Friday, August 29, 2008

The Beauty of Ancient Columns

A few weeks ago I shared this picture from my honeymoon in Asia Minor:

Now just this evening, while waiting for a post-op with my oral surgeon, while reading, I found the text to go with the picture - or rather, to go with what I felt in walking through this ruins in Ephesus. From James Michener's The Source, a paean to the beauty of the columns and the architecture of the classical world, told through the mouth of an architect who is awaiting his death:

Between my jail and the Augusteana stands the construction for which I alone am responsible: a double row of marble columns, tall, with heavy Corinthian bases and beautiful capitals on which nothing rests, for I placed these columns here only to add grace to the forum and to link the various buildings one to the other. Looking at them now, I think that my life has been a series of columns, marching along like days, and I have never had enough either of columns or of days. How many marble columns did we use at Caesarea? Five thousand? Ten thousand? They were the unifying beauty of that city, and they came to us in ship after ship sailing from Italy. One night the king and I walked through Caesarea, and he said to me in Greek, "Timon, you've made this a forest of marble. I shall send for a thousand more columns and we'll build an esplanade to the theater." In Antioch, in Ptolemais, in Jericho, how many columns have I erected--those silent marching men of marble who bring grace to the roads they walk?

I know that this description does not match the columns I was photographing, and either an architect or an art historian would laugh at me, but I am moved by both those columns on which nothing any longer stands, and by Michener's evocative prose, his suggestion of a beauty in architecture such as the world had never known. A myth made of marble that has remained so prominent in our minds that two thousand years later we still try to imitate it in our political houses and our temples to learning, to bring grace to the roads we walk.

A Handmade Journal of Prodigious Size and Beauty

Dear readers,

A true delight has just arrived for me priority mail, and I could not resist crowing in my joy and sharing the beauty of it: a tremendous handmade leather journal, the cover hand-aged and wrinkled, the paper inside a beautiful archival blue:

The journal 1200 pages and is just under 9 x 15 inches, making it the size of a family Bible. In fact, in a sense that is its purpose - I am using it to fulfill a lifelong yearning to create an illuminated medieval manuscript. As near as I can estimate, it should take me about 38 years to complete. The manuscript will contain, moving in left to right from the front cover, the new testament in Greek (the "evaggelion") and, moving in from right to left from the "back" cover, the old testament in Hebrew (the "tanakh"). It will include capering figures in the margins and illuminated capitals. My wife just gave me for an early birthday present a formidable supply of calligraphy pens, so I am ready to get to it. I want to know what it is to make one's devotions through the daily ritual of making a manuscript. (Was I a monk in some former life?)

Celebrate with me!

The journal, by the way, is the delicate work of a family business in North Carolina known as Witches Moon, who specialize in grimoires, spellbooks, and journals for herbalists. Their work is very beautiful, and you can see on this page how they have made custom-designed manuscript books for many people. Definitely worth taking a look.

For my part, I am as happy as Christmas morning!

Your editor,


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Watchmen: The Movie (March 2009)

I am afraid I haven't been nearly as vigorous in blogging lately, due to some complications surrounding wisdom teeth. (I am taking those teeth out perhaps a few years later than I should have.) But, while I am convalescent and having little to do or little thoughtful to add to a blog, let me just give a cheer for the upcoming Watchmen movie, based on Alan Moore's graphic novel, forthcoming in just seven months (huzzah!):

That is something to cheer about. I am hoping the film does the graphic novel justice.

Who watches the watchmen?

I would offer some savvy review here if I were not on painkillers. But I do want to celebrate what a beautiful work of art this trailer itself is. Look at it. The execution is flawless, the fitting of music to visuals is breathtaking in its perfection, as finely crafted as watchwork. The remixing of the Smashing Pumpkins lyrics is particularly inspired: at times nonsensical, yet terribly evocative:

Send a heartbeat to
The void that cries through you....

And in your darkest hour,
I hold secrets' flame,
You can watch the world devoured in its pain

What moody beauty! And how true to Watchmen's sardonic look at the darker side to patriotism and the longing for heroes.

I think mood is a large part of the beauty of Watchmen, which can be at times relentlessly dark, and yet rich with hope and affirmation of humanity. One of my favorite quotations from the book:

"Thermodynamic with odds against so astronomical they're effectively impossible, like oxygen spontaneously becoming gold. I long to observe such a thing. And yet, in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter...until your mother loves a man she has every reason to hate, and of that union, of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos of improbability, like turning air into gold...that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle."

"But...if me, my birth, if that's a thermodynamic miracle...I mean, you could say that about anybody in the world!"

"Yes. Anybody in the world. But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget...I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another's vantage point, as if new, it may still take our breath away. Come, dry your eyes, for you are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly."

That is something to think about.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Ainu are making a return in Japan

Dear readers, here is an article describing a revival of interest in the folk traditions of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan. I read about them long ago in a history text and wondered if they had entirely disappeared from history...but it is not so. Though perhaps less than 20 living individuals speak the Ainu language, there are now, for the first time in many long centuries, Ainu dancers performing on Japanese stages:

For someone who grew up ashamed of her ethnic identity, they are powerful words.

"You are beautiful just as you are. Don't be afraid," Mina Sakai sings to a young, enthusiastic crowd in the language of the Ainu, the indigenous people of northern Japan.

The article I've linked to above focuses on the efforts of Ainu Rebels, a group of a dozen young artists who are fighting to fuse contemporary popular culture with traditional motifs from their own traditions:

In one number, several young women — dressed in typical Ainu blue and purple robes and headbands with bold, geometric patterns — danced in a circle while young men brandished bows and arrows, all to a throbbing techno beat that filled the small concert hall at a recent music festival in Sapporo, the capital of Japan's northern island of Hokkaido.

The article is well worth reading, as it tells the tale of an island people almost entirely forgotten by the rest of the world. The photograph shown below is from another article focused on an Ainu music festival that occurred a few months ago.

Nothing is more critical to the growth of our cultural imagination than the cross-pollination of mythic traditions, the trading of stories between one people and another. What beauty awaits us, and what opportunities for fresh stories and fresh views on our own lives, when we are given at last the gift of Ainu stories, which have had so few listeners? It is said that when an old man or an old woman dies, it is a library burning to the ground. How much of a library is lost to us, when a people with their accumulated lore are hidden away for centuries?

A small collection of Ainu myths and lore is available in English here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Last Call for Submissions: Wolves & Werewolves

Dear readers, artists, and writers, we would like to make our last call for submissions for the initial run of our special archive issue on wolf and werewolf lore. We are looking for art, fiction, poetry, bits of script, book and film reviews, any creative production that explores the meaning of wolves and werewolves in our own time. You can read our call for submissions in more detail here. The deadline is September 1. We look forward to reviewing the last round of submissions!

Also, our fall poetry contest is approaching - so definitely spread the word! Submissions to the Poetry Contest will be judged by Ever Saskya, author of The Porch is a Journey Different From The House.