Category Archives: culture

Cherry Blossoms for Kyoto

Kyoto
September 29, 1997 – May 12, 2013

KyotoInSunlight

Cherry trees bloom en masse in early spring in Japan, but the white-to-coral petals shed and die very quickly and the peak bloom is only a week or two. There is a celebration called hanami associated with the peak bloom, which often entails picnics and drinking with old friends under the cherry trees.

Sakura season is a highly visible sign of spring, the beauty of nature, renewal of life, and first love…but can also represent the transience and fragility of beauty, life, and love.

Sakura evokes both the new beginning of spring and the transience of passing from one stage of life to another.

Godspeed, Cherry Blossom Princess.

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The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Angel WingsThis  is one of my first Lensbaby (Xmas present to me) experiments – a pair of wooden angel wings from a Quebec church, and now part of my collection of folk art. They hang on my wall and I suppose one could wear them, literally or figuratively.

I am a huge fan of Joseph Campbell’s writing, and love how he weaves the stories and archetypes of religions and mythologies into a pattern. Campbell explores the theory that important myths from around the world which have survived for thousands of years all share a fundamental structure, which Campbell called the monomyth.

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

His The Hero with a Thousand Faces, first published in 1949, is a non-fiction book, and seminal work of comparative mythology. He discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world mythologies.

Since publication, Campbell’s theory has been consciously applied by a wide variety of modern writers and artists. The best known is perhaps George Lucas, who has acknowledged a debt to Campbell regarding the stories of the Star Wars films.

Joseph Campbell talks to Bill Moyers about the hero within…

Moyers: Does your study of mythology lead you to conclude that a single human quest, a standard pattern of human aspiration and thought, constitutes for all mankind something that we have in common, whether we lived a million years ago or will live a thousand years from now?

Campbell: There’s a certain type of myth which one might call the vision quest, going in quest of a boon, a vision, which has the same form in every mythology. That is the thing that I tried to present in the first book I wrote, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. All these different mythologies give us the same essential quest. You leave the world that you’re in and go into a depth or into a distance or up to a height. There you come to what was missing in your consciousness in the world you formerly inhabited. Then comes the problem either of staying with that, and letting the world drop off, or returning with that boon and trying to hold on to it as you move back into your social world again.

Moyers: How do I slay that dragon in me? What’s the journey each of us has to make, what you call “the soul’s high adventure”?

Campbell: My general formula for my students is “Follow your bliss.” Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.

http://www.mythsdreamssymbols.com/herojourney.html and Wikipedia

Wabi Sabi

Decaying Sunflower
Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty  in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came.

Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It’s a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. It’s a richly mellow beauty that’s striking but not obvious, that you can imagine having around you for a long, long time – the difference between kirei – merely “pretty”- and omoshiroi, the interestingness that kicks something into the realm of beautiful.

It’s the peace found in a moss garden, the musty smell of geraniums, the astringent taste of powdered green tea, an old memory of my hometown.

Gothenburg GardenDaisetz T. Suzuki, who was one of Japan’s foremost English-speaking authorities on Zen Buddhism and one of the first scholars to interpret Japanese culture for Westerners, described wabi-sabi as “an active aesthetical appreciation of poverty.” He was referring to poverty not as we in the West interpret (and fear) it but in the more romantic sense of removing the huge weight of material concerns from our lives. “Wabi is to be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami mats, like the log cabin of Thoreau,” he wrote, “and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall.”

Wabi stems from the root wa, which refers to harmony, peace, tranquility, and balance. Generally speaking, wabi had the original meaning of sad, desolate, and lonely, but poetically it has come to mean simple, unmaterialistic, humble by choice, and in tune with nature.

Sabi by itself means “the bloom of time.” It connotes natural progression-tarnish, hoariness, rust-the extinguished gloss of that which once sparkled. Sabi things carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace: the chilly mottled surface of an oxidized silver bowl, the yielding gray of weathered wood, the elegant withering of a bereft autumn bough.

There’s an aching poetry in things that carry this patina.

More at What is Wabi Sabi
Sunflower image: Jazz Green
Garden image: Gothenburg, Sweden

A Country Without Libraries


“I heard some politician say recently that closing libraries is no big deal, since the kids now have the Internet to do their reading and school work…Yes, reading books is a slow, time-consuming, and often tedious process. In comparison, surfing the Internet is a quick, distracting activity in which one searches for a specific subject, finds it, and then reads about it—often by skipping a great deal of material and absorbing only pertinent fragments. Books require patience, sustained attention to what is on the page, and frequent rest periods for reverie, so that the meaning of what we are reading settles in and makes its full impact.”

From A Country Without Libraries by Charles Simic in The New York Review of Books

The Gorbals Boy Who Went to Oxford

This is a writer that I would love to have met.

Ralph GlasserRalph Glasser was famously the Gorbals boy who went to Oxford.

Glasser was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who lived on the top floor of a three-storey slum tenement in Warwick Street in the Gorbals, Glasgow. He was left motherless at six, cursed with a father who was an incurable gambler, and abandoned by two older sisters who fled the house. He left school at 14 to became a soap-boy in a barber’s shop and then presser in a garment factory. After each 12-hour day, Glasser would head for the Mitchell Library while his father headed for card schools or the illegal gambling dens that prospered in Glasgow. Glasser studied diligently at night school and won a scholarship for Oxford University. He famously cycled the 400 miles to the land of the dreaming spires. From Oxford, Glasser went to work for the British Council and later into public relations and Third World consultancy. He became a distinguished psychologist and economist. Glasser’s life can be traced in his writings.

“The streets were slippery with refuse and often with drunken vomit. It was a place of grime and poverty…The Victorian building, in red sandstone blackened by smoke… was in decay. Splintered and broken floorboards sometimes gave way under your feet. Interior walls carried patches of stain from a long succession of burst pipes. Rats and mice moved about freely….”

Bert Hardy Gorbals 1948His life had all the cliches of a tale of rags to some kind of riches, but it had substance, too. Glasser could never have been accused of living a life that was unexamined. Those who read his trilogy of Growing Up in the Gorbals, Gorbals Boy at Oxford, and Gorbal Voices, Siren Songs as simply the tale of the physical journey of a Jewish boy to manhood, missed the greater significance of his work; Glasser was capable of producing an enduring narrative, but it was his self-searching that made much of his work irresistible. This spirit of indomitable inquiry was shown to its greatest effect in Gorbals Legacy, almost an afterword to his Gorbals Trilogy. If the reader is looking for tales of black sannies, dispirited men huddling on street corners, or the consolations of poverty, Gorbals Legacy is not the place to go. It is, rather, the chronicle of an inner journey. It pays no service to the conventions of time. No dates are mentioned. The mundane world of jobs and money are ignored. It is a psychological, even spiritual, investigation of an individual psyche and its motivations and desires. There is a tide of human experience and Glasser produced a singular, spectacular wave in his last words in print. Gorbals Legacy looked back at a life that contained too little happiness but had ultimately produced a gentle acceptance of existence and more than a degree of contentment.

“In pre-war days for a Gorbals man to come up to Oxford was unthinkable as to meet a raw bushman in the St James club, something for which there were no stock responses. In any case for a member of the boss class, someone from the Gorbals was in effect a bushman, the Gorbals itself as distant and unknowable as the Kalahari Desert.”

“…Self-inquiry has taken me deeper than I ever imagined, to show me that nothing, no perception, no vision will ever answer the questions that possessed me when I left the Gorbals to cycle to Oxford.”

The search for these answers included a stay in San Giorgio, a small Italian village, and in Acharacle in the Highlands where Glasser, an adviser on environmental matters for the UN, attempted to find solutions for the wasteful way many communities lived. This was typical of the restless seeking that so characterised Glasser.

“…the Gorbals at my shoulder always, like the Hound of Heaven”

Dark, heavily bespectacled and softly spoken, Glasser had an elusive, magus-like quality in person, and on the printed page: acquaintances longed to learn more, and felt that he had not only done and seen a great deal but might also have some of the answers.

Ralph Glasser, writer, economist, environmentalist; born April 3, 1916, died March 6, 2002

Excerpted from The Sunday Herald.

More at The Telegraph.

Image: Bert Hardy, Gorbals Boys, 1948.

Glaswegian

The Forgotten Gorbals

Forgotten GorbalsIn January 1948, the illustrated magazine, Picture Post, published an article about a working-class district of Glasgow which it described as “The Forgotten Gorbals”. The article advocated urgent social reform and was accompanied by thirteen photographs, three by Bill Brandt and the rest by Bert Hardy. This photograph of Mary, a sixteen-year-old bakery worker, was the most powerful of all the images. As Picture Post’s caption suggested, Mary’s future – like the salt on the Sifta packet – was pouring away: “futility and frustration stretch ahead her dreams are losing their battle against reality”.

Image: Bert Hardy, silver gelatine print, National Galleries of Scotland

The Gorbals

One Month After

Source: SOS Japan