Four Entries from Glen T. Martin's journals:
2) Journal of the Fourth Session, Provisional World Parliament Barcelona, and travel in Spain, France, and Holland. September 9 to September 30, 1996.
The level of poverty that we have seen here defies the imagination and leaves one sick inside. We visited a woman in San Jose de Bocay two days ago with nine children, no husband, and no shoes on her feet. She works a small plot back in the rugged hills and lives in a dirt floor open air shack on the back side of town. A tiny, illiterate, hard working human being who lives from day to day, from hand to mouth, who owns nothing, not even an aspirin to lessen the pain of her daily struggle to survive.
Today we traveled into the countryside to meet Mercedes’ mother. Mercedes is one of the many young people in this area befriended and helped by Gary, who lives in Nicaragua and is serving as our guide. Today happens to be Mercedes’ birthday. She was so excited that Gary and his friends (we) were going with her to visit her mother that two days ago she walked the two hours walk out into the country to tell her mother we were coming.
The poor do not have birthdays here. There are no records and no one remembers or notices them. The only reason Mercedes has one is that several years ago, when she was a young girl about 12, Gary asked her to pick a day and remember it every year. She is now 18 and is proud to be a person who has a real birthday. Her pride at having a real birthday, I imagine, may be because it is a clue to her that, despite all evidence to the contrary, she has dignity as a human being.
Mercedes’ mother lives in a dirt floor shack about one half mile from the nearest dirt road and about two hours walk from Bocay. There is nothing in the house: one stool and two make shift benches. An adobe oven, openings for doors, ramshackle boards and ragged plastic sheeting for walls. Electricity or any kind of appliances are undreamed of here. Her only kitchen tool is an old machete. There are a few odd cups and dishes. No food, no cupboards, no sink, not even an outhouse - nothing. Excretion is done out in the bushes beyond the perimeters of the clearing. Toilet paper is leaves from these same bushes.
They carry water in plastic buckets 300 yards from a stream in a nearby gully. The food they prepared for us and the Kool Aid they served us were all from what we had brought as gifts. No other food was visible anywhere. There were a couple of pigs and a few chickens running freely around the house. All the other shacks dotting this area are basically the same. This is the way most people in the countryside live in Nicaragua.
Such poverty, found everywhere we have stayed in Nicaragua - in Jinotepe, Managua, Bocay, and now in the countryside - is a crime against humanity. It cries out for socialism and is a blight on the existence of all the rich. By "rich" I do not mean only the big corporations raping the natural resources of Nicaragua and exploiting their poverty for cheap labor. They are only the obvious ones. Rather, I mean 60% of the people in the first world, by "rich" I mean you and I, ordinary middle class people whose self-satisfied ignorance of their misery is an integral part of our crimes against humanity.
The very existence of such human misery as is found in the so called "third" and "fourth" worlds is a moral blight on our existence. Anyone who supports capitalism and so called "free enterprise" is wittingly or unwittingly complicit in the slow torture and death of these hundreds of millions of people who have nothing and are valued at nothing by the capitalist system.
2) Journal of the Fourth Session, Provisional World Parliament, Barcelona, and travel in Andorra, Spain, France, and Holland. September 9 to September 30, 1996
Prologue: One of the finest philosophers I know says that "all experiences are worthwhile." Given the necessary qualifications concerning our ability to initiate evil, I think this is the proper attitude. One can and should learn from everything: other people, the world, and the workings of one's own mind. This chronicle simply describes some things that were done, but not much of what was learned. The latter might have to be expressed in a very different format, perhaps one that does not even mention the concrete events themselves. Nevertheless, experiences would also seem to be worthwhile independently of anything learned. Yet a record like this can only give the bare bones, the structure, of the experiences. As such it may only serve as something of a reminder, or perhaps as a hint of deeper possibilities. Since this time I have learned some Spanish. Here and there the chronicle inserts the word "picture" where I took a picture with my camera. It is difficult to say what the value of such a journal might be to others. I put it on the web in case it might be of some interest. It does include some historical record of the Forth Provisional World Parliament.
Monday, September 9. Traveled all day and night to Barcelona: Roanoke to Washington to Kennedy International Airport, then overnight to Barcelona. In Kennedy, I changed some dollars into pesetas so I would not have to bother at the other end in Barcelona. We were in a transcontinental jet, two isles, seven seats across. It was dark during much of our trip. But an incredible red glow began in the East in what would have been the middle of the night for the people sleeping on the plane. The attendant asked that we have our window shades down so people could better sleep, but I could not resist staring out of mine at the amazing ocean below and the dawning red sky ahead.
Tuesday, September 10. From the window of the plane across Spain, one could see the rugged mountains, hills, and gorges of northern Spain. An astonishing and beautiful sight - as are nearly all sights from several miles above the earth. I took some pictures of these mountains through the window of the plane. From an airplane you can look down and, for those who have eyes to see, encounter one earth, one planet, one ecosystem, one humanity.
The airport is 13 km south of the city. I asked at airport information where Hotel Rubens was and found it was within the city on the west side, then took the train (which is much more easily said than done for one not speaking the language) into center city where I had to change trains to get to the area of Hotel Rubens. Kindly locals on the trains helped me find the right direction, stops, and trains. It took some walking around the steep streets of Barcelona's west side, asking directions of people who spoke no English, and carrying my two heavy bags and one smaller bag, before finding the hotel. It was a warm, sunny afternoon. One man, walking with his little girl, was very helpful. He didn't speak English but walked with me a ways (out of his way) to make sure I had got in the right direction. What a wonderful thing that you find people all over the world who are simply kindly.
After checking in and dropping the bags in my room, I walked to another metro stop (about 4 or 5 blocks) and took the train back downtown. I visited the Columbus Monument, the beautiful port area (walked all around it), the famous La Rambla walk through the center of the old city, and, finally, the Picasso Museum in the heart of the old city. Sitting at the base of the Columbus monument, with the mythic story of the "discovery" of the "new world" depicted all around it, I wrote several pages of philosophy concerning the relation of genocide and oppression to the myth of Columbus. Later, seeing Picasso's early work in the 35 room museum, was also an amazing experience. To see the evolution of his vision, and the transformation of his talent, was eye opening. Exhaustion didn't hit until I reached my hotel bed much later. Even traveling back uptown to the hotel on the metro (subway), I found myself fascinated by the faces and people on the train.
Wednesday, September 11. In the morning I walked from the hotel to the nearby Parc Guell (designed by the noted Barcelona architect Gaudi) and from there took a train to Sagrada Familia (the huge partially completed cathedral, begun in 1883 and worked on by Gaudi until his accidental death in 1926). From there took a train to Castell de Montjuic (the old fort and park on the southern hill overlooking the city and the Mediterranean), and, finally, just about dark, took the train back into the old city to visit the Barcelona Cathedral (pictures of all these things). The Cathedral was very beautiful and very impressive. It had icons and crypts along its walls that dated back to the 9th and 10th centuries, serving, as many of these cathedrals do, both as museum and place of worship.
After dark, I walked up to the Plaza Catalunya (with its fountains, park, etc.) to take the metro back to my hotel. There were many people around, tourists, crowds of young people (yesterday evening in this same plaza they had been listening to a rock band). Sirens started sounding from several directions coming towards the Plaza. Suddenly, from all directions, police vans full of young policemen, in riot gear, with helmets, long billy clubs, and plexiglass shields (they did not appear to be wearing guns) descended on the plaza. Crowds of teenagers ran this way and that to avoid confrontation with these dozens of cops. Apparently the teenagers had been blocking the roads by pushing the large green city garbage collection containers into them. The police cleared these out of the streets, and appeared to be in a hurry to catch these groups as they dispersed. I did not see any arrests or violence, just a lot of noise, excitement, and confusion. Back at the hotel, I found the bread I had purchased at a store downtown was not satisfactory for dinner, so went down to the hotel restaurant. The meal was excellent and reasonably priced. After eating, I had coffee and wrote in this journal at my table.
Thursday, September 12. "Parliamentary greeters" were to meet people today at the airport and guide them to busses taking us to the Parliament in Andorra. I packed up the bags and checked out of the Hotel Rubens, and declined their offer to call me a taxi. Then took the trains back to the airport, arriving about 11 am. I made a sign saying "World Parliament" and sat in the middle of Terminal A for four hours, looking for the "Parliamentary greeters." None appeared. I asked at both Tourist Information and Airport Information for news about the parliament. Nether knew anything about it. Finally, I called the Hotel Roc Blank in Andorra (where the Parliament was to be held). They told me the Parliament had been cancelled (the woman said that morning they had received a fax canceling it). I was astounded. How could this be? People were coming from all over the world for this. What to do now?
Since I already had a Eurocar reserved for September 21st (the day after the conference was to end and we were to be returned from Andorra to the airport), I went to the Eurocar desk and asked if I could begin my rental immediately at the same rate ($28 per day), instead of on the 21st. They said yes, but the cost of insurance on the car seemed to me excessive, so I rented it without insurance. I would drive to Andorra and find out the story for myself, but as it was afternoon, I felt in no hurry and decided to see some of the country on the way. I drove south from the airport on the expressway looking for a route north around Barcelona, but, not finding any, I drove back north through Barcelona, then along the coast. Everything was unfamiliar, names, road signs, directions, customs. In an unfamiliar car, with unfamiliar traffic norms, Barcelona rush hour traffic was a real experience, a sort of baptism by fire.
North of Barcelona, I stopped at a road side service and restaurant for a bite to eat and bought a book of detailed maps of Spain. Then continued north along the coast which gets rugged and beautiful, even though they have ruined the beauty somewhat with electric commuter trains, wires, and other modern trash. About 6 pm, I stopped in one of the many "camping" resorts. People (mostly Spanish) were vacationing in these places in wall tents, or small camper trailers, door to door in rows. An amazing way to "vacation," but this is obviously popular in Spain. The kids, however, seem to love it, since there are so many other kids around in these tent cities. The occasional overnighter like myself seems a rarity. They charge by the number of tents, cars, and persons, so the cost for one car, person, and tent was about 17,00 pesetas for a sandy spot big enough for my car and tent next to a camp road and busy bath house with noise and commotion. I pitched the tent, then as it was only 7 pm tried to walk to what looked like Roman ruins on another hill. But after several attempts in different directions, I realized there was no way to walk the mile or so to that other hill. Everything is fenced in, constricted and controlled (pictures of these things).
After dinner people carry their dishes to the bathhouse and wash them in the outdoor sinks provided there. This is amazing to me. Don't they have anything better to do with their time? Tomorrow I will drive to Andorra by way of the small roads and scenic places. Early on I will try to reserve a room at the Roc Blank and spend at least one night trying to find out if what I was told on the phone is really true or if I have just missed something here in a big way.
Friday, September 13. The new, one person tent works fine. The air mattress is comfortable. The sleeping bag is just warm enough for these mild nights. But nonetheless it was an uncomfortable night. The bag seems made for shorter people and, since it rounds to a head shape at the top, would not cover my right shoulder and arm. But the really difficult thing was staying on the air mattress. The silky bag and shiny smooth air mattress were as slippery as ice. Every movement would send me sliding in one direction or another. One has to lean an entirely new way of sleeping in this situation. Got up at 6:20, while it was still dark. It did not take long to pack up. Had two slices of bread and a little wine for breakfast (this was also dinner last night). Wine is inexpensive and sold everywhere, in every little market, etc., and is not a somewhat controlled substance as it is in the states. The gate at the bottom of the hill was not open, but a man cleaning up down there let me out.
I drove north on route N 11 past Gerona and took the road to Olot-Basalu, a modern well paved road with speeds from 60-100 k/h, but with cars going much faster than these posted limits. Suddenly the modern road crossed a bridge and off to the left a few feet was an ancient stone bridge over the gorge into a medieval walled town: Basalu, now sprawled out to a modern town in several directions but still with the 11th century-on core of the town, with tiny alley ways, stone structures, churches, former monastery, Jewish baths, etc., all somewhat as they were (with people still living in the buildings, the only addition being unsightly electric wiring, a few autos, and probably some kind of plumbing indoors). I walked across the medieval bridge, with is gates and large entry doors, to the town. From that time for the next three weeks, everywhere I went I tried to imagine what life must have been like for the people living here in medieval (or in some cases Roman) times, before modern autos, roads, communications, scientific knowledge, etc.). I could not stay long, being on the way to Andorra, but stopped outside the town for a cup of coffee. As at the campsite, and most other public places, there were no toilet seats on the toilets. What was it like for the Medievals who built these magnificent structures by hand? Did they have toilet seats? Or care about such things? Perhaps not.
A few km further on the road comes to another village build on the very edge of huge cliffs - Castelfollit de la Roca. I wanted to pull off and get a picture but there was no way to do so with the speeding traffic around me so I kept going to a fork in the road and pulled off there. As there were two motorcycle police there, I decided to drive down the road to turn around. (Here was one experience I was attempting to avoid, worthwhile as it might have been.) There was no place to turn on the small winding road, but I soon came to a small gravel road up the mountain on the right with a tourist insignia at the corner. I drove up the tiny road for an hour. Met only one car coming down, and he had to back up 50 m to find a place where one of us could get off the road and let the other by. The tiny dirt road was forested on both sides, with occasional vistas of the valley opening up. It was exciting to explore this out of the way mountain. In trying to avoid one experience, I had stumbled onto an adventure.
At the top of the mountain was a tiny church and living quarters and storage building, garden, etc., named Castell de Montagut (church of Montagut), established about 1070, with magnificent views in all directions across the valleys to other mountains. People must have walked for many hours to get up here. I had passed one local man walking down (certainly a several hour walk). The medieval people moved large, heavy stones to build walls, walks, foundation supports, arches and buildings here (pictures). Is it the religious impulse which drove people to such accomplishments? It is beautiful here, and in those days, it must have been absolutely peaceful. Today, one faintly hears the roar of the trucks down in the valley below. Even today, that people live here and are restoring this ancient chapel is astonishing to me. What is it that they think and feel? Simply asking them might not clarify things. Thoreau says that to just once see as another person sees would transform us forever.
Halfway down the mountain, on this tiny road, I stopped to take a picture. Got back in the car and the same thing happened as yesterday when I pulled off on the coast to look at the sea and take pictures. The steering wheel locked and the ignition key would not turn. Yesterday I fiddled with it with no luck, finally left to take pictures, and when I returned it started up. Today, I am stuck on a mountain. Is it broken? I fiddled and fiddled, no luck. It is on a timer? Does it require locking the doors and returning? I tried this, waiting 15 minutes. Not a vehicle or person passed. If they had, there was barely enough room to get by. The car and steering wheel were locked so that rolling it would only put it more in the way. About half an hour later I was wondering whether to start walking down the mountain (there would be no phone at the top). I fooled with everything I could think of. Finally, I happened to take some slack in the locked steering wheel and the key turned. Perhaps this is it. I won't know for sure until next time it happens, since most of the time it does not happen. If it had not corrected itself, my adventure would have taken a very different turn.
I am back in Castelfollit de la Roca. It is a beautiful sunny day (yesterday was cloudy with light rain). I stopped at a bar-restaurant back at the main highway (where the cops had been that caused me to take that wonderful drive to the road up the mountain). The main meal is in the middle of the day in Spain. I ordered chicken with potatoes, I think. Nice seeming people. They are tolerant of those who do not speak their language. But the guy who served me pizza two days ago seemed nice. The price of pizza was in the menu and I ordered a mug of beer with it. He charged three times what a beer should cost. Then there was the nice lady, also in Barcelona, who sold me 16 post cards for more than twice (I saw later) their posted price. Perhaps a city lends itself to that kind of alienation and in the countryside it is different. The chicken arrived, fried and greasy, with french fries on the side, not my usual kind of meal. The only decent meal so far was Wednesday evening at the Hotel Rubens: excellent salad, main course and dessert, with wine and coffee for 1700 ptas. At least they were honest in the restaurant today: 950 ptas for the meal and two coffees. This experience may have been worthwhile, but eating too many meals like this will put me in an early grave.
Further down the road, I stopped in Ripoll to see the monastery, but the tourist office was closed and I could not locate much to see. Took some pictures. These are beautiful little towns on the edge of rivers, surrounded by cliffs and mountains. After Ribbes (cliffs?) de Frassure, for the last 50 km to Puigcerda, the road became a small, very winding mountain road along the side of a magnificent valley surrounded by other mountains (pictures). Puigcerda is a good size city at the bottom of a broad valley. Going west towards Andorra, the road is again a major two way highway, repeatedly going through short tunnels carved out of the rock.
At the border of Andorra there were cars leaving that the police had lined up and were searching, but cars entering were only selectively being stopped. The main cities of Andorra that I drove through, St Julia and Estradelli, are at the bottom of very steep mountain passes, with a river running through. It was Friday between five and six, and these cities were massive traffic jams. Hotels everywhere, restaurants and specialty shops everywhere, crowds of people in the sidewalks and crossing the streets, and uniformed traffic persons at every main corner trying to move the unmovable. It took an hour of asking questions, traffic jam slowness, and searching to find the Roc Blank Hotel. Very fancy! No way to stay there tonight.
Adding all those days to the car rental cost too much to stay in hotels. Camping alone may cost close to 2000 ptas per night, but a reasonable hotel costs about 7000 per night. I imagine the Roc Blank cost more than this, but I did not bother asking having seen "camping" signs on there way there.
The person at the desk of the Roc Blank told me the World Parliament had been relocated to the Alfa Hotel in Barcelona and he gave me the phone number there. Last Friday, from home I had called the headquarters of the WCPA in Colorado. They could not give me times to be at the airport on Thursday and Friday when their "Parliamentary greeters" would be taking people to the bus to Andorra. They didn't even know what color arm-bands they would be wearing. The woman said they were traveling Monday also (as I was). So I left my hotel and waited at the airport as per these vague instructions from 11 to 3 on Thursday and encountered no "greeters." So I called the Roc Blank from the airport and was told the Parliament had been cancelled. I had hung up the phone in a state of shock. At the airport with no hotel, all my luggage and no Parliament. So I rented the car and determined to drive to Andorra to find out the story. I thought the person I spoke with at the Roc Blank must be misinformed, they would not cancel the Parliament after all these people had traveled so far at such expense. It was late so I camped the first night on Costa Brava north of Barcelona. The next day (today, Friday), I drove via a scenic route to Andorra, arriving about 6 pm (leaving about 7 am) through a nightmare of traffic jams. Then the Roc Blank said the Parliament had been changed to the Alfa Hotel in Barcelona. Frankly, I'm a bit upset. I have sent in a $100 hotel reservation fee. Should I drive back to Barcelona tomorrow and pay a hotel bill and a car rental fee each day there? I am tempted to just continue camping and see Spain? A big decision I must make tonight.
Saturday, September 14. Spent a very cold night in Andorra. It is sunny and warm this morning, although getting up at 8 am was cold. Luckily the little restaurant at the campsite was open so I got two coffees and two pastries (600 ptas total) for breakfast and warmed up. Looking at the map this morning I see how far the locations of the Neolithic caves are from here - too far to get there and back in time to attend much of the Parliament (assuming there is one). So I will head toward Barcelona first to see Montserrat (the great monastery in the mountains), will camp there tonight (not far from Barcelona) and then return to Barcelona tomorrow to see what goes with the World Parliament. When the Parliament is over, I will have ten days to get to the caves and back without losing the enjoyment of the ride. (The caves are important to me because these cave drawings represent the first great dawning of human self-awareness, the beginnings of our emergence from the womb of nature into the adventure of self-awareness, the adventure that led to successive subsequent transformations of human consciousness and that may well lead us forward to new ones in the future.)
Driving the road back towards Puigcerda, one tries to imagine what this road must have been like for all the hundreds of years prior to the last century. I pass clusters of buildings, some in disrepair, some clearly of very ancient stonework, some more 19th century looking, others built in this century. At one point the highway races by a cave in the cliff by the road, the front of which has a stone door and window, obviously a dwelling centuries ago for someone living on this road when the road was a winding mountain path frequented by horses and foot travelers. The road is now wider, leveled, graded, paved, and equipped with tunnels through the solid rock cliffs in many places. Then it must have gone up and down, back and forth - a slow and difficult journey. Even the old auto highway, remnants of which are seen here and there, twists and turns around these steep faces on the side of this valley. Martinet (see picture of river and buildings) was clearly a major stopping point on the journey from La Seu d'Urgell to Puigcerda. I stopped early on at a peaceful spot by the river and ate a delicious can of peaches and hunks of hard crust bread. At this writing, I have stopped once again to get a picture of the valley with mountains in the background. It is wonderful to be in a car here and not have to rush to be anywhere.
Took three pictures after driving through the incredible Tunnel del Cadi and into a steep valley with the highway running over a magnificent bridge high up from the river below (the tunnel cost 1350 ptas). The road then opens into a broad valley full of small cities with three and four story apartment buildings, an industrial valley at the head of which seems to be a nuclear reactor (see picture). Drove past Manressa to this highway rest stop. A most amazing thing about this modern, polluted industrial valley is that it is dotted here and there with medieval castles, churches, or ruins. I imagine it is the same all over Europe. How does this deep history affect, or does it affect, the consciousness of these people?
From the town of Montserrat, you drive a twisty small well-paved road up and up and up. At the top is a huge parking lot with tourist facilities, 8 or 10 different little tours or stops you can make, and three different cable cars and trams up and down the mountain. Took the tram up to St Joan (John), one of the 13 hermitages that were in different locations on this sprawling mountain with multiple cliffs and peaks. At St. John's the monks cells, some still visible, are tiny rooms part way up a cliff, life literally clinging on the edge of a cliff. The surrounding cliffs and precipices are full of trails and stone stairways connecting the trails (once for walking and praying and getting from one hermitage to another) that the monks must have built over the centuries. The tiny creche (picture) with ivy in the bottom corner was built on one of these trails, a trail which I followed as it wound through the cliffs on both sides, a good distance from any hermitage.
It is now 7:30 pm, almost dark, and I've just taken five photos from my "campsite" on Mt. Montserrat. About 5 o'clock I came back down the tram car to the main hermitage (now a hotel, museum, restaurants, etc.). I had seen a "camping" sign somewhere so went to information (where they speak English) and asked. Just walk up the walk over there, she said, pointing to one of the trails (or "itineraries") which begins as a stone walkway around the front of the mountain. I walked up there, couldn't find it, and came back to her. There is no gate, she said, and only one small sign, but it is a few hundred meters down that trail. Taking her at her word, I stopped in the grocery (they have everything up there - a big business from someone). Then I stopped in the cafeteria (with yogurt, canned peaches, and orange juice already in my bag) and had a salad and cup of coffee. After eating, I walked all the way through the parking lot to the car (several hundred meters and hundreds of cars), put everything in the car out of sight under the hatchback and got out the camping stuff. I was very casual about sorting what was needed because I did not think there was all that far to carry things. Then I drove the car to a spot somewhat closer and carried the stuff up the parking areas and up the trail around the face of the mountain.
I found the little designated camping area (and a booth for an attendant), but there was no attendant and the gate was closed and locked, it seemed, for the night. There were lots of tents there, so the area was probably full. I walked up the trail which went above the sites and tried to walk down to it through the short steep slope and bushes, but stopped when I realized I would end up in someone's campsite, that the place was likely indeed full. What to do? Not about to drive down off the mountain at this point (or go to the hotel), I walked farther on the trail, hoping to find a spot that was out of sight of the trail (and hence the authorities) where I could set up. The slope when up steeply from the trail, covered with bushes and scrub trees, to the foot of the cliffs, some fifty meters higher. Often there are flat spots at the foot of a cliff so I started up. It was rather difficult with the stuffed backpack and the heavy duffle bag swinging from its shoulder strap (I needed both hands to climb). I reached the first cliff and no luck - no flat spot. Then I saw an overhang another 50 feet up. Struggled up to it and lo, a spot. Not very flat, nor very big, and very close to the edge of the cliff, but a do-able spot nevertheless. One problem: it was partly in sight of the parking lot down below and in plain view of one of the itineraries, the trail for which led out to a cross and observation point on another cliff. I waited until it was almost dark to put up the tent and just sat there in the meantime, eating peaches, yogurt, bread, and wine. When the ledge and overhang above me were no longer visible from a distance, I set up the tent quickly but carefully (so as not to fall off). Tied the two 15 foot ropes from either end of the tent to bushes or security points to ensure the tent stayed on the ledge all night. Last night I slept in this tent and bag in the mountains of Andorra and was pretty cold (the temperature really drops at night in the mountains). But here I am on another mountain and I am already bundled up for the temperature is dropping rapidly. Will sleep in all my clothes, except shoes, tonight.
Sunday, September 15. A wonderful night. Got up in the morning, sat on the cliff in the marvelous morning light and finished some of the food from the night before. The beautiful valley flooded with sunlight spread out below as the mists rose and disappeared. Then packed and climbed down to the trail below and out to the car. Drove in a leisurely fashion off the mountain and toward Barcelona. Had coffee and a potato pie on a highway roadside stop. Got to the airport without a problem, then drove around the area for over an hour looking for the Hotel Alpha. Several times I asked directions from friendly people who spoke no English, and finally found the hotel in the early afternoon.
Sunday afternoon: The World Parliament has been going on since Friday, although myself and others are arriving late, many because we went first to Andorra. It will continue today through Wednesday 9/18. I walked into the meeting of about 40 or 50 people, with 6 or 7 sitting at the "high table" in front. They stopped to introduce me and asked me to say a few words about myself and my arrival. When I described what had happened, a number of those present said they had experienced the same thing. Although several told me later that with them it was worse. The government of Andorra had even originally offered to give a reception for our Parliament. Then it reversed its position, without explanation, and forced the hotels to cancel us (we had never cancelled with them!). Others that went to the desk of the Roc Blank hotel had been told to wait a moment while the attendant went in the back and used the phone. Soon Andorra plain clothes police would appear and question those seeking the World Parliament. The police would then photocopy their passports and ask them to leave the country, seemingly all this as a way of harassing us. Like the mysterious forces that prevented us from our original meetings in Innsbruck Austria, and, as with the mysterious denial of visas by the French and Spanish governments for most of our 1000 delegates who were to be traveling to Andorra, there are clearly powerful forces operating that want to destroy the possibility of democratic world government.
At these Sunday meetings, various people were taking turns at the microphone. Then questions were submitted from the floor in writing and were read by the chair woman (from Sierra Leone). They have been discussing the redesign of the world financial system. Mr. Camara from Sierra Leone at the front table then gave a presentation to supplement Mr. Isely's earlier presentation. (1) He suggested pledges from the WCPA's 110 organizations and 40 million members. His chapter has a national campaign to raise money to finance this and to get ratification of the constitutions. Books of raffle tickets: 100 agents in the field with 20 books per week each with commission. They offer 20 prizes (already purchased with a loan from WCPA). First prize: round trip air ticket to the US, one week in a hotel and $2000 spending cash. We are trying to establish the global finance and credit administration. They suggest we talk to Sierra Leone to avoid making the same mistakes.
(2) They seem to be talking about starting the Global Finance System before world government is begun. Philip Isely says that the present finance system has demonstrated its inequities for hundreds of years. The present system does not foster human equity. We are in the midst of the gamble of depending on nuclear armaments, and many other gambles. A trip to the US as first prize is "comical," according to him, because the US is "the largest economic exploiter in the world." The winners get to go see these rich people, he said, but they should also see the slums of New York City.
Monday September 16. Each session of the World Parliament was begun with a prayer by Yogi Shanti Swaroop who sat that the front table as "Spiritual Coordinator" of the Parliament. He chanted a sustained "Om" three times and we would join in. Then he would speak the prayer in Hindi, then in English: "let peace be in our hearts, let peace be in our minds, let kindness be in our hearts, let kindness be in our minds, let happiness be in our hearts, let happiness be in our minds."
Philip Isely began with the question of raising money for the movement towards world government. The problem with a simple appeal for contributions: the cost of making the appeal often costs more than the money brought in. It does something to publicize this, however. Philip Isely started poor, he said, but "stumbled" into the vitamin business and has been very successful. He is in the international Whose Who of Business. (He asked them to put his criminal record (as a conscious objector to war who did two years in federal prison) into his write up for the Whose Who and they refused.) "Imagine him, a socialist," he said, "being rich?" He has given substantial sums to carry forward the program of the WCPA and limited the inheritance of his children.
The WCPA has appealed to millionaires and billionaires, he said, and they have all refused. The rich have not been willing to contribute to the movement for world government and saving the earth from immanent destruction.
We have become conditioned to a false economic system, Philip Isely said in his speech. It is a mythology that is defined in exact terms. We believe we must have savings and capital formations which provide the right to generate interest for investments. Also the insurance industry (like the health insurance industry) is based on mythology. Those insured must pay the custodians of the savings who pay for our insurance coverage, instead of direct, lifetime health security. In a family we don't pay insurance to be maintained when we are old, he said. Insurance, like the capitalist system, is a mythology and a fraud. People need health care simply because they are people.
The ideas in the capitalist system have conditioned us to accept these myths. In the new system, credit will be instantaneous on the basis of the idea that people will go to work to maintain the global commons and will be paying taxes, etc. But it is a fiction that we have been conditioned for hundreds of years to believe there must be prior savings for investment. "You can't create credit out of thin air," we are told. This would put people in debt. But we are in an economic "insane asylum." Another branch of the insane asylum is the one that says we must have armaments against enemies. We are all inoculated with the virus of the capitalist system. People in an extended farm family do not need to save to have their needs taken care of. The present world system is a system of "piracy and aggrandizement."
Our proposed global finance system is not a system of going into debt. In banking systems there are bad debts. Also sometimes fraud. Something like 5% of bad loans must be factored into the cost of the banking system. Our present system is a system of exploiting people in sweat shops and is a system of piracy and is based on the insane system of the capitalist order.
Mr. Isely is well acquainted with micro-economic loans, he said. It is now a major promotion - a big convention was held for this. He got on the mailing list of the proposed micro-economics (micro credit) movement. Who controls the global economy? It would be very convenient if poor people were sidetracked into small enterprises so they did not interfere with the big corporations. There will no longer be the basis for a mass movement of dissatisfied people, he said, who could bring a new system to replace the false capitalist system.
Terrence Amerasinghe's talk at the Monday session. Seven countries are holding the rest of the world in slavery because of the old financial system. These countries have savings accumulated by the exploitation of the third world. These are now administered by the World Bank. The old economics is promoted by economists who are trying to preserve the wealth and power of these countries. When engineers come as World Bank teams to the third world to build roads, etc., the engineers are paid out of the loan money through which these projects are financed. Hence, the country is charged for their work and must pay interest on the loan as well. Under the new system it will not be necessary to enter bonded indebtedness ever again. The backing for the loan is work, and the idea of extending credit to all governments is so that everyone can be put to work. The workers in the third world are worth 100 times what they now get.
Togo, Tanzania, and Sierra Leone all had real potential to the be the first countries to ratify the World Constitution. The WCPA worked very hard to get governments to come to this parliament. They spend $100,000 on this, half from the Isleys and the other half from Thane Reed. They worked very hard to get governments to come to this parliament and begin the provisional world government. If it had worked in Andorra, there would have been a House of Peoples and a House of Nations. The President of Tanzania, we were told, would have been here, but all visas from Tanzania were denied.
Had lunch with Dr. Terrence Amerasinghe, Co-President of WCPA (the other Co-President is Reinhardt Ruge from Mexico). We hit it off pretty well. In reference to the morning's meetings, we both do not like non-sense that creates a waste of time that one always gets from some delegates at a conference like this one. He is a lawyer from Sri Lanka who does international human rights legal defense work for people in Thailand and other such places. He will be involved in the legal team which will try to recover the $24,000 deposit from the hotels in Andorra, etc.
Back in the meeting we began considering the new Global Finance System. Its is written up in Bill #11 which is in embargo in Andorra. (The hotels have this material and we are trying to get it back. Our materials are to be released in the morning. People will drive up there to pick them up. ) After lunch we met to discuss the results of the discussions of the three subgroups which had met in the morning to discuss the proposal for the new global finance system. Each group gave its report and the motion carried. We then created a five person commission to take all steps necessary to create and implement a world bank or banking system under article 8, section 9 of the constitution, and to give a full report at the next session of the provisional world parliament.
Philip Isely is in the International Who's Who in Business and Finance. He says the most laudable expert is Thorstein Veblen who wrote "The Engineers and the Price System" which dissolves the idea that savings are necessary for a global economic system.
He said that no collateral will be involved in the new finance system. You don't have to put up your house, farm, or business. How can you create credit out of nothing, they ask. That people work is all that is required. The return can be from taxation for public enterprises, or payments for people that work. If this is not enough for the skeptics, all the wealth of the oceans and seabeds (owned by the people of the earth) can be collateral for this new global finance system (e.g., the Managnese Nodules and the gold, copper, lead, and zinc accumulated there). It doesn't have to be mined, just as the gold in Fort Knox is not circulated. The fantasy that our money is protected by this gold is like the fantasy that these Mangonese Nodules contain a store of wealth for the people of the world.
Philip Isely discussed strategies taken so far to get the Constitution ratified. It is adopted in 1977 at which time the campaign for ratifying the constitution began. He met with the Secretary General of the UN and handed it to all the ambassadors. It received a very poor response. As second strategy involved having a luncheon for all ambassadors of the UN. There were major promises from some governments, but no action. The third strategy involved approaching parliaments from friendly countries, e.g., India. A resolution was brought to the Indian parliament to include the World Constitution in India's Constitution. Ninety percent supported this but the bill never finished and the whole thing collapsed. Philip Isely also went to Togo, but the friendly Prime Minister had to resign before he could act on the World Constitution. The fourth strategy was to go to the universities of the world. There was some support from them. The fifth strategy was using signatures on petitions to ratify the constitution directly through popular support.
Today the UN is in deep crisis and is quickly ceasing to be anything but impotent in the face of US dogma, which ignores the UN. More than one third of the general assembly of the UN are African countries, but none are on the Security Council. Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world with much more than 200 million people. Japanese and Peruvian and some other constitutions allow entrance into a larger body so there is one possibility for moving forward with world government. On the issue of power and of finances, the UN is in crisis. This may be an opportunity for us to promote a genuinely democratic world body.
For this Parliament, there were more than 1500 delegates registered to come but this was totally disrupted by the governments of Austria, Andorra, France, and Spain. As it is we have delegates from Cyprus, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Zaire, India, Sri Lanka, Mexico, U.S., Netherlands, Italy, France, Bangladesh, Nepal (4 delegates) Togo (3 delegates from the Togolese Parliament), Spain, Belgium, Ukraine, Macedonia, Malaysia, Uzbekistan, and others.
Had dinner that night with Philip Isely, a man with incredible knowledge and a wealth of experience about the world. WCPA is incorporated in the state of Colorado. Philip Isely was in prison for two years because he refused to go to war (WW II). Both the FBI and CIA have claimed that WCPA is illegal.
Tuesday, September 17. Philip Isely's speech: Global warming - the world's economic establishment and mainstream media refer to the "average" global warming figures which do not give us a world crisis. P.I. believes these figures give the oil interests time to continue making money. Their only prediction is the rise of the sea level. Actually the sea level will sink and be deposited as ice and snow as the new ice age is triggered by the release of co2 into the atmosphere.
There are two ways of restoring the oxygen to the earth and binding the co2 we produce: phytoplankton and rain forests. Rain forests grow on a soil that is mostly rotting vegetation. It is extremely difficult to reforest once these trees have been cut down and the vegetable mat and minerals have leached away.
Chlorofloro hydrocarbons are produced by many processes. With the destruction of the ozone layer the ultraviolet comes through (even through cloud cover) and CFC's are therefore killing the phytoplankton. This is as great a crisis as that of nuclear weapons. Without recovering the excess co2 in the atmosphere or restoring the ozone layer we have no chance of survival.
Earth Magazine article (October 95?): "The Iron Hypothesis" - that phytoplankton could be fertilized on a massive scale. Experiments described here show that we might reverse the destruction of the food chain whereas reforestation of rain forests would be too slow.
Had lunch with Philip Isely. He was telling me about the world passport movement (that Gary Davis' began) and the world citizen movement. (Gary Davis is now wanted in France for supposedly manufacturing false passports.) Like myself, P.I. is a member of the War Resisters League and knows Dave Dellinger, etc. I spoke with him about my goals as President of International Philosophers for Peace (IPPNO) and about the New River Bocay Project and gave him (and others) a Bocay flyer. P.I. is a strong personality who had made many friends and many enemies, an 81 year old person of lifelong genius and creativity and commitment.
Tuesday and Wednesday, September 17 and 18. We passed the Earth Rescue bill with the additional clause about seeding the plankton beds of the oceans with iron solution. We passed the manifesto that claims the global commons for the people of earth and prohibits the transfer or transport of weapons or military over the global commons. We passed the idea of the new Global Finance system and set up a panel to look into implementing it.
After the Parliament was ended the WCPA had a business meeting. I was appointed to the Steering Committee of the Emergency Earth Rescue Administration which is to looking into, for one thing, the seeding of the plankton beds with iron solution. One professor involved in the Earth Magazine experiments is at Duke. I will visit him and seek his interest. I was also appointed to the Coordinating Committee of GREN, the global ratification and elections network. I suggested yearly Parliaments from now on (although the work involved may make this difficult) and that these be in third world nations, perhaps next year Togo and the following year Nepal (delegates from these countries invited us to their countries and will look into an official invitation from their countries). I also suggested that we procure a ship or ships to serve three possible functions: (a) to confront violators of the global commons putting weapons, etc., on the seas (kind of like the Rainbow Warrior), (b) a possible site for provisional world government and (c) to begin seeding the Plankton beds with iron solution.
On the last two days of the Parliament, there was tension in the air, especially do to the delegation from Zaire. They had come without enough money, and needed money to complete their stay as well as to eat if they were to remain for the last two days of work. Of course, the literature we had received arranging the Parliament had made it very clear that each delegate would pay his or her own expenses. However, the literature had also promised that each delegate would be paid an honorarium of $500 per day in "earth dollars," the dollars that will be the universal currency when the world government is finally begun. Believe it or not, the delegates from Zaire said that they thought this meant "US dollars" and that they expected to pay for their stay out of the honorariums they would receive. Thinking this a scam, Philip Isely said the WCPA would certainly not pay anyone's expenses. The delegate from Italy (who spoke French as did the people from Zaire) threatened to take legal action on their behalf. Terrence Amerasinghe (who is an international lawyer) chuckled at this ridiculous possibility. Nevertheless there was tension, talk, bustling about, and many private efforts on the part of Yogi Shanti (the spiritual coordinator of the Parliament) to deal with the situation and any others who were having difficulties. We ended up taking up a private collection for them, to which I contributed.
Some others had difficulties which the staff and delegates dealt with privately and quietly, without the public uproar that the delegation from Zaire was making because they had been promised "earth dollars." The situation that affected me was with a gentleman from Indonesia, who was an administrator in the Provincial Council of West Sumatera. He was there with his lovely 16 year old daughter who spoke no English, unlike her father who was fluent. They had to check out of the hotel Tuesday because of lack of funds, but their plane did not leave until the next day. I had had lunch and coffee with them, and interesting discussions about the situations in East Timor and West Papua which are giving the Indonesian government such a bad name (for genocide) worldwide. I offered my room, which had two single beds. I insisted that I had an air mattress and sleeping bag and would sleep on the floor and gave them my key to put their bags in the room. (We didn't tell the hotel since this would incur additional charges.)
I knew this was very delicate business in the sense that here as a Moslem girl and her father rooming with a strange man, but it worked out fine. They went to the room that night about 10 and I didn't come up until about midnight. They had shoved one bed against he wall and the gentleman was sleeping on the bed with his daughter next to him by the wall. The other bed, across the room, was empty. They clearly didn't want me on the floor. Even though the room was warm, I slept in enough clothing to cover most of my body, so there would be appropriate modesty in the morning. It was in this quiet way, with good will and caring, that most financial difficulties of the Parliament were handled, not by making a public fuss and absurd threats of lawsuits over "earth dollars." Any time there are third world people involved, there will always be such difficulties. But that is exactly what democratic world government is about: creating a world where one billion of its citizens are not living in starvation and misery as they are at this moment, and reversing the present massive environmental destruction so that our children will simply have a viable world to live their lives in.
Wednesday and Thursday, September 18 and 19. The Parliament was now over and Charan Das (a Saddu in India for 22 years, originally from Dallas Texas (whose given name had been Ray Angona) who had borrowed my tent for two nights since he sleeps outdoors and it was raining on and off) asked if he could hitch with me north as far as I was going on my way to the caves. ("Charan Das" means "foot servant," one who serves at the foot of the god.) I said fine. He is on a year and a half world trip from one Rainbow Family gathering to the next. He had just come from one in Portugal and was on his way to another in Copenhagen, then to one in Greece and finally in Mexico in November from where the Rainbow Family, in conjunction with Native American Indians, are to caravan south through Central and South America. He says he founded the Rainbow Family in 1971 in Colorado. He is 49 and has been living barefoot without a home in India for 22 years, living on about $6 per day interest from a small trust fund (about half of which he spends on books). (If you wondered what happened to all those hippies that were hanging out in the 1960s, here is a living representative who took it very seriously. Today, many of them are elder Rainbow people.) Charan Das and I had eaten outside the hotel a couple of times (the Hotel manager made it clear that he did not want this bare foot weirdo in his lobby or restaurant). We had shared peaches that he had retrieved from a local dumpster. It was refreshing to share food with someone who has learned enough simplicity to live off the waste of our gluttonous civilization.
But George, an American from Pennsylvania and his guru Yogi Shanti also heard about my car and asked if from the caves I wanted to drive further north towards Belgium. Their planes leave October 6 and 7th from Barcelona and George is paying for his spiritual advisor (Yogi) and himself to see the 6 countries for which Yogi's visa is good. But Reinhardt Ruge also heard I had a rental car and he wants to go to the Netherlands where he will visit his ex-wife. They knew of a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Pyrenees near Graus, Spain where we could stay the first night (they also wanted to see this place, as did I).
The day before leaving (Wednesday), when it was Charan Das, Yogi, George and myself, I agreed with George that we would split the cost of the rental, but also insisted that we put insurance on the car in addition to the rental. So George and I and Das drove over to the airport. At Eurocar, they were very nice about it but had to close out my first contract and write a new one for the remaining time that included insurance. That night and the next morning Yogi Shanti began to complain that the car would be too small, that his back couldn't take the small car and that we should return it and rent a bigger one. I refused to do this, since the Eurocar people had gone through so much trouble to make the change to insurance. They would have to write yet another contract. But in the morning Yogi came up with not only Reinhardt as an additional passenger but wanted me to drive Terrence Amerasinghe to the Buddhist monastery for that night then back to Barcelona to catch his plane the next day, before starting north with the rest of us. It was good that I had refused to get a larger car for it became clear what a manipulating person Yogi is. He really wanted a bigger car because he had already told Reinhardt and Terrace he would arrange for them to go to the monastery and back with me and that Charan Das (since only five can fit in that car) would borrow my tent and wait for us another night in Barcelona.
I said no, although I like Terrence and said a warm goodbye to him, and we took Das, left Terrence, and headed for the monastery on the way to the caves (the caves that everyone agreed we would go to next on the way north). It was a good thing I did not attempt the monastery, then back to Barcelona, then to the caves. Yogi had said the monastery was three hours drive and it turned out to be six hours. We took the expressway past Lleida and then north to the mountains. With some difficulty, asking directions, we arrived at the monastery about six pm in time for evening meditation. We left our shoes at the door and immediately went into the temple and sat on meditation cushions already on the floor in the back row behind the people from the monastery who were doing the chanting, drums, symbols, etc. The chanters of the mantras sat on meditation cushions at two low tables about 8 feet apart on which were placed their music and Tibetan mantra manuals. We sat quietly on our cushions in Zen style mediation for the two hours of evening meditation. It was a wonderful event in this incredibly beautiful and authentic Tibetan Buddhist temple. The mantras were very beautiful, and came to a crescendo on occasion with the symbols, bells and drums producing an overwhelmingly powerful experience. Lamas from Tibet or India traveling in Spain often stay here and lead the meditation. The next morning, when taking pictures, I did not take any of the inside, feeling this would have been a violation of their feeling of the sacredness of the place. Our host at Dag Shang Kagyu, Tibetan Buddhist Center, was Tsering (possibly the Tsering Dorye listed in the 1996 Temple calendar; see the flyer about the center as well as pictures).
After meditation (about 8:30), our hosts provided a fine meal around big tables in the dining area of the large eleventh century stone building that was the hermitage for the monastery. A simple vegetarian meal, all we cared to eat, cooked in huge pots and pans in the downstairs kitchen. We went down to the kitchen, got a plate, and were served directly from the pots, then carried our food up to the dining room. Because of the special occasion of our visit, they served a special herb tea afterwards. Tsering, the leader of the monastery and of meditation, was from Spain, spoke fluent English (and I believe French), and had been with the monastery, leading retreats, etc., for six years.
There were about 10 people there at the time, but three weeks earlier, he said, there had been 300 living in tents around the large property of the monastery in this beautiful mountain countryside (pictures). We were put in a bunk room with about a dozen bunk beds, with a large bath and shower area for the entire building upstairs. We arose at 6 am for another two hours of mediation from 6:30 to 8:30 several hundred meters away in the temple. Then back to the stone building for breakfast. They would not take money for our stay (not that anyone except me offered), but opened their little gift shop especially for us. Several of us bought things there which was a help to the monastery. They saw us off with warm good-byes and embraces.
Friday, September 20. On this trip it was a pleasure, as well as convenient and educational, to have Reinhardt with us (a Co-President of WCPA). He speaks fluent Spanish, English, French, and Dutch (and perhaps other languages) while George and I speak only English, and Charan Das and Yogi English and Hindi. Reinhardt is very knowledgeable about the world, has traveled over most of it for much of his life, and is rich in stories, knowledge of people he has met, and political events the world over. He is a civil engineer in Mexico, building mostly hydroelectric projects.
Charan Das in interesting in a different way. He spends all his time in India going from one religious or peace conference to another and reading books on Indian religion. He also smokes a great deal of hash in India and seems to be in a sort of permanent stoned consciousness, ready to break into a prolonged stoned laugh at nearly any opportunity. He is writing a book on the Sant tradition, he says, and has many notes for this. He thinks and feels, not simply as a Saddu, but as a rainbow person, genuinely outside the established order, living a life that is ecological, non-acquisitive, communal orientated and free. On the other hand, the others, George and Yogi Shanti, the gullible retired lawyer from Pittsburgh and his manipulating guru, both soon began to irritate me in various ways.
With Reinhardt along, traveling in Spain, France, and Holland was smooth and educational, since he speaks these languages and knows much about these countries, having been in them on numerous previous occasions.
Even though we were on the way to the caves via this monastery, since Reinhardt was anxious to reach Holland by Sunday, I agreed to drive straight north from the monastery to France, providing I would leave Holland early enough (by Wednesday) to see the caves on my way back. We decided to head for the chateau owned by a family active in the World Federalist movement for many years who frequently host visitors within that movement. Reinhardt was a friend of Rene Marchand, wife of the now deceased Guy Marchand, who is author of the Club Humaniste book One or Zero. (She gave us each copies of this and a couple of other World Federalist publications.) She had been at our World Parliament and had just gotten back to the Chateau herself, which was her summer home (Paris being her winter home). Her family runs La Lambertte as a winery with its own label.
So we drove north through incredible mountains, river gorges, and past a magnificent dam for hydro-electric (pictures) and the longest tunnel (through an entire mountain) any of us had ever seen (several km, see pictures of the gorge, dam, and place where the road leaves the tunnel). We passed the French border and had the amazing experience of driving through the border barriers with no one there and no one to stop the car to check passports, etc. The European Union has seemingly eliminated all that.
We drove through small French towns in the foothills of the Pyrenees (pictures), with a narrow road running through towns seemingly quite dead, few people living there, the young having moved away to the cities or universities. This day (Friday) we were not on any expressway but rather, in the beautiful light of clouds and sun, were able to see the countryside and towns of southern France. We finally found La Lambertte, a chateau, vineyard, and other buildings run by the Marchand family producing wine under that label.
It was midnight before we found the Chateau and Rene M. was very tired and not in a mood to be hospitable. She showed us rooms and we all went to bed immediately. The Chateau was certainly faded from its glory of earlier centuries. It had a magnificent entry way, with big chandelier hanging from the second story ceiling and two staircases curving up to the second floor on either side of the entrance hall. (pictures) It had very high ceilings, with peeling paint, very old huge paintings and prints on the walls, mythological and other subjects in ornate frames. The electricity had been put in, of course, centuries after the Chateau was built, but was itself a very old system. The bedding was old, dusty, and musty. The plumbing sparse, old, and only partly working, etc. One room for George and Yogi, one for Charan Das and me, one for Reinhardt. In our room there was one fancy old double bed with a carved wooden frame and two twin beds with old mattresses and pillows piled on them. I pulled one of the mattresses onto the floor and slept there. In spite of its run down condition, the chateau was a magnificent building with huge elegant rooms, large floor to ceiling windows in the living room, and high ceilings everywhere.
Saturday, September 21. The next morning, Rene M. was in a much better mood and we all had plenty to eat in the huge dining room adjoining the large kitchen area, itself with room enough for not only a large table but lounge chairs, etc. (pictures) I did up the dishes, there as previously in the monastery and later in Lelystad and the Hague. My traveling companions didn't seem to register in on the need for such things very often. Perhaps this comes from a life of privilege - George the lawyer, Reinhardt the civil engineer, and the two Saddus living a life of religious privilege which perhaps has distinct similarities to the life of economic privilege that the others have led. Perhaps, on the other hand, the lack of attentiveness to the needs of others and the expense and effort any host incurs regardless of how "independent" the guests pretend to be, is just a matter of egoistic selfishness, nothing more. In Lelystad as well, it never occurred to George, Yogi, or Das to offer money to our wonderful hosts, who were obviously not wealthy but had given us food, done our laundry, and cleaned the place before and after our stay. (On the day we left Lelystad, I took George aside and got him to contribute something with me.) One wonders, how can people so insensitive in little matters be thoughtful enough to create world peace and a just world society? Don't both dimensions arise from attentiveness?
We left about 12:30 with directions on how to get to the expressway (on the way from La Lambertte) near Bordeaux. Vineyards stretched in all directions on the road. When we stopped at a gas station, Das wandered into the nearby field and picked a grape for each of us. They were the size of a small plum, firm and delicious. The expressway, a toll road, comparable to US interstates, took us north towards Paris where it fractures into many little expressways that one must intersect here and there to get around that giant city in order to pick up, on the other side of Paris, another consistent expressway that took us through Belgium to Holland, which we reached about 2 am. Reinhardt had called ahead to his former wife, Nancy Van Overveldt, an artist in Lelystad. She had arranged a place for the rest of us to stay that night (and, it turned out, the next two nights as well). The expressway to Lelystad gets sidetracked in Amsterdam, in which we arrived about 1 am and promptly got lost. But it was wonderful driving around that beautiful, clean city with canals, wide streets, and trees everywhere.
We had some trouble finding Nancy's apartment in Lelystad that night (pictures), but she was very welcoming and had arranged for us to stay with Jaap and Adri, about 10 km from her house at the EM (Effective Microorganisms) Project.
Sunday, September 22. In the morning we ate in the apartment-guest house to which they had shown us the night before. Jaap then showed us around the project, a small farm, with a large greenhouse, guest house, and main house, all of which were beautifully designed and built by Jaap and Adri with the help of friends. They grow tomatoes, potatoes, flowers, and other things in a controlled experimental way, spraying some with EM solution and others less often and others not at all, then measuring the results. Very wonderful people, probably in their 60s. After Jaap showed us around, we spoke with Adri in their beautiful home they built themselves, a gorgeous, yet simple place in the midst of gardens, plants, and flowers (pictures).
EM was developed by a Japanese Professor and they say it is something which restores exhausted soil, purifies human sewage into drinkable water, and tremendously increases the productivity of plants. It is perfect for the third world where there are millions of small farms, exhausted soil, and a big problem with human and animal waste products. Of course, the third world cannot imitate the agribusiness of the first world, since this, like the entire way of life in the first world, is utterly unsustainable and is well on the way to exhausting and destroying the arable land that future generations need for their survival. But how many people in the first world even seem to care about future generations? Most of them live for the now, and for their greedy egoistic profits. Even though Adri and Jaap have never left Europe, they are truly world citizens devoted to making our planet a decent home on which all people in future generations can live with security and peace.
We went from there to Nancy's apartment back in Lelystad. After people made phone calls (including me, since it was Phyllis' birthday), Nancy took us for a walk through the wild areas that were allowed to develop when the area that is now Lelystad was reclaimed from the sea (about 30 years ago). She wanted us to see the wild horses that roam the area, a protected area of swamp and forest (but we did not see them). The Dutch value this little bit of wildness, since there is so little of it in their country. Then we went to see one of the dikes that created this land (from sea bottom, 30 years ago) and a famous 17th century ship that had been restored and resurrected from the ocean bottom near Australia (pictures of all this).
We ate lunch in a vegetarian restaurant across the street from Nancy's - wonderful, a beautiful little place with excellent food and work of local artists handing on the walls. In the evening, by 10 or 11 pm, we returned to our guest house at the EM farm. Charan Das cooked a pot of potatoes from the farm here and we ate until 1 am - coffee and potatoes. (Adri and Jaap had told us to take all the potatoes and tomatoes we wanted from the greenhouse next to our guest house.) When we got back, of course, Adri and Jaap were long in bed. On the table was a note which they had left for us. I had mentioned to Adri in the morning that we would "clean up" the disorder (a few dirty dishes, etc.) in our quarters before we left Lelystad. The note we found said: "Dear Guests, Please don't clean up. We would rather have another talk with each other; that is more important than cleaning up. There are sandwiches in the bread bin, so we hope you have enough to eat for breakfast. There is also milk in the coolshrank. We hope you had a good day. Have a good night sleep. Adri and Jaap."
Monday, September 23. The next morning we again had a good talk with Adri and Jaap. She had made copies of the EM literature for us and I gave her copies of the World Constitution and the Bocay Project Flyer. They seem to see the point about the need for simultaneous spiritual and social-political transformation. Even though they are working with food and agriculture for human survival, their work, as they understand it, is inseparable from their spirituality and the need for both the earth and humans to be in both ecological and spiritual harmony if we are to survive on this planet. They believe the biological energy of living things like plants and the cosmic energy of the universe need to be integrated, and that we human beings have a role in helping with this.
About 12:30 we drove back to Nancy's apartment. It was September 23, a special day in which groups all over the world would be meditating for world peace and harmony. Reinhardt and Nancy were going to do that at the Maharishi temple down the block from her apartment (much of Lelystad is a Maharishi community). I told them about Jaap's description of the larger farm nearby (run by the University of the Netherlands) where there were testing the use of EM to purify sewage water (in this case from dairy cows on the farm). Since Adri and Jaap had offered to show us this, and Reinhardt and Nancy were interested, they said they might bicycle our to our location in the morning and go with us to see it. We got through by phone to Peter and Sue in the Hague. They invited us to come over there tomorrow afternoon and to put us up there tomorrow night.
Today, our last day in Lelystad, we had agreed we wanted to see Amsterdam, so we drove there in the afternoon and had lunch at the vegetarian restaurant attached to the Hare Krishna chapel in downtown Amsterdam. There were several people around with the distinctive Hare Krishna markings on their faces. Even though lunch was over and they had just a small amount of the lunch left for each of us, they reopened the kitchen (part of the small dining room) with whatever food they had available and kept offering more, and more, and cooking more of the potatoes, soup, salad, tea, etc., until each of us refused each thing they offered in turn. They fed each of us all we cared to eat. There was no charge for this. If we wanted to, we could go in the temple room adjacent to the dining room and put a donation in the box located there. My companions took advantage of their phone to make calls, ate all they could, accepted the special attention because two of us were Saddus (held in special esteem by the Hare Krishna people), but as far as I know I was the only one to make a donation. It must be nice to be holy and not have to worry about sponging off of other people.
Then we took the one and a half hour boat trip on the canals of Amsterdam, a beautiful and wonderful ride, with a narrative about the history and landmarks of the city. Charan Das was very enthusiastic in planning this boat trip, in helping us find the launch site, etc. But when we got to the ticket booth he said he had no money and I ended up paying his ticket (15 gilders). The life of a Saddu must be so wonderful. We took the tour of the city by canal (many pictures). While in the big harbor next to the city our boat motor conked out so we had to be towed by the harbor police to a safe pier. Then we transferred to another boat for our trip back to the dock. The entire trip was quite wonderful.
After getting lost in Amsterdam again we found our way back to Lelystad and stopped in the same Mobile station as last night to get milk, juice, and use the pay phone before driving back to our guest house. It is now 10:30 and Charan Das is preparing potatoes for dinner again. We are avoiding restaurants and hotels as much as possible to cut costs. I took a picture of him in the kitchen area of our apartment, cooking the potatoes.
Tuesday, September 24. This morning Reinhardt and Nancy were delayed in riding over by bicycle so Jaap took George, Yogi, and myself to the big farm and Charan Das stayed behind to take his bath. Adri had insisted yesterday on taking our dirty laundry and that morning it was all clean, folded, and ironed for us. We walked around the farm and looked at the water project and the larger sewage projects for the dairy cows that they were constructing and would be using EM to cleanse. A very impressive project. Yogi wanted to see the cows, which were in another barn, so we walked over there and inspected that barn as well while he petted some cows. He seemed to have a special feeling for cows. I forgot my camera so there are no pictures of this.
While driving back to the EM farm through huge agribusiness fields growing potatoes and beets, Jaap pointed out the unsustainable nature of this kind of production, which not only depletes the soil, but poisons soil and wildlife with chemical fertilizers. By the time we got back, Reinhardt and Nancy had arrived on their bicycles, so we all said our good-byes with embraces and pictures. George, Yogi, Das, and myself drove off towards the Hague.
Adri and Jaap have a Gasten Boek, with notes in it by people from all over the world who have come through this farm and stayed in their guest house, an amazing number of people from every corner of the globe. They gave it to us in the morning and were to write in it our last evening. I wrote the following: Adri and Jaap, 23 September, 1996, I am so pleased that we were able to meet these three mornings. You have so generously shared your work and your home with us. I believe we have seen many connections between your wonderful work for the health of the earth and my work for democratic world government and the Indians of northern Nicaragua. Yet not only your work, but your generosity and love have inspired me. The people of the world - and the precious earth on which we dwell - need to be in harmony and one in spirit. Please accept my deepest thanks. God bless you both. Glen Martin, 313 Seventh Ave., Radford VA, USA, 24141
Wednesday, September 25. Yesterday we drove to the Hague and went to Peter Davidse's office where he works as Director of the Dutch branch of the World Federalist Association. Then we went to his house in downtown Hague. He rode his bicycle home and we followed him in the car. (These Dutch cities are full of bicycles, which make so much more sense than cars.) His home is a small building which he owns: three good sized rooms stacked one on top of the other (each capable of being its own efficiency apartment) connected by a tiny, very steep stairway (the building is 100 years old).
Sue had a lovely dinner for us of beans, brown rice, and salad. After dinner, Peter and Sue gave us a walking tour of downtown Hague. Very beautiful: small and large streets, lovely old and newer buildings, plazas, restaurants with outdoor tables, shops, canals, old churches, etc. We visited the castle which was once the summer home of Dutch royalty and is now the houses of the Dutch Parliament. One chilling moment for me was when we passed the building that was the Hague collection place for Jews being deported to Nazi concentration camps. There is now a plaque on the wall describing this (picture). Peter said that to their shame the Dutch were very enthusiastic and cooperative in deporting the Jews. The story of Ann Franck certainly does not describe the norm.
On the way back we passed a casino and everyone walked into the this world of lights, slot machines, and game tables. As with the red light district on the next block, I was not at all interested in this sleaze of capitalism, but was happy to use their bathroom at that point. Yogi Shanti immediately began playing the slot machines. He seemed to know just how to do it. I remarked that these holy men seem to have hidden talents, but the import of my remark seemed lost on the others.
Peter and Sue had also been at the World Parliament. Peter is Dutch (speaks also French and English, and perhaps more). He is the full time paid Director of the World Federalists of the Netherlands (pictures of his office). Sue is a radio journalist interested in New Age Religions who has a home in California but has been living with Peter in his home in the Hague for about 7 months now. Peter is 36, very bright, well spoken, and knowledgeable about the world and the world government movement, the UN, etc. Like Reinhardt, one can learn from him.
In the morning Peter had to leave to go to a meeting in Utrecht. They put their two hour parking permit on our car. Our plan was to walk with Sue (who had to do some shopping) to the magnificent Hague public library, and to the nearby old, large Protestant church (one of the first built after the Reformation) where Spinoza's body is buried. I was very interested in seeing the latter. (The reader will recall that Spinoza was a 17th century Dutch Jew who created one of the great rationalist philosophies of that century. But his Jewish community felt that his philosophy was "heresy" so they excommunicated him from their community (no one was allowed to speak or interact with him in any way) and refused to allow his burial in the Jewish cemetery. But this 17th century Protestant church asked that his body be buried in their churchyard.)
After these morning activities, the plan was to return to the car and drive out to the famous "Peace Palace" where the International Court of Justice (and other international organizations) is located, from there down the road to the North Sea, and then to leave on our way to Brussels, where I would drop George and Yogi Shanti at a religious temple and be on my way toward the cave paintings in northern Spain that I have been wanting to see.
Wednesday evening. Instead of following the above plan, events took place that led me to be sitting in the waiting room of the Maharishi University (and Ashram) for World Peace and Natural Law in SE Holland. Peter called them from his office this morning, just as Yogi Shanti and Reinhardt had been calling them for the last week, trying to get an appointment to see the Maharishi. But unlike previous calls, this morning they told Peter that it was OK to come down for a visit. Peter called us at his home and said he was willing to cancel his meeting in Utrecht if I were willing to drive us all to SE Holland where the European Continental Capital of the Maharishi's world organization was located (a 3-4 hour drive). We decided I could leave for the caves from there, dropping George and Yogi in Brussels (I believe they were heading for the Hare Krishna temple there), and that Peter and Sue could take the train back to the Hague.
Since the car would only hold five (with Sue the number would be six), and since Charan Das had to start north in order to be at the Copenhagen Rainbow Family gathering by the 27th, we dropped him after lunch at the main train station where he will get a train to Amsterdam (to the Rainbow House there for tonight) and from there hitchhike to Copenhagen. Before lunch we had walked some around downtown as Sue had to do shopping, George had to go to the American Express office, and I wanted to do some gift shopping for Phyllis and Rebekah. Then we all said our good-byes to Charan Das.
As for George and Yogi's plans, I am not sure what George thought he would find in Brussels (except that Yogi wanted to go there, just as he also wants to go to Germany and Denmark before his plane leaves from Barcelona on October 6). For several days now George has been calling airlines trying to get a plane back to the states from Holland earlier than his October 7th flight from Barcelona. He has been unable to do this, so far, without buying an exorbitantly priced one way ticket which he says he cannot afford. He claims he is feeling the pinch for money badly and also cannot afford to stay until October 7. He is footing the bill, of course, for both himself and his guru.
We drove to the Peace Palace on the way out of town (pictures), built for the original World Court of the League of Nations in 1914. It houses the International Court of Justice and the International Court of Arbitration. Then we drove for 3-4 hours to the Maharishi University in a rural wooded area of SE Holland, not far from the German border. Peter drove, knowing Dutch, directions, etc., and Sue sat in the front with him. They had made sandwiches for the trip which we ate in the car. Before arriving, we stopped in the town of Roerdalen for some Dutch flan, pancakes (neither of which Yogi would eat because their batters included egg), and coffee. We ate in an outdoor cafe, in the beautiful town square situated between a huge old church and the city hall building with its unique tower on which figures moved and danced with the chimes every hour (pictures, also picture of a wall poster ad for the new volunteer Dutch army: be all you can be in Dutch). Then we drove out in the countryside and arrived in this isolated, wooded area about 8 pm.
We parked in the large parking lot and entered the main building which apparently houses offices and the meditation hall. The entrance hall includes a receptionist (behind glass walls with a little window to talk), a large peace bell, and has inspirational sayings from the Maharishi on the walls (pictures). Off the entrance are bathrooms, the meditation hall (which we did not see) and the little waiting room (with a couch and chairs) where we were placed. We have been waiting a long time now, while an under-secretary runs back and forth between us and the Maharishi's over-secretary. They served us a nice Indian supper on the coffee table in our waiting room (our waiter was a young man from Hungary who spoke English and has lived here seven months now). Yet still the under-secretary comes and goes as Yogi Shanti and Peter try to get the interview. Each time he returns, he says "It is impossible; The Maharishi is a very busy man."
We have all sent our business cards up with the under-secretary and the literature from the World Parliament that Peter was very anxious to discuss with the Maharishi. Yogi thinks if he can just get a message through to the Maharishi himself about their having worked at a conference together 30 years ago, the Maharishi will remember him and grant an interview. Peter keeps saying that we were given an appointment this morning and told to come down here today. The under-secretary kept coming and going out with pleas and messages from Peter and Yogi Shanti, and our names, organizations, and interests in having this interview, and returning to say that it is impossible without an appointment, which apparently involves a special invitation from the Maharishi.
At one point late in the evening (while we were again waiting alone in the room) Yogi, Peter, and Sue tried to get the five of us to meditate in order to help bring our desired meeting about. But I could not bring myself to meditate on this or for this reason, which seemed to me gross superstition. I had had long discussions with Charan Das (during our many hours together in the car) about karma and reincarnation, etc. This seemed to me more of the same confusing of mythology and spirituality. Das had argued that it was in our karma (from past lives) that we were all together on this trip, that our fates were deeply interconnected in this way, and that everything that happens to us has this sort of inevitability about it. I had argued that this was a convenient mythology (western religions have a corresponding mythology) that exempted people from their existential responsibility for taking action in the world to create a decent world of peace and justice. Tolerant as one should be of diversity, one must also be able to take a moral and existential stand. Much of the mythological dimension of the world's religions is designed as a subterfuge so that we do not face our freedom and take responsibility (spiritual and ethical as well as economic and political) for creating a decent world. Meditation, like western prayer, should be for others, for the poor and the oppressed, or for the capacity to be a vehicle of compassion to others. Neither meditation, nor prayer, should be a sort of engineering where we attempt to influence the world according to our desires.
There are people at this university from all over the world, although not many people out and around by the time we left at midnight, having sat in that waiting room for four hours. With the exception of an armed guard (very unusual in the Netherlands), people were mostly in bed by that hour. Indeed, even though the Maharishi (or his over-secretary) wouldn't see us, Peter and Yogi Shanti were quite sure they would put us up for the night. Wrong again. At 11:45, we were told that this was impossible, that this place was a university, not a temple. Since it was nearly midnight when we learned this, they agreed to call the local hotel and were told we could stay in double rooms for 50 gilders each for the night. This seemed exorbitant to Peter, Sue and George.
We reflected on what to do since the original plan had been that Peter and Sue would take the train back to the Hague while Gorge, Yogi, and I headed for Brussels, where I would drop them and continue on my way south. It was too late for that and we were all tired. They knew I had my tent in the car and was not in the same situation they were in, since I could put up my tent in this isolated area fairly easily. I offered to let us all drive back to the Hague that night (and save people the 50 gilders or the train fare), but suggested that I might leave George and Yogi there and head directly for Chartre and south in the morning. This seemed quite attractive to me since I had intended to be in Chartre that very evening and was already a day behind schedule.
Even though Brussels is not that much out of the way going from the Hague to Chartre, going into the city to find a certain address and then finding the expressway again would consume hours from the long drive to Chartre. George had told me several times that he was desperately low on funds (as described above) and has been trying to get his plane ticket changed so he can return as soon as possible to Pittsburgh. Yogi Shanti wants to see Europe and acts as George's spiritual advisor (George's former Yogi master, a friend of Yogi Shanti's, died a year or two ago). Hence, Yogi sponges off George, and George feels he is going broke. This, however, never leads George - who seems none too bright - to question the Yogi's authenticity. My own preliminary view is that Yogi might just be inauthentic. Hence, not taking them to Brussels, it seems to me, will not only help me make up my lost time, but may help give George the reality check he so badly needs.
George may have suppressed the conscious awareness that so far he has saved hundreds of dollars in transportation costs by sharing with me. Originally, he was going to rent his own car in Barcelona and drive around Europe with Yogi (with the awareness, as Yogi put it several times, that "God will provide"). George and I had agreed to split the cost of my car rental while together (8 days), but when we went to settle up yesterday before leaving the Hague, George (who had put most, but not all, of our very expensive gas fill ups on his Visa card), suddenly pulled out a list of the costs of his gas fill ups and divided that in half as well. Then he deducted my half of the gas fill ups from what he owned me for his half of the car rental for 8 days. The net result was that he only owed me $71 US dollars. Of course, if he had rented his own car he would have had all the rental, all the gas, all the driving, all the food, and probably some lodging for the two of them. The bottom line is that even though both Yogi and George suggested I take them to Brussels this morning on my way to Chartre, I had little sympathy. Let George pay the 150 gilders each for the train to Brussels and then reflect on what gas in this car would have cost him. Let him reflect on what he is going to do now that he is left without this car to split. He is stuck in the Hague, and soon Peter and Sue (who have generously fed us and shared their home) will begin to lose patience with the sponging, I am sure. He almost certainly will not find a flight home and will have to rent a car or pay for the train back to Barcelona, and pay their living expenses until October 6 and 7th. But even this Yogi does not want to do. He wants to see more of Europe before he returns. "God will provide," he is sure.
Thursday, September 26. I left with fond good-byes, however, and soon was lost trying to find the expressway south (it is not bad being lost when one is in no great hurry). Then on the expressway I must have missed the proper sign in the Antwerpen area, for I ended up on the expressway to Brussels after all and ended up driving through that city to pick up the expressway south again. What an irony! Anyway, I have felt clean and free all day, whether lost or not, a much better feeling than traveling with a 63 year old victim of delayed development and his self-indulgent guru. Sometimes it is a wonderful experience to be with others. Sometimes it is wonderful to be alone. One learns from each, and from the contrast, since all knowledge is contextual.
From Brussels the only expressway I could find was the one east to Gent, so I drove to Gent and then picked up the road south toward Paris. At the French border, the booths where guards once asked for passports on a regular basis were manned by French police, selectively pulling cars over to the side. They pulled me over and asked for my passport, etc., although they spoke no English and I no French. Three of them searched the car and my luggage carefully, one inside the car while the other two the luggage in the hatchback, while I watched. The guy took all the items out of each pocket of my two suitcases and smaller bag, unwrapped each little decorated gift I had purchased in the Tibetan monastery, opened up each package or box, opened pill bottles and inspected my aspirin, etc., made me open my travel clock for him to inspect, etc. After about 30 minutes of inspecting everything in the car, under the seats, glove compartment, around the spare time in the hatchback, etc., they let me go, having done not a great job of packing things back they way they had found them. I got back on the expressway and continued to the toll barriers just north of Paris. After paying the toll, more French police were standing there selectively stopping cars. They pulled me over out of the way to where other cars were being searched. Although they spoke no English they could gather from my agitated gestures and speech that I had a serious problem with their searching my car. Three of them, two young man and a young policewoman who seemed in charge, gathered at my window to figure out what the problem was. They asked me questions (between the three of them coming up with enough English words to get the gist of the questions across). What was my occupation? Where? Where was I going, etc. Once they realized that I was claiming to have just been searched up the road, they asked me questions about the search (I suppose to see if I were fabricating the story). The decisive question, which I could not understand at first (until the young woman barked a few times) was, "Did the people up the road use dogs in their search?" When I said, "No, no dogs," they apparently believed my story and told me to drive on.
One can appreciate their problem, since drugs are easily available, and many of them even legal, in Holland. Men alone in cars going south may well be smuggling them into France. People with families and kids in cars were waved on. The French police had been nice enough on both occasions, but I was getting a little sick of them nevertheless. With their help, I had left that morning at 10 am and arrived at Paris about 6 pm, just in time for rush hour. Paris is a huge sprawling traffic nightmare and it took an hour of stop and go driving to get through the city (without ever leaving the expressway). I took one picture from the car window of a building with a water fall built into its wall.
I had filled up with gas at a highway station in Belgium and put it on the Visa card since I had no Belgium money. I had spent what Dutch gilders were left in a service station store (bread, coke, sandwich, yogurt, juice, etc.) before leaving Holland and had acquired some French franks the day before, thinking my next stop would be France. But it was shocking to hit that first toll barrier in France (French expressways are toll roads), which cost me 69 Franks, about $17 dollars. It soon hit home what we experienced on the way north: France is very expensive. At a French highway rest stop I hit the cash machine for 200 franks (since the toll booth nearly wiped me out), then went into the shop there and got a loaf of bread for 23 franks (about $6). At that point I knew I had not taken out enough so hit the same machine again for another 400 franks. I hope that is enough to get me to Spain.
Got off at the Chartre exist (23 more franks) and drove into town just before dusk. The cathedral dominates everything, even from a distance (picture). Drove to a parking spot on the canal just outside the walls of the original medieval city. Walked up the hill through deserted narrow stone streets and stone bridges over the river to the cathedral (taking night photos for which one really needs a tripod). I was very excited and couldn't think of food or lodging. The town and cathedral are wonders. The cathedral inspires a sense of reverence and holiness. Finally, I came back to the car about 10 pm and ate bread, wine, and a can of sliced pineapple. Then I walked up to the cathedral again, sat on one of the stone benches near it, and began writing this journal for today. But it was too cold and windy up there (even wrapped in my wind breaker and poncho) so I came back to the car to write by flashlight and try to stay awake until midnight to call home from the phone booth down the block. The car is parked off the road by a sidewalk along the little river running through town (picture). I had purchased a prepaid phone card in a French post office on the way north for 97 franks and used a little over half of the calling time it gives. At 12:15 I called home on the remainder of this card. The next call in two days should be from Spain.
Friday, September 27. Friday evening. Woke up a number of times in the night last night with back, leg, or arm pain. The back seat of this car is no place to sleep for anyone over 3 feet tall. Woke up again about 7:30 with the morning traffic going by and moved to the front seat which reclines fairly far and rested another half hour. The sleeping bag is unzipped for a blanket and I stayed in my clothes all night. I put the bag and things out of sight in the hatchback and went up to the cathedral. It was now open to see the inside as well. Then I walked around the area of the old medieval walled city for over an hour. Very beautiful. Took pictures of the river and other large medieval churches which, amazingly, had been built in proximity of the cathedral. Medieval Europe was a civilization obsessed with building churches and religious sites, just as our civilization is obsessed with money and power. The shops were now open. I had coffee in one, bought bananas in another, wine and cheese in a third, and good bread in a fourth. Then I located on the map the route to the highway south which connects with the expressway a few km down the road.
All day I drove south and east across France. The flat farmland dotted with industrial areas gave way, before Claremont, to hills with wooded areas and then to mountains, the highway itself reaching a height of 1100 meters according to signs. I left Chartre between 10 and 11 and drove until after 5:30, stopping a couple of times at rest areas. Filled up with gas: 39 liters for 250 franks (about 55 dollars) and, near Claremont, paid a toll of 130 franks for the drive that far (25- 30 dollars). Finally, I began to get fatigued but wanted to get to south France so kept going. But, after passing a 200 km to Montpeller sign, I decided to get off the road before dark at an exit away from big towns. Off the expressway, I drove up a winding mountain road and realized there was not much around. Although the highway had had a picture of a castle before this exit that I thought I might visit, there were no further signs leading to it.
The weather was misty and cloudy with occasional light rain. The countryside in the evening light was very beautiful (pictures). I don't know exactly where I ended up on the map, but in the distance I saw a figure (statue) on top of a bare, rocky hill with woods beginning lower down the hill. As in Spain two weeks ago, I decided to try to drive to this spot, clearly historic and religious. I turned off onto a couple of small roads but with no luck. Finally, I found that some small roads off the main (twisting mountain) road were fragments of the older narrow, winding road that were no longer in use since the newer road had been built. Parking on one of these fragments, I took my wind breaker, poncho, and camera, and began climbing in the direction in which the statue seemed to be. Not a person was to be seen anywhere.
After walking uphill through woods next to a cow pasture and a very old stone fence, and crossing a couple of barbed wire fences which were probably for cows, I finally found the foot of the bald part of this hill. The top of the hill was a huge pile of rocks ranging from a few inches to a few feet in size, probably created by the last glacier. I picked my way upward very slowly, over the slippery rocks, in the gray evening with gusty winds and occasional light showers giving the scene a strange and mysterious beauty, and a feeling, which I had had elsewhere in Europe, that the place was holy. At the very top was a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary. And when one got closer, it became clear that she standing above a cherub and on the head of a bull-like beast. In front of the statue was a stone crypt with a cross in relief on the stone and what was once a wooden awning over the cross, now rotted away. I sat for awhile with my back leaning against the base of the statue with my poncho wrapped around me, gazing at the beauty of this mountainous French countryside, in the strange gray evening light, which stretched out in every direction.
This was all very wonderful to me. There are no roads up this hill. People must have carried all this up themselves, even horses might not make it over these loose rocks. The statue looks out over the nearby small French village. How wonderful to have placed her looking down on their village: the blessed Mother of God, embodiment of compassion, always overlooking their homes and fields. I must find out the name of this tiny village before leaving here. I took pictures in three directions from the top of this hill near the statue. After having a bit of difficulty finding my way back to the car, I arrived here about 7 and began to write before dark.
When I got to the car, I put the very last roll (of 18) of film I brought with me into the camera. Then took a picture of the location of the car on this unused road fragment. Like the church on the mountaintop in northern Spain, and like Montserrat, I want to remember this place. It is nearly 8 and getting dark. There was a voice shouting in the cow pasture just above me on the slope. The cows out of curiosity have crowded against the fence up there looking down at me. One cow is even up on some rocks trying to get over the fence. That's all I need is some farmer's cows out of their field and crowding around the car. I take it the shouting voice is calling the cows back to the barn. I hope the cows cooperate and get out of here for, even if all experiences are worthwhile, I do not presently feel like being harassed by the French police.
Saturday, September 28. Last night was much better than the previous night when I had been cramped in the back of the car at Chartre. The only problem with the reclining front seat was that I could only sleep on my back and not on my side. I zipped up in the sleeping bag this time. By morning I had my head covered and only my nose poking out. It was cold and windy, the sky having cleared for the full moon to shine down and the temperature dropping quickly. I woke up the first time at 12:30 thinking it was dawn, so bright was the moon. After going back to sleep, I woke up at 5:30 well before dawn. With that wind, the inside of the car was much warmer than the tent would have been. I had a bite of bread and grapefruit juice and was on my way in the dark.
Little did I realize that this road off the expressway was near the end of the expressway or I might have stayed in bed. I drove in the dark on non-expressway roads (through little towns) towards Montpelier. The town over which the statue of the Virgin Mary presided was probably St. Laurent, too small to be on the map, but named on a sign as I drove back toward the main highway.
Once on the expressway going south from Montpelier down the coast, I began looking for the location of Lascaux. Perhaps these caves were not that far out of the way. The amazing thing was that I could not locate where Lascaux was. I bought two detailed maps of south France, asked the lady in the roadside service area, and inspected dozens of tourist flyers at these stations. Grottos and caves there were all over, but no Lascaux and no caves with paintings. Before reaching Montpelier, I took two photos from the mountainside above Millau to record the feel of this beautiful countryside.
So I headed for Spain instead of Lascaux. The toll was 69 franks (about 15 dollars) and the border was no problem. Stopped at an exchange place provided at the border and turned franks into pesetas. Then I filled up with gas just after the border: 39 liters for about 4500 pesetas, nearly 40 dollars for gas on the Visa card. I decided to return to the places I had visited briefly on my way to Andorra and attempted to find the turn off in Figueres into the mountains. I drove back and forth through town several times before finding it. Then on to Besalu where I spent several hours (pictures). Bought a book of Besalu and a roll of film that should last until I leave on Monday.
Drove a few km further to Castleforte de La Roca, but could not find any place for tourists to park so continued on to St. Joan de Les Abadesses. They have made the former convent and church there into a museum with an additional collection in the museum of crosses, clothing, paintings, altar pieces, etc., all from this area. Very nice. I spent a couple of hours going through the former convent, church, and museum, which were all interconnected. In medieval Europe, even small religious items, like crosses, sacramental garments, or prayer benches, were done with loving craftsmanship. The ancient church was built in the shape of a Latin cross (pictures). From there I drove through some impressive tunnels to Ripoll and then took the road south. It was about 5 (two photos of an ancient bridge over the river, I believe from Ripoll) when I began turning onto tiny side roads hoping to find another private place to stay for free, but no luck. By 6, I realized I would have to find a phone to make my call home at the agreed hour and saw the sign for this camping place in La Vidra.
Fifteen km on curvy roads to get here and then the campground phone would not make international calls. It was getting past noon back in Radford and Phyllis would want to be leaving. I got lots of change from the people at the campsite (where I had registered) and drove back into La Vidra to the public phone booth there. There were a bunch of kids by the booth with a little table selling a jar of raspberries they had picked themselves. I said, "No hablo Espanole," as I headed for the phone booth right behind their table, but they were not daunted by the language barrier, and persisted to surround me. "Dos cientos y cinquenta," I had them repeat it slowly so I could grasp what their price was. They wanted 250 pesetas. Clearly a modest and fair sum. I pulled out a purse with all my tiny change (in order to save the larger coins for the phone) and counted it out on the roof of the car. The kids were delighted with their sale and gave me a sprig of some plant (for free) that they also had on the table. During the call their excited chatter made hearing difficult, but the sign with a single finger in front of pursed lips, repeated frequently, seemed to get the message across, even if it had little effect. Then I drove back here and found a private spot in this large nice campground. There was a can of peaches , a little bread, fresh picked raspberries, and wine for dinner - a great feast.
I am learning the ropes. Campgrounds charge separately by the number of persons, cars, and tents. By sleeping in the car again I save on one of the three charges. It was dark by the time I finished eating so have been writing this by interior car light. The campground has showers and I feel grubby, but I don't feel like taking a shower tonight. Perhaps in the morning.
Sunday, September 29. Evening: 9:15 pm. It was after eight when I woke up for the last time (in this car seat one wakes up fairly regularly). A beautiful day with the sun coming up over the mountains and the cow bells tinkling in the distance. I walked up to the little restaurant near the office with the guide book to Spain, wondering what to do on the very last day (my plane leaves tomorrow at 11:50). Had two coffees and a croissant, served by one of the nice young men from last night. (They too had not known that their phone would not make international calls.) Looking at the book, it struck me that the ancient Roman ruins at Tarragona might be possible. The young man was doubtful about this, since my plane was tomorrow morning. (With my little Spanish and his little English, we discussed the matter pretty well.) But I was suddenly inspired to see the Roman ruins and went back to the car immediately, leaving by 9:30. The highway systems in France and Spain are excellent and the roads well marked. The young man said 3-4 hours but I made it in a little over two hours using the very expensive expressway that goes down the coast.
I arrived at 11:30 and found the excavations of the ancient Christian necropolis and museum. (picture). After visiting that museum, the nice young woman at the desk (who spoke a little English) gave me directions to the ancient part of the city, and then ran after me to tell me that the museum there would be closing in an hour. Following her directions, I soon found a good parking space near the old Roman wall on the Mediterranean side of the city. I spent the next four hours walking around this ancient walled Roman city, the monumental wall enclosing the city (six meters wide and made of huge stones expertly fitted together) is still present in a number of places, along with museums, parks, and the tangled tiny streets of the medieval city that grew up within its walls later on. One can walk through the rooms of one of the towers of this Roman wall, which is preserved as a museum. How the Romans built these things is beyond me. They have scale models here of what the Roman city was like, baths, circus, amphitheater, and the rest. Pontius Pilate is said to have lived here. Amazing.
The blue Mediterranean stretches east from the old city, making this a very impressive and beautiful spot. For lunch I sat in the little park next to where the car was parked and finished the jar of raspberries I had bought from the kids and drank some orange juice from the quart bottle I bought two days ago. About 3:30 or 4 pm, I started down the coast road towards Barcelona. Many small towns: beautiful old towns with commercial fringes grown up and many resort hotels.
At one point the road begins to wind around the edge of cliffs over the sea. I stopped and took pictures, one of which is looking back south to Sitges, the coastal town we had stopped at briefly on the way to the Buddhist monastery (so Reinhardt could drop off his suitcase at a friend's house). It was slow going but the trip from Tarragona to Barcelona is only 90 km so there was no rush. It was a hot day and I was tempted to try to climb down the rocks and swim in the sea but resisted. Finally, the cliffs gave way to miles of beaches with hotels, campgrounds, and crowded beach homes between the road and the beaches. I was not sure how close I could get to the airport and still find a camping place, and I wanted to be close in order to fill the tank with gas and turn in the car with a full tank as required.
Low and behold, the road began to look familiar and I realized I had driven it the day I was coming back from Andorra and was lost while looking for the Hotel Alfa. I knew we were within 8 or 10 km of the airport and that there were campgrounds. So I stopped in a gas station to fill up (charged 2700 pesetas) and asked about camping. They said two more km down the road and sure enough there were several giant camp grounds along the road there. Again, one person, and one car came to only 1100 ptas. The guy said to park anywhere.
This campground is like a small city with hundreds of mobile trailers, huge tents, summer sites of all shapes and sizes, and a series of roads along which all these campers, trailers, and tents are arranged, many with hedges around the spot and flowers growing. Small trees line these gravel and dirt "streets," along with streetlights and electricity to most of these "campsites." I drove all the way to the end and found that this little city runs up against the beach. There were people on the beach and kids playing and one site empty right next to the beach (picture taken from the water, while swimming).
What an opportunity - a warm day and a spot on the beach. It was only 5:30 and the sun was still warm. Got on the bathing suit, locked everything in the car and tied the car key to my waist with rope so it could not be lost swimming. Then went for a wonderful swim. The water was cool but nice. After the swim I came back to the car, spread out the plastic ground cover (to keep sand and dirt out of things), and took everything out of the car to pack for the trip back. While sorting and packing I had dinner consisting of a large can of pineapple slices and wine.
I had been a little worried about bringing back such a dirty car (inside from all the food eaten in it over 5000 km of travel, and outside from some very rural dirt roads). But luck would have it that at the end of my campsite road the campground had a cement parking space with a drain and three hoses on faucets for washing cars. It was busy with young men washing their cars, so I cleaned the crumbs and dirt off the floor of the car as best I could by hand, and, when it was nearly dark and the car wash place was empty, drove over there and washed the car on the outside. By dark I was parked again at the same spot. Locked the car and went for a long walk on the beach. There was no one else on the beach at that hour (9 pm). Then I walked around the campground to locate where washrooms were and which was the way to the exit gate for morning. It is now 10 pm and I've just finished writing this. It was a marvelous last day.
Monday morning, September 30. It was not a good night in the car - at least not as good as the other nights. Woke up about 1:30 with several mosquitos dive bombing me through the open window. After closing the window (and muffling the fresh air and sound of the sea) and hunting down the mosquitos, I could not get comfortable and back to sleep for a long while. Made up the following list while trying to get back to sleep:
FOREIGN TRAVEL, MOST VALUABLE ITEMS (not in order): twin sheet, sleeping bag, compass, thin nylon laundry bag, canteen (especially if a 3rd world country), good can opener, thin rope(s) about 15 feet long, travel knife (with cork screw), plastic ground cloth (with or without a tent), spoon and cup, small flashlight, travel alarm, aspirin, vitamins, something for traveler's diarrhea, toothpaste, floss, brush, hairbrush, small binoculars (?), a good rag (general purpose, especially if renting a car), a comfortable pair of walking shoes, a pair of light slippers or moccasins, small stretch ties, large rubber bands, an extra medium size backpack inside luggage, comfortable pants with big pockets, raincoat, windbreaker, extra change purse, good size shoulder bag for daily use, small towel, washcloth.
I woke up at 7:50 and tried to walk to the restaurant (close by) or the snack bar (farther away) for coffee. But unlike the campground the previous morning, nothing was open. Drank the swallow of orange juice left, poured out the little wine (couldn't stomach drinking it this morning), and drove the car to the washroom area. Washed and changed into airline travel clothes and packed the bags (stuffed) for travel home. I still managed to get everything into the two bigger bags and one carry on.
It was about 9 am and I was not sure how long it would take to get to the airport. As it turned out, it took 10 minutes which included one brief wrong turn. The rental lot was jammed and it took a while to turn in the car and have the rental attendant check that the gas tank had been filled, etc. The car had been driven about 5000 km in 21 days. I checked in with TWA by 10 am. Security was at a maximum. At three places: before checking the bags at the TWA desk, at the x-ray carry-on baggage line, and before boarding the plane itself, security people asked me questions, had me show the passport, ticket, etc.
While waiting the two hours for the plane to board I used up my remaining pesetas with three cups of coffee, a tuna sandwich, orange juice, tomato juice, and two croissants. Now we are flying at 40,000 feet on the 44th latitude across the North Atlantic toward the Canadian maritime provinces. The trip is a little over eight hours. This is all astonishing to me, just as the Roman ruins from the 2nd century BC were astonishing. What could the meaning of it all be? What is the meaning of existence? That anything at all exists is itself astonishing.
[Places stayed: (1) Hotel Rubens, Barcelona (two days), (2) Campsite on Coasta Brava, north of Barcelona, (3) Campsite in Andorra, (4) a cliff above Montserrat, (5) Hotel Alfa, Barcelona (four days), (6) Tibetan Buddhist Monastery near Graus, northern Spain, (7) Rene Marchand's chateau near Bordeaux, France, (8) Apartment at EM research farm, Lelystad, Netherlands (three days), (9) Peter Davidse's home in the Hague (two days), (10) In the car near Chartre Cathedral, (11) In the car in the mountains of SE France, (12) Campsite in Vidra, near Ripoll, northern Spain, (13) Campsite on the beach, just south of Barcelona airport.]
What has been learned from all of this? I don't know yet. Many experiences need to be digested before they become knowledge or wisdom. Perhaps their value may even increase with time. Whether there was learning or not, all experiences seem to be intrinsically worthwhile in some fundamental sense. Experience itself seems to have this sacred character.
Yet the sacred character of experience (the spiritual) needs to be complemented by a critical theory of revolution (the ethical aspect of economic and political thought). For while the elite travel the world, having adventures, the poor travel only where their bare feet can carry them, dying of hunger, malnutrition, and neglect. This was the message to be heard, for those who had ears to hear, from the third world delegates to our Provisional World Parliament.
The worthwhile character of experience for its own sake can provide one dimension of what is sacred in life. But without a compassionate revolutionary praxis directed toward social, political and economic justice, experience alone loses its worthwhile character. The ethical dimension completes and fulfills the sanctity of the experiential dimension. Only these two together, spiritual transformation and social transformation, will realize human wholeness. Only these two together will give us a world of justice as well as peace.
The institutional structure of our world has laid human beings prostrate before its monstrous domination. This city is organized around hidden, unspoken imperatives that distort the lives of the dominant, successful persons and crush the life out of the less fortunate, subordinate majority.
Last night I walked for two hours in the middle of the night through the empty streets of the city center here in Chennai, India. During the day these streets are full of racing, honking cars, trucks, and three wheeled taxis. At three in the morning, they are largely empty. During the day, the mind is distracted and harassed by honking vehicles, and one is perpetually concerned to avoid being hit when crossing streets or edging around barriers on the sidewalks.
The institutional structure of the city during the day harasses, distorts, and crushes human beings. But the noise, business, and care for self-protection required diverts attention from its gigantic imperious features lying unspoken in the background. At night, in the empty streets, the mind becomes silent, deeper, more fully aware. At night, in the empty streets, one begins to see.
Here and there on the darkened sidewalks elongated, rounded shapes appear before me and then recede as I pass by. Persons wrapped in a single threadbare blanket, entirely covered to keep off the ever-present mosquitoes, lie still on the bare concrete.
Everywhere the concrete. Everywhere the bare mud of the lifeless earth seeping from the cracks, the street-repair sites, the edges of the concrete. A portion of the earth robbed of fertility, without the goodness of plants, flowers, or trees. Concrete spanning miles, laid out as raceways for cars and trucks, people marginal, pushed aside, molded into the technical imperatives of capital.
These silent, sleeping elongated mounds are mostly motionless. Silence borne of weakness, disease, lack of nutritious food. Among the motionless mounds an occasional scrawny cat prowls, or watches cautiously. Here and there groups of wretched dogs cross the street or lay near one another on the cement. Occasionally a large rat scurries out of sight into the dark of an ally or beneath a grate.
The three-wheeled taxis that during the day wait endlessly at hotel entrances, near store fronts, or wherever else a possible customer might appear, are now parked out of the way here and there on the empty streets. During the day, they wait endlessly because there are far to many taxis for customers, far too many taxis for these drivers to eke out a wretched living. Now they are parked out of the way on the darkened streets, their drivers asleep in the back seat, twisted into the tiny space, or head and feet hanging out of the taxi into the space of the street.
But not all sleep in the warm, Chennai night. Everywhere, sitting on chairs or standing motionless outside the darkened hulks of buildings, I encounter the suspicious gazes of the poor workers hired to guard the property of the rich. In front of closed gas stations, inside the gates of private residences, in storefronts or hotel fronts, the poor are on guard for a few rupees a night. In the minds of the rich, this vastly worthwhile, a small price paid to protect their concentrations of private wealth.
At one time in history, churches and temples dominated the landscape. Today, corporate structures, buildings many stories high, dominate the landscape. The temples have been replace by the banks on every corner. Come to the Trust bank of this or that, the home for your investments, or your life insurance, or your mortgage for a better future. Everywhere I see the source of loans to protect your childÆs future, to finance your education, or purchase the home of your dreams.
In the quiet, darkened streets of Chennai, one has a chance to gaze at the institutions that structure the lives of the people who are their victims. Elegant buildings, ten stories high, dot the local area. In some, the blazing decorative lights burn all night long, surely costing each night many times what their employees who clean the floors our guard their doors earn in a year.
Walking through the empty streets of this city of eight million, I encounter a world of concrete and steel where nature has been superceded by the works of human beings. How strangely mad it seems that the works of human beings are not made for dwelling on the Earth in peace, prosperity, and joy. These works are not the works of the many but of the few. And even these few are agents of some alien power that lies unseen in the background, making human beings its agents, victims, and slaves û the imperatives of capital.
Are those who own the buildings and banks, who manage the stores, restaurants, and businesses responsible for the crushed lives of the ones sleeping on the darkened concrete? Are they responsible for the three-wheeled taxi drivers sleeping in their cabs on the margins of the empty traffic-caverns?
This world, so clearly visible in the small hours of the night, this world, so full of suffering that crushes the lives of the poor in their misery, is not a world created by the wealthy bankers and building owners. This inhuman world of concrete and steel was not created by government decisions to build roads or contractors competing for bids to lay more concrete over the bosom of the Earth.
No. These wealthy and powerful few have their lives and minds dictated by the power of capital. Their true potential to develop as human beings dwelling on the Earth in wisdom and compassion has been twisted into the death mask of greed and callousness by the imperatives of capital.
As I wander through the darkened city streets, empty of traffic, tremendous images of light and color arise before me at every turn, especially at intersections. Here are the billboards. Giant photos of beautiful Indian actresses and actors project into the silent world of stray dogs, scurrying rats, and wretched sleeping people, the life of beauty, happiness, and pleasure. It is a projection that floats on the surface consciousness of billions of people around the Earth. The actors on these billboards look Indian in their clothing, features, and cultural artifacts. The actors on advertisements in the United States look "American." The actors look Thai in Thailand, Japanese in Japan, and Spanish in Nicaragua.
Everywhere the billboards blaze through the night. Here in India, as elsewhere, the life of beauty, happiness, and pleasure must blaze through the night at the cost of millions of rupees in electricity. For the immense illusion generated by the imperatives of capital must obliterate reality in the minds of human beings, rich and poor. One break in the continuity of the message, one blackout in the electric grid protecting the images of happiness and fulfillment, and the nightmarish reality might begin to become apparent to human persons everywhere.
Whether on TV, in the newspapers, or through giant blazing billboards, at all costs the imperatives of capital must keep its tentacles around the minds of the masses. They must be induced to focus hypnotically on what one U.S. poet called "imbecile illusions of happiness." They must be made not to see the reality in which they daily live, the nightmare of their world of exploitation and death. The hidden institutional structure of our planet must remain hidden behind images of color, light, and sound projecting imbecile illusions of happiness into the minds of billions of people. At all costs, people must not see the structure of domination and dehumanization everywhere apparent in the night air of Chennai.
As we ride north from Chittagong to Dhaka City on this intercity bus, I have been watching the full moon rising in the east. The moon, low on the horizon, is still larger than it will appear later as it rises in the sky. In this land of water, even in this dry season, we are passing many fields full of shallow water. The moon follows the bus, and the reflection of the moon, also very beautiful, follows the bus through the watery fields.
Do people really see the moon? In Zen, they say the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. The moon for most is a word, a concept, a familiar object in the sky. It is part of the furniture of the world, familiar, unseen. The philosopher Henry David Thoreau says "to really see the sun rise each day would keep us sane forever." To really see the beauty and suchness of this astonishing world would transform our lives deadened by habit, routine, and dullness of perception.
Today, I saw the most astonishing sight. My hosts took me to a fishing village near Chittagong. The village, once on the seashore, is now three to four kilometers in-land due to the silting on the southern coast of Bangladesh. Between the village and the sea is open land turning gradually to tidal flats. We walked with the fishermen who were carrying two baskets hanging from a bamboo pole over their shoulders.
A fishing boat was coming in with its catch. There are no docks or wharfs here. The boat comes into shallow water, and the fishermen, after walking in their bare feet through the mud of the tidal flat, continue to walk into the water out to the boat, some three hundred meters from shore. They crowded around the boat, baskets thrust forward, for a few small fish to fill the bottom.
As their baskets get some fish, they rush back to the village, walking very rapidly because the fish will rapidly lose its freshness and then begin to spoil. Fifteen years ago, they told us, their baskets were full of fish after the boat came back with its catch. But the fish are disappearing due to the collection of prawn eggs in the shallow water for sale, due to the gas and oil pollutants from the nearby ship-breaking industry where used ships are scrapped, and due to the pollution in the many rivers that flow to the sea in Bangladesh. The fishermen live in great poverty, clinging precariously to existence, as they walk back and forth from their village to collect their tiny harvest of fish.
As we walked toward the sea, we crossed an embankment between the silted land and the tidal flats. Suddenly, the landscape became surreal, like the alien landscape of another planet. There appeared before us a vast army of giant trucks, bulldozers, and earth-moving machines, roaming like giant insects back and forth in the tidal flats. Vast pits were being dug in the mud, and vast mounds of mud and dirt were being piled here and there by the busy monstrous machines.
A commercial shrimp farm was being constructed. The contrast between the poor fishermen walking barefoot in the mud with their bamboo baskets on their shoulders and the platoon of giant machines reconstructing the landscape could not have been more stark. The gasoline burned by one of these machines in a day was likely two months income for each of these fishermen. A vast commercial investment was in operation to create a huge shrimp farm.
The coasts of Bangladesh are periodically lashed by cyclones, furious storms with high seas and terrible winds that drive many miles inland, destroying the tree canopy, the coastline, and the lives and homes of thousands of people. At one time, mangrove forests covered the shoreline. In the distance in both directions from the shrimp farm under construction, we could see mangrove tangles along the coastline. The mangrove tangle, which grows naturally and rapidly in these countries of the global south, holds the mud in place and buffers the coastline from the fury of ocean storms.
But the commercial shrimp farms plow down the mangrove growth along these coastlines, replacing them with vast pits, dug by huge machines, in which shrimp will be farmed. One the one hand, food will be produced in the form of shrimp that will be shipped to commercial markets worldwide. On the other hand, tiny groups of wealthy investors will grow wealthier while these poor fishermen sink ever deeper into poverty and hunger. But like all enterprises under the capitalist system, some of the profit will be made by externalizing costs to Bangladesh and to nature.
The destruction of the mangrove swamps along the coastline makes the people more vulnerable to the fury of cyclones. The investors in the shrimp farm may live in Dhaka City, Europe, or the United States. The billions of Takas in destruction caused by cyclone destruction as the mangroves are plowed under for commercial shrimp farms will be borne by the poor.
The orange full moon continues to follow the bus in the waters along the road and in the sky above. Is the moon reflected in the waters, incredibly beautiful, less real than the moon in the sky above? The moon truly fills the soul with astonishment and joy. The same moon is seen everywhere on Earth, a testimony to the smallness of our planet and the oneness of humanity. Yet habit, dullness, and convention keep the moon veiled in illusion. We do not see that divine and priceless gift of beauty and unspeakable suchness. We see only an object, part of the furniture of the night sky.
Similarly, the commercial habits and conventions of our planet make us see the gigantic commercial enterprises reconstructing the landscape and plowing under natural barriers against disaster as "development." We believe the commercial promise of prosperity if we let the few invest in a reconstruction of our world in pursuit of ever greater wealth. Like the moon, we see only objects and live in a world of objects. Our habit and dullness obscure what is there to see clearly for those who break out of the hypnotic trances that crush our sensitivity and humanity.
For all commercial enterprises, like this surreal, gigantic shrimp farm under construction near this tiny fishing village in southern Bangladesh, make their profit by externalizing their costs to nature and to society. The commercial spirit, distorting its countless victims into dullness and insensitivity, is destroying our precious planet and the lives of the poor majority who only wish to dwell simply on the Earth, with peace and a little prosperity.
The poor crave a life of decency and peace. The greed and callousness of the commercial spirit has not yet corrupted their humanity. They desire a better life that lifts them out of poverty and misery. They desire, everywhere I travel on this Earth, to dwell in peace, performing some decent, useful work, and living within the love of family and the embrace of community. They do not know how they might achieve this, nor where to turn. For their longing is only confronted by callous images of mindless wealth and pleasure as the commercial onslaught penetrates every town and village on Earth. They do not know how to relieve their poverty and misery while dwelling in peace upon the Earth.
The sky is dark now, the moon risen higher and to the south. As we near Dhaka City, the waters no longer appear along the roadside. Now there are buildings, villages, gas stations, factories, and construction sites. Outside the window of my bus, the world appears very dark.