Moving Experience V

To return to Liz’s adventures in Amsterdam, I set forth on Saturday a.m. to locate a sim card for the phone that Hans was loaning me for the duration of my visit. I walked to the end of Jacob Obrechtstraat and over the canal to Beethovenstraat. Hans had informed me that all the streets in the neighborhood are named for artists or composer/musicians, Obrecht being a composer as well.

The first place I spotted was an electronics store. The man said, no, that I should go across the street to the phone store. The very nice woman said, no, she didn’t have a card for that phone. That there ere several stores in the center of Amsterdam. She also said that the cheapest “unlocked” phone she had that could handle calls to the States was €60! I calmed my disconnected self by taking a stroll along the canal before returning to Casa Salsa.

Ashley called not long afterward to say that some of the filmmakers who were due in on Sunday had arrived a day early and that he and Kathryn were going to move into Casa Salsa.

They arrived with their suitcases, including a huge bag full of the camping gear they had used in Spain. We chatted and ate excellent blackened salmon, prepared by Ira, until they left for the theater to do a sound check before the premiere of their film.

Kathryn and Ash did a magnificent job with Zenju’s Path. (Sorry, but I can’t seem to find a working link that will give even stills of the film.) They captured Zenju Earthlyn Manuel’s beauty and glowing energy in all her various guises: as Zen priest (not nun as people kept saying), as teacher, as drummer, as sister in the biological and in the spiritual sense. The photography – of the hills and the bay and the bustling city — caught the essence of the Oakland/San Francisco area. Maintaining a Zen attitude while negotiating the Bay Bridge represents a major achievement, and Zenju passed with flying colors. The cuts between quiet contemplation and the high-octane drumming gave the film exactly the right balance of energy. Next time I’m in the Bay area, I definitely want to catch a performance of Sistahs of the Drum. I hope Zenju’s Path achieves a worldwide audience, both for the artistry of the film and the importance of the message or compassion and empowerment and peace.

Zenju’s Path shared the bill with Sky Dancer, Jody Kemmerer’s film about a woman who became the spiritual and community leader of her village in eastern Tibet. Again the visuals evoked a sense of spirituality before any words were spoken. Khandroma Kunzang Wangmo truly lived her faith, adopting a great many children and meting out punishment to miscreants. This poor community sacrificed so much to create a beautiful and elaborate temple and school.

While I enjoyed the film, I did find Tibetan Buddhism far more alien than the Soto Zen that Zenju practices. The latter involves sitting in meditation. The Tibetans spin prayer wheels, launch prayer flags (in gale-force winds), and pray from written records. In fact it was a bit jarring to hear the leader say that she wasn’t sure if she’d recited a prayer exactly as it should be.

I observed one striking difference between the women featured in these films and the priests of Zen. They function in the world and do not live removed from it, so their gifts are more readily available “in the world.” Prayer is good. Prayer and contemplation are good. Prayer and contemplation and action are better.

Tomorrow: Thai food and coffeehouses.

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