Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ron Weasley and the Chess Knight of Doom

Note from the amanuensis: I wrote this movie review on November 28, 2001, shortly after I had seen the then just-released Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Almost a decade later, having just seen
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, I am glad to see that Daniel Radcliffe and his colleagues Rupert Grint and Emma Watson have all become mature young actors, able to sustain an intense interpersonal drama with only minimal support from established adult actors or special effects. It's good to see such artistic growth in the midst of a megabucks Hollywood franchise.

I've not revised my original review, though I might have done so given this current movie. Having watched the original and its sequels several times, now, I have a better opinion of it than I did in 2001.
Ron Weasley and the Chess Knight of Doom

Please understand me.

Though I’m not an uncritical Harry Potter fan, I genuinely enjoy and admire J.K. Rowling’s books, and it was great fun to initiate my sweetie into that world by taking him to see director Chris Columbus' new movie. This is indeed a film to share with friends and loved ones.

Nonetheless, as one of those older critics who grew up on Spin and Marty television adventures and remembers when cinema special effects were mostly done with lighting, I confess that my boyish heart was disappointed.

Like many bookworms, I’ve always believed in the magic of nerdy kids who transcend bullying and self-doubt to save the universe. I wanted to see it played out once more with the best FX Hollywood could buy. Unfortunately that’s almost all I got. Great FX, but no genuine, struggling kid who conquers.

In the books, Harry repeatedly stumbles with misgivings. The gap he sees between his self-image and the hero expectations placed upon him by his pedigree seems so great. As a true hero does, though, again and again Harry pushes past his fear to attempt what he is actually capable of…and succeeds. But not without pain.

Not knocking young actor Daniel Radcliffe, but this movie Harry always seems to have read ahead in the script. Even when he’s portrayed as grieving his lost parents before the Mirror of Erised, it’s as if he knows things will all work out.

So there I am at the theater, anyway, relishing the artful setting of the stage in the first half of the film. I’m entranced as we move from Muggleland into the Dickensian streets and shops I remember lovingly from boyhood fantasy. As the ramparts of Hogworts first rise from the torchlit lake, I am almost in tears at the joy of coming home. And then….

And then it all turns into an action movie.

Fine old actors are squeezed into character roles to sketch out a plot in cartoon. Short shrift is made of the classroom scenes and the interpersonal struggles of faculty and students, all of which were so central in the book for teaching Harry—and the reader—the differences between magic as a tool for service and magic as power.

There’s an almost pedestrian Star Wars rip-off quidditch match, some monsters, some stock humor and sentimentality, a crisis and an obligatory, flame-encircled showdown with a stand-in villain.

Rowling’s superb surprise ending, so carefully constructed in the book, comes almost as an afterthought here. Her shrewdly plotted moral conflicts seem lost on these filmmakers.

The deepest art in Rowling's writing comes in her motivating of characters. They are not two-dimensional role-playing game figures.

Professor Snape, for all his lusting after the Defense Against the Dark Arts professorship, is discovered at the last to have been stubbornly loyal to his school and headmaster. Conversely, Professor Quirrell, who does hold that chair, is portrayed as a full-fledged personality caught—and eventually lost—in the terrible ambivalence such a responsibility always poses for real human beings.

For entertainment's sake, Alan Rickman does give us an ominous movie Snape. He seems to long for a richer drama to star in, stopping every scene he’s in with a well-crafted glance or gesture or, simply, with a line delivery full of Tim Curryesque antici…pation. Yet he is nearly forgotten once he's served his purpose of dramatic misdirection.

Meanwhile, poor Ian Hart, as Quirrell, is never allowed to be much more than a bit player until the showdown with Harry. Even then, we are almost forced to see him as an innocent victim of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, not as a soul who strove and failed.

Given all these disappointments, where do I find any redemption in Hollywood’s Sorcerer’s Stone?

In Ron Weasley, played with naïve honesty by newcomer Rupert Grint. From his first appearance on screen he captured my attention. He is wholly present in whatever happens. With no halo of expected heroism, with no inner sense of giftedness or promise, he nonetheless perseveres through every humbling challenge.

And, in the classic sense of the narrative hero, it is Ron Weasley—not Harry—whom we see, during the pivotal wizard chess game, undergoing moral transformation and embracing the sacrifice which makes “saving the universe” possible.

Wizard Chess, HP 1
Perhaps this switch is an unintended blessing from Sorcerer’s Stone’s filmmakers. Few of us in the audience are stars in our own shows. We are mostly people who stumble along, doing our best, without special gifts or pedigrees, to be honest and loyal and—when circumstances cannot be avoided—courageous.

I liked the Harry Potter of this Hollywood version well enough, and I don’t resent his acclaim. I greatly enjoyed the rich visualization of Hogworts and its denizens.

Yet the spark I came away with, the one which still keeps me going back in Muggleland, is Ron Weasley. He is the boy I admire and hope to emulate.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Walhydra's White Slave Adventure, Conclusion:
In which Walhydra finally gets a clue

The final chapter in the serialized 1981 travel adventure which Walhydra first published on The Crone Thread in 1997.
WWSA, Part 1
WWSA, Part 2
WWSA, Part 3
WWSA, Part 4
WWSA, Part 5
Conclusion: In which Walhydra finally gets a clue

By the time Walhydra's political refugee problem had been resolved, the day after the landing in South Hampton, she felt as if her hurricane of rage had pretty much blown itself out. She and Nikki rode the hydrofoil across the Solent to Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

On the way, a distracted Walhydra alternated between adrenalin rushes at the Space Invaders video game in the galley and bouts of forlorn moping on deck, watching the drizzling skies and choppy waters. Once they reached the Island, she let Nikki lead the way to Ventnor, where his folks lived, and then to pitch camp at Comforts Farm, where Nikki had boarded his grey Arabian horse named Horse.

The Isle of Wight is one of those rare, uncluttered places of power where the sorting out of who stays and who leaves is done very quickly.

The story goes that when the Romans tried to capture the wedge-shaped island, which they called Vectis, they were met on the shores by woad-painted naked warriors with hard-ons. They wisely decided that the larger island to the north (Britannia, that is) would probably be a conquest.

When Christian missionaries came along later, the Oyl o' Woyters (as the natives call themselves) said, "Right, we can do this," and proceeded to put on the cloak of the new public religion, while quietly continuing their no-nonsense Pagan faith.

And, when modern barbarian tourists from the mainland—i.e., England—tramp over the beaches and downs each summer, the locals just shake their heads, count their change, and wait for autumn.

Having learned something of this history from Nikki, Walhydra was pleased at how quickly she felt at home on the Island.

She of course overlooked the fact that, just as with India, whomever the Island claims, it also transforms, usually in deep and subtle ways, and with little sympathy for ego's narrow agendas. Only as she retells the story now does she notice—with perversely witchy delight—how great the transformation has been.

But, we're getting ahead here....

Within a week of landing on the Island, Walhydra was being given her first lesson in riding by Horse. As with all of his tribe, Horse had a bemused yet unsympathetic view of this little animal on his back. It was clearly kindhearted, yet it seemed stupidly convinced that Horse was some sort of mammalian automobile, to be steered and controlled by reins and knees.

To counter this misconception, every time Walhydra "got" Horse into a trot, he headed directly toward the jumps. Whenever Walhydra "steered" him away from a jump, Horse slowed to a walk. This game proceeded for some time, with Nikki muffling snickers on the sidelines.

Finally Horse walked up to a jump and stood still right in front of it. Walhydra, still in an auto-driving mind set, relaxed...and Horse jumped.

Needless to say, this surprise reminded Walhydra that large, jumping animals do not need a running start. On the other hand, Horse was reminded that small, stupid but unfrightened animals do not necessarily fall off. Walhydra landed painlessly on Horse's forehead.

A laughing, teary-eyed Nikki helped extricate Walhydra from her perch and "scolded" Horse for giving such a helpful first lesson.

All was well as they walked to the stable, until Walhydra noticed the patch of blood on her jeans. It seems there had been a minor internal injury to a certain precious male organ. Thus began an interesting three-day side trip "into hospital"—which, by the way, British socialized medicine quite sensibly paid for, despite Walhydra's being an unemployed alien.

In retrospect...

Walhydra is noticing a lot of things "in retrospect," and begins to feel somewhat dizzy, as if she's riding backwards….

In retrospect, Walhydra suspects that the Crone was behind Horse's "throwing her" into hospital.

The gentle reader will surely have recognized by now how Walhydra clings to the notion that spiritual growth is simply a matter of acquiring spiritual knowledge. Even though she now knows better, she still tends to resist those bone-deep transformations which involve real pain and loss. Until she can't ignore them, that is.

The myriad voices of India had indeed captured her attention, yet she remained merely fascinated. It took the one, deep, chthonic voice of the Island to get through with the simple message: Be still, already!

To make certain that she heard, the day Walhydra came out of hospital, she and Nikki were asked to move into the vihara (monastery) of the Isle of Wight Buddhist Fellowship. In exchange for free housing, "all they had to do" was to prepare the one daily vegetarian meal for the Fellowship's spiritual advisor, the Venerable Khemadhammo, Bhikkhu (ordained monk).


Walhydra had met the Bhikkhu six months earlier, just before she and Nikki left England on their trek "round the world." She had not been impressed.

Ever the suspicious Protestant, Walhydra is rarely impressed with the trappings and titles of people said to have spiritual authority.

Given the escapade of the saffron dhoti, the reader may wonder what this wariness is about. In truth, it has less to do with guarding against hypocrisy than with two basic fears: fear of submitting to the genuine authority of another, and fear of exercising one's own genuine authority.

But don't tell Walhydra that.

All that Walhydra saw was an ex-actor from Portsmouth, England, who had gone off to the forests of Thailand for a number of years, come back with shaved head and robes, and "set himself up" as a spiritual leader with a loyal following. She did not "feel" enlightenment streaming from him, so she gave him merely courtesy and well-cooked meals—and kept his house clean.

Nikki, who had taken off his own saffron out of respect, kept his opinions to himself and watched. What Nikki saw surely must have amused him.

He knew that one of the best ways to teach a Virgo is to distract her with a well-written book of conceptual analysis, one which she thinks is about the living, breathing lesson one actually wants to give her. Then, once her rational mind is fully preoccupied with the ecstasy of "new ideas lucidly and convincingly argued," one yanks the existential rug out from under her…at which point, how can any conscientious Virgo argue with the concrete reality, since she has already bought into the idea of it?

So it was that, on the day they moved into the vihara, Nikki gave Walhydra a copy of Walpola Rahula's What the Buddha Taught. Each day, while she went dutifully through the motions of the vihara practice, Walhydra devoured Rahula's crystalline words.

Up at 5:30, chanting and meditation from 6 to 7, cooking the day's meal in time to present before noon to the Bhikkhu.

Then off to market or to visits with Nikki's many Island friends, and back home in the evening for a second meditation from 9 till 10.

And, all the while, plunging deeper into the conceptual labyrinth of Buddhist thought.

Meditation Tankha at the Vihara
Walhydra made her way well enough through the First Noble Truth, DUKKHA, the notion that all of existence, both pleasant and unpleasant, is imperfect, changeable, conditioned...and so on. She could understand that this did not mean, as Westerners often mistranslate, that "all is suffering." Merely that "all passes."

So far, so good, she thought.

Things got a bit more tricky with the Second Noble Truth, SAMUDAYA, the arising of dukkha.

Easy enough to understand "thirst," or desire for and attachment to pleasures, wealth and power, as origins of the struggle found in dukkha. But desire for and attachment to ideas and ideals, conceptions and beliefs? Walhydra's mind tried to stretch itself around the idea that desiring enlightenment was a cause of suffering.

She needed even more of a stretch to get hold of the Buddhist twist on the theory of karma. Will, volition, desire, thirst to exist, to continue, to become more...all of these persist after physical death, yet there is no permanent Self or Soul which "re-exists" from life to life to remember these things?

Well, Rahula's exposition was so systematic and elegant that Walhydra had to just cram this all in, too. Nothing like the authority (oops! there's that word!) of a finely-crafted argument to help her suspend disbelief.

It was at the end of her second week out of hospital that Walhydra ran up against NIRODHA, the Third Noble Truth, regarding the cessation of dukkha.

This is the bit where a person understands how consciousness, as well as all pleasant, unpleasant or neutral sensations, merely appear and disappear, without having permanent existence. Where her mind becomes detached and she finds "a pure equanimity which she can direct towards the attainment of any high spiritual state...."

And where—zip!—the rug gets pulled!

Altar in the Vihara shrine roomIt happened this way.

One morning, in the minutes before chanting and meditation were to begin, the Bhikkhu was quietly lighting candles and incense at the shrine in a comfortably empty upstairs room. Walhydra sat at the back of that room, doing yoga stretches so that her knees would let her be still for an hour. Nikki soon joined them, as did another guest, and the meditation began.

"Araham samma-sambuddho bhagava...."

At the end of the hour, as the others went downstairs to the kitchen, Khemadhammo stopped Walhydra in the hallway.

"Please do not do those exercises in the shrine room while I am preparing for meditation."


Wherever that hurricane of rage had been hiding, it rushed back suddenly in full force. Walhydra was so offended by this "imposition of authority" that she slammed through the house, seized up her backpack and the rolled up tent, and stalked out.

She informed Nikki that she would be pitching camp at a campground they'd seen a week earlier. Then she caught a double-decker bus into the town of Ryde, where she had already committed to staffing the Fellowship's vegetarian food stall for the day.

All the way up and down the hedgerowed lanes into town, Walhydra seethed. How dare he?!

Customers at the market that day must have wondered if the compassionate Buddha had been replaced by a stand-in vengeful Yahweh.

By the time Nikki met her for a late afternoon trek to the campground, Walhydra had revisited every grievance back to Allahabad and before—in a remarkable recapitulation not only of dukkha and samudaya, but of numerous other not-so-noble truths.

When, sometime after dark, the two of them made their way back to the vihara from a campground which was—oops!—closed for the season, a rather meek Walhydra crawled into her sleeping bag on the threadbare carpet of their room and said not a word.

To this day, she cannot remember if or how she apologized to Khemadhammo. He neither mentioned the incident nor changed his attitude toward her of...compassionate detachment? They all merely returned to their daily routine without comment.

From her journal, Walhydra knows that she resumed her reading long enough to get to the part of nirodha she had missed before. That's the part where the practitioner realizes that even if she reaches a "purified and cleansed equanimity," should she focus it upon anything, even upon the "highest spiritual state," that is still a mental condition and, hence, still dukkha.

Sheesh! You can't win at this game!

Her notes do not reveal whether she kept on reading through the remaining two Noble Truths.

Or through the Noble Eightfold Path, the Twelve Factors of Conditioned Genesis, the Five Hindrances, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment...

…or the Fifty-Seven Varieties.

What she did do was to sit in the back of the shrine room twice a day. She continued to cook and clean. She and Nikki prowled the hedgerows to gather blackberries for jam and rosehips for tea. They visited friends. Nikki pondered—briefly—becoming a postulant.

And Walhydra started a new journal, in which she wrote a rather steamy short story about a young man on New Year's Eve, a guy in a pickup truck,…well....

And, after several more weeks of this, Walhydra noticed one morning, as the Bhikkhu began the closing chant, that she had been fully awake and aware of nothing in particular for an hour.

The journal says merely, "I was meditated upon." The next day's entry says, "Meditated alone. Felt as if dissolving." And the next, "Awoke sad and restless. Rain."

Walhydra will not pretend that at this point she became "a good Buddhist." The gentle reader knows her too well to be fooled.

Twenty-nine years agoTwenty-nine years later, she knows that she is still “capable of unbounded indignation" when someone appears to her to be abusing authority. Now, though, as soon as she notices the pieces of scenery in her mouth, she stops chewing.

"Hmm," she says. "Anger is happening here. Wonder what button got pushed? And just what Work was being done before ‘Little Me’ stole the spotlight?"

She gets amused more easily now, watching how this person she is goes through things over and over again—even though she "already knows this stuff."

In fact, twenty-nine years later, feeling somewhat beat up at almost sixty, Walhydra notices rather tiredly that she keeps rediscovering fears and resentments she thought she had grown out of.

"This enlightenment business," she sighs, shaking her head.

"It's not at all like flipping a switch. Each next moment you have to pay attention all over again, you have to notice whether you've wandered off into the past or the future or the weather or the next driver's rudeness or your Mom's Alzheimer's or…."

She pauses.

"At least, each next moment is a new moment. I do seem to be getting better at returning to that awareness."

"Oh, you do, huh?" the Crone asks, feigning surprise. "I'll bet I can still piss you off, easy."

Walhydra blows a raspberry.

At the Vihara
And so it is.

Blessèd Be.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Walhydra's White Slave Adventure, Part 5:
In which Walhydra burns with unholy fire...
and tastes ashes

Another chapter in the serialized 1981 travel adventure which Walhydra first published on The Crone Thread in 1997.
Part 5: In which Walhydra burns with unholy fire...
and tastes ashes

Walhydra doesn't want to tell the next part of this story.

Looking back on these events from the vantage point of nearly three decades, she knows that she has to eat her words. Not to mention her thoughts, her emotions, her actions...and several large, black, Indian crows.


House Crow, Corvus splendens
Very much out of character, she girds herself to disclose a series of unenlightened behaviors which no amount of humor can trivialize.

But wait! She remembers that frank confession of one's failings—when there is absolutely no way to avoid it any longer—is another great Virgo virtue. Alright, then, she decides: Get on with it!

The patient reader will remember that we left Walhydra, three episodes back, doing a slow burn at the Indian Foreign Registry Office, where she had just been pegged as an illegal alien. This event in fact came only three days after she had donned the saffron, and only two after her dinner with Gupta-gee.

"How dare they?!" she thought.

She was already fuming that, only the night before, she and Husband #3 had been turned away from a native restaurant because of their dress. "How dare they?!"

Walhydra is capable of unbounded indignation when she thinks she faces abuse of authority. All sense of proportion vanishes, and she is ready to lash out with the Sword of Justice.

(Hey. Libra Ascendant, with a very surly Mars in Scorpio in the First House. What can you expect?)

Unfortunately, personal effrontery doesn't make for a very good gauge of injustice. But we are talking here about Walhydra, the self-important apprentice, not Walhydra, the sadder but wiser…, et cetera.

"How dare they?!"

And, of course, they dared again the very next day.

Walhydra and Nikki were again turned away from a restaurant. Militant American Flower Child that she was, Walhydra saw this as another lunch-counter-in-Selma situation.

Only now as she recalls the story does she notice the incongruity—probably offensive to the natives—of a white man in sacred saffron expecting to buy dinner with traveler's cheques in a middleclass Indian restaurant.

Oh, the perils of righteous blindness.

Walhydra sulked around for days on the rooftop patio of Hotel Palace Heights, feeling stalemated and stir-crazy. Pissed off at every fly which landed on her, every puff of air which blew her hair. Wanting nothing to do with anyone, yet—of course—wanting Papa Nikki to "make it all better."

Naturally, Papa Nikki merely said something annoyingly profound about "the difference between remembering unity and experiencing unity" and left it at that. Smartass Buddhist!

Walhydra did actually manage moments of lucidity, as her journal from that week attests:
Enlightenment doesn't mean constant and perpetual bliss; it doesn't mean forever sailing along, unruffled by the petty annoyances of life. What is it then?

Clearly, for one thing, it means recognizing that these are, in fact, petty annoyances. There is no cosmic plot against me. There's nothing wrong with me, either. I'm not failing in my practice. This is simply “how things are” at present.

On the other hand, while it's silly to keep feeding my bad temper, I don't want to fight or repress it either. I can't make it go away any more than I can make the bloody Indians give me a tourist visa. The inner world is just as “real” as the outer one, as far as the need for observing and accepting goes.

Oh, bother!
Nicely lucid. Clear-eyed. Compassionate toward self and others.

Bloody useless in the moment of outrage.

Walhydra has always snarled at the perversity of this incarnation business. Recall, if you will, her lament at the start of this tale: "I already know this stuff. Why do I have to go through it again?"

Recall also the Crone's answer.

Ah, well....

In any event, after a week of such raging and moping, Walhydra decided—with a nudge from Nikki—to give up on the round-the-world goal and surrender to India's clerkly caste.

The two of them trekked back to the Registry Office, persuaded a victorious bureaucrat to give Walhydra an exit visa, and flew back to their "base camp" in Greece. There they pitched their tent once more at Camping Athens, their favorite tourist campground, where they had already spent several months between jaunts to Delphi, Crete and elsewhere.

It wasn't much fun there either.

Oh, well, of course it was fun for the Aquarian husband! He would probably enjoy falling off a cliff because it would be a new and exciting experience.

He promptly leapt right back into his favorite role of "corrupting the youth"—a sort of Celtic-Roman Socrates in saffron drag. He flirted with any young man who was even vaguely curious, went off to the beach with the lot of them, taught flute, read Tarot, and generally mentored any boy who showed a spark of original male spirit beyond that provided for by the basic testosterone hardwiring.

Nikki teaching fluteWalhydra, on the other hand, glowered and gloomed and found things to be disappointed about. She had cast off her saffron and replaced it with denim almost before they hit the New Delhi airport.

Now she sat.

And sat. And sat.

Bored. Angry. Envious of Nikki.

Reading and writing but enjoying neither. Still feeling as if her future had been stolen. Still resentful that they "weren't going anywhere or doing anything."

According to her journal, actually they did "go and do."

They met lots of new friends at Camping Athens—adults and young folk from all over the Western world, in fact. They tried out new restaurants. They traveled some more. They even had a subdued yet effective sorcerous battle with some rather ominous teenaged boys who resented Nikki's mentoring of their elfin leader.

All the while, though, Walhydra was still subconsciously lost, along with her stolen passport, back at Allahabad Station. She resented every day—even the best days—without knowing why.

She almost broke up with Nikki several times. Again without knowing why.

She resisted enjoying the rich friendships they were sharing. It was somewhat like sulking over being sent to the "wrong" part of heaven.

Eventually they left Greece to head home.

On their way back to England, their plan had been to stop over in Amsterdam for a few days of business and pleasure, and then to cross the Channel to South Hampton by ferry.

At Schiphol Airport, the immigration officer let Nikki through—despite his outrageously longhaired, be-saffroned get-up—because he carried a Common Market passport.

Poor Walhydra, however—obviously an American denim-clad hippie type—looked too much like a drug smuggler for the bored official to pass by. That, or else the official hadn't made his day's quota of hassling longhaired kids and figured a U.S. passport was too foreign to honor.

Portrait of a drug smugglerHe wouldn't let her through.

"How dare he?!"

Walhydra adopted her most imperious civil libertarian pose. To no avail.

She raised great objection to being forced to buy an expensive plane ticket on her credit card when she had cash for the ferry. To no avail.

She seethed with contempt when the bland officials insisted she sit in a detention room rather than in the passenger lobby to await her flight. All to no avail.

Nikki hurried into Amsterdam to do in a few hours the business they had intended to do at their leisure. When he returned, they were escorted by immigration authorities to the very steps of the plane.

Walhydra, in the highest of oxygen-deprived dudgeon, turned and spat deliberately on the pavement.

To no avail.

Well, actually there was karmic outcome of sorts.

That evening at British immigration, an official looked at Walhydra's passport and said, "Why were you turned away at Amsterdam? I'm going to have to investigate in the morning, before I can give you an entry visa.

"Don't leave South Hampton before then."

[Concluded in Conclusion]

Friday, April 16, 2010

Walhydra's White Slave Adventure, Part 4:
In Which Walhydra stands corrected, but doesn't notice for the longest time

Another chapter in the serialized 1981 travel adventure which Walhydra first published on The Crone Thread in 1997.
Part 4: In Which Walhydra stands corrected, but doesn't notice for the longest time

If she's backed into a corner, Walhydra will begrudgingly admit that she's a fake. Well... maybe that's too strong a word for it, but "dilettante" sounds too pretentious.

It's important to her to be seen as one who knows the right answers, so of course that leaves lots of gaps to cover over. Despite this, fortunately, Walhydra's Virgo core won't let her lie…um…knowingly, which means that, when she's caught out, she will admit to certain things.

Like this, for example: she doesn't remember any past lives.

Knowledge will leak forward from them when she absolutely needs it—sometimes taking her by surprise—but she can't call it up at will.

Or like this: she doesn't have any sightedness or any training in secret wisdom.

She talks fast. She reads a lot. And when someone close by has a need, she finds useful things coming out of her mouth which she doesn't know she knows until she speaks them.

It's rather annoying. And humbling.

It's also why she had to give up smoking Sacred Weed. She was too readily entertained by ensorcellment and too careless of consequences. She confused imagination with revelation too easily. And she tended to get too fascinated by her own prophesying, forgetting that silence, not noise, is the fount of truth.

Given all this, when Walhydra opened her eyes upon the semicircle of New Delhi natives sitting round her half-lotus form at Connaught Place, she kept her mouth shut.

"Now I'm in for it," she thought. " 'S what I get for putting on this big saffron diaper. What an idiot!"

Amazingly, none of her polite attendants let on that she was an idiot.

They asked her intricate questions about her travels. They enjoyed her delight at the things she had seen and experienced in their country. And they did not insist that she impart any wisdom. It was a generous reprieve.

Namaste Mosaic, by bramblerootsWhen the gathering dispersed, Walhydra stood to make her own escape, only to be faced with a small, balding, brown man in a white Nehru jacket, who made Namaste with his steepled palms and then introduced himself. D.B. Gupta, barrister.

Long ago, Walhydra's childhood mind had confused the word "barrister" with "banister."

South Fox Island Light, Banister in Keepers DwellingThe confusion was heightened by old illustrations of the intricate wooden podiums, balusters and jury boxes of traditional British courtrooms.

Thus confounded by memory, Walhydra was momentarily distracted by images of darkly varnished railings and furniture and almost missed what Gupta-gee was saying.

He was inviting her to dinner the next evening in his office-cum-flat in another part of the city. Before she could find an excuse, Walhydra had accepted the offer.

Gupta-gee gave her elaborate directions for autobus connections and street turnings, accepted her assurance that she too was vegetarian, and bowed farewell with another Namaste.

"What in the world have I started now," Walhydra wondered. "Is this saffron some kind of invitation to trouble?"

Spouse Nikki just giggled when she told him the story. "You asked for the job, Sunshine."

"But Nik-keee-eee...."

"You're an adult. You'll cope."

As usual, the Aquarian hubby's way of helping out was to toss Walhydra into the deep end.

Blub, blub, blub....

The next evening, crowds of polite Indians watched as a thirtyish American faggot, wrapped in orange swaddling clothes and necklaces and wandering half way round the world from home, hopped from street to autobus to street in the least European part of Old Delhi.

Bus in IndiaTo complete the picture, the gentle reader needs to know that, in India, any available surface of a bus can carry passengers.

Walhydra had chosen not to hang from the outside window frames, as did a dozen or so others. She managed, instead, to squeeze into the side stairwell—hoping the saffron dhoti wouldn't come loose and leave her naked in the press.

At her stop—she hoped it was her stop—she climbed down, clothing fortunately still intact. The late afternoon sun showed her dusty, unpaved streets, ageless brick and stucco walls...and no street signs.

Still, following her directions, she was able to make her way to one high and nondescript wall, in the middle of which stood a wood-framed doorway and D.B. Gupta, the latter greeting her once more with the sacred gesture of peace.

Gupta-gee ushered Walhydra into a tiny space, two cubicle-sized rooms joined by an open archway. The farther room had the clerkly look of all those civil servant spaces in which she had spent so many unpleasant hours of late. The room in which Gupta-gee offered her a seat was what the British would call a "bed-sitter."

There was a couch or divan, upon which host and guest sat and which—the clever reader will have surmised—doubled as a bed. There were copiously filled bookshelves. Somewhere behind a curtain there was a source of water, storage space and, perhaps—Walhydra never dared ask—a water closet or some such contrivance for discrete biological processes.

And, to complete the bed-sitter format, there was a "cooker" in the middle of the floor. This one was not, however, the ubiquitous electric hotplate of British habit. It was a cylindrical charcoal-burning contraption upon which sat a vat of boiling water and a vegetable steamer.

Gupta-gee explained, as he pared and sliced a marvelous variety of vegetables into the steamer, that his strict but adequate daily diet consisted of these vegetables and two liters of warm, fresh whole milk. He needed no food storage space, since he bought these items in the local market just before each meal.

Walhydra watched as onions, various squash-like items, lotus pods and other nameless things dropped into the mix. Though it was served entirely unseasoned, Walhydra was surprised at the variety and distinctness of flavors in the finished product.

As if sensing her surprise, Gupta-gee smiled slightly and said, "The simpler the better."

Through their evening conversation, Walhydra learned that her host had a wife and three children, whom he supported yet with whom he did not live. He had some years earlier adopted a strict yoga discipline which included, in addition to his diet and exercise regimen, both celibacy and his present solitary life.

Anticipating his Western guest's skepticism, Gupta-gee assured Walhydra that his wife and family were fully in support of this ascetic separation. It was a time-honored path for parents of nearly-grown children in certain Hindu families.

Walhydra nodded, vaguely humbled.

The rest of the evening was rich and pleasant, yet, to her dismay as she retells the story now, Walhydra realizes that she remembers almost nothing of the conversation.

In those youthful years, Walhydra's attention was still distorted by a non-clinical, adolescent form of what is sometimes called ideas of reference. In other words, "Everything that happens is happening to me."

When she had made her way back to Husband #3 later that evening, Walhydra was delighted to tell him of her adventure. The bus rides and the passengers hanging from the windows, the bed-sitter, the strange meal, the host's asceticism. Yet the story was still all about her adventure.

Only now, years later, does she notice something simple.

Gupta-gee wore no saffron. Nor had any of the folk who sat round her at Connaught Place.

Walhydra had, to be fair, not really pretended to any holiness throughout this escapade. Yet the people in the park, and Gupta-gee in his tiny flat, had all treated her with politeness and—yes—reverence.

As she ponders the whole story now, she wonders:

"Perhaps putting on the saffron was not an act of declaring oneself a holy man. Perhaps it was an act of asking to be shown what being a holy man might be."

[Continued in WWSA, Part 5]

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Walhydra's White Slave Adventure, Part 3:
In Which Walhydra and Nikki give new meaning to the Zen saying, "After enlightenment, the laundry"

Another chapter in the serialized 1981 travel adventure which Walhydra first published on The Crone Thread in 1997.
Part 3: In Which Walhydra and Nikki give new meaning to the Zen saying, "After enlightenment, the laundry"

In our last episode, Walhydra was outraged to find herself labeled as an illegal alien. Righteous indignation being a favorite Virgo vice, we shall leave her stewing in it for now, while we travel back two weeks to fill in the gaps in our story.

One might call the present episode "Clothes Make the Man???"

Old Quarter, New DelhiWalhydra and Nikki figured that the obvious first business upon regaining New Delhi was to get to the American Embassy, report her stolen passport and find out how to replace it. So, on a bright Indian July Monday morning, they set out on foot from Hotel Neelam, a native inn buried in the Old Quarter behind Connaught Place, the main downtown park and commercial center (now dreadfully "modernized").

Walhydra was still struggling to practice Buddhist equanimity, so she tried her best to enjoy the long trek through this urban version of THE human experiment.

Picture, if you will, two young men, one American, one British. Both have hair to their shoulders, the Brit with a reddish beard to boot. Both have Celtic pendants, Indian beads, golden earrings, leather sandals and woven shoulder bags. Both wear the light, white cotton shirts and drawstring pants which they bought in Greece before flying East—sans undies, of course.

Two reasonably cheerful faggots on holiday, right?

As they walk the several miles to the Embassy, picture it starting to rain. An Indian summer monsoon kind of rain. They splash along wide, urban boulevards, giggling at their predicament, and arrive, finally, at the great "golden door" of expatriate America.

Picture what light, white cotton clothing is like when it is drenched and translucent, clinging in artful, designer-ad style to every contour of the human body.

Marine in full dressNow picture our two wet travelers, shoulder bags now held strategically in front of them, as they meet the impassive glare of the full-dress Marine guard in the entrance foyer of the—extravagantly air-conditioned—U.S. Embassy.

Picture them shuffling through lines, sitting in offices, blushing, shivering, smirking privately to each other—all the while dealing with embassy staff in their most crisp and professional "male secretary" style.

Buddhist equanimity, hah!

Over the next two weeks there were actually four more trips to the embassy, to bring passport photos, to get an immunization card, to get the passport, to get the travel visa, but this was all pretty bland business. The "entertainment"—and the lessons—of that fortnight (always wanted to use that word!) lay elsewhere.

After the episode of the see-through clothing, Husband # 3 decided that he wanted to don the saffron scarf and dhoti of an Indian holy man.

Being an Aquarian witch from the Isle of Wight and, by his own totally non-facetious account, a guardian of Glastonbury Tor (Walhydra does not scoff, having seen the reality of it), Nikki knew he could quite properly assume this costume.

Being a thirtyish-adolescent Virgo wanna be and, by her own totally petulant yet sometimes honest self-assessment, an apprentice to said guardian, Walhydra went along to buy her own saffron—but didn't dare to put it on the first day.
[Note: A dhoti is about five yards of muslin. One wraps it round one's waist, leaving the first yard or so hanging free on the right, and knots the top edge at one's navel.

The longer, left-hand piece is drawn front-to-back between one's legs. One pleats the remainder and tucks it in back above one's bum (that's "butt" for you Yanks). The right-hand free bit is also pleated and tucked in the front.

The result looks like pantaloons and can be very comfortable—provided one has spent hours practicing how NOT to leave a great wad of fabric hanging awkwardly between one's legs. An extra two-yard piece doubles as shoulder- or head-scarf.
Walhydra giggled watching Nikki wrestle with the yards of fabric that first day, yet once he'd mastered it, she confessed it suited his bony-but-too-white body well.

With his long auburn hair and beard, his betel-nut necklace, incongruous Celtic bracelet and pendant, and leather sandals, Nikki strode ahead of Walhydra with stately grace down the gloomy entrance corridor of the Neelam...

…and promptly dropped feet first into the shallow, open sewer duct which a staff person had accidentally left uncovered.

Back in their room, rinsing shit from his sandals and dhoti and from between his toes, Nikki was philosophical.

"Ain't it just like the gods," he mugged, "to be sure a bloak don't get too uppity?"

Walhydra, believing herself to be too perfect a Virgo to be "uppity," nodded.

Later that day, at the invitation of some young European and American friends, Walhydra and Nikki moved to another native hotel nearby. Its name, Palace Heights, was a bit grandiose, yet it did have a clean rooftop patio from which one could watch Delhi stirring each morning over one's tea and brekkie.

It was on this rooftop that Walhydra debated with a young Brit the next morning when she appeared for the first time in saffron.

The Brit argued that donning the vestments of someone else's religion without being a practitioner was disrespectful. Walhydra—who could not imagine herself being disrespectful—insisted that, in fact, her dress was a gesture of emulation and respect. This was the role to which she aspired. That was her argument.

What was this story's opening complaint?

"I already know this stuff. Why do I need lessons?"

Sadhu in saffronOur two would-be sadhus walked out into Connaught Place. This is a great, circular central park, ringed about by the broad, roofed sidewalks which front the colonial-era offices and shop fronts of New Delhi.

It's the sort of place where hereditary beggar caste women sit on blankets and point their precocious toddlers toward the white people who pass by. Already masters of their family trade, these youngsters have the touch: a creepy sort of oh-so-light brushing of one's arm or hand which makes one want to throw money as a warding gesture.

This morning, however, the saffron apparently served as a shield. Walhydra watched Nikki stroll off on his own. She was well accustomed to his knack for drawing to himself new students and friends. Let's be honest: she was often annoyed and envious.

Today she simply walked a separate way, "being mindful." When she found a comfortable, open spot, she sat half-lotus on the grass, closed her eyes and settled in to meditate.

Now, this was during the years when Walhydra still thought meditation meant "getting into a certain state of mind." She could do the calming the physical body part fairly well, but then she was always a bit uncertain what was supposed to happen next.

Lots of intrusive thoughts, of course. Itching ears. A foot falling asleep.

And, sometimes, an immeasurable stretch of thought-free, intensely focused concentration on the space before the third eye. A sense of focus which was either that "certain state of mind" or the start of a dizzy headache.

Walhydra drifted through the various stages of physical and mental centering.

Relaxed. Felt the spaciousness of a quiet mind. Smiled blissfully.

And opened her eyes to find a semicircle of a dozen or so Indians sitting in polite silence around her.

Oh, dear....

[Continued in WWSA, Part 4]

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Walhydra's White Slave Adventure, Part 2:
In which Walhydra discovers that Buddhist equanimity can be a rather expensive pain
in the ass

Another chapter in the serialized 1981 travel adventure which Walhydra first published on The Crone Thread in 1997.
Part 2: In which Walhydra discovers that Buddhist equanimity can be a rather expensive pain in the ass

The general plan which Walhydra and Nikki had for their Asian pilgrimage was to head east from New Delhi to the Ganges, north to Nepal, then on to Thailand and perhaps even Japan…as far as their bankrolls would take them.

The first leg of the journey was a trip by rail of some 500 miles through the heart of northern India to Varanasi, the sacred Hindu city on the Ganges. They stopped for a few days in Agra to visit the full moon mystery that is Taj Mahal. Then they set off across country.

Traveling second class with the "other" commoners, Walhydra marveled at the ageless, pre-mechanized agrarian culture which stretched out around them.

Rural India, from Business WeekShe knew better than to romanticize what she saw. Peasant life was obviously difficult.

Nonetheless, there was a blessèd steadfastness to it. A stolid forward movement, like the pace of an ox which Walhydra had watched one day in Agra as it pulled a plow.

Bougainvillea, by ArielAmandaIn that crystalline white light of India, the great creature had existed only one step at a time, advancing to the end of a long row, turning, marching back, like the slow turning of the wheel, the rhythm marked only by its steps and the chewing of its cud.

Life itself, plain and unvarying, yet adorned by the shocking magenta flags of bougainvillea which hedged the field.

Just as she had been mesmerized by that ox, Walhydra was mesmerized by the rolling country as it passed by.

After some hours of watching the countryside pass by, still mesmerized, Walhydra stood to stretch...thereby committing the error for which Dr. Mesmer himself had been waiting. For the first time in all their travels, she left her leather pouch behind on the seat when she stood.

Kali shrugged.

"Nikki? Where's my pouch?" said Walhydra, already knowing it had vanished. As had her wallet, IDs, traveler's cheques, passport….and pilgrimage.

Walhydra was surprised at her own coolness.

She and Nikki had been seated with their backs to the car in an open booth of facing seats, just like those which stretched down the aisle on both sides behind them.

Walhydra stood calmly in the aisle in view of everyone. Breathed calmly. Watched with unfocused gaze for countless minutes.

Sat back down.

"I know who it is," she said to Nikki. A man in the next booth had gradually grown more antsy as Walhydra kept her vigil.

Nikki stood and watched in the same way.

"You're right," he said when he returned. "But we can't do anything about it. We can't accuse him, and the Authorities on the route won't be concerned. We'll just have to wait till Varanasi."

Walhydra was stoic. Brave. She sat back and tried to resume her stolid, ox-like pose of living in the moment.

Six hours of stoicism later, the fumes were starting to rise from her ears.

The next morning, after a restless night in a Varanasi hotel room paid for by Nikki, the smoke started billowing as an official shrugged officiously and explained that the passport could only be replaced at the American Embassy.

Back in New Delhi. Half way across the country.

By the time they regained New Delhi two days later, flames were sprouting. (Nikki, of course, kept his obnoxious Aquarian cool.)

Now, what were all the mental pyrotechnics about?

Walhydra, of course, was not really at all stoical. Or brave. Or Buddhist, or...whatever.

Walhydra admired—envied—people who could, so they said, accept change with equanimity. (Like obnoxious Aquarian husbands, for instance.)

The heart of the Buddhist practice made perfect sense to her. It seemed neat, precise, efficient...just what a Virgo aspires to.

To acknowledge what happens in the moment without clinging to one's emotional or sensual responses.

To let imagined possibilities which had not yet happened flow past one, without fending them off or grasping after them.

To allow the past and the future to remain as mere, changeable thought traces, rather than as forces which operate upon one in the present.

Eyes of BodhnathIt all sounded wonderful.

And there, you see? "Wonderful."

In other words: "I want to have this. This enlightenment, this spiritual ability, this power."

Walhydra was not so much of a fool as not to recognize the dangerous paradox in desiring enlightenment. Yet—the gentle reader will certainly acknowledge—it felt like such a perversely unfair deal.

"When you cease desiring this it will come to you."

Boo, hiss!

In any case, the slowly building rage in Walhydra's chest was stoked higher at each step away from the future—that journey to the East—which she had expected. And each willful or capricious event which obstructed her from recovering that future was like another coal on the fire.

While she did her best to act as if she were enlightened, Walhydra actually kept a firm and resentful grasp on the rapidly vanishing moment back at Allahabad Station when she stood up without her pouch.

What's more, remember, this was India. THE original human experiment, by Walhydra's own reckoning.

The pilgrimage which, as far as she was concerned, had been stolen was, in fact, still progressing. One city, one room, one mind is large enough for pilgrimage if one is paying attention.

However, since Walhydra's attention was stuck back in Allahabad, a lot slipped by her until—many years later—she was able to look back and recognize the rubies glowing in the mud with which she had been preoccupied.

Mud and rubies are both equally valid manifestations of the physical, but for the next three weeks, it was the mud to which Walhydra perversely clung. And perhaps the worst of the mud—to confuse the metaphor—was made out of paper.

Consider this….

During their years under the British Empire, the Indians had obviously managed to appreciate and extract from their overlords the essence of British bureaucracy. The whole point, they had realized, was to gain a civil servant position and then hold onto it at all costs.

Files, by Jessica BurgessAll forms, all policies and procedures, all filing systems, were merely tools for deflecting work. And the sole purpose of any bureaucratic transaction was to acquire, stamp and re-file a piece of paper—or to refuse to do so.

Hence, each step in Walhydra's process of recovering traveler's cheques and permission to travel required several trips over several days to several different bureaus.

ArchivesRemember that this was the pre-computerized world. Electronic records and transactions were just someone's daydream in Silicon Valley. Instead, Walhydra was met at each stop with clerks at old fashioned teller's windows, loomed over by pillars of ledgers in countless dusty and yellowed array.

In a future chapter we will relate the concurrent adventure of recovering the U.S. passport, since that story has its own delights. Perhaps we'll toss in a little travelogue as well, for fun.

For the present, though, we now skip over two weeks of dusty civil servants to bring the reader to what one might call the masterstroke of the "experimental design."

After many sidetracks and false starts, one day Walhydra and Nikki set off on an hour long bus trip across New Delhi to acquire a new tourist visa for Walhydra. This would presumably remove the last obstacle to getting back on the road.

Given the vast subtlety of a people with hundreds of deities, however, Walhydra should not have been surprised. She arrived, after all this ordeal of theft and recovery, at the Foreign Registry Office, only to be informed that, in fact, she was the criminal.

"You have no visa. Therefore you are in this country illegally."

"But one of your people stole my passport!"

"I do not know that."

Stolid, like an ox.

"This British citizen and I are traveling together. We flew into Bombay from Athens. Then somebody stole my passport."

"You have no tourist visa with you. I can only assume that you may have entered illegally."

Existing only one step at a time.

"How do I prove otherwise?"

"You must retrieve your entry documents."

Turning at the end of the row.

"How do I do that?"

"Why, obviously. You must return to your point of entry."

Marching back.

"What?! To Bombay! That's 1000 miles away!"

Bougainvillea, by ArielAmanda"Yes, sir."

Blaze of magenta blossoms at the edge of the field.

[Continued in WWSA, Part 3]

Friday, January 22, 2010

Walhydra's White Slave Adventure, Part 1:
In which Walhydra and Husband #3 have a narrow escape

A note from the amanuensis: Walhydra's main blog, Walhydra's Porch, has given her both a new way to communicate with her long-time Pagan friends from the old Crone Thread listserv and a way to gather a new readership—always a boon for an Virgo writer.

In 1997, Walhydra started serializing for her Cronies an adventure which took place way back in 1981, before she and Hubby Jim (Husband #4) finally got together.

(They had been in the process of "getting together" ever since they first met as closeted high school sophomores in 1965—it was a
long courtship, since Walhydra wasn't paying attention. The fates kept dragging them across each other's paths, until they finally "got together" for good on May 11, 1985.)

In any event, the 1981 adventure took place in India, where Walhydra and her then partner, Nikki (Husband #3), were trekking.

Now that Walhydra has this Back Porch handy for neat (and sometimes embarrassing) old stuff to sit on, she wants to share the Indian adventure.

For more details, please proceed....
Part 1: In which Walhydra and Husband #3 have a narrow escape

Walhydra pretends not to like lessons.

"I already know this stuff," she whines. "Why do I have to go through it again?"

Confirmed Virgo that she is, Walhydra particularly dislikes the inefficient way that human beings continue to suffer through moods and emotions even after they have accurately labeled and analyzed them.

"Why can't we just get on with business? I got the information the emotion was transmitting! Why do I need to moan and groan for another whole day or—Goddess forbid—week once I've already figured out what it's about?"

It's usually at about this point that the Crone doles out a little kindly admonishment.

"Now, dear. Remember, you asked for the job...."


"Tut, tut. As a dear and greatly misunderstood witchy friend of mine once said, 'These things must be done de-licately'."

Walhydra blows a raspberry.

Hecate [unattributed]"You see, dear," the Crone continues, unruffled, "All that knowledge you have is useless...until you manifest it in living form.

"And if you've screwed up the manifestation once, or not done it completely, or not let yourself experience with full awareness every twist and turn of its sensations and emotions, well...I'll be glad to let you try it again.

"In fact, I insist."

"...waste of energy...," Walhydra mutters under her breath.

"What, dear?"

The Crone sidles in a little closer. "Can you decide which details to skim over and which to emphasize? Do you know what the finished picture is supposed to look like? Hmmm?"

Walhydra pouts. "Don't have to rub it in," she says.


When Walhydra was traveling overseas with Husband #3, the English-Italian-Buddhist-Witch from the Isle of Wight, she often felt that she was getting far more lessons than she had ever asked for.

Worse, Nikki never let her dodge any of them and—in true Aquarian fashion—never gave her any sympathy.

Or, as he once said, "You made your bed. Now lie bound and gagged in...."

Oops. Well, that's...ahem...another story.

One of the most protracted lessons Walhydra ever had began while she and Nikki were in India.

They had quit their secretarial jobs in Arabia, kitted up with tent and backpacks and, while living off their banked salaries from a year and a half of expatriate work, had walked, hitched, bussed and trained their way across England, Italy and Greece.

They abandoned their plan to take the Magic Bus from Istanbul across to Pakistan and India, because this was the year of the Iranian Hostage Crisis—remember that one?

Walhydra, traveling on her Ugly American passport, did not fancy being abducted by terrorists, so instead they flew from Athens to Bombay and traveled by train to New Delhi.

Dalit (untouchable) children, from Is India Rising?To Walhydra, India seemed like the original human experiment, still in operation, and the only one openly acknowledged as such by its participants...well, many of them.

Newly-met Americans always ask each other, "What do you do?" Yet Walhydra found that Indians were much more likely to ask, "What do you believe?"

Not that there's not also a lot of ethnic violence, religious hatred, poverty, disease, corruption—and, of course, lust, jealousy, greed, etc. The usual human menu.

But it's all right out there. Fight as they may, it's difficult to deny that all of those differences of values and beliefs exist and can be freely observed.

So, throughout the whole Indian pilgrimage, Walhydra felt like the sunlight itself made her focus on a different sort of question.

Not what path are you traveling, but how consciously are you traveling it, and what can you tell me about it?

Virgo vanity did not at all like having the light shown so brightly on the messy spectacle of an unfinished consciousness. Virgo spiritual hygiene secretly craved it.

There is much travelogue richness which could be shared with the gentle reader, as well as a good bit of spiritual-type experience and a few delightfully self-possessed—though chaste (darn!)—young male travelers worth mentioning.

What's more, their first month in India they were family guests of a Hindu artist and his Muslim best friend, a sojourn which deserves a story of its own. For now, though, Walhydra is constrained to focus on just this one persistent theme: her white slave adventure and its aftermath.

Being good pilgrims, Walhydra and Nikki had decided to stay, as much as possible, in local Indian hotels rather than the westernized, tourist-class sort—those where a conventional one rupee tip to the bellboy was the equivalent of an average Indian's entire day's wages.

Delhi Rooftops, by Ryan OpazOnce they parted from their native hosts, they found a reasonably clean hotel on an Old Delhi side street, paid in advance for the night, and climbed to a second floor room scarcely larger than the plain twin-size bed.

As they were starting to unpack, Walhydra looked around.

Hmm. Bars on the windows.

She checked the door. No lock on the inside, but a hasp and padlock on the outside.


"Um. Nikki?"

"I think this should suit very well for the night."

"Um. Nikki?!"

Husband #3 looked at the bars.


Husband #3 looked at the padlock.


About this time, two characters from a lesser-known Bogart movie materialized in the narrow doorway. They smiled appraisingly.

"Hell-ooo!" one of them said in his best Peter Lorre voice. "How are you-uu?"

Walhydra and Nikki made casual, oh-so-confident small talk.

"Oh. We're fine. My friend is from England...," Walhydra said, invoking Rule Britannia, "...and I'm an American."

The white slavers—Walhydra has a vivid imagination—seemed duly impressed.

Then Walhydra remembered that blonde-haired men—Nikki was blonde—were very popular in the the sort of men for whom they were popular. Walhydra was not blonde, but she figured some owner would forgive that oversight.

"Um. Nikki," she whispered, smiling and nodding at the visitors. "Am I just being paranoid, or...."

Nikki nodded and smiled. "It doesn't feel good to me either, Sunshine," he allowed.

They cheerfully...and with greatly overdone subtlety...persuaded their admirers that they needed to "do something." They closed...but did not latch...the door.

"Um. Nikki...."

"My thoughts, exactly."

They repacked and strapped on their backpacks.

They nodded, smilingly, to the desk clerk downstairs.

"We'll be back in a little while," they said, smiling, noddingly.

They staggered all the way to the rail station. They slept the night on the platform.


This was the first part of the "fugitive" portion of their pilgrimage.

Walhydra did not know it yet, but she had just been selected as the next subject for the human experiment.

[Continued in WWSA, Part 2]