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Words from the Web | Spinner's Web Gallery | Stories from the Road

Stories from the Road Part 2

12:45am

3/1/02

Quentin Hotel, Amsterdam

"Humans are like computers.  We're either engaged, asleep, or shut down."

            --Abigail Spinner McBride

 

"Amsterdam is a small city, and I spent a lot of time walking there.  Sometimes it almost felt like a walking meditation, one that lasted all day long. While I was walking,  I found myself thinking about the layers of magic in my life, and also the layers of illusion that permeate our daily lives.  Different layers of magic:  Obviously, there is the magic we perform from the stage of casinos in Las Vegas. There is the real magic that happens when students come to study the art of magic with Jeff-- their essence is transformed when they leave. There is the magick that Jeff and I work alone together, the magical art we create with those we love, the magic of spiritual community, the magic of be-long-ing... and there are layers of illusion, as well-- the illusion of "no, really, I'm not tired, let's all go out, sure...", the ability to step into the role of  assistant to the magician, anytime, anyplace, to seem surprised by the card effect, again... the fantasy of "what life must be like in Las Vegas," the knowing when to look, and when to look away.  I am learning to maintain the perfect balance of real magic within illusion.

 

    Waking up and getting dressed quickly this morning, I was out the door before Jeff was out of bed.  I walked fairly quickly to a little church I found the other day.  It's hidden in amongst some shops on a fairly busy street.  They do mass in Latin every Sunday, at 10:30, with a live choir.  The church is a large resonating chamber. All the voices soared in harmonies like angels singing.  The sounds of the words, of the long extended phrases of music, the counterparts-- ah, the purity of their voices-- was exquisite.  It moved me to hum along a little bit, just quietly, since I didn't know the liturgy being sung.  I noted the man behind me was humming quietly a little to himself as well... and the woman in front of me, too.  We were, all of us, the whole congregation, vibrating in harmony.

 

It was my first experience of mass in Latin, and I enjoyed the ritual and ceremony, the incense and the candles, the chanting of the priests, the flinging of water, the bows and kneeling.  I couldn't understand the priest's words at all, no matter whether he was speaking Dutch or Latin.  I got the gist, oh this is a Bible explantion, this is a sermon... but didn't get distracted from the symbolic reality created.  I definitely got the taste, though maybe not in the flavor the priest was dispensing.  Afterwards, I lit a candle to Mary, for healing...  As I came out of the church, about a block later, some young man came up behind me, and said quietly into my ear "God loves you."

 

A piece of wisdom I received today:

Notice what signals are going off around you.  Notice which of them call attention, and notice, at that moment- when the car horn beeps or the jackhammers begin- notice everything you can with your five senses.  What is happening?  At that moment, perhaps Spirit is trying to get your attention.  There may be a message or a parable, a character from a play, a myth unfolding.  Wake Up ... and give the moment your complete attention.

 

Yesterday, I spent some time in the lobby while I was waiting for Jeff and George.  I was chatting with a man, whose name is Barry.  He's an older white guy, from Georgia, with grey hair and a scruffy beard, heavy in weight and accent.  I did a card trick for him, and we chatted for awhile about Amsterdam.  Apparently, he's been coming here three or four times a year for the past three years, purely to vacation, sit in the coffeeshops, and relax.    He  came up to me in the lobby, while I was writing, this afternoon, and asked me twice if I was "on with home..."  I told him, "I'm not emailing, just writing, like a journal of my experiences."

 

He then proceeded to show me where he'd burst a blood vessel in his leg, right over the scar of where they took a vein for his heart surgery.  To me, it looked like he was bleeding internally; it looked really serious, and it looked really bad and scary.  I asked him what he was planning to do about it.  He told me, in his accented way, that he would have his doctor look at it after he gets home to Atlanta tomorrow.  I sat with him for a minute, and then had to ask him...  "So, are you really ok with this decision?  ...because you may die before you get home tomorrow."  And he looked at me and said "Oh yeah."  I sat for another minute, and had to ask him, "Are you sure you didn't come out here and show me this so I would make you do something about this right now?"  And he said, "No, no...  I'm supposed to go in for my third heart surgery on Tuesday, I'm going to die then anyway, now is just fine with  me."  And we sat for awhile, and I said, "I have to ask you, because you know you're not going to be here for much longer, and I don't often get to speak with people on this threshold... and I really want to know, what do you think is going to happen to you after you die?"  And he looked out the window, and said he didn't know, and he couldn't control whatever the outcome was going to be, so he wasn't worried about judgement, or particularly concerned about heaven and hell, and had never really thought about reincarnation.

 

I asked him, if he could have his choice of anyone he wanted to be if he came back,  if he even would choose to come back at all?  He thought for a few minutes, and then answered that he'd like to come back as a little Dutch boy, here in Amsterdam, with a Dutch mom and dad.  He asked me once again, if I was on the phone with home, and when I was planning on going home again.  I told him, and he wished me a good trip home.  I wished him "Safe Home."  Barry was the first stranger who chose me when he knew he was leaving this plane... to show me his utter serenity, innocence, detachment, and lack of fear that it is possible to have, even on this frightening threshold.  I'm not sure why he picked me, maybe because I was nearby, maybe some inner prompting, maybe he just knew that I would be interested and available at the time.  I am interested in people, and I tend to notice details, whether I'm in an airport, or a hotel lobby, or walking on the street.

 

One of the things I always noticed when I went walking was the the fact that the Dutch people only look at you long enough to see if you're going to be in their way... and then their eyes move on to the next obstacle-- construction crew, bicycle, car, trolley, canal,-- in their constant stream of incoming observation.  The people here really don't look at you-- they see you, from within their navigating brain; they do see you because almost no one gets bumped into or jostled on the street...  Except.  We were walking through Leidseplain Square, just beyond our hotel.  In the middle of this intersection, we saw a woman walk right smack into a moving train's side.  The train conductor had been clanging his bell at her for at least twenty seconds, which she just hadn't been hearing; fortunately, the train was going very slowly, so she didn't get hurt.

 

You have to be fully present in Amsterdam, or you literally won't make it across the street.  The best way to know when to cross the street in this city, is to watch the natives... not the traffic lights, not the traffic, and certainly not the bicycles.  When the group of people who live here all start walking, walk right along with them; they don't seem to mind.  It is safe to trust the group mind for crossing the street without getting run over.  If there aren't any people crossing where you are, look four times before crossing, and go quickly.  It's really dangerous here in some ways... Buses don't stop for trolleys, trolleys don't stop for bikes.  Nobody stops for pedestrians.  The walklight doesn't mean pedestrians have right of way, and most of the traffic signals are ignored by the cyclists... So, be careful crossing that street, dear!

 

What I learned was to be really freakin' careful when you're crossing a street here.  The other thing I realized, is that it's not ok to wait until it's too late before I get someone's attention, if I see them about to be hit by a train....  I noticed that the people here aren't used to looking at anyone for very long, which means it's really challenging to keep their eye contact focused only on you when you're doing a magic trick for them.  By the time you're ready to make the little scarf disappear, their attention is elsewhere.  But.  If you talk to these people, you will find that almost all of them speak English, and that they aren't shy or mean or stand-off-ish.  They'll stay engaged with you, if they're talking to you... so I've been doing my magical-wish bottle routine for them, and by the end of the minute of that conversation, their day has been changed.

          

With my simple magic effects, I can change a person's energy.  So, no longer are they just a pissed off waitress having a bad day, now, they've seen a miracle and perhaps been given a bit of hope.  Our magic effects are part of the true art of magick; through illusion and trickery, we are helping to raise the vibration of creativity and wonder, here in Amsterdam.

 

Amsterdam is a city that really encourages personal responsibility, and personal freedom.  If you're into sex, you can go to the red light district, and you can find whatever you like there- no big deal.  If you like drugs, you can buy grass, hash, mushrooms, smart drugs, on the corner stores and in the "coffeeshops."  At night, in the dance clubs, many people are altered... and no one pays any attention.  It's your choice, it's your body, do what you like.  I haven't seen anyone out of control- except for one drunk guy in a church.  Oh, this fellow was up there in the front row, sort of yelling and crying a little at God.  That particular church has a policy, that anyone who wants to can come in for fifteen minutes with God, even if they're not members of the congregation.  So after about fifteen minutes, the old priest went and walked past him once, and the man got up and stumbled out toward the door, cracking open a fresh beer on the way.

 

The most bizarre thing we see here in Amsterdam is an occasional tourist tripping his brains off, laughing, talking, hallucinating  and shouting at his invisible friends.  People really seem to respect each other's choices and their personal space, too.  The men really respect the women, there's no weird come-on-I-wanna-lay-ya vibe.  Probably because the red light district is here, and accepted- If you want sex, you go there, you don't try to pick up someone on the street....  A man I spoke with said the biggest problem in Amsterdam is bike theft.  You can see, everyone has these really crappy bikes, with these amazing locks.  Apparently, whatever you spend on the bike, you spend three times as much on the lock, becuase the drug addicts will steal your bike so they can sell it.  Rough town, I tell you.

 

There is a lot to enjoy about Amsterdam.  It's been sunny and pleasant, and a wee bit chilly, all day long.  I like the french fries here.  Jeff and I had some for breakfast the other morning, in the open air market.  The market is just one of the parts of this city that called to me.  There were about a hundred and fifty pushcart-and-tarp style stalls, out along a wide street.  Walking through the rows of carts, it's amazing to notice how the smells change as you go through.  One moment, a hint of incense, then, all of a sudden, a tea and spice shop-- ah, an orgy of scents-- and then the fresh fish market, --not a bad smell, more like the ocean and tangy-ish, and then the fruit stands, with huge ripe mangoes cut open, touching the air with fragrance, and then it's fresh flowers, wafting toward you on the breeze off the canal....

 

Oh my stars, I have to tell you about the flower market here!  Now, as the shopkeeper explained it to me, the Dutch people adore fresh flowers, so they grow a lot of them over here.  Everyone has flowers on their table, at least once a week, and when you go to someone's house, you bring them flowers....  The flower markets here have incredibly inexpensive and gorgeous varieties of growing things.  Tulips, in every color imaginable, tea roses ten for less than two dollars, lovely bouquets... and interesting plants.  Venus flytraps, plants with pouches to trap naieve insects in, carnivorous plants, which I'd only seen in pictures, flowerpods with pins that uncurl, giant orchids the size of my hand --purple and white and swollen in the afternoon sunshine beaming in the window.  There's a flower I've never seen before, too.  It's got light green little leaves, and soft tiny little yellow and green flowers.  It's called bupleurum.  It's other name is Alchemia.  They're used to add contrast to bouquets, mostly... and they're gorgeous.

 

Right when we first got into town, at Schipol airport, I bought a bunch of freesia, white with yellow and purple at the tips and ah, so fragrant...  Today, the freesia was joined by seven reddish orange tea roses.  I'd like to find some irises tomorrow, or, no, maybe birds of paradise.  Flowers, whee!!!

 

Amsterdam is an interesting city.  It seems that the entire place is 700 meters below sea level, and that the only thing preventing the ocean from rushing in and wiping everything out are the dams.  The canals everywhere reinforce this very clearly.  I know that when you go up in altitude,  the percentage of pure oxygen in the air decreases.  So, down here, you can "breathe easy," on many different levels.  The city is small enough to walk through, and I've been doing a lot of walking lately.

 

Walking alone in Amsterdam felt pretty safe overall- the only people to watch out for are the pickpockets, but they aren't really interested in hurting anyone, just getting inside your pockets.  My mom taught me always to have two quarters in my pocket to give if anyone asked me.  Jeff reminded me of this lesson, and so now I've been walking with two guilders in my pocket, ready to give them away when I'm asked.  I've also given away quite a few of the new Zingaia cds.  Sissy, the manager of our hotel, listened to it, and then told me that the music is "relaxing."  That word has been used by every single European who has heard it.  (I guess that's in comparison to much of the Euro pop music scene, which is aggressive, speedy and not-relaxing...  like the traffic here. ) Sissy says she really likes it, that it sounds like good music to relax to.  I completely agree.  Sissy, impersonating an American, "I am an American. I require ice and a remote control."  (pronounced with soft rs.)

 

Walking down the street this morning, I found my way to the Clean Brothers laundrymat.   I was early, and I had to wait about twenty minutes for the owner of the shop to come in.   Another fellow who was waiting, named Alex, from Georgia, and I had a lovely conversation... turns out he loves to collect masks. Hm.  I told him all about the exhibit at the church in Dam Square, the one called the Way to Heaven.  Jeff and I went there the other day.  We were joined by an someone Jeff had known from, a Rastafarian man whose name I don't think I ever learned.

 

The collection is a huge exhibit of rare and really old relics.  Relics are thought to be holy objects because they hold within them a piece of something sacred to the Church.  We saw Hildegaard of Bingham's ivory comb, a tooth that at one time was in the mouth of Mary Magdalene, and some crumbs that were supposedly the remains of the umbilical cord of Jesus himself.  It was like seeing the modern-day equivalent of the holy sideshow of yesteryear.  Apparently, if you ran a church hundreds of years ago, and you wanted to boost the attendance at your church, you could display a sacred relic-- a finger bone of a saint, for instance, implanted into a sculpted hand, say, and it would have lots of power attached to it.  Folks would come and see it, and hope to experience a miracle... and put money in your collection plate while they were there.  By the end of this time period, there were lots of relics around.  Lots.  So many, in fact, that it is now believed that many of them are not what they purport to be... which is part of why they fell out of the scene; they became too common, and lost their sacredness.

 

So, anyway, I told Alex all about this place, and he told me about being a furniture sales rep from Atlanta.  Shortly after I did a card trick to amuse Alex, the owner showed up, and took my laundry.  He gave me my ticket, and I was off into the rest of the day.  Jeff was teaching a Master Class for eight hours, which meant I had the day to explore on my own.  I stopped in a little bakery nearby, and had a croissant and an orange juice-in-a-box, and returned to the hotel, where I sat in the lobby and wrote postcards.  I walked down to the cyber cafe, and answered all the important emails, and then I looked at  my map for awhile.

          

I walked over to the Rijksmuseum, and saw a great exhibit of Asian art.  A funny coincidence is that just last night, I was lying in bed, talking with Jeff about how here, in Amsterdam, the archetype that I resonate with is invisible.  The dark, Mediterranean goddess doesn't live here...  Here, she's seen as big, blond, strong-- and it seems like the current fashion of seeing lots of Tibetan or Hindu or Chinese goddess in all the shops hasn't quite hit here yet.... and then this exhibit is filled with statues of deities, bodhissattvas, goddesses, gods and buddhas....

 

The best part of it for me, was seeing the statue from Japan of Buddha, sitting in meditation, with his hands in a particular mudra which I hadn't seen before.  It shows the hands, palms up, forming the yan mudra with first fingers and thumbs, with the first knuckles of the forefingers touching each other, and the other fingers interlaced, and the thumb tips touching each other... It's apparently connects body, mind, and spirit to the Divine and to each other.  And, it feels good.

 

There were also a great many paintings by famous Dutch painters, and a beautiful display of regal clothing from the royal family at the turn of the twentieth century... costumes from parties and weddings from the early 1900s.  It was especially cool, because inside the big lucite cases, they had the costumes arranged--suspended from hidden wires-- as if there were actually people inside of them, doing things... like using a telephone, or dancing.  They also had old black and white pictures of the people wearing them.  The final exhibit I saw there was a modern day collection of photography, from many different photographers, portraits mostly, with a few landscapes thrown in for good measure.

 

The architecture here is astounding.  My vote, so far goes to the three statues of Pan's upper body, complete with pipes, at the top of the masonic lodge building.  My second vote, because, after all, I get as many votes as I want...  goes to the large well-lit angel statue we saw last night.  Ok, my third vote goes to the nine big statues up near the top of the American Hotel; each figure is a different nationality, in different costume- unbelievable.

 

One of the places I walked to every day was the internet cafe...   One afternoon, I was looking down the long row of people writing at the terminals, and imagining the view that might be seen, if  there was a camera that only focused on the row of hands, all typing on the keyboards...

I noticed that there are these times in between the typing and the thinking, in the movements of the hands, where they're sort of frozen, but moving of their own accord, waiting for information.  It's what they do when they're standing by....  You know, I bet that if you were to compare these unconscious gestures to the ritualized finger movements found in some traditional forms of Asian dance, and graph those on a computer, you might find that these movements corresponded exactly.  Now, that would be interesting....

 

One morning, I had walked into the orange internet cafe, and was trying to figure out how to work the automatic machines.  They give you a code you punch into the terminal, and then you can get connected to the net.  It's one Euro for just over an hour's worth of time, which seems reasonable.  I was trying to figure out which terminal I wanted to be at; there's about two hundred little cubbies and stations.  I like being near the window, away from other people.  All of a sudden, the power blinked and a voice came over the intercom, first in Dutch, then in English, that the system had gone down, and would be about fifteen minutes til it was back online.

 

I decided to wander to wherever my feet would take me....   I walked through the neighborhood, and stopped in a little shop called Out of the Blue.  It's owned by a fellow from Israel, named Itzchak, and his male clerk/friend/brother/lover?  whose name I didn't get.  He's had his store, right down the street from the busiest internet cafe in Amsterdam, since last July.  He said he noticed a dramatic drop-off in the number of American tourists here after September eleventh, but that he's starting to see more now.  His shop is really aimed mostly at the American travelers, with some nicer jewelry and things for the locals.  I liked the music he was playing in his shop, and got him to show me the cd, and wrote down the group, for future reference.  Any else heard of Boards of Canada and "warp" music yet??

 

Itzchak said that there's a fairly large Israeli population here, enough to feel at home and comfortable, and that business between them is very good.  He says his main issue is with the Moroccans; now, he has nothing against foreigners, since he is one, himself... but he thinks the country has gone too far in letting them in.  You see, he says, when you move here, you're supposed to sort of assimilate into the culture that's already here, and the Moroccans don't or won't or can't, and he feels that their presence is taking away from the culture that this place is all about, and setting the stage for intolerance.

          

I spent a little while drinking strong Dutch coffee, in a little shop on the outskirts of the red light district. The young woman behind the counter was first talking about stereotypes and how we shouldn't judge people, and then commenting about "Jew lawyers," on the next breath.  The young man she was talking to gestured at me and said, "Well, look there- she's Jewish.  You can't just go around making statements like that, because it's prejudiced."   ...  and she said, "Well, you know there's a stereotype that all Dutch girls are loose, so not all stereotypes are true... "   Ah, well, right, ok... could I just have my check, please?

 

One afternoon, I went to the Van Gogh museum, which is only about a ten minute walk from where we stay.  It's interesting, the way the museum is built, you can walk all around the museum in the park, but to actually get inside, you have to go out of the park and around the corner-- so I wandered a bit and looked around, and finally asked someone where the entrance was, and he told me-- a guardian at the threshold, no doubt, there to aid me in my quest.

 

 As you go in, and down the stairs,  you come to a big window, which stretches around the whole lobby in a big arch, looking out on a giant horizontal fountain.  The fountain is about forty feet long and maybe three inches high, and water flows toward the glass window.  If you sit right in the center- or kneel, as I did, with this endless flow of rippling water coming toward you, it's incredibly meditative.  You can watch the foam going from where the water enters the fountain, spiraling out like galaxies, and gradually dissolving as it passes over the bumpy granite... washing away impurities, reflecting endlessly, emptying the mind, purifying and cleansing, preparing one for Art. There is a small speaker there, with the sounds of a bubbling brook, and flowing water, which masks the sounds of quiet conversations in many different languages, subdues the babbling undercurrent of foreign voices.

          

I just watch the water, rippling and flowing toward me in an endless stream.  Just watch the water, and notice what tries to pull attention away, and then just watch the water some more.  Watch each bubble until it bursts--then watch another one.  Let each distracting thought burst, like a bubble.  Releasing, opening, flowing... just watching the water and nothing else.  Watch the foam swirling out from the source of the fountain, in galaxies that spin out and dissolve in their journey of dissolution and union, to return to the source again.

 

It costs thirteen dollars to get inside, and the main exhibit today, and for the next three months, is about Van Gogh & Gaughin.  These two men did some incredible painting together, in the 1880s, in Paris.  They had a tumultuous relationship, passionate and argumentative.  They each generated some of their best work as a result of their being together, and this exhibit really showed the similarites and differences in their styles.  The major difference I noticed is that Van Gogh only painted what he actually saw in front of him.  Gaughin liked to paint from memory.  I really enjoyed seeing how Van Gogh's colors changed when he got to Paris... oh, and his paintings of sunflowers were so beautiful.  It's hard to describe, but he captures the fiery flaming oranges and yellows, and his brushwork is astounding when you really get up close to look at it.  Sunflowers may have been, for him, a symbol of love for God and friendship.

 

There also was a series of paintings called De Arlesienne.  It started with a sketch that Gaughin did while he was living with Van Gogh.  After the last dramatic fight, (the famous one, in which Van Gogh cut off part of his ear in his rage and frustration)... Gaughin left, to go to Tahiti.  He left rather quickly, and left his sketch of the Arelessian woman behind.  After some time, Van Gogh found it and completed it as a painting, keeping true to the portrait in the original sketch, while adding in his own sense of color and background.  He said the work felt like a piece of forgiveness, a blending of their artistic talent, representing all they had been through together.  Van Gogh died six months later.

 

Toward the end of Gaughin's career, in Tahiti, he had someone bring him a bowl of sunflowers, which he placed on the chair beside him, and painted.  He had sunflowers brought to his new home and planted them all over his estate....  Closure, forgiveness, friendship, and love of Spirit.  I plan to plant some sunflowers in the backyard when we get home....

 

The sex museum was fun.  The sign outside says Temple Du Venus.. and it costs less than three dollars to get in.  The first exhibit that greets you inside the museum is a statue of a flasher, who says "hey, hey, look over here," in English, with a heavy Dutch accent, and when you look, he flashes you a look under his coat- hee!  Lots of penises and vaginas, lots of tongues and different positions of sex, background soundtrack of people moaning and laughing and sounding content.  The coolest exhibit was "The History of Sex through the Ages."  This was a giant mural on a roller that showed little paintings of people having sex.  Some were dressed in cave-man fashion, some in togas, some in Puritan costume, and some in business suits. It was all painted to resemble a kitsch cartoon.  All the people were connected in a daisy chain.  The sountrack was a recorded voice, again with Dutch accent, quickly reading a lecture on the history of sex. 

 

One of the other moving maquettes showed Marilyn Monroe, nude in the middle of a photo shoot; and a different one showed a woman jerking off a man....  There were places to listen to phone sex, and movies you could watch in a little booth for a dollar.  Hundreds of carved phalluses.  Lots of cartoon images.  The very first porno movie ever, playing on an endless loop.  After about five minutes in the museum, the brain turns off.   It's just a huge array of images and visuals, overwhelming in sheer numbers.  There was one section of the museum that had a warning that there was explicit material inside, and that there should be no complaints if you went in to look.  I went in to look, and there were pictures of people in various forms of bondage, or people peeing, or piercing-- the owchie room.  Interesting that this is still sort of taboo, even here in Amsterdam.

 

I felt quite safe walking through the red light district.  We went in the afternoon, and I was with Jeff and Rafael.  We went  into the erotic art museum, and saw a live sex show at the Cassa Rosa.  The "banana show" wasn't scheduled until later in the evening, as the nice man at the door informed us.  We went in anyway, and watched one couple doing it, in some different positions, to the Enigma song "Sadeness, part 1."  They both seemed really mechanical; she seemed especially bored; from what I could see, she was just going throught the motions, as it were.  Apparently they're the afternoon shift, and there were only about six people in the audience, counting us. The room would have held twenty...  So, five times a day, they do their performance... and have a real big finish on the last show.  Eep.

 

    I guess I thought it would be, I don't know, sexier.

 

It really was pretty fascinating to walk around in the red light district.  We were there in the late afternoon, and some of the windows were empty, but still, there were lots of hookers hanging out in some of the windows.  Each window had a stroke of red neon across the top; that's how this area of town got its name.  Each girl (or boy, as the case may be), was sitting in a window seat, which was about four feet wide... in lingerie, putting on lipstick, fixing their stockings, chatting on the phone, dancing... Each one clearly was wearing a watch, after all, time is money around here.

 

From the little guidebook called The Smoker's Guide to Amsterdam, I learned a lot about all the cool coffeehouses, and read about all the different ways there are to alter your mind and body here in Amsterdam.  I learned that you can have ten minutes of s#@%ing and f&^*ing for fifty euros, about fifty dollars.  Or, if you'd prefer, you can have an hour, for two hundred and fifty euros.  The rules are that there is no kissing on the lips, and that the customer must wear a condom.

 

The local conspiracy theorists here say that there is some dark connection between the Queen of Holland and the landlord of the property the whores rent their windows from.  I don't know if the prostitutes were any more enthusiastic about their work than the couple at the Cassa; we didn't engage any of their services. They certainly were interesting to look at, though.

 

I had been seeing these large posters advertising the display of Inquisition era torture instruments.  Yikes.  Jeff thought the posters looked cool, and was interested, if we had time, in seeing it... but it didn't work out, which was fine with me... until today.  As I walked across the street, I saw a large statue of a wooden figure, cloaked and cowled, pointing to a big door.   I walked in, and, what do you know, it was the torture exhibit.  So, I paid my 15 guilders and went on through the exhibit, which was an intense twenty minutes of my life.  I saw iron maidens, torture racks, chairs, shackles, chains, masks, thumbscrews, guillotines, wheels, weights, and lots of pinchy things.

          

The amount of fear that came up in me, just from seeing these things, was so intense....  I think they all need some serious cleansing.  I felt like I needed a change of venue, myself, so I went walking in the rain, allowing my feet to guide me where they would.

 

As it stopped drizzling, I found myself strolling through the area called Niewmarket, a huge outdoor market.  I stopped at an African imports stall... and did some magic for the man behind the table, who called his boss over...

 

Modu is from Senegal.  He had gorgeous blue-black skin and eyes; he was wearing a magnificent dark blue turban, and brightly colored clothing in traditional West African style, with lots of bracelets and rings on every finger.  He and his wife have a store not far from the market.  Modu and I decided to walk over to it.  He has his import business, and also teaches djembe lessons.  Go figure.  Apparently, there's a large number of Africans who moved here from Senegal, and they're all Sufis.  I formally met Modu's wife, and their friend, who was setting some goatskins to soak in water so he could put a new head on a drum.  I made a magic bubble for her, but she wanted me to tell her exactly what it represented and exactly what would happen to her if she did take it.  I told her it would bring her good luck, and she accepted it.  Modu offered me some tea, and we sat on the rugs in the back of his shop for awhile, and watched his wife folding giant pieces of mudcloth, inspecting some new shoes, and putting away bags of stuff.  She doesn't much like Holland, she said.  She misses Africa,  it's been six years, and she would like to go back home.  They were burning some sweet copal incense, and listening to bougourabou music from Africa.  She danced some of the dance steps from the music for me when Modu went out into the front of the shop.  I went out to the front, so I could look more around his shop, and saw lots of beautiful things that were way out of my price range.  I ended up buying a large piece of fabric, which pleased all three of us.  Before I left, she asked what my name was, and when I told her, she got all excited, and said her grandma is named Abby, and has been her teacher her whole life, and that I was her grandmother, and I had come to give her a special gift.  She gave me a big hug when I left.

          

I left their shop, and started walking in the general direction of the hotel, and wandered through the rest of Niewmarket and Dam Square.  As I understand, it seems that the rents go up in direct proportion to the widths of the properties, so the buildings are really narrow, and some are nearly half a block deep.  One place, you open a normal looking door and go through another smaller door, and then you're inside a huge chuch.  You are completely shielded from the sounds of the street rushing by outside.  You can buy candles and light them at different altars.  There are pews covered in red velvet.  Incredible, soaring architecture, a giant organ and breath-taking stained glass. The time there was just amazing, profound peace found within, the ability to see all the holy objects there as representations of Spirit, with no judgement, or distance, only beauty.  Purifying myself with water and salt as I walked across the threshold, seeing and smelling incense and flowers, lighting candles on the shrines, and knowing I was blessed by the directions and by Spirit.  I entered the center of that sacred space, and sat, then knelt and just let myself Be there, seeing the light streaming through the windows, multifaceted, multicolored from six huge windows over the altar-- connecting to Spirit in a pure place, a holy space.  I lit some candles and sat for awhile, sketching, breathing, praying for those who suffer.  More and more, I am aware of how lucky I am, to have a body that is healthy and strong, to be pain free, to be free from suffering.

          

I  witnessed a moment of suffering the other day.  The streets, and the sidewalks here are made of cobblestones, and they're bumpy.  You notice them when you're driving.  You would especially notice them if you were in a wheelchair.  When I was walking back from the internet cafe yesterday, I saw a boy in a wheelchair, who looked like he may have had cerebral palsy.  It seems that while his chair was being pushed over the cobblestones, he had accidentally bitten his tongue.  It wasn't bleeding a whole lot or anything, but I could see the pain on his face as he, crying, tried to point at his tongue where it was hurting.  My heart felt like it would just break for him...  There was no magic trick I could do, no words of wisdom I could offer, no way for me to be of any kind of service at all, and so, I walked over to the bridge near the canal, and held onto the railing, and breathed, and let myself weep... and gave my tears to the moving water, to carry them out to the sea...   May all suffering be transformed.  One of my greatest joys is to witness a soul unfold into it's own creative bliss of ecstasy.  The balance of that, for me today was witnessing the suffering that is also part of this life, with the same degree of love, presence and compassion.

 

I try to bring those qualties of love, presence and compassion to all aspects of my life, including our magic performances.  We did our magic show one night at the Magical Arts Center, just outside Amsterdam.  It went really well, in spite of an elderly woman fainting shortly before curtain.

Hans Kloc is the most well known magician in Holland.  His father passed away this morning.  His personal assistant, Marly was at the Magical Arts Center, along with her mother Meis.  Meis is 77 years old, and she had been very close with Hans' father.  Just before our show, she heard the news of his passing, she fainted.  When she came to, some nice men helped her move into the office of the theater, and that's where I came in, to calm, to soothe, to comfort....  As she was lying there, I got the same feeling I remember having when I was keeping my Grandma Muriel company during her last few years.  This was the first time Meis had ever passed out in public, and she was unnerved by her body's betrayal, and really sad about the death of her friend.  I spent some time just being present, doing little magic for her,  holding her hand, and keeping her company through part of the threshold of losing a friend, and of recognizing her own mortality.

 

Throughout this whole adventure, I have felt as though I were placed in exactly the right location at exactly the right time.  We'll be driving to Belgium tomorrow, for more performances, and for Jeff to teach another Master Class.


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