Blog2 – September 27, 2010. – Second report of Carter and Franny
Berlin was full of war and holocaust and memorials and renewal — and edgy edgy art — and scary tattooed be-ringed skinheads that hop of the trolley to help me carry Franny’s wheelchair on-board. Museums and plays and sidewalk café’s and trolly cars and a mile of the old Berlin wall colorfully painted by local artists instead of stained with the blood of freedom seekers.
RUSSIA. So I’ve been trying for over two weeks to describe this trip to Russia. A trip half way around the world to a country that for most of my life we were at “cold” war with, that does not speak our language or use our alphabet — to a city north of Junea Alaska where summer has no darkness, and winter has no light, where no city of 5 million should exist. A city of contrasts.
CONTRAST. I came here to support Franny, but also to explore using contrast to further my spiritual path. My negative reactions to contrast (if I am awake enough to notice them) provide me with the opportunity to break thru or dissolve those negative habitual patterns (character defects) that block me from the sunlight of the spirit — from my True Self and True Joy.
And there is plenty of contrast. Our apartment building is a Soviet era concrete monstrosity, but our 3rd floor apartment itself is spacious and light — with modern Russian-Ikea bathroom and kitchen. Double pane windows look our the front on to Nevsky Prospect — the Fifth Avenue of Petersburg — but the back windows look out on a dumpster used as a local urinal and possible gang hangout. But beyond the dumpster comes the happy voices of a children’s playground. We enter from the back thru double steel doors with electronic locks and giant keys to a dusty-dungeon stairwell reminiscent of ancient prisons or ghetto tenements.
To the left of the dumpster from our bedroom window, we can just see the metro escalator descending thirty stories into the earth to a subway system designed to withstand nuclear bombs and the pressure of the swamps and rivers Petersburg was built on.
Peter the Great, determined to have a port and entryway to “modern” Europe, built his capital city in 1703 on the mosquito infested swamps and islands of the Neva River delta with sweat and blood of Russian serfs and defeated Swedish soldiers. Forty thousand died. And yet it is a beautiful graceful city of canals and palaces and soaring cathedrals.
The major part is built inside a two mile loop of the Neva River — and our street, Nevsky Prospect cuts diagonally across that loop from the Famed Winter Palace and Hermitage on the north west to the Monastery gardens and cemetery that we look out on — Dostoyevsky is buried there.
Our leader is Cal State University Professor Danilla Korogodsky who teaches theater design in sunny Long Beach half the year — and runs a theater ensemble in Petersburg the other half. There are nine Americans (actually one is from India) — six twenty-somethings, Patsy, a middle aged playwright, and Franny and me. Five of the kids have an apartment across town, and we share an apartment with Nancy and Danilla’s Russian speaking (but American) step-son.
Nancy celebrated her 21st AA birthday, with caviar and vodka toasts (she abstained) on a small boat cruising the canals. The three of us went to meetings in Berlin and just attended a meeting here — at the 19th century Art Café next to Pushkin Square.
As I go for my frequent walks down Nevsky Prospect, I am struck with the youth and vigor of the people flowing by me. Tall, good looking men in black jackets, business men, and young women striding by in mini-skirts and 5 inch boots. Mini and micro skirts or tight jeans and high heels on the cobble stones are the rule. Most are fashionably dressed — very few older “babushkas”. Beggars and street folks are less frequent than in LA. It is a crowd on the move upward — and determined to get there. A very different Russia from the confused and impoverished times of 1990 post-soviet Russia, or the long lines and dark images of the Soviet era — and a very different Russia from the lanterns and coaches and princes and peasants of Dostoyevsky’s nineteenth century “the Idiot” — our assigned reading.
In our first class, Danilla amazed me by saying:
“Letting the infinite go to the finite is the way of human beings.”.
As an artist he expressed the spiritual truth that I am here to explore and make real in my life:
“I am an infinite spiritual being who is exploring a finite human existence of creative contrast.”
In the first phase of my human exploration, I used painful reactions to contrast (hunger bad, cold bad, fighting bad, loneliness bad) to convince my young self I was a vulnerable separate finite being who needed to make the world provide for my needs. In the second phase — since AA, and more intently of late — I work with the negative reaction to dissolve old patterns and to remind myself or reconnect with the infinite being (Higher Power) I really am. In the final and really fun phase (that I visit sometimes today), I bounce from contrast to creative expanded self without getting trapped in negativity.
It is easier to do this in theory than in the midst of things. Like when I realized we were on bus 22 instead of trolley 22, and then hurriedly jumped off, and then watched the bus disappear with $150 worth of Franny’s art books that I had left, and then had no idea how to get back to Nevsky in the middle of rush hour, and then faced an irate wife who can’t walk over 2 blocks with our severe pain. Breath Carter — breath in the anger/fear/self righteousness/disassociation and fuzziness — breath it in really feel the feelings — the feelings that have seperated me from the Sunlight since I learned them in childhood. And then recognize and really appreciate that I (big-I) created the whole wonderful dramatic scene – the lost trolly – the lost books – the irate wife – the confused feelings – the indecipherable russian signs and language and transportation system — for just this opportunity for little egoic me to recognize that I am not the victim of this scene but the creator of it. That I (big I) have all the power — infinite power and infinite joy — to really appreciate and celebrate that I am an infinite and joyous spiritual being having a wonderfully delicious creative experience. Lost on a street in St. Petersburg for God’s sake — who would have thought I could create such a wild moment 6 months ago!
Well that’s the theory – and sometimes I can do it on the spot — and sometimes it takes a while. But it does take away the sting of victimhood and makes each moment a precious opportunity.
So I understand it is 95 in LA today. It was a balmy 70 here yesterday, and dropped to a windy chilly 48 today. More contrast. Yesterday we had a party in Danilla’s apartment — built in the early 1800’s and overlooking the Fontonka canal. Lovely apartment and fun party — some of his actor troupe did some improvised skits. The Petersburg English AA contingent may meet at our apartment next week. Tomorrow we will go see Shakespeare’s Othello in Russian.
With love from Russia, Carter. End Blog 2 Sep 27