Monday, October 15, 2012

The Travel Letters of Ken Feit

[post 290]

This is the third of four posts in remembrance of the life and work of Ken Feit, "itinerant fool."

If memory serves, when I first knew Ken he would lament that his constant travels as an "itinerant fool" — he boasted of never staying anywhere longer than two weeks! — had pretty much been limited to hitchhiking across North America, but that he hoped to remedy that soon. And boy did he ever! Before long he was undertaking the most wondrous global adventures, well-researched journeys that took him far, far off the beaten path. "In visiting ancient ruins and tribal societies," he wrote, "my ostensible purpose is to acquire another cultural and spiritual perspective in order to critique my own society and create healing stories. Actually, I just enjoy travel — anywhere."

After each one, he shared the details of his travels with all his friends by means of the long, single-spaced letters you find below — xeroxed back-to-back no doubt to save on postage! If you are a performer who gets to travel and values the joys of exploring other cultures beyond the standard tourist crap, you should find these letters remarkable. Ken not only sought out his fellow performers wherever he went — in the palaces and on the streets  — but he himself traveled "in character," sharing himself through performance as a means of getting to know anybody, anywhere. For example, here he is in a small Turkish village:

On one occasion after scaling Mount Nemrut to gaze upon the colossal statue of Antiochus, I spent a delightful night with a peasant family. After a dinner of cooked vegetables, soup, salad, rice, flat bread and water, we sipped tea and relaxed. Our host was Kurdish and spoke with feeling about his people though our own common language was German and our conversation monosyllabic. Before long visitors came to observe us and soon the room (7' x 20') was filled with 21 silently staring and smiling adult males. Someone turned on the radio and we listened to the Voice of America broadcast in Turkish (I could recognize the word "Reagan"). Then I entertained with my paper animals, harmonica, juggling, puppets, fan stories and sign language; the villagers responded by playing the saz and surna (horn), doing conjuring tricks and folk dancing. There was much laughter in this hut on the mountainside.

I am sharing with you three of Ken's letters: one about India, Nepal and Sri Lanka;  one about the Near East; and another reflecting on his 40th birthday. According to the bibliography in Foolish Wisdom (previous post), there was also a China letter, but I don't find it in my archives. If anyone has that one or anything else (Africa?), please let me know and I will gratefully add it to this post.

UPDATE:  This just in from Barbara Leigh (10-17): "I may have found the missing letter!!! It's dated May 18, 1980, and is quite long...(22 pages!!).  He goes from New York to London to Scotland (Findhorn), through Europe to Russia,  to Japan to Korea to Taiwan  to the Philippines, to Thailand, Burma, Hong Kong to China: Canton, Hangchow, Shanghai and  Peking. to Indonesia  to Australia to New Zealand to Polynesia.  Whew!!!" You can read it in this new post.

A reminder that all these Scribd pdfs can be viewed at full screen, saved, shared, printed, etc. Just use the controls at the bottom of the page.

It's not surprising that one of Ken's first big trips was this 110-day, 18,000 mile journey through India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, this "cradle of four spiritualities."

Before leaving for the Near East. Ken celebrated his 40th birthday, which was inspiration for this letter, the closest thing we have to a Ken Feit autobiography. I'm honored to be able to say that his New York birthday celebration — which was exactly on his birthday — was held at the If Every Fool rehearsal space in NYC that I shared with loftmates Joe Killian, Liz Reese, Zeke Peterhoff, Mike Seliger, Bob Lee, Eric Bass, and Catherine Turocy.

40th Birthday

While Ken spoke of many more travels yet to come in his birthday letter, his last international trip turned out to be an exploration of Turkey and of the holy lands of the Near East.

Near East

Coming up: 
• Excerpts from Fools for Christ, a documentary partly about Ken's work, and an essay by him on his sound poetry.

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