Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Barcelona Third Day Gaudi Park

Our final day in Barcelona, we discovered that taking the bus is dirt cheap.  We used our passes and took one all the way to Gaudi Park.  This is where Gaudi and another man had planned a neighborhood.  In the end, all the exists there is Guadi's art and the house he lived in until his death.

Really, his art speaks for itself.  It is so unusual, almost as if Gaudi had glued shards of broken pottery together.  Yet there is order and beauty in what he made.

The following photos are of Gaudi's residence.  Below is his bed.

In his room he had a place for his own private worship.  Gaudi was devoutly Catholic and it is impossible to separate his art from his intense and passionate religious beliefs.

The outside of his house.

And we come at last to the end of our trip.  Twenty-one days in Europe.  When will that ever happen again?  

I'm glad you asked.  It just so happens that I will be spending my honeymoon biking along the Rhine River in Germany this July.  Hee....hee...hee... Stay tuned....

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches by Matsuo Basho

I love Japanese Haiku and ordered this book thinking I was getting a collection of Haiku.  While there is no shortage of Haiku in the book, it is actually a travelogue that Matsuo Basho recorded through his companion secretary, Sora,  about his travels across Japan on a spiritual journey.

Matsuo Basho (1644-1694) is considered the greatest of the Japanese haiku poets.  Zen Buddhism was a leading influence in the school of poetry he founded. According to the back of the book, these travel sketches are his bid to "discover a vision of eternity in nature and the ephemeral world about him."

Basho's poetry is beautiful.  The imagery of nature it creates evokes a sense of peace.  His elegant writing enables the reader to vicariously experience his observations as he wanders through forests, up mountains, visiting Buddhist shrines and friends.

Stretching by force
The wrinkles of my coat, 
I started out on a walk
To a snow-viewing party.

Deep as the snow is, 
let me go as far as I can
Till I stumble and fall, 
Viewing the white land scape.

I am a visual person and it's hard for me to imagine what people write or say.  That is probably why I enjoy stories with character studies or that explore ideas with minimal descriptions.  The people in the books I read always are faceless.  That makes it all the more remarkable that Basho's writing communicates clear pictures in my head of what he himself saw and experienced.

Searching for the scent 
Of the early plum, 
I found it by the eaves
Of a proud storehouse.

Poems composed in a field: 

Dyed a gay colour
My trousers will be 
By the bush-clovers
In full bloom.

In mid-autumn
Horses are left to graze
Till they fall replete
In the flowering grass.

Bush clovers, 
Be kind enough to take in 
This pack of mountain dogs
At least for a night.

I have studied Buddhism, but my fiance, Joshua,  explored Buddhism before becoming a Christian.  I was curious about what attracted him first to Buddhism and how he later came to embrace Christianity. 

For Josh, Buddhism touched upon the truth that the world is  transitory and the desires of the world an illusion.

But when rockets were flying over his head in Afghanistan, Josh realized that Buddhism did not provide the answers looming death demands.  He came to the conclusion that Christianity provides answers not only to the meaning of life, but hope after death.

How Buddhism stands in stark contrast to Christianity struck me when reading two incidents recorded in Basho's book.  Towards the end of the book Basho attends a shrine before embarking on his return journey. There he meets two prostitutes.  They are also trying to find their way home.  Each night they sleep with different men in order to pay for their journey. The two women approach Basho and beg him to let them follow him.  With tears in their eyes they say to him:

If you are a priest as your black robe tells us, have mercy on us and help us to learn the great love of our Savior.

After a moment's thought Basho replies to them:

I am greatly touched by your words, but we have so many places to stop at on the way that we cannot help you.

After he leaves them, he thinks of a haiku and has Sora write it down.

Under the same roof
We all slept together,
Concubines and I-
Bush-clovers and the moon.

But the incident that upsets me every time I think about it is one on which he writes at the very beginning of his journey.  He comes across a small child, standing by himself on the road, crying.  He has been abandoned by his parents.  The wailing of this child moves Basho to share some of his food with him.  But he walks away, saying to the child, your cries must reach heaven.  Only heaven can hear you. 

And on he continues with his journey, leaving the child alone on the road. 

I know that Buddhism requires emotionally detaching oneself to this world, but I can only view such indifference to a helpless child's desperation as cold-heartedness on the lowest reptilian level.

It renders all his beautiful words and exquisite imagery hollow.  He enjoys nature and ponders eternity, but refuses to offer hope or assistance to desperate women or an abandoned child?
It calls to mind the final judgement in the last verses in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter  25:

43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  (From BibleGateway, ESV)

I hope to collect more books on haiku.  I can enjoy the poetry even if I can't accept the religion behind it.

Portrait of Matsuo Basho from the Osaka Museum

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Visitor by Maeve Brennan

I recently read an article in the New Yorker about one of their writers from the fifties.   Maeve Brennan wrote a series of articles for their paper called The Long Winded Lady:  Notes from the New Yorker which has been compiled into a book.  The article compared Brennan to James Joyce in her ability to capture the essence and flavor of her native Ireland in her stories.  In fact, the writer of that article quotes several Irish authors who considered Brennan as taking up Joyce's mantle.  This piqued my curiosity and as a result, I've bought a few of her books.

The first one I have finished is called The Visitor.  The story is told in third person from the view point of the protagonist.  The story begins with a young lady on a train.  She is heading back home to Ireland.  The woman, Anastasia King,  has been living with her mother in Paris for the past six years.  Now that her mother has died she is returning home to Ireland to live with her grandmother.

When she arrives at her grandmother's house she comes to know that her grandmother doesn't want her there.  The story unfolds slowly like a blooming flower on a timed camera.  Bit by bit, the reader becomes aware of the facts.  Anastasia's mother deserted her father who died broken-hearted.  Anastasia, at the age of fourteen, chose to leave with her mother.  They both stayed in Paris until her mother's death.

The grandmother cannot forgive her daughter-in-law.  She does not want her granddaughter there as a sore reminder of painful circumstances.

But more than that, the grandmother wants simply to live in the past.  She's kept her son's room as a perpetual shrine to him. 

Through glimpses of conversation both present as well as remembered conversations, we come to understand that the grandmother wielded a lot of influence over her son.  She viewed her daughter-in-law as competition and was careful to hold her in contempt.  Her son took his cue from his mother and treated his wife contemptuously as well.

Anastasia's mother comes across as delicate and extremely sensitive.  Eventually she runs away to escape her mother-in-law's dominion. 

Even so, no one is caricatured.  The grandmother is a human being with several sides to her rather than simply an ogre. She is not heartless.  She cares about her granddaughter and will always provide for her.  But she wants her to return to Paris.   I can't judge her bitterness.  If someone left me without bothering to contact me for six years until they had no other place to go, I would be a little hesitant to welcome them back into the fold as well.

This raises a question, however.  Was Anastasia really so self-absorbed?  She was very young when she left with her mother.  Did her mother hold some kind of sway over her that prevented her from contacting her father or grandmother?

While Anastasia wanders around her hometown, and going to church she sees her mother.  She sees her walking near her.  She sees her kneeling in the church in a pew in front of her.  Is she mentally unstable?  Is she seeing a ghost?  Because the story is narrated from Anastasia's point of view, we don't know.

Throughout the story, the Irish culture permeates each page.  Reading the book, one has entered into Ireland, into an Irish family-at least one from the 1930's.  One sees how the Catholic faith is a strong, integral part of the culture.  How family relations affect each life.

There is a side story of a family friend whom Anastasia visits.  This woman, Miss Kildare, tells Anastasia her story.  She spent her entire life caring for her sickly mother.  She met a man and fell in love with him but her mother refused to sanction the marriage.  So they never married but they did continue to see each other in secret.  The man even gave her a ring.

Tragically, the man is killed and the woman, with no one else in her life, cares for her mother until her death.  Miss Kildare is now elderly and sick  but with no one to care for her.  She knows she is about to die.  The woman asks Anastasia to place on her finger- after she is lying in her coffin- the ring the man gave her.

The Visitor story is really about human loneliness.  Brennan shows four different women and their loneliness: Anastasia, her grandmother, the family friend and, indirectly through Anastasia's reflections, her mother. Each has different reasons for being lonely but the result is the same.  At the same time each woman possesses a spirit that refuses to be defeated.  It turns what might otherwise be a dreary story into a sweet, melancholy one. 

I agree that Brennan is able to capture the Irish spirit through her writing. Even though she died unknown, her work is making a comeback.  I look forward to reading other books by her as well.