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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

Our work for the year over, it was time for the annual New Year's Party. For the Russians, New Year is bigger than Christmas, so we celebrated with good food, with song and dance. So we rounded up the usual suspects.
Our resident Hungarian gyspsy violinist AnuKrishna found her fiddle and gave us some Brahms, a bit of Hungarian Rhapsody, and a song composed by the King of Thailand in the best style of Django Reinhardt and Stefan Grappelli...

With Atmarama on guitar doing his best Django Reinhardt impression....
We relaxed on the veranda to the musical stylings as the children played.
Soon I was pressed into service with my Ukulele. Let's get this party started.

With mridanga drums, guitar, gypsy violin, and ukulele we began to rock the beat.
Pretty soon we got the people dancing.
And so, we brought in the New Year with joy and dance, and left 2014 for the history books. Happy New Year everyone. Hope 2015 is a good one. That's all for now. Mahayogi.

Planning the Attack

As the project begins to take shape we have endless meetings about scripts, locations, and how to get there. We decided to take a break from all the work.

A charming Thai restaurant amid the banyan trees was just the ticket.

The comforting warmth of a cup of green tea...

A rustic garden...

Fresh organic food prepared by expert chefs...

And we were ready to go over the maps again and plan our attack. I'm not sitting at the table, but you can see my hat. 


San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

In my travels throughout Mexico and Guatemala, I have been witness to the miracles of stone that were the pyramids of the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations. All of Meso-America,the area once inhabited by Mayans and Aztecs, is an archeological zone. Dig anywhere and  you will find artefacts of the lost civilizations that once dominated the North American continent. Close to my home in San Miguel, for example is the pyramid of La Cañada de la Virgen.
La Cañada de la Virgen

This small pyramid was recently discovered about 15 years ago. A German couple bought a sizeable piece of land in the desert surrounding San Miguel. They noticed some mounds on the property and did a bit of excavation. What they found astounded them. They brought their findings to the attention of the Mexican government, who expropriated the land as a National Treasure. The litigation went on for some time.  After 4 or 5 years of archeological excavations they cleaned up the site, did a bit of restoration and opened the La Cañada pyramid for tourism. 
It was built somewhere before the 10th century, maybe as early as 500 B.C. It was abandoned somewhere in the 11th Century. Carbon dating was used on the burial grounds where human remains where interred, so these dates are pretty accurate. Of course, Mexican pyramids are nothing new. The biggest is probably in Teotihuacan.
Pyramid of the Sun, Teotihuacan, Mexico
And there are many such examples throughout the region. They all share certain characteristics: They were built between the 8th and 14th Centuries, were used for astronomical observations, were involved in the worship of the Sun, share a certain architecture nomenclature, and were used in religious ceremonies and rituals. One of the prominent themes in the stone carvings is that of the serpent, the snake, and the plumed serpent, or snake-bird Quetzalcoatl.  The archeology of ancient Mexico is well understood and documented along rigorous 21st Century academic lines. Now let´s look at Angkor.

Cambodian Pyramid at Koh Ker, 62 km NE of Angkor
The pyramids of Angkor were built between the 9th and 11th centuries, were used as observatories to calculate the positions of the stars, and follow a very similar architectural nomenclature. This is a stepped pyramid, similar to the ones found in Mexico.
Mexican Pyramid

  If you look at these photos in an album of pyramid photos, it is practically impossible to tell them apart. Not only do they share architectural characteristics and functions, the statuary of the Khmer pyramids also use the motifs of snake-birds and serpents. The Khmer carvings ha, ve a far more sophisticated mythology: The snakes are Nagas, and their cousin the Man-bird is Garuda, following the legends of the ancient Indian Puranas. But the parallels are obvious.
Koh Ker, Cambodia

Koh Ker, another view

Pyramids at Palenque, Mexico
Curiously, while the pyramids of the Khmer Empire date back over a thousand years, the archeological studies done there are not up to the standard set in the investigations of Mexican ruins. This is because, while American and Mexican archeologists and their students have done exhaustive work at the known sites for more than a century, conflict, colonialism, and war have retarded similar efforts in Cambodia. Here's a very scholarly view of how these civilizations could have been related.

The natural question raised by anyone who has seen both the pyramids in Mexico and the pyramids in Cambodia is, "How are they related?" This is one of the questions our trip means to probe.
What are the parallels between these ancient civilizations? If any communication took place between these ancient peoples, then what was the nature of their cultural diffusion and integration. These are some of the ideas I'm interested in exploring in our adventure to Angkor. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Wild Ride

Well, folks, it's been a wild ride. I'm still in Thailand trying to put together the movie. Yesterday we met with film crew members, camera-men, director of cinematography, and story-board artist. Together we rewrote the script a few times and then tore everything up and decided to use the script we have. I took notes feverishly, jumped into the argument a few times and then stood back while everyone went on in Russian. It was a far cry from the peace and quiet of the meditative atmosphere in the ashrama, but the give and take was a sincere exchange of ideas.

In "The Devil's Guide to Hollywood, Screenwriter as God,"  Jose Esterhaz of Fatal Attraction fame says that the first rule in Hollywood is, "No one reads the script." I can see the meaning of his advice. It's not as easy as it seems.

After continuously talking about writing for the last 3 days, I'm trying to get down to business and come up with a new revised edition of the script. I have someone who assured me that they will read it. I'm crossing my fingers.

Meanwhile the Russians are gearing up for their annual New Year's Party. It seems in Russia, New Year is bigger than Christmas. We had a preliminary celebration with the members of the FullDome crew. Here's a photo.

Happy New Year from FullDome
It's difficult being away from family for such a long time. I miss my wife and wish she could be here. So if you're reading this, Aurora, Happy New Year to you. I love you, Mike.
With my Sweety
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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Markets and Street Joy

It was time for a visit with famous film director S. Sundar. He had some good ideas about the story we're trying to do. He showed me some of his editing equipment and let me see the film he's working on.
It's a pretty high-tech setup with 3 giant high-definition screens for video viewing and editing. We were meeting to finalize details on the shooting scipt and some last minute changes.

That's Mr. Sundar behind me. He's a very talented director, cinematographer and master camera-man who may help us with our little project.
We had a long and stormy story conference with lots of passion and black tea. Then it was time for the online radio talk.
After solving a number of world crises, I was just as tired as Milo the temple dog. It was time for a siesta.

Milo the temple dog.
In the afternoon, I felt like a little tourism. Sometimes I need to get out and see a bit of Thailand just to make sure I'm not still in Mexico. So we loaded up the hero wagon and went to the Sunday market for souvenirs. Last year we did the Hari nam Nagar street joy party here. Here's a few photos.

Here we are dancing and chanting in the streets, just like in the good old days in Los Angeles back in the 1970s before it all got too crazy.
Here we are celebrating our faith in downtown Chiang Mai at the Sunday Market. This is last December, before military law was declared.

Military law put an end to our weekly street-joy parade. People protested...
But in the end, might made right and the military won out.
Today, the street market is still colorful, and a great place for tourist bargains. One can find most anything, from hand-crafted brassware...
Brassware at the Sunday Street market
 To colorful fun to wear plastic sandals.
Cheap footware of all shapes and sizes
 Or fine, decorative tea-sets, cups, bowls, and plates.
Painted ceramics
 Or weird street food. I have no idea what this woman is preparing. It had a pungent, garlic smell, and seemed popular to the locals, but looked like a one-way ticket to the food-poisoning ward at the local hospital.
Weird street food
 Here's a dancer. Most of the dancers in the group were about 12 or 14 years old. I think the middle schools were competing. A judges booth was set up in front and took notes as they performed traditional Thai dances.
Dancer performing at street fair
 The dances celebrated the king and his overall wonderfullness.
Patriotic Street fair, honoring the King
 More street food, These are giant crepes, created on the spot by expert gastronomic masters and served to the hungry masses. This looks really good.
Making Thai Crepes
 In addition to street food, there's fine silver in all sizes and shapes, earrings, necklaces, chains, wrist bangles. Everything you need to shine.
Silver Jewelry
Postcards, old photos, lithographs, and other collectors items.

You can find all the colorful bags you want...

And street musicians performing traditional Thai music.

Thai women in traditional costumes promoting tourism....But I was fascinated with the girls making crepes. How do they do it?

More Dancers

But without the Harinam street joy, the market seemed as empty as this Chinese Restaurant. I missed the happy days before martial law when we would fill the streets with joy and the sounds of the drum.