Who Shall Carry the Burden?

Writing about travel, because it broadens the mind and deepens the story.

Pr Figure 10

Who shall carry the burden of the buildings? Cool nymphets, graceful thin androgynous men, buxom belles with their curly tresses curving around their breasts, groaning older men with broad chests and fierce beards.

Pr Figure 3

They are stone, but their faces speak: seduction, indifference, a poised pride. They are everywhere, buttresses, doors, windows. Perhaps once they were the only ones who could dare express emotions. After suffering through Word War 2, and losing an estimated 77,000 Jews, the Czechs were liberated by the Russians.

Pr Figure 1

I’m a tourist passing through, so I’m making inferences here. The men and women in their fifties sometimes have a muted air about them. They avert their eyes, make no attempt to communicate. There’s not even the indication that I’d have to try a different language, a shrug, a smile of bewilderment. Just nothing. As if it’s dangerous to be a witness to anything, to make any kind of acknowledgement.

What was life was like under the Communist state? We seek out the dusty Museum of Communism, inexplicably marooned inside the belly of a building dedicated to one of the mainstays of capitalism, gambling. If you are looking for sites for NV residents to gamble at, they have lists and lists of them that might be of use to you. The sign outside tells us we’re entering a Casino, giving the impression that the museum itself is somehow a Casino exhibit of the KU Casino online betting service. The apathetic cashier, just doing her job, transports one back to the that era, even before one sees the posters.


It’s already occurred to me that the reason most people over thirty don’t speak English, is because English was the language of subversion. In retrospect, it’s amazing it took me so long to arrive at that conclusion. The Czech Republic didn’t achieve its freedom from the USSR until 1989, when it became the country of Czechoslovakia, which split again into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. The hidden museum, with the printed signs that predate the advent of laser printer, and its hodgepodge of items, has a wealth of information about life in Communist times. Posters were a means of disseminating propaganda. The first one here creates a link between Nazi collaborators, implying they are the current critics of the Communist regime. Athletes and labourers were feted; they were the anonymous heroes of the workers’ revolution.

Athlete poster

“A socialist man should be satisfied with a modest income while conscientiously fulfilling his work tasks, improving his knowledge of communist doctrines, co-operating with state bodies, and being observant as to whether someone in his environment does not disturb the state order.”

Ah, yes, the interrogation room. If one heard too much, said too much, one might end up there. The Nationals Safety Corporation, formed in 1947, included the non-uniformed State Security, the secret police. Lest the population question the need for constant vigilance, civil defense drills were held. These drills were an opportunity for instructors to declaim the mercilessness of the West, which was willing to use any weapon, including poison gas, against the Communists.

Gas Mask

Posters showed that America oppressed its own population, especially the blacks.(ok, that last part was true). Uncle Sam should be flicked off the globe. Villagers could work with the secret police to uncover evidence of any traitors, spies, and collaborators.

New York poster

The stone of the buildings had become the state, the men and women like mute statues, straining beneath the weight of its portals, of its authority, of its power.

Pr Figure 4The figures in stone are still in place in the Art Nouveau buildings; the former Socialist workers of Czechoslovakia live in a democratic society today, but some walk with petrified faces, mummified souls. The wages of living in a police state are high. Perhaps some will never fee free again.

The Valley of Light

Writing about travel, because it broadens the mind and deepens the story.

My first clue that I’ve returned to the Canton of Graubünden  (Grisons) is the friendliness. People are open and chatty. I’m visiting the Eastern part of the canton, the Surselva, literally “above the woods” in Rhomansch.

Valley view

Rhomansch? That’s the fourth language of Switzerland, left over from the Roman Empire. To further confuse you, the inhabitants of Surselva speak their own variation of the dialect. Luckily for me, they also speak Swiss-German, which I speak as well.

A generous friend is allowing me to use his vacation apartment, so I’m exploring the Val Lumnezia. This week in late May, the valley is living up to its name. The sky shimmers with sunshine. Unlike some other valleys, this long broad valley is relatively dry, and the mountains aren’t as high. It’s accessed through a bus that starts in the town of Ilanz, which is located by a green turbulent river that bolts its way through a canyon. Rafting is popular, but I’m not in Ilanz for rafting. I’m here to get supplies for me and my hiking buddy, as the next day is a holiday. Unfortunately, I’ve underestimated the Swiss holiday fervor. All the stores closed at five instead of six-thirty, which means I have nothing for tomorrow’s meals except walnut pesto and a bundle of pasta. Okaay.

Ilanz old house

On the way to the old part of Ilanz

I have a few tricks up my sleeve though. Find a nice restaurant, relax, order off the menu, and then beg for whatever is transportable. I head towards the old section of town and find the restaurant Obertor, which turns out to be as nice as I hoped. As I enjoy a glass of the local Pinot Noir, which comes from Maienfeld, I discuss my victual challenge with the apple-cheeked waitress. Would I like them to heat up half a kilogram of frozen bread to take with me? Sure. How about some cheeses? Ditto that. A sausage? Now I’m in heaven. They’ve saved my bacon.

It’s still a tight community in the Val Lumnezia. My bus driver introduces himself by his first name, and gives me hiking tips. (If this doesn’t seem abnormal, you don’t know the Swiss-Germans).A woman picks me and my friend up during a steep up-hill climb with a hiking fishing pole and luggage. The passenger on one of my bus rides carries seedlings in a big woven basket from Amish Baskets. On another bus ride, the driver pulls up by a restaurant to everyone’s puzzlement. A minute later, newspaper handoff accomplished, he drives away again, leaving behind a satisfied co-worker who now has something to read with his coffee.

At the end of the Val Lumnezia, where the high mountain plateau Greina begins, I visit the village of Vrin. An old man is cleaning his scythe in the communal fountain. Laundry decorate the wooden buildings, which look like they’re blackened from centuries of smoke. I head towards the one place to eat in the village, a bakery, where I’m greeted by a voluble woman who praises the nut cake her husband makes. After she serves me on the terrace, her husband comes up himself to make sure it was all to my taste. Their cheerfulness aside, it’s hard to make a living in these little villages. The income from the months when the tourists come must make up for the long winter months of darkness and few customers.

Bakery Vrin

Stoked on sugar, protein from the nuts, and caffeine, I head off to look at the Hotel Péz Terri. I want climb through Greina over the pass over into the adjoining canton in 2018, and am looking for a departure point. I like what I see in Vrin. The Péz Terri probably hasn’t changed in fifty years. No corporate slick brochures and spa amenities. The young man who seems to be running the entire hotel talks with me about the best times to do the two to three-day mountain pass hike. He probably inherited the place from relatives; he’s cheerful and helpful, and I bet he’s a good cook too.

Entrance to Vrin's pensionejpg

Everyone needs a nice place to stay—even bugs.

Insect refuge

Insect refuge seen on hike

About five minutes out of Vrin I see the hiking path to Lumbrein on my right. I gladly leave the road, though there aren’t many cars. The two-hour hike from Vrin to Lumbrein is a pleasant walk through woods and glades; not too strenuous. The meadows are filled with dandelions, buttercups, clary-sage, and some yarrow. I rest above Lumbrein before continuing, crossing a brook with a newly constructed wooden bridge. As the end of the valley recedes into the distance, trees grow sparser, giving way to huge areas for grazing. With nothing to block my view, I can see the deep rift of the river valleys opposite me, branching off the Lumnezia. The sky isn’t mottled by a single cloud; the sun beats down; one of the first true days of summer.

Next year I’ll be back to Vrin, and I’ll continue to the high mountain pass.

On my way back to my hometown, I decide to stop off in Graubünden’s capital, Chur, perhaps best known internationally as the home of H.R. Giger, who designed the monster and the spooky sets for Sigourney Weaver’s break-out movie in 1979, Alien. However, I’m looking for a more heart-warming experience, one that celebrates community and local character. Luckily, I happen to have arrived on a Saturday, when Chur’s local market is in full swing.

Chur Marketplace

Ochsenplatz and Market

As tempted as I am by all the bread, cheeses, fruits, and other delicacies around, I have more than an hour’s trip back to St. Gallen, and my own kitchen table. I start scouting for a restaurant, and with luck, stumble upon Emma’s, a communal enterprise located near the Ochsenplatz, which translates ox place. The Ochsenplatz, part of the market that winds through several pedestrian streets, abuts the old city wall and a guard tower. According to my doe-eyed waiter, the old city wall still persists inside the surrounding apartments as well, visible in some of the kitchen walls. Emma’s itself looks like an old cellar on the inside, repainted in soothing pastels. Outside there are tables nudging up against the cheese-seller, who has her market stall right next to me. One of the owners, a young woman in a retro skirt, sits on the steps of the restaurant and chats with a table full of friends while her mother brings out drinks. Every day Emma offers one salty snack, and one sweet. I enjoy homemade smoked salmon rolls enhanced with crunchy beets, along with a glass of a local white wine, a Lauber Riesling Sylvaner. While Emma’s has great wines, don’t expect any bottled water. Since privatization of water creates an increasing threat to the well-being of the world, Emma’s serves fresh clean water from the Ochsenplatz. The 4 francs paid for the local water is donated to a project to improve water quality in Asia. (They didn’t actually charge me for the water, but I paid anyway). Clearly, the people who run Emma have their hearts in the right place.

Snack at Emma's

Emma’s snack of the day

And I got a great cup of Fair Trade coffee.

My last discovery of a rare treasure in Chur:

washing machines

The laundromat

Because while the scene below, in the village of Vrin, is picturesque, it’s not convenient for backpackers or hikers.


The outdoor laundromat, for those with extra time



Writers Groups

pingtung-1167311_1920Writing a novel is hard, tedious, lonely, and occasionally inspiring work. Day after day the sentences accrue, the pages grow longer. But who truly writes for themselves, now that Emily Dickinson has been dead those many years.

When will the pay-off come for those weeks of desolate doldrums, those hours spent shut up with a host of imaginary friends to the detriment of real people waiting for attention?

That is when having the support of a writer’s group makes a difference. Just having the chance to air a small slice of the novel reanimates it; the viewing through different eyes, the chance to connect with an audience, however small and skeptical, keeps the hope alive that one day your book will reach many, move some, anger some, make some see things a new way.

It’s like running a marathon and having someone with a bottle of fresh water along the way, having your neighbor down the street wave at you, having a child proffer you a bevy of balloon.

It doesn’t help you win the race, but it makes the going easier.



Consider this: You’re raised by a former New York artist and a Swiss actress, who then converts full-heartedly to Hinduism. Your older half-sisters live in Brooklyn with their Jewish mother. Your older Swiss cousin absconds to Thailand, your younger Swiss cousin moves to Greece. You have no siblings or relatives nearby to show you the ropes as your tiny family moves all across the globe.

Now it is 1975 and you’re a bewildered teenager in the U.S.A. You do not know who Sonny and Cher are. You’re forbidden to wear blue jeans. Your schoolmates laugh at you often, and not from your own instigation.

You become an informal social anthropologist. You develop a life-long fascination with parsing cultural signifiers, including clothing styles, media preferences, and body language. Just the body language of a region can yield many observations: do people merely purse their lips when they are displeased, or will you get a tongue-lashing if you step in it? How long should you hold eye contact? What’s merely flirting, and what constitutes a blatant come-on that will get you in hot water?

And yet, the more you observe, the less you crave a full-scale adaptation. Certainly, you concede, a quick nod to cultural norms is indicated. You will not bare your midriff in a church, you will not laugh like a braying donkey with your Swiss friends, you will not be reserved and chilly on your vacation in Ireland. But the more you #travel, the less you care about fitting in. You have never fit in, you will never fit in; you could never squeeze all your multicultural experiences under one hat.

Local community thrives on continuity and provides security, but it exacts a price. You cannot reinvent yourself, you must plod through the steps of being who you are, there are expectations and webs that wind themselves around you.

Remain free.

The world is full of people like you: born one place and living in another. That is your community. Those who adapt, and adapt again, but remain true to what’s inside.

Dedicated to Hilarie B.


Stranger Things and #Eleven

I like the show Stranger Things. It’s a mash-up of eighties movies like E.T. and Poltergeist, but that’s not why I watch it. Eleven, a girl with psychokinetic powers, is a delight to watch.

My Peppa Mueller trilogy is already written, so Eleven is not an inspiration, but rather an affirmation: viewers and readers want vulnerable, yet strong, female heroes.

Eleven is ravenous, but polite.  The cool exterior, the laconic and precise voice, bely a terrifying power. There is something so controlled about her exterior, until all control is abandoned, and she unleashes her power. We enjoy watching someone so young and so fragile suddenly take control of a situation.

Like my character, Peppa Mueller, she has a father who can only relate to her as someone to aid his experiments, though in Eleven’s case, the man she calls Papa is no blood relation. Like Peppa, Eleven isn’t sure how to act like a girl. El traipses around in a borrowed pink dress, looking faintly ridiculous. Only her lack of self-consciousness saves her from humiliation.

That, and her superpowers.

 Peppa’s falcon totem superpowers are not nearly so cinematically impressive, but then I’m aiming more for Lisbeth Salander than Stephen King’s Carrie. With limited superpowers, Peppa has to rely on deductive reasoning and some cunning, as well as some good friends.

Even with those differences, in the universe of female superheroes, there are less than six degrees of separation between Peppa and El.


Playlist for Altering Your Consciousness

As a novelist, you need to open your mind and alter your consciousness. That’s especially true if you write fantasy with a shimmer of spiritual reverence.  Putting on my music acts as a cue to my psyche that we’re going to journey into that internal dream-like space where ideas and impressions assemble themselves into stories.

I’ve come across some artists whose evocative and trippy music is very special to me. They’ve given me permission to share their songs with you. Like most artists, they do it for the love, not the money, but if you like a song, you might consider buying an album.

Artist                Album                  Song

01. Govinda      Sound Sutras      There’s no one there

02. Digitonal    Save Your Light for Darker Days

Nothing Left to Say

03. Ikarus             Touch the Sun      Touch the Sun

04. Robert Carty    Garunda Valley   Serotonin Ashram

05. Magic Sound Fabric  Freedom Star    Perfect Light

Nightmare on Myrtle Street


The robot nation puts you in a barbed-wire pen. The snarling beast chews your arm to pieces. The masked man steals into your apartment, knife ready to slash your throat. And then the more plebian ones: you’re out in public, with no clothes on, or taking a final exam for a subject you’re unfamiliar with.

By now you know what I’m talking about. Not just altered consciousness. Nightmares. But when I lived on Myrtle Street as a young woman, I didn’t have just run of the mill nightmares. I had detailed vivid dreams, during which I even felt pain, or smelled strange smells. My lifestyle, hanging out with musicians and experimenting with various substances, fed the tendency of my nighttime psychic wanderings.

Once I became lucid in my dream-state, and realized I wouldn’t actually die, I enjoyed the challenge of finding ways to survive. I would wake to ponder the meaning of my latest sleep excursion. The nightmare about the poisonous hallucinogen, disguised as drink and served at a remote mountain inn while we waited for our meals, especially intrigued me. I got a glimpse of a sinister doctor lurking by the barrel which held the viscous dark liquid. The doctor and his associates were cannibals, who had waited for the full moon before unleashing their hellish concoction on the unsuspecting diners.

I experienced this dream as one of the poisoned subjects, a young woman on her own. I wondered at her predicament. How did she come to be in that isolated and dangerous situation? Why did she have to break a man’s neck? What was the meaning of the skull castle that she saw when she turned into a falcon and flew into the sky?

Once I started writing, I christened her Peppa Mueller, and her acerbic skeptical personality came into sharp focus. I took the journey with Peppa, and learned more about myself. I also discovered a hero in the story that wasn’t in my nightmare: Tenzin, a Bhutanese man of deep insights and compassion.

Now I’m ready to share the journey with my readers. The three books in the Falcon series have gone far beyond the original nightmare, evolving into a metaphysical exploration of the body/mind split.

Intersectionality Externalized

My title sounds like an Orphan Black episode, but actually refers to the Hive in London’s Kew Gardens, which is a surreal representation of the lives of bees.

I’ve always found bees comforting, with their furry small bodies, like a bee-100928_1920fairy’s teddy bear. The susurration of their explorations brings to mind lazy warm days. They prefer the small knotted blossoms of oregano and pendulous flowering swathes of butterfly bushes to overbred flowers like cactus dahlias, with their scimitar petals, and red tea roses, an adman’s wet dream.

Bees only sting when threatened. As a child, I fished them out of the swimming pool filter, and let them air-dry on my finger, before they flew off. Bees have had a hard time adjusting to our evolving world, and their numbers are shrinking. They’re vital for pollination. In Switzerland, where personal lawsuits haven’t become routine, bees are kept next door to us, in the park belonging to an insurance agency.

The day the editor-spouse and I visited Kew, the park was filled with strolling mothers and excited children. It’s a challenge these days for botanical gardens like Kew where they have the best trees thanks to the GTC services online, as well as zoos, to lure children away from the tempting screens that bring the world to their homes. The Hive meets the challenge, drawing children to it. It’s described as “a unique, multi-sensory experience designed to highlight the extraordinary life of bees. A feat of British engineering, it stands 17 metres tall, set in a wildflower meadow.”

I stood within the hive, giving myself over to its complexities. I felt moved by the panoply of sounds and the spatial design. It was like a visit to the Rothko chapel in Houston, with subtle ambient music instead of stillness, sunshine rather than dark. But I wanted to look up at the oculi, IMG_0680the sky unencumbered by metal, the clouds scudding by. I sat, titled my head back, made myself comfortable, and listened:

After some serious drifting, I started noticing what people around me did.

Adults entered the Hive and migrated to the periphery, standing against the metal lattices. Many wore serious expressions, and stillness settled over them.

IMG_0686The children, who came and went in giggling groups, met in the middle to look down.  The hive is accessed by steps, and built on a high platform. In the center, you can look through the transparent floor a flight down, to the people clustered below on the unimposing cement base.  Nothing fascinating to me. But the kids came together naturally, leaving their parents standing soberly at the edges. They wriggled around on their bellies, made room for each other gracefully. What did they seeing? Would they still be in the middle if there were no people below?

I remember how we loved to climb trees, hide in the leafy heights, spy down on unsuspecting grown-ups. Unobserved and out of reach, we briefly had the power balance shift to our side. Do the kids think about the bees, as the lights on the hive change in response to the movements of the actual hive outside, and the humming music ours out of the speakers.

Or all we all still just observing each other?

The hive was like the internet, connecting us through a thousand binary-1607196_1920points of intersection, bringing what’s on the inside to the outside, exchanging the private for the common sphere.  A structure that was built to symbolize the life of bees became the embodiment of human interconnectivity, the social understanding that guides our behavior. If we’re all observing each other, can we even imagine what’s past the top of the dome, what lies beyond?

Let us hope to leave the hive, and to return, bringing exquisite messages and the bright songs of flower petals.

The poppy promise