“The day is made up of 24 hours and an infinite number of moments. We need to be aware of those moments and make the most of them regardless of whether we’re busy doing something or contemplating life.” – Paulo Coelho
“The Witch of Portobello” is not a novel demonizing the life of an ugly sorceress who concocts black magic and nightmarish spells. It is the story of lovely Athena, an adopted daughter of Lebanese parents, now living in London. At this point in her young adult life, she has been divorced, raised a young son, and been rejected by the Catholic Church of her childhood. These matters , accompanied by the feeling that her gypsy mother has abandoned her in childhood, leads Athena along the path of distrust of herself and of those around her. Refusing to suffer in silence in her present state, however, she seeks refuge in the experience of travel.
Possessing this wandering spirit, Athena begins to open her eyes to new experiences. She journeys to the Middle East to discover the spontaneous freedom of calligraphy as well as the meditative power of dance, Feeling curious about the origins of her gypsy past, Athena travels to Romania to seek the whereabouts of the mother who had rejected her. They successfully reunite to discuss the gypsy belief that there is a strong, spiritual power within that every human possesses. Based on these conversations, Athena returns to London now feeling strongly that this knowledge of her gypsy past has awakened unique abilities – communicating with the dead, prophesizing the future and recognizing the presence of true love in a feminine spirit.
In returning home to England, Athena becomes a cult figure in her community. She conducts talks at night to help-seeking audiences as a way to test her new powers with strangers. In these sessions, she encourages dancing with unaccustomed movements and rhythms, enters into deep trances to predict the future, and espouses a “goddess diet” for eating more not less for obtaining happiness. Her rising popularity though leads to controversy as god-fearing, Christian threats against her life appear and legal actions are filed to stop her from performing these witchlike demonstrations. In spite of the continuing furor, Athena expresses continued confidence to remain a martyr for being what she believes she truly is. Tragically, Athena’s life ends in a news report of her brutal murder, whereupon the evidence to explain this tragedy will be mysteriously tampered with.
Snippet 1 – Athena’s traveling spirit becomes an impetus for greater awareness of the present moment.
I have often felt trapped by the pressure to survive as a teacher in a competitive world. Blinded by the need to plan ahead for my lessons or look back at my past learnings in college, I would lose sight of experiencing the present. Seeking a way to relax from such mind chatter, I noticed that holidays away from home helped me to center my attention in the now more. I most recently experienced such a revelation last summer. On a summer road trip from Florida to California, a decision to retrace the path of the Oregon Trail , allowed me to experience the “here and now” desolation of distance and harshness of topography that land – seeking families faced in the pioneer days of 19th century America.
Snippet 2 – Athena learns that becoming an independent, gypsy wanderer will allow her to become an active participant in overcoming her self-insecurities and having less fear of the unknown in such circumstances.
Taking an organized tour in travel makes good sense for many. Lazily sailing from port to port on a cruise or queuing up with your guide for the next bus tour, you are freed from many of the burdens that accompany your next vacation. On the other hand, to choose to be held hostage to a fixed, cruise port schedule or to keep pace with of guided bus offers no more than a passive escape to me. The strategy of independent travel seems to represent a more active travel option for me in my quest to market myself more confidently as a blogging practitioner. Amassed with practical apps that offer GPS Technology, language translation and social media communication. I feel that I feel fully capable of customizing my own course of travel. One of my earliest, blogging endeavors recorded my impressions of Old Lisbon on a walking experience last October, I had initially imagined myself facing the haphazard array of medieval paths in the Alfama area as a hapless fool trapped in a frustrating maze of confusion. Having resisted the urge to locate a local bus or hop on a streetcar, I flipped on my I Phone and plotted a simple, Google map to and from five, interesting sights in the area. As I could not translate well the Portuguese signs surrounding me, I again consulted my cell for Google English conversion as needed. Feeling empowered by these accomplishments, this short venture into the unknown ended with several photos shared on Facebook as inspiration for attracting new blog followers.
Snippet 3 – Athena’s curiosity to seek new places and experiences engenders a spiritual direction to her life.
The principles of organized religion in my life confuse me. Given an inability to understand how violence and war have been used to justify holiness throughout the world today and in past history, I seek places in travel that might provide a more peaceful path to spirituality. At such times, I appear to be particularly drawn to places of unique, natural beauty. You might consider them my own sacred pilgrimages.
The geological size and complexity of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona is one of breathtaking beauty. As my eyes gaze down toward the colorful evidence of multiple layers of rock deposit, I realize that I have been privileged to witness the natural evolution of our earth’s history over eons of time . The chronicle of my own life, while insignificant in comparison, remind me that similar satisfaction can be attained when I accept my own aging process gracefully.
Paris offers a multitude of tourist pleasures for the European traveler. My path to the “The City of Light”, however, seeks to find inner sanctity from the natural setting there. The “Parc Floral de Paris”, a few miles east of the right bank core, offers an ideal respite for calming my mind . Whenever I visit there, I absorb a soothing feeling of oneness – all peoples are accepted there. The intimacy of a French couple holding hands next to a duck pond, the joyful dance of a bride and groom at a Middle Eastern marriage ceremony, an Eastern European backpacker dribbling a prized soccer ball between his feet … these moments I have witnessed there awaken my mind to the idea that in each stranger along my path, there is an ideal source for relaxing contemplation.
Mountain hiking in Switzerland can be challenging to the novice walker. To make matters easier, however, Swiss paths are always well-marked by distance/destination and provide periodic hut retreats along the way for shelter and conversation. Such Swiss commitment to detail provides me with assurances that I can never be truly lost on a day hike there. Under these well-planned, mountaineering conditions, my more relaxed stroll along the ridge allows my senses to become more attuned to the subtle clues of nature that surround me. A sudden cracking of ice from a glacial landslide, a gentle clang of cowbells as I near an Alpine meadow, a brief glimpse of a hoary marmot peering for danger near his freshly dug hole. The broken silence at these moments can never be forgotten as I gaze with awe at the snowy peaks surrounding me.
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