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by Sam Cutler
"There are two types of women Goddesses and doormats" - Picasso
Dallas, that supremely vulgar manifestation of the Texan dream, possessed its own little star that rivalled those from other cities. Chicago may have had "the plaster casters", but Dallas had "the butter queen".
The Plaster Casters specialised in facsimile reproductions of Rock Star's penises, which they covered in Latex in order to make a mould and then poured plaster into the receptacle. They claimed to have "done them all", from Jim Morrison to Hendrix, though they never managed to do the Stones. The Butter Queen was a girl of infinitely more esoteric taste, and was disconcertingly bizarre.
I was told of her presence by one of the crew and went to a suite where some of the production guys were partying. The Butter Queen was holding court. With a body like Jayne Mansfield's and a brain to match, it would be ungallant of me to describe her as not particularly attractive; but the truth is the truth, and I have to say it. She was not very attractive and she was not very bright. Her specialty involved a similarly complex series of manoeuvres to the Plaster Caster's, but differed in that her description of the process was likely to make the recipient collapse in gales of hysterical laughter.
The girl had a thing about butter (don't we all darling) and what she required was this: We listened to her explanation whilst trying to keep a straight face. She had arrived at a suite in the hotel, and the entire band was otherwise engaged in their rooms. There was time to kill and what more pleasant way to spend it than in the elaborate company of the weirdest representative of the dairy industry you are ever likely to meet? We all fixed looks of solemn attention on our faces and tried hard not to giggle.
The Butter Queen demanded that she be allowed to perform her specialty for one of the members of the band, if not all of them; but I assured her this was out of the question. With as straight an expression as I could muster I explained that The Rolling Stones were vegans and would have nothing to do with animal products; consequently butter was out of the question. The explanation didn't so much go over her head; it didn't even enter her head. She shrugged in blank incomprehension and decided that one of the crew was the next best thing, as she was in a bit of a hurry and had a kid to go home to. I quite understood her predicament and several of the crew were eager to volunteer.
She had certainly arrived equipped to do the business. She spread a rubber sheet on the bed and took out a small electric hot-plate which she proceeded to plug into a socket in the wall. A volunteer would have to be naked, so in front of his dubious colleagues a roadie duly obliged and lay on the bed with a large vodka and tonic and fortified himself for the ordeal ahead. Various members of the crew watched in subdued silence, with barely suppressed grins. Dairy girl rummaged around in her large bag and produced a huge block of butter which she chopped into small lumps and popped into a saucepan on top of the hot plate.
As the butter slowly melted, dairy girl, the Dallas Butter Queen, proceeded to get excited and stared into the melting butter like some veritable witch from Macbeth. People began to laugh as she stirred and this produced a string of foul epithets of such ferocity that one and all lapsed into stunned silence. This girl was not to be messed with. The recipient of her favours lay back and wondered what the hell was going to happen. Was he to have boiling butter poured on his body? We held our breathe whilst the roadie held his hands in a protective cup over his wedding tackle and began to look a bit concerned.
From the saucepan she poured the butter into what looked like a copper tea-pot and then she got down to business. We all tried to be as serious as she was, for this was obviously a serious business. Slowly and carefully she poured a stream of clarified butter onto the roadies' exposed nether region and began to lick, so that as she poured she consumed and he was cleansed. It was a strange production made all the more strange by her obvious excitement brought on by the process.
As she poured and licked she became more and more aroused and then she began to climax in a series of convulsions, which I can only appropriately describe with a dairy metaphor – it was positively bovine.
A low and resonating groan emerged from her chest which was a perfect reproduction of the sound a cow might make when it is separated from its calf. Welcome to "cow town" as the locals fondly called Dallas. It was simply too bizarre for words and the molten butter was licked and consumed with a gusto that was frightening in its intensity and very unsettling. Nobody said a word and we looked at one-another uncomfortably as the woman groaned and moaned throughout the procedure and had what appeared to be the longest orgasm in the history of dairy farming.
The whole event must have taken around half an hour and it was so singular and bizarre that the roadie who was a veteran of some of the strangest sexual encounters known to man couldn't bring himself to consummating the strange ritual by having sex with her. Shaking his head and grimacing sheepishly he wandered to the shower and left her to the other people in the room, all of whom seemed quite keen to replicate his experience. I smiled inwardly and wondered at this strange lady. How had she first got into this? Where had her pre-occupation with molten butter come from? What on earth made her think that other people would find this erotic?
Perhaps Dallas ranchers with tens of thousands of head of cattle enjoyed this kind of thing, I mused. It sure was a funny old world. I walked out of the hotel suite with The Butter Queen hard at work on her next grateful recipient. Can't say it did that much for me, except to reinforce my belief that the human race can be fascinating; infinitely strange and decidedly perverse. I wandered off to my room, smiling to myself and somewhat unsettled by the absurdity of it all.
It was something I would rather not have witnessed. I've always been a margarine man myself.
Copyright: Sam Cutler 2008.
by Neil Rock
Once, driving from Delhi to Jaipur on the Grand Trunk Road, seeing police vehicles parked on the roadside and a large crowd standing around a house garden and looking at a dead elephant I thought the scene looked passive, so I parked the Land Rover and joined in.
The cops and health department officials were seriously overwhelming some poor bewildered guy living in the roadside house and who had woken up that morning to find the dead elephant in his garden and which elephant he didn’t know when alive, or recognize now when dead, had never heard of or seen before and knew nothing about anyway. The elephant not belonging to this Householder, he had looked at it, dismissed it as a mirage of Samsara, or thought the owners would remove it, - and had gone to work as usual so as not to lose his job for bothering his boss with reasons of being absent from work because of irrelevant chiff-chaff.
A Superintendent Of Police, having checked that the Householder is not of higher caste than himself, and thus, having avoided being reduced to toilet paper by Brahmin priests from Householders local mafia temple has dragged this guy home from his place of employment and heedless of his feeble excuses of innocence, now charges him as a criminal.
Instant court proceedings before the gathered onlookers result in Police Superintendents’ assessment of a traffic violation for illegal parking of a vehicle, no insurance papers and no proof of road tax paid.
Householder gets dizzy.
The screw is then further tightened a major baksheesh notch by a Health Department Inspector doing a reshuffle upward - to a more serious additional charge of harboring a public health hazard.
King Soloman couldn’t have done it better.
Much hand wringing and prayer wailing, pleading and promises to the entire heavenly pantheon.
No go, the bribe is already in, paid up to date, bread buttered and all Gods are working for the sticky men.
The villains’ landlord arrives and is amazed at seeing dead elephant. Arms waving, eyes rolling, slaver down shirt, staggers, fakes a heart attack. Scribble on paper, immediate estimate of damage cost for dead elephant crash landing on garden fence. Bill for broken fence must be payed, NOW, otherwise Householder to be evicted forthwith and police enticed to bring charge of encouraging vandalism.
Egged on by the onlookers expressing satisfaction with show to now, but being far from sated yet, it is now another turn of the Health Inspectors. The sun is at hot noon and it is pointed out to the miscreant criminal by the health department boss of fumigation - that somebody, if he wants get off the health hazard hook, is going to have to pay to have his house fumigated and every other house nearby – Before nightfall.
Householder drops to knees, grasps Fumigators ankles, kisses Fumigators shoes, tears not crocodile.
Fumigator not having any, Fumigator wants a most sizable backhander from Householder
OR - Fumigator will gas Everybody – in every direction - for at least three miles around.
Householder is now clearly approaching a state of panic, pleads sick wife, supporting useless younger brothers, gaggle of sisters in law, backyard cage full of second hand kids, fifteen shrunken arthritic grandmothers, etc. All no go, the Health Doc has got the teeth sunk in, several tons of dead evidence is spread out all over the front garden.
Health department, Police and crowd agree that it is cough up or go down.
Brief pause, while Householder makes a quick abacus reckoning of his life since his first birthday. Finds nothing. Not even failing to vote for Indira Gandhi could have brought this on.
Householder searching karma, if in past life shot dead elephants great, great stepmother?
Cry of bitter anguish, more tears, tugging at hair, lose driving license, lose job, lose house. Total misery, hit with big stick
The crowd is growing larger every minute. A guy in a nightdress and pushing a soft drink trolley arrives and sets up business, a small boy turns up with a tray of cigarettes and matches. A woman selling salted sugar cane. This is show business. I am surprised that the police have not cordoned off the house in order to sell entrance tickets and commercial concessions.
Left Wing troublemakers in the cast of onlookers urgently wanting progress in the case now suggest Householder pay up. Want to see somebody with money, anybody with money, getting shtupped, thoroughly drubbed and wrung dry.
The Press arrives, photographer and intrepid reporter. Serious doings have drawn The Times Of India.
The dead elephant might not be as important as an atomic bomb - but it is definitely bigger. A good picture is worth a thousand words – and a blow up of this will fill across a few columns.
Police Superintendent and Fumigator go to smirk beside dead elephant.
Photographer hugging limelight, waves hand around like Bollywood film director, supposedly getting correct light reading, much shuffles round head cop and the gasman. Thumb up, OK on final position of sun and subjects heroic stance.
It is clear that The Times reporter thoroughly knows His job when he throws in a superb piece from the Sunday quiz crossword puzzle and asks the Householder -----------
WHY has the dead elephant picked HIS place to die in?
Householder is speechless that his life should end like this.
Two photographs, quick shorthand and press races away to meet deadline and catch Pulitzer Prize.
Householder is now near to state of utter exhaustion. Almost demolished, he casts a last appealing glance at dead elephant, wails final wail of no money and makes ultimate bid for reprieve by claiming that neglect of spiritual duty has resulted in Lakshmi wearing earplugs since 1953.
Police Superintendent is also not listening, threatens to add charge of illegal business operations – speculation in meat dealing without a license.
Householder stupefied at being crapped on by Vishnu in chariot from such great height.
No question, says a crowd member, sticking in the boot - easier for the 200 or so direct relatives to have a whip round.
The householder obviously not having the wherewithal to pay off the police and the Health Department, the Cop Boss and Fumigator now retire to roadside chai house to decide jurisdiction of the case. Like how will whatever loot be divided?
Tea is served, bank account numbers exchanged, tea is drunk, the authorities return to the crime scene.
Stunned Householder, now incoherent, is handcuffed to a police minion. It is sure that his family will be bludgeoned for boodle from Cardiff to Calcutta. Resigned to fiscal inquisition, the criminal is placed in Police jeep to be taken to a dreaded fate. A Health Department guard is left with dead elephant. All other officials exchange handshakes and leave.
Police driver whisks Householder away to Police Station. Departing Prisoner screams and kicks jeep in ranting curtain closer as response to the volcanic erupting Landlord firing last venomous waterline shot of crane costs, towing charges and undertaker bills.
More people drift away now than arrive. Crowd being left without action gets bored of looking at the dead elephant, me too, time to leave.
Next day I read an item in the Times Of India saying that the householder had indeed been fined for not reporting a health hazard and, a suggestion that the owner of the dead elephant should come forward and claim it. Fat Chance. The cops might identify the owner of a nighttime roadside dead elephant found in West Texas, but in India?
Copyright: Neil Rock 2008.
by Neil Rock
On an Autumn morning of 1968 in Afghanistan two friends and I set out from Kabul in a Land Rover to spend a few days visiting the statues of Buddha at the valley of Bamian in the Hindu Kush Mountains.
The road out of Kabul is the same road leading up to the Salang Pass and on to the town of Tashkarghan where it forks left to Uzbekistan, right to Faizabad, Kunduz, and up into Tajikistan and China. Traveling north and some kilometers before the Salang Pass there is a dirt track leading off west from the village of Pul-i-Matak and leading to Bamian Valley and up to Band-i-Mir lakes and Maimana in the region of the Hazarazat. This dirt track is strictly for animal caravans and four-wheel drive vehicles; it is the only route stretching across the center of Afghanistan and only open from April to October. The drive from Pul-i-Matak to Bamian is some 150 kilometers through gorges and valleys and takes several hours to negotiate.
A hotel sits on a hill outside Bamian Village, a simple and welcoming government managed hotel and mainly used by archeological teams, historians or the rare tourists like ourselves who visited the area. It gave a wonderful direct frontal view of the village on a poplar lined river and on to the 46 metre and 35 metre statues of Buddha standing in niches and carved from the sheer rock face of the base of the Hindu Kush Mountains that rise behind them. From this position the statues appeared to be holding up the mountain range. These wonderful statues were later destroyed by the religious intolerance of The Taliban. In 2006 a team of archeologists began examination to view the possibility of re-creation. Rebuilding would be necessary as there is nothing left to restore.
Arriving at Bamian in the evening we checked into the hotel ate and went to bed.
The following morning, awaking early and having eaten breakfast I decided to walk to the Buddhas and make some exploration of the caves that are carved into the rock walls surrounding the statues. Arriving in front of the largest statue I was met by a Hazara Tribesman who offered to guide me around the cave complex, I accepted and we set off through a series of caves and ancient cells of former monks, until having climbed a steep rock staircase carved inside a cliff we emerged onto the top of the head of the Buddha. From here, standing on the head of the Buddha I was facing south into the wild jagged Baba Kohr Mountains, beyond which to the south lay Kabul. The mountains seemed impenetrable and I commented on this to my guide. He replied that this was true except for a pass through the Kakrak Valley leading through the mountains to the town of Istalif and that this Pass was usable only by walking men and animals. He also told me of a third carved stone statue of a Buddha that is in a cave near the entrance to the Kakrak Valley. Known to archaeologists as the Kakrak Buddha or the Sunburst Buddha, the statue is of a seated Buddha some 4 metres high surrounded by carved sunrays and in a cave hidden from view from the road. From the top of the statue where I stood with my guide I could also see a hill in the center of Bamian Valley on which is the ruined ancient town of Shar-I-Golgola (The City Of Screams) so named because the grandson of Genghis Khan was killed here in battle and Genghis beheaded the entire population. The names of some places in Afghanistan reflect a harsh land with a lurid past. Besides Shar-I-Golgola, ( City Of Screams) there is Dasht-I-Marga ( The Desert Of Death) and the Hindu Kush Mountains ( The Indian Killers) in which I now stood.
The Hindu Kush Mountains ,containing the Baba Kohr range stand between India and the Central Asian Silk Route trading centers of Bokhara and Samarkand; countless soldiers, traders and adventurers have died trying to cross these mountains.
To give you some idea of the remoteness of the Hindu Kush look on a map and you will find the Hindu Kush Mountains are 15 degrees of latitude further north than the Tibetan capitol of Llhasa and almost 20 degrees further north than Mount Everest. To the east, in the Pamir Range are mountains up to 24,000 feet and locked in perpetual ice. Also north of the Hindu Kush, through Alexanders Pass and some hundred or so miles north west of Balk, close to the frontier with Uzbekistan is a region of unmapped territory where oil bubbles out of the ground, still untapped when I saw it in 1970. The town of Shibergan is nearby, and where not discovered and unearthed until 1978 were over 20,000 artifacts of gold buried there by Kushan kings. And it was here on this wild frontier one night in 1972 that a Greek American friend known to some of our family - won a gunfight with bandits who were trying to steal his horse.
Another example of the unknown history and remoteness of some regions of Afghanistan is The 200 foot high Minaret Of Jam, built in 1194 in the Hazara district of Ghor, it was only first reported to the west following its’ discovery in 1957, some say by an airplane pilot, some by a Frenchman walking overland from Iran to Pakistan. Over twenty severe mountain passes each of about ten thousand feet height on the road from Bamian must be negotiated to reach it. Nobody knows why at its hundred feet high mark it bears a verse in Arabic celebrating Mary and the Virgin Birth of Jesus, or who were the people buried in a twelfth century Jewish cemetery nearby, or why there are ruins of forts for more than twenty miles around. Also, in the extreme south west corner of Helmand Province near the Iranian border are remains of cities built by the Sultan of the Ghaznavids, Mahmoud, who destroyed Buddhist rule in Afghanistan and whose cities in turn were destroyed by The Mongols. Close to Mahmouds winter palace is a ruined city so old that its’ age is not known, it has no name and nothing is known about it, even what civilizations lived in it, or who built it. It is incredible that even amongst 21st century academics nothing is known about a dwelling place of this magnitude, but it is known simply as The City. It is 120 kilometers (70 miles) long.
After my guide and I descended from the head of the great Buddha down through the rock staircase to the ground level we came out of the caves and onto the track in front. I told my guide that I would like to visit the smaller of the two standing Buddhas, so we walked east along the track until arriving in front of the 35 metre statue which rose above us in its’ niche on a steeply angled shale slope.
When I told my guide that I wished to walk up the slope to the statue he replied that this Buddha really did not like being disturbed and had been known on many occasions to throw stones at inquisitive visitors. I told my guide that all I wanted to do was walk up to and touch the statue. He told me that I was welcome to try but that he was not going any closer than where we stood. I thought then that he did not want to climb the shale hill.
I started up the slope and got about 50 metres from the statue when I heard a whirring noise. I stopped to listen and was suddenly aware also of a crackling noise like small arms fire and that stones were flying out horizontal from the cliff face surrounding the body of the statue. The sounds I heard were of stone separating from the rock face and whizzing past my head and body. I turned and ran back down the slope with stones of a size from peas to pigeons’ eggs shooting past me like slingshot. The hail of stones stopped as I neared the guide on the track. I interpreted the event as being that my approach to the statue had set up a reverberating vibration, which had bounced off the face of the cliff and loosened stones around the statue and was surprised when my guide ( being a Muslim ) replied that the statue was benign but very powerful and that the people in the valley never disturbed this Buddha. I was forced to recognize his sincerity and also to realize that the stones around me had not been falling down from high above the statue, they were shooting out horizontally. My guide told me that this statue could only be approached safely from the side.
Later that day I set out alone to find the cave of the Kakrak Buddha and after some searching in the entrance to the Kakrak Valley I found the cave hidden behind boulders in a narrow gully leading off a goat track.
This Buddha sits in perpetual shaded silent retreat in his shallow cave, The body and surrounding sunburst is carved directly out of the caves’ rear wall. The rays of the sunburst stretch floor to ceiling to floor around the lotus seated figure and it is as if a message of peace is radiated from here to the rest of the world. I made my sincere respects to the people who carved this figure so that all who would find it can appreciate its’ aura of harmony and calm.
Although I have again visited Bamian since that trip I never sought the cave of the Kakrak Buddha again. Nor did I ever ask if this Buddha might still be found or even write of it until now.
The malignant intolerance and stultifying ignorance of The Taliban is so rabid in character that to have destroyed the Standing Buddhas of Bamian is beyond all intelligent acceptance. The entire history of Buddhism is encapsulated in the atmosphere here, as it was to here that Buddhist teaching came from Buddhas birthplace of Lumbini in Nepal, was developed here, and from this point Buddhism spread to India and onward to China and the South East Asian world
The following day, over curds and kebabs in a village chai house a local man told me the story of Alis’ Dragon.
Ali, the son of Mohammed, The Prophet, peace be on his soul, was said to have fought and bested a dragon, which had been terrorizing the people of the Hazarazat. The dragon lay in the hills nearby Bamian and still cried with shame for it having been beaten in battle by Ali. The man explained to me where to find it.
About 20 or 30 Ks beyond Bamian in the direction of Ghor and Maimana I sighted two red hills that I had been told to look for. I drove off the dirt road for some kilometers into the desert until I came to a valley between the two red hills and found a track running near them. Leaving my Landrover I walked on the track and rounded the hills. I was facing an ancient frozen narrow strip of volcanic rock flow some 250 metres long and running down the spine of a ridge to the ground from the crest of a hill.. The shape of the lava flow was that of a dragon and running tail to head down the hill. It was of white and yellow rock along its entire length. My whole life I have sought and enjoyed to be amazed. I climbed the hill and walked back down slowly along the back of the dragon. This rock formation is truly the most amazing rock formation that I have ever seen.
When the volcanic explosion had taken place, the ground had cracked open and formed a 250 metre long fissure and an underground stream had been released to the earths’ surface. Water had broken through from underground at the same time as the lava flow and resulted in the water cooling the lava, shaping the dragon and splitting open the beast along the length of its’ body. Jets of molten lava were thrown up from the split, caught and cooled by the exploding water so that water-cooled rock formed huge spines rising some 1 to 2 metres in the air along the length of the dragons back. Deep inside the split shape were tall vertical rock striations blasted into shapes looking like giant organ pipes in the dragons bowels and as ribs in its chest cavity. As the lava and water had flowed down the mountain the lava slowed, expanded and set into the shape of a bulbous head some 10 metres long and 8 metres across.
A 3 metre tall single Rhinosceros like horn of volcanic rock with a blowhole in its tip rose straight up into the air from the dragons nose.
In the side of the head I saw a slow drip of water was running to the ground from a fissure shaped as an eye.
The dragon really cried: And I am still truly amazed.
My friends on this trip had spent their time also exploring and walking round the area.
Meeting at the hotel in the afternoon of the second day of our visit we were warned by the management that snow was forecast for the next day and that we were advised to leave at first light, if we did not we could be snowed in for days or possibly months. If the track back to Puli-Kumri closed we would be stuck. I asked about the pass through the Kakrak Valley that leads through the mountains to the town of Istalif above Kabul and was again told - as my guide of the day before had said, that it was for walking persons and animals only.
Later that afternoon we were again warned of snow and that it might come that night. We decided to leave immediately. Knowing that the longest drive in terms of kilometers to be covered would be to Pul-i-Matak then down to Kabul and that we could not reach Pul-i-Matak before dark we decided to try the Kakrak Valley Pass, which with luck would cut our drive home by some 200 kilometers. Our reasoning was that we had a Land Rover and if the track across the pass was wide enough for pack camels or donkeys then it would be wide enough for our vehicle. We were assured by the hotel manager that other Land Rovers had been in Bamian Valley before, but also that he knew of no motor vehicle of any kind that had ever tried to cross the Kakrak Pass.
The pass started as a dirt track at Bamian Valley floor level and about 3 metres wide. Soon the track started to climb and narrowed to become a track about 2meters 50 centimeters wide and running as a shelf along a cliff face. Soon we were driving at about half a kilometer high from the floor of a chasm on the right hand side of the vehicle. It was clear we could not turn round or reverse back down the mountains and if we met anybody coming the other way, then they or we could not pass each other.
Soon it started to snow and dusk set in. We were at a height of about 15000 feet above sea level. The mountain wall was ice bound, the wet cold air was painful to breathe and the engine of the land Rover began to change tempo as it labored in the thin air. We feared sliding into the chasm and to put snow chains on the vehicle two of us had to get out and fasten ourselves to ropes round the wheels while we hung over the abyss and attached chains to the tires on the right hand side. There was not enough space between the left hand side of the vehicle and the cliff face to attach chains on that side. We drove with chains on one side until we came to a place wide enough to open the driver side door and crouch with back against the mountain side and put chains the on the left side wheels of the vehicle.
The drop to the chasm floor was so deep that although we knew from hearing torrents of water tumbling down the mountainside that there was a river below us we could not see it. Our flashlights couldn’t reach down the chasm and there were no other signs of tracks or possible villages below.
We drove along this ledge for a couple of hours, switchbacking up and down along the mountain face, the Landrover so close to the edge that stones moved by the wheels were tumbling into the abyss. We crawled along, all the time realizing the danger we were in and that we could do nothing but continue. The night turned pitch black with nothing to be seen in our headlights except the mountainside and the blowing snow.
Suddenly the ledge we were on stopped dead at the edge of another chasm running across our front. Between us and the continuation of the ledge at the other side of this chasm was a gap about 6 metres wide. Spanning this gap were two thick sawn flat logs laid side by side for animals and men to walk across the terrifying deep gorge. The three of us got out of the vehicle and two of us walked across the logs over the chasm and with the aid of flashlights spread the logs apart on our side while at his side of the chasm our friend at the vehicle guided the logs and spread them to the width of our vehicles’ wheels. Using the flashlights to illuminate the scene we got the Land Rover up onto the logs and inched it across the chasm.
We had started driving along the mountain face again when we realized that the track we had been on had ended and we were ascending and driving along the sheer face of the mountain on a bed of packed dirt, pebbles and stones resting on tree branches spread between crude hewn wooden stakes driven into the cliff face at a 60 degree angle. Only the stakes held everything in place and over the emptiness below. We were fortunate that the dirt track was not completely frozen over, sowe did not slide, our chains and tires gripped the stones and the spread branches. This track hanging on the mountain edge and held up by stakes was several kilometres long and at no time were our outside wheels more than 50 centimetres from the edge of the chasm.
Finally the cliff edge ledge appeared again and we started winding downward through the mountains.
We had driven almost two hundred kilometers over the pass.
About 2AM, after a seven or eight hour drive we descended into the small town of Istalif. Although nobody appeared on the single town street as we drove through, the people who wakened must have been amazed at the sound of a motor vehicle engine coming out of the pass. Lights appeared in houses as we passed.
On exiting the town we could see through a gap in the mountains the glow from the lights in Kabul below us. We were home within another hour.
It is difficult to imagine now how we were so fortunate as to have crossed this pass safely. I think it probable that at least until that year, 1968, no other men in a motor vehicle had ever traversed the Kakrak Pass. I doubt that anybody knowing of the danger would try it now. What I really feel in my bones is that our Land Rover was the first (and possibly only) vehicle to cross. If anybody we spoke with at the hotel in Bamian Valley had known what was facing us and told us, then I do not think that we would have tried.
Remembering this adventure even all these years later brings a heady rush of fulfillment. I visited all three Buddhas’ at Bamian, I walked in amazement on Alis’ Dragon, and my friends and I drove the Baba Kohr mountains through the Kakrak Pass.
It still feels like I just drank a glass or two of the finest champagne.
Copyright: Neil Rock 2008.
by Brice Bowman
Sandra, my wife and I were vacationing in Panama. The city on the Atlantic/Caribbean side of the Canal Zone is named Colon, where the largest free trade zone in the western hemisphere operates for all of the Caribbean, South America, Central America, etc. Sandra suggested we go for a tour by hiring a taxi driver to take us around to see whatever sights. The guy tells us, he knows just the place. We drive up into the foothills for about one hour to arrive at a site with ruins from the Spanish and pirate era in 18th century, I guess? The village/pueblo is Portobello. We went into the local church to see a statue, which is quite famous, although I did not realize it at the time. The legend goes that the statue was put on a ship to be taken back to Spain, because it was a truly inspired carving in a very dark hued wood that came to be known as THE CHRISTO NEGRO.
The ship foundered in a storm and sank, but the statue floated back to be discovered by the local people, who were suffering from a plague. The statue is credited with saving the population due to its miraculous return from the shipwreck. Later, when I returned to NYC, I had a wonderful dinner with my friend Jairo Rodriguez, who having been born in Colombia was quite pleased to hear about my experiences, which coincided with his memories of growing up. His mother is quite religious, he said, she had included "The
Christo Negro" in her devotions.
One year later, I was with Sandra in Bogotá to attend her interview for a visa at the USA Embassy. The night before, I remember her saying a few prayers at bedtime. The next day her application was accepted, so her prayers may have been answered? I asked Sandra, if our visit to The Christo Negro statue at the beginning of our relationship, may have been a positive influence on both of us? She told me that she had promised in her prayers, before the interview that she would make a pilgrimage to give thanks.
After returning again to NYC, I mentioned this story, when I was working with two boiler repair guys, one of them Puerto Rican and the other Colombian. The Boriqua told me about a famous Salsero from the old school, but could not remember his name. This singer had made famous a song about “Nazareno", which he assured me, had something to do with the famous statue in Portobello, Panama.
I went to EL TALLER Latino America a language and cultural center in New York, where I asked the director Bernardo Palumbro, if he knew about the famous song. The archives of EL TALLER are extensive in books and recordings of Latin music and culture. Bernardo immediately knew the singer was Ishmael Rivera and went to find a book with the details. He found the entry in the book with lyrics and music, as well as a biography of the singer. He was famous with a group that pre-dated El Grand Combo de Puerto Rico, but later had his own band, too. The lyrics describe the beauty of the face of The Christo Negro and the commentary with the text mentions Portobello, Panama. It seems that “Maelo” may have visited there and experienced an epiphany in matters related to his health.
As well, the lyrics describe the beauty of "NEGRUNAS", who are women of color in the Caribbean islands and South America. The meaning is spiritual, as well as romantic love relationships. My new understanding of my wife Sandra and the love of Latin music and culture that has brought us together in this relationship thrills me.
Copyright: Brice Bowman 2007.
by Brice Bowman
Luke Kleinman, an artist friend of mine, once told me that he was drawing a picture of a walled city somewhere in Morocco. A wizened old man in a white wool djellahba robe sat and watched Luke at his work. As the sun set it was becoming quite cold in the desert air. Luke had nothing to eat and certainly no place to stay. The gates to the walled city had already been closed for security.
Finally when the darkness fell, Luke could not continue his drawing. Then the old man motioned to him that he had some bread and perhaps dried fruit, too. Arrangements proceeded to include not only the meal but accommodation as well. The old man welcomed Luke to sleep with him inside his robe, because the body heat of two people in the djellahba would keep them both warm to survive the cold night.
Copyright: Brice Bowman 2007.
by Brice Bowman
In June 1968, I had been in India for one year. I do remember seeing a few Tibetans who were selling knitwear in the streets of old Delhi. I did not have time to get to know them like my friend Arthur Mandlebaum who was teaching English to refugee’s in India at that time. Among these people were monks that were educated in the Tibetan traditions probably far beyond our mere university level, but they were studying English. As we know, later that exercise became important for those of us who were fortunate to receive Buddhist teachings that were spoken in English by former students of Arthur. I did have the opportunity in 1974 to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama, when he spoke to a small audience at the TROEPEN MUSEUM in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. His talk was ecumenical and to me much like a visit with a friend, needless to say, I was very impressed. A year later after returning to New York City thanks to my friend Loren, I followed his suggestion to take refuge as a Buddhist from a Tibetan lama named Kalu Rinpoche. This happened in an apartment on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village a neighborhood of Manhattan. I found myself seated on the floor to receive this meditation practice from Lama Kalu and in front of me sat together Alan Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. These luminaries were among those bohemians, whom I had wished to emulate to realize my dream of becoming a ‘beatnik’ in New York. Thus after many years, I find myself reflecting on the realization of that dream, which for me did come true. After some years of studying at various Tibetan Buddhist centers I had become accepted into the circle of practitioners. One summer on a trip to the Berkshire Mountains of New England, I was driving in the company of my wonderful friend Helena Hughes, who had invited me to attend the religious teachings at the meditation center of The Dodrup Chen Rinpoche, which is located near Hawley, Massachusetts. One could admire the expansive lawn with a tent that had been erected for the teachings and the great Stupa shrine that had been constructed by devotees of the Rinpoche (teacher). Alas that Stupa was later destroyed by fire, when deluded ex-Vietnam commandos, assumed that any foreign Asian types were suspect enough that their beautiful place of worship could be attacked at will by these mercenaries. In any case, during my visit the Stupa was standing. Helena had arranged for a personal interview with His Holiness, The Dodrup Chen. The well-known scholar Tulku Thondrup was also there for the interview.
As I entered the room to sit at the feet of this guru, on my right a voice spoke, she said “I’m not surprised to see you” and there sat Marilyn Silverstone, who had befriended many seekers on the road, while she was living in India with her husband. I remember well visiting her with Arthur Mandlebaum in New Delhi. Marilyn was to be my translator for this interview. As we sat together I realized that after some 15 years both of us had recognized each other without a second look.
Already a bit unnerved, I bowed to His Holiness and then found myself quite at ease in his presence. Helena spoke and explained that I was scheduled to visit China the following week. During his subsequent discourse and questions, he revealed several details about embroidered brocade fabric that had traditionally originated in China, where specific designs had been created for the Tibetan Buddhist trade. Then the weaving of these specialty brocades moved to Varanasi, India, after the Chinese take-over and suppression of Buddhism in Tibet. Rinpoche asked me, if I had ever seen the like, while on my trade visits to China. He meant of course the type of brocades we see on valuable Thanka paintings. I said, no Rinpoche, I have looked at many fabrics there, but never had seen antique or new brocades in the specific symbols of Buddhist iconography. As the interview came to an end, I hoped to revisit the meditation center again later in the summer, after I returned from my business trip.
The trip to China was quite marvelous, because I was going not only for my own company to import merchandise, but I was acting as trade liaison on behalf of my American client Steve Aronoff and his wife Anita, who would both accompany me on the trip. Steve would be purchasing wonderful garments made from the finest Chinese silk with exquisite embroidery and cut work lace designs. Anita Aronoff was a professional singer with the Grand Opera Company of New York City. She had mentioned to me about her interest in the Chinese musicians and operatic singers, who were practicing Western classical music. The Chinese Ministry of Culture responded to my inquiry in regard to the pending visit of this wonderful artist and they really rolled out the red carpet for her. She went on to perform two concerts in Shanghai and Beijing by singing beautiful selections from popular operas. She also gave master classes to students studying classical music.
We were staying at the PEACE HOTEL in Shanghai, which was still open to tourists or foreign business travelers. The original details of the hotel were intact to some extent revealing the wonders of the JUEGEN STILE of design decoration, which was I believe the predecessor of ART NEUVEAU with accent of the Orient. In addition to this, one could dine in the rooftop restaurant with fantastic moldings and shapes done in crimson and gold paint. Shopping was our diversion, as it always is but don’t let me forget the living members of a traditional jazz band still alive in 1980 who had been playing Dixie land style music in the same hotel probably since the 1920’s, when jazz was hot even in Shanghai.
This being my fourth year of traveling to China, I was acting a bit over the top, playing ‘the old China hand’ to the fullest extent. While shopping one afternoon with Steve, who certainly knew about fabric, I asked the attendant at the tourist souvenir shop in the hotel lobby, if I could see a piece of material, perhaps one meter that had been rolled up and placed on a shelf behind some other goods. Something about it had caught my eye, but looking at it I was dumbstruck. I realized what it was, but when told that it would cost about $100 dollars, I passed on buying it. This scene repeated at least two more times on subsequent days, there I would be with Steve at my side and asking to look at this fabric. Finally the last day of our trip, I asked to see it again. I was aware of a lady hovering by my shoulder, who looked longingly at the brocade as I finally produced the cash to purchase it. Later, she told me..., if I had refused it, she would have bought it immediately. Her tour had visited several factories where they produced brocade, the commercial type you always see on Chinese stuff, but she assured me there had never been anything remotely like this material. I knew it was an antique piece of brocade in Tibetan motif, but I just could not wrap my mind around it. And yet, I knew that I would return with it to America and present it to His Holiness The Dodrup Chen.
So it was that at the end of the summer, as autumn colors had already begun to touch the foliage, I found myself standing on the beautiful grounds of the meditation center. A ceremony was about to begin. There across the lawn approached both His Holiness the Dodrup Chen and the scholar Tulku Thondrup. They paused to speak with me as they made their way to the ceremony. I unrolled the textile and presented it to the Rinpoche. He smiled and said through the translation by the scholar, Oh yes, a very nice brocade fabric and see there all the Buddhist iconographic symbols depicted in the design. He pointed out, the traditional chrysthansemum floral design that had the auspicious number of petals, etc., and accepted the offering, which he then placed on the altar prepared for the ceremony under the tent on the great lawn with the Stupa in the near distance.
You may well ask, what happened? I submit the obvious it was a fabric no doubt antique and probably looted from a Tibetan temple then sold as a souvenir to a tourist. But coincidence begs the question; did the Rinpoche have a little fun and see into the future that I might encounter such a fabric? By describing it during his discourse that had happened a few weeks before did the Rinpoche prepare me to bring the fabric to him as a demonstration of his prescience? I know what I believe, because it happened to me and you are welcome to your interpretation, too!
Funny how karma seems to ripen, all this time I was traveling for business and visiting whenever possible sites of interest like the Temple of the Jade Buddha in Shanghai and circumambulating the great Stupa in Peihei Park in Beijing. The Tibetan monks I spoke with about these holy places smiled when I told them it was possible for a tourist to visit. They explained the buildings might be there but the important scrolls and written sutra teachings most likely would have been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.
Then, in the 1988 I received a call from the office of an American businessman, who with his wife had been among the first to travel to China for business, after the détente initiated by Nixon and Kissinger with Zhou EnLai. Mr. Julian Sobin of SOBIN CHEMICALS, Boston, MA had asked me to visit his Hong Kong office. I was pleased to have received the call, because I could thank him in person for the favor years earlier, when his wife had arranged an invitation for my first wife Arleen and me to begin doing business in China directly in 1976. I could not have been more surprised during the meeting, when he and his son in law explained that they had plans to visit Tibet. Mr. Sobin knew more about me than I had realized. He seemed to know that I was a student of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, he asked me to initiate a contact between himself and the office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Although, I protested that I was not connected in any way with this office, I did have in the back of my mind a possibility, which I assured him that I would pursue on his behalf. My friend Arthur Mandlebaum, whom I have previously mentioned knew Robert A.F.Thurman, a tenured Amherst university professor, who is a contact person for the office of His Holiness, whenever he would be in America. The result of this series of coincidences: Julian Sobin did have a personal appointment with the Dalai Lama. I later heard from Mr. Sobin that the visit had gone quite well. The topics included the possibility that Mr. Sobin would be able to discuss the conditions that he would encounter during his trip to Tibet, not only with his connections in the Chinese government, but with his contemporaries in the American government, too! So approximately ten years after sitting in a small audience, where the Dalai Lama had spoken informally to a group of interested people, I found myself in the position of furthering his ecumenical message for humanity by opening opportunities of discourse between senior representatives of respective governments. Well, Tibetan Buddhists do speak about the relationship between the Buddha, the Dharma (Teachings) and the Sangha (those who practice the teachings of the Buddha), as well as Samayas, which are the vows that bind everything together. May I offer the merit from these life experiences to benefit and further the enlightenment of all sentient beings.
Copyright: Brice Bowman 2008.