3 AUSTRIA, PART THREE:
Saturday May 8 in the late morning I hop on the train through the Alps (gorgeous!) and start to write…
Greeted at the Graz station (where they have the COOLEST painted ceiling, with swirly grey globuley-shapes against a radiant red background) by my beloved laughter sister Elfi Seher. She speaks 15% English, I speak 5 % German; together we speak 89.93% Gibberish. Fluent enough! When we realize we are not understanding each other, we laugh. (This means we laugh pretty often.)
As usual, Elfi insists that I sleep in her bedroom; she will be in the Living Room (with her dear old cat). Not much has changed since I was here a year ago; we go on the Internet and I show her the “How to Use the Laughter Exercise Cards” video which has an extended scene which was shot in that very room. Elfi is a student of the teachings of Osho – quotes from this Tantric sage (in German, of course) adorn her bathroom. She has a pal, Sabine, who is heavy into drumming and trance-dancing. They are experimenting with combining Shamanic drumming with abundant Laughter Yoga – for Efli, this represents a dream-come-true. For me, it’s a case of “Whenever you offer a workshop, let me know – I want to attend!”
We connect with our cohorts Aron (LY Teacher) and Brigit on Elfi’s phone –they call cellphones “Handy” phones here. Aron and Brigita are excellent English speakers, and their presence makes chatting with Elfi much more enriching for all of us. Elfi and I meet up with Aron and his new girlfriend Marta (who is Hungarian – almost no English) and we go to a hillside castle grounds where we do some filming of my “Elmo” toy against macabre and scenic backgrounds. We dine al fresco at a semi-restaurant/winery known as a “Bohsenshenk.”
? Whenever I mispronounce this word, even slightly: women invariably laugh with mild embarrassment and try to correct my pronunciation, and they put their cupped hands under their breasts and lift them up and down a few times. Perhaps I am accidentally saying the word for “Support Bra?” Or “Jiggling?” (This is the kind of experience you can only have while traveling to foreign lands. Yay!) :-]
Over dinner we have some remarkably profound talks about Laughter, Spirituality, Transformation of Consciousness, Getting Out of Your Mind… not bad, considering there is a whole lot of cross-translating going on. Also some serious Q’s and A’s about putting on more-effective All-Gibberish events. The entire atmosphere is one of great generosity and compassion, intellectual respect and accepting of differing views. Yumm! Marta (Aron’s ladyfriend) seems to be getting seriously attached to my Elmo puppet, treating the little critter like a baby. Beware of attachment, dear Marta; I can’t let this Elmo go until at least Paris (2 more weeks)!
Sunday 10 May – is also celebrated here as “Mother’s Day!” Lots of shops are closed, but Elfi, Sabine and I go to downtown Graz and do some more filming of Elmo. There’s a giant swing (an old stuffed couch suspended on huge ropes, facing an ancient church) on which Elmo gets a ride in the arms of a young girl; a confused little boy plays Elmo-catch with me a few times in the great central courtyard, surrounded by imposing statuary (and disinterested pigeons). The boy was clearly displeased when I insisted on having my puppet back.
Elfi and Sabine and I share lunch at a restaurant (which dated back over 500 years) and this allowed me the joy of experiencing an authentic ‘Frankfurter with mustard and (warm) sauerkraut’ - plus cheese Strudel for dessert! The tastes were subtler than in the USA (the sauerkraut unbelievably mellow – enough to eat it by the spoonful) and the ambience made it an entirely unique experience. I mean, if you can find a restaurant in California that has cuisine from 1485, what are they likely to serve: corn and beans, maybe some stewed buffalo meat? It’s just not the same as chowing down on anything with the suffix ” -wurst” in a land where the local shops proudly announce the availability of “Schmuck” and ”Spargel” (that’s “jewelry’ and “asparagus,” respectively).
Here I also discover that a modest “lunch for three” can easily cost US$75 or more. Welcome to Europe! My second thoughts about giving the Kiwanis quite so much (from the “Pas-the-Hat proceeds a few nights earlier) are fleeting and soon replaced with gratitude for the kindnesses I have been shown, which are beyond priceless.
At 5pm Elfi, Sabine and I head for the hills. About 10 miles outside of town we meet with 6 others including the beautiful Brigita; Elfi is putting on a “Lehrpfad des Lachelns” (“Learning-Path of Laughter”). This is a combination of nature-walk in the woods, shamanic awareness, connecting with tree-spirits… and Laughter Yoga! A brilliant idea (another of Elfi’s “Dreams-Come-True”). We went to a dozen “stations,” at each of which was an activity: showering in the energy between a cluster of tall trees, taking time to appreciate the etchings in a tree’s bark, claiming a level spot for a half-dozen Laughter Exercises… This was tons of fun, and when (after 5 minutes of Laughter Meditation) we were absolutely silent for 5 minutes, the reverse-energy from the trees, sky, earth and birds was absolutely humbling. Laughing in the woods is a wonderful, touching practice. Nature doesn’t complain about decibel-levels, She just says “Bring it on, Joy is welcome here!” We conclude by holding hands in a large circle, and several times laughing our arms up to the heavens and then laughing down, very intentionally ‘sending’ our Laughter energy into the Earth. IMHO: the Earth really appreciated our contribution.
I am sure this kind of Laughter-in-Nature activity will be popular in the USA too. In a sense, this is what we do in Laguna Beach every day. And, it was extra-special, in the woods with a very conscious and deliberate connection with the spirit of the Earth… and we can thank Elfi Seher for her manifesting it so clearly.