Memphis, Day One

Hi friends and family,

I know this is the only time you hear from us, but you've probably come to expect that by now.

Arrived in Memphis and went straight to Blues City Cafe on Beale Street to meet and party with the Missing Peace group here, mostly friends of Darlene Markovich who have helped put together this Memphis event with the Dalai Lama. The Missing Peace is branching into music and concerts. Ate some of the famous Memphis barbecue ribs (I'm afraid probably the only food they are famous for). However, they were quite good. Listened to a local band with a singer channeling Johnny Cash.

One of Darlene's friends, Krysia Swift, had put together a very packed schedule of events for our short stay in Memphis. Got a bright and early start the next morning (Tuesday, September 22) for Graceland, a place I never expected to see in this life. The surprise is that it is so un-grand. It looks like a 'fifties or 'sixties suburban house on a larger than average lot with larger and more than the usual number of chandeliers crowding the modest-sized rooms. There are some unexpected touches, olive green shag carpets and very heavy carved furniture from a tiki lounge in the rec room - Elvis didn't drink mai-tai's or any type of alcohol -- not his drug of choice, but he did love Hawaii; a rather creepy, but weirdly compelling white porcelain monkey in the 3-screen tv room. Also, perhaps part of the time warp, but the management had neglected to update to our current President of the USA and there was George W with his What, Me Worry? grin on the wall. The horror, but he kind of fit in.

It was a lot of fun to explore this place with a group of like-minded people, including Loten Namling, a Tibetan musician, who has lived in Switzerland for 20 years and has dreamed of coming to Memphis, the home of the blues. Loten plays and performs a Tibetan blues and has a beautifully Buddha-like photogenic face. We got a number of photos of Loten, meditating at Elvis's grave, posing in front of Elvis's hundreds of gold and platinum records, hamming it up in Graceland.

Later that day we met a woman who had grown up in Memphis. She said Elvis was so generous that it is unusual to meet a Memphisite who hadn't either personally benefitted from Elvis's generosity or hadn't known a relative or close friend who had. She is also a practicing Buddhist, but had a father who was a secret KKK member. She never found out about it - altho according to her she had a distraught and scary childhood - until he was actually on his death bed. It sounded so stereotypically Southern to me, with the deep, deep secrets and dark mysteries, though, of course, we have plenty of that in other parts of the country also.

Camera man with a great smile, taking pictures of all the tourists.

Just about Elvis'ed out.

We came back from Graceland, Elvis'ed out. Most of us couldn't complete all the attractions. We noticed a small group of excited people milling around the Peabody hotel lobby. The Dalai Lama was maybe going to be arriving and was maybe going to be passing thru the lobby. Soon, all traces of fatigue shed, we had our white silk scarves and were waiting with the rest of the growing crowd. As time got closer, more and more security and hotel personnel arrived. We wondered if we would even catch a glimpse of His Holiness.

No, this is not the Dalai Lama. This is Era with Khenpo Gawang Rinpoche who has a meditation center in Tennessee.

This is Don's description of what happened:

I, a skeptical sort, had a camera in one hand when the Dalai Lama (and security) worked their way along the well wishers and strolled to where Era and I were standing. As I might  expect, he passed me up and reaching out, tenderly and deliberately touched Era, her scarf (which she held reverently in her hands) and said a few words; then, rather surprisingly, he backtracked to me and reached out and held my hand; then looked me in the eye, said a short blessing (or something kindly) before moving on - I raised my camera to get a shot, but the security was so close by and so dense that a good photo was near impossible  - My attention went to the tingling in the hand that had been touched - because the small initial - almost unnoticeable tingle seemed to travel up my arm. Taken aback, I started paying attention to the tingle phenomena which went full strength to my chest before running up to my head and simultaneously  down my legs and out my feet. - Odd - I was wearing rubber soles.  Needless to say I had a dumb grin on - shock and awe.

Yes, the Dalai Lama actually touched and blessed us. I'm afraid I was so totally spaced out that I couldn't tell if my body was tingling or not. I wasn't anywhere near my body. Unfortunately, we were not in a state to take good photos. In fact, I didn't take any photos at all. This is the best one Don managed to snap that day. However, we have a lot more photos of the Dalai Lama in the next email.

That evening we all went to a special showing of Kundun on the big screen. Our friend Loten and a Tibetan flautist, Nawang Kechog performed also. I held Nawang's mike as there was no stand available. We had only seen Kundun on a small screen previously. The program was very beautiful and moving.

More later. Much love,

Era and Don