Owls in Cages
The Songwriter was asleep, exhausted from our explorations around the old city. For hours we had wandered through the white castle on the hill and tiptoed around the ornate cathedral where the skeleton of ancient Abbott Konrad looked down upon us from his eternal cage high above the altar. Dusk had found us, dressed like peacocks, perched on tiny gold chairs in a grand room at Mirabell Palace as we listened to a string quartet play enchanting notes composed centuries ago by the city’s favourite son, and now it was past time for bed. Too tired to sleep, I had opted for a hot bath and was preparing to dry my hair as I reached for my little travel dryer. I checked to see I had the correct plug and confidently put it into the slot in the wall. There was a pop, a sizzle, and the whole world went dark. The atmospheric old house in which we were staying only had a few rooms and I heard no screams or curses rise up from my error. I did hear, however, the footsteps of our elderly innkeeper as she raced up the stairs and down the wooden floors to my door. I threw it open just as she approached and we stared at one another in frustration, yards of unknown language like a rippling moat between us. She looked at my wet hair, the pitiful little blue hair dryer hanging limp in my hand with its offending cord dangling past my knees.
“Kaput!?”, she said.
“Kaput.”, I sadly replied.
Sometimes it is possible to breach great chasms with just one word.
It’s my belief that every person should have the opportunity to travel outside of their own country, preferably while still young - before ideas are solidified, before patriotism veers into jingoism. To stand on a foreign street, barred from any meaningful communication by lack of common language and custom, bequeaths a knowledge no textbook can manage. There is a certain alienation inherent in each of us. We are born alone and we die the same. Alienation exists between countries, between religions, between members of the same family. It’s therefore no surprise that we tend to group together with those most like us. These mirror circles make us comfortable, and the desire for comfort grows alongside the harshness of our world. But if we never pierce the boundaries of those circles, never reach across to touch unfamiliar hands or look into eyes of a different colour, then the alienation we feel only becomes more profound. Comfort becomes ignorance, ignorance becomes fear. Soon even curiousity is suspect as the tendency to demonize what we don’t understand manifests itself ever stronger.
In the extraordinary new book, A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, writer Suzanne Joinson explores the theme of alienation both as it exists today, as well as early in the last century. In the story, one of the characters inherits an owl. Sitting silent and still, it peers from the bars of its cage - the most exquisite portrait of an unknowable world, providing the backdrop for the characters' often maladroit efforts to connect. The book shows us both the difficulty and the rewards of human connection as we realize anew that it is often not easy to do. But connect we must, lest we find ourselves in a cage of our own, one no less restrictive for being fashioned by our own hand.
It was a lucky synchronicity that I read this particular book this particular week. Though I’m not necessarily a sports fan of any great measure, it has been impossible for the Olympics to remain outside the realm of my notice. I have marveled at the dedication, the prowess, the sheer beauty of the many young people competing and have been grateful for this great biennial gathering of so many countries and cultures. The games are such a positive connection for us all in this small yet polarized world and, although highly controlled and somewhat orchestrated, they provide a valuable window into other cultures, other lands.
Read more about it HERE.