Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Δ I'm always "square pegs in round holes" Δ

oblongs into triangles

It's been a long time since I've been home. I keep wondering what it will feel like to walk on through into my space, the neglected air of the unlived in life. The unbreathed in or out of rooms. I think of my children, my bed, that dog, a fire in a stove and a garden happening without my daily examination of it. Does it even exist if I'm not there to prod it? 

And I mentioned the other day about 'going back' and someone very rightly pointed out that it's not Going Back at all. It will still be going forward. None of us are ever going back. So, a little home nausea creeps in but it's there to remind me that somewhere there, is a place where the wind will whistle out of my aching bones. 
I will find the dreamed about hum of silence.

Kathmandu is noisy. India is deafening. Asia is chaotic. 
My home page home surrounded with its thick traffic noise absorbing hedge is almost unearthly quiet. The noisiest thing is the dawn chorus which used to wake me up dawnly and dutifully as the birds sang the day into life. Here in Nepal there is the usual competition between dogs, the boys school next door, which sees the arrival of pupils around 6 am whereupon they beat the rhythm of a football against a half built, half concrete, half bamboo scaffold. Like a steady shot of stutter, the bouncing ball rolls through to my subconscious and lets me know it's time. 

Time to get up, sit, meditate, find a small corner to unroll a skimpy little yoga mat and do the one thing that makes everywhere feel like home. Reaching up and out and in. Coming home every morning. Going Back? Never.

The other constant colour in my life is the print studio. A solemn concentrated walk away. I have to be fully aware and intent on traffic, potholes, dead things and the strangely ugly but endearing, one eared half dead dog that almost wishes me a Good Morning as we meet each other's eyes. He sits and he sits. Blinking into the dust, the exhaust, the weary brick lined streets.

I scoot across the crossroads where the road has been dug up more times than I can remember and I've only been here a month. No health and safety, no signs, no cordons. Just a hole. 
In the middle of the road. 
Big enough to swallow a motor bike and several passengers.
If you fall in it, it's your fault. 
It's refreshingly non nanny state but there must be a happy medium.
This isn't it.


I turn left at this marigold and enter the art centre where we have a print and binding studio. I have started to try to make it a more inspiring place. Fill it with spring leaps of colour. The joy is already in here. Bouncing from the walls like the eternal football. It just needs a touch of illustrating.

studio days
studio days

The deaf young people I work with are bubbling over with enthusiasm and sweetness. We greet with a traditional Namaste, hands in prayer and then they rush me for a hug and I love them then for their simple faith in me and that we're going to have a great day together. Cutting, sewing, measuring, glueing. Smiling, signing, even singing, one girl sings a tuneless song under her breath, it is the soundtrack in here. It's comforting. Like Nepali tea made from milk bought in a plastic bag.

The girls travel for an hour to get to the print studio, they live out of town, in rural places and they trickle in to work by microbus. A jam packed bench seated small truck. They pick small plants on their way to the bus stop through the rural landscape and bring them to the studio and we print them. They were using dark indigos and clarets but I'm trying to encourage a bit of experimenting with colour and thanks to a very generous and kind offer of some new ink from Chocolate Girl we got a delivery from FedEx of some white stay open ink. This will hopefully open out our palette into a new spectrum and we can't wait to get mixing and cooking up a feast of colour. Thanks to the generosity of previous sponsors, we have a small table top etching press which we use to make these monoprints of plants...And I, in turn, have been turning them into rubber stamps to ease up the process.

studio days

The studio is a bit basic and thanks to the Power Problems we have here i.e intermittent supply = no water. If there is no power, then there is no water as it needs a pump to operate. The only water supply is in the loos anyway so we installed our own sink and water supply. I think this might be considered luxurious around these parts. It is poor. It is basic but we make a do. 
I don't think I could ever moan about my cramped, packed to the rafters workspace ever again. This is my challenge here. It's hard running a print studio with very basic supplies and even if we could afford them, the specialist items aren't available here in Kathmandu. 

studio days

studio days

So far, I've become a teacher of bookbinding, a guide for printmaking, a creative force, a reader of faces and body language and I'm learning Nepalese sign language. I think I can say for the first time I am spinning on newly oiled and slick machinery. 
But I have to say that out loud to believe it. 
And no-one to hear me but me.

During the last four weeks, we've moved to a new studio and I've been painting out a wall full of dark uninspiring emo graffiti with the aid of a table and a bamboo ladder. I've taught two new book structures, had days of printing sessions and lots of quality control. I've also got a desk full of hand-carved (by me) printing blocks to make this year's Christmas card. I've designed a new catalogue and am in the midst of the charity newsletter. Not much time to bruise and ponder. Just as I thought. A more thoughtful me is emerging. Not necessarily kinder but lazier to leap. But towards these hesitant hands, eager eyes and half closed sea shells of ears I feel an ocean of kindness, a rush of tenderness for difficult lives and fuzzy round the edges futures.

studio days

new rose book
airing the prints

Sunday, 20 March 2011

⫚ getting lost and the possibility of an earthquake ⫚

It's been ages. This is down to a couple of things. No electricity=no wifi=candles and early nights. This is good for catching up on sleep especially as it is cool at night and I can snuggle under a quilt reading by candlelight and drinking tea. (a hobby of sorts). I have also been throwing myself into the joyful division that is my work here in Kathmandu. It's very exciting and I really want to share with you images of the bookbinding and printmaking we have been doing but it is early days and I have to check with the boss that it's okay to publish these things and as he is really busy I don't want to disturb him with my minority blog reading requests. So stand by for gorgeous work images and I'll just take you with me to Darbur Square in Patan and the surrounding streets for a little tour of the Nepalese neighbourhood in which I reside, for now.

Darbur Square

If you look closely you can see the Himalayas in the distance. A feast for my eyes. I had been quite sick for a couple of days & had lived a well worn path between my bed and the bathroom for a while and this was my first excursion into sunshine and streets and the mountains made my heart lift. My legs were a little dehydration caused wobbly but I managed to snap some pics. I want to return here at dawn, no people and probably more magnificent if that is possible. I loved it all. This is a world heritage site and it's stunning. An architectural dream and you can wander all over the place and sit on the little temples and you get left alone. I can't imagine English Heritage being in charge of this slice of history.

sky sculpture

Then when I was meandering around this collection of stunning shapes and layers of history I decided to dip into a cool dark alley and had a cup of tea then promptly got lost on purpose. My new favourite thing to do. 

afternoon naps

I am so nosey, poking around streets where life goes on unchanging for people; despite the world mutating and morphing and nature's power changing the world in a heartbeat. Nepal is due an earthquake. It wouldn't cope. It is overcrowded, overbuilt and very unstable anyway. In the house I live in here, there are earthquake alarms and notices telling us what to do. Drop to the ground basically and cover your head or get under a table? It is unnerving and when I wander these streets I can see how fragile this whole city is. A deck of cards. I say my prayers that these lives continue unrocked for eternity.

scrape the sky with love

I give you pink spills


There are more images on my Flickr  page if you'd care for some more snaps! I will be back with the gorgeousness that is my job here. I am truly amazed and touched by what I am experiencing and am loving every moment of teaching and making with My Girls. Will tell all as soon as I get the OK and of course I know you will be waiting for the Trip To The Paper Factory post I am planning.
It was enough to give me the vapours.
Love from my little room in Nepal...
waiting for life

Friday, 4 March 2011

᚛ 4,600 ft feet above sea level ᚜

Mysore to Bangalore = 3 hours taxi ride and it aint the M25
Bangalore airport = 2 hour wait time
Bangalore-Delhi = 2.45 hr flight
Delhi airport = 4 hr wait
Delhi - Kathmandu = 1.40 hr flight

My journey began at 2am and ended in Nepal at 5pm the next day...
Exhausted , headachy and dehydrated.
This is my first view from the roof where I am staying.

roof view

As we circled Delhi waiting for permission to land I could see a mustard streak that sits above the city, a gruesome layer that floats atop the smokey smog like an ashtray cloud. A yellow Delhi ghost. Delhi looked huge and packed full of buildings. I'm not sure it looked very appetising although I am sure it is full of interesting India. The big cities scare me a bit in Asia. I'm a fan of the suburbs, the rural areas, the pastoral idylls, even if they do mask suffering. Suffering is everywhere but in a big city it's tangible, it's unimaginably awful and it's there in front of you. Reminding you that you have never ever got any reason to complain. Forget our badly paid jobs, our boring lunch, our knackered cars, our busy workload, our lack of motivation, our relationships....Suffering is everywhere and we all have had some but here it's mind boggling. I am going to pray for the grace to remember this stuff...this grey slimy misery, this yellow frothy topped city and try not to moan or wish for anything other than this blessed bit of life I have.
I really wish these life lessons would stay with me, but as we all know I'm the complainer of the century, the moaner of moaning, the itchy footed freak and I can but try.

self portrait with plant

After all of the waiting and zooming around in planes and sitting around at airports I was wishing I could unobtrusively take photos of kissing couples, sleeping tourists and strange hippy travellers. I'm waiting for Apple to develop the brain app, a tiny camera implant which means  all that I see I can download for viewing later. Especially as we started the breathtaking descent into Kathmandu airport. Oh wow, a big  lot of wow. I had begun to notice the sky clearing as we headed East from Delhi and the Himalayas were coming into view. I had booked a window seat and I was so glad. Mountain ranges look great from above. I'm not sure I want to climb Everest or anything but I do like looking at them. Once upon a time I declared myself a beach person but maybe I'm more inclined to mountains these days? It's definitely a mountain I climb every morning on my yoga mat...
As the plane sunk and my ears started popping and glugging I had the view of a lifetime, mountains, foot hills and green, green rice paddy terraces looking for all the world like torn edges of paper, layered and stacked in formation. No way of taking a photo but I will hold that image in my heart for ever. Beautiful, stunning and I wished I could slow down time so I could gaze some more at little houses on big hills surrounded with contours of grassy emerald and jade.

Landing was fine, after Bangalore and Delhi it looked like we were skidding into the Wild West. A few dilapidated buildings, nothing glittery or shiny here (thank goodness) I even saw a horse making a late afternoon shadow on an empty road and I thought there and then, "this might be my type of town."

I was met by a volunteer from the charity I have come to work with, as we raced through the narrow brick walled streets of Kathmandu I felt a frizz of life jump start my heart. I had arrived during the festival of Maha Shivaratri, the streets around the airport were bubbling with people and I saw impromptu drumming and dancing sessions by chillum smoking Sadhus. Hilarious and almost frightening, the driver zoomed away and we left the shouting and stamping feet behind us...


I'm going to be exploring more this weekend, I am working every day in a printing workshop which almost made me cry when I saw how simple and pretty it was. I am working with late teens/early 20s who are deaf and I am going to be learning Nepalese sign language twice a week, it is different from any other sign language apparently and I've also got Nepalese language lessons twice a week. Amazing. Pinching my arm as I write. This is my life? Thank you thank you. And it was casually mentioned that I would be visiting the paper makers next week and I'm sure my heart boomed loud enough for everyone to hear.

handmade journals

I'll show and tell some more next week...this is a sneak preview of the printed journals that they make in the print studio and below are some hand carved wooden stamps I found in the local mobile phone top up shop! Needless to say I bought a couple...the horse to remind me of the one horse town I thought I was flying into and the lotus seated pranayama yogi to remind me how I got here and a hand (not pictured) offering the blessing of good fortune. All made by hand, you can see the nicks of the knife. 

stampers delight

In my very brief ventures into the surrounding streets I've noticed that Kathmandu is a land of craft and makers. There are handicrafts and arts everywhere... It's going to be thrilling. It's very different from India, I'm still trying to work out why. The light for starters and not as friendly as my beloved Mysore but it is early days...I've only just begun.