Saturday, September 27, 2008

botanical disneylands

It occurred to me at some point that among the various ideal lives I am able to conceive of, one would consist of being forced to visit as many botanical gardens in as many exotic locations as possible, and then getting paid for it. That being said, it was good to visit this one in Kyoto, both for the sheer enjoyment of it and for putting me closer to that life. Seen above are lotus pads in the sleek, modern, glass and metal conservatory.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Badwater 2002

While I have a hard time remembering what year it was, these photos of Badwater in Death Valley National Park actually date from 2002. It's easier to remember the day, December 7, because in the hotel we watched the classic film From Here to Eternity for the first time, the quaintly archaic black and white world of which was as gripping as the brown and beige world of these landscapes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Mariposa revisited

The spirit of 2004 is being briefly interrupted by what just happened in 2008 that harks back to the spirit of 2000. At my insistence we drove to Mariposa, the tiny, picturesque town just outside Yosemite. It was slightly crazy since it was such a long drive, and there was definitely no time for anything but the Mariposa experience. Sorry, I forgot to bring the camera.

I made this exact same drive exactly eight years ago. Then, it was brutally hot, and the motel I stayed at had a pool. It was hazy, as is the memory, but there was something essentially satisfying about the trip, which included my sole, brief foray into Yosemite National Park. I still have the motel receipt, and am struck at how much my signature has degenerated. The 2000 signature is so young, hopeful, and relaxed-looking that I intend to revive it.

So many European tourists pass through Mariposa that their spirit, and in some cases their tobacco, permeates the place. Against the California grain, these lodges contain large numbers of smoking rooms. And while this time we stayed in an unspectacular Super 8, the room was fine, a short walk from the center of town with its decent restaurant and bookstore and wine tasting room featuring fabulously obscure and likeably average Mariposa county wine.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Jones Beach revisited

The spirit of 2004 is also found in this near perfect June day trip to Jones Beach to enjoy the SPLIA exhibit on the history of the state park and its recently restored art deco design features. To say that this revisitation to the original ocean of my youth gave me a fuller appreciation of the place is an understatement; there is an "inner" Jones Beach somewhere in that big, blue southern sky, a place that Bowie sings when he's not in Kyoto. Jones Beach and Kyoto: so far away from eachother, and yet, equally important delivery systems of the spirit of 2004.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

the Philosopher's Walk

Speaking of Zen, one of the joys of wandering around Kyoto was the Philosopher's Walk, pictured here in all its Spring blossom glory. The philosopher who walked this tree-lined canal, Nishida Kitaro (1870-1945), did his best to reconcile Zen ideas with western philosophy.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

the intersection of Zen and homelessness

There was a period not that long ago when I was intrigued by the side of this supermarket at a very busy intersection in Salinas. I had the idea that it would be great to spend the rest of my days sitting on the curb seen above (at the right end of the structure), watching the traffic go by and sipping coffee. That may sound like the homeless man, but it's actually the point where the homeless man and the Zen monk intersect. Certain busy intersections are rife with a palpable world-spirit, the spirit not of the ideal world, but of the world we actually live in. These intersections are everywhere and I take note whenever I encounter them. This one is a fine example and would rank among the best, possessing a near-perfect balance of urban and rural influences: the grittiness of the concrete and auto emissions offset by the row of very mature, sweet-smelling eucalyptus trees glimpsed at the right, the edge of a neighboring park (and rodeo grounds) full of such trees. In my original vision I would arrange to have someone hand me cups of coffee throughout the day, but since then they have built a Starbucks that is a comfortable walking distance.

Friday, September 12, 2008

spirit of 2004

Stumbling on a cache of half-forgotten digital photos from the "old" camera I find some gems from the 2004-2005 era that need to be celebrated. There are many nice shots of Kyoto in the Spring, including these of the spectacular Kiyomizu-dera temple. This vista of the city as seen from the temple is seared into my memory, in a good way...
and these show the walk from the city up to the temple...

Monday, September 08, 2008

the story of trash incineration

Today on the radio I heard an interview with Annie Leonard, creator of The Story of Stuff. The best part was when she expounded on the extreme absurdity and criminality of waste incineration. It's true, waste incinerators represent the evil end result of a culture of mindless mass consumption. Raw materials are lost forever in return for toxic air. Can you think of a worse exchange? I think of the concrete monstrosity they built in Nassau County, NY, and it makes me sad, and mad, that the whole culture there is like a machine designed to consume the maximum amount of goods in a place with high population and limited space, generating a correlating mountain of waste. The incinerator was apparently sold to the powers that be as a simple solution, but clearly there was a lack of reflection on the horrific spectacle of a consumer goods crematorium surrounded by shopping malls!

Anyway, it was good to learn that there is an international movement to STOP trash incineration, an organization called GAIA and the website www.no-burn.org

Sunday, September 07, 2008

some thoughts on McCain

After watching John McCain's convention speech I tried posting a comment on BBC Have Your Say, but then couldn't find it among the 70 million other comments from all over the world, which leads me to the conclusion that there are perhaps too many English-speaking people at this point in history, and that I don't like this feeling of belonging to such a massive linguistic subset, and so will increase my use of non-Anglophone media, and conduct all of my business in Swahili.

That being said, I found JM's speech refreshingly non-partisan, reconfirming my original impression that he is a fundamentally decent man, appearing even moreso when contrasted to the shamelessly homicidal G. Wanker Bush. Still, both men are stuck in the Old School thinking that has destroyed our country. I concur with J.H. Kunstler's pronouncement that the Republicans will be identified as "the party that wrecked America" -- an objective, non-partisan statement of fact.

All of which makes McCain a fascinating character study. I can recommend the current CNN profiles of both Presidential candidates. Who knew that McCain's family roots were in Mississippi? But three generations of Naval command creates its own peculiar demographic -- tough, worldly-wise, but tainted by the lens of nationalism. When JM first ran for public office in Arizona, he acknowledged that he'd moved around so much that only place he ever lived for an extended period was Hanoi.

To his credit, McCain has displayed the courage, guts and balls to confront the horrors of both war and the present-day United States. He likes to attack the problems as problems, with the aim of helping his country -- unlike the majority of indisputably self-serving Republicans. The big mysterey in my mind is why he didn't declare himself an independent, a la Lieberman, Perot, and other "mavericks". He gave the nearest thing to an answer to that in the CNN profile: Teddy Roosevelt, who was at the same time conservative and progressive, patriotic and wordly-wise.

To his discredit, the man seems ultimately stuck in a Cold War psyche. He wants to provoke Russia by meddling in Georgia, throwing up missile shields and undoing all the post-Soviet evolution of the past 19 years. Of course he wants to turn the clock backwards, because in the post-American world of the 21st century, war hero John McCain is that much less relevant.

Supossedly after witnessing the effects of napalm on his fellow soldiers on the deck of the Forrestal, he admitted to a journalist that he seriously questioned his governments' use of such weapons. To me it's clear: in his conscience of consciences, McCain is an anti-war progressive, but after a lifetime of crashing planes, enduring torture, and reading "The Rise & Fall of the Roman Empire" instead of his required flight manual, his machinery is a bit jangled.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Reinhold Niebuhr

In an earlier entry to this blog I bemoaned the lack of great American Protestant theologians. Clearly I was ignorant of prominence of Reinhold Niebuhr, I name I'd heard of without fully understanding the importance of. Niebuhr was a fascinating and complex man of Missouri-German extraction who spent time in boom-era Detroit and post World War One Europe among other places, gleaning profound lessons on social injustice from the ravages of the Great Depression and the Great War. His was an activist Christianity that sought to address the ills of a fast-changing modern world, hybridizing the Gospel with the humanitarian aims of democracy, socialism, communism and Marxism. The Cold War gave the latter three a bad name, but let's not forget the Cold War is over.

Niebuhr is also credited with penning the famous "serenity prayer" -- give me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change, the strength to change those I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I always thought this prayer, which has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, was a Catholic or Jesuit thing. Another case of my ignorance.

Niebuhr has been very influential in our times -- among those who have cited him as an influence are Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.