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Small Journeys: Reflections while traveling in central Kentucky – Part 5 out of 5

September 3, 2009 by · No comments

Roger Conner Jr


It was nearing nightfall in Lexington and I had one last destination to make, an appointment that I had promised myself to keep. I needed to hear the voice of living culture.

With the help of the navigation system and internet on my I-phone I eventually found my way to Natasha’s Bistro & Bar on 112 Esplanade in Downtown Lexington, KY. An eclectic Bistro across the street from the reopened Kentucky Theatre, the area is a lively artsy little square, and the Bistro is friendly, engaging and…here’s that word again, charming (sorry, I could think of no other accurate adjective).

It was my second night in a row here. I had miscounted the date of the event I wanted to attend the prior night and came one day early. With my weak sense of navigation, it had been as difficult to find the second night as the first.

On the prior night I had enjoyed a meal of a salad, very good Hungarian Goulash with a dessert of Baklava, delicious, the honey in plentiful supply, and the “daily red wine”. The wine was extraordinary, with a bouquet that was almost floral, uncannily good with this meal.

I was stunned to get almost as lucky the second night straight at Natasha’s as again the wine was excellent (again I let them make the choice) with a more basic menu of a spinich salad and a fully dressed hamburger. Basic, but very good quality preperation and ingrediants.
The event was getting underway, the event in question being a fundraiser called “Ancestral Hunger”on behalf of Gods Pantry food bank to help feed the hungry in central Kentucky.

Elaine Humphreys Cook, principal harpist with the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra had began playing very beautiful variations on both familiar and classical songs as the room began to fill with people. Her playing of such songs as “Greensleeves” and “Simple Gifts” was enchanting. The people arriving, mostly women, chatted, joked and laughed with one another and it became quickly obvious that almost everyone knew one other and showed an easily familiarity, leaving me feeling a bit the odd man out.

This was solved in a very comfortable way when the person I was there to get the opportunity to meet and hear read came into the room. I did not recognize her at first having only seen her photo on the website and her own site in a different hair style (I know it’s a sign of weak observational skills to be thrown off by such a detail, it’s something I am working on)but she recognized me much more easily and walked right over and introduced herself.

I had communicated with Katerina Stoykova-Klemer only by e-mail but recognized her voice having heard it on her radio program. At the risk of embarrassing her I have to say she was enchanting, elegantly classic in a relaxed way and radiating a commanding presence without noticable effort, a rare gift. Sincere in her interest and extremely gracious, she immediately made the effort to make me feel welcome and included, and of finding someone willing to seat at my table so I would not be quite so awkwardly alone. I appreciated her thoughtfulness.

The readings were beginning, and unfortunately I do not have the space to recall them all here. Marta Miranda gave several moving poetic readings concerning the experience of being an immigrant in the U.S. Having heard in daily life some of the things she spoke of, the way in which uses of language can be very hurtful sometimes intentionally, but often enough injury is caused by words uttered in ignorance. I was embarrassed by my own provincialism as she spoke.

Donna Ison would read her short story “Parsley, Sage, Dysfunction, and Thyme”, an expressive and funny but also very touching story of family secrets that come out into the open in the most surprising ways. She would close with a reading of an excerpt from her novel “The Miracle of Myrtle: Saint Gone Wild”. Her reading was intentionally hilarious, full of spicy language and southern dialect, she read with zest and confidence, her experience as an actress put to great effect, her performance was as much a one woman show as a reading!

Wedged between Marta and Donna in her reading was Katerina Stoykova-Klemer. Her joy with the use of language expressed itself with poems of sensitive humor and deep feeling and self examination. She was demure with a sense of irony in her language and quiet humility in her delivery offsetting her vividly red dress, her explanations between the readings of her poems were fascinating and the poems themselves showed a great sense of the playfulness possible with language while still delivering deeper meaning, reflection and connection with her reader.

I had read her poem “THE FIRST TIME I TRIED TO LEAVE HOME” linked on her website, but Katerina’s delivery of it brought back how touching I found it when I first read it, the closing line “My mother embraced me and…and I missed the bus.” Invocation of the bond of the mother-child relationship reaches a deeper place for me since 2001 when my mother passed away.

On her radio show Katerina had once made a very clever remark, referring to the fact that her mother had made her socks when she had decided to come to America because she said America was a cold place. Katerina had said “She was right, it is cold in America.” Yes, it can be cold on so many levels.

Katerina’s other poems included “Reluctance”, which I link for you to read at her website a very ironic and funny poem, great use of allegory and language, and a poem about an inquiry into “Why the apple wanted to become a pine cone”, a funny and very clever parable examining the need to consider reducing our attempts to please others, to perhaps reduce our “smoothness”.
These poems, being as they are about change and the fear of it, struck me very close to home.

My friend was in Glacier National Park in Montana by now. It had been only four days since her college graduation. I was due to be back in Radcliff, KY in Hardin County the next day. A living had to be made, other friends were waiting for me.
The duo of Liam’s Fancy was playing traditional Irish songs on the little stage at Natasha’s Bistro, songs of people displaced and forced to start over in far away places.

A person can feel displaced without going very far away. We can be displaced from our history, from our family and friends and from our desires and dreams and still be very close to home. But new paths are to be found if we are willing to take them, new dreams and new friends always surprise us by appearing at unexpected times.

My head was once again full of questions: Which paths are delusion and pretension and which are real paths to meaningful pursuit of our dreams? Listening to the articulate artistic poets and writers at Natasha’s had given me reason to consider both the talent and the courage required to change. I asked myself which matters most, courage or ability? Can a person know whether or not they have the ability to become what they want to be, and can any amount of willingness to change overcome a shortage of ability?

Is there a way to find out if we possess ability to achieve what we desire without making changes and taking chances? Were the poets and writers I had heard at Natasha’s ever so doubtful of their own ability? If we tell our stories will anyone want to hear them? Have they been told before? Do we have a new and better way to tell them? Does it matter?

Are we compelled to contribute our bit of effort and to follow our vision even if we must tell once again the stories that have been often told? Art and literature must be living, renewed for each generation. How does a person know if they are fit to serve this important role? The constant fear of delusion and pretension moves from century to century as a shadow always at our feet, connected to us when we step into the light .

All the questions did not matter at the moment I left Natasha’s Bistro. My trip had been a joy, I had been rewarded with meeting new people, seeing new things, and thinking new thoughts…new to me anyway, and literally tasting the fine wine. My spirit was open to the possibility of new adventures and new places to see and new things to do and create…my dear friend had sent me a picture from Montana. Perhaps someday soon I may go there…converting my loss to gain.

The drive back to Elizabethtown was fast, and only a few minutes more from there put me at my starting point in Radcliff, KY. The next day I visited one of my favorite places, a small lake in Elizabethtown called Freeman Lake, a great place to reflect on things. Perhaps I could build a small sailboat to play upon the water there, or create a sailing club for small dinghies, or write a story, poem or novel about someone who did.

Why not? In literature we can bring the worlds of our mind into being. Life is short and the hour is late, everything is transitory. What is there to lose? What if people laugh? Would I have the nerve to laugh right along with them? I recalled my newest favorite painting: “HA!”

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