Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Pearl Moon of Zagreb

The main square in Zagreb just outside 'Europe House'

I felt like a passenger pigeon, delivering our little package to Zagreb. It was, as always, a mad dash getting all the last minute details in order before flying overseas. The sound recordist and editor were tweaking the sound while we scrambled to find out how to burn a DVD in European format. Thanks to many hands including Confederation College, it all happened on time. Tucked in my carry-on, I had with me a blue-ray and DVD copy of “Under the Pearl Moon.” I was taking with me, not just the film, but all of the talent and energy so many had given to our project (Sonja Obljubek and myself and other's, of course.)

Photo: Zagreb

When a person travels, it's important to let go of expectations. But sometimes, expectations are hidden from view; tucked away in a corner of our brains and we don't even know they are there. When my daughter Caitlin and I arrived in Croatia, I noticed how the people seemed reserved and being that we did not know one word of the language, at times I felt uncomfortable.  And, maybe it was just my imagination, but there was a sense of the effects of post-war in the air.  I also saw many senior citizens collecting plastic and glass to redeem for a bit of extra cash. People seemed less prosperous (although, we too have our problems of poverty in Canada), but also less swept up in materialism. This was definitely a different country.  How lucky we were. We had each other, a great adventure and Alanna to give us a home away from home.

Mom and daughter getting to know Croatia.
The longer I found myself living in Croatia, the more the people and the culture grew on me. And the more I understood what it was that Jennifer Garrett, our “Aunt Birdie”, had fallen in love with there. Though the young people wear ear buds and trendy clothes like North Americans, they are very considerate of older people. They stop to open doors and give up their seats on the tram. They smile and say “Dobar dan” (good day) to each other.  I learned a few simple greetings and became a 'regular' at the market downtown. Each day, I stopped for the best tasting coffee I've ever had. Each day I made my rounds at the market buying fresh cheese, fresh greens and fruit as well as corn bread. I got to know the vendors and even though I didn't know Croatian, they were always helpful and kind. Music was everywhere. In the streets, there are buskers, choirs, church bells tolling and the sounds of children singing. Everyone, it seems, sings in a choir or plays an instrument. In fact, every single university department has a choir with a professional choir director. There's a philosophy choir and a history choir and a veterinary choir and so on. One night I went out to an event to hear each of the university choirs and I was moved to tears that evening, more than once.

I had traveled to Zagreb for the purpose of sharing the film “Under the Pearl Moon” first and foremost with Jennifer's circle of friends and acquaintances. It seemed fitting that this needed to be the first sharing. And, fortunately for me, Alanna, Jennifer's daughter was with me every step of the way. Europe House was our host and a fitting one, since Jennifer had given concerts there as well as exhibited her paintings. The windows opened up into the main square, the exact spot I meandered through each day on my way to the market. The room seated about a hundred people or more. It was perfect.

In the spirit of Jennifer, we brought fresh food and a table with unique art items for sale.  We hung Jennifer's art on the walls and invited her long-time musical friend Vladimir and his band to play. 

 As we were setting up, there was a rock band in the square below giving a sound check and let me tell you, it was loud! Alanna and I exchanged knowing glances. If they decided to play during our film screening, the audience would near nothing but the rock band. Oh well! There was cheese to be sliced and fruit to be washed and projectors to be tested. And of course, everything went wonderfully well. The rock band held off until later in the evening. There was a translator who kindly translated our opening talks into Croatian. The room was filled with love and laughter, just as Jennifer would have wanted it. In fact, I felt as if she had orchestrated the entire event. I felt her smiling from wherever she is; reminding us of what is truly important in life: friendships, song, art, love.

Europe House:  A Room with a View

Just before the guests arrive.

Alanna and our host Renata at Europe House

Jennifer Garrett's paintings

Alanna and I at the event

Happy guests

More happy guests.
Posters, anyone?

Picking up the paintings in a thunder storm

On my last night in Zagreb, one of Alanna's dear friends popped in to offer me a jar of honey from her parents bee farm. As she stepped inside Alanna's apartment, we noticed she had something tucked inside her arms. Her face was lit up with joy. What was it? She revealed an orphan raven that she had, only moments before, rescued.  The raven clutched onto Anna's sweater, determined to not let go of its new mother. As the sky darkened and we gazed out the windows onto the cityscape, we saw the moon make its appearance in the sky. It was one night away from the full moon, which meant that I would arrive back home on the full moon! What a lovely coincidence. In the storyline of the film, Pearl herself is finally reunited with her mother on the night of the full moon. And she, like me, was away from home for four weeks: from one full moon to the next.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I thought of the many ways I felt like little Pearl on my trip to Croatia. I started out feeling culture shock and homesickness, just like her. I couldn't mange to get internet access in the cafes because I didn't know how to ask for the wifi password, just as she couldn't manage to get a cell phone signal. There were other parallels too but the icing on the cake was Anna's orphan raven. When you do see “Under the Pearl Moon,” perhaps you'll enjoy hearing Aunt Birdie say “Did you know that I once had an orphan raven? Beautiful blue-black wings. We were great friends.”

Anna's orphan raven

The Pearl Moon of Zagreb.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Art Pin Factory

Today, we gathered to create “art lapel pins,” an idea inspired by my friend Marianne Brown. The initial purpose was to hand stitch lapel pins and the proceeds would help our fundraising efforts for the film Under the Pearl Moon. And yes, in that sense, the afternoon did help to bring us closer to our goal. But it did something more, as well. There are certain things we don't often do together as women, like hand-stitching. Yes, it seems very old fashioned but I have the sense when I stitch with my daughter or my women friends (like today), that something else is going on: something under the surface.  

Throughout the afternoon, there were times of quiet as all of us focused on our work. Other times there was laughter and story-telling. As we worked, I felt that were not only stitching cloth and beads and silk threads but we were also stitching our conversations and our thoughts and our creativity. I am reminded of the Finnish women and their “sewing circles” at the turn of the century. As these women sewed, they also organized themselves as an integral part of the labour movement. Though our sewing circle today may have had a less urgent purpose, it still carried with it that weight of women gathering for the greater good of the community.  And this has left an impression of richness in my life today.

Spring colours

Yellow tulips and a long table of buttons, beads and silk string.

Beautiful selection of beads and pearls

Threading those needles!

A completed lapel pin.

(These photograpsh were taken by Marianne Brown throughout our afternoon together.)

Saturday, January 18, 2014

A Car Collision and the Impulse to Sing

I was in a car accident the other day. It was a head-on collision (thankfully, in the city and not on the highway) and both vehicles were “totaled.” There was a moment before the ambulance came, that all four of us (my son and I and the driver and passenger from the other vehicle), were out in the minus thirty-something weather, comforting each other. I can't say exactly what the others were thinking in that moment of shock but I know I was feeling amazed that we were all relatively okay. It seemed to me to be nothing short of a miracle. Not long after, two cars passing by stopped and invited us into their vehicles to stay warm until the first response people came. My hat and mitts were back in my car and yet I did not feel the cold at all. It could have been a spring day as my body was not registering the fact that it was extremely cold. Initially, I didn't want to step inside the young woman's vehicle. I wanted to be out in the wide open sky where I could breath. The woman, in her own gentle way, coaxed my son and I until eventually we did and when I closed the door behind me, I immediately felt her kindness. (The warmth of her personality alone would have kept us from frostbite.) A few minutes later, she put a CD on with soft, soothing music, another act of kindness. Which brings me to the impulse to sing part of my musing.

Occasionally, I will hear someone humming quietly to him or herself but it is indeed rare. In our culture, we're shy to sing. We think that unless we have 'beautiful' voices, we should not impose our wobbly notes on the world. Most of us don't sing in community, other than perhaps in church if we happen to be churchgoers. Or some of us join choirs. For the most part, unless we feel total confidence about our singing voices, we remain silent. A number of years ago, my spent time volunteering in a hospital in India and she noticed how both the patients and the residents sang on a regular basis. One day, they asked her to sing a song, much to her discomfort. No songs came to mind and so she found herself singing our anthem “O Canada.” Since that time, I've often asked my students that if they were in a foreign country and were asked to sing, what song would they choose? Most respond the same; O Canada or Happy Birthday! If I ask them to dig deeper, they sometimes will come up with a nursery rhyme from their childhood. This lack of repertoire seems commonplace among us Canadians, at least Canadians in my neck of the woods. Of course, not everyone falls under the umbrella. A friend of mine, who recently passed away, sang constantly. She sang when she woke up in the morning and she sang while she cooked and she often encouraged others to sing. Whenever she visited my home, she sat at the piano and invited me to sit beside her. I loved singing with her. It lifted my heart; it put my priorities in the right order for the day. But it didn't 'catch'. When she left my house, my voice again fell silent.

Recently that's all changed. I often find myself singing. I sing while I drive in the car; I sing while I meditate or while I'm out walking; I sing while I cook or sew. I don't know how it is that I suddenly have an entire repertoire of songs. They seem to be emerging from my childhood and if I don't know the words, I just make up my own or hum the tune. I find myself singing snipits of melodies from classical music or opera, thanks to my father who played classical and opera music continually when I was a child. And now, it strangely feels very natural. It makes a subtle difference in my day. I have no intention of becoming a 'singer.' It's just that singing seems to take the air around me and the thoughts within me and shape them into something clearer and kinder. Like everyone, many of my thoughts don't even crest the wave of my conscious mind; rather they're undertows of desires and fears. When I sing, it's as if a simpler part of myself emerges; less complicated, less competitive; less forced; more genuine.

After the car accident, sitting at home, gazing out my front window, I had a sense that everything had changed. I noticed the objects that I had placed earlier in the day. There were two vases, clear glass, that I had photographed. And hanging above the vases dangled my stained glass chickadee. They looked different. I reflected on the fact that I had spent an hour singing earlier that day.  And those songs were somehow still resonating inside of me, helping me get through an evening of shock. A voice expressed does something for us. And perhaps, in the end, it does something for others too.