Wednesday, October 5, 2011

In Search of Magic -- by Magdalena

We are thrilled to have permission to publish another story by our friend and world-class writer, Magdalena.  She and husband Daniel live in Cuenca.

You can go back in our blog for previous postings by her, all a slice of life here.  (Her bio is on a previous post, too.) 

We delight in those little magical moments as well...enjoy!

We'll share more of Magdalena's writings later.

If you're here in Cuenca, Magdalena will be reading more of her magic stories at the Writer's in Transition event tomorrow night:
ZOE Restaurant, 7-61 Borrero at Sucre, on Thursday 6 October, 2011, at 7 p.m. Free admission, cash bar.



By Magdalena Herreshoff

There is something unnamable in Ecuador that seems to be
swirling in the sky like sweet candy, the mystical promises of
magic. The exotic fruits alone, whispering their strange names:
chirimoyas, granadillas, naranjillas, spondias, guanabanas,
zapotes, pepinos, or passifloras leave a taste of wanting in my

On a recent visit to the bird reserve Copalinga, near Zamora in the
Oriente, I saw mists hanging over the mountain ridges in the early
quiet and cool of the morning. I could nearly touch the soft fleecy
clouds, a heaven of unreality, until they faded slowly away with
the rise of the sun. At mid-morning the oropendola, a stunning
black and yellow bird, startled me with its strange song of bubbly
sounds swelling into a high peak. At lunchtime, the Chacalaca,
big like a grouse, came unexpectedly into view between the rich
foliage of the copal trees; its hoarse bark sounding more like a dog
than a bird.

Returning to the bird reserve restaurant after a long and sweaty
hike up the mountain ridge, eagerly awaiting our dinner with a
glass of Chilean red Carmenere wine and in the middle of pleasant
conversation, the call of the black banded owl silenced us and
caught my imagination as it sounded out a deep OO-OO-OO.

Back home in Cuenca, while soaking in a steaming hot bath
stimulated by rosemary, eucalyptus and red thyme, my body
started to vibrate like a hovering hummingbird with every nerve
in motion. I had accidentally put more than usual red thyme oil
drops in the bath releasing its potent phenols. The feeling took me
back to a dream in which my body contained so much energy that
I could project a basket full of delicacies across the room and back
just by merely reaching out, never touching. I knew I could do it
easily without effort as long as I could vibrate. I reminded myself
to remember, but the next morning I was ordinary again.

Why is it so difficult to bridge into magic? I imagine it has
something to do with being loving, every cell and thought open to
the moment. But the only time I can get there in a more sustained
effort is when I have had two martinis ending up out of control
and embarrassed the next day. My mind tends to wander endlessly
needing to be reminded over and over again that I am entangled in
yet another distracting yarn.

I am fully aware of the importance and impact of nature on my
psyche. For years, every summer I would go backpacking with my
husband, son or friends, for three to four days into the Olympic
mountains of Washington to get away from telephones, work, and
people. I studiously avoided bringing a book so I could not get lost
in any other story than the one that was right in front of me. I could
sit and stare for hours at the trees, scanning for black bears on the
hillside, or if at the ocean, noting every wave that would crest and
come to shore. It would calm me in a way no hours or days of
meditation could accomplish. I would see every detail and color of
a leaf, brightly green or deep mahogany, its delicate symmetrical
veins popping out at as if I was looking at an intricate spider web.
These were moments that opened up my soul, sometimes ever so
slightly, but noticeable all the same.

No sooner back home at work from my hike, the computer would
instantly take me out of my magical preoccupations, its electrical
impulses dulling me. My stomach would tighten a notch and
before I knew it Advil was back in my daily life. I conveniently
traded magic for pain and discomfort as if it was the most normal
thing to do.

Here in Cuenca, when I watch street peddlers bounce balls on their
heads or swirl batons of fire in circles for quarters or dollars, I
cannot help but wonder about the strange juxtaposition of magic
and money. As they stand in front of the cars they display their
magical talents as if in a trance for no more than it takes for the
traffic light to change, and then step aside to the curb to inhale a
full load of black fumes from accelerating cars and buses, slowly
destroying their lungs for spare change.

Nevertheless, Ecuador has shown me more moments of magic than
any other place I have been. Only last week, walking in Cuenca’s
El Centro, Daniel noticed an elderly man carrying a large white
woven plastic sack on his back lurching forward as he walked.

Behind the old man a young boy darted around pedestrians trying
to keep up with his grandfather. The boy was no more than 8 years
old with the innocence of youth still in his shy eyes. His abuelo
was holding two masks in his hand. “Did you see that?” Daniel
asked. “He is selling masks.” We ran to catch up with the man
before he crossed the street. In broken Spanish I asked him to
show us the masks. Without complaint he unwrapped every single
one from its newspaper covering, grinning a big toothless smile
as he held up each mask pointing to himself: “I made it myself
and carved it out of Madera,” while turning the mask around and
around as if it was a circus show. He displayed all twenty of
the colorful wooden masks on a little shelf on the corner of the
building. Some of the masks were quite scary to us, but made
him laugh uproariously. His grandson watched intently, his eyes
making sharp movements from us to the masks.

Some action behind the window where the old man had placed his
sculptures stopped us; all of a sudden a guard showed his head and
gestured sternly to the old man. “It’s not possible to put the masks
on the windowsill,” he said. Nodding the old man immediately
removed the masks to the pavement below the window, not for
one moment showing any annoyance. He continued to point out
every little detail of his work. Some of it was crude, but the fox
we finally bought from him is a marvel to behold.

The fox hangs on our fireplace wall and stares so intently forward
that one wonders what he is seeing. A visiting seven month old
boy, named Anthony, with cheeks bigger and softer than peaches
could not keep his eyes off the fox and would not rest until I took
it off the wall. He clutched it and squealed with delight over
and over, finding the raw carved side nearly as intriguing as the
brightly painted front side.

The fox on my wall, the old man’s smile, his pride in his work
and the child’s delight were all moments of magic for me. These
moments make me smile and feel love; I call them mini moments
of magic.

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