Bonsai Drama

I have always loved bonsai. This is where nature meets sculpture. It is the careful cultivation of miniature trees so that they draw you in to their magical world. Bonsai tell silent stories. They make you hear wind and water even if it is not there.

They also carry with them a history of love and care. Many are extremely old and have been doted upon for decades. They have a way of creating a universe of their own, and they allow you to visit, provided you behave respectfully. Bonsai make you want to whisper as you walk carefully among them.

So I was delighted to discover that the Pacific Bonsai Museum is not far from me, and I plan to visit very soon. It will no doubt be the subject of another blog post. But I am heartbroken by the reason that this museum has come to my attention.

Bonsai are not about drama. They’re subtle. They’re peaceful. They’re quiet. But sometimes drama is visited upon them.

Recently two bonsai were stolen from the Pacific Bonsai Museum in Federal Way, Washington. (Read more about it here.) They were more than 70 years old, and each worth thousands of dollars. One of them had been cultivated from a seed, in a tin can, by a man who was held in an internment camp during World War II.

There is shadowy footage of two individuals walking in and just taking them in the early morning hours. It’s tantamount to an abduction. It’s horrifying. These trees require special care, and they’re not meant to be hidden away beneath a cloak of shame.

Fortunately, the thieves seem to have figured that out, because they left them on the road leading to the museum two days later, and they were discovered by security guards. One of them had been transplanted and had suffered some damage. The other one, thank goodness, was unharmed.

I don’t understand the instinct that some humans have when they see something beautiful and fragile and defenseless and can’t resist taking that thing and trying to possess it and ultimately ruining it for everyone. It happens all the time, and it defies logic.

We all should make space for quiet, tiny, beautiful things, and we need to share these things, gently and respectfully, with the wider world in a spirit of grace and generosity. To do anything less is uncivilized.

Bonsai

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The Most Beautiful Book on Earth

I have always been drawn to the Medieval era of European history. I even prefer the Celtic font above all others. If reincarnation is actually a thing, I often imagine I was a dangerously smart, albeit uneducated, woman back then. Nobody famous. We can’t all be kings and queens. No, I would have been a farmer’s daughter or a milk maid, and my life would have been nasty, brutish and short, but I’d have been a leader for all that. I love reading everything I can about that period. It feels strangely familiar to me. Like home.

So I was really excited to see this article, entitled The Medieval Masterpiece, the Book of Kells, is Now Digitized & Put Online. I’ve long thought this was the most beautiful book on earth, and I’m not alone in that assessment. It’s the most elaborate illuminated manuscript extant, and now, for the first time, we get to gaze upon every bit of it, all 680 pages, online, for free, here. What a treasure.

This book, believed to be from around the year 800, wasn’t really created to be read. It is a work of art, first and foremost. The illuminated portions of the text are so abstract as to be nearly illegible, and it’s quite clear that the rest of the words weren’t taken very seriously by the scribes. It basically is the four gospels of the new testament, but whole sections are missing, and long passages are mistakenly repeated, and some are even paraphrased, as if taken from memory rather than the source. Page numbers, added much later, include a duplicate page number. According to Wikipedia, the tables included in the Book of Kells, meant to allow the reader to cross reference the gospels, a table of contents of sorts, are actually useless since the chapters were never numbered. This book was all about the illustrations.

We cannot be sure how much of the book is missing, but the current tome ends partway through the gospel of John, and it’s believed that several of the illuminations have been “lost”. And by lost I assume stolen, because how do you lose one page of a book and not another? I admit that these illuminations are definitely suitable for framing. (I wouldn’t mind having one as a tattoo, if I could put up with the pain and could find an artist capable of such outstanding work.)

While researching this post, I also came across a feature length, award-winning animation entitled The Secret of Kells. I’m really surprised it isn’t more well known. It’s a fictional story, inspired by the book. You can see shadows of the book’s art in its brilliant illustrations. The music and the story are a surreal delight as well. I highly recommend it.

It really makes me happy, knowing that such beauty as the Book of Kells exists in this world. Humans aren’t merely destructive after all. We are capable of creating things that are magical. This gives me hope.

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Sightseeing in Your Town

I am in the process of planning a trip to Italy with my husband. I’m very excited. I’m sure we’ll be seeing our fair share of cathedrals and museums and art galleries, and we’ll also be experiencing new culinary delights.

I am ever mindful of how lucky I am to be able to do this. Not everyone gets to travel. They may not have the time or the money, or they may have very valid responsibilities that prevent them from doing so.

As I plan to poke my head into every publicly accessible edifice that I possibly can, and wander through every park, it occurs to me that I haven’t done so in the Seattle area. Not by a long shot.

There’s a botanical garden that I drive past at least once a week that I keep meaning to visit but I never quite get around to it. I have no idea what the largest churches in town look like from the inside. There are great works of art hanging in local galleries that I have yet to gaze upon. And heaven knows there’s a whole host of restaurants that I’ve never patronized.

So here we are, spending a fortune to fly halfway around the world to experience the new and exciting, when there’s plenty of that stuff in our own back yard. And a lot of these things are experiences anyone can have if they make the effort. Often museums have free or discount days. Most parks are free or very affordable. You can wander into pretty much every church, (but I wouldn’t advise doing so if a service is already in progress).

I wonder why so many of us think the only sights worth seeing are those that are far away? Is it because we know the local things will always be within our reach, and we assume we’ll get to them someday? Do we place a higher premium on all things foreign? Or are we simply too invested in our Netflix stream to get up off the couch?

If you’re reading this, I challenge you to get up and go experience something near you that you’ve always been meaning to experience. Go on! You’ll be glad you did.

soos-creek-botanical
A garden near me that I have yet to see.

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Eighteen Rabbit

As someone with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and Latin American Studies, I am fascinated by all things Mayan. The Mayans had a very highly developed culture. They understood the concept of zero long before the Europeans did. They had a very accurate calendar. They performed complex surgery, accurately charted the movement of the planets, were very skilled mathematicians and agriculturalists, and possessed a very detailed written language in the form of hieroglyphs.

I would love to visit the Mayan cities of Tikal in Guatemala, Palenque in Mexico, and above all, Copan in Honduras. Copan intrigues me the most because at its height, it produced the most sophisticated art in Mayan history. This was due to the influence of one man, whom we call Eighteen Rabbit.

Eighteen Rabbit’s actual name was Uaxaclajuun Ubʼaah Kʼawiil. If you can figure out how to pronounce that, you’re most welcome to use it. Personally, I’ll stick with Eighteen Rabbit.

He ruled Copan during its height, from January 2, 695 to May 3, 738. How can we be so exact? The Mayan calendar was just that accurate, and this ruler’s history is detailed in the heiroglyphs of that city. So today is the 1,325th anniversary of the beginning of his reign. Tempus fugit.

The city of Copan really thrived under his rule. He commissioned the construction of great temples, and there was an explosion of art throughout the city. I genuinely believe that when you’ve gone beyond the purely utilitarian and are able to focus on art, you’ve reached a whole new level of advancement. Eighteen Rabbit was the biggest patron of the arts in all of Mayan history.

And speaking of history, he took that quite seriously as well. He constructed the Heiroglyphic Stairway just 15 years after he ascended the throne. The staircase is 63 steps high, and made of 1,250 blocks containing 2,200 hieroglyphs. It the longest Mayan text known to exist, and it describes the history of Copan in great detail.

It is quite evident that Eighteen Rabbit wanted to preserve the story of his people. That, to me, indicates that he believed in education, and took pride in the Mayan culture. That’s impressive.

He’d be horrified to know that many of the steps in the Heiroglyphic Stairway are now out of order. When they were rediscovered, they were a jumbled pile of blocks, due to a landslide, and when reassembled, archeologists didn’t understand the heiroglyphs as well as they do today. A lot has been corrected, but still, we only understand about 71 percent of what these stairs say. I can’t help but feel as though we’ve let Eighteen Rabbit down.

Given that, it’s all the more sad to contemplate how he met his end. While there is evidence of regional wars, ritual sacrifices and bloodletting ceremonies throughout Mayan history, and no doubt Eighteen Rabbit participated in all of the above, it is now believed that he was not waging war at the time of his death. Rather, he was simply traveling in the region.

During those travels, he was abducted by the ruler of a much smaller Mayan outpost, and this man had Eighteen Rabbit beheaded. After that, we see a notable decline in Copan’s art and architecture. It never recovered. I find this tragic.

But it makes me happy to know that, once upon a time, there was an amazing man who wanted to advance his people, and his legacy remains. Thank you, Eighteen Rabbit. You still have much to teach.

Eighteen Rabbit
Eighteen Rabbit

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The Curse of Incubus

I am sometimes drawn to quirky, obscure movies, and so it was that I put Incubus on my Netflix queue. That decision most definitely bit me in the butt. It’s 78 minutes of my life that I’ll never get back.

This movie, filmed in 1966, and starring a pre-Star Trek William Shatner, was definitely a surreal experience. It’s filmed in black and white, and, probably due to its low budget, sometimes night shots were filmed in broad daylight with a filter, and sometimes they were shot at night, and the two variations in lighting would switch back and forth at random moments. That added to the strange atmosphere of the movie.

Then, on top of that, add a musical soundtrack that you’d swear was stolen directly from the creepier scenes of Star Trek. In actuality, part of the soundtrack was from a 1963 episode of Outer Limits called Nighmare. Either way, it made the hair on the back of my neck do an eerie little dance.

But the weirdest thing about this movie is that the entire thing was done in Esperanto. They thought this might bring it to a wider audience, as Esperanto is spoken around the world. While that may be true, they seem to have forgotten that, while widespread, Esperanto just isn’t spoken by that many people. That’s why there are only 4 films, including this one, in the history of film making, that are done in Esperanto.

The actors had 10 days to learn their lines, phonetically, and there was no one on set to correct their pronunciation, so it’s not even done in good Esperanto. You can tell by watching that the actors were so focused on trying to get the Esperanto right that they completely forgot to emote. Everyone except Shatner comes off like a robot. You know it’s a bad movie when Shatner is the best actor of the bunch.

Even if it had been done in English, though, it would have been laughable. Here’s an example of some very typical dialogue:

“I see the heart of darkness… the universe unfolding… taking my breath, my blood, my life… down below, below, below…”

“I’m weary of luring evil, ugly souls into the pit. They’ll find their own way down to the sewers of hell.”

When you first see Shatner, he’s got his arm around a woman that turns out to be his sister. They’re walking through the woods, clinging to each other, practically groping each other, so when you find out she’s his sister, you kind of get the willies.  Even more so than when she goes blind from looking at an eclipse and spends the bulk of the movie crawling through the underbrush in search of her brother, on the advice of a total stranger that she cannot see.

But the strangest part in an already strange movie is the final scene, in which one of the main characters gets attacked by the incubus, who has turned himself into a black goat with long curly horns. Close ups of a live goat’s eye and its long, slimy tongue are interspersed with close ups of a goat’s head on what must surely be a broomstick, on top of the screaming actress, as an easily discernible shadow of the camera looms over them both. And this visual violation goes on long enough to make you squirm. But she saves herself by making a sign of the cross, so all’s well that ends well.

There’s much talk on the internet about the curse of Incubus. Shortly after filming, one of the actors killed his girlfriend and then himself. An actress committed suicide. The daughter of another actress was abducted and murdered, her body left in the Hollywood hills. These are just a few of the examples. It’s very disturbing to read about.

But if you ask me, the biggest curse of Incubus is that you can still get it on Netflix, and unwittingly lose 78 minutes of your life. This movie was counted as number one in a list of the Top 10 Shitty Shatner Movies. Another one of his truly horrible ones, Groom Lake, didn’t even make the cut, so you can just imagine how awful this one truly is.

Consider yourself warned.

Incubus

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Hearing Double

Every once in a while, someone will create something so simple and brilliant that it just resonates with me. So it was with the song “Hearing Double” that I heard for the first time at a recent Jason Mraz concert.

Music is mathematical at its very core, but this song seems to raise the math to the very surface where it can’t be overlooked. I love that place where science and art intersect.

At the concert in Seattle, Jason introduced this song as the product of discovering that he and the voice inside his head were in love with the same person. What an interesting, creative concept. I love how different words are automatically emphasized, and how that very emphasis then emphasizes the feeling behind the words. I especially love how the song makes me laugh.

I urge you to listen to this song. Twice, even. And then tell me what you think, below.

Jason Mraz
Jason Mraz

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10 Day Album Challenge #6: Portishead, Dummy

If you haven’t been following this series of posts, a friend of mine nominated me to do an album challenge. “The task is to post once per day for the next 10 days about the top ten albums that have an impact on your life, and to pay it forward by nominating someone else each day to do the same.”

Okay, so I’ll play. But I’m changing the rules to suit me. First of all, I’m not writing about this 10 days in a row. I will write about 10 albums, but only on the occasional “Music Monday”. And I refuse to nominate anyone else, because I try to avoid adding stress to the lives of the people I love. Having said that, if you’re reading this, and would like to take up the challenge, go for it!

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Hanging out on the tail end of the pop culture bell curve as I have always done, I’m just now hearing about the musical genre called “trip hop”, even though it was a thing back in the 90’s. It turns out that I’ve heard quite a bit of trip hop since then (you probably have, too), and I’ve always liked it. I just never thought to pigeon hole it into its own genre.

Trip hop is definitely in a class by itself. It’s psychedelic, it’s got a bass beat, it’s electronic, it’s got a beat box hip hop vibe. It has a funky soul. It brings out a mood in me like no other type of music does.

Now that I know what trip hop is, I have to say that by far my favorite trip hop album is Dummy, by a band called Portishead. You can listen to the entire album on Youtube, and I highly recommend that you do. But if you only have time to listen to one song, make it Glory Box. That’s my favorite, and it will give you a strong sense of the sound.

When I talk about this album (and now, this genre), I often rely on descriptions of how it makes me feel. It’s like being transported to some hip coffee shop where everyone, you’re absolutely sure, is much cooler than you are. It’s like being extremely tired, but not wanting to go to sleep because you’re having so much fun. It’s like being chemically altered in the best possible way. It’s like listening to music from the depths of a tin can. You hear every record scratch and pop, and that synthetic twisty bendy vibe you get from a really psychedelic horror movie sound track, and you know that all the sounds, individually, would probably irritate you, but together, man, they’re perfect. You feel like you’re experiencing musical vertigo, and that’s just fine.

Check out this album. Expect to be transported to someplace strange, but intriguing.

Portishead Dummy

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