On a journey…

Susan Griffith-Jones on the way to the library

By Susan M. Griffith-Jones

While tucking into the delicious spread on the table, my eye catches a large picture hanging on the wall of Irina’s dining room ahead of me. I am fascinated and comment on it to the others.  There are six goddess-like women having a picnic in an ethereal environment by a lake with deer watching them. I joke that perhaps we’ll find some raspberries in their divine picnic arrangement and go up closer to examine it.

It had only been a flippant comment, but indeed there is a bowl containing a red, raspberry-like fruit in their midst! Popping up as they had been everywhere these days, our curiosity as to their possible meaning is now so enlarged that I suggest we ‘Google it’. It fits the bill. Apparently, upon the Olympian peaks, the nursemaid of Zeus, Ida, had pricked her finger while picking some snow-white berries one day, thus staining them red for eternity. We are six ladies at the table, so entertainingly each one of us identifies with one of those mythological goddesses in the picture, and thus enjoy the fictional raspberries.

The picture of the goddesses with the raspberries hanging in Irina’s dining room

Used curatively as a woman’s tonic throughout history, the underlying significance of the raspberry is ‘fertility’ and ‘creativity’. Here we are in a phase of creative endeavour and Marina, Irina and I have been imagining how it would be when thousands of people elsewhere in Russia and the world, would perform Dynamic Mandalas outside on a grassy hilltop plateau, arms stretched to the vast space above, feet rooted on the earth below, expressing the ultimate meaning of life in their movements and song, connecting fully to their relative world, whilst embodying the absolute.

Marina wants to make a short video to invite further interest in this fun and practical way of ‘going deeper’ and books an appointment at the sound studio that afternoon to record her singing each of my photo collage art pieces and some of her other symbols. I heed the last section of the Google interpretation… “Raspberry invites us to slow down and savour all that must occur before we bear the fruit.” In other words, nothing can happen before planted seeds have matured. Results will appear at their own pace. For everything we need ‘Patience’, a crucial ingredient in the ripening process! Anyhow, I’m leaving Chelyabinsk the next day and will be saying goodbye to both Marina and Irina then, so we need to move ahead quickly in this matter.

I really want to continue on the Trans-Siberian railway route that I have now started, on to the Altai range of mountains and Lake Baikal lying a few days straight ahead from here. I had first been enchanted by their magical context after reading a book – the name of which I forget, when I was living in Moscow in 1993. A friend of mine had given it to me, one of those life-changing moments when it’s as if you are peering through a window in a high tower across a vast landscape. You see beyond where you are in that moment, but can’t find the way to get there yet.

Waiting for many years now, Siberia will have to wait a little longer as from here I veer off the track at a perpendicular angle, on a 21 hour train ride through the vast flat steppes of Kazakhstan. I am about to discover that in order to open the door to Siberia, I will first have to collect some information from Kazakhstan’s new capital city, ‘Astana’. It’s not that I need to know these things in order to physically go there, but so as to find a rationale for travelling there. Much of the time we whimsically go to places without a real reason, often only with an underlying sub-conscious pull doing the job. My going to Astana is also a bit like this.

Immigration control between Russia and Kazakhstan is a simple matter. I am impressed by the little machines that the border control people are carrying around the train, through which the barcode of my passport swiftly passes in order to whip up any “special” information on me that may be circuiting the realms of the powers that be. Duly stamped out of Russia and into Kazakhstan, on we go.

At the first town past the border, many people get on. Until now my four bunk compartment had been mine alone and here a bunch of smiley-faced, laughing youngsters get on. They converse with me in broken English and me to them, in my broken Russian. The message gets across. Over the years, I’ve painstakingly learned that only 20% of communication is through language alone. The rest is body gestures as well as conscious and sub-conscious reactions to how one comports oneself; not the acting type of behavior, but the real underlying sense of who we are. Apparently, it’s a basic survival technique. We can understand if a laughing, smiling someone is a potential threat, just as we can feel the pain of someone pretending to joke. We are, after all, only exchanging and interpreting energy, whether at a coarse level as speech, or more subtly as bodily movements and vibration.

Astana’s brand new Central Railway Station sports huge screens of flicking adverts, fully computerized arrivals and departures information panels as well as loud speaker information in English, Russian and Kazakh languages. When his wife comes to pick him up, one of the guys in the compartment not only offers to carry my luggage off the train and along the platform, but ends up giving me a lift to my hostel. Not content with dumping me at the door, he then promptly carries my bags up three flights of stairs to the place and leaves before I can properly thank him. Even the lady at the reception desk is impressed.

Nurzhol Boulevard Astana

I remember this same kind of treatment when I was travelling through Pakistan around 12 years ago. There, along the Karakoram highway, the Pathan fellow (the local tribespeople of Northern Pakistan) behind the desk at a local convenience store had refused money from me to pay for my wares, saying I was a guest in their country therefore to please accept the offering. Not a trick, but a genuine level of hospitality that is rampant in this part of the world. It makes me feel humble, grateful and above all, accepted.

Flowers along Nurzhol Boulevard, Astana

I have seen pictures of Astana online and heard mixed rumours about it and to say the least, I am already astonished with what I find. Without prejudgment due to my scanty research on the place, the first thing that comes to mind when I see the brand new Nurzhol Boulevard, basically an axis out of which flow geometric shapes of all designs using all different types of structures, is that the person who designed this has no ordinary vision. Even the flowers themselves, each one a fabulous geometric shape are laid out in voluptuous patterns, their colours swirling into greater shapes, a macrocosmic whole containing microcosmic individuals, a bit like my photo collage artwork !

Totally into the scene arising around me and not asking too many questions yet about why it is so, I wander along this fascinating street on my way to the National Library, to present them with two of my books.

To be continued…

Susan’s website may be found at www.pyramidkey.com