My Favourite Things: July 19
Traveling the world with Joanna Lumley, John Mayer on flow state and murmuration, Peter Gabriel's "So Much," a Ferlinghetti pilgrimage, Akira Satake pottery, binaural beats, first fruits, and more.
There are heaps of new readers this week at This Numinous World, which delights me beyond words. So, please let me begin by saying a heartfelt thank you, I’m so glad you found us, and you are most welcome here. I do hope you feel free to have a long look around, exploring previous posts and the archive, which are open to all.
A curated selection of some of my journalistic work can be found HERE.
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Joanna Lumley | Absolutely Fabulous Travel Goddess
I first fell for Joanna Lumley when she played Patsy Stone to Jennifer Saunders’ Edina Monsoon* in Absolutely Fabulous back in the mid-1990s, but I didn’t discover her thoroughly charming travelogues until much more recently. She’s been presenting them for more than 20 years, they are myriad, and each is a treasure.
During the lockdowns of recent years, being able to escape with Lumley on the Trans-Siberian Rail Road, a slow boat down the Nile, or across the ancient highways and byways of the Silk Road, Greece, Japan, and India (where Lumley was born) was a great psychic and emotional gift/escape especially for those of us with intense wanderlust who found ourselves grounded for a couple of years.
Lumley, 77, has a gentle, velvety voice that makes me feel as if I’m a young girl snuggled up in a cozy window-box with a purring cat in my lap reading the adventures of Pippi Longstocking. She is so utterly lovely and endlessly curious about the world, it’s inspirational.
Her latest series, Joanna Lumley’s Spice Trail Adventure, began airing two weeks ago on ITV in the UK. (If you’re in the broadcast region you know how to find it; if you’re not but have a VPN and the hidden knowledge of work-arounds, you’ll likely be able to track it down, too.)
Here below are links where you can find all of her other travel shows and series in order of favourite status (mine), but please be sure to watch Jewel in the Nile’s Episode 3 where, in southern Sudan, if I’m not mistaken, she participates in a dukhan—a women’s ritual smoking where she sits naked (modestly covered in a large sack) over a smoldering pit of aromatic acacia wood. The treatment is meant to relax muscles, tighten skin, and make the body smell wonderful. It looks, well, absolutely fabulous.
Lumley doesn’t shy away from the more difficult, sometimes horrific histories of some of the places and peoples she visits and appears to be aware of her privilege and tacit complicity as a citizen of one of the world’s greatest/worst colonizers.
She’s a famous white woman of a certain age and economic status often traveling through parts of the world where she is absolutely in the minority and where even her personal family history (she was born in Kashmir during the last days of British India; her father and grandfather were officers in the British Army in India) elicits complicated feelings given our evolving understanding about the injustices and legacies of empire. To my eye at least, she handles such elements with honesty, sensitivity, and grace.
If you aren’t able to tune in to Lumley’s latest series (today’s episode is set in Madagascar), there are oodles of other trips to take with Joanna (linked below), ever enthusiastic and game, at turns hilarious and moving. I just adore her.
* Years after Absolutely Fabulous took its final TV bow, when we met and adopted our son, we learned that his birth mum’s first name was Edina. Which, I guess, makes me Patsy. So, my fondness for Ms. Lumley is manifold.
John Mayer on Flow State, Musical Murmuration
If you follow me on any of the socials (or read my Sunday Story post this week), you know I was blessed to be in attendance at Dead & Company’s final show on the band’s farewell tour in San Francisco.
Two days earlier on Friday evening, while I was watching the first of their three-night stand on my laptop via Nugs.net, during the intermission between the first and second set, Gary Lambert and David Gans, longtime Dead associates and hosts of the Dead Air interview show, welcomed John Mayer for a discussion about how the final tour has evolved musically/creatively and (I might argue), even spiritually.
It’s a great conversation (you can watch it for free on YouTube HERE), but I wanted to highlight a few things Mayer said that I found particularly interesting and powerful as a fellow creative:
There’s been so much exploring and experimenting with the forms of things that I myself don’t know where we’re gonna head. All I know is that once we start aiming there, and make a little bit of traction heading there, I’m tasked with making sure we get there.
What’s been great about this run in particular is that the peak moments of each show have less to with any one instrumentalist’s contribution and have more to do with the entire band moving like a flock of birds at the same time, from once place to another. That’s been really fun. …
What’s really interesting now is this band now telepathically just all turning at the same time. There are times I walk off stage and I say I gotta to hear that thing back because I don’t know how we got there or exactly what it was, but I remember how it made me feel and I want to go listen to it.
Mayer, who stepped into Jerry Garcia’s shoes and did him proud for the last eight years, is describing murmuration, a psychic/spiritual connection between the artists during a peak moment that, I can tell you as an eye witness now, the audience felt and experienced as well.
And what a gift that was, one I will not soon forget.
Later, talking about being his own worst critic when he was younger, Mayer, who, at 45, is the youngest member of Dead & Company by more than a decade (and more than three decades in some cases), describes a new place he reached while performing on this tour, where he’s able to be present, to breathe, to be amidst the frenetic energy of performing, but not overtaken by it.
I think I go to a place where I’m thinking slow. I’m thinking slow. And I think as a musician, even if you play fast, if you’re thinking slow, you’ve made it. I think in the beginning, I was a bit of a nervous thinker—OK, solo’s coming up, where do I go?—at this point, I don’t know where I’m gonna go, I’m just gonna speak. And all that time together as a band and all the number of times I’ve played the music has just informed that sense of ease and slow thinking in playing. You’ve got the whole night to play.
I hear this and think, somebody’s done a lot of soul work over the years. Good on ya, Johnny boy.
“I know how it made me feel and I want to go listen to it.”
City Lights Books | The Ferlinghetti Mothership
I love bookstores. I always have loved bookstores. Tiny independents, pocket-sized or rambling used book shops, even the largely extinct big box purveyors of books, etc., of yore. It’s been a lifelong love affair.
City Lights Books in San Francisco long has been one of my favourites, even if I go a decade between IRL visits (I often shop their online portal and made a point of it during the height of the pandemic when small independent booksellers in particular were hard hit by the lockdowns.)
On Monday morning, I had a small window between checking out of my hotel, and leaving for the airport. BTW, my hotel, The Zeppelin, was a delightful rock-themed boutique/hipster hotel near Union Square that I stumbled upon super last-minute via the Hotel Tonight app a couple of hours before I boarded a plane for SFO. I would highly recommend it for anyone visiting the Bay Area—and the floor I wound up on was Grateful Dead themed. I mean….
Hotel Zeppelin definitely has made it onto my list of favourite boutique hotels.
Anyway, back to that small window of time between checking out and heading to SFO to fly back home: I checked Google Maps and realized I was walking-distance from City Lights so I found a shady route and set out on a short pilgrimage to the bookstore that the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of my most favourite poets—right up there with Mary Oliver and Seamus Heaney—so lovingly stewarded for almost seven decades before he left us in February 2021 at the age of 101.
Once I reached the corner of Columbus Avenue and Jack Kerouac Alley, I headed straight for the second-floor poetry room where I picked up three volumes of Ferlinghetti’s poetry that we didn’t have in our collection at home, including Blasts Cries Laughter, a slim, plain brown-paper-covered pamphlet originally released in 2014. It begins with the poem “The Lord’s Last Prayer,” which I’ve read over and over again in the last few days. A treasure.
Always visit your favourite bookstores when you can. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…
Peter Gabriel’s “So Much”
This spring/summer has been chock a block of new releases from some of my favourite artists whose work first shaped my consciousness as an adolescent and continues to expand my vision of the world today.
This week, I’ve been fixated on Peter Gabriel’s new music from his upcoming album I/O, which he has been releasing one song at a time over the last weeks/months. (The full album is expected to drop sometime before the end of the year.)
The track “So Much” in particular has grabbed my attention and continues to resonate. Perhaps it will for you, too. You can listen to it in its entirety HERE.
My Favourite Mugs | Akira Satake’s Ceramics
Back in the fall of 2021, Mandy Patinkin and his wonderful lifemate Kathryn Grody posted a video on Instagram about their friend, the artist/ceramicist Akira Satake. This was right around the time my best friend Kelley had introduced me to The Great Pottery Throw Down, which originated on Channel 4 in the UK, but you can find on MAX in the States, so I had pottery on the brain and, like Throw Down host Keith Brymer Jones, sometimes a potter’s handiwork made me weepy. Still does.
As I pretty much love everything about Patinkin and Grody, I leapt to Satake’s website and quickly became obsessed with his hand-built mugs created in an unorthodox take on the traditional Japanese kohiki style—where white porcelain slip is brushed onto dark clay body and the clay is then stretched to crack and distort the brush marks. I bought two of his celadon-lined kohiki mugs and a matching pour-over coffee filter holder for our anniversary that year.
They have become my favourite vessels for drinking hot beverages. They’re works of art, each unique, I could stare at them for hours, running my fingers over their surfaces. It’s meditative and makes that first cup of strong tea or coffee in the morning feel like a sacrament.
You can learn more about Satake and his artistry HERE.
What I’m Listening to While Writing | Binaural Beats
Recently, I’ve been party to several discussions with authors and writers about what we listen to while we write. The answers vary wildly from writer to writer, and frankly, for me, they vary wildly from project to project. I’ve had playlists for at least five of the six books I’ve written, but in recent years, I find it harder to focus (why? has something been going on? :: sarcasm font ::) I first turned to white noise and then variations on it—brown noise, pink noise, etc.
What’s been working for me consistently of late are so-called “binaural beats”— “an illusion created by the brain when you listen to two tones with slightly different frequencies at the same time,” according to WebMD.
The above album, Theta Brain Waves by Binaural Beats is my go-to these days. I put it on and within several minutes, I’m able to reach a flow state with some dependability.
You can find the album on Apple Music HERE.
Drone Shows > Traditional Fireworks
On Sunday, at the final Dead & Company show at Oracle Park in San Francisco, the band treated the ecstatic 40,000 or so Deadheads gathered to two separate drone light shows—one during Drums/Space and a second after the band took their final bow.
It was the first time I’d seen such a display in person and, as a lifelong fan of firework displays (but not the negative environmental impact and danger/idiocy that sometimes accompanies them), I believe this is the future. They’re amazing.
I didn’t take my phone out much during the marathon 4.5-hour farewell show, but I couldn’t resist when thousands of drones appeared over the bay and began their visual ballet. The above is a longer video of the various Steal Your Face iterations during Space and below is a shorter video, shot by one of my dearest friend, David Vanderveen, who was standing next to me at the time, capturing what was my favourite drone show moment of that magical night: A giant oscillating eye in the sky.
Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world….
(The above video of the space-eye drone show from July 16 courtesy of my kickasspirational friend David Vanderveen)
First Fruits: Figs and Berries and Sweet Peas—Oh My!
Historically, I have not had much of a green thumb. But for the last few years, I’ve somehow managed to keep several fruit-bearing plants alive and (don’t want to jinx it this season but) even thriving. The hanging baskets of strawberries I bought on a whim at Home Depot that first COVID summer continue to volunteer berries for a third season, and the new ones I planted in mid-June already are giving us some sweet wee berries. Meanwhile in the carport, herbs are flourishing and the sweet pea blossoms have been joined by actual (extremely furry so far) peapods in the last fortnight.
The fig tree started as a three-foot-tall potted plant 13 years ago, a present from Maury and Vasco on my first Mother’s Day. That same potted plant now reaches the second floor of the house and because of the ample rains we’ve had this year, it looks like we’ll have the biggest bumper crop of fruit, some of it the size of tennis balls, when the bulk of it comes to full ripeness in the fall.
Fig-a-palooza 2023, which will be our last here in California, is on track to be a doozy. Recipes and fig food porn to follow in a couple more months.
Whether you have acres of land on which to plant crops or extensive gardens, or a single window ledge where a small potted basil might do its thing, I believe it does all our hearts good to grow something if we can.
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To quote the final message from Dead & Company at the end of their very last show in San Francisco Sunday night: PLEASE BE KIND.
And also, brave.
Remember you haven’t met yet everyone you will love, and you haven’t met yet everyone who will love you.
Much love from me,