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Meeting the Beatles in India – and a certain virus

The happy news first – friend Ruth and I went the other day to a free presentation of a wonderful documentary, Meeting the Beatles in India, by Paul Saltzman. It’s a great story – in 1968, young Paul left Montreal on a spiritual quest that ended up in Rishikesh, where the Maharishi was training the Beatles in meditation. Saltzman became friends with them for a week, took some of the most beautiful pictures of that time, and heard a few of the White Album songs as they were being written. For the film, he goes to Hawaii to interview the actual Bungalow Bill, who shot a tiger while at the ashram with his mother and was condemned by John first in person and then in song. (“I haven’t owned a gun since,” he says. “I’m a conservationist.”)

Hey, Bungalow Bill
What did you kill
Bungalow Bill?
He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun
In case of accidents he always took his mom
He’s the all American bullet-headed saxon mother’s son.

But the doc isn’t just about the fab four, it’s about meditation itself, what the practice has meant to Saltzman and to filmmaker David Lynch, who has a foundation devoted to furthering the word, and others who were interviewed. So the film is both about the Beatles, their music and joyful humour – “It was obvious they were brothers,” Paul says – and about the powerful spiritual exercise of sitting still and going deep.

Loved it.

And now, for the reality of a global pandemic. Wow – this Covid-19 crisis gives a tiny hint of what the declaration of war must have been like for my young mother in England in 1939 – suddenly, in a moment, everything changes, there’s panic and uncertainty. It’s incredible how fast things are moving here and how obsessed everyone is, talking of nothing else. No Frills was crazy today, people buying like mad in case they’re quarantined; I figure if it happens to me, it’ll give me a chance to explore the freezer of my fridge, where some stuff is at least a few years old… A friend at the grocery store told me he watched two men fighting over a chicken.

The last classes of term next week are cancelled at both U of T and Ry, but we immediately arranged for online classes, so students don’t miss out. I told them I might enjoy a tiny glass of wine while we work over Zoom. The grandkids will be out of school for at least 3 weeks, so for that alone, I’m glad I’ll be around; Anna babysits for a working mother, so will have 3 extra children including a tiny 18-month old plus her own, and most activities shut down in the city including sports classes for kids. I may be able to help. The boys are coming for a sleepover tomorrow to give her a break, though she did warn me they may be carriers. Well – I’ll take my chances.

Some of my home class came last night; others cancelled. Those who were here had a rollicking time, though no hugs, only elbow bumps and Namaste’s. Terrible to be so frightened and suspicious – of hands, of surfaces, of strangers. It’s crazy – there are few cases in Canada, almost no one has died here, most people recover, the flu is worse. But the media is having a field day revving us up, and terror is everywhere. Cancellations and closure announcements are pouring in, including one from the Harry Ransom Centre in Austin, Texas, which I visited once at least 8 years ago. We’re trying to figure out whether to cancel our nonfiction conference, which took many months to organize.

And the stock market is plunging and Trump is plainly losing what little mind he has and things are pretty damn dire right now. But – it’s after 5, time to put away the teacup and have a glass of wine and some cheese. And then maybe I’ll watch some Netflix on my television for the first time and then Bill Maher. Pleasure is always possible, my friends.

Just invited my neighbour Monique for aperitif, which we often have together. But she’s just back from a flight from the States so is in self-imposed quarantine for two weeks, no contact allowed. Incroyable.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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