© 2019 Drew T. Noll

Monday, July 15, 2019


Written for English Day at Gordon Academic College, this poem is composed in a series of styles, the content of which relates to our class experience learning over the past year to be teachers of English as an additional language at the college. My classmates, all from wide ethnic and cultural backgrounds, helped read the poem segments on stage in front of more than 100 audience members from the English Department. 


by DD Noll

Stuffed into spaces economical
The causeways still are habitual
Passing in the halls far too often
The connections fleetingly soften
And the friendships made are astronomical  

Free Verse:
Brittle, caged laughing filling the vertical spaces of wall
Spreading upwards into a slam-dunk delivery
Melding into the ether with barely a whelp
Singing down praise from above, and immersed in 

Straight and bent streets to walk
Curved into naught with no stop
Pathways converging 

The road bent on built-ins, tearing down before
Slamming sliders slapping slowly, so damn slow
Walls bleak and frothing with lore moshing 
Endgame nil, disk-spin and down the hall 

Calamity befallen for light to restore
All paths converging to the great sound of lore
Under the roof of the sun to sit and walk
Silently coming together to avoid shock 
Everyone still swaying to the beat of our feet
With electric divining via air from each seat
After hesitation becomes bore, we all grab hands
Yearly success is in store and it demands

OF My first Entrance, and the vapid
Of which Unknown, whose know was t’test
Bringing Chaos into Mine Self, and all woe,
Hereto loss Eden, till moment so Great
Climb up, and sit still Among seats
Say what you will, Musings from the Secret
He Hey Pha, or Eden, no Spare
Flock of All said, once taught to Choose
In the Beginning what was wrong
Unity from Chaos: Above th’ grassy knoll
Wonder’n light more, and the Waters below
Feast or fast magic; I receive 
Belief in thyself with fire and Verve
With no middle to soar high over shore

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Old Woman, Young Woman

A written response to the reading of The Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin

We are ever entwined within the building of our own, widespread realities, if only to communicate our inner worlds outwardly with the distant reality we face-across from daily. I become; confused, every day, by the attempt to communicate, and to which ques received to decide upon towards action and reverie. Our story opens with the wraith of a beauty hidden and desirably unknown. She is cloistered but relenting, as news unfolds of the most catastrophic epiphany granting both freedom from life and in it, from which we are in unawares, gray, still, from ignorance-stillborn and unfolding. We feel for the young woman, the wraith, but can’t feel her sorrow from the words we read. Each word escapes into clarity, read with interest, but never known till sound escapes and is gotten, meantime her cries. Sobbing in joy, like an infant in sleep, we feel for her laughter so dare stop … think. Each word that she utters is coated and hollow, each utterance waivers and lands silence-screaming, the air unable to release, the thoughts contained fermenting into vaporous confusion between two worlds written.

On the second reading of The Story of an Hour, Mrs. Mallard’s joy throughout is witnessed by the play we endure. We are grown plummeting into darkness by it. The first reading was sane, by the same antonym-standards, allowing us to adhere to the cultural norms, to our standard response of witnessing our everyday. We allow for ourselves to be connected and communicating, as if we were all the same and that it was all part of the plan built for us to build again. We are falling down together, watching the sides of it as we descend. It all seems normal, as if grief was a gift, but the present is illusive and we fall more, fly lower, to seek what we find. And, by the third paragraph we are introduced to the old woman, the hag:

"She did not hear the story as many women have heard the same, with paralysed inability to accept its significance. She wept at once, with sudden wild abandonment, in her sister's arms. When the storm of grief had spent itself, she went away to her room alone."

But this is only wordplay, as what is revealed recedes into query, and back to the unknown. We feel for the woman, we feel for the hag, and she flips back once again to the wraith, the beauty, and inevitably invokes an apparition of the oppressed. Almost every line fine from here to there; the end, it invokes an expression of joy, and of relief. We see the hag, but feel for the wraith. We have become; we accept our fates and attempt to quantify it, to justify it, and then we lust after it. We want the reality we perceive, the place we see, to be real, to light up our way, and to become our beckoning self. It’s an act; the ambiguity is real, like the image of a young beauty with a hag hanging from her lapel. Near the end, when the image flips back, once again, she is caught in a quiver, the place between when the hag hovers, and the wraith repels. Inside the seam of this transformation, a scream is once again smoke. The message is, almost; but, the lines clear and are spoken well:

"She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead."

Is the face of the man dead, or was it the known face of love-dead?! Left to wonder, we descend even further, and the story ends with the real-world doctors claiming in bliss, ignorance of wishing, only: “the joy that kills.”

Saturday, February 9, 2019

A Day in My Life

On Shabbat I went to shul. It had been a long time since I had gotten up the nerve to enter, since I hadn’t been there in a long, long time. My friends were all there, as I remembered from before. I pretended to pray, whatever that means, partook in kiddush... Then I spied an old friend sitting alone on a bench across the bima from where I had gathered next to the whiskey. He was smiling, as was proper for such a lustrous character. He walks with a walker, now, but doesn’t do it the way you’d expect. He pushes it out in front of him as he goes, then shuffles to catch up. He likes the handles high, like a drag-bike, and enjoys just watching it roll, as did I witnessing him with it. I sat next to him on the uncomfortably sublime bench in shul, and we talked of our lives. I saw his Brooklyn soul shining through tearing eyes as he spoke. Kiddush is like that, telling tales of old and of new, shiny stories and dull history colliding to recollect truth from each and every moment.

Many years before, sitting at my own father’s bedside, I beckoned to my dad to come back from the semi-comatose existence he had been dwelling within, just for a moment. The time before that was many years before that, visiting my grandmother in the hospital. We spoke of vacuum cleaner tubes, toy trains, and learning to skateboard with metal wheels on the sidewalks of Leisure World, where she had lived as I grew up. The elderly impart tremendous wisdom, especially as they traverse the borders surrounding the next world. I’m thinking about this now because many of my friend’s parents have begun to take that journey. I had two shiva calls last week, one of which I knew the deceased, zikhron lebrakha, and had interacted with him on occasion. The last time I saw him I was too busy teaching his granddaughter to interact much, which probably helped me to approach my old friend in shul the way I did. My emotional foster-parent passed suddenly as well, zikhron lebrakha, well over a year ago. I spoke with him right before his last surgery, his last day, and I fully expected him to smile up at me, after, but it wasn’t so. My actual parents have both left the here and now, but I know that they’re all still hovering around here in some way. There are many ways to tell, but the most prominent of these ways to know informs me daily of such, having sat upon my dad’s bedside that day, right before he went away.

My father was a strong, tall man that had shriveled to skin and bones curled fetally upon his bed. It took a year to finally end in the man seen before me, having traveled from afar time after time. He had a hospice-helper, my mother, and my brother from the next town over, helping to move his substantial form hither and thither, from bed to shower to chair. Strokes persisted to infect my dad’s smile, the right side bright while the left drooped into the soil; the very soil he adored during life, being a landscape architect and gardener galore. On another visit from afar my dad told me about the shadows that played across his window seen from his bed. An ancient eucalyptus tree waved to and fro in the winds, planted on the corner of his home’s lot, next to the street I grew up on. He told me how he would wake at night and stare at the movement, the light behind the shadows from a streetlight, the moon, or possibly just shadows bursting forth from themselves. That was a different sort of visit, and towards the end; he was dwelling in another world and unable to brag about his son, even then. My father’s mother-in-law, my grandmother, in her hospital bed, always pulled me close when I visited, waving to those nearby and calling out to them with pride. My father was just so busy, as I still remember him growing up, with another world altogether.

I didn’t get a chance to talk with him, the grandfather of my student, the last time I spoke with him. He smiled at me and laughed, seemingly knowing deeply who I was inside and out. It was a month before he passed, zihron lebrakha, and he had a look in his eyes; and in that tiny moment we both seemed to sense something about the line surrounding us all, and how it’s only really perception in the end. The other side is open and known. The other side is home away from home, and is far closer to spaces of love than to those of decay. My grandmother died of emphysema, zikhron lebrakha, but not before I had a chance to crack perception’s door a bit. I spent an hour a day, every-other day, talking with her at her bedside. Her eyes lit up when she saw me enter the hospital room, and then the bragging would begin. She was my mother’s mother, so flippant was a regular on the menu. My mother was diagnosed with DID as a younger woman; hence, personality was only the nearest thing to now that could be seen. The story of my mother's demise is long and sad, and I’m distraught daily not having had the chance to be with her in the end, other than a phone call in a shell. Long story short, her world grew large unnaturally, desire begging creation, and all the while a dark bubble in her uterus grew. She passed her wisdom from afar, zikhron lebrakha, not knowing her spawn, not seeing the future ... and I’m only left with a sad and sorry epilogue and few words of growth on it to spin.

However gruesome, my father’s death defined the majesty of beauty and of grace, mapping out throughout my life the steps needed to see the whole, the chase into space from a cocoon in transition. I sat on the edge of his bed, his blue eyes rolled back to be replaced by the whites, and I spoke of our children, large and small. He was incapable of response, so monologue became communication in a world with only ears to hear. A question was incapable, so I asked. My father stirred, the sheet covering his limp form fluttering slightly. His open jaw grumbled shut as he slid his elbows to sit. It had been a month since I’d seen him, so I stayed put on the edge of his bed as tremors erupted from another world. I had asked my father if he would be there for me when I crossed over. And, with one foot in this world and one in the next, my father summoned his being to answer me. He scooted his elbows under him and sat up, his eyes slowly dropping down from the dimension he had been staring into, then focusing on me piercingly, and with quivering lips said, “Absolutely.” Then my father eased back down into his own past … and into the future so near. It was the last word that my father ever said to me. He died soon thereafter, zikhron lebrakha, after I had flown home away from home. The boundaries of my world view had shifted to encompass the next. My father had shared with me knowledge unknown. Through the revelation it took many years for me to feel the obvious, the loss, even though I truly felt it daily. I’m not really sure why; maybe absence grows over time; yes, could be. Walking home from shul with my old friend shuffling to catch up to his walker rolling down the street in front of him, the last thing I said to him was, “See you next week.”

Shavua tov!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Flying into the Sunrise (Part 1)

Traveling across the planet through the atmosphere above is only a recent phenomenon, like toothpaste tubes and hotdog factories, yet we’ve built our presence overhead like the progeny of our own creation, making us all proud, and, to ourselves, forever increasing our own importance and potential. In our Jetstream wake we inevitably leave behind for future generations to ponder — not only our collective lacking, but our piles of refuse — we create, once again, our world, but this time in our own image. Indonesia does that to you, looking back now, it beats raw the edges of living, of understanding our place in life, only to birth a mad questioning that spawns forth from a place deep inside. After over a month of a new pillow on a new bed in new lodgings arrived at in the dark, I find myself trying to write something coherent about the perfect chaos I perceived during my travels there. I’ve just begun to grapple with a land and sea filled tight, right up next to the world’s lid, with myriad creatures, peoples and my inflections on their own perceived realities.

Sitting on a plane after leaving Jakarta, Doha, Amman, we flew west, towards Tel Aviv, towards home. I looked out the window regularly while the oceans and deserts passed below the clouds we were flying over. The sun began to set at some point on our journey, but it hung in the sky near the horizon for a long time, too long. It eventually dropped out of sight, sunlight glowing into the air like Sol couldn’t make up its mind whether to call it a day, or a night; exactly like that. We flew west, towards home, and somehow our plane kept track with the rotation of the earth on its access, and our orbit around the sun. The light hovered in place all around us, glowing with a promise and a memory, and inside that perpetual dusk, that new day’s eventual dawn, I imagined fierce battles, and I opened a window into my mind to wrestle with demons. As if from the heavens above, time stopped and cheered as I wove in and out of scuffle after skirmish. We were on our way home, out of a place of terrible beauty, where we traveled though foreign ideologies and forgotten lands, and we were heading home to a place of wonder, a place of family, and a place where water builds life from the desert of our world’s being.

Fast reversing from our flight into perpetual dusk, our trip began in a place we had been before, and loved, but no more. Unless I spend time exploring the highlands and mountain villages, away from the known crossroads as much as is possible, I plan to stay away from Bali. The Hindu people are magnificent, no doubt, but the world has infected the once terrible-paradise island with pure commercialization. It’s still a necessary flight hub, and therefore tempting to explore, I do understand, and you should if you’ve never been. If you visit, contact me here, I know a couple of good driver/guides. Other than that, and this post I made during the earthquakes I experienced there, we flew to Labuan Bajo on Flores Island, a ramshackle little port town with dive shops and tourist kiosks lining one street, the main street. Evidently, the entire reason for being in Labuan Bajo is to get out, somehow, to the Komodo Islands. In my mind, Labuan Bajo is a typical port town, full of stories and legends, full of dreams and experience, and with a very healthy sampling of some of the earth’s lost and found souls –

There was a young woman from Michigan that ran a restaurant with great tacos, and more-than loud muezzin speakers piping Islamic prayers directly at eco-tourist patrons as they took in, from a significant height, the ship-dotted port below. She sat with her laptop in a corner, strange tattoos staining tanned skin and want-to-be native origins, and when another earthquake shook the ground 3 stories below us, she calmly looked up the Richter scale and announced her findings to her patrons. The locals at her restaurant served the guests, and seemed nervous, even before the earthquake, but the fish tacos were really good, and the native servers’ smiles were intoxicating –

There was a young man, a native that had a smile and a laugh that made the world giggle. He jumped into every selfie we tried to take, smiling with delight. He took selfies with his friends, barefoot, with a tiny smartphone, as they guided us to a sacred waterfall deep in the jungle, far from cell service and civilization, along a path that was being built with an infusion of cash from the government to build tourism in the region. Giggling and laughing, even singing karaoke in the backseat of the car, our teen guide was excited by and proud of the smallest details during our adventure. Next to every brand new wooden trail sign we came across: BEWARE SLIPPERY, or PICK UP TRASH, he posed with his buddies, laughing … as if that was the entire world, his laugh, the look he got, the endorphins he produced and consumed –

There was a woman in a hijab dancing next to the fish barbecue, and a man next to her that was not happy about my photograph. I wondered if it was religious in nature, his displeasure with her, or if his displeasure was with me for taking a picture that included her dancing, enjoying the live music coming from the other side of the night market. There was another woman in a hijab serving fresh barbecued fish, but wouldn’t talk to her neighbor in order to sell us tourists Bintang, a really nice Indonesian Pilsner beer. I wondered if it was personal between them, or if it was principle, with religious origins. Each fish market stall set up a deal with its neighbors to supply customers, but at this one stall there was a resolute, “No.” No matter, we ate dinner at the fish market every night we dined in Labuan Bajo, four nights in all, four stalls in all, ensuring plenty of Bintang –

And, then there was the little Muslim boy in a Balinese priest outfit sporting wraparound sunglasses, dressed up for Indonesian Independence Day, and cheered on by his hijab-wearing mom from the sidelines to ham it up for the western tourists. He wouldn’t smile, no matter how hard we tried to tickle his fancy. He posed with a straight face for our pictures, as serious as I remember my own son being while posing for Halloween trick-or-treat pics back living in the USA, our very own old country.

Labuan Bajo is one tiny town on the western edge of the island of Flores, mostly Catholic/Animist fusion, in the archipelago nation of Indonesia, which currently boasts the largest population of Muslims on the planet. The archipelago of Indonesia is a vast sea peppered with dark, lush islands, 17,508 of them. We visited seven, altogether, if you count a pink sand bar in Komodo that emerges during low tide, where we vacationed for a few hours with other eco-tourists from other western countries. The country of Israel, my very own ancestral homeland, is a tiny, tumultuous  sea, less than half the size of the fifth largest island in the Indonesian archipelago, and is totally surrounded by a vast desert filled to the lid with complex/hostile ideologies, very few friends, and a plethora of ulterior motives to govern the world with, like anywhere. Because it’s confusing for the best of us, I’ll explain it like this: Indonesia isn’t what you’ve read or seen in the Media, like any other geopolitical hotspot on the planet, and its complexity is not something that I feel particularly comfortable describing; it is vast, and, to me, almost entirely unknown. This is my attempt to describe what I experienced during our month of travels in this dark and luminous land, and how, after which, I feel, just, changed.

We left Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores in a flurry as soon as our driver/guide arrived. Having met over email, we quickly put name to face and jumped into his car. We collected water in bottles to drink and brush teeth with, stopped at a cash machine that perched on the side of the road, and then drove up the winding jungle hill past the hospital where my beloved had a near death experience … just the day before. It’s not my place to say, but, in an effort to illuminate, the event was all smoke and mirrors caused by my motion sickness medicine and a somewhat hasty departure from Labuan Bajo on our first day to kill, almost a week prior. While sitting in the front seat (because of my severe motion-sickness), my beloved slapped a new patch on my neck from the backseat. So, with karaoke filling the car and smiling teen guides piled-in tight to lead the way to the (prior mentioned) sacred waterfall, we were on our way. Scopolamine is expensive and hard to come by these days, but trying to ration it with multiple reapplications is a bad idea, and it doesn’t work. Maybe … it’s because the dosage gets messed up, causing nausea and more, at one point even providing minor hallucinations to keep my mind busy and off the rest of the toxic symptoms.The last I will say of the ‘almost’ horrific experience: is that leaving residue on fingers and thumbs, unwashed, ultimately led to my beloved’s really bad day in a foreign hospital. We had thought that our trip to Indonesia, mostly our trip to Komodo (and later Sumatra) would be ruined, along with the rest of our short lives; but, as we joked with the doctors and nurses at the reception desk, on our way out of the hospital to find a taxi-ride home to our temporary bed, elation took over and the world became, once again, our eco-tourist playground.

Before our Flores overland trip began we boated around the islands of Komodo, my beloved diving into the deep sea after, in Bali, achieving her advanced diving degree, and me, because of a claustrophobia-informed fear of diving, snorkeling across the seas' surface. We slept and ate at Pirate Camp, but spent our days out on the waters. We’ve heard stories of a world gone by, times that don’t necessarily exist with our modern understandings, but a world does actually exist beneath our – whirling madly to stay afloat – feet. While briefly swimming the line between the waters above and below, I saw a visual-smorgasbord of wild and winsome beasties living in their natural habitat: a handful of dragons on the land, thousands of flying foxes in the sky above, and an implausible diversity of tropical fish under the sea's surface. We saw dozens of giant sea turtles, one of which I had the privilege of following as it surfaced for air right in front of me. I followed it up, removed my mask to peer into the air above, and watched its head extend over the waves, much farther than I imagined realistic. Quickly, I then replaced my mask in time to submerge and watch the turtle, a guest into our air above, descend beneath the waves into a universe untouched. I watched multiple giant manta-rays glide in procession, like parade floats, straight into the current with ease, wings with a span of 14 feet flipping with the flowing waters around them, all beneath my flailing form sprawled and twitching upon the sea's surface above. And, at a tiny island reef, surrounded by vast tumultuous ocean currents that pulled at my fins when I got too close, I came face to face with an obscenely fat six foot grey reef shark before it stopped its trajectory towards me from the murk of the current behind, only to turn, showing off its length and girth, then slowly disappearing back into the current’s vibrating gloom. I understood by the end of our adventures in Komodo that ‘we’ were the only pirates populating the land and sea. And I also understood that the vast universe I floated above was in eminent danger, even from the plastic bottles that I drank water from, and used to brush my teeth.

Then we landed late at night, once again, back in Labuan Bajo; and, the boat we’d ridden on through another universe cut through another boat’s shoreline, which had been strung hundreds of meters across the entire harbor, eliciting the docks to erupt into cursing and shouts. We motored away, our keel hung low in shame, in the dead of night, with our Spanish captain politely cursing his Indonesian wife’s country of origin. We disembarked at another dock and checked back into our hotel after a 10 minute joy ride around town on a black-light lit-up bus, actually more of a truck with a camper-shell on the back, which we all had to climb and squat into. It dropped us back where we started … because our hotel was only a block away from the dock … and then we ate fish at the night market across the street and crashed onto the same side of the same bed we slept in a few days prior. In the morning we had another day to kill. Indonesia’s like that (I know you’ve heard this before), there are days punctuated regularly with obtuse realizations and experiences, and then there are days that seem to stop completely, leaving questions looming into a kind of beautiful grotesquerie. I guess it was the price we had to pay for being tourists, eco-tourists, with limited time and maximum accumulated possibilities, maybe even supernatural in a world full from almost any inevitability. So … we snuck into a luxury hotel (with some western-world boat people’s assistance) and went swimming in their seaside pool for the day. It was grand.

Back in Bali we understood the problems that plagued our land, our earth. There were no landfills, but there were dumps. Trash piled up in back alleys, in corners of living. Construction debris filled empty lots, with bulldozers smoking to plow it all into glorious tourist high-rises with a view unto the sea. The Island of Flores was still pure, almost untouched. The locals waved when we drove past, and we waved back. The people were beautiful, as if straight out of some off-the-shelf historical-fiction novel … waving to you as you passed. And, their land, the only place left to live, was being consumed by a power seemingly beyond all of our control. When we left Labuan Bajo, our guide drove us up the jungle dotted hill past the hospital, past the sacred waterfall, and ended the day in his hometown, Ruteng … where we stayed, a last minute change, in a Catholic convent. The nuns there were strict, but nice. A school under our room woke us in the morning with looks and giggles. Then the chickens made themselves known, as is usual throughout Indonesia. We were picked up by our guide and driven for coffee, since the local nun food was cafeteria in nature. Our favorite place for Nasi Goren (Indonesian Fried Rice) was closed when we arrived for breakfast. The day before, with pictures of Christian holy sites plastering the walls, we tried to make quick friends with the establishment’s proprietors. They had made a pilgrimage to Israel and their wall-size selfies in front of Galilee Christian holy sites were a prominent feature of their tiny restaurant. While sitting in the restaurant, I sent our proprietor a friend request on Facebook, and then anxiously awaited a new participant from Flores Island on my feed.

We left town, but not after spending all morning high-fiving local children celebrating Indonesian Independence Day by dressing up in traditional costumes and parading down the main street in droves. Once getting our fill of the once-in-a-lifetime parade of people, and after a day of torturous turns, waving locals, and periodic road stops to ease my scopolamine madness, we arrived at Mbalata Beach, a private eco-tourist paradise with black sands, a large smoky-looking volcano silhouetted on the seaside horizon, and one guy to barbecue fresh fish that he had acquired that very afternoon, along with choice veggies and cold Bintang. We stayed in a traditional dwelling built for westerners, with full-scale facilities out the back door and down the stairs. The stairs were steep, at the front and at the back, and the walls of our dwelling only imitated their namesakes, leaving massive openings for myriad critters conceivably to enter. But, no matter, we had mosquito nets, one for him and one for her. This wasn’t a romantic getaway, as you may have guessed, but a getaway for the stretching of the soul-that-unites us sort of thing. My beloved was so tickled upon arriving that she slept like death that night. I, on the other hand, began to shiver under the sheet I used as a blanket. Sweating uncontrollably, shivering and shaking, I had contracted something along the way. Maybe it was after-effects of the scopolamine, maybe it was something transmitted high-fiving the wide variety of parade-kids on the way, or maybe it was just me … sociologically sponging and sucking up my environment until I puked (which I didn’t).

I woke in the morning feeling better, but kept my night tremors to myself during breakfast. My beloved was having just too great a time to spoil it for her. Not one soul meandered down the beach. The only sound was a rooster rooting around the kitchen’s yard, maybe the occasional rustle of mangrove forest leaves, and possibly a tiny background sound of the gentle wash of blue waves lapping over black sand. It was paradise. We left late that day on our overland Flores expedition, and I fell back into a deep sleep after breakfast, entangling myself once again under mosquito netting, dreaming my usual, oft-repeated childhood dreams of hammering nails and traveling through drainage pipes under the earth with neighborhood friends. After awakening, I quickly stuffed my pack, and then dragged it through black sands to the car. All I can remember now is arriving in the late afternoon in Bajawa, and our next bed to sleep in. I sat on a bench overlooking the city, animal stalls and slums first, gambling lean-tos second, church third, mosque fourth, and a giant volcano surrounded by moody clouds on the horizon, fifth. My chills returned as I sat there taking in the view. I shivered almost imperceptibly, looking imploringly at my beloved to wrap up the arrangements in full haste. Then … violently shaking, I showered and jumped under the single sheet of our bed, drying off as I sweated the illness I had acquired out.

Waking in the night, my beloved having vanished with our guide on a mission to scavenge the restaurant scene for food, I realized that I was in a very foreign and hostile land. I was a Jew, an Israeli, traveling with a US passport that wasn’t intellectually mine anymore. All it would take would be one person tipping the local Gestapo for money, or for recognition and favors.  A Chinese Catholic governor was jailed for five years for saying political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse in the Koran to say Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim, followed by an incorrectly subtitled video of his comments going viral on social media, sparking massive demonstrations, and then resulting in his trial and ultimate incarceration. A Buddhist woman was sentenced to 18 months in prison for blasphemy; she complained that the mosque speakers were too loud, five times a day/night, something that, as a visiting western eco-tourist I concur with, having been woken about 4:00 am almost every night in Indonesia to a prayer starting with: Allah Akhbar… and finishing at least 20 to 40 minutes later with various Koranic sayings. Shivering in sweat under the sheet, the only light in the world coming from my glowing phone, I opened Facebook and deleted every reference I could find to Israel. It took me about 20 minutes. The friend request I’d sent to the Christian pilgrimage restaurant proprietor had gone unanswered. I realized that I had put him and his family in great danger by sending it in the first place. Of course he wouldn’t accept, what was I thinking…? I changed my profile pic to a typical eco-tourist image of me and my beloved in traditional Flores garb … and deleted the picture of me in front of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a Jew from a rooftop in the Old City. I was legitimately freaked out that there would be a knocking at the door, and that I would be hauled off to a local police station, sweating and shivering in my underwear, to answer questions of ideology veiled loosely beneath waterboarding diplomacy. Then my beloved arrived, finally, with fresh soup and rice to wash down my night tremors, and in the morning all was well and right with the world. I had erased my baggage, eliminated my fears, and my fever had dropped back to normal again.

The last night I spent in Bajawa was in a different bed, as was usual for our Indonesian travels. We moved from the accepted eco-tourist lodging to the less-than-desired next-to-the-reception-and-garage accommodations. Just that day the overly friendly bellhop from the day before avoided me in the hallway. I knew that I had left the prior sheets yellow with fever, and even twisted off the mattress in places from tossing and turning throughout the night. The owner of the hotel was local, but had studied in Australia. He was very friendly and informative, and I wish I had had a chance to talk with him, but it was not to be; after being moved to the “garage” room, and investigating our new home for the night, I opened a tiny door that had a slide-lock on our side only. The plywood door creaked open and I peered into the darkness behind the reception area next to us. Someone was sleeping there on a mattress surrounded by a large room. Quickly I shut the door with some embarrassment, but only understood later that I had inadvertently woken the owner of our hotel from his afternoon nap. 

I had been feeling great, since we had done some amazing sightseeing that day, visiting a couple of traditional villages where Animist traditions had been fused with Catholicism. The villagers there seemed to reach out in a spiritual way, seemingly desiring a legitimate connection; then we finished the day by swimming in the healing waterfalls of one of Flores’s local hot springs. I, mistakenly, thought that I was healed from my affliction of sweats and shakes after our afternoon swim, but it was not to be…

Later that night I excused myself from our dinner early, trying to be alright with the world feeling off. I climbed into a new bed in our new room, and, listening to the hotel reception area and their family chatting behind the plywood door, began to dream. I noticed my beloved come in to the room at one point, but no matter. Late in the night, a small boy looked through a small pane of glass above our bed from the garage behind our room. He must have been standing on something, since it was a high window up tall on the wall. I watched and waved at him, then he at me, and I moved on to other matters that clouded my mind. 

Later, in the same night, the small boy came back. He creaked open the window, pushing it in on a pivot from above, and then slipped through the opening and down into the room. He crept about, around the bed, looking at our eco-travel things, all the while me attempting to tell him he shouldn’t be in our room, he should not be there, and the louder I yelled, the less my voice was able to vibrate out from my tongue and mouth. I realized that I was dreaming when I couldn't enunciate, and then my beloved beside me awoke and told me all would be okay, that the boy would go away. I didn’t believe her, or, I’m not sure, but maybe wanted to prove myself worthy; I began to yell, raising my voice even louder ... as far as I could. The boy shouldn’t be there, we both understood, and it was up to me to make it clear to the world. While yelling from the top of what my sleepy lungs could produce, the hotel’s owner, sleeping on the floor next-door, smashed through the tiny plywood hatch from before. He caught up to the small boy and chased him out through the front door, leaving it hinging wide open, then banging and bouncing about – and then my beloved shook me until I reemerged into the room next to the garage. I had been dreaming, and yelling out into the night.

The next day the bellhop avoided me completely in the halls, not just averting his eyes. The owner gave me a quick “how do you do” and vacated my presence in quick form. We left Bajawa with a sigh of relief and with a new scopolamine patch stuck to my neck for the torturous turns ahead. We were to visit volcano crater pools that changed colors with the day. Except for the obnoxious Chinese drone pilot, and the New York women's activist giving the drone double middle fingers for posterity, the crater pools were stunning. 

Click here for part 2

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Flying into the Sunrise (Part 2)

We then flew over more volcanoes stabbing through cloud-cover to Medan, Sumatra. We eventually arrived at a town far from civilization, Bukit Lawang, an eco-tourist hotspot because of the repatriated-into-the-wild orangutans that populate an ever-shrinking nature reserve there. Farmers have been consuming nature for decades and centuries, an ongoing economically driven problem around the globe, to provide arable land for growing crops and feeding cows for meat and hubris. Rescue elephants that we later encountered in northern Sumatra had rampaged and flattened villages in Banda Aceh, further to the north, the same place that was flattened by a tsunami in 2004, leaving it bare with only extreme-faith to sooth-over the population remaining. The elephants we encountered were rescued from 'death by government decree,' and made to live sporting a tourist-makeover in a land near Bukit Lawang, and distant from elephant ancestor memories. Eco-tourism was able to expose the cruelty of lapses by humans judging, but also caused problems of its own. Like in Komodo and Flores, Bukit Lawang had no landfills near enough to make a difference, and no way to dispose of the plastic water bottles we drank from and used to brush our teeth with. There were signs along the paths saying, “SAY NO TO PLASTIC.” The bottles piled up there, too. In hindsight, the only thing I can think of that would clean away the debris left by eco-tourism … might be a flood that could wash it all out to sea, a sea unseen.

In Bukit Lawang, in 2003, a flood did occur, scraping away everything with logs felled and water awash. Our first guide spoke of it as we passed the cement toilet cubicles that ‘still stood’ on our way to orientation at the lodge. His father was washed away, along with the sister of the guide that tramped with us up and down jungle hillsides to see semi-wild orangutans in the reserve. But the toilet cubes used by tourists still stood, now as a memorial to lost souls and lost lives. The government hadn’t checked upstream in many years, and a logjam exploding downstream during the rainy season unleashed a mabul that scraped away the entire village, including hundreds of people. 

After the fact, some attention was paid by the powers that be, since some of the people washed away were eco-tourists from the West. It is said that some relief was offered, as an outcry went out, and that the local government is now monitoring the possibility of another flood in the future. The waters didn’t touch the orangutans, it is also said. I imagine the majestic witnesses to our folly looking on, amused at the sounds, possibly frightened as a deep rumble rattled down the river basin, felled trees grinding away homes and lives, and the orangutans swaying above it all, possibly remembering the cigarettes and booze they were once encouraged to consume, and also curiously frightened from the absence of human presence in the days and weeks following. Many of these orangutans were rescued into the wild from wealthy homes, having been taught to entertain human guests with various vices, making faces, and sacrificing their wild, innocent souls for 'our' grins and social worth. They’d be missing their masters, I thought…

Maybe that’s what we all do, sacrifice our wild, innocent souls for worth and immediate reward. Jakarta, Indonesia, might beg to differ. But, it wouldn’t be worth the ink written. The last stop on our journey through dark enlightenment was less than it made out to be. The capital of Indonesia has been a broken relic since it began, no one actually knowing where the name even originated. There are stories, I’ve read and heard, but my theory is that the city of Batavia, started by Dutch mariners and entrepreneurs at the expense of local culture and civilization, polluted beyond recognition the innocence that had once evolved independent of western influence … and its overwhelming effluence. Batavia collapsed, as is so graphically depicted in Jakarta’s cultural institutions, and the birth of a decapitated cultural revolution manifested itself in its place.

The people that I witnessed in Jakarta were broken, even the oh-so pleasant guide that toured us through the Chinese market and the ‘slum.’ Not so different from ‘touring’ the improvised settlements of South Africa, economics were stripped bare and laid plain. I bring this irrelevant point into our story to make a point; in the third world humanity survives, merely, as opposed to thrives. But, the real problem is the philosophy lived by. In Bali offerings were made for the day, giving a proportionate amount of the day’s consumptive activities to a god of choice, usually one with business in mind and tusks to prove it. In Flores offerings were infected with Catholicism, marking crosses at death sites and living arrangements in conjunction with the old ways, the Animism of the ancestors. But, in Jakarta there was apparent a sort of last ditch effort to make the world whole again, to bring back the head missing. The colonial structures remained in the town square as museums and restaurants, and patrons we became. Ignorance and misinformation elevated each establishment to a sublime sublimation of reality, to the locals and wannabes alike. In Jakarta I experienced a hollow wanting as I traversed its institutional byways, its hallways filled with branding, inadequate explanation for its empty places, and, of course, the pageantry of its own lost-soul cover-up.

Walking through the Chinese market in Jakarta, our guide saying, “Salam Aleikhem” to Afghani immigrants with jalabiyas and unibrows just prior, we were assaulted with the extremities of living. A young boy with a body deformed skateboarded on his belly for money down the street next to intent motorcycle traffic – a seller of the popular Indonesian stink-bean looked askance as I avoided taking his picture – skinned frogs and split sea cucumbers awaited consumers to acquire them, finally ending their bare exposure to the naked street – a crack of a thud emanating out from within the cavernous market stalls, the muscly fishmonger giving a spiritual shrug as a giant sea turtle squirmed in midair after being thrown to the fates, flying down to the concrete floor, upside down, its shell smacking with a sonic boom to my social/spiritual well-being … to make soup from for gluttonous Chinese consumers. What’s the chance of that turtle being the same turtle I swam behind while it stretched its neck out to unrealistically breathe in ‘our’ world? That’s where my mind went. It’d been more than a week, maybe two. It was the same exact size…

Without haste I looked up and realized I had been left behind in my own wanderings. I had to run down the street to catch up with the guide, and with my beloved. They weren’t worried about me, I noticed, when I caught their eye.’ We ended our flight through the market at a Chinese temple, my mind and stomach still racing. Trying to breathe in meditation, I noticed that I had entered a meticulous process oriented system designed to give purpose and path to those that followed. People were in deep trance, and going through the motions, like everyday life intersected this place every day. In a chance observation I realized that it was a system to gamble for your future. There was one talisman on one side of a can of choosing sticks, and one talisman on the other. There were numbers on the sticks inside the choosing can, and, depending upon the … whatever, you got to pick a drawer on the opposite wall with fortunes inside. It was so alien to me, and so interesting at the same time. I immediately thought of wishing someone “good luck.” From my recently acquired perspective of Chinese temple mechanics, and from my own knowledge’s perspective, it would be a curse to wish such. What if the world had no meaning? What if it was all about choosing and not losing? Yes, could be, maybe it is … but, to throw all maters to fate (or not)?! I guess I just prefer to live in a world where meaning defines more than just character: it defines path.

Two young closeted (in Indonesia especially) Jewish lawyer-to-be women traveled with us while visiting the repatriated orangutans in northern Sumatra. We shared a compatriot illegal religious status and, amazingly, they confided to us in Hebrew, and then placed themselves on the front-line of eminent persecution by being gay. I felt guilty after I had had the realization that I had stepped back from that line once we spoke of it. As we 'eco-tourists' traveled together we spoke of many things politic. They had a friend back in DC that was into it, you see. Their friend knew how to talk her way through stuff, they almost seemed to say. Then we really spoke, like an informal summit on the summit of a jungle hill waiting for fruit and snacks while searching for orangutans; yes, just like that. Sharing a banana and some yellow watermelon, our guides attending us and then retreating to smoke cigarettes together away from their eco-tourists, the crux of our new friends' friend's position became expressed: “How can a persecuted people from a foreign land be re-assigned to another land that belongs to another people?” Holocaust survivors should be repatriated, after the horror of being targeted for their religious and cultural heritage, to their ‘own’ land, they seemed to be saying. And, what about the native residents?! What about Palestine and its people?

I wanted to reply with, “What people?” What people had been living there? Turks? Egyptians? Jordanians? I wanted to reply with: what, exactly, is a Palestinian? The name Palestine was coined by ancient Romans that had conquered Israel (the people and the land) over 2,000 years in the past. Future conquerors, multiple empires of Turks, and in modern times – the European conquerors – the Brits, had only populated the land sparsely, as multiple historical sources attest to. And ... the Jews had gone on living in their land, even though ancient Rome had tried to expunge them from history, an ongoing story of attempted exile or extinction of the Jews by ruling powers that we continue to bear witness to today. But, I didn’t say those things. My mind left me in the moment. I forgot the history I’d learned. I forgot. I wanted to illustrate how, currently, a majority of Israeli Jews' ancestors had been living in dhimmis status in Arab lands, and had been forced to flee their homes only a year after the State of Israel was founded, without a penny, without loved ones, and without the world’s care. I wanted to, but I forgot. 

What I did reply with was: There 'should' be a political state for a people that insist upon its existence. There 'should' be a Palestine, a modern state built upon this very foundation ... even though there is only one historical precedent I've ever heard of, where an ancient people returned to their historical and ancestral homeland ... like how the Jews manifested a modern state of their own, having reoccupied ‘their’ homeland after being expelled from it by conquerors, in the Land of Israel. Then silence broke the tension across the jungle hill's summit. We all understood that there was nothing else to say. We all understood that the only chance that a Palestinian state had for existence was the historical precedent that an ancient displaced people, the Jews, could have returned to their own historical homeland, setting the stage for any and all displaced peoples across the globe. Then, as our guides began to regroup us to search more for semi-wild repatriated orangutans, we all shuffled to our feet and began to break-down into small-talk, conversing upon the Media’s unworthiness, and how each pop-insta-in your face institution promotes only its own agenda, opening its wallet to be filled with our ignorance blissfully, and that ALL of the ‘News’ outlets are false and should be ignored, utterly. 

We left Sumatra and flew to Jakarta, then flew into the sunrise. I watched the light glowing murkily outside the windows of the plane. I couldn’t understand how we could be matching the airspeed of the earth as it spun, as the sun rotated around our perception of day and night. How could the sun have stopped its descent over the horizon? How could it just hover, waiting for my mind to catch up? Then the night fell and I told myself that we had finally fallen behind. I watched movies edited for content. I read a book I bought in Bali about its history and development. I stared out the window and watched the clouds disappear into darkness ... last, as the earth below became blurry and dotted with lights from ships, from buildings, from cars. Then there was desert, once again. I looked through the round portal of a window out onto the darkness and noticed that there was no screen to slide down, and that there were only two buttons decorating the surface of the window’s mounting. I pressed one of the unlabeled buttons and nothing happened. I pressed the other … and, the same. The buttons had to be for something, so I held one down for seconds longer to see what might occur. We were still over the desert, I could just see, and then the light outside the plane again began to glow. It became brighter and brighter, inside and out. I quickly let go of the button and pushed the other, to be sure, and my window became darker … then darker. I knew that I would be landing in Tel Aviv, sometime in the wee hours of the night, but, in hindsight, didn’t have a clue as to how that knowledge would taint my own future, my vision of who and what I was to become in the world to be. Because of irrefutable proof, of what my eyes had shown me point blank, I had been matching in my mind the speed of the spin of the earth and its rotation around the sun. But, I was wrong. A technological magic trick had fooled me, and, like ancients and ancestors before me, I had simply stepped across a threshold into the future unknown with my own supreme knowledge, gained from a lifetime of experience. I had merely stepped through a doorway into a future that was created in my mind ... and so very loved.

The Mediterranean Sea from Ramat Hanadiv Nature Reserve in Israel
I wanted to upload here the profile pic in front of the Temple Mount that I deleted while in Bajawa, but it seems that it's gone forever... having been wiped from the world in delusional fear. We are home again, thank God, safe, happy, and proud. Blessings to all from the Promised Land!

For more pics, click here

Please contact me, if you so wish, here: doronoll.com

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Bali and the Last Wave

When I was younger, the world was a much smaller place. There were neighbors, parents, friends, and my little brother. We lived inside the Green Belt, in Laguna Beach, California. Laguna had a local reputation as an artist’s colony, with festivals and happenings all around town, which was separated from the commercial hubbub to the north, and from the orange grove dotted developments and track-homes to the east, by a vast land of rolling hills and sagebrush. The Green Belt was sanctified as untouchable open-space, even when it was owned by one of the largest development companies in the world, the Irvine Company. My dad worked for them as an urban planner, designing living environments for people moving to California in droves. 

My dad was born in California, as was his father, as was I. My first born son was also born in California, but because of instabilities produced by over crowding and commercialization with no end in sight, we left the Pacific Ocean to move far inland to Colorado. After facing first-hand the Rodney King riots in LA, we felt more comfortable raising a family without the fear of random violence, as well as the unsolicited brainwashing of a generation we saw around us, to consume, and to replace consumables in order to consume again. Things were once prized for years, back in the space and time I grew up in; or, they were prized at least until they were grown out of. Then they were passed on to another generation and used again, possibly even prized for more years to come. 

Laguna Beach started as a prehistoric paleo-Indian civilization, but once the European conquerors took over, the area was named in Spanish as Cañada de las Lagunas, or in English: Glen of the Lagoons. Then, in 1848, the area was ceded to the USA after the Mexican-American War. In 1927, the city of Laguna Beach was incorporated, upon which time urban planners from New York City overlaid a grid from afar and called their map a street map, which is why there are so many steep hills in Laguna ... and why Laguna became a skateboarding capital in my time, which led directly to surfing for most of the kids growing up inside the Green Belt. 

I was born in 1962, and have a vague memory of the moon landing, and an even more vague memory of traumatized parents from the assassination of JFK. My mom sometimes sported the look of Jacky O., hairdos, sunglasses, and all. I guess the beginning of rampant commercialization began way back then, maybe even before, in the 1950’s. It’s a strange transient life we inhabit. The world keeps turning, the continents keep drifting, and we keep thinking we run the world ... uhh 

Just now, while sitting here on the Balinese island of Lembongan writing this piece, another earthquake shook the continental plate beneath my feet. Like the first quake I experienced last week on the mainland of Bali, I felt two distinct waves. The first wave was a wake up call with a back and forth motion, indicating that something might not be quite right with the world, then, about one second later, the larger motion of an up and down wave struck, the last wave, confirming my suspicions. Quiet descended upon the beach-bar around me. I ran out onto the open sand and turned to look back at my neighbors, still sitting there. They all stopped what they were doing and looked up, finally paying attention to our world for the briefest of moments. Then we all went back to what we were doing before the ground woke us from our slumber, as if we actually ran the world. 

Growing up in California helped a lot to understand what was happening to the Earth’s crust during the earthquakes I’ve been experiencing in Indonesia, and so did that college geology elective I took as an undergrad. Indonesia is a card carrying member of the Ring of Fire, a region surrounding the Pacific Plate and home to 75% of the world's volcanoes and 90% of its earthquakes. California is on the opposite side of the Ring of Fire from Indonesia. I’ve experienced many large earthquakes, once as a child even getting tossed from the top bunk of a bunk bed, only waking once impacting the hardwood bedroom floor. Occasionally there were aftershocks, but, regardless, for at least a half an hour, my parents always huddled with my brother and I in the hallway under a main arch. My dad, who had grown up with earthquakes his whole life, and understood architecture professionally, said it was the safest place to be during an earthquake. 

The buildings usually survived in California, if the epicenter was far enough away, due, I suspect, to stringent building codes and proper urban planning. However, the death toll in Lombok, an Indonesian island where the quakes I experienced had their epicenters, keeps on rising. The structures in Indonesia are often built poorly, with economics driving construction parameters instead of safety. The poorest neighborhoods seem to get hit the hardest, even to the point that the epicenters may regularly fall smack in the middle of lower economic areas; maybe because older areas in a city are older because they tend to survive earthquakes better, and as a result older residents and land owners tend to be situated in the older areas. Regardless, it’s policy here in Indonesia to exit a building during an earthquake, no matter where you are ... uhh 

Sitting here, just now, while writing this piece on the porch of a little bungalow I rented, I realized that I have a perfect view out to Shipwrecks, one of the biggest and scariest surf breaks in the world, and I noticed because the waves look about double overhead, stormy frothing beasts that glow turquoise when the sun is able to stab through a rain clouded sky. The line-up is crowded, which means every few waves a desperate soul drops in and slams face first into the shallow waters above a sucked-out reef. I came to this island in order to try and relive some of my glory days spent surfing on the other side of the Ring of Fire, in California. I was rarely able to surf once I left the Pacific Ocean behind, so it wasn’t until leaving Colorado and moving to Israel that the surf-bug was able to ignite again, but the Mediterranean Sea just doesn’t have the same kind of raw soul that the Pacific did. 

That raw soul lives here, on Lembongan Island. Over the last two days I’ve taken a beating riding Razors, named for the sticks and metal poles that once peppered the water’s surface for harvesting kelp. The first surfers here rode waves through the spikes, which gave the break it’s name. The spikes are now gone, but the reef is nearly as deadly. The break is primarily a left, but because of the crowds on the waves, and because I’m regular foot (left foot in front), the guide I hired said I could try the right, a short, fast, sometimes close-out wall that shot down the reef directly towards another break called Lacerations. My local guide was a thin and muscular surf-Hindu, with long, dark, sea-soaked hair and sun blackened skin, named Thabu. When he caught a wave he appeared to fly over its surface, like a demon butterfly, carving and streaking, momentarily fluttering, then disappearing behind the whitewash, only to reemerge in order to check on me in an encouraging, even a beautifully, loving kind of way.

Having been land-locked for so many years, my surfing skills and abilities have faded considerably. In hindsight, it could be that my wave knowledge and comfort with rough waters may have given my guide the wrong impression of my abilities and strength as a surfer. It’s quite possible that my bravado recalling the good old days mislead him as well. To position for the right, I needed to stay just inside of where the outside sets broke, an error in math that didn’t escape me at the time. After catching a few nice rights, each one riding alone on the wave, without getting shinned by loose boards emerging from the tourist washing machine rinse cycle, one of the day’s monster sets loomed above the sea-calm in dark turquoise lines. I began to paddle, hard, digging into the waters below me. The first wave of the set arched up and slammed down in front of me. I managed to stay on my board, diving beneath each of the oncoming mountains of foaming whitewater and emerging from beneath each wave’s broken back, already digging towards the next Goliath bearing down over the reef. 

Fear didn’t bite until my strength was sapped, and even then it didn’t compare to getting shoved violently in the back while trying to exit a restaurant as the first Lombok quake hit us and the first taste of panic bit. It was back on the mainland of Bali, in Ubud, a place that has been commercialized almost beyond recognition from my last visit just five years ago. Upon first arriving in Ubud, my wife and I began to reconsider spending ‘any’ time there; it was once our favorite place in all of Bali. Traffic came to a standstill almost every day, for hours at a time, and the sidewalks were so full of people that pedestrian traffic flowed into the rain-soaked streets. The same cavernous sidewalk holes were present, something I didn’t mind the last time I visited, but because of the crowds, they became treacherous as everyone jostled about for position, gawked at the latest Bali-fashions, and admired each other’s consumption of yuppie yoga plumage and skin ink. And, the beaches of Lembongan Island were not much different. 

As I paddled back to the boat that had dropped us at Razors to surf, my arms barely rising above the surface of the water, I realized what must have happened to the world. I was too tired to think about anything besides my arms moving in the direction of the boat, and my lips kissing the sea as I attempted to inhale air. The last wave of the day I rode on my belly ... as far as I could go, the other tourists doing cartwheels to each side of me like swans in a bird show. As I slid across the water, if only to get that much closer to the boat-ride back to shore, I realized that our species could very well be riding the last wave, after an exhausting run of it. But, even if that is so, I also realized that it could still be the best wave of the day. 

And, blessings to the families of lost loved ones on the Indonesian island of Lombok; it has been a real tragedy in our midst. 

For more photographs of Bali and Nusa Lembongan, click here.

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