on May 20, 2020 in
Vivian Green wrote; “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
It seems like the world is waiting for the storm to pass. As every news channel, inspirational Instagram post, and YouTube video, is collectively pointing out, I can look at this as a chance to restart, reset, slow down. Speak a new language, develop a new skill set, take up a new hobby. Do I need a new skill set? What are my old skill sets. Do I have any skill sets?
My mornings these days involve 15 minutes of meditation in my favorite chair, in my favorite room in the house. The space where I sit is bright, even on cloudy days, and has big windows looking onto a patch of green grass, a brick red Japanese maple, and open blue sky. I hear sounds I hadn’t noticed before, I was far too busy. Although now, I can’t remember exactly what I was so busy doing. I hear kids dribbling basketballs, the wind whirling through the leaves on the trees, and birdsong—more now because the DC Shuttle isn’t flying over my head every 4.2 minutes. Little pleasures.
I wasn’t a very motivated meditator in the past, and had a bad habit of running through my to-do list, while hoping not to forget what time I had to pick up the kids, and simultaneously wondering if those leftovers in the fridge had gone off yet. This, from what I understand about meditation, is highly frowned upon. I’ve gotten better keeping my mind on track. My to-do list has shrunk exponentially. My appetite, on the other hand, has not.
Unplug is my go-to meditation app. Lauren Eckstrom, one of the guides, with her lovely voice and cadence, has become my very-important-person-during-a-global-pandemic. So is John Krasinski. I am all about good news. Even if it is just ‘some’ good news.
Traveling around the room
On the way to and from that comfy chair in my house, I pass through my living room. The room where we used to have friends over for drinks, and would occasionally dance on the coffee table. The room where we now watch Hulu and Netflix for hours on end. This room also happens to house the things we collect.
Big collections of small things. Small collections of big things.
Matchbooks from 25 years of dining, Lonely Planet guidebooks from decades of travel, Kokeshi dolls from our years living in Tokyo, and countless found objects, are a few of the things we’ve amassed over the years. A sun-bleached goat’s jawbone that my father-in-law discovered while hiking a hilltop in Turkey even found a spot in our house. That sounds made up, and gross. I promise, it’s neither.
Lately, due to the inherent nature of being trapped, ummm, sheltering in place, I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on our array of collections. Not just a ‘Wow, that’s a pretty sand dollar I remember from last spring break on Anegada’, kind of focus. More like, ‘remembering the stories that are attached to them’, kind of focus. The travels that brought them from there, to here.
A long, long time ago
Years ago, when my husband Daniel and I started traveling together, we’d pick up a souvenir from our trip. A memory to bring home and gaze upon every so often. My old boss used to collect beach sand from her vacations and put them in tiny acrylic cases. The hues and colors of the grains differing from case to case. Another friend collected shot glasses.
T-shirts, key rings, and magnets are easily found, and imminently collectible. I’m not sure why, but we always sought out a piece of local pottery. That it was made in the country we were visiting was the only requirement. (Although we did break that rule, for very good reason. Twice.)
Every so often, we disagreed, and one of us had to concede. Usually, ummm, always, Daniel. When we returned home, we displayed them around our apartment, then pretty much forgot about them.
Years later, we picked up our lives and moved from NYC to Tokyo. When we unpacked our boxes, we discovered that all of the pottery pieces we had been collecting over the years were in the form of cereal-sized bowls. It surprised me how consistent we were in our taste. The collection seemed to have created itself over the years, completely without our conscience knowledge.
Twenty six bowls from around the world now sit in tidy rows on shelves in our home. I have been looking at these bowls a lot lately, usually after I’ve finished meditating. How often have I walked past them without a thought? Forgetting how they got here, to this house, from Japan, Bhutan, Morocco, and so on. Years and years of stories and memories sitting in front of me. I took out my notebook, and started to write. Free time can hold so much power.
Travel memory: South Africa
A few years ago, our family spent a week in CapeTown, where we explored neighborhoods, beaches, and wineries. A few nights into our wanderings, we stumbled into an area called The Old Biscuit Mill, which is located in the Woodstock neighborhood. The mill has since been converted into a trendy area that houses hip and high-end restaurants, contemporary artist’s showrooms, and niche clothing boutiques. The Test Kitchen—one of South Africa’s most famous restaurants, also resides there.
Founded by two South African artists, Zizipho Poswa and Andile Dyalvane, Imiso Ceramics drew me like a moth to a flame. We walked past Imiso just as they were about to close for the night. The brightly lit, spare, showroom was mesmerizing. From the inky darkness outside, we cupped our eyes, pressed our heads up against the windows, and peered inside. While Zizi and Andile’s styles were different from each other, they complimented each other seamlessly.
Sometimes when we travel, a piece of pottery jumps out from a gallery window, practically calling us by name. Sometimes, we travel and never fall in love with anything. Here was a proverbial candy store of beautiful ceramics, and I was that child who wanted it all.
Having the opportunity to meet and speak to both Zizi and Andile in their studio made choosing one piece challenging. They walked us through the showroom, telling us about the inspirations and techniques of their craft. We fell hard for both of their styles. Likely, this was the first time we’d had a chance to meet the artist of a bowl that we would buy.
So, in the name of fairness, we bought a piece from each of them.
First, a hand-pinched piece from Zizi, delicately lined with metallic paint, and had a vivid, blood red interior. Second, a piece from Andile’s intense ‘Scarified’ collection. Andile told us about this ancient African traditional act, scarification, that involves cutting skin in order to ward off negative and evil spirits. The snow white bowl’s exterior was repeatedly sliced, revealing hints of primary colors under the ‘skin’. I could almost feel the intensity of each artist’s culture intertwined in their work.
Zizi and Andile lovingly packed up our new treasures, and a few weeks after our return to the US, our bowls arrived. Today, those bowls sit on shelves in our home, and hold the stories of Zizi and Andile, their heritage, as well as the backstory of finding them late that night at the Old Biscuit Mill, just as they were closing up shop.
Travel memory: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, a city filled with arts, culture, great food, and majestic hiking, became the destination for a girls weekend a few years back. Lisa, a friend from my Tokyo days, was coming from LA, and I was coming from DC. We had no plans, aside from a few dinner reservations. The New York Times’ ’36 Hours in Santa Fe’ became our sole companion.
A plan, as it turned out, wasn’t really necessary. Locals were happy to steer us around the charming, idyllic town. In fact, we ended up changing a reservation based on a tip from a store owner one evening. Another day, we ended up at a dive-y Peruvian breakfast joint on the outskirts of town. Local knowledge, as always, rules.
Upon arrival, we walked around town, searching for the main square to catch our bearings. Andrea Fisher Fine Pottery was the first gallery we set foot in, and I still consider it the best. Andrea Fisher has collections of ceramics from many well-known Native American tribes, quite a few who still hone their craft on reservations in New Mexico. Their illustrative skills, like DNA, continue to be passed down through the generations.
The Acoma Puebla, which is not far from Albuquerque, occupies a staggering 5,000,000 acres of land that they settled upon over 2000 years ago. Remarkably, it is one of the oldest continuously lived in communities in the United States.
When I began reading up on the tribe and their pottery traditions, I learned that the geometric patterns they use in their designs are applied with the spike of a yucca plant. Folklore says, that after a pot was completed, the artist would lightly strike its side with the spike, then listen for a ringing sound. It was believed that the piece would crack while under fire, if the sound was not heard.
Black and white has always been my go-to color palette, or lack of color palette as some might argue. When I first caught sight of the Acoma display of ceramics, I had a hunch I wasn’t leaving New Mexico without one.
The finely brushed, intricate patterns are created by hand, not machine. It is a level of craftsmanship that I just can’t compute, no matter how many times I look at the pieces in my collection. The layers and levels of detail, especially from the older masters, is impossible for my mind to process.
Little did I know that day, that the bowl I would buy would have the honor of sparking yet another collection. A tangential pottery collection of black and white masterpieces. Over the years, my husband has occasionally surprised me with Acoma pottery for anniversaries, birthdays, and Mother’s Days. I once tried to buy one for him as a birthday gift. But my daughter called my bluff, knowing it was sneakily a gift for me, not him. Clever girl.
Travel memory: Tokyo
The memories that surround, what is likely, my favorite bowl, are fuzzy, at best. Under normal circumstances my memory is unreliable, so going from 2020 to 2007 is a stretch. I will have to improvise, just a bit.
There is a magazine in Japan called Kateigaho, which considers itself the ‘definitive source for Japanese arts and culture.’ It is an insight into the glamorous world of high-end Japanese art, museums, and restaurants—a world in which I was now a part of. It was mesmerizing. I thumbed through swoon-worthy architecture, upscale hidden kaiseke restaurants, art and artisans—the tip of the Asian iceberg, so to speak.
It was in Kateigaho, very early in our days there, where I saw a photo of an elder Japanese ceramicist, and his beautiful pottery. The exquisite pieces he turned practically jumped out at me from the high-gloss pages. The finishes he used were unusual, partly matte, and with an imperceptible sheen. The leaves of the Japanese maple, momi-ji, was a motif that immediately captivated me, and has since become my favorite tree. It is also one of my favorite memories attached to life in Japan. The overlapping leaves of the maple create endless shapes and patterns as the sun passes through them. In fact, the momi-ji bowl became the centerpiece of pur newly planted garden in DC, the very one that I admire each morning when I meditate.
I must have tracked down the ceramicist, visited his studio, and figured out a way to communicate with him. I am sure he spoke about as much English as I spoke Japanese. The only proof I have of the entire transaction is the bowl itself. I have nothing to go on but a lost back issue of Kateigaho from 2007, and an illegible signature on the base of the bowl. I am still searching, and have hopes I will find it. Stay tuned eBay.
Where are your travel memories hiding?
Needless to say, my best travel memories are stored in this collection of lovely bowls, these hidden gems—invisible though they may be to everyone else. Now, more than ever before, I look at them and remember how we found them, who we met along the way, the people that match up to the memory, and the cultures we immersed ourselves in during that short moment in time away. Those travels changed me, and allowed me to see the world from a different angle. I miss travel. The ache is real.
For now, I will sit, overlooking the green grass, and watch the delicate leaves unfurl, day by day, on my very own Japanese maple. I will listen to Lauren Eckstrom while I meditate from my favorite chair. On the way to that chair, I will pass by those bowls and remind myself of their stories. I like the idea of my memories being attached to the objects in my house. Not a bad way to travel, at least for the time being. And, perhaps try to learn something new, like dance in the rain.
Jamie Edwards is Founder of I am Lost and Found. I am Lost and Found is a luxury/adventure travel website that inspires others to explore the world, through first-hand experiential writing and captivating photography.