A sacred thangkha, commissioned by the 8th Dalai Lama, on rare display

-1On Friday, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena will open an exhibit called In the Land of Snow: Buddhist Art of the Himalayas.  The centerpiece of this show is a majestic thangkha, 300 years old, 22 feet tall and 16 feet wide, that was commissioned by the 8th Dalai Lama for his tutor.  You must see it in person to believe it.

Click here to read and hear the story I did for KCRW about the history of this rare piece, which has only been shown twice in the last 40 years (and not much before that.)  The curator, Melody Rod-Ari, does a beautiful job of explaining how the thangkha was made, and why it’s relevant–and powerful for your karma.

There are other Buddhist artifacts on display, too, but they are dwarfed, literally and figuratively by the scroll and its unusual display.

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Opera in Bhutan

The remote kingdom of Bhutan boasts distinctive traditional music and culture, which the government has long been committed to preserving (lest it be watered down or eliminated by, say, the incursion of contemporary pop music.)  Which is what makes this partnership between opera-lovers and the kingdom particularly interesting.  Led by a team from Rome, these classically trained Western musicians staged an opera (Handel’s Acis and Galatea) in a historic setting in Bhutan this past fall.

ImageClick on this link to see a short video by filmmaker Tao Ruspoli (who happens to a descendent of a patron of Handel’s) about their recent historic efforts.

 

 

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Bhutan: Cheaper to visit than NYC?

My friend (who is a tour operator) Lotay sent me this story this morning declaring the Kingdom of Bhutan cheaper to visit than, say, New York City.  That is….if you don’t use a pricey tour operator (if you’ve ever investigated, you’ve found that some charge a thousand bucks a day for a visit.)

Of course, there’s no other comparison between Bhutan and NYC–two radically different places in every way, especially as far as vacation destinations!  And depending on where you’re coming from, you have to factor in airfare, which can be considerable.  But it’s a good point not to be scared away by the “tourist tariff” Bhutan charges (and a nice plug for Lotay’s services.  He’s a swell guy, by the way.)Image.

The mention was on a list from a blog called Compass and Camera.

 

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American dream becomes nightmare for Bhutanese refugees

My friend TP Mishra wrote this article for the Wall Street Journal about the issue of suicide among resettled refugees.  It’s an important issue.  (Meanwhile, the suicide rate inside Bhutan is up at an alarming rate, as well.)  

http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2014/01/07/american-dream-becomes-nightmare-for-bhutanese-refugees/

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Chain Reaction: St. Joan and the Fast Food Fortune

ImageNew year, new topic: Although not that new, to me.  I’ve been immersed in my research about Joan Kroc for two years now, and am ready to ‘come out’ and talk about it, just as I delve deeply into the writing of my book about her.

ImageOn Saturday, January 18th, please join me at the beautiful Insight LA center in Santa Monica, where I’ll tell the story of this remarkable woman’s connection to an art work just blocks away–which inspired me to dig into her backstory, and how she became one of the greatest (and least-recognized) philanthropists of our time.

Details, click here

 

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Phajoding, Bhutan

…is a very special place in a land filled with special, beautiful places.  The photographer Jesse Montes captures this monastery, perched in a sacred spot, particularly well. (And you can read more about it here.)

I let my mind go back to scenes like these whenever the stress and sensory demands of the city are overwhelming.

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My personal year-in-review (is less about me than others)

photoAs so many of us are contemplating what we want out of the new year that’s dawning, I found myself making a list of what I managed to get accomplished over the last year, which happened to be my 50th.

While I didn’t do anything that by conventional standards was notable or headline-worthy (no bestsellers, no blockbuster deals, no gorgeous bouncing babies, house purchases, etc.) I was happy to see, in review, that it’s been productive–and more importantly, productive in a way that helps other people, my own personal mandate.

(Note: Only one of the things on this list involves making money.  Also note: This list is not in any particular order.)

Women of the DWC bake for their coffeeshop

Women of the DWC bake for their coffeeshop

1. The cooking group I lead at the Downtown Women’s Center (for women in need) helped them win a $25k grant from the Halo Foundation. We can’t solve homelessness by making dinner for people in need, but we can feel a part of our community and provide a healthy meal for those who don’t have access to what most of us take for granted.  Even better that we stoked their coffers, too.

2. I researched and spearheaded a movement that led to a rent abatement for over 100 of our neighbors due to the loss of our beloved swimming pool and other services here on my beloved Bunker Hill.  (I also managed to keep swimming, elsewhere.)

3. Working with another neighbor, we managed to clean up a deteriorating area of our community and involve/alert local officials, as well as draw media attention to the problem.

4. I’ve been working with Bhutanese refugees to help them with their all-volunteer media service that chronicles their resettlement around the world, a fascinating experience for me and important work for them.  Very interesting counterpoint to what I encountered while in Bhutan volunteering at a radio station there.

Academy of our Lady of Peace goes to Bhutan

Academy of our Lady of Peace examines Shangri-La

5. Of all the interesting places where I am fortunate to be asked to talk about the themes in my book, Radio Shangri-La, an all-girls Catholic school in San Diego and a gathering of hundreds of youth at the Kroc Peace Center were two highlights.  Love talking to kids.

6. I interviewed Deepak Chopra and his brother Dr. Sanjiv in front of 500 people at an Episcopalian church.

7. I interviewed Michaela Haas, the author of a compelling book about female Buddhist spiritual leaders, at a meditation center.

Vince at the gleaming Marlins stadium

Vince at the gleaming Marlins stadium

8. Along with my brother and boyfriend, we wrangled my parents and elderly aunt to a baseball game (a dream of theirs to see the new stadium in Miami.)  Later in the summer, we corralled my boyfriend’s infirm mother for a fun outing that involved ice cream and “freaking unbelievable hamburgers.”  Seeing her laugh was worth the entire trip.

9. I’ve read a lot, lot, lot, partially for my research on my Joan Kroc book but partially just because, which makes me happy especially when I hear people complain they don’t have time to read; I feel lucky that I do make time for this.

10. My part-time paying job, at KCRW, allows me to meet and talk with incredibly interesting people doing incredibly interesting things, usually having to do with art, usually mostly underfunded and otherwise unpublicized. Being able to share those conversations with the radio-listening and Web-viewing public is an honor and a delight.  It’s a rewarding (to me) application of my media background–which I resolved to put to better use after my book sold and allowed me to “retire” from daily news back in 2008.

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The power of media: All-volunteer Bhutan News Service, run virtually, keeps refugees up on the diaspora

The all-volunteer Bhutan News Service is hosting a training session in Pittsburgh this weekend.  Exiles from Bhutan make up the largest population of refugee newcomers to that city, so it’s a logical location.

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About 83-thousand refugees, resettled from camps along the Nepali border in a dispute that dates back over 20 years, are scattered around the world, but the majority (70-thousand) have been brought to the US in the last several years.

BNS is an online-only concern, with contributors sending in reports from around the world.  (Its current editor, Buddha Mani Dhakal, resides in Kentucky.)  The idea is to keep the refugees connected as they’ve been resettled, both with news of what’s happening inside Bhutan, as democracy takes root there–and with information about what the refugees are facing as they build new lives.  Suicide, for one thing, is high among the relocated refugees.

Of course, the information exiled Bhutanese are most interested in is whether officials in Bhutan will engage in discussions to resettle them in-country, or to even acknowledge their existence.  (Most Bhutanese dispute that the people in question were ever actually citizens.)  That kind of news is rare.

ImageImageSince I first went to Bhutan to volunteer with the first non-governmental radio station Kuzoo FM in January 2007, I’ve slowly unearthed the previously little-told story of the southern Bhutanese.   Just as I felt privileged to volunteer with young journalists at the dawn of democratic rule in Bhutan, (as the media landscape was just beginning and a newly drafted Constitution guaranteed freedom of the press,) I feel lucky to be in touch with the refugee population, too.

Today, in a session we held via Skype, I had the curious responsibility of explaining to the group (from my home in Los Angeles) what media are like today in modern Bhutan.  See, many of the younger contributors to BNS have never set foot in the country–they were born in refugee camps.  None of the constituency has been there since long before 1999, when TV was first introduced into Bhutan. I felt an awesome weight on my shoulders, for having witnessed and experienced what I have as a third party.

After 30 years in journalism, I’m often cynical about the state of the profession.  But knowing this group of people, who take the incredible responsibility of informing the world about their situation and using media as a glue to hold them together, makes me feel the incredible power of communication.  I believe that power will yield some sort of resolution to this long-standing dispute, hopefully sooner rather than later–as Bhutan changes, as the world changes, as we all change.

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The power of books and reading

2013-09-29-Bhutan1aI love libraries. I use them all the time.  A young friend last week saw the library book in my hand and kind of sniffed at it, as if it were weird.

But he hasn’t been to a place where books are rare.  He can buy books whenever he wants on his iPad.  And even if you’re like him, I hope you’ll consider the power of libraries, too.

Like a supermarket, a community’s library tells you a lot about a place.  One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had was visiting a READ Global library in Ura, Bhutan–the first library built outside the nation’s capital city, 11 hours from it, in fact.  Kids in this beautiful farming village drank up the library from the moment the doors of the creaky converted farmhouse opened.  One boy told me proudly that he had a small stack of books of his own. They all couldn’t wait to show me their favorite books.

Somehow my infectiousness for the place trickled over to a little girl named Claire, who subsequently helped raise enough money to build another library there.

Here’s the story about her wonderful feat, from adventurer and explorer Richard Bangs on the Huffington Post.

You don’t need to raise enough money to build an entire library.  And the library you support doesn’t have to be half a world away.  But I share this in the hopes you’ll be inspired, like Claire was, to share the power of books and reading.

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Connecting, touch, radiation, and the digital age: OMmmmmm

ImageRecently two very different websites have landed in my in-box which I’d like to share.  And, I’d love to hear your take on each of them.

One is a website/book about the impact of technology on our wellness–not just on our attention, or the dangers of texting and driving (d’oh) but about the physical impact of the rays.  A wireless wake-up call, the authors call it.

If you’ve ever looked at a pregnant woman and thought, “Umm, maybe that cell phone isn’t a great idea,” or wondered about what that iPad on your lap might be doing to your insides, or, to your kid, read this website from Canada called Safer Tech Solutions.

The other item involves a different kind of turning on, and raises different concerns (at least to me)–in this case about intimacy in the digital age.

It’s a modern version of the concept Erica Jong famously put forth in her soon to be re-released classic, Fear of Flying.  It’s called OM.  No, it’s not a chant you recite during yoga.  It’s a female empowerment exercise, involving a fully-clothed man, a “nest,” and touch.  Read more about this commodification of something wonderful here.

As a former business reporter, hats off to the folks who have created what’s in essence a multi-level marketing scheme around the basic human need for physical touch.  As a woman, I’m concerned that experimentation and female sexuality has been reduced to this.

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