February 8, 2013

Going South

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When I take a walk to the south of my house, I usually begin with a slight jog east through Crown Hill cemetery because the only reason to go due south is to visit my neighbor Gwen who knows something about just about everything.  Gwen is not a point of interest on a walk: she’s a whole day’s outing.  Oh, and one seasonal reason to walk directly south is to get a load of Italian plums from Sue who, in September, is always trying to get rid of her excess.

Once through the cemetery, I head south to 85th, following the scent of baking bread, to the tiny commercial bakery on the corner at 11th. More than ever, now that I eat gluten-free and bread is forbidden fruit, I enjoy gazing at the loaves in the window and inhaling the fragrance.  I chatted with the bakers once and found out they baked for a familiar Seattle label.  Just off hand I can’t remember if it is Old Mill or Bread Garden.

Across 85th and a bit west is the Butterfly Garden, a city pocket park wedged next to a clinic and a behemoth Safeway.  I make a point to walk the S-shaped path of the park every chance I get, and to spend a minute at the fire pit and the totem pole.  I like to read the inscriptions in the bricks of the wall: these are the people who donated money to create the park.  My favorite is the one that’s upside down and reads “Why be normal?”  Why indeed?

One reason I might be walking through the Butterfly Park is to get to Queens Natural Nails on the other side of 15th.  I discovered this business when I was camped out one week at Kinkos, preparing for a new quarter of The OK Chorale.

I walk in the door and say hello to Huong.

“You pi cula?” she motions towards the rack of nail polish and disappears to get a tub for hot water.

I pick my usual “cula,” midnight blue, and sit in a chair.  Her husband, Minh, brings me tea and a hot pack for my neck.  The pedicure begins.  If the shop is busy, Minh does my foot and leg massage.  He has strong hands and the massage goes on and on and on.  My book falls to the floor.

Huong is an artist.  She loves each toe.  After all the massaging oiling, pushing, clipping and filing, she carefully paints each one, stopping to scrape with her fingernail a stray streak of polish that dares to touch my skin.  If I am exceptionally lucky, she misses a faint smear or two.  I pray for this.  Because then she gets out the polish remover and a little paintbrush and delicately, exquisitely touches the offending bit of polish. The buzzes of pleasure run up and down by spine, chatting excitedly with each other.

“I love it when you do that,” I tell her.

She doesn’t understand.  We don’t talk much because it’s a lot of effort on Huong’s part and it spoils the mood for me.  Minh has even less English than his wife but he gets that I love his massages.

After a pedicure I would more than likely just go home but continuing my virtual tour of attractions south of my house, I have to show you a front yard on Dibble Ave where a garden gnome is continually being harassed by two clams:

gnomes 001

The best kept and most spectacular secret of the Greenwood neighborhood is the Tibetan Buddhist Sakya Monastery  It’s ornate enough on the outside but the shrine room is so exotic that the only way I can get through a Friday night meditation is with my eyes closed.  Otherwise I am gazing at the clouds on the domed ceiling and trying to pinpoint exactly what shade of blue the sky is.  I am counting the elephant statues.  I am memorizing the patterns of the wall hangings.  I am wondering why some of the figures in the murals are angry.  I am straining to see what’s in the little dishes by the Big Buddha.  I am musing at the $100,000,000 bill in the donation bowl. I am thinking that the cushions reserved for the monks look a lot more comfortable than where I sit.

Mid-way through the Friday night meditation we get to “circumnavigate the shrine” three times.  Along the way there’s a stone lion with a ball in its mouth.  Once I saw a leader agitate the ball as she walked by so that’s what I do.  Three times around the shrine, three times I put my hand in the lion’s mouth.  I can’t remember the point of it but I’m nothing if not participatory.

Outside the shrine I rotate the prayer wheels that send my thought, wishes, hope and dreams into the universe.  And on the way home, I stop for a coffee at the Four Spoons Café at 85th and Dibble.

Prayer Wheels

Prayer Wheels

Sakya Monastery

Sakya Monastery





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