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A Poet's Progress, Randy Roark

A Poet’s Progress: Flashback: Traveling to Greece and Cyprus in 2005 with Percussionist Layne Redmond (1952-2013) and Ten Women Drummers to Perform Rituals at Sites Sacred to Aphrodite and Dionysus

sectitle-exseriesOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALayne goes first (of course): Aphrodite’s Spring, Cyprus, May 2009. Foreground: Mary Rockwood Lane and Marina Kyprigenea—“Born in Cyprus of the Sea”—who remain very present in my life, tho half the world away.

Foreword

On October 30th , 2013, I posted on my company’s website the following memorial for Layne Redmond, who had died two days before.

34-02 Layne Redmond, Promo Photo, Remo Drums, circa 2006Layne Redmond, Remo Drums Promo Photo, circa 2006

Layne Redmond: 1952-2013

As a producer and editor for Sounds True, I am friendly with most of “my” authors. I have become friends with a few of them. But there’s only one who was more than a friend, and that was Layne Redmond. But I’m not alone in that. Within 24 hours, Layne had almost 1,000 people “like” the announcement of her death on Facebook.

34-03 Invoking the MuseInvoking the Muse, Sounds True, 2004

We first worked together on her book Chakra Meditation, and later on Invoking the Muse, and her 2CD set Heart Chakra Meditations. We bonded almost immediately, as most people did with Layne. But we shared something unique: We were both surrounded by people whose roots were Buddhist or Hindu, and our deepest heart connection was to the Greeks.

34-04 Heart Chakra MeditationsHeart Chakra Meditations, Sounds True, 2005

I accompanied Layne on two of her drumming trips to Greece and Cyprus. On the first, it was her and ten women drummers and me. We traveled through Greece, performing rituals at sites sacred to Aphrodite and Dionysus, and ended up in Cyprus, where Aphrodite reportedly first came ashore, and joined a group of Cypriot women, whom Layne reintroduced to the drumming rituals that were practiced by their ancestors 2000 years ago.

34-05 performanceLayne Redmond Performing Hymns to Aphrodite Underground at the Famagusta Gate (built in 1567) with her Cypriot students, Nicosia, Cyprus, June 2009

Layne’s book When the Drummers Were Women: A Spiritual History of Rhythm (1997) was the first book to explore what was then a radical idea—that the drummers of ancient rituals were women, and there is a reason for that: women are the closest to the earth, to birth and death, to fertilization and nurturance and harvesting—and so are essential for any effort’s success. And the reason women were the drummers was because they heard the heartbeat of the earth, the way a fetus “hears” the heartbeat of its mother—they are one.

34-06 When Drummer WomenWhen the Drummers Were Women, Three Rivers Press, 1997

I experienced this phenomenon directly when I was studying with Layne in Cyprus in 2005. I’m dyslexic, which apparently means I’ll never be able to make music. But one day in class I finally got it, and entered some zone where it wasn’t that I wasn’t thinking, but I wasn’t thinking in thoughts. And I wasn’t drumming, I was watching my hands drum. And then someone asked a question and the class stopped drumming. I was afraid I’d lose the beat, so I turned to the wall and continued to drum softly until Layne finished and walked back to the front of the room. She picked up a tambourine, paused, and came down right on the beat. And I realized she wasn’t creating the rhythm, she was feeling it.

34-07 Final photoLast photo I have of Layne, October 2013, from a post on Facebook by Susun Shoshana Slatky

During our first conversation as editor and author, the subject of death came up. Turns out we shared something else—in our teens we both had a near-death experience and remained aware for an extended period of time outside of our bodies. That’s why we understood each other immediately; we recognized each other. We were both intent on getting as much as possible done in the time we had left, of always going first, of being unafraid, of always saying yes. What was there to be afraid of? We’ll soon be dead for a very long time either way. And we were determined to stay alive until the end, to experience every sensation as fully as we could—pleasant and unpleasant. All of it.

And Layne did it. In the last photo I have of her—only days before her death—she’s seated on the prow of a boat, smiling back at us, still moving forward, days before the end. Her smile is trying to tell us, It’s going to be okay. The photo reminded me of our first trip to Greece, where we took a small boat from the Nekromanteio, bridge between the two worlds, up the Archeron River, portal to the gates of Hades.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADeparting from the Nekromanteio on the Archeron, river that leads from this world to the next, May 2005

Layne and I had so many plans. She wanted us to do an original translation of Euripides’ “The Bacchae” and we’d perform it at Mardi Gras using some Brazilian girls she’d found in Salvador—“Nobody moves like a pubescent Brazilian girl,” she said. “Dance and music and ritual is the center of their culture. They dance before they learn to walk.” We explored the possibility of recreating the Eleusinian mysteries in some caves in Cyprus or on one of the Greek islands. There was to be a book on the bee priestesses, a recording of hymns to Mary, prayer cards, so many film ideas. If you check out her website, Layne has enough practice videos and audio to ensure she’ll be teaching for many generations to come.

34-09 cavesPsychonauts Nathan Els (at the time lead singer of the shred band The Human Abstract, named after a poem by William Blake), Layne Redmond, Mary Rockwood Lane (author of Shaman Wisdom, Shaman Healing), and Randy Roark, exploring habitable caves, southern Cyprus, June 2009; photographer unknown (a roaming goatherder)

At the end of our first trip together, after we’d performed the final ritual on the beach in Paphos, Cyprus, where Aphrodite first came ashore, and all of the fruit and offerings had been carried off by the tide, someone told me that I was Layne’s guardian angel, and I certainly felt like it. So it was tough to be so far away throughout her last months. Ironically, we had plans for her to come out to stay with me in Boulder in March, the last time she figured she’d be comfortable enough to travel, and then two days before she was to arrive, my mother began her death process and I had to fly to Connecticut instead. Then we made plans for me to stay with her in September but in August she changed her mind. It hurt me deeply to be estranged at the end, but it’s now two days after her death and I can better understand what happened.

So, Layne, it turns out you’re the first to go. Well, bon voyage! See you soon!

34-10 Beach offeringsOfferings to Aphrodite, Low Tide, Paphos Beach, Cyprus, May 2005

from The Greek and Cypriot Notebook, May 2005

The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does.       —Allen Ginsberg

34-11 Diana's moonDiana’s Full Moon, Dusk, Paphos Beach, Cyprus, May 2005

Handwritten Note Slipped under Layne’s Door, Room 205, Aphrodite Hotel

10 May [2005], 8:45 a.m., Athens

Mz. Layne:

Wake up! Wake up!

Dionysus is gathering with the students in Syntagma Square, chanting “Give Peace a Chance” and shouting “America out!”

Aphrodite’s daughters are handing out leaflets in the language of Sappho and Euripides, singing

What’s that happening on the street?
Gotta revolution. Got to revolution.
Hey, I’m dancing down the street.
Gotta revolution. Got to revolution.
Ain’t it amazing, all the people I meet!
Pick up the cry!

Bacchantes fill Athen’s streets, chanting to their beloved, Ivohe!

So much has happened already. Last night black-shirted teenagers demanded anarchy outside our hotel. Later, the kids took 150 students and two socialist politicians hostage at a campus political rally and the police shot one of the students!

I’ve already been out and am going out again, hungry for warm pastries at an open air café and walking as slowly as I can past 18th-century etchings of the Parthenon in shop windows and those lacey lingerie displays. Who knew?

Don’t worry about reports of a transit strike—cabs fill the streets.

Mz. Layne, Mz. Layne,

Wake up!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATholos of Athena Pronaia (Sacred Way and Apollo’s Temple barely visible in the distance), Delphi, Greece, May 2005

13 May 2005

Dear K:

This afternoon I went to a Greek Orthodox shrine alone. It was within walking distance of our hotel, but it was in a dark and glistening underground grotto from way before time, its stairs and chambers carved out of black and grey-veined granite, the walls and ceilings covered with golden icons of Jesus and the saints. I didn’t recognize most of the saints or much of the iconography either.

The shrine was crowded with young businessmen on their lunch hour and grey-haired women in housedresses. There was a pile of amber beeswax candles near the door. I grabbed one and dropped some coins into the collection box and stood at the end of the line. People would light their candles, put them in a sandbox with the other candles, and kneel and bow their heads and pray as Jesus and Mary smiled down on them. When they got up, they would drop a piece of paper with a prayer written on it face-up on a pile beside the central shrine. Then they’d turn around, someone would take their place, and they’d kiss every icon on their way out. Although the line passed a table with a pile of blank paper and a box of pencils, I couldn’t think of a single thing to write down. The candle would have to be enough.

The line was long enough that I had plenty of time to think but when I stepped up to the central shrine I still hadn’t begun to think of what I wanted to pray for. I held back and stared at the scene for a moment—a crisscross of candles in an ancient brass tray filled with sand, the gold-leaf above me glittering in the candlelight.

I could feel the eyes on my back as I remained standing and stared at the flickering candleflames and tried to think of what I could possibly pray for. I’d long ago given up trying to decide what’s best for me, my life was going so well that I was actually feeling guilty about it, and did I really want a new girlfriend?

So I stood there, empty, and decided to just get on with it, and I lifted my candle toward one of the flames, hoping for something to come to mind at the last moment. Then, just as I was about to touch the wick to the flame, I backed off and examined the two candles—one lit, leaping and flaming, the other aloft and separate, cold and inert, not yet alive. Right now it was just a lump of wax and string but when I touched it to the flame, it would burst into light. And once lit, its light would rise through the damp shrine, flickering into the shadows, making the icons blink. And when another inert hunk of string and candlewax came close enough to touch its flame, it would pass fire and light onto another candle, which would then burst into flame and become what it was designed to be, what it had been waiting for, its purpose revealed to it only by the touch of flame, brought to life by what would eventually destroy it. To begin to burn and not be able to stop until you’re annihilated. Yet decades, lifetimes after my candle is burnt-out, its flame will continue to light other candles in futures impossible to imagine, in this grotto that barely changes. But it’s something a candle could never do on its own—it can do nothing but wait, it needs to be brought to the flame, it needs to be touched by a flame before it can become what it is, what it always was even when it was inert and unknowing—an instrument for spreading light. Jesus, I whispered, set fire to my heart.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATheater, Dodona, Greece, May 2005

In the Christian Chapel on an Island Off Ioannina

Like standing inside a book—
gilding animated by lamplight,
eyes winking in and out sight,
their frowning faces
painted and chipped into stone.

34-14 Sailing to Delos with Flowers for Aphrodite, 2009, photo by Layne RedmondRandy, on Mykonos, en route to Delos, with an armful of flowers, May 2009, photo by Layne Redmond

May 14 Ioannina

This afternoon we were on an island, trying to decide on a place we all wanted to eat at and it was taking too long and I was tired of being the only man with eleven women and I escaped dramatically, jumping off the pier onto the moving deck of a departing ferry. I landed, steadied myself and shouted goodbye and waved. By the time anyone realized what was happening, I was heading back to port.

Back in Ioannina I got lost almost immediately. I assumed I’d be able to find a place to eat and rest and get directions, but by sunset I literally had no idea if I was walking toward or away from my hotel. By the time the sky was getting dull, I had been walking for hours through residential neighborhoods, where I was making quite an impression. The local schoolboys laughed and called me names in Greek and threw green apples at my back.

By the time the streetlights began coming on, my feet and legs were exhausted and I accepted that I couldn’t think my way out of this, so I gave up even trying to decide what direction I should be walking and just walked, without purpose, like a flaneur in fin de siècle Paris. When I got to an intersection, I would look three ways and continue down the one that looked most interesting, without any goal. You were out on a stroll, that is all. And I relaxed instantly, slowed down, and almost immediately came upon the edge of town. I entered the first restaurant I saw and placed my order and grabbed a Coke and sat in front, looking at the street, feeling so much better than just a few moments before. Neon signs, lighted storefronts, the smell of grease and lamb and fish, spices, Greek twilight. But no people. Other than the cook and I, the restaurant and streets were empty.

When she walked over with my meal, I looked up at the cook/waitress and said Effaristo, thank you, for so much more than bringing me food—for showing up for work tonight, for being human, for being open, for having a chair and a table where I could sit and rest after a very long walk, and then to bring me souvlaki with a smile.

We were smiling at each other like this when a formally dressed older couple came around the corner and seemed startled by the intimate moment they were afraid they’d interrupted. They slowed down and stopped, looked at each other and whispered. The cook and I frowned at each other and laughed, and she slipped away. The woman nodded and the man smiled and they walked back and he opened the door for her and they entered. I don’t know what they said to each other but the cook looked at me and smiled and blushed, and then looked back at them and whispered something that made them all laugh, and they looked at me, and I laughed too. Then another couple came around the corner, walking the other way on the other side of the street. Startled by the laughter, they turned around, followed it into the restaurant. Then a foursome of college kids crossed the street, smoking and laughing.

By now the very busy restaurant was so noisy it was difficult to hear the radio, but when “Gloria” by Van Morrison came on, the kids began to dance. The next song was “I Want a New Drug” and the boys pushed some of the formica tables into the corner to create a dance floor. A couple and their two young children walked past but then the children dragged them back into the restaurant. The kids ran past me and grabbed Cokes from the cooler and waved them above their heads and hooted, dancing and singing in English. There was no sense of hurry—everyone was here for the evening. But I, the only one on vacation, was already making plans to leave.

When I finished eating, I moved my chair so I could watch the cook/waitress take orders and serve food and bus tables, as well as work the register and grill and bar at the same time, sweating, wiping her hands on her apron before handing the formally dressed man a beer or gathering silverware to set a table. Then suddenly she looked up at me and I’m surprised I didn’t blink, but I just grinned broader, and she didn’t blink either, and then the man asked her a question and she looked up and it was as if the music started up again and she went back to the grill and straightened her hair and practiced her smile in the shiny aluminum.

I bussed my own table, and squeezed past a stylish couple in their twenties who instead of fretting about how long it was taking, were dancing to “Hotel California.” I dropped a handful of coins onto the cook/waitress’s saucer, and caught her attention and waved and mouthed “Effaristo.” She stopped what she was doing and looked at my face for a long time without any expression on her own. Then she shrugged and turned away and waved and called out to me in English “Thank you too.”

34-15 PaphosThe producer advises the skeptical director on a shoot, the beach at Paphos visible in the distance, photo by D., May 2005

Journal Entry: Delphi, 15 May

It was a long drive to Delphi and we arrived late at night. At one point after sunset, I was looking down at a valley of scrub between the road and the Corinthian Bay, wondering how the early archeologists knew where to dig for sites. From folk stories, I imagined, and oral histories. Geography. Literature. History. And a thought appeared in my head, surprising me: “Like Plato.” And I thought, “No, that’s not right—not Plato—he didn’t write history.” And Layne said, “Randy, have you read Plato—Neo-Historian?  It’s about how Plato was really writing the history of the previous 8000 years.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Sacred Spring at Delphi, May 2005

 Approaching the Sacred Spring at Delphi

The years have devoured everything

without nostalgia. A pine forest

tumbles into boulders, Parnassus
disappears beneath the thunderclouds.

The heather on which the muses fed
is bedding for a dog, and the slanting
sun’s shadows dull the alpine flowers

we choose not to notice as we rush past

to get to where we’re going—nowhere
really, desolate and derelict, a wildness
no longer worried over—no longer a thing
of beauty in mid-summer’s embroidery

but abandoned and dull, no longer ornate or
transcendent, no longer really visible at all.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I got to the highest point on Delos— the island sacred to Apollo, Sun God—I looked down and realized I was standing in a field of flowers that from above looked exactly like a field of golden suns.

Journal Entry

It was Sunday morning and busloads of out-of-towners were in Larnaca for the Feast of St. Helen. Every chair in the taverna was filled and tables had spilled onto the terrace and into the streets. There were only two people working the counter—Lissa, the owner, and her barista. I stood at the counter waiting to order the double cappuccino medium with sugar that I brought Layne every morning. Later I would be back for another after lunch, when her energy began to sag.

I stood at the counter and waited to be waited on, but I was only holding things ups. Locals pushed ahead of me, yelling in Greek. The barista was like a machine, not a motion wasted, both of his hands operating independently, everything done beautifully and perfectly timed. But he never turned around.  He would make each cup of coffee individually on a two-burner hot plate with two pans beside a sink. Pouring the heated milk he’d draw roses, abstract designs, or feathers. Then he’d place the steaming cup on a plastic mat on the counter to his left as the final movement in the whole complex operation and he’d begin again. Someone would push past me and drop some coins on a plate and pick up their coffee and go. I was not about to shout my order in English at a Cypriot’s back and I was not going to reach for a cup of coffee unless I was certain it was mine, and I was having trouble understanding how to make this system work for me.

Every other morning Lissa had been working the counter, and she spoke English, like many Cypriots. Today she was busy setting up tables, bringing people water and coffee. After what seemed like 15 minutes or more, she returned to the counter and saw me for the first time. She yelled over the ruckus, “You want a big one?” I laughed out loud and she laughed too. “Yeah! I want a big one!” She turned to the barista and said something to him in Greek and smiled at me and pushed back into the crowd.

Every morning and afternoon the last three days I’d been to her taverna to buy a coffee to go. The first day we had gotten into an argument of sorts—she’d asked me for 50 pence (about a dollar) for a double cappuccino. “What??? That’s too little money. It must be much more.” She wouldn’t take any more money so I paid her 50 p. and poured the rest of my change onto her saucer on the counter. We had repeated this argument every day since—“No, you must charge more. I would pay much more. I’m on vacation. When do you get to go on vacation?”

Today, after she gave the barista my order, people continued to shout and push in front of me. He put a coffee on the counter and I wondered was that mine, or was that someone’s who had ordered in front of me? Sure enough, someone scooped it up, but someone scooped up the next one too and I was right back to where I’d started.  If I was here for something to drink for myself, I would have left long ago, but I couldn’t disappoint Layne. How could I explain that I’d failed at ordering a coffee at a taverna?

Several minutes later Lissa returned and looked at me and turned to the barista and yelled into his ear and slammed a large coffee cup in front of him. “Yours,” she sighed at me, exasperated, and rushed off. When it was ready, the crowd parted and I picked up the coffee and looked for Lissa and smiled, lifting the coffee above my head and shouting “Epharisto! Goodbye!” I mimed that she didn’t have to come over; I would pay by putting money on her tip plate, but she shouted, “No!” and put her head down and worked her way through the crowd. “No,” she said, pushing me away from the counter, the first time we’d touched, all ten of her fingertips burning into my shirt. She looked at me and squinted and I stopped breathing until she spoke again. “No charge, no charge. It is St. Helen’s day.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAttuning the drums before a performance, Larnaca, Cyprus, 2009

Drum Song (for two voices)

Him:
I want her and when I want her I want her to give me
All of her.
When she comes to me she will come to me and give me
All of her.
When she comes to me she will come to me and I will give her
All of me.

Her:
He wants me and when he wants me I will give him
All of me.
When I come to him I will come to him and give him
All of me.
When I come to him I will come to him and give him
All of me.

When he comes to me he will come to me and give me
All of him.
I want him and when I want him I want him to give me
All of him.
When he comes to me he will come to me and I will give him
All of me.

Him:
She wants me and when she wants me I will give her
All of me.
When I come to her, I will come to her and give her
All of me.
She wants me and when she wants me I will give her
All of me.

Together:

Her:
He wants me and when he wants me I will give him
All of me.

Him:
She wants me and when she wants me I will give her
All of me.

Her:
When I come to him, I will come to him and give him
All of me.

Him:
When I come to her, I will come to her and give her
All of me.

Her:
When he comes to me he will come to me and I will give him
Everything.

Him:
When she comes to me she will come to me and I will give her
Everything.

34-19 Dhyana PaphosD. on the cliffs above Paphos Beach, Cyprus, May 2005

 Objects Gathered for an Aphrodite Ritual, Paphos Beach, Cyprus

Milk
Honey
Wine
Olive oil
Water
Flowers
Shells
Altar cloth
Ribbons
Lighters
Candles
Plates
Cups
Round cakes
Bells, bowls, and drums.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeach where Aphrodite first came ashore, full moon visible, Paphos, Cyprus, May 2009

 On the Path to Aphrodite’s Rock, Cyprus

The improvised

brush of lips,

her hip

pressed into my hip,

her warm neck

leaning back,
her fingers

sliding into my sleeve,
pushing back,

the simple fragile

pleasures stolen

in the shadows

like snowflakes melting

before they hit the ground.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASunset, Mary Rockwood Lane and Nathan Ells Atop Aphrodite’s Rock, Paphos Beach, Cyprus, May 2009

Incantation at Aphrodite’s Rock

[I summon] in their white-heat
all the fires of the wind.
—H.D.

Aphrodite-Venus-Isis, ember shattered
into three, dismembered into sunbeams
in a half-dazzled drift of sea-blue passing
through a liquid sky, your violet shadows
shivering under trees, the sun-bronze sky
glistening, a curl of mist above the surf’s
peak, in this and in all things where the angels
were and now no angels are, we beseech you
Isis-Venus-Aphrodite, return to us as one!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Studio, Shortly After Dawn, Larnaca, Cyprus, 2009

The purpose of music
is to approach divinity
on its own terms.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALayne Is Always the First to Arrive, Larnaca, Cyprus, 2009

After the ceremony was over and the sun had set and all the gifts had been claimed by the sea, I was packing up my equipment when a woman I’d never seen before came up to me and said “I want to tell you that there are revealed angels, and you are one of them. I’ve only recently come to understand that I am one as well, so this is new to me, but I thought I would let you know that you are one too because we can recognize each other. See,” she said, “you wanted to meet your guardian angel, right, you wanted proof? Well, see, here’s your proof! You’re Layne’s Guardian Angel. That’s who you are.”

34-24 Sherpa en routeRandy, Video Sherpa, disembarking at Tinos, en route to Delos, May 2009, photo and treatment by Layne Redmond

When I returned to Boulder and began to type up my notebooks and got to the passage above about a woman coming up to me to tell me I was Layne’s guardian angel, I no longer remembered much about the actual event itself other than her face, which was rather angelic in that it seemed brightly lit. I also remember trying very hard to understand what she was saying, but it was more like trying to understand something in a dream. Did I imagine it? Was it a dream? It’s not unknown for me to blur the real with the imagined, but I wrote it down only moments after it happened because it’s written after the completion of the ceremony and before we returned to the van. Surely it must be true? But so much had happened between that evening and when I finally got around to typing up my notebooks that it no longer seemed possible. I don’t remember asking to meet my guardian angel, as she claims. I had returned from that trip engaged to one of Layne’s drummers and within a few months we’d broken up and the whole trip had taken on a somewhat unreal afterglow, the details blurred by the turmoil—both good and bad—that ensued.

Several months ago—more than eight years after that day on Paphos Beach in 2005—I was looking for some other footage when I came across an unlabeled tape. It turned out to be the footage that I shot that day on the beach at Paphos, including the ritual and then shooting the sunset from the beach. When the sun was so far down that the light was failing, I left the camera running and went off to collect my gear. When I get back into microphone range you can definitely hearing me excitedly telling Layne and D. what had just happened in the exact words I used above. Then we try to find the mysterious woman, but although it was only moments ago and we can see more than a hundred yards in both directions we can’t see anyone who could be her. But by then it was almost totally dark.

34-25 Cyprus The view from my porch, Larnaca, Cyprus, 2005

21 May 2005, Dawn, First Night with D.

This morning, as I was sitting on my front porch, listening to the Sunday morning singing of the liturgy broadcast on loudspeakers through the streets of Larnaca, I heard a couple making love to my left. Her moaning didn’t seem disrespectful of the liturgy but an important counterpoint to it, the missing part, the part that was living and continued living. At times the liturgy seemed to be driving the lovemaking, like musicians playing to the dance. And then, for a moment, I heard the singing as rising from the lovemaking, as if the liturgy was the sound of God singing in the completeness of their lovemaking. And then I heard them as two parts of the same thing—not one underlining or driving the other, but the same song rising into the sky to mix with the red morning sunlight that was streaming onto my porch, heating the stones, shining into my eyes until I became nearly transparent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd the rhythm makes the women dance; Layne in the foreground, Larnaca, Cyprus, May 2009

 Music Heard on the Radio While Waiting in Passport Control to Re-enter Athens

Bob Dylan: Like a Rolling Stone
Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells
Steely Dan: Rikki Don’t Lose That Number
Santana: Samba Pa Ti
Bachman Turner Overdrive: American Woman
Rolling Stones: Honky Tonk Women
Led Zeppelin: Heartbreaker
The Eagles: Hotel California
Lynerd Skynyrd: Sweet Home Alabama

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARandy and Mary Rockwood Lane, Cyprus, 2009, photo by Layne Redmond

What is the loveliest sight on earth?
Whatever you desire.
—Sappho

This afternoon I was pulled out of line at Passport Control, trying to re-enter Athens. The guy examining my passport went through it once, and then a second time very slowly, and then called out and two Officers appeared. He waved my passport and all three looked at me, and then he handed them my passport and they grabbed me, one on either elbow, steering me backwards through the crowd, one on each arm. Marie saw me and gasped, her hand over her mouth, her face white. I smiled at her and shrugged my shoulders. No problem!

They pushed me into an office and onto a couch while they yelled at each other and then at me. This went on for several minutes, the officers getting more and more agitated, demanding my wallet, my birth certificate, receipts, pointing to a calendar, speaking sharply to me in Greek. Then the door opened and the Passport Control agent I’d befriended on my way out of Athens came into the room. He looked down at me and said, “What are you doing here?” I shrugged and he looked up and the three of them immediately got into an argument, with a lot of waving and yelling. After several heated exchanges, it was clear that my protector was winning because the two Passport Control agents picked up my passport and meekly left the room without saying another word. After they’d gone he explained that my passport wasn’t stamped when I left Athens and there was a 200 Euro penalty (about $360), but it would be okay because he could verify that he had seen me go through Passport Control on my way to Cyprus the week before. He told me to relax, that they were getting authorization to let me through with a special stamp. When they returned and handed me all of my things, I shook hands with my savior, thanked my captors, and was led to the gate, where D. was waiting. She had already picked up our luggage. “It was like dreaming with my eyes open. It was like Kafka in reverse. It even had a deus ex machina! How Greek! “You can tell me in the cab,” she said, putting her arm through mine. “Let’s get out of here.”

34-28 passportThe felonious passport page, with handwritten authorization

Addendum: Boulder, 2013

In Delphi, Sophia, our local guide, rented us a couple of jeeps whose owners were willing to take us to the top of Mount Parnassus to visit the Corycian Cave. According to Wikipedia, the Corycian Cave has yielded some of the oldest ritual artifacts in Greece. It was a place of worship for Pan for several millennia, and many Pan-flutes made out of animal and human bones have been found there. It was sacred to the Nymphs and the Muses, and over 50,000 ritual terracotta figurines have been found inside the tunnel leading off from the main cavern, along with over 24,000 astragoloi, or knucklebones, which were one of the first forms of divination, ancient even in Homer’s time.

Layne went first with the more impatient students, and I stayed with the rest. When our group arrived at the cave, Layne was already playing a tambourine as were all of her drummers. After my eyes adjusted to the dark, I found Layne, who nodded toward a cowbell and drumstick on the ground. I followed her gaze, saw them, looked back at her and raised my eyebrows, trying to understand. Do you want me to bring them to you, to someone else? No, she shook her head. You, she mouthed. Go!

Our understanding had always been that I am unmusical. On top of that, I didn’t know anything about playing a cowbell. But instead of chickening out, like usual, I picked them up and turned my back to Layne and hunched my back, bringing the cowbell and drumstick to about chest height. I began tapping the bell tentatively, figuring that playing didn’t necessarily mean that you had to be audible, not in a cavern full of semi-professional and professional drummers. But it sounded okay although I didn’t know what I was doing, and I really couldn’t be heard amid all that drumming especially since I stayed far enough away from anyone to be heard. But as I continued drumming and nothing terrible happened, I relaxed a little and my hands fell, bringing my shoulders down with them, and I instinctively turned sideways to the bell, so that I could rest my forearms on my hip. I realized instantly that this is not only a way to get the body into the drumming but you can also drum longer, because you’re using the support of your body to hold your drum. And every time my body rocked, that would automatically set the rhythm because it was the more forceful sound, the body’s thump really follows through. And I could concentrate more on melody with my hands. I began to not only hit the cowbell with the drumstick, but I could also hit the drumstick with the bell, and I began experimenting with using my fingers and body to mute the bell. But this makes it sound like I was doing something. The only thing I was doing was watching my body drum, outside of my control, like windchimes. And after a minute or so of this, my swaying became mobile and it was more like I was dancing, more like “The Red Shoes,” more like when I was watching my hands drum, I could feel my feet dance without looking at them. If I looked at them, if I tried to understand the steps, I would stumble and stop and have to start again. When I learned not to think and not to look, my hands made music and my feet danced and with so little to do I almost swooned. Then like a ghost in a movie, I followed the rhythms deeper into the cave, leaving the twilight near the cave’s mouth and edges to move deeper into the darkness as my eyes adjusted.

There was enough room for each drummer to have their own area, and there was still enough room that those of us who wanted to that we could walk—and even dance—without feeling like we were encroaching on anyone’s territory.

34-29 d caveD. flexing outside the Corycian Caves, Delphi, Greece, May 2005

In the back of the cavern there was a dark passageway that was known as the central tunnel. It was inside that tunnel that most of the relics and bones have been found. But anyone from our group who approached it would only get as far as the first dark shadows and then suddenly jerk back and stop drumming and flee to the front of the cave. I first noticed it when it happened to me, and then I watched it happen to three other drummers in a row, and when I stepped out into the sun, there was a crowd of us who had left for the same reason. Finally even those who hadn’t had a bad experience could sense that the energy was flowing out of the cave and joined us.

Sophia called for the jeeps and Layne grabbed the video equipment and returned to shoot a few minutes of the empty cavern. I was talking to D. at the mouth of the cave when Layne shrieked and called for help. We came running and she was holding as much gear as she could. Grab all the gear and I’ll tell you when we’re outside, but we need to get out of here now!

Waiting for the jeeps, we reviewed the footage and although it was difficult to see anything definite in the video, we resolved to look again later because we all felt a chill right before Layne screams, and there did indeed seem to be some sudden animation in the shadows, like a pelt being shaken, right before Layne screams and the scene goes black.

The jeeps had arrived by then and we went down the hill in the same two groups, and when we got to the foot of the mountain we transferred everyone from the jeeps to the van in the parking lot of a small restaurant. At one point Layne handed me the bulky HD video camera backpack (this was 2005) and I put down my small camera bag so I could load the big rig onto my shoulders. Then I got distracted and didn’t realize until at least an hour down the mountain that I’d left my camera bag on a stone wall outside the parking lot.

My first reaction was a horrible stabbing pain in my heart, like someone had died. Then I felt embarrassed that my thoughtlessness would inconvenience so many. Then I convinced myself that a fluorescent-orange camera bag on top of a stone wall especially on an almost abandoned stretch of road behind Mount Parnassus would certainly be gone by now, much less in the extra hour it would take for us to get back to the restaurant. Then there’d be no bag and we’d have driven two hours for my thoughtlessness and when we’d get back to the hotel everyone would be hungry and grumpy. So I accepted that my Nikon SLR and the Sony video camera I’d bought especially for this trip and the binoculars that had traveled with me since my very first European trip in 1990 were gone forever—over $3400 worth of gear. But the bigger loss was all of my photos and the video footage of the trip. Those were irreplaceable.

When we arrived back at Delphi, for the first and only time on this trip Layne pulled me aside as we stepped off the bus. She wanted to have dinner in town, away from the group. She didn’t want the others to get jealous, so she gave me directions, and we agreed to meet there at 7:15.

Layne was sitting in the back at a small wooden table in the breezy cafe, and asked me as soon as I sat down what I thought of the trip so far. I told her it was fantastic, better than I imagined (which was true). Layne frowned, and told me how disappointed she was. She said once she’d given up what she wanted to happen and what she imagined would happen, it was easier. And then it was a further relief to give up and accept what was actually happening, despite it being something she specifically didn’t want to happen. She’d lost control of the group, the inmates had taken over the asylum. She said she suffered the most when she was fighting the hardest against the inevitable. At first she took the failure personally. If she was disappointed with how it was turning out there was no one to blame but herself. But when she gave up and accepted it for what it turned out to be, she felt liberated. If she could accept it for what it was, she could accept herself for her part of it. If what was happening was not “wrong,” there was no need to blame anyone—herself or them. And that opened up all this room in her heart to feel empathy for everyone who was suffering like she was because what was happening was not what they wanted to happen, which included probably everyone, she laughed.

But she saw that she was actually causing the suffering of others by her being in a position of trust and dismissing their reality and insisting on her version of events and blaming the ensuing conflict on them. She realized now that those who had complained were right to insist on their own truths, especially in the face of her resistance. That took courage.

Just as I knew that up until now I should listen without interrupting, I knew that now I was supposed to say that she was not alone, and I should tell her of my own recent painful journey of acceptance, and the calm that followed my giving up as well. I could even detail the psychological steps by which I came to understand my attachment to my cameras, and the relief I’d found once I accepted their loss.

But then the relief that followed the acceptance that my cameras were gone was followed by another form of fixation. I could only think of replacing my cameras and my biggest concern was that I might not find a suitable camera for a number of days. And what if the prices were outrageous? How much was I willing to overspend in a foreign country for my addiction? And I felt the sharp gloom that was going to be cast over everything that happened between now and when I got another camera because I’d have nothing to document my experiences. The idea that that would be as if they didn’t happen was enough to wake me up for a moment.

I wanted to tell Layne that for me it was the loss of some expensive stuff that forced me to confront my attachment to my camera. The panic I was feeling woke me up a little bit and I was considering not buying another camera ever. And as if this was a movie, the crisis came when there was nothing I could do about it—like immediately go out and buy a new camera—and I was forced to think about it for a couple of hours on the bus back to Delphi, without distraction. I was in danger of spending my entire life documenting my life rather than living it, looking at everything notable through the lens of a camera, seeing everything in terms of either being worthy of a photo or not worthy of a photo. It seemed to me that there was something impolite, something of the hunter in everyone with a camera in their hands that is different from a writer with a pocket notebook. But with photography was there some middle way? Or did I have to quit cold turkey, now and forever?

I wanted to remind Layne that this is the way it is, this is the way it always is. We’re asleep and then we wake up and it’s painful and half the time we think we’re geniuses and the other half it’s like we’re the worst person in the world. And then something will happen—even by chance—and it’s like we were right all along, and life is probably going to continue up and down like this. I’ve actually come to really like the humbling moments the best because they’re the ones I can count on. Plus the hard times seem to have some value, which the good times rarely do—they seem to be burning away some suffering that I won’t have to experience again when I am dying. The dark times has strengthened my compassion for others. Or maybe I am paying for my sins as Celine suggested in his title, Death on the Installment Plan.

But I didn’t want to say anything to Layne about the cameras. I didn’t want anyone to know what had happened. I didn’t want to explain everything or have people feel sorry for me. I didn’t want to become an object lesson, a cautionary tale people told one another as they were getting ready to leave on a trip, or when my name came up in conversation. I was embarrassed about leaving my gear behind in parking lot. So I changed the subject.

Then, while we were waiting for the check, Layne started talking about how we’re going to have to let go of everything in the end anyway and these little deaths are important because they’re like pop quizzes before the final exam—you get to see where you’re still attached and how badly, and I knew I had to say something, because that’s exactly what I was thinking about the entire process of memory and its inevitable complete disappearance. I wanted to tell her about the cameras, and especially the photographs, and how they’re symbols for what I was really afraid of losing—the emotional memories that were associated with the photographs themselves. And, in the end, the inevitable complete disappearance of my life and my consciousness as well.

The photo solidifies a memory, forces us to remember, although the memory only exists in the mind of the person who took the photograph. Sometimes it’s not even what’s in my photographs that I see, but I remember being there, my eye framing the shot. A good photograph reminds me of being excited, of capturing something from the fleetingness of life. It’s terrifying, how ephemeral memory is. One of my lovers is dead. All of those moments we shared, they’re only true for me now. Most of their power was knowing that she remembered them as well. Those moments proved that I had loved her and she had loved me too, and by remembering those moments, the feelings associated with those memories returned too … until she died. Now those moments don’t feel real at all, because nobody other than me remembers them. And when I go no one will remember those moments at all, the most important moments of my life.

But before I’d tell her the story, I made her promise that she wouldn’t do anything in reaction to what I was about to tell her—although she would want to—or to tell anyone what I was about to tell her, ever—although I promised her that she would want to. She nodded but I made her say it out loud. “Yes, I promise I will do nothing about what you are about to tell me.” And then I told her the story of my lost camera bag.

Or at least I started to tell her the story of my lost camera bag, but I didn’t get past leaving the bag behind before I watched Layne’s face slowly come to understand what I was telling her. She put up her hand to stop me. First, she wanted to make certain that I was telling her that I had left my camera bag back in the parking lot at the foot of the caves, and, second, that I realized this while we were still on the road, several hours back. It was only after I nodded, twice, that she got angry. “Why didn’t you say something as soon as you realized you’d left them behind? That would have been easy. Things will be much more difficult now.” “What things?” No possible reaction I imagined was as bad as this one. “What do you mean things are more difficult now? I told you, I’ve given them up. They’re gone. You promised not to do anything or tell anyone.”

The next morning Sophia came up to me outside our hotel after breakfast. At first I thought she was walking over to say good morning before I slowly realized she was angry with me. “What is wrong with you? Why didn’t you say something as soon as you realized you’d left them behind? We could have driven back. They were probably still there. They may still be there, but we have to leave on schedule to get to our stops and get to the airport on time. We can’t make the others miss the sites because you left your cameras behind. What were you thinking?”

I panicked. “Layne promised not to tell anyone.” “And you expected her to keep that promise? Who would keep that promise? Would you keep that promise? Well, it doesn’t matter. I called the restaurant as soon as I heard. They are closed. They will open later today. The desk clerk here will make a call, see if the bag has been turned in, and call me on my cellphone. We will send it to you in Cyprus if it turns up. If Layne had told me last night like she should have we could have called and had someone look for it. The driver could have driven you back and picked it up and gotten you back to the hotel at a reasonable hour.” She put her hand on my shoulder and frowned. “We’ll see what we can do but it is probably lost now.” “I know that. I’m not worried about the bag. I’ve given up the bag. What I’m worried about is that everyone is angry at me and I didn’t ask for any of this.”

No one said anything about my bag even as we were getting ready to board the plane in Athens. We got there early, so I was hanging out with one of the Passport Control agents who spoke pretty good English. He asked me how I came to be traveling with a harem. “It’s a long story,” I laughed. “Which one is yours?” “None of them, really, but I fancy the one behind you in the gold top.” “Don’t they drive you crazy?” “What do you think?”

I hear a clink and I ask about his worry beads, and he hands them to me. The beads are sparkling red-purple porphyry, heavy in my hand. I can feel the heat of his fingers in the stones. His great-grandfather made them, he tells me.

“I wish I had a reason to hold something made by my great-grandfather every waking moment,” I told him, “something useful, something I could pass along. Or something from my father.”

“This is from my father,” he said, pulling a chain around his neck. A silver medallion swung between us. I put my hand behind it so I could steady his hand and give it some contrast and looked closer.

“Holy Mary, oh my God, that’s what this whole group is about. That’s why we’re going to Cyprus, to perform rituals to Holy Mary.”

“Rituals? What kind of rituals?”

“Well, you see that lady? She’s teaching these women ancient drumming practices that maybe even your great great grandmothers knew.”

“What is old has not always lost its purpose,” he says. “But some things do get lost.”

Suddenly Sophia shouted out, “There he is. Raj! Over here!” It was like something that would happen in a dream. A nicely dressed man whom I’d never seen before was running through the crowd at the Athens Airport waving my orange camera bag over his head. And everyone but me seemed in on the joke, smiling at my surprise. Layne put her hand on my shoulder. “Surprised?”

“What just happened?”

Layne grabbed me and spun me around. “Quick, this way, I’ll explain on the plane. We’ve known since this afternoon but it was a question if he would get to the airport on time.” We stopped and turned and waved goodbye to a smiling, hugging Sophia and Raj, who were already waving when we turned around “Bon voyage!”

We got in the line for Passport Control and so I had to pass the agent again, this time, holding my orange camera bag in my hand. “Your friend is lucky to be alive, running through the crowd at an airport waving an orange bag over his head. What’s in it?”

I opened it up and took out the cameras. “Are they all there?”

“Yeah, and this is weird. No one even took a shot. No one shot any video. Everything is untouched. I don’t understand.”

“For a moment I thought he was going to get down on one knee and propose to you,” he said and the whole crowd laughed.

On the plane Layne explained that the hotel clerk talked to someone at the restaurant who checked and there was no camera bag turned into lost and found. So Sophia called her husband in Athens. She had to stay with the group, but maybe he could drive up to the restaurant and poke around? Even if nothing turned up, maybe they could meet at the airport and have a fun weekend after she’d shipped us off to Cyprus?

So her husband drove up to the restaurant and spoke to the day manager, who it turns out found the orange bag the day before. Some Polish carpenters were eating lunch under the tree and he’d held the bag up and they’d nodded and he gave it to them. But he knew where they were. They ate at the restaurant regularly. They were up the street, building a house. They seemed like honest men. As Poles working in Greece, to be in the possession of cameras that have been reported stolen is enough to get them deported. They would probably be relieved to give up the bag, if they still had it.

Her husband drove up the street and found the workers. The carpenters didn’t understand Greek or English or French, so he resorted to miming. He pointed to the restaurant up the road and made like he was eating off a plate. Then he mimed putting a small bag down beside him and walking away. Then he walked back and lifted it up and offered it to the patriarch. The patriarch pretended to take the bag from him and nodded, calling out to one of the boys and tossing him keys to the pick-up truck. Then Raj and the old man sat down together at a table made by laying an unfinished door across two sawhorses—and waited. The old man offered Raj a smoke, and Raj gave the old guy one of his, and they smoked each other’s cigarettes without speaking until the boy returned. The kid got out, holding an orange camera bag. That’s when the race to the airport began.

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thank you Layne, for Aphrodite’s Rock, Paphos Beach, Cyprus, 2005 and 2009, and so much more!

Written by Randy Roark

Newtopia staff writer RANDY ROARK worked with Allen Ginsberg for the last 17 years of his life, first as an apprentice, then as his teaching assistant, and finally transcribing and editing 28,000 pages of Ginsberg’s poetry lectures, currently available on-line through the Ginsberg trust. Following Ginsberg’s death, he worked with artist Stan Brakhage, producing art events featuring his films until his death. Since 1998 he has worked with Sounds True as a producer, where he has edited artists such as Alex Grey, writers including William Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson, and a wide variety of spiritual teachers, including Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, and Lakota Elder Joseph Marshall.

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