Wednesday, July 29, 2009


This is the second part of a journal kept while sojourning in North Carolina.

Appalachian University. The Turchin Center for the Visual Arts. I went back twice to see the work of Samina Iqbal, a Palestinian artist. The painting I loved was an acrylic rendering of birds, most of them small birds within squares surrounding a round birdcage. The birds looked like blackbirds and some of them had price tags beside them. They were in the cage but not within, and they reminded me of cages in the Iranian bazaar that held exotic birds. I once saw an Anglican clergyman open one and free a small canary. He opened at least three cages before the shopkeeper chased him away. I was walking down 24 Metre St. in Ahwaz. Samina’s other pictures of printed and embroidered patterns were like those covering tables in the textile stalls in Ahwaz. The women were buying material to make their chadors. Birdcages hung above them, but they were empty. I am part of a skein stretched between Iran and North Carolina and am glad that the Iranians’ birdcages hold empty perches… but they are putting humans in cages now.


Boone, North Carolina’s best – Horn of the West. Descending the steps to my seat in the amphitheatre to watch “The Horn of the West,” a drama about the Revolutionary War, I see mountain people hovering in the evening dusk. It begins with loud explosions of simulated gunfire. Daniel Boone soon appears. A black bear is carried across the stage. Cherokees dance wildly, and one jumps through a hoop of fire. The drumbeat from a side stage hypnotizes the audience for a few moments before freedom-seeking characters run across the stage, fleeing from British tyranny. A young girl behind me falls out of her seat, hitting the concrete with a sickening thud. I turn around in my seat and see blood streaking her tender forehead. She whimpers with pain, and her mother carries her up the steep steps to safety. I am chilled. Turning to my friend, I whisper, “Let’s get out of here. They’re killing innocent children.”


This is the tourist trail into the Carmel of North Carolina. We climb to higher High Country: Banner Elk, Sugar Mountain, Beech Mountain... Traveling through spruce, white pine, and firs we find more California sameness, the temperate climate and places dense with wildflowers – yellow and pink primroses, pink milkweed, the ubiquitous Queen Anne’s Lace, every yard a garden, every garden competing. It is consumer country. Artisans alter their authentic work in wood and metal to create new gimmicks. A silver teapot welded to a copper pole becomes a bird feeder in the backyard of someone who has everything. Fine dining and hot dogs are advertised yards apart. At 5,000 feet, the peak of Beech Mountain becomes a collage of real estate offices. Soon the snow will appear, and ski birds seeking elevation will come. I look at the faces of people sitting at tables in the Banner Elk Cafe, those who start off better than most in life. They eat well, buy well, sell well, play well. Sleek and unwell.


In the Dancing Moon Earthway Bookstore, part of the celestial circuit, the music is hip-hop chanting against the wail of sitar, flute, violent strings. Strangely soothing. On the shelves are titles of so many paths, each book promising liberation of spirit. A tall woman with long brown hair reads to a young girl about six from a book of New Age literature for children in a back corner of the shop. I can’t see the title of the book, but something about the woman’s blank face tells me she’s careless. She is asleep while reading. They feel my intrusion and go up front to the shop owner’s desk, and a few moment’s later I overhear the mother telling the child, “it must be somewhere in the store.” They return to search the children’s nook. She goes away empty-handed and flustered, and I hear her speaking to the owner but she doesn’t leave the shop. I stand before the shelves looking at a biography of Rumi. My eyes are irresistibly drawn upward to the top shelf of the bookcase where I spy a fine black leather wallet, a fat lure on the shelf of spirituality. I take it to the bookstore owner, an aging hippy whose bountiful white beard obscures his facial expression. “Someone lost this,” I say. The woman with long brown hair acknowledges the wallet as her own and smiles a concise smile. Later, the bookstore owner comes back to the corner where I’m still standing, reading the shelves. “Thank you for doing that; it worked out well,” he said to me. “Things usually do,” I replied, puzzled by his effusiveness. Did the woman think the bookstore owner discovered the wallet somewhere in the shop and kept it? When I select and pay for a book of Celtic writings, the bookstore owner thanks me again. He hands me two tiny iridescent pink angels, not as large as a fingertip and small enough to keep in the change pocket of my wallet. I leave the shop in my new role as a celestial being. Guardian angel for a stranger unaware.
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