Friday, June 30, 2017

What You Can Find When You Get Lost

I set out from the Old Prague Hostel for the Botanical Gardens. Ha! You can start shaking your head right now! Yesterday a vendor at a craft fair (landscape architect turned nature-jewelry artist) turned me onto the blooming rhododendrons. I was tiring of the concrete and needed nature. She circled the site on the tourist map. Easy --- right?

Forget the train or metro with the confusing payment system – I decided to walk it. On the way I magically found an enormous shopping complex. Yes! I needed straps for the sunglasses and was actually mourning the lack of WalMart when I found the optical store. Then following Google Maps navigation for the Botanical Gardens I headed North East instead of the South West I had predicted. No problem. In front of me was a pharmacy. Voila! Source of melatonin – helpful in a noisy hostel. Then – yes! A bookstore! Maybe a cheap notebook? Nope, but I met an American woman on a similar journey who have me great tips for being a “travel hacker.” And a hug of encouragement. 

I followed the stupid phone navigation again before I realized it wanted me to cross the river. AARGH!!! 

Turns out there are two Botanical Gardens and I was the stupid one! The one it was taking me to was impossibly far away so I wandered instead by the river, eating the cherries and cucumbers bought at a Farmers Market. A very friendly 17 year old Andy with his lunging “dominant not aggressive Corgi, Katie” told me of singing opera in Fairbanks, Alaska in high school. He insisted he was too shy to sing for me. But here he is singing the Czech National Anthem. You go, Andy!

Oh well, no hope of getting to the Gardens after a taxi refused me so I walked by the river that I had never intended to go near. And … why not? Take the one hour cruise. Listen to polkas by the accordion player and strike up a conversation with a couple and their daughter from Cesky Krumlov. They told me of the lovely medieval UNESCO site and Ahh… The solution for getting out of Prague congestion appeared.

At this point I had glass straps, melatonin, no note-book, a national anthem and a next destination .. but still no flowers! I needed flowers! Spotting green on the map across the river, I crossed that persistent river and found peace. Yes.. a park. And I lay down in bliss amidst clover and daisies. The photographer of this picture sprinkled me in yellow.


It’s amazing what you can find when you get lost...

Wandering the park I found a tightrope practice area, a passing beer cycle and .. voila! The Hanavsky Pavillion Restaurant. In some park on the other side of the river I’m eating duck and crepes.


And just in case you are wondering what Kathy does when she really gets lost, here is the ending of the story.

 By now I had absolutely no faith in the phone navigation and tried to follow my nose to the Charles Bridge to get back over the river. The nose was wrong. I ended up in a residential area with no one in sight. Hungry, tired and despairing, I perked up as a car pulled up and a Chinese-food delivery man popped out. My savior?

Well, I never would have advised my daughter to approach him. Pants unzipped, waist-band nearly falling down, punk sticker on car, a few tattoos…and no English. But what the heck? He signaled for me to get in the car and drove me to my side of the Bridge.  I told Michael that he was my angel by flapping my arms. I think he thought I was demonstrating a chicken but nonetheless he refused payment and smiled for the camera. 


Angels everywhere… You never know.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Touched by Angels

God, was I lonely! 

And I’m never lonely, except for loss of partner. I can always shake off any blues, go outside, connect with green or put on those dancing shoes and glide away from pain. Suffering? Not me. I’m the healer, the one who eases suffering, the one with all the answers…

Ha! The antidote to that sort of arrogance is going on a year-long solo world-wide trip! That’s right. Just get out of any illusion of comfort-zone. Give up the guy, the kids, the dog, the plants, the friends, the stuff, the town, the yard, the schedule… give it all up and get on the unfamiliar road, with no plans except the knowing that this is what you are supposed to do at this phase of life. Stop being a “house-holder” and start being a wandering Saddhu. Not exactly with a begging bowl—more like too much luggage and lots of credit cards—but still the road never taken…
I knew it would be hard. But after only a few days???

The only constant it appears is my grandson’s phone call each night. He is on the autistic spectrum so the conversation is more or less the same and doesn’t include questions about my life. But it is connection and full of genuine love.

So, what to do with pain? 

Bow to it? Thank it? At the Museum of Communism in Prague a video showed the violence of 1969 and the final victory over the Russians in 1989. In the background played the song by protest song-writer Karel Kayla (watch video with the link) and the phrase--“Thank you for the pain for it teaches me to question.” So, to question “What to do with the pain?” 

Watch "Velvet Revolution: Dekuji? Thank You, Karel Kayla

As I strolled Wenceslaus Square and wrote of freedom there was celebration yes of the overcoming of Communism but I still felt a darkness – a hanging on memory of those heavy hungry oppressive times. Unable to shake it off I sat in the Church of Our Lady of the Snows. Beautiful Gothic high vaulted ceilings. Two women in front started chanting – apparently their job—and worshippers joined in. The rhythm of Czech, the cadence of faith was reassuring – knowing that it was here that people brought their suffering. Christ is about relief. All around were motifs of angels. One statue I could swear sprouted dingy ostrich feather wings. And that angel was staying the sword-wielding hand of an angry man. Above, angels welcomed Mary into heaven.


 Angels, angels, angels … 

Like the higher realm that I aspire to in meditation. Not a place to stay but to touch and know and trust. Thich Nhat Hahn, the  Zen Buddhist master I have studied with, calls it the “water” and the world of change the “waves”. He says you have to know and have one foot in the Ultimate Dimension (the formless spiritual) in order to live in the Historical dimension (the world of change, or suffering.) That the ever changing world of form, the waves, is of course composed of the unchanging essence, the water. Ah yes, but how to practice this? And how to feel it on the journey?
The angels… ah yes. Others pray to them, see them, call them by name. Just fluff to me, the erst-while Methodist turned more or less Buddhist. Not too tangible.

Still suffering, yes actually sobbing because I miss my dog’s warm solid body next to me, his goofy dog-breath smile, his constancy, I took myself to a concert at the Church of the Tyn. Standing in the line for the WC I noticed a woman’s T shirt that proclaimed—“Everything you hate, drop it!” I UIKEYINPUTUPARROWyearned to do just that! And the Church? Gorgeous! Gold everywhere, High ceilings. (Uncomfortable pew with a ridge at the back that keeps you from leaning back and certainly from falling asleep. The Zen masters would love this!) And the music started. I don’t know one classical composer from another. Ave Maria and a few frequently played “tunes” were familiar. The acoustics were amazing—1300 century surround-sound. The 7 piece string orchestra standing in front of us were the most perfect and happy and spot-on that I’ve ever heard. I could feel their joy in the playing! And the opera singer – alternately sublime and tragic—reminding me that loneliness, pain, suffering, loss, betrayal – whatever—is the stuff of opera. 

And the angels. Yes the angels were there. All around. In the oil paintings, the statue way up there above everything—so high that the camera couldn’t do it justice—high above Mary’s ascension —high above our pain. A purely sweet place of abode. Uplifting, you might say of the concert. Removing us from the hub-but of Old Town Square and the shirtless English drunks and the Sven The Swede juggling acts and the no place to call home sadness. High above it all, looking down with beneficence, ready to touch our hearts and remind us to ascend, to stay our hands from violence, are the angels.

I may have paid for a concert. But in the exquisite melodies of strings, I was touched by angels.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

What is Freedom?

It’s a question worth asking because it has been hard fought for and hard won.


I pass a crowd in Prague Old Town Square with a brass band playing a exotic music, then a violin and accordion and then colorfully dressed children with Indian-dark hair swaying and coin belts jingling on their little hips. The Roma! Gypsies celebrating their holiday of Romaha. Then  I pass a store front proclamation – “the Roma Revolution” and have to go in and peruse this “Hate Free Fest.” There are art exhibits on their history of oppression and their current demands of basic human rights. Sad photographs of World War II internment camps and cartoons of starving children. All for being culturally and defiantly  different -- a tribe unto itself. One small picture with wings – wanting to freely fly? Is this the nature of gypsy life? And am I a gypsy wanna-be, albeit with my too much luggage and credit cards?

The walk on Wenceslas Square is depressing as only name-brand consumer goods and over-priced tourist restaurants can be. Is this what freedom bought in 1989 when Communist rule was overthrown by the “Velvet Revolution”? Thousands gathered right here, listening under this very balcony, number 30, as the new President announced freedom and the crowds jingled their keys in celebration. (Watch the movie Kolya.)


I ask a waiter how things are going. He shakes his head. “They say we are going to become like Germany. But I don’t think of the past or future. I focus on right here, right now. This,” he indicates the restaurant,” is my world.” “Wise man,” I tell him and snap his picture.


It takes some doing but I find the Museum of Communism, nestled next to a Casino. Dingy, drab and unassuming, much like those 40 years of oppression. I have to see what it was like, what it took to overthrow it ... at what price the freedom. What was I doing in 1969 during the Prague Spring, when students were beaten and Jan set himself on fire. (Like the Vietnamese Buddhists?) I was getting married. And what was I doing in 1989 when students were laying flowers in front of the line of soldiers, the fall of communism inevitable? Thinking of divorce. Did we Americans even care?


The museum shows the empty store shelves, the interrogation room, the propaganda posters of happy workers. Alena, the ticket clerk, remembers what it was like. I ask, “Did you protest? What were you doing in 1989?”  “Of course I was there! I was 39 with a baby. They didn’t hit me because of the baby.”
“You were a hero!” I thank  her with a hug and take her picture.. Her elderly co-worker comes over from the museum store and handed me three boxes of matches, “Here.” I suppose in Communist bare-shelf times they would have been precious.


What is freedom? 

I walk this square in honor of freedom and suspect it means living as we choose, trapped only by self-imposed limitations, no longer able to blame others. Alena says that the young people don’t know of the sacrifices and live freely, wanting consumer goods, etc… But isn’t that the point? To have choice?

My choice?

To wander. To ask questions. To sit in the Franciscan Garden. Ah.. peace. Eaters of ice-cream stroll. Students read. Children tear around on tricycles. An oasis of fragrant beauty with twenty foot high rose walls. Clipped hedges that made me focus on the path right here, right now, because I can’t see past them. Statues show care-free women about to take off into the wind.
A park bench begs occupation.  Middle-aged lovers entwine next to me.  The sun warms and a breeze cools. A foreign bird trills behind me and in front, behind the hedge, an Asian tourist trio sings. I would let this be my world – hard fought for and hard won. Just this perfect moment.



May we all have to space and time to fly from our cages and settle into whatever freedom means to us.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

How I Got Skinny in Prague

Look at the menu across from my Air B and B at the Old Town Square and ask yourself... 

How can Kathy possibly lose weight in Prague?

I arrived at least 5 pounds overweight. And after having read “Eat, Pray, Love” I didn’t want to have to go to an Indian ashram (Pray) to take off the weight I could put on in Prague (Eat).

Well, not to worry folks. Dr. Oz—stand aside while I give our readers a little quiz. I’ve found the way to lose at least 3 pounds in 5 days. Not even Atkins Diet did that for me!

 Here are the popular ways. Read on to find out which ones actually worked.

1. Eat more vegetables. 
Oops! None to be found in the tourist-center of Prague except for salads that are the same price as protein. And even the tiny grocery store one hour walk away had no greens. Oh how I miss my garden! Can’t you fly me over a kale and mulberry smoothie??

2. Drink lots of water. 
Nope. Easier said than done. Tap water is not served in restaurants in Prague. Sure I got a nice pitcher of filtered water with floating cucumber and mint, but I got charged the same price as I would for a beer. I’ve resorted to carrying a collapsible water container in the back-pack and shamelessly pull it out at the restaurant.

3. Just say no to the bread. 
Well, that’s easy because there isn’t any. Rarely is it served with a meal and never with butter.

4. Eat high protein, ala South Beach.
Well… beef goulash sounds like it might work, but it consists of small pieces of tender beef floating in a dinner plate of yummy gravy, all to be soaked up with three 4-inch diameter slices of dumpling. (Tubes of boiled dough.) Don’t eat the dumpling and you go away hungry. Foiled again!

5. Eat slowly and mindfully
I can’t! I’m starving!

6. Pick the best restaurant.
In this case, Restaurant Mincovna, with waiter Patrick, across from my lodging. Yum!! It’s a treat! See the above menu. One can lose weight with the butter-laden asparagus soup and salad topped with sliced duck breast. Expensive food, small quantities .. and no bread.

7. Choose between music and food. 
I ask—would I rather spend $30 on a great concert ticket (and that is minus the discount they give to students --when I complained that seniors should get a discount too they gave me one for being a “student of life.”), I really weigh my values here, considering the "Budget." What will I savor longer? The exquisite 70 minute concert at the St. George’s Basilica at the Prague Castle where I could swear the heavens were resounding. Perfect acoustics! Eight hundred years of exhilaration vibrating in the walls? Or a four course meal? My decision – forgo breakfast for a week and savor the music.

8. Cook for yourself. 
Nope – full kitchen here, minus hot water, but as above—no grocery store.

9. The answer, ta da!!
Get this Dr. Oz! Is to set a budget and treasure every crumb of food your budget allows. Forget whether it is carb or protein or butter. And walk… That’s right, WALK!!! The 6 hour a day tourist foot-dragging shuffle. 

It works! After just 5 days the pants are loose and I wish I’d brought a belt.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Bow to the Wall


A tiring day

Catching up on sleep in an Air B and B in noisy Old Town Square in Prague. In fact lay down last night at 10 and woke up at 5 AM with lights on, shoes on… Then lay down at 3 PM and woke up at 7. That's right, lights on, shoes on... Could have sworn that it was 7 pm and I’d slept for 16  hours!!
But no—just a 4 hour nap. Refreshed I checked email and found one giving me the time for meditation in the Buddhist center two floors up. That’s right—right here. Sometimes life is just so easy! 

But it didn’t seem so before the meditation. On a bus tour that stopped at Prague Castle for 50 minutes, I took 40 minutes just to locate a toilet. What is with Europeans and no toilets?? Then tried to exit the place in the remaining ten minutes to get to the bus before the rainstorm and a long wet walk home. But where was the damn exit?? Round and around I went, with all the castle parts looking the same. A policeman said that there were 4 exits – which one was I looking for? Hell, if I knew!! Finally a lady pointed to the long blank wall. There it is. Where?? I just see a wall. Doesn’t look like the exit I saw coming in!! But what the heck – had to trust someone with the rain coming. And sure enough when I got to the end of the wall and looked just so, there was the opening. Past it
the bus.

Life is uncertain right now.

Specifically, I have no idea where I am to lay my head from June 5- June13. No idea. The tourist office didn’t help—no tours they could find. I will be so tired of the noisy city by then! It in fact is the most beautiful city that I have ever seen but I do miss green. And everything seems like a cumbersome bus trip out of town with me hauling all that  too much luggage. So, just a little anxious! Like another wall with no exit. So it was with relief and hope that I meditated tonight. I don’t speak Czech much less Japanese chants, but there was Kwan Yin with her familiar vase holding the water of compassion. And Peter so precisely arranging the candles, incense, cushions, windows… everything just so. (And so unlike my luggage.) 

In Zen meditation one often faces the wall. Now my wall was a Old Town Square wall, so the mind was distracted in a lovely way by the sun going down, the lights coming on, and the architecture golden. But still, it was a far calmer  mind than the one that tried to find an exit or travel game plan.

They bow a lot in Zen. I can understand bowing to Kwan Yin and the ideal of compassionate service or even to the teacher or each other. But Peter had us bow to the wall.


The point being, I think, to bow to that no exit feeling. That uncertainty of pillow-place. Even to the loneliness of traveling alone.

Bow to the wall. It is what is happening right now. And there is a good chance, that like the much needed Buddhist center, an opening will be there

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Best People Ever!!!

Who am I going to meet on this world wide, year long, solo trip?

I have few reservations made or even destinations decided. Going on a wing and a prayer with no letters of introductions. I have no doubt that I will find friendly helpful people – that is according to their culture’s definition of helpful. (I learned on one frustrating train ride in France years ago that the reason no man helped me lift a heavy bag was because it was deemed impolite to touch someone else’s possessions without being asked. And I hadn’t asked.)

So who am I going to meet?

I’ve found over the years that people talk to me. For some reason they tell me the most intimate details of their lives. My daughter was amazed: “Mom, that lady in the dressing room just told you her life’s story. Why?” Well, maybe I look kind, feel trustworthy or sound sympathetic. Or maybe because as a Doctor and Hypnotherapist I’ve learned to listen. Most of us just want to be listened to. Our stories respected.

My trip started with a 7 hour layover in the London airport.Yikes! Boring!  And exhausted from a sleepless night on a cramped seat. Yet with no expectations, I found it fascinating. People everywhere to observe and talk to. Sitting next to me at a restaurant as I drank a lovely pot of real English tea was Leslie, an American law student with a fascinating experience in the Peace Corps in Africa. And beside me on a bench sat Kojo from Ghana who told of early experiences of racism in England and how things have improved.

And the best of all, was a soccer team from Smaith School in England, who taught me what to expect from this trip around the world. Wow! What a bunch of lively bright eyed interested 13 year olds! On their way to play at an event in Barcelona, they peppered me with questions. Have I seen alligators? Where was my husband? Have I been to Boise? (Fortunately no political questions.) When I told them I was writing a blog, they immediately pulled it up on their phones. I told them they give me hope for the future with their inquisitiveness and spirit.

“So, write about us!!” they demanded. “What shall I say, other that I’m impressed by your enthusiasm and team spirit?  And what shall I call you?”

“Call us The Best People Ever!”

And so I shall. Here they are smiling for you. And reminding me that I can expect that those I am going to meet are “The Best People Ever.”