A meditation, in the heart of Ladakh, India, on the nature of art and culture undisturbed from its original dwelling place:
The white of the stupas above Keylong, a Himalayan village located on the banks of the Bhaga river, 13, 871 feet above sea level, reflect the rays of the sun in the early morning light. Intent on visiting the medieval monasteries, or gompas, as they are called in Tibetan, perched high above them on the mountainous slope, we set our course by the stupa’s bone bleached whiteness. Just a few minute’s hike above the dust-choked highway and its endless parade of military transports and garishly decorated tanker trucks, we entered not only a different landscape, but a different ecology of mind.
Rising on a flight of steps, we entered a colonnade of overarching trees lined by walls of meticulously placed stones. Along the path, dried dung cakes impressed with hand prints sat in little piles, and bright orange apricots dried in the sun. Gardens lay before whitewashed houses with brilliantly-colored prayer wheels. Crooked, home-fashioned ladders leaned against haystacks. Higher up, the silvery-bell sound of children’s voices testing out the word “hello” reached us. The handful of workers harvesting one of the terraced fields looked up and greeted us with namaste – “I bow to the divine in you.” Continue reading “Reinventing the Wheel: Riffing off of Walter Benjamin in Ladakh”
Some years ago, The Sacramento Bee published an account of Robert’s pilgrimage along the Camino to Santiago in their Easter edition. Then, along with Nevada City’s premier Medieval music ensemble, Rossignol, he created a musical out his travel notes. He has never published his full work, however, which explores the origins of the Santiago pilgrimage and the nature of pilgrimage for medieval and modern people. He would like to offer it to those who wish to take up the Way of St. James, or are interested in the practice of pilgrimage.
There’s a Pilgrim Sleeping Inside Every Tourist
The cathedral of Le Puy, located in the rocky terrain of France’s Massif Central, has been a launching site since the Dark Ages for pilgrims to the tomb of the apostle St. James, better known as Santiago, in the distant Spanish terrain of Galicia. The saint’s figure can be seen sculpted throughout the town: staff in hand, wide brimmed hat with a scallop-shell, flowing beard and hand raised in gesture of benediction to those passing to and fro.
Wandering through the maze of cobblestone streets, I had another goal, however: a little church, set high upon a pinnacle of volcanic rock in the center of the town, named Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe.
This shrine to St. Michael, built in 967 by the Bishop Godescalc upon his return from Santiago, has stood sentinel for over a thousand years for the dragon to come at the end of time.
I had chosen the craggy site to mark the beginning of my own 400-mile trek, not merely to arrive in Santiago, but to see if it were still possible to enter into the experience of a medieval pilgrim. Continue reading “Ultreya! Pilgrimage upon the Camino to Santiago”