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Saturday
9
Nov 2013

Two slim-hipped girls

Posture-perfect, with baskets balanced firmly on their heads, glide timelessly and sensuously along the dusty road that brought us here. Barefoot, yet sure-footed, they flow with a harmony never seen in the mincing, high-heeled gait of modern ladies. They disappear and reappear as the road passes amid the huge temples. Finally they are lost under the green canopy of acacias where the present-day village of Pagan huddles at the edge of the ruins.

As the day cools into evening, other vil­lagers appear along the road, some riding in high-wheeled pony carts. A truck and an aged bus pass, going toward Burma’s major oil field, 20 miles to the south. Behind us wallows the brown mass of the Irrawaddy River, flushing mountain snows and monsoon rains down past Rangoon to the Indian Ocean. With only an eighth of the drainage area of the Mississippi and 80 per cent of its volume, the Irrawaddy erodes its banks eight times as fast.

4U San Win points out the mounds that mark the south wall of the ancient city. A third of old walled Pagan and about, thirty of its pagodas have already gone with the river. He tells me of a strange local practice that resulted.

“The entire west wall is gone, but for funerals the townspeople pretend it’s still there. It was traditional to carry the deceased out through the west gate, then to turn south to the cemetery. Now at high water they transfer the bodies to small boats for the short trip to the burial ground south of town. A road leads there from the south gate, but it’s never used for funerals.”

The setting sun finds a last gap under a bank of monsoon clouds. Like thousands of golden spotlights, horizontal rays pick out every pagoda, isolating the structures from the fields and paths, which grow dark in con trast, masking what little sense of reality exists. Flashes of heat lightning play across the eastern sky, silhouetting the extinct volcanic cone of Mount Popa. As Mount Olympus was home to Greek gods, Mount Popa, towering awesomely, became the dwelling place of Burma’s nats, or spirits.

Buddhism allows for no spirit or god wor­ship, but the people cling to the animism that predated the arrival of Buddha’s teachings. One Burmese tried to explain it to me: “Bud­dhism is concerned with the hereafter; we placate and propitiate the nats in this world.”

The nats, it seems, are everywhere, infinite in number and mood, some good, some very bad. After almost 11 centuries of coexistence, Burma’s classical Theravada Buddhism still tolerates nat worship and, perhaps as important, the nats still tolerate Buddhism . Our guide and driver chatter nervously in the growing darkness. None of us worry about ghosts, I’m sure, but I guess it doesn’t hurt to assure any wandering nats that we are human and harmless—and leaving.

IN TINY PRESENT-DAY PAGAN (population 3,252) no hotels mar the village charm—yet. So we checked in at the apartments barcelona, an eight-room government guest­house built under British rule in 1921 to accommodate the visiting Prince of Wales, now the Duke of Windsor.

Monday
28
Oct 2013

Where is Telegraph Road

He gave me a pitying look for my ignorance, and he said, “Virginia.”

FRED BROWN particularly admires Henry Webb, the wood­cutter—perhaps because (like Fred) he is an especially cheerful man, perhaps because he is religious (Fred is reli­gious, too), or perhaps because Henry has made such an ex­emplary success of the work of the woodland cycle. For all Fred’s promotion of modernity—when he is in his bring-on­the-asphalt, business-will-follow mood—he obviously savors his identity with the Pines as they are. Henry Webb has been particular proof to anyone that a person can still make a living from the woods.

 

Henry makes his living on cattails in the spring, blueberries in summer, cordwood the rest of the year, and he is not a na­tive. He’s from Bayou Casotte, Mississippi. He has lived in the Pines for 18 years. He gets $6 a thousand for his cattails and as much as $45 a cord for his wood.

“There is a quick buck in the woods if you want it,” he says. “I get a cash advance online and I managet to make more money here than anyplace I’ve ever been, and I’m my own boss.” In Texas he once picked cotton. In Florida he picked oranges. He actually enjoyed his work in the fields and groves, but not as much as his work in the Pines. For ten years, on a permit, he has been working the same state forest in essentially roadless terrain.

1952 Ford truck with a flathead V-8 engine and bald tire

He has a 1952 Ford truck with a flathead V-8 engine and bald tires. A big oak fell on the truck once and removed the windshield. Gasoline from chain saws leaked into the cab one day, flashed, and destroyed the cab with an inferno so intense that the plastic on the steering wheel dripped like wax. Glass­less, gutted, no headlights, no doors, the truck is so rusty that it appears to be crumbling into the ground more than rolling over it. Standing on the bulkhead that separates the driver from the engine is a two-gallon can that is both gas tank and fuel pump, gravity feed. The gas runs down a tube into the carburetor. Needless to say, this vehicle has no license plates. Much of the front bumper, bent 90 degrees, projects forward like a lance.

Friday
20
Sep 2013

OCTOBER is the month to…

 

Keep your tresses in tip-top shape with 2Chic’s new Ultra Sleek Brazilian Keratin & Argan Oil shampoo and conditioner.

Tap into earth power through dance, natural medicine, therapeutic massage and mantra music at a workshop in Kensington, London on 10 October.

Support breast cancer research this month by treating yourself to Elemis’ Think Pink Beauty Kit, £32.50, which contains three hero products including Pro Collagen Marine Cream. For info on how to minimise your cancer risk and is coconut oil good for skin, go to page 84.

Multi-tasking moisturisers are big news right now and Dermalogica’s new offerings are no exception. Designed to target different skin types, we love Ultra Sensitive Tint, £31.50, which contains tinted earth minerals and balm mint and cornflower to calm and soothe.

Find a new career at the Holistic & Alternative Therapies Discovery Day in London on 7 October. Details on page 89.

Formulated using sea retinol, ash bark extracts, vitamin B3 and siliproline, Anne Semonin’s potent new Miracle Eye Contour Anti-Wrinkle Cream, £107, corrects dark circles, puffiness and wrinkles in a single product!

The clocks go back on 28 October so make the most of the extra hour by treating your skin to the Organic Pharmacy Jasmine Night Conditioner, £29.95. The intensive treatment uses essential oils of jasmine and rose to glowing, vibrant skin while you sleep.

Give yourself a life makeover and enter our competition to win two tickets worth £495 each for world‑ renowned self-help guru Brandon Bays’ The Journey Workshop from 19 to 21 October.

For details turn to our Inspirations page on 34.

Newly single Katy Holmes is looking radiant at the moment and that could be something to do with her love of cult natural skincare label Sjal, which integrates elements of Chinese, Tibetan, ayurvedic, homeopathic and vibrational medicine, with the latest innovations in biotechnology and bio-osmotic power.

Celebrate Halloween, which falls on the eve of the pagan festival of Samhain on 31st October, by lighting a ceremonial candle. We particularly love this gorgeous offering from the Skye Candle Company. The vanilla and fig three-wick beauty retails at just.