Thus far I've spent my evenings in Hovd translating additional poems by poet L. Olziitogs. I post here one of my favorites from her book The Practice of Loneliness (Ганцаардлын Дасгал / Gantsaardaliin Dasgal) in its original and first draft English versions.
Уулыг хараад би уул гэдгээ мэддэг
Униар мананг ажаад үүл гэдгээ мэдэрдэг
Бороо шивэрсний дараа өвс гэдгээ сэрдэг
Богширгоны жиргээ эхэлмэгц өглөө гэдгээ санадаг
Би хүн л биш
Од дүрэлзэхийн цагт харанхүй гэдгээ мэддэг
Охид нимгэлээд эхэлмэгц хавар гэдгээ санадаг
Ертөнцийн хүн бүрээс гагц хүсэл л үнэртэхэд
Ерөөс амгалан зүрх минь загасных болохыг ойлгодог
Би хүн л биш
Өнгө өнгийн тэнгэр дор аугаа их ХООСОН,
Өнөөдрөөс эхлээд би, зөвхөн...
I look at a mountain and know that I am mountain
I observe mist and perceive that I am cloud
After rain sprinkles I sense that I am grass
As soon as the sparrow's twittering begins, I remember
that I am morning
I am not merely human
When a star flares up I know that I am darkness
As soon as girls shed their thick winter clothes, I remember
that I am spring
When I smell only longing from every person in the universe
My ever more tranquil heart understands that it is a fish's
I am not merely human
Under a multi-colored sky the immense VOID,
From today on I, only…
© Lisa Fink, 16 August 2007
Not for me.
Maybe for you.
These goats drove me crazy during my three-week stay in Hovsgol aimag, the most beautiful of all Mongolia's provinces in my opinion. I spent the time writing, translating, studying Mongolian, hiking and observing. These darling goats loved the grass around the ger I inhabited by myself and came to visit every late afternoon.
Hovsgol is a large province, so let me narrow it down a bit for you. In Hovsgol is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Mongolia, aptly named Hovsgol Lake. This lake is shaped a bit like an upside-down teardrop, and at its base is the small town of Hatgal, populated by about 3000 people. The family from whom I rented my ger had a small house and grocery shop in Hatgal where part of the family lived and worked.
The other part moved with the herds in the hills to the west of Hatgal. While I was there, the family was at their summer camp, a one-room log cabin near a small stream in a valley surrounded by forest and wildflower-covered meadows. I resided in one of the two gers that they leave open in summer for the occasional traveler, usually French since their youngest son speaks that language, for whom the aforementioned son leads horse treks from the summer camp to the lake 30 km or so away.
Being a poor artist, I didn't go on any horse treks, but I hiked around a lot. However I didn't bring my camera on any of my hikes, so unfortunately I was unable to attempt to capture the stunning masses of colorful mountain flowers.
I filled every page of blank paper I had with words.
I felt the unceasing steppe winds.
I saw yaks for the first time and helped rassle their young at milking time.
I also lived without running water and electricity, and thus lit my own cooking and heating fires and gathering wood and water on a daily basis.
Oh, there's so much more to tell, but it's lunchtime and a girl's gotta eat! I'm going to have a gyro from the Kola and Kebab joint around the corner. It's not the Juicy Lucy and jo jos I crave, but it'll have to do.
Just wanted to add this link to a news site that was passed on to me from a friend (see comments) regarding my previous post. For "good reporting by responsible, dedicated and independent reporters", check out www.commondreams.org. I really love the title "common dreams". It reminds me there are like-minded people out there somewhere.
I am once again house and pet-sitting for my lama friend and his two sweet cats. Yes, his puppy was relocated to a great spot in the countryside at a monastery and another kitter cat has found a happy home. I was telling my roommate Andrew's hoomei (i.e. throat-singing) teacher about this and his face took on a look of introspection.
I am continually perplexed by Mongolian opinion of cats. Enkhee, the hoomei teacher, concurred with these opinions with the statement that he didn't like cats. He raised his shoulders and scrunched his face which to me means he finds them creepy. But he told me something I hadn't heard from Mongolians before: 1) cats are clever and 2) cats are like women.
Сар шиниин мэнд хүргье!
Sar shiniin mend hurgeye!
Have a healthy new moon!
Today is the start of the new year in Mongolia. Apparently I was off a bit on some details about Tsagaan Sar (White Moon), Mongolia's National Lunar New Year celebration. It is not kosher to get drunk on the holiday. However, I do know they give you many shots of vodka to drink as I visited one family tonight and the other Westerners had to drink at least six shots of vodka. I feigned an allergy to alcohol and said I'd die if I drank it which is pretty much true. See other DON'Ts During Tsagaan Sar below.
There was a boov, a pile of ceremonial bread in an odd number of layers tooped with aruul and other "white foods", and a huge grilled side of mutton, the massive fatty tail draped over the edge of the plate, in the center of the table. These were surrounded by platters of buuz and a variety of salads. Apparently, they don't eat the entire sheep's tail during Tsagaan Sar. It's mainly present for tradition, but they can freeze it and melt it down in small parts later to cook with. One sheep's tail can last a family until June.
DON'Ts During Tsagaan Sar…
For more background information and to see a photo, check out this recent UB Post article, "History and Customs of Tsagaan Sar National Holiday".
Allison and I may go fly kites in Sukhbaatar Square during these three days of Tsagaan Sar. I'm writing a poem with the kite as a central metaphor for self so when she suggested it I thought it was a great idea. Then I read this great sketch by Brad Zellar that included a kite in The Rake's January fiction issue that another Fulbrighter from Minnesota brought for me.
Ah, life's patterns...
The moon is waxing. Tonight it was eery since the streetlights were cut off in part of the city and the moon dangled in the sky like someone stuck it up with a tack next to one brilliant star. It was barely a sliver but my brain fooled me into thinking I could see its full roundness. Years ago when I went out to a field with some friends to use a telescope I learned that this was an optical illusion known as "the old Moon in the new Moon's arms." We can't really see any other part of the moon than what is lit up.
Soon I'll be starting translations of L. Ulziitogs poems to try to take advantage of these auspicious times. She just came out with a new book that features her in front of the ocean on the cover. The waves uncurl behind her. I'm looking forward to diving into a new poets work. And soon completed translations of eight of Ayurzana's poems will be submitted to some literary magazines in the US.
Tomorrow I will visit Ayurzana and Ulziitogs's home for Tsagaan Sar. The holiday goes on for three days of visiting family, eating and drinking, etc. I look forward to it very much. They are great people and wonderfully talented. Thus I will leave you with an excerpt of my translation of Ayurzana's poem "Vagrant Train", followed by the Mongolian version and English transliteration:
Having closed my eyes to hear the first sign of daybreak,
Somewhere’s sound of a vagrant train knocking its path
Is disruptive, dying away to an unknown somewhere
Like a naive love of five, six, seven years ago.
Тэмдэгрэх үүрийн гэгээг сонсох гэж нүдээ анихад
Тэнэмэл галт тэрэгний замаа тогших хаа нэгтээх дуу
Тав, зургаа, долоон жилийн өмнөх гэнэхэн дурлал шиг
Тасалданги, замхранги, мэдэхгүй нэгэн тийш.
Temdegrekh üüriing gegeeg sonsokh gej nüdee anikhad
Tenemel galt teregnii zamaa togshikh khaa negteekh duu
Tav, zurgaa, doloong jiliing ömnökh genekheng durlal shig
Tasaldangi, zamkhrangi, medekhgüi negeng tiish.
This is pronounced "olong khavar negendee." It means "once in many springs" and is a Mongolian proverb that basically expresses that just because you may have done something safely many times doesn't mean that the next time won't be disastrous. My Mongolian teacher said this to me when I told him that some friends and I backpacked into the mountains south of Ulaanbaatar and camped one night in November. (We found a particularly beautiful spot where we watched the sunset while we sat next to the campfire and ate carbonera. Blissful.)
He said there are bears and wolves and thieves in the mountains. (Oh, my!) We didn't see any of these and only experienced the peace of the woods and got great views of the city (and it's pollution, sadly). I do, however, accept and understand his sentiment. Nevertheless, I simply choose to live my life without constant fear of my surroundings and what could happen. I probably wouldn't be in Mongolia if I lived my life according to this proverb. And, after all, there but for the grace of god, go I.
Since my last post about the theatre I have been back twice. Once to see the opera Chinggis Khan and another time to see the ballet Don Quixote. All kinds of people go to see opera and ballet at the State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. I tried to convey that in my other post, but I guess I missed the mark! Elderly, teenagers, hipsters, foreigners, country folk, etc. However, the cost of a ticket ranges from 3500 to 8000 togrog. This is roughly USD $3-7.25, which perhaps seems incredibly inexpensive to foreigners, but is, in Mongolian terms, a bit on the expensive side for "average" people to go to regularly.
Nearly everyone here has a cell phone. I didn't think I'd get one when I first arrived, but my contact at the American Center for Mongolian Studies pretty much said I had to. And it has proved to be incredibly helpful.
Incidentally, no one in Mongolia ever turns their cell phone off. The only time I've heard someone ask others to do so was at meditation at the FPMT Center last week. People answer phone calls in any and every setting. However, the hold their free hand over the phone and their mouth as they talk.
I found it very disturbing when my Mongolian teacher kept answering the phone during our lessons. He's stopped doing that now, even though I never complained. I guess he got the message from my body language or inadvertent facial expressions. (Consequently, we had a few days when he referred to me as "Queen Lisa". That was strange.)
To be continued...
I must go now to find the ingredients for the chili I plan to make for my family tonight.
P. S. I do read your comments, so please feel free to write about anything that comes to mind regarding these postings, particularly if it can add information or widen perspective. And it'd be great to have dialogue between readers here.
This is a detail from One Day in Mongolia by B. Sharav. It was created with mineral paints on cloth from 1911-1919 and can be seen at the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts. When I interviewed Ts. Ariuntugs and D. Enkhbaatar from the 5+... Studio Gallery they both noted B. Sharav as a Mongolian painter they admired.
As for me, I'm falling in love with Mongolian art.
From "The Development of Modern Mongolian Art" by Yuko Yamaki, Modern Paintings of Mongolia: Its Origin Up to Today (2002):
With political and social changes beginning in the early 20th century, some artists began to move away from purely religious art and focused more on people and everyday life. B. Sharav, who was educated as a monk, was a painter who adjusted as his world changed and linked the old with the new in his art. The Mongolian way of life is depicted in his famous work "One Day in Mongolia," which combines traditional Buddhist art aesthetics with secular subject matter.
Last week I went to my first Mongolian opera at the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet in UB. It was FABULOUS, and not only because you could bring food in the theatre––many of you may know that I'm most happy when I'm eating. I had a sandwich, a chocolate bar and a bottle of juice while I watched Three Dramatic Characters with a libretto written by the Mongolian poet Natsagdorj and the music by the famed S. Damdinsuren, composer of the first Mongolian opera titled The Three Sad Hills.
Before the show, the audience waited outside. Some cast members came out in their costumes and created a wide path in the middle of the crowd. Eventually, the singers and musicians rolled up in cabs and walked past us into the theatre for our amusement.
The set was wonderful, as you can see from the photo, though the stage iteself was quite small. I loved the effect they used for the trees--billowing and wispy fabric draped from the ceiling. In one scene the stage was set up as if the entire theatre was inside a large ger. This is hard for me to describe to those of you who haven't been in a ger, but the effect was very well done.
I haven't seen many operas, but I thought the singers were world class. Since this performance kicked off the 2006-07 opera and ballet season it was a unique performance with the four lead parts in each of the four acts being sung by four different actors each time, for a grand total of sixteen opera singers.
After each act they'd close the curtains and the leads would come out, bow and receive flowers. Instead of clapping separately as we do in the States (and as people do elsewhere in the world, i'm sure), we all clapped in unison. This created a warm feeling of community, comradery and deep appreciation for the artists on stage.
Throughout the performance, audience members were talking to each
other, taking calls on their cell phones, taking pictures, etc. Contrary to what one might expect, this really enlivened the whole
experience and wasn't a distraction from the performance itself. I saw
teenagers leaning over the balcony above my head--this was one example
of the wide age range of the audience.
The show lasted about two and a half hours but it seems to fly by as I munched away on my chocolate.
P.S. You can read a little bit more about the classical arts in Mongolia in my UB Post article, "Ensuring the Survival of the Classical Arts." (This wasn't my choice for a title, but, as the French say, c'est la vie.) I interviewed the director of the state theatre for the article and she gave me a free ticket to the show, which is how I was able to attend.