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Post #693 • December 23, 2005, 10:51 PM • 5 Comments

I'm figuring out the city. The tragedy of travel is that after a while, you adjust, and you have to begin to work to keep your eyes fresh. For instance, aside from a family sitting in a Starbucks that I passed by on my way to get some fin soup at the food court in the shopping mall down the street, I haven't seen a single person with blond hair in two weeks. That has become normal.

Because I'm figuring out the city, I walked forty blocks to Chung Yo without any wrong turns. Chung Yo is a twelve-story department store with a good bookstore, tipped off to me by an expat couple (well, she's Taiwanese, he's from Connecticut) with whom I had dinner the other night. The Taiwanese take their art seriously - you could pay thousands of dollars collecting protracted, thirty-volume sets of books about Taiwanese art, everything from contemporary traditionalists to installation artists. In the same series. They don't segregate them like they do in America.

I found a treasure while poking around there - a beautiful hardbound copy of Rilke's Lettres à un jeune peintre followed by Balthus's Mitsou drawings. For those who don't know, Balthus's mother, a painter who exhibited racy works under various male pseudonyms, was taken in by Rilke in Germany after her family was deported from France and she separated from her husband. Balthus executed a powerful, charming cycle of drawings telling the story of a beloved lost cat, drawings of astonishing charm and confidence considering that the artist was twelve. Rilke had the drawings published, encouraged the young Balthus in his creative talents, and eventually funded the only education he was to receive as an artist - a year in Italy that ended abruptly with Rilke's death. The Mitsou drawings are one of the inspirations for my present work here, which you'll get to see before too long.

I also picked up Graceful Exits by Sushila Blackman, which has in its pages the dying verse of Dogen:

For four and fifty years
I've hung the sky with stars
Now I leap through -
What shattering!




December 24, 2005, 7:40 AM

I have seen a couple of translations of Dogen's death poem and they are quite different. I don't think any of them are very good, but being unable to translate this is only a guess.

This idea of "shattering" makes the sky like a plate glass window, which is a nice image, but in early 13th C Japan there was no plate glass. I think that the sense of the poem, though perhaps unpoetically put, is more like:

For fifty-four years

I've lit up the sky.

Now I jump through.

How the stars scatter!.



December 24, 2005, 9:24 AM

If anyone can find it in the original Chinese, I'll take my dictionary and attempt a translation myself. Assuming it was in Chinese and not Japanese.



December 25, 2005, 7:24 AM

Merry Christmas, Bloggites!

I would write more, but I got to pack the sleigh.



December 25, 2005, 11:21 AM

Yes, Merry Christmas, everybody.

And Oldpro, don't forget to pack my Matisse drawing (carefully). If you can't find one on short notice, a nice Morandi etching will do. I'd ask for a Turner watercolor, but I haven't been all that good.



December 25, 2005, 11:34 PM

A bright holiday to Franklin & to all :)



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