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I will be presenting at the second annual Ancient Faith Writing and Podcasting conference (as you can see in the list of attendees in the graphic above. More information as it develops, but if you’re interested in writing or podcasting about the Orthodox faith, or if you’re interested in meeting other Orthodox writers and podcasters (and bloggers), please consider registering (link above).



And, have you identification out and ready for inspection please.

One thing that did stand out  about the drive from Puerto Chiapas to the Mangrove Reserve was the number of checkpoints on the roads. We weren’t stopped, except at one, which looked like a cross between a federal prison and a modern bus station: lots and lots and lots of bare, flat ground, with grass and low bushes and flowers but no trees. That was unusual for what we’d seen on the drive to this point. There were trees everywhere, and not just because these were mango and banana plantations. Trees were grown as windbreaks between fields and along the property lines next to the road, and there were forests every once in a while.

High chainlink fences and rolls and rolls of razor wire and guard towers (complete with guards with big guns) surrounded the property, protecting long, low buildings set in an ocean of asphalt, with bus bays making a jagged edge to the otherwise mathematically straight lines and hard angles. Brilliant sun on whitewashed walls and lots of bright metal reflecting the sunlight. Clean, cold looking, and sterile.

It was immaculately landscaped and maintained, which was unusual – I didn’t see, even in the plantations, anything like this level of obsessive gardening care – the place looked manicured. No dead leaves or even dying leaves or dead blossoms cluttering up the plants or the ground, close cropped grass, perfectly edged along the paths and beds. (It looked rather forbidding, quite honestly, I much preferred the more relaxed gardens and vegetable plots and plantations we saw elsewhere – those looked friendly and as though real people looked after them.)

The checkpoint wasn’t for us, the people. All we had to do was get off the bus, walk through the building, show our ID (they barely even glanced at it) and then get back on the bus. While we were doing that, the bus was being inspected for illegal immigrants. There is, it seems, a kind of underground highway beginning in South America and extending all the way up into the US and Canada. But this isn’t the same kind of railroad as helped the runaway slaves in the States find their freedom. This is desperately poor people taking a chance on their own, or being bled dry by people purporting to move them safely up to the US or Canada. I’ve known about Mexicans trying to get into the US and Canada, but I wasn’t aware that the problem extended all the way down into South America, but apparently it does, and I suspect it’s a lucrative business moving people along the route.

And because we aren’t far from the Trans America highway that extends all the way down both continents, and because we’re near the border, the checkpoints are numerous and frequent if you don’t happen to be as privileged and coddled as we are. There is also another reason for so many checkpoints, and that is typical bureaucratic stupidity, which is a feature of life anywhere you live. There are a huge number of police forces in Mexico. There are the federal police, the state police, the city police and the municipal police and there may even be a regional police force. There are the branches of the armed forces: the army, the navy, the marines and the air force. And none of them trust any of the others, so you get five times more checkpoints than you need.

Fine by us – but not with most of the rest of the bus – people were quite nervous about having to get off and file through a building and climb back on the bus – I’m not sure why. If we’d been traveling alone, or not on an excursion organized by the ship or a local company, I could see it, but Chiapas is trying to encourage tourism and I’m sure they’re not going to go out of their way to enrage a bunch of spoiled North Americans and Europeans who will then complain bitterly to the cruise line about what a nerve wracking and horrible time they had been subjected to by the authorities of said area. Even so, people were unsettled for quite a while after the absolutely boring and completely uneventful walk through a hot, shaded building.

Soconusco is fairly flat, but it’s bounded by mountain ranges. Al and I had a great time listening to the guides talk about the area and tell legends and stories about the landscape – there are some notable features on the sides of the mountains that have had stories and legends associated with them, some of them dating back far beyond the arrival of the Spanish, and some which grew up after the Spanish arrived. Some have Spanish embellishments on older legends, and I can’t for the life of me remember any but one – about a bell shaped rock halfway up a mountain that a local strongman wanted to put up at the top of the mountain for some reason, but got tired, put it down to rest and either fell into a magical sleep or died.

We drove for a long time (I didn’t have a watch or my cell phone with me, so no idea how long) but eventually noticed that the ground was getting wetter – the ditches on the side of the road were full of water, there was ground water standing in depressions, but it was dry and sunny. I figured we were probably almost there. I also started noticing egrets in the ditches, and sitting by the cattle in the fields. Egrets are lovely birds. Photos of them tomorrow.

That was when people – well, one person, really, but she was very vocal about it – started complaining that we’d been traveling for two and a half hours and when were we going to arrive. I’m normally one of those “tied to the clock” people and I’ve been missing my watch and a way to check the time whenever I wanted, but now, I was soooooo glad I didn’t have it – I had no idea what time it was or how long it had taken us to get as far as we had, and once again, maybe its my naiveté showing, but I wasn’t in charge here, and if we were late, there was nothing I could do about it, so I wasn’t going to worry. I figured the tour company probably knew what they were doing. Had I had my watch, I’d probably have been fretting as much as our vocal traveler. She was also very worried about the chances of there not being toilet paper in the washrooms at the reserve. Apparantly, on another cruise, with another line and tour company in another country, she had been subjected to the indignity of a bathroom with no toilet paper. (Pardon me if I’m less than sympathetic, but there are worse fates to befall tourists.)

It wasn’t much after her complaints that we drove onto the reserve, and it was another 20 or 30 minutes before we arrived at our destination – about which more tomorrow. (With enough photos to make up for the lack of the last two days.)


Dr. Chrissi Hart, host of Ancient Faith Radio’s popular “Readings from under the Grapevine” will be reading, in installments, KEEPER OF THE LIGHT, beginning August 26. That’s this Friday, so be sure to bookmark the site and tune in for a great read!

The road to sainthood takes a lifetime to travel . . . Late in the fourth century, Christians are labeled enemies of the Roman Emire – hounded, arrested, tortured, and executed. Macrina and her husband Basil, once-wealthy Christians, flee with their small son to the mountainous forests south of the Black Sea. There, Macrina embarks on a seven-year journey of unexpected tests and trials that will take her through a harsh and hungry wilderness pilgrimage, only to plunge her into poverty and danger on the streets of Neocaesarea. So begins Macrina’s adventure in faith, as she undertakes the process of becoming one of the most influential women in sacred history, the mother and grandmother of saints.

Music hath charms – Cary Chow Victoria concert.

Full disclosure: Cary Chow is my godson, so this is not an unbiased report of his concert.

Even so, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life! Cary is a concert pianist with a difference. Not only is he incredibly talented and intense in his playing, he likes listening to heavy metal and sports tattoos. He has a passion for animal skin boots and I love to hear about his latest acquisitions. He played last night at the Alix Goolden Hall. I attended knowing that most of what Cary does would go over my head. I don’t really know how to listen to classical music – the explanations people give me about what the music is saying make no sense to me – it’s music and most of it I can appreciate with my mind, but not my heart. That’s especially true of the composers Cary favours – way too highbrow for me, and their music, while compelling, is something I don’t understand and can’t relate to emotionally. Well, I got a lesson in how to listen last night.

Cary’s playing was, as always, intense and focused. In his first piece, Brahms Fantasty Pieces Op. 116, I had my eyes closed for most of it – my eyesight seemed like a distraction. My mind, as always, was running away with itself, not staying focused on the music, but wandering here & there – thinking about the creative process and wondering how it differs between writers and muscians (have to ask Cary about that sometime), how the venu (which I love for its architecture as well as its acoustics) worked with and complemented what I was listening to. It didn’t slow down once I couldn’t see, but I entered what I can only describe as a meditative state – the mind kept running in the background but most of me was focused on the music. At the end of the piece, it was like waking, but I remembered everything that happened.

In his second piece, Rachmaniov’s Sonata#1 in D Minor, Op.28, I began to feel the music physically – by the Lento movement (?) I could feel the music pressing on my skin and tangling in my hair. I could feel the vibrations of the bass notes in the seat beneath me, on my thighs and the palms of my hands.

But it was the second half of the program that really got to me. In Liszt’s Harmonies du soir (Transcendental Etude #11) I began feeling the notes inside my torso – not the low bass notes but the higher notes – they slid in and resonated quite nicely. And then, in the final piece, Liszt’s Apres une lecture du Dante, Cary played two notes over and over – and I could hear them as both blurry at the edges and extremely sharp-edged at the same time (sharp in the sense of a knife edge, not in the musical sense of sharp or flat).  I’ve never experienced that when listening to music before.

All through this, in each piece he played, I was in that meditative state – the mind running uselessly in the background, but most of me caught up in the moment, experiencing Cary’s playing as an entire universe in which I existed. The rest of the world had disappeared. That’s never happened to me before outside of my meditation and my writing.  I hated coming back at the end of each piece, and I really appreciated the way Cary let the notes trail off into silence, and the way the audience waited a second or so before exploding into applause – it was such a shock to leave the music and what it did to me, that the silence helped the transition back into the world.

I’m not sure what I learned, but I hope I can repeat that experience – it’s a wonderful way to listen to music, and I’m so glad it was my godson who gave me that gift!

Saturday – Fairfield Community Place

I’ll be there on November 28, at the Fairfield Community Place, 1330 Fairfield Road from 1:30 to 3:30 pm. If you’d like to see me, as well as Kit Pearson, Julie Lawson, Nikki Tate, Jeff Rudd, Fiona Bayrock and other local and incredibly good authors, come on out – there will be door prizes, signed copies of the author’s books and lots going on. Hope to see you there!