Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Travel Journal: Hongkong, Jan 13, 2010

                                                                                   (Click to enlarge)

I wandered some more around Kowloon sidestreets in and around Nathan Road. Bought a box of Chinese pastries - hopia. As I wound myself back to the ship, I passed through Star City again, almost bought several exquisite Chinese ceramics (pass!) and eventually bought a (chipped) tea cup with a built-in strainer, a blue and white commercial-grade thing. Then, not feeling hungry at all, but being a foodie, I went up to the 4th floor to the Jade Garden restaurant for some dimsum. As I was seated on the linened table, it struck me suddenly: this was the dimsum restaurant that I had visited in 1975 during the Yamaha Festival. It was just down the road from the Sheraton, and they used to have pushcarts before. Now, everything is ordered a la carte. The shrimp siomai. the beef siopao, the shark's fin soup and the long, slender spring rolls were delicious. I went back to the ship, sated and several dollars poorer but richer and happier.

Jade Garden Restaurant
Hongkong Jan 13, 2010

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Star Child

Once upon a time, as a little child slept by an open window, a star exploded in the sky and a splinter of starlight fell and lodged in its tiny heart. The child grew up to be a young man without realizing this extraordinary fact.

     One day, while he was gazing at a sunset, a pain seized him with such force that he thought he was going to die.

 He went to a doctor, who examined him, proclaimed there was nothing wrong with him, and urged him to eat less fatty foods.
     Still, the pain lingered in him, so he consulted a psychiatrist, who put him through analysis, declared him of sound mind, and told him to avoid reading fiction novels.
     When the pain in his heart showed no sign of abating, he went to a priest, who told him that he was forgiven all his sins and that he should say the rosary four times a day for a year.
      He did everything that these wise men advised him to do, but still his heart throbbed with such an inexplicably intense pain that he decided to end his life.

     He climbed up a mountain, intending to throw himself from its peak and end his suffering. 
     There at the summit, he came upon an old man sitting cross-legged upon a rock.

     "Where are you going, young man?" the old man asked him.
     "I am going to throw myself from this mountain to still my heart forever!" the young man cried out in anguish,
     "Before you do that which you feel you must do," the old man said," allow me first to see your hands."
     Reluctantly the young man showed his hands to the old man.
     The old man stared at the palms of the young man's hands, and exclaimed:" You are a star-child!"
     "A star-child?" asked the young man." What is a star-child?"
     "A star-child," said the old man," is a child with a splinter of starlight stuck in its heart. Though you and everybody else cannot see it, it is there as surely as I am sitting   here and speaking to you. When you were but a little child, this splinter lay dormant, reflecting your lack of self-knowledge. Now that you have grown up, and think more for yourself, it glows and refracts the heat of your thoughts and feeling. This is the source of your great pain."
     "But I do not wish to be a star-child if it means that I must constantly suffer from this pain!" the young man cried.
     The old man looked sadly at him.
    "Not everybody can be a star-child, and    the heavens chose you to reflect the beauty of the stars. The pain will always be with you every single day of your life."
     "Sir," the young man sobbed," it is better for me to die than to constantly suffer so. Let the stars reflect their own glory, they are brilliant enough to dazzle any mortal eye."
     "Look at the splinter as a gift," said the old man," and I will give you three things to help alleviate your pain."

     He produced a leather satchel, and took three objects from it: a brush, a pen, and a flute.
   "Take this brush and paint with it. The colors refracted in the prism of the splinter will flow out through it, and your pain will be transformed into a landscape, a still life, and a meditation in colors.
     "Take this pen, and write with it. Give vent to your thoughts. Time and pain will soon mean nothing to you, and there will be less trembling in your heart.
        "Take this flute and play it. Whatever storms are raging in your heart will rush out through your lips into the chamber of this flute and lo! They will pour out as melody and crystalline lines of notes.
     Having said this, the old man closed his eyes and vanished into the forest.
     The young man took the brush, pen and flute, abandoning all thoughts of throwing himself from the mountain.
     He painted, and wrote, and played the flute, and although the pain remained in his heart, these activities gave him a measure of tranquility he would otherwise not have had had he not heeded the advice of the old man.

     Through the years he became renowned as an artist. People flocked to see and buy his paintings.  His books were on the bestseller lists. He played his flute to sold-out audiences in concert halls everywhere.

     As he became more successful, he also became greedier for money and material things. He refused to play for orphans and widows. He gave none of his paintings to charity.
    The royalties from his books went right into his bank account. The love for the tangible rewards of his success soon consumed him entirely and he became a mean, scrooge-like creature. `
     And slowly, imperceptibly, the splinter in his heart stopped glowing.
     One morning he woke up in his mansion to discover that here was no more pain in his heart. The pain that fueled his creativity was no more.

     And because there was no more pain, the colors ceased to flow from his brush.
     Because he had no more thoughts to give vent to, the words ceased to flow from his pen.
     Because no more storms raged in his heart, the music stopped flowing from his flute.
     He felt used up and empty, bereft of that which gave him both a reason to die and a reason to live for.
    Try as he would, he could no longer do anything with passion and intensity.
     He painted, but all he produced was hackwork.
     He wrote, but all he could scribble were inane potboilers.
     He played the flute, but his tones were harsh and strident.
     Critics scoffed at him. His agents dropped him. People refused to buy his paintings, his books, or hear his concerts.
     He became destitute, hounded by creditors.
     In despair, he went up to the mountain--yes, that very same mountain he had climbed up many years ago as a young man. Once more, he was thinking of throwing himself from its peak and end his misery forever.

     There at the summit, he found the same old man sitting cross-legged on a rock.
     "Where are you going, sir?"  The old man asked him.
     "I am going to throw myself off this mountain and thus be rid of my creditors forever," the desperate man replied.
      A knowing look came over the old man's face.
     "There are more lines and wrinkles on your face and the weight of your problems seem to have carved a stoop upon your shoulders, but, yes, I recognize you. You were that young man I counseled many years ago, the one who complained of pain in his heart, the one to whom I gave the brush, the pen and the flute. Yes, it is you, the Star child, and mirror of the stars. What has brought you to this terrible resolution?"
     "I am no longer the star-child!" the artist cried. "The splinter has been plucked from my heart, and I can no longer paint or make music or write at all. I am through!"  

     "Let me hold your hands," the man ordered him.
     The artist held out his hands to the old man. The old man read his palms.
"You are still a star-child," he said," and the splinter is still in your heart, but because you became obsessed with fame and fortune you have become dull and unreflecting as a piece of ordinary rock. Since there is nothing for it to refract--no light, no gleam of honest, pure feeling---the splinter has gone cold; therefore you no longer feel any pain. Is this not what you wanted, in the first place? Not to feel any pain at all?"
     "No!" the artist cried. "Once, I thought it was unbearable, but now I want it back. Without the pain I cannot create. If I cannot create, I am nothing. I might as well be dead."

     The old man reflected for a moment, then said: "If this is what you desire, then this is what you must do. Find a remote spot far from the cities and the eyes of men and there you must stay till the end of your days. There will you paint and write and make music, for I assure you, the pain will return in your heart and you will be able to create again. Take no money from anybody. Assuage the hearts of those who chance upon you; make their lives whole again, for they too are star-children whose hearts have turned to stone from the business of this world."
     With these words, the old man stood up and disappeared into the forest.
     The artist found a remote cave, far from the lures of towns and cities, and there he meditated for a year before taking up the brush, pen and flute again.

    At first he painted, and wrote, and played music for himself and for the birds and beasts of the forest. Soon, however, people learned where he was, and made pilgrimages to his place of abode.
     They marveled at his paintings, they recited his epics, and delighted in his music.
    Their hearts glowed with the colors of his landscapes, their minds soared with the breadth and richness of his prose, and their ears rang with the clarity of his music.
     He made them see again the beauty in their hearts and minds.

     He was grateful that the pain had returned this heart. The splinter of starlight glowed so intensely in him as to suffuse his entire body with an unearthly glow.
    One day, he felt the splinter burn much more intensely.  Tongues of the most exquisite pain projected into every pore of his being.
     He knew then that it was time for him to go.
He packed the three objects so beloved of him, gifts of the mysterious old man, and journeyed to that same mountain where he had first encountered him. He sat on the same rock the old man had sat upon. He reflected on his life, felt the pain surge in breast, and knew his life was coming to an end.
     His reverie was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a disheveled young man with an anguished look on his face.
     "Where are you going young man?" he asked him.
     "I am going to throw myself from this mountain and still my heart forever!"
    The young man's words brought the past rushing back to the old artist with a startling freshness.
Now he knew how he must have looked like to the old man.
     "Before you do that," he said gently," first show me your hands.
     The young man hesitantly opened out his hands to him.

      The dying artist read the lines and whorls on the young man's palms and saw there the movement of distant stars, and read indications of brilliance born of personal suffering.
     "Yes," he told him," you are a star-child, as I am. There is a splinter of starlight lodged in your heart.
     And words that had first been spoken by the old man   many years ago flowed from his lips with the warmth and understanding born of a lifetime of pain, the continuous attempt to ease it, and the final acceptance of it. The young man listened to him, comprehension and peace smoothing out the anguish from his face.
     Finally, he bequeathed to him the three things that had given him so much joy in his lifetime-- the brush, the pen and the flute.
     "Take these, and though the pain will stay in your heart, these are   the instruments   by which you can achieve a measure of peace."
     Having said this, he closed his eyes. The splinter in his heart burned more fiercely   and consumed his earthly body, and the Star Child, now a pulsing mass of incandescent light,  burst into the sky to take his place among the other stars in the firmament.


© Manny Panta1991/2012
This work may not be published  for commercial purposes without the explicit permission of the author. 
(Click below to view the Issuu version of "The Star Child". )

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cartagena, or, The Scent of Memory

JOTA DANCER, CARTAGENA ( copyrightmannypanta@2007)

The scent of bitter almonds beguiled me in Love in the Time of Cholera. The trickle of blood with a mind of its own creeped me out in One Hundred Years of Solitude. The abundant red hair cascading from a nun’s corpse  in a demolished crypt horrified me in  Of Love and Other Demons. Now, my cruise ship  M/V Crown Princess was in Cartagena de los Indias,  Colombia, and I was within a fifteen-minute  taxi drive to the center of this storied, antique colonial city on the  Caribbean coast of  Colombia, setting of many of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novels.  Would actually touching  the walls and  walking the places in which   much of the action in his novels took place confirm to me what  he  wrote about? Would Cartagena prove as  enchanting and magical as it was made out to be in the author’s bewitching prose?
     Not at first. In fact, on this my very first visit to Cartagena, I didn’t venture into the city at all. I stayed in the safe, enclosed cruise terminal grounds.  It was on account of the  Colombian taxi drivers. They had massed outside the closed iron gates, hollering and shouting out for fares among the alarmed  passengers. It was a formidable human gauntlet in which the desperation was so palpable  that anyone could be forgiven for thinking that he or she was being set up for a possible assault. Many passengers chose to stay inside the cruise ship terminal, scared and intimidated.  Inside the gates were souvenir stores, emerald shops, food stalls and security. Colorfully-garbed dancers performed on shady lawns and blue and gold macaws croaked from cages hung from the branches of trees. Hummingbirds as tiny as dragonflies zipped among the flowering bushes.  No need to go out. Outside was bedlam and uncertainty. This was Colombia, where  one can imagine the scent of violence hanging in the tropical air like the whiff of gunpowder. Besides, the weather was terribly muggy and hot. There were passengers and crew who just circulated in this small tourist area. As far as they were concerned, they were in Colombia.
     The next time our ship was in Cartagena, I finally summoned the courage to brave the taxi drivers’ scrum. A heavyset  black woman dressed in a white, official-looking uniform raised her hand to greet me  and asked if I needed a taxi. I said “Si”, trusting her no-nonsense demeanor. She led  me off to a  waiting taxi. Relieved, I sat on the back of the taxi. To my surprise, the same woman opened the front door and sat on the seat beside the taxi driver.
     I asked in Spanish: “Perdon? Are you coming with me?”
     “Oh senor,” she said, “I will be your guide.”
     “But senora,” I protested, “ I don’t need a guide. I just need to go to town.”
     The taxi driver said nothing but looked sheepish. He was in on it.
     “Senor, “ said the woman, “ let me just bring you to a store. The owners are my friends. They’re very nice.”
     I quickly debated with myself whether to go in this taxi with this woman. Once again, I was not sure anymore whether I wanted to visit Cartagena. During this period of time, there had been a lot of kidnapping and murders in Colombia. True, Cartagena, maybe for the reason that it was a major tourist attraction, didn’t suffer any of the violence that beset the rest of Colombia, but I was still wary. I didn’t want to become a statistic in this country’s crime wave.
Sensing that I was going to leave them, the taxi driver  joined in in pleading with me to stay.
“ You will like the store, senor. We will only be there a few minutes.”
I finally relented and agreed to be driven to town. At ten dollars round trip, it was a good deal. In fact, as I was about to learn later, you could hire a taxi for twenty dollars the entire day.
Off we went to the old town.
     The cruise ship port was in a part of Cartagena that was separated from the old city by a body of water spanned by a bridge. An ancient Spanish fort, much like Fort Santiago in Manila, guarded this approach to the city. One of the remarkable things about Cartagena is that the original city walls, having suffered no damage  except from the pirate raids that occurred in the 17th and 18th h centuries and the general depredations of age,  were still intact and encircled the city. Inside, the old colonial buildings also stood whole and restored, a testament to Spanish architectural styles and flair. This was what Manila would have looked like if it had not been destroyed during World War 11 by both the Japanese and the Americans.
     As promised, despite my unwillingness, the taxi deposited me in front of a souvenir store. My two abductors, the taxi driver and the black woman in the official-looking uniform, led me inside  the establishment.  A man and woman in their fifties threw delighted looks at me and cried: “Bienvenido, senor! Welcome!” I was the only person in their large  space that was full of souvenirs of every sort.
A tray with a cup and saucer and a pot of Colombian coffee was produced.
     “Taste our coffee, senor,” said the man. “The best in the world!.”
     I took a sip. The taxi driver  and the woman stood near the doorway, watching this play of potential customer and shopkeeper, perhaps anticipating the commissions they would earn from the activity.
     “May I interest you in some souvenirs, senor?” asked the man.
     “No,” I said, “not really. I was just brought here. I want to see your city.”
     “It’s a beautiful city, senor,” said the man. “Can I interest you in some emeralds?”
     Resigned to the fact that I wasn’t about to see the beautiful city of Cartagena anytime soon, I gave in. I had to admit that I was interested in emeralds. I just didn’t want to be coerced into buying them.
The man led me to a glass case in which emeralds in every sort of setting - rings, brooches, necklaces, bracelets – were displayed. It was dazzling, but I had no interest in buying any of it.
     I dutifully pointed out a ring or a pendant  to please the excited shopgirl who was showing me the gems. I could feel her desperation in the air. No sales, no commissions. No tourists came into the store. The competition must be intense, or else the visitors weren’t buying.
     Finally, I said: “I’m sorry, but I am not interested in buying any jewelry today. Maybe some other time.”
     The shop girl looked crestfallen. The  owner did not give up.
     “How about a little souvenir senor? We have some antiques too.”
     One of the peculiar things about Colombia is that you can buy antique pre-Colombian pottery without any sort of export restrictions by the government. If you are knowledgeable in this branch of antiques and can recognize the fake from the genuine, you can get real bargains in the stores here. I examined a few, and found them too expensive. On hindsight, I should have bought a restored bowl that I fancied, but there was the nagging suspicion that it could be an expensive fake. I'd learned my lesson many years ago when I bought a celadon vase from a reputable dealer from Cebu, only to find out, from an appraiser at the National museum no less, that it was made in Cebu ca 1975!
     Again I firmly said no, and, with disappointment on their face, my store hosts let me go.
To judge from their faces, the driver and my guide were disappointed as well.
     I went outside into the cobblestone streets of Cartagena. It was like old Manila, or what was left of it. The guide followed me from a distance. I ducked into an old church. She ducked inside as well. She was not about to let me go.
     Finally, in frustration, I turned around and declared:
     “ Yo quiero volver al barco. I want to return to the ship.”
     I had only seen the inside of the store, some surface roads of Cartagena, and the dank , gloomy interior of that antique church. I was not about to allow myself to be followed everywhere I went by persons I did not know.
     The taxi driver and the guide brought me back to the ship. I paid them off with the $10 and walked briskly back into the shaded security of the cruise ship terminal.
     Thus went my first incursion into Cartagena.
     Later, I had more satisfying and pleasurable  visits to the city in the company of fellow crewmembers. On these subsequent visits, I was able to visit churches, forts, had lunch in old cloisters, ambled about in the marketplace unmolested by stalkers, and even finally purchased emerald jewelry which Colombia is justly famed for.
     If I were to judge Cartagena solely from that first unfortunate encounter with the taxi driver and the guide, I would not return to Cartagena. But I was able to make several visits afterwards in less stressful circumstances and now I have to say that Cartagena is one of my favorite colonial cities in the world.
     One particular scene remains in my mind that has defined Cartagena for me forever.  Not the churches, forts, old walls or cafes, but a fleeting tableau.
     I was walking around the Plaza de los Coches, the former slave trade market of Cartagena. I was delighted to find a vendor who sold a variety of sweets that reminded me of the Philippines, in particular,  those  balls of sweet shredded coconut we called bocayo. I bought a dozen and as I launched myself into one of those balls (no joke intended!), I saw a  man walk past me carrying a pole from which two  weaver birds’ nests dangled. The scene was so startling, yet so apt for this city, that it has stuck in my mind’s eye in  the dozen or so years that have passed since I saw it.
This hot, steaming city of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Botero  enchanted me with its antique beauty and its tropical phantasmagoria. I hope I can return to spend more time there and read one of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpieces in a cloistered garden there.  And if I cannot, I take comfort in what the author had to say about past experiences:

     “What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.”

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Sermon I'd Deliver If I Was A Priest (and I'm Not)

My dear brothers and sisters,

First of all, an apology.
I'm sorry that I did not download this sermon from the internet, based on the words written by another person whose name I don't know, or can't acknowledge.
I'm sorry that I am not reading from prepared notes, but straight from the heart.
I'm sorry that I have to say I'm sorry for being a Catholic priest in these days and times when being a Catholic priest is synonymous, for some, to being a pedophile.
I'm sorry that some of us have forgotten how to speak to you and look you in the  eye and say: "I believe in Christ and his message, which is, to  do unto others what you would want them to do unto you. Do you?"
I'm sorry for being so arrogant to assume that just because I finished eight years in school and have a Masters of this and a Ph.D in that, that I am already a person with untouchable sacredness and divinity. Heck, I just memorized a lot of stuff and wrote the right words. Anyone can do that.
I'm sorry for having been too obsessed with making money and forgetting that the Christ who forms the core of my religion had nothing.
I'm sorry that I stand here before you, on the pulpit, and all I can tell you are the usual bromides and doctrinal platitudes that have no meaning in your everyday lives.
I'm sorry for assuming that I am entitled to your love and respect just because I am wearing these robes and going through the motions of a ritual set by a committee in the Vatican.
I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
But let me make it up to you.
Let me tell you that we are all travelers. Some say we are traveling to heaven, but let me just say that, together, we are going somewhere. Somebody has designated me the leader of our band here, but to tell you the truth, I am as in the dark as everyone else. But I try. To lead, that is, in words and example.
I am the least of you. I may stand here in all my honorific glory, but I am nothing. I should be nothing. I should be the vessel through which the light of God shines through. If that light doesn't shine through perfectly, if at all, it's because, like you, I'm struggling.
Like you, I am a human being.
Like you, I don't have all the answers.
Like you, I get sick.
Like you, I get happy.
Like you, I get discouraged.
Like you, I feel encouraged.
Like you, I am bombarded by the reality of this world of technology, fast living, pornographic advertisements, 24-hour TV and much else that you've come to expect from this century we live in.
And like you, I will grow old and I will die.
So what is the relevance of the religion I represent to all of you who struggle  in these recession-filled times?
Because Jesus Christ was not part of a religion. He was a vagabond, a hobo, a drifter, a rootless individual whose message remained the same till the established religion of that time crucified him.
"Love one another," he said.
That is all.
Follow that rule, and you, all of us, will be free and at peace.
If you love one another, then probably all the religions will fail, because there will no longer be platforms from which NOT to love one another.
Yes, including mine.
But here I am, and here we are, enclosed by this space of stone and liturgy and sacred smoke. All this must mean something, to you and to me.
And if, at the present moment, you believe that the religion I represent has failed you, once more, I apologize. But you may want to give us another chance.
Perhaps we will become better, in time, in going back to the original message of  the central figure of our faith.
Love one another.
Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.
Try it.
You might just like it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Skagway, Alaska

I was rummaging through stuff I had written and saved away in folders upon nested folders when I came upon a past digital journal dating all the way back to 1992. It had survived transfers from various computers starting with my first computer, a Mac Plus, all the way down to my current Lenovo PC netbook. It awakened memories of a long ago visit to Skagway, not the first, or last, but one of many visits that I made there in the course of my life as a working cruise ship musician. It is nothing, just a quick impression of a single day at the end of a cruising season. Reading the words I'd written a long time ago brought back the wind, the chill, and the beauty of that long ago late-summer day in Skagway, Alaska. It was a simpler place then. At least that's what it seemed to me. Still, it is a beautiful place, the gateway to the Yukon and all that. And, in winter, it would probably be still a hard place to live in.


 September 2, 1992
 Skagway, Alaska

A strong, cold wind blew through Skagway today with a relentless, unyielding fury. The high  mountains on either side of the narrow effluvial valley created by the glacier-fed  Skagway river forms a natural tunnel    through which  the wind roars either from the sea or from the mountain passes in the Yukon. The cold is biting  and fierce. With    climatic conditions like this  in summer, one can only guess at the ferocity of winters here. No wonder the whole shopping district, if not all of Skagway boards up in the winter months.
The coho are still thrashing about in the narrow creek that rushes   through town, but you know their time is up  by the number of  dead fish floating in the water. The last straggling salmon bear indications of their  terrific   struggle  to make it back to this their stream of birth, the scene of their last instinctive act of creation followed by  their inevitable demise. White patches show   where the skin had been torn from their gray bodies by dint of their upward struggle against the fierce currents  and the rocks. Nature has an inexorable force, a call that cannot be   denied.                           
        I picked up a piece of driftwood--actually  part of the bleached root of some pine or cotton tree. It  was sticking out from the garbage bin on the boardwalk leading to   where the ship was docked. Its gnarled , tortured form showed   promise of visual drama when set against  a black background. It ended up taped onto the wall of the cabin. I am attracted to things like these derelict pieces that have been coughed up by the sea and polished to a silvery shine by the    sun.  Driftwood tell a tale of  a journey--from its being a part of a living organism to its severance from the sustaining soil to  its  subsequent   subjection to the  vagaries of wind and water.  I think that most people are like driftwood,  allowing themselves to be manipulated by the motion of their hearts or whims, unable to stick to a single place or a   specific pursuit. They  must constantly  live a life that is filled with illusions and dreams . This is the reason for their existence, that , though harassed by the vicissitudes of life , they can somehow reach a  point in their restless existence, where they can say:  "There, didn't I shine? Didn't I make my point? Wasn't I free?"

      I visited a secondhand shop in this wee town, probably the only one that it really needed. It is manned by a  cheerful blonde named Kim. Her free coffee is quite popular. In this shop of curiosities, one can find quaint treasures. It provides a window into the kind  of material possessions that  vaguely defines the tastes   of  the  people of this town. I should hasten to add, though, that  the contents of this shop could as well  indicate which  objects they would more readily part with than most.
       There are the usual  items , of course, the  plastic and plaster  junk  that have been manufactured in some  anonymous factory in Asia. A sampling of the kitsch on display here  include a plastic Mickey Mouse  with a coin slot on its back, knock-offs of Dresden china, glass candleholders, flower vases, an antique Royal portable typewriter, certain  souvenirs of the tourist trade (like the ersatz porcelain bald eagle and a copper medallion embossed with the likeness of the main drag of Skagway) that assume a certain air of importance in this drab assemblage of hand-me-aways.
       There are bamboo baskets  and posters, cutlery and kitchen aids (a large food processor with its plastic cover askew sat  like a forlorn lady  wearing her hat  tipped to hide a face that has seen better days), and an entire black and white   photo kit, complete with an enlarger. It had  been languishing in this shop since last summer, undesired and unwanted.
     I succumbed to the charm of four   tiny creamy-white tea-cups (made in China, of course) and bought them for a dollar a piece, including the  saucers.I know I will consign them in some spring cleaning future either to  the  garbage can or the Salvation Army, but they  do  look  charming and considerably more elegant than the rest of their brethren. Besides, they hardly cost anything at all.      

      Now, about those rhodonite slabs cut from  the Yukon......

     "So I guess you guys are winding down, huh," Kim  says, more in observation than in inquiry.

      "Yes," I replied, "three more weeks and we're back in Mexico."

       I sensed a tone of reget in Kim's voice. Was that  a shadow of sadness that momentarily passed over her face? She will probably miss her visitors  from the ships (as will  the other merchants of Skagway, I suppose). I have found her place comforting in its disarray, its free coffee welcoming in its warmth, Kim's cheerfulness somehow remaining intact despite the unconsummated purchases. Last year, the White Pass train mowed part of her house down (her house is right beside the railroad tracks). This year, I saw again her house. It had been repaired  and refurbished, red trims painted on  its four corners.                        
     I won't ever live in Skagway ( many dreams die in the blast of  its infernal arctic wind) but when I think of a lady like Kim, whose smile seems to defy the forbidding weather here,  I marvel at the resilience of the human spirit and the adaptability of man or woman to any kind of climate or terrain. I think the world of Kim and the rest of the 715 year-round citizens of Skagway for whom this piece of America is, if not paradise, HOME SWEET HOME.