Kathmandu: Pashupatinath

Kathmandu We are all gathered at my mom’s bedside in the hospice, chatting jovially, when Jane gets my attention and says “I think you’re mom has left us.”

My grandfather is a mortician and his house is also the village morgue and funeral home. My dad tells stories about growing up in that house like going to the bathroom in the night and finding a dead body in the bathtub because the morgue was beyond capacity. On this day we are visiting in the funeral home ignoring the open casket where the remains of Whistling Archie lie waiting for the funeral later that day. My young brother has been searching the house for us when he wanders in. He is initially pleased to finally find us but then shocked to see the dead body. He is frozen for a moment then runs from the room screaming.

I have an accoustic guitar that I have painstakingly painted with many totems of personal significance. Without a trace of anger or defiance but rather reverence I take the guitar into the backyard, douse it with lighter fluid, and set it aflame. I am left with a guitar of ashes, each metal fret perfectly positioned.

I ask if it would be okay to take a picture of the cremations at Pashupatinath. He looks about us uneasily and then says “One. Only one.”

Kathmandu: Bakery Cafe

Kathmandu As the waiter passes by our table I ask him if we could get milk for our coffee. He breezes past without acknowledging my request. I then realize that many of the staff at the Bakery Cafe are deaf.

When she hears of my upcoming trip to Havana she asks me if I would be willing to take some things to friends who have a hard time finding things they need in Cuba. In one case it involves vitamin supplements but she also asked me to take dozens of bras. I am only too happy to deliver these goods to the people who need them but I am a bit concerned what Cuban Customs will think when they find my luggage stuffed with bras.

Sheila understands that a deaf child matures like any other child, gaining depth of understanding as well as emotional intelligence. And yet sometimes being deaf is a barrier to certain basic knowledge that other children pick up from their environment. Somehow the topic of mortality comes up. The young boy signs a question to Sheila. “You mean you’re going to die?” Without thinking much about it Sheila signs back “well, we all die some day.” The little boy is frozen for a moment as he processes this new information. Then he breaks down in sobs.

Kathmandu: Nepal Tea House

Kathmandu Clare offers to make tea for us. Before every step she calls to her dad for guidance to ensure she is doing it right. There is some confusion when his instructions conflict with what she has seen her Auntie Catherine do. Catherine mashes her tea to get every drop of flavour from it. “Because tea.”

Harry’s dad is the first one up and the first thing he does is put on a big pot of tea. The tea steeps throughout the day, sustaining the family through their chores. By late afternoon it is as thick and dark as tar.

Niva is telling me about the destruction of Kathmandu Durbar Square. I say “there used to be a nice tea shop right on the square.” She assures me it is still there, unharmed by the earthquakes.

Geneva: Muséum d’histoire naturelle

Geneva My brother and I sneak quietly into the room above the garage. There is a bat hiding on a pipe just below the ceiling. We poke him with a hockey stick and then run shrieking through the house. A neighbour comes in to deal with the bat. We expect him to kill it so we are shocked when he comes walking down the stairs with the bat stretched between his two hands. The bat is released in our backyard.

I love the dead birds. I love them all the more because they are dusty with neglect.

We scour the shore for fossils and sand dollars. He exchanges them for a mounted, preserved piranha. She swims with the piranhas and pink dolphins.

Zagreb: Spansko Refugee Camp

Geneva There are nearly 800 people living in the Spansko Refugee Camp. About a quarter of them are children between the ages of three and seven.

We walk the stark hallways trying to learn as much as we can by observing the people and their meager belongings while also respecting their privacy and dignity. The single image that impacts me the most is a child’s drawing taped to a wall. It features buildings and a rainbow and the words “Vukovar – heaven on earth.”

Displaying shame and pride in equal measures, he offers me a cup of tea and a seat on the only chair in this room they call home.

I ask again and again if anyone can identify the former site of the refugee camp. No one is able to help me. It seems like an exercise in selective forgetting.

“Cinnamon, Brian said, once tasted is never forgotten, is longed for every after. He showed her the tear-shaped island where it grew, and she thought about longing for something so far away.”

Zagreb: Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Geneva After he does not show up at work for a couple of days, Robert is found dead in his apartment. Friends and family assemble for a funeral mass. When the priest is administering the Eucharist Robert’s brother Paul rises and moves toward the priest. Just before the body of Christ is placed on Paul’s lips his brother David intervenes and explains to the priest that Paul is not Catholic. The priest withdraws the wafer. Paul looks awkward and ashamed as he stumbles back to his pew.

As we enter the north transept take note of the bear carved in white marble. Keep this in mind as we move to the high altar where we see the famous golden eagle pulpit. Then in the south transept we find the idyllic stained glass with the red deer drinking by a waterfall. Now, we exit through the nave where the black pews fill the space like buffalo grazing in the prairies.

Zagreb: Sljeme, Medvednica

Geneva I tell him it’s not the hills that I find daunting. Every hill has another side. It’s the wind that drives against you and you know it will continue relentlessly throughout the day.

I feel guilty and self-conscious around francophones especially those who are not Canadian. There is a reasonable expectation that Canadians should be bilingual, equally comfortable with French and English. The Québecois know better. My Croatian hosts are more comfortable with French than English but I freeze whenever they speak French to me. Walking this trail on Medvenica mountain the humidity is making me sweat. I decide to venture a statement in French. Trying to say the air is heavy (“lourd”) I say instead that the air is ugly (“laid”). Jadranka returns a look that suggests she is both affronted and confused.

I have been looking forward to going out for dinner with my colleagues as I haven’t been eating much due to my discomfort with dining alone. They order a wonderful brodet as an appetizer. Although I am enjoying it a great deal I stop filling my bowl as I realize I won’t have an appetite for the main course. After the tureen has been cleared from the table I realize that we will not be having a main course. Because the conversation is in Croatian I miss the discussion about the brodet being substantial enough to constitute the meal. I go home hungry yet again.