Sunday, October 31, 2010


When I was seventeen, I was musing on the future…imagining the next century: 2000. I thought it would be such an exciting moment in history. I imagined the giant celebration in Times Square…dancing, singing, parties, champagne…Then I calculated the age I would be when that exciting moment arrived. Fifty-seven! I plunged, momentarily, into a shallow well of despair. How absolutely depressing. I’d be an old woman…probably no one would want to celebrate with me. How lonely…
My vision (and accompanying imagined disappointments) of the new millennium didn’t actually materialize. It turned out that I had plenty of friends and I didn’t think for an instant that I was an old woman. None of us paid much attention to the moment the clocks and chimes and fireworks announced that it was 2000. I think a few of us got together, shared a great meal, drank some champagne and continued our lives…
Our lives. My life! Now, it’s more than fifty years since my seventeen year old self expressed dismay and distaste at aging---or rather at aging past the early 20’s…
I remember those 20’s…and the summer and other seasons of LOVE. I remember the slogan: “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!” My generation spouted that warning. However, as soon as a few of us turned thirty, the slogan disappeared. And we continued our lives…Me? I tried to do everything…I was so in love with life…with possibilities, ideas, challenges, places, accomplishments, things, people…myself…
Somewhere…in my 30’s, I recall reading a disturbing newspaper article about a sixty year old woman who was raped! Disgusting! Yes, I knew that rape was an act of anger and aggression…but…on a sixty year old woman! That was sick. I remembered that at age sixty. It was a quietly painful, poignant thing to remember.
I guess I’m old---as far as most people on this planet of youth would believe. Old. I can’t “wrap my head around the fact”---although the fact that I just said “wrap my head around…” indicates that I do not come from the world of the young…or of the middle aged.
Now, in order to find comfort with the very real fact that time moves--and in my case has moved quite far, I imagine being eighty-five. Now that’s old!
I even invented a private process to privately comfort myself about being sixty-seven. Okay…I close my eyes…I’m in the privacy of my boudoir…I get very still. Very relaxed and quiet. And then I imagine that I am eighty-five. I experience my eighty-five year old body. I can still walk okay but with a bit less bounce. I’m wearing practical shoes. I have some sort of ace bandage on one of my knees. There is prune juice in my refrigerator. With my eyes still closed, I survey the wrinkles and blotches on my skin…I notice that I keep several pairs of glasses at different spots around my house. I called my granddaughter by my daughter’s name. I no longer wanted to travel alone to exotic countries…
And then, from that eighty-five year old consciousness, I took a personal trip down memory lane…and I remembered being sixty-seven…and I smiled at the foolishness of that whippersnapper to think she was old when she was only sixty-seven. And I mused some more from that eighty-five year old place…”If I only knew then (at 67) what I know now.” And then…pause, pause…I open my actual eyes and celebrate the fact that I do know now what a less curious 67 year old might fail to know about the importance and opportunities and life that is around me, before me…And I celebrate the power of good strong rationalization. Because, why not? What is the alternative?!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Myitkyina: Way North of Mandalay

I am in a so-called first class car in a funky, rattle-y train, chugging north out of Mandalay on my way to spend a week in Myitkyina in the state of Kachin in northern Myanmar.
I’m sitting in a single, hard seat with a small table, facing a man in a similar seat.
I’m facing forward, at least. I don’t like riding backwards on a forward moving vehicle.
It’s night. I can’t see, what must be beautiful scenery outside the window. However, I can see the beautiful life in the train car. I can see the family with small children playing quiet games across the aisle. The aisles are filled, filled with boxes and bundles and small trunks. An old man is stretched out on some of the boxes…a colorful textile covers him.
Two refined women sit talking and sewing and eating food. One of them offers me an orange. “Thank you, I say…”Chay-su-tim-bah deh”
Someone coughs, someone snores, someone whispers, someone laughs…Every now and then an orange robed wizened Monk passes through our compartment. We make donations. He asks me, “Hallew, Where you fron?” “United States” Oh veddy good, America…” He smiles. His face crinkles with joy. He tells the other passengers. More faces smile at me.
I am the only foreigner in the train car and I am in my element---“out of context.” I am a fellow traveler—in so many meanings of the phrase. I am on my way to rendezvous with my Burmese “Sister Friend” and her husband. We will be staying at the home of her
Boarding school roommate from long ago. It is the week of Kachin State Day and there is to be a big festival. I am excited and curious…
Several very hip, western-dressed Kachin teenage girls meet me at the station. They have returned for the festivities from their various schools and jobs in other parts of the country and abroad. Hundreds of Kachin people are returning to Myitkyina from their jobs and homes in Thailand, China, India, Korea to participate in the big 60 year anniversary Manau. A Manau is a sacred festival composed of animal sacrifices, dancing, singing, drinking…I’m up for it all.
The teenagers lead me to a big comfortable SUV. We pile in and are driven to the home of my hostess. It’s a large compound composed of three buildings: a mansion; a sleeping house and a cooking/eating house. I meet my friends U Tin Win and his wife Sanda (my sister-friend) and I am introduced to the Matron of the House, a truly regal woman. She is dressed in a shimmering longyi, a royal blue silk blouse and a golden brocade shawl. She is richly bejeweled with rubies and diamonds and gold and emeralds everywhere that one could bedeck oneself in jewels. Her smile is warm. She embraces me. We have no common language---beyond my few Burmese sentences. Her first language is Kachin. Through Sanda, our girlfriend-in-common, I am urged to get ready…we are going to Chetch. I quickly change from my train attire into a plain longyi and simple top. I don’t know where Chetch is or how far away or what we will be doing there but I am prepared to be astonished. The whole household is alive with preparations for the trip to Chetch. But wait…we’re not getting in cars…We’re walking…All the way to Chetch!?
In a minute, I realize that we’re going to church. Myitkyina is a Christian city---as is most of Kachin State. It is the Kachin New Year’s Day---something I had not read in my guide book. Because the church would not be big enough for everyone on this special day, a giant tent has been erected. It’s quite wonderful. There are hundreds and hundreds of people gathering. Everyone is friendly and I am introduced again and again. I am sitting on the second row with some relatives of my hostess who is on the first row. People practically bow to her. I am given a Kachin/English prayer book and hymnal and I can follow along because the Kachin people use our alphabet---not the mysterious and beautiful circles and curves that make up the Burmese alphabet.
The whole small city is a celebration.
This first night there is a musical stage presentation with act after act after act. Each new performer is presented with multiple bouquets of flowers. There is food and more food. The large pavilion is hung with scores of wonderful paintings. There is an abundance of local rice wine. Each of the four or five nights of the Manau there is a banquet honoring the food and culture of one of the neighboring countries where many Kachin now live: China, Thailand, India…and more entertainment. It’s remarkable. In Myitkyina, it seems that everyone can sing. And every night my hostess is in a more beautiful ensemble---always with rubies and other jewels.
And every day, everywhere we go, I am asked if I will be dancing at the Manau. Well, yes. I love to dance.
The day of the dance my two sister friends and some other women dress me. I’m wearing a Kachin tribe longyi, a black velvet jacket covered with real silver discs and small bangles. I have a woven belt and my head is wrapped in a special woven scarf. The women wind and re-wind the scarf until it is just right. They put some make-up on me. Throughout the compound there is the excitement of preparing for the dance.

…We arrive at the pavilion. It’s as big as a football field. The surrounding area is filled with people in native costumes: distinctive colors and patterns, specific head dresses. Now…I think there will be music and we will all dance in our own dance styles. Nooooo.
It’s like this: there is—in the middle of the vast dance pavilion---a cluster of big drums, BIG drums…and in a single line, upwards of a thousand people snake around, following a leader with a giant head dress.. There is a specific step and a specific way to move your arms and everyone holds something in their hands. The women in our clan are holding fans…and we follow with our certain step and with our arms moving in a certain hypnotic, rhythmic motion; pah, pah, pah, pah…thousands…and the way the line snakes, one is always passing someone going in the opposite direction…new faces, new costumes, new smiles…pah, pah pah, pah…and I am the only non-Kachin dancing. On the sidelines are some travel photographers and a few western-looking spectators…But I am a Kachin, pah,pah,pah, pah…and I am dancing…and I am so perfectly happy and the drums are inside of me and I am holding my fans and moving in just the right way, and I am following, following the friendly Kachin woman in front of me, in step—out of context--smiling…and there is nothing but wonder and goodness and community…there is no war, no poverty, no evil whatsoever…there are no boundaries, there are no strangers, no worries, no sadness, no loneliness…only the drums and the smiles…and I am safe and at peace with the world…

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

An Open Letter to Art Lovers and Collectors with Money

I miss you! You used to come to the Gallery with “acquiring minds”…
You used to tell me about your walls and sculpture gardens and office suites.
You would call the Gallery, in advance of your arrival in Santa Fe, to tell me that you were eager to find a new painting for your dining room…or a second piece by an artist whose work you purchased the year before that continued to thrill you…or a drawing for your daughter’s birthday…or a sculpture for the atrium in your new corporate headquarters…
You haven’t been in contact for a while. I want you to know that the Gallery is still here. We still mount beautiful exhibitions by many exceptional emerging and mid-career artists. We have some astonishing, innovative paintings, photographs, sculptures by deeply serious artists. There are even “blue chip” works for you to consider for that spot in the library…or the guest room…or the beach house…
You must be tired of discussing these strange economic times of ours. You must crave opportunities to find some sort of respite from the news that serves mainly to anger, annoy, confuse and scare…Surely it’s time to step away from the anxiety that arises from too much concern for the negative “what ifs” that bombard us every day and time to move towards the peaceful and provocative intentions of splendid works of ART that have within them the ability to give beauty and meaning to our daily lives.
Come back. We’re waiting for you, prepared for you. Let’s restore the symbiotic relationship we had with one another. Let’s celebrate the healing possibilities that can be found in the wonderful world of Art. Let’s keep Artists afloat while we turn our attention to the many possibilities for success, inspiration and satisfaction that accrue to those who put the creative aspects of our society in places of importance---where they belong!!

Monday, October 18, 2010

In response to EXILED (The New Yorker)

The photograph of Ashin Issariya (18 October 2010) is beautiful, powerful. Yet, the tone of the short column by Mr. Packer, a writer whom I have long admired, concerns me and prompts this letter. I believe his words play into a failed and failing government policy and serve mainly to exacerbate the serious situation faced by the remarkable people of Myanmar while presenting a one-sided picture of the troublesome situation in that country. Myanmar. The name of the country is no longer Burma. Only a few countries continue to call it that---perhaps in the mistaken belief that to call it Myanmar would suggest that one is not in support of the struggling National League for Democracy nor of its world famous leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. But of course, we are.
The policy of the United States towards Myanmar/Burma is perplexing to this “freelance cultural explorer” who has visited the country numerous times.
Do we truly believe that the imposed sanctions and boycotts have done anything to promote peace, improve prosperity or broaden understanding between our two imperfect countries? Is there a blackout on any news that shows the slightest non-negative light on the actions and policy of the current (unpopular, xenophobic, greedy) regime? It has barely been reported that the Myanmar government, in cooperation with various wildlife organizations, recently created the largest Tiger Reserve in the world—an area the size of Vermont? This is a very good thing.
If, as Mr. Packer reports, “The country’s real leaders remain in prison, in hiding, in exile, under wraps, waiting for their chance.” I ask, is our unrelenting insistence on demonizing every aspect of the current government a way in which we intend to move those disenfranchised/exiled individuals closer to leadership roles in their country?
In the past few years, the United States has built a state-of-the-art Embassy in Yangon (old name Rangoon). Yet we have no Ambassador in place there. There have been small positive moves on the part of the regime to soften some of their past stances. These have been met with skepticism, derision or silence by most of the west. What possible progress towards a more democratic system might we expect by steadfastly condemning the upcoming election as “a sham”? Is anyone in our State Department working to support a more open election?
Political change is possible in Myanmar. It cannot happen over night. Perhaps with a bit of support and a degree of optimism a dangerous, failed state situation in that beleaguered part of our world could be avoided.
Every day, the Chinese, Koreans, Indians, Thais and certain multi-national corporations are extracting and exporting the rich resources of that country: natural gas, timber, rubies, produce, art…and all the while we hold fast to a policy that isn’t working satisfactorily for any Party.
I lament the lack of knowledge and the ongoing misinformation that dominates our thinking about Myanmar. Still, I hold a belief that a new policy is possible and would be greatly beneficial.

Linda Durham (
28 Arroyo Calabasas
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87506
505 466 4001/ 466 6600

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Am I the only one who reads these blogs of mine? I think so.
So, that allows me to write freely, candidly---as if I were writing in a private diary; a delicate diary with a fine leather clasp and a tiny golden key. Tonight I do not plan to write much...I am simply planning to begin to write more regularly, more intimately, more interestingly than I have been writing here--or not been writing here for lo these many moons. It's definitely not that I haven't been writing or thinking about writing. I write every day. I just had fallen away from writing on this site. Frankly, minutes ago, when I found the password to this secret blog---a password that I had misplaced half way through 2009---I was surprised to discover that the entire blog had not been purged! Amazing! It was all still there...all these (see below) wildly random ramblings of mine, all neatly (and mainly accurately) typed in a non-descript format on a black, black background.

Having found my way here and having re-read these old posts--posts that anyone can read who happens to wander into this obscure (extremely obscure) corner of cyberspace, I am deciding, even as I work on finding my way to the end of this sentence, to write every few days...starting with this day. I must say that the old posts mystified me. Did I write all that? Really? It all seems so new and yet so true! If I weren't loathe to boast, I might even give a couple of those posts fairly high grades.
I pledge (feel free to hold me accountable) to write often and soon (and here; aqui) about: war, art, emotions, politics, beauty, travel, courage, failure and any topic that any of you phantom readers might deign to suggest...I say that in relative safety...feeling marginally confident that no one will suggest...I'm tempted to end with a quiet "tee hee" but I will--instead--continue towards another point...a point a tad more thoughtful and mature: Herewith begins my sincere intention to write and post to you, oh lovely ghosts, some snippets from this long-time, wandering, wondering, figuring-it-out mind of mine.
More soon!