I just got another Prize for one of my flash stories (news).
Recently, I published a volume with all my awarded short stories translated into English: Laurels Galore.
Happy Winter Solstice!
breathe in… breathe out… everything is okay
2012 was the year in which I wanted to prove myself as a storyteller. Up until then I had written, apart from a few dozen scientific articles and even a handful of a religious nature, a history book disclosing my discovery of Atlantis. Well, difficult as it was to discover Atlantis, writing fiction was even harder.
After Sailors of Stonehenge—that’s the title I gave that historical book—my writings sought to go beyond the mere transmission of information, they wanted to provoke, to trigger a reaction, a smile, a snort, anything… “to spin the wheel of emotions.” But in my centripetal approach to literature I ended up being absurdly centrifuged.
All the stories collected in this compilation received some distinction: some received laurels, others brushed them with the tips of their titles, and the majority barely poked their heads above the parapet to see them on others.
That the 25 stories presented here were selected by juries means that some people with sufficient interest in literature to organize contests have taken the trouble to read a lot of stories before deciding that yours is the best or is among the best. And what parameters do they evaluate to make such a decision? Very simple, just one: I like it or I don’t. Trying to go beyond this truism is an impossible task—not even critics and experts have the final word in this regard—because, as the saying warns us, there is no accounting for taste.
As already had happened in Darjeeling, the Monastery of Rumtek was preparing for a special celebration of one week called Kalachakra, which means wheel of time, focusing on the correspondence between cosmic cycles and human cycles, between the external and the internal.
Unable to pass up the opportunity to participate in this special event, we stayed in one of the hostels near the monastery.
A mandala perfectly oriented with the four cardinal points presided over the temple, prepared for the occasion using colored sands arranged in complex geometries full of symbolism.
The chanting of monks intermingled with weird music produced by trumpets, conch shells, drums, cymbals and bells.
Occasionally, there were interludes in which everyone (including us) got a cup of tea made with milk of yak, sweet in the morning and salty in the evenings. I was in heaven.
For the children-monks, the ceremony was way too long, so it was not uncommon to see them throwing rice each other, playing with their robes, or simply bored to death.
One of them, not so much of a child, approached us one day and said in broken English, “Tomorrow the ceremony begins one hour earlier.” When we stood at the gates of the monastery at four o’clock in the morning, even the guards were asleep. Soon all the monks, children and adults, got to know the joke of the altered “wheel of time” and cracked up at us.
Apart from how funny you consider the matter, the Tibetans are the most cheerful people I’ve ever met, which should not be confused with sense of humor!
The hallmarks of Sikkim are associated with the mystical figure of Padmasambhava, known as Guru Rimpoche (literally “Dear Master”). Back in the eighth century—contemporary with the great mystic Japanese Kobo Daishi—this extraordinary character spread the esoteric version of Buddhism all over the Himalayas.
Like Kobo Daishi in Japan, Guru Rinpoche is revered as a great saint in Sikkim. The presence of Buddhist monasteries in this region is therefore very old, and it was recently reinforced in number by the tragic exodus of Tibetans. One of those monasteries is Rumtek, located just a few kilometers from Gangtok (Sikkim’s capital), and the official residence of the “other” Karmapa. Unfortunately, he was on a trip and we couldn’t pay him our respects.
The armed guards stationed in turrets, and the sign with the prohibition of access to the temple carrying guns, were images that seemed totally inappropriate for a monastery. However, the confluence of the tension between the Indian and Chinese governments on matters relating to political asylum, coupled with the schism caused by the appearance of two nominations for Karmapa—which ugly controversy has underlying economic and political implications—explains the measures of safety.
Once past the first impression, Rumtek is welcoming. The many monk-children scurrying throughout its courtyards and terraces makes one quickly forget the shady business of adults. One of the children had a facial feature considered very auspicious (which until then I only interpreted metaphorically): a long white natural plume coming out of his brow. One of the few occasions I regretted travelling without a camera.
A new revised edition of Sailors of Stonehenge is delivered!
Sailors of Stonehenge: The Celestial & Atlantic Origin of Civilization was my first published book. The experience has been highly positive. In its eight months of existence, I sold and distributed 600 copies of the English version and 100 of the Spanish one, which for a self-published book of a novel author is not that bad.
Moreover, the book has received so far more than 100 reviews in Goodreads, with a rating average of 3.95 stars (as today).
Those who know about the subject, such as Neil Wiseman (reviewer of The Megalithic Portal), or writers like Gavin Menzies (author of 1421 and The Lost Empire of Atlantis), the classicist Anna Ntinti (specialized on Plato), or Dr. Reinoud the Jonge (expert on megalithic art), among many others, wrote excellent reviews about my book.
Quite good!… but not enough. Throughout these months, the details to be changed or modified accumulated, so I finally decided to produce a revised edition. The main reason was to fully proofread the English version. I could count on the help of many people, though I must single out a Welsh friend and Bodhisattva for her contribution to this task: Gill… Diolch yn fawr!
Capitalizing on that editorial intervention, I decided to introduce several modifications that I hope will make for a more fluid reading experience. For example, the footnotes were moved to the end of each chapter; the qualities of the paper and the font were improved, and the number of pages was increased considerably to accommodate larger figures and photos.
Hope you’ll enjoy it. Happy reading!
PS. Clicking on the cover (upper left corner) redirects you to Amazon.com (also available from most of its international branches).
After the massive welcome we got from the children of Gangtok, my friend headed to the top of the city. I preferred to remain stationed on a slope, like a sniper waiting for the presidential motorcade.
When the cross of the peephole of my heart focused on the limo, I pulled the trigger. A bullet hit its target, only that, instead of deadly lead, it consisted of equal parts of compassion and justice.
A few days later, the Presidents of India and China met and agreed to opening the border of Sikkim, closed for more than forty years!… Curious coincidence.
(Romanticism aside, that was the sad political rubric with which India recognized a Chinese Tibet, and China an Indian Sikkim.)
A serious fault in the motorbike upset the plans with regard to the mode of transport. We left it behind in a workshop at Kalimpong, and boarded one of the jeeps that cover the route to Gangtok, Sikkim’s capital.
The narrowness of the road, the cliffs and the speed of the jeep are factors that may cause some distress in the weak of spirit. Even worse, they can prevent the enjoyment of the natural beauty of southeastern Sikkim, a curious mix of exotic jungle and rugged topography.
Gangtok has that indefinable atmosphere of all the provincial capitals, transited by people who come to the market and to make small transactions.
Coinciding with our arrival there was also the Prime Minister of India (AB Vajpayee), who officially visited Sikkim for the first time, an event for which the streets were decorated with flowers and flags. The next morning, when we left the hostel to visit the city, we found all the school children, flags in hand, flanking the main road.
The decision to take the children out of the schools to give a warm welcome to the president of the nation was an obvious political maneuver. The Sikkimese were the last to join India, unable to keep up their neutrality between the two bullies of the “neighborhood,” India and China.
When detecting the two big Western guys, a few children began shouting, “Namaste, namaste!” Those initial shouts of a handful of bored kids propagated in the crowd and derived into the rehearsal that would welcome the Prime Minister, with thousands of screaming children eager to shake our hands. When we turn off the road leading to the presidential palace, we were both under shock, really moved.
We decided to visit the ancient kingdom of Sikkim, nestled among places with very evocative names: Tibet, India, Nepal or Bhutan. Before leaving Darjeeling, we had to apply for a visa at the office of the governor.
We stopped the motorbike at Kalimpong, a city at a lower altitude than Darjeeling, with one of the best climates in the region.
There we met a witty French man who had retired from “civilization” to live as a marquis for the same price as in France he’d survive as a nobody (ipse dixit). We also met a Tibetan old lady who invited us to tea at her place, as Baroque as a Gompa. She considered herself a follower of the “Karmapa,” the spiritual leader of one of the four major sects of Tibetan Buddhism, the Karma Kagyu.
Before dying, the Karmapa gives clues to find him again in the next reincarnation. The same thing is true with the Dalais Lamas, although the “lineage” of Karmapas is even older.
Unfortunately, at present two monks claim to be H.H. the 17th Karmapa.
One of them lives in a temple of Kalimpong, so we headed there hoping to meet him.
We bought the white silk scarves called “kata,” usually offered as a token of respect, and humbly requested the meeting. After a while, a Tibetan monk with western manners informed us that we were granted audience. We were led to a room where we could chat cordially with Trinley Thaye Dorje. He proved to be a charming young man of twenty, with good command of English and not lacking in charisma. Whether he was the true Karmapa or not, during those minutes, for me was totally irrelevant.
Dali Gompa is one of the most impressive Buddhist temples in Darjeeling, the “headquarters” of the Dragon School (Drukpa Kagyu in Tibetan).
The day of our arrival there was a large gathering of monks to take part in a one-week-long special ceremony. We asked if we could lodge at the monastery, and the monks agreed with the typical Tibetan kindness and hospitality.
That’s how we ended up sharing that week with the monks, meditating in a corner of the temple while they created a estrange music with their chanting and curious instruments.
A pleasant discovery about Tibetan monasteries was the fact that, during special celebrations like that, the food is always vegetarian: rice with vegetables, fruit and tea.
At the conclusion of the ceremonial week, hundreds of people flocked from all corners of the region to receive the blessings of such auspicious occasion. And we, like them, also tied a blessed red cord around the neck.
We said goodbye to the monks among the admiration of the children, more interested in seeing and touching the big motorbike of my friend than in receiving another blessing.
We sat on a terrace of downtown Darjeeling to sip a cup of the famous local tea, grown on the slopes of the mountains, and to plan the next adventure.
“What do you know about Sikkim?” asked my friend. “Not much,” I said.
Before finishing the tea we had already decided that we’d visit the old Kingdom of Sikkim.