Miosga is an anchor for the major evening news program in Germany, and German journalism is a serious business. Caren reported the news of his death barefoot and standing on top of her news desk. “O Captain! My Captain!” she recited from there. There is no more fitting way to salute him.Moderatorin Miosga auf dem "Tagesthemen"-Tisch (Video-Standbild): "einer der größten Schauspieler"

I remember when he burst onto the world stage. He was incredibly funny, his wit like lightening. His brain and mouth moved so fast that it still takes repeat viewing (and listening) to catch up to him. And even then you wonder how he could improvise like that. He would recite Shakespeare – and play all the roles himself.

A good word to describe him is irrepressible. Robin seemed impossible to hold back, stop, or control. And he embodied the next meaning of the word: very lively and cheerful. But like all clowns he knew the flip side of laughter is sadness. He was a fiercely observant social critic and he spoke about what he saw. As our greatest court jesters have always done, Robin told us the truth.

During the 1980s I lived in San Francisco, and I remember going with friends to the newly opened Hard Rock Café. As we sat there, a murmur rippled through the big room. Robin Williams, two women, and two very young children had just been seated for lunch. As the news spread, people stopped eating and turned in their chairs to stare.

Robin was a guy who’d simply come in for lunch, and looked uncomfortable with all the attention. But he signed autographs and smiled. I was struck by how youthful he looked, and how shy. He didn’t have a glamorous aura. I tried to figure out what was remarkable about how he looked. In the end, I was startled by a sense that he was terribly vulnerable.

And that is the secret to his magic. Robin Williams didn’t just make us laugh. He made us feel the absurdity of our prejudices and fears, and yes, our hopes and desires, too. He reminded us at all times of our humanity. He was searingly honest about his own short comings and dreams. He turned himself inside out with a candor and lovingkindness that made his humor a healing force.

Our world is a sadder place for his passing. It’s a better place for his having lived and shared his immense gifts with us.

He is already greatly missed.

R.I.P. Robin McLaurin Williams 21 July 1951 – 11 August 2014

Soccer, Religion & Pink Floyd

On July 4th, Germany made soccer history. They are the first country to ever make it to four World Cup Semi-Finals in a row. I’m back in the US for a visit, and watched that game early in the morning on my friend’s couch with the German flag in face paint on my cheeks and a German lei draped around my neck.

Soccer ball on the green field Royalty Free Stock PhotosSoccer ball on the green field Royalty Free Stock PhotosSoccer ball on the green field Royalty Free Stock PhotosSoccer ball on the green field Royalty Free Stock Photos

I came to soccer late. It wasn’t until after I moved to Europe in 1992 that I realized how exciting the World Cup is. The globe takes its soccer pretty seriously (understatement of the century!); I first became a fan out of a need to share in the experience or miss out on life for weeks at a time. When Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, I became a fan for real. What great matches! What a party!

So here I am in 2014, cheering on everyone. I’ve cajoled my friends into going to pubs and restaurants with wide screen televisions, or watching at home. I was happy to see the USA make it through the elimination round in Group G (the Group of Death), ironically up against Ghana, Portugal, – and Germany. I rooted for both even as I knew Germany would take it.

During the next round I watched the Argentina-Belgium match on a Spanish speaking station. I had the volume turned low, but I love hearing the cheering and chanting of fans in the stands.

The sounds suddenly reminded me of Pink Floyd, of all things. I was 16 when Dark Side of the Moon was released, and if you know me that fact explains everything. But Floyd’s earlier album (and that’s a word that really dates me) Meddle contains the song “Fearless” with a background of singing Liverpool F.C. fans. At the time I didn’t know from soccer. I was sure the sound had to be religious chanting, like the noise of saffron robed Indians on a hillside in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Remember the scene in Dharmsala where they sing out notes and point at the sky? I somehow made a connection between religion, and Pink Floyd, and joyous tones.

It was decades later that I moved to Europe. When I heard the chants of fans in the stadiums I realized with a start that it’s really about soccer.

So it’s all come full circle. I’m back for a visit in the wonderful country of my birth; I’m watching the land I currently call home kick butt and take names as they make sports history; and it’s all accompanied by a soundtrack that returns to me to one of the happiest times of my life.

GO TEAM !!!

NOTES:

Amsterdam

The anniversary of 9/11 is just a few days away.

I was back in the States when the attack occurred. When I returned to Germany a few weeks later, I was in turmoil. I felt all the contradictions of my life. I’m a resident alien on another continent. I’ve been the target of instant hate when someone found out I’m  American. This only has to happen once to convince you that prejudice is awful. What the hell was I doing so far away from my own country? What was going on in the world, and could anywhere feel safe? It seemed like everything was getting sucked into a swirling vortex. My identity as a US citizen, as a foreigner, as a human being, came crashing down.

A few months later my epidemiologist friend Elena came to Europe for a conference. I took an unplanned trip to Amsterdam with her. Maybe 2 days away would give me a break from how heavy life felt. Below is the account from those 2 days and how they affected me:

Friday Buddha, Schwedagon Pagoda, Yangon Burma

Friday planetary post, Schwedagon Pagoda, Yangon Burma

“I people-watch as we travel to Holland. On a German train near the border, the train car is full of local residents heading home. An African couple talk over their baby. Another young couple sit by me with their own child. The wife’s exquisite black scarf frames her face. Her husband reads from a small leather bound Koran. Both of them keep an eye on the baby carriage. The rest of the car is full with the usual students, professionals, commuters.

An old man goes into the WC. Later the door slides open without his realizing it. He stands helpless, then fumbles at the door. We all see the prosthetic leg strapped to his upper thigh. Everyone looks away. The door slides open again and he looks up, stricken. I rise and go to the door and close it. When the door inevitably opens again a few minutes later, the man with the Koran closes it for him.

A cell phone rings. The African man pulls out his phone and answers, then switches to English. I realize they’ve understood every word of the conversations Elena and I have been having about global health issues, world politics, and travel.

The woman in the headscarf looks at me steadily. When she finally catches my eye she holds me in a gaze of tenderness and our connectedness as human beings. We see one another for a few minutes, and then the train stops and they detrain.

The train reaches Amsterdam. I’ve been here before and always feel as if I’m coming home to an old friend. We walk along the canal streets, and brick building facades reflect in the Amstel as it flows under the bridges. The Egyptian bellhop at the hotel asks where we’re from. “I love this city! You meet people from all over the world,” he declares.

In 2 days Elena flies back to the US. Later that morning I stand waiting to catch the tram from our hotel. A dark-haired woman at the street bus stop carries a backpack. I offer her my tram pass; I won’t need it beyond the central train station. She thanks me, but says she’s heading home. She’s an Israeli airline stewardess, in Amsterdam for a few days’ holiday.

“I live in Tel Aviv, and I’m afraid to go out of my house,” she tells me. “Everyone is scared of more terrorist attacks there. The situation is out of control.” I listen to her and say, “The rest of the world says, ‘just make peace!’ If only it were so easy.”

Once I’m on board my train I read a Newsweek, then dive back into a novel. The quiet man next to me asks in English if this train stops at the Frankfurt airport. I offer him the magazine. We begin to talk: he is Iranian, in Germany for an international banking and finance conference. He lectures at the University of Cardiff. His wife is a dentist, he tells me. They live in Britain and go back to Iran, to their home in the northeast by the mountains at the Afghani border, each summer for vacation.

He lifts the suitcase at his feet and sets it on his lap. Opening it, he pulls out framed photographs of 2 smiling boys. “These are my children.” We discuss their names, their ages, their personalities. At the airport station he leaves for his flight, and I wish him a safe trip home.

The woman sitting across from us changes trains with me in Mannheim. We stand shivering in the evening air on the platform. She is a Dutch physical therapist, doing an apprenticeship in Munich. She asks what I think of Holland.  We talk about the coffee shops. I mention the small scale that guides decision-making in her country. I give her my leftover Dutch coins and she buys the tram pass from me.

Late that night I finally arrive home. In the space of 48 hours I touched on what seemed to be the entire planet. And I didn’t learn the names of any of the people who talked to me.

Travel isn’t just seeing and exploring other countries and cultures or the threads that weave those peoples’ histories with the present. Travel is the journey we make every day into other people, other lives, other ways of being and thinking and feeling.

Travel is about the interconnectedness of us all. Each person with whom we interact leaves behind traces that can change the world. Travel is about holding onto hope.

A part of me remains in every place I’ve ever stood. My image was impressed in a snow angel I made up in the Arctic Circle, which vanished years ago. But who can say if some part of my spirit still wavers there like the Northern Lights? Or in my interactions with all those people on the trains between Stuttgart and Amsterdam? I don’t know…. but we should live as if every act matters, as if choosing to love and be open to the rest of the world and each other can transform us.”

Bagan, Burma

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

NOTE: This post marks one year of blogging. Thanks for your support.  — Jadi

Travel Karma

I’ve moved! You’ll find me (and all of my previous posts) at my new address jadicampbell.com.

Travel karma is the bad luck, bad weather, bad room, bad case of Montezuna’s revenge… all the moments that you hope you’ll look back on and laugh about someday. That Jamaica honeymoon your brother booked, and the hotel had a fire? Blame it on travel karma. Our week on Malta in the autumn month that the travel agent swore got only 2-3 days of rain, and we were there for all 5 of them? Oh, yeah. It was travel karma.

There’s nothing you can do except shrug your shoulders, find a comfy café to hang out, and pull out the book you brought along.

Travel karma is other moments, too. It’s serendipity, the magic of being in the right place at the exactly right time. It’s the town festival you stumble into while out exploring. Travel karma is the restaurant with the fixed price menu that turns out to include champagne throughout the meal. It’s when you jump on a train 10 seconds before the doors close to leave.

Every so often travel karma gives you a heady dose of both moments…

We booked a charter flight to India.

Where we were headed

Where we were headed

I don’t always sleep well on the eve of a trip, and slept especially poorly this night. The next morning we were on a very early ICE train to Frankfurt to get our flight to India. The ICE is a sleek, fast train that makes few stops and great time.

I hauled my train pass out of my travel purse out of my day back for the train attendant to check. Tired, I reminded myself that I would need to put the pass back in the purse and the purse back in the day pack.

I didn’t.

We got off the train and headed up into the airport. A few horrified minutes later I realized my purse was right where I’d left it, on the seat of a train now heading to Amsterdam… containing my passport. And my credit cards. And my train pass. And $$s. And €€s, all the ready money I was carrying as we weren’t sure how easy it would be to find cash machines.

We could get more cash in the airport and use Uwe’s credit cards, but I wasn’t going anyplace unless I got my passport back. The helpful folks at DB (Deutsches Bahn) contacted the train and they checked: my purse still lay on the seat where I’d left it! The problem was that the next scheduled stop for the ICE wouldn’t be until Köln, several hours up the tracks. DB would hold my purse for me there. There was no way I’d have my passport back in time for us to make our plane.

It was too late to do anything but rebook the flight to India. If I said “Uwe, I’m soooo sorry!” once, I said it 100 times. Man, did I feel awful. But – it was travel karma.

Uwe climbed on the next train heading back to Stuttgart (looking a whole lot less happy than he had early that morning) and I caught a train to Köln. The DB personnel hadn’t been able to report if my purse still contained my valuables. My passport was stamped with the resident alien visa that allowed me to remain in Germany. And without my passport I couldn’t head back to America to see my country, or my family, or go anywhere, for that matter. I felt oddly vulnerable. This situation was bad, and the more I worried about it, the worse it became.

As I sat on the train I bargained with the travel gods: “Just leave me the passport.”

When we reached Köln I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since supper the night before. I wasn’t ready yet for good/bad news about my purse. I bought myself a sandwich and a coffee and stalled for five minutes. Then it was time… I headed to Lost & Found and told someone my story. Of course, I no longer had any ID to prove who I was. He asked me to describe the purse and what was in it.  I flinched inside as I told him.

The nice man vanished into the back and returned with my purse. “Go ahead and check that everything’s there,” he suggested. I know my hands shook as I unzipped it and looked.

Not a pfennig had gone missing. I shrieked Ya-hoo! and he laughed. Then I said thank you and left the little office.

I went directly to the flower vendor kitty-corner to Lost & Found and bought the largest bouquet of white blooms they offered. I marched with the bouquet back into the Lost & Found office. The employees all looked up astonished when they saw me again.

My voice quavered. “These are for all of you. It’s not enough just to say, ‘Thank you for doing your jobs’. It’s so great to know that there are still honest, helpful people in the world!” Nonplussed, they accepted the flowers, but everyone was smiling.

The train trip back to Stuttgart from Köln took 3 hours. The next charter flight to India left 3 days later. When we got finally got there I had one of the most amazing trips of my life. I probably used up a lot of good travel karma on that day I had to journey to Köln, but I hope I’ve added to my karma account since then. And I will never, ever forget my belongings on a train going anywhere. That’s one lesson I’ve learned!

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from India and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

17800_Ind_04_04_032

En route

Hubli

6-8th century Jain, Hindu, and Buddhist cave temples, Badami.

Nandi Purmina festival  Hampi, India

Nandi Purmina festival
Hampi

Goa

Goa