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Poetry Readings

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Myanmar


View from my retreat hut, across the Irrawaddy River - Sagain
(Click to enlarge)

In 1999 my partner and I travelled to Myanmar for a Vipassana retreat in the Sagaing Hills. Despite the political turmoil of Myanmar, as a country it remains the heartland of Buddhism. We meditated in an ancient monastery high above the Irrawaddy River with the white spires of Mandalay’s pagodas in the distance. Venturing out from six weeks of silence we visited the vast kingdom of Bagan and the monasteries around Inle Lake before another month retreat with the Sayadaw U Kundala. In contrast his monastery neighboured a panelbeating workshop in a bustling suburb of Rangoon, but it was no less profound – the pounding of metal sheets and a cacophony of car horns along with the vagaries of our minds – all just passing phenomena to be noted with equanimity.

India


Browsing the Theosophical library in Chennai

My love affair began with studies in Hindi and South Asian history at ANU in Canberra in the early seventies. Early days in India were spent journeying across the north – from Calcutta to Varanasi. In Bodh Gaya, the home of the Buddha’s enlightenment, seeds for meditation were sown. On more recent trips I ventured further west to Ajmer in Rajasthan for the Urs celebrations of a Sufi saint and South to Tamil Nadu in search of siddhas (holy men) and the source of classical Tamil poetry.

Ivory Coast


Imposing grandeur of the basilica

I thought I was a seasoned traveller till the day I landed in Abidjan a few months after a coup. My brother met me at the airport, one white face in a clamour of dark ones, and all speaking French. The streets were littered with burnt out car bodies and our apartment was coated in an inch of fine grit dust blowing in from the streets. We were soon joined by my brother’s wife and their two young daughters for a journey to their great grandmother in Odjienne near the Malian border three days drive North. At Yamassoukro we stopped to meet their grandmother and visited the marble wastelands of a copy of Rome’s St Peter’s basilica. Well not an exact replica.  The Ivory Coast’s then president, in deference to the Vatican, built the dome slightly lower than St Peters but then flaunted his proximity to God with a taller cross on top.

Czech Republic


Canons are kept safely locked away from tourists

After days combing the wintry backstreets of Prague I’d return to the home of two Zen practicing friends for noodles and tempeh, meditation and an evening of Pink Floyd music or discussions about good versus evil in Lord of the Rings – both of which had been banned by the Communists until 1989’s Velvet revolution.

Spain


Unfolding vistas and verdant farmlands beckon pilgrims onward

One month walking the Camino across Spain to Santiago de Compostela inspired a second pilgrimage into the solitary world of writing. “The real Camino begins at home," a friend had said somewhere between Astorga and Ponferrada and she was right. In the subsequent four years it took to complete a book about the journey I plumbed the depths of who I thought I was and the meaning of relationship. In doing so I also discovered the joys of writing.

Iran


Intricate blue tiling on the facade of a mosque in Tabriz

All night qwalis in Ajmer singing the ecstatic ghazals of Hafez and Rumi turned my head west to the mystery of Iran. I wandered by the rose gardens and reflecting pools at Hafez’s tomb in Shiraz and joined a women only concert in Sanandaj where the audience wolf whistled and twirled their headscarves in the air with delight. These were two of many highlights. But it was the warmth, generosity and hospitality of people we encountered along the way that made the most lasting impression.