October 2011

Early in the month I paid my first visit to Morocco in 38 years. Spanish friends & I took the ferry from Algeciras to Tangier, then drove south to spend the night in the charming blue hill town of Chefchaouen, founded in 1471 by Muslim refugees from Spain. It became a haven for Moriscos and Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 after Queen Isabella completed the Reconquista, became part of Spanish Morocco in 1920, and was only reunited with the Kingdom of Morocco in 1956:


On our way back to the ferry the next day we took a detour through scenic cork oak forests to the hilltop shrine of Sufi saint Moulay Abdesalaam:


The devotees of the saint, whose tomb commands a panoramic view of its surrounding for miles in all directions, welcomed us warmly, and offered dua (supplication) on our behalf. Alhamdulillah!

On the boat back, as I watched Europe approach and Africa recede, I recollected a proverb:

Caminante no hay camino sino estelas en el mar.
Wanderer, there is no road, only traces in the sea.
From Spain to France, and a road trip from Guéthary to Albi via the Cathar country. When the Cathars, a sect of Christians whose beliefs did not jibe with those of the Catholic Church of the day, refused to comply with papal edicts, Pope Innocent III (ironic name!) ordered them subdued via what became known as the Albigensian Crusade. The crusader army that conquered the city of Béziers slaughtered the entire population of the city, Catholics and Cathars alike; when an aide objected, the commander is said to have replied, “Kill them all; God will know his own.”

The “heresy” for which Catharism was suppressed was fundamentally Gnostic:


The Cathars, it should be noted, did not term themselves “Cathars” – some claim that the term was first applied to them by one Abbot Eckbert, apparently based on the madcap idea that they, like other heretics, performed obscene acts with cats:


Medieval Catholics tended to conflate heretical views with vice involving felines. One wonders what they would have to say about cat-assisted yoga:


And since the Vatican’s Exorcist avers that yoga is the work of the devil:


We must logically consider the possibility that the Cathars were actually practitioners of yoga-with-cats. Sacré bleu!

In any event, some of the remaining Cathar castles are truly magnificent:


Notable book of the month: The World Without Us, Alan Weisman’s collected essays on how long it would take the world to regain its ecological equilibrium were humans to suddenly vanish from the planet.

The month’s noteworthy film: The Green Beautiful, a French “awakening” movie about anthropomorphic aliens who periodically visit Earth to try to rouse us out of our collective lunacy (I viewed it on YouTube)

I spent the second half of October in Berkeley, enjoying the Nata Yoga course taught by Zhander Remete and Emma Balnaves in their usual masterful fashion. Should you ever get a chance to try out some Shadow Yoga, don’t pass it up – and don’t worry, all demons have been eradicated from it!