Monday, November 30, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 29

How can we pass by a hundred worlds without noticing? Some notice. Some hear calls from these other worlds; and some, from their sleep, awaken.

I sat across from Truth and Grace. We were at a place called Gusto, a "family restaurant," floating in space just above northern Otoyk, outside the gates to the monastery of the Wondrous Heart.

We had parked our craft below the shop and then climbed the stairs up into the eating room. The cuisine was standard. In Nohin there are a hundred thousand other Gustos or Gusto clones- Friendly, Joyful, Seizeriya. They all offer flavorless meats in gelatinous sauce; rice polished, bleached, and gooy; colorful laminated menus; and of course, all you can drink soda.

Truth and Grace are artists, potters. They are learning the ancient arts of putting fire to mud: molding soil and mineral into stone of human design.

Truth used to work at a desk in Akaso, her energy poured into data processing for a big machine. Worthy, perhaps, but she heard the call of the worlds below and beyond. She remembered her talents, and she decided to answer those voices.

Grace has traveled the galaxy, working in space or on various planets. She has picked apples, cleaned houses, and now, she follows a spinning clod of clay, shaping it between slender fingers.

I was having fun and I told them they should "dig deeply from the well of shadow"- something funny. But really, it was the tea that said it, speaking through me.

Truth comes from a tea plantation, a place that refines its product like a fine wine, only using the leaves of certain fields on one big mountain. The green tea is bitter, astringent, tastes of vitamin C, like edible pine needles, yet as deep and as flavorful as grape wine. The lady of the house poured the tea, in traditional style, just enough water in the kettle, steeped quickly and shaken intensely three times for every last drop, although not one leaf is allowed to come through. Ice cream, of three flavors of tea- roasted, green, and the soft tips of the leaves- was served on wafers, thin and beige, that crunch and melt at the same time. I had seconds too: heaps of ice cream, bitter and sweet, on a waffle cone, dark green like the long globular rows that line the mountain fields.

Truth's mother remembers walking the old streets in the center of the town, Trust Enjoyment, in the world of Nourishing Joy. She used to buy goods there, and meet friends in the long yard of the old shrine.

The shop windows are boarded up now, the path is nearly empty. We floated through the lanes in our rocket, squeezing through its tiny human scale. A river runs through here, and with it, perhaps, hope for new life.

At the center of the town is the shrine lined with tall pines. By the shrine's tall stone gate, where 6 roads intersect, a huge leafless persimmon tree stands, heavy with orange fruit. Truth looks at it, so full and ripe. "It gives me a bad feeling," she says. Who will eat it? The square is empty, the persimmons will fall and rot alone.

We land here and step into the pottery museum. The rooms are filled with fantastic pieces of earth. Dipped in "medicine," they glow. Raw, they show the red baked soil of the land, streaked with melted ash, green and gray.

The pieces are here: lanes, river, bowls, tea, fruit, Truth, Grace. Where is the link?

This morning we stopped by a gorge, livid with red leaves, and climbed the long stone staircase up the mountain. We washed at a cool spring gushing out of solid stone. A small monastery sits, nestled among colorful branches, at the top of the climb. In the courtyard was a small bronze child, rubbed dark. A saint of mercy, Ojizosama. His red and white bib was draped around him like a cloak, his big eyes were nearly shut. Before him was a fan, singed by a small candle, and on a pillow, a big fat persimmon as round and large as his own head. He stood on a pedestal of stone and moss. As colored leaves fell in the courtyard, he seemed pensive, almost unforgiving. I walked around him counter clockwise and said a few words.

The monks were carrying big pails of water up the mountain on foot. As they went, they lit incense along the way. In the fresh mountain air, among the dark scents floating up, I had the feeling that I could really live at this temple, that I could land on this mountain and stay. But, under changing leaves, following a local guide, Truth, Grace, and I came back to the gorge by the river that cuts esoteric shapes out of the solid rock.

Back to our craft, we flew to the Peach Blossom Valley and the Miho Museum. The valley is home to the religion of Natural Agriculture. We parked amid bushes and moss. At the gates, we waited for a small car to pick us up at a circle of white bricks. The car took us through a strange tunnel of brightly lit metal and out across a wire bridge. The museum is designed by the galactic artist I. M. Pei. It sits in the saddle of a forested ridge. Its door is an automated sliding glass circle, always separating but becoming whole again. The grand foyer faces out onto the far valley. The vista is framed by a pine like an ancient painting.

The exhibition was titled "Jakushu: Wonderland." Jakushu lived 300 years ago, a time of realism and renaissance. He grew up the child of merchants in Otoyk, quickly mastered contemporary and traditional styles, and then injected a sense of mystery, a sense of the work of the "underthink." He created a wonderland. We watched Jakushu's cocks and hens dive about golden screens. Grace nodded her head silently to each painting.

I wonder if Jakushu brought the birds to life, if they brought him to life, or if he just captured the birds, alive, forever. Perhaps, in the last 300 years, they have inspired a thousand other birds to take flight.

The crescendo of the show was the the arrangement of the Whale and the Elephant. The greatest creatures of land and sea, frozen in gray shades, they appear colorful, pink, blue, white, soft, playful, yet almost brimming with mysterious power. Behind them, strange soft hills roll into the horizon. It is not clear if these hills are of sea or land. It had to be careful not to fall into that odd world.

And then, at Gusto; Grace, Truth, and I ate syrupy foods on plastic trays.

As I sit in this park now and write this, the memories float about me. The frustration of living in such separation dangles like threads. The pages of this notepad fall among fallen yellow ginko leaves on the skin colored sand, one leaf next to another.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 28

I ate a camellia tonight.

Soft petals of pink encased pure white beans, liquified just enough to feel their original shape dissolve against the tongue. I closed my eyes and ate, breathing in the scent and sensing the texture. Mr. "Bridge Entrance" said, "You are really tasting it now aren't you?"

The word for this variety of pink camellia, sazanka, brought to mind a song, taught to me by the lady next to me:

kakineno the hedge
kakineno the hedge
magari kado turn around the corner

takibita the fire
takibita the fire
ochibata of fallen leaves
atarouka won't you warm up?
atarouyo let's warm up

kitakaze the north wind
piibuu piibuu
fuiteiru blowing

sazanka camellia
sazanka camellia
saitamichi blossoming path

takibita the fire
takibita the fire
ochibata of fallen leaves
atarouka won't you warm up?
atarouyo let's warm up

shimoyake frost bitten
otete ga hands
mou kayoui are already itchy

With the talk of frost bitten hands from washing every day in icy water and the sound of the wind blowing down a cold road, I could really feel the warmth of the room. We were not burning leaves, just drinking tea; but I could imagine a pile of leaves before us, smoldering away, warming out tired bodies.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 27

The walls of my living room are also doors, dark wooden doors with visible grain. Although cut and aged, these doors can always lead to a new room.

Once a tree has been felled, or an animal killed, the woodcutter, the butcher, the artist goes to work to bring the dead into the human realm. The surface of this planet is writhing with those who would decompose and eat the newly dead, quickly turning them into a storehouse for life. And so, the artist must hurry to avoid rot. His workshop is a place of knives for slicing, peeling back, and revealing. Sliced pieces hang about. Straight regular cuts contrast with serpentine vascular curves, grain in wood and flesh. To become a part of a human home or a human body a creature must pass through this process of transition; it's grain is revealed. The butcher shop and the woodworker's shop are two places where creatures are turned into art.

I watch the walls of my living room now, dark and swirling with grain. Each panel is a woodcutter's painting. Together the panels create doors and a ceiling. The doors, some open now, some closed, become walls and a room. Combined with the woven reed mats, cushions, and table, these parts become a room. To eat here is to experience the harmony of many voices.

When our actions ring among a chorus of changing voices, daily activity becomes entertainment. Long ago, some fellow realized that people could derive this satisfaction of interaction through buying new things. Stores were collected, shops were designed. Eventually every human need was met by an ever changing world of brilliant objects. Products were even created to quickly become useless so as to encourage more buying, and hence, more entertainment, more enjoyment.

Yet, the old doors, stained and smooth by a century of hands, can also be entertaining. Cleaning the doors, I interpret the lines and grain in the current context of the room. The story can replayed a dozen times. It was played a thousand times before I arrived.

Many people have come and gone from this place, their thoughts and words filling the air between the old doors. Each time, in their opening and closing, the doors lead to a different room.

I will tire from this game when I no longer realize I am in a different room. Only when I am tricked, by similarity or in-attentiveness, into thinking that I have been here before, will the room not be remade. Then, I will come back to walls and closed doors, silent and old.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 26

There is a place in my house where I sit and draw- the living room:

Tracing, following lines. A road of mud curves down the plaster wall. I follow it. The black leg of the table is a gentle silhouetted curve in front of the straight wooden window lattice. The two cloths of the old door hanging, connected at the top, fall a gentle beige, a hand's-width apart. They divide an image of a great tree, sheltering two little girls from a sudden rain. Another girl, caught in the sprinkle, dashes onto the cloth from somewhere out of sight. She's lost her sandal playing in the fields.

I follow the lines, winding my eyes around the room, showered by patterns. Standing in the rain, opening my mouth catches only a few drops, hardly quenching thirst. But my body is mostly water, a little soft bag, carrying liquid from one great river to the next.

The shower of pattern rains on me now. Like liquid, it pools, and my pen drinks from it. And then, onto the empty white field I draw the lines again. Consumed, digested, and given back, liquid pattern.

Sometimes I remember having tea:

Stop for a moment, the shower continues. We are here, dry, under this tree. A ginko, the leaves are bright yellow now. Many have fallen and carpet the ground. The reeds and thickets all around are walls of our hut. We build a small fire and begin to boil water. I can hear the rain falling on the old logs, branches, moss, mushroom caps. Steam curls from the kettle and disappears.

In a little black lacquer box, you carry green powder. Under the lid, is a mountain surrounded by darkness. In the ancient way, you trace invisible lines in the air, folding the kerchief, wiping perspirations away. Your hands work their arts and our little dry corner under the tree starts to stretch and bend. The closer you follow the ancient lines, the more you can play with them, pushing and pulling borders into curves.

You pick up an old spoon, a wand of bamboo. Uncovering the lid of the mountain, you scoop, and drop the green powder into the bowl. The bowl itself is rough, ancient, baked earth from this soil under this very tree. You dip a long bamboo ladle into the kettle and drizzle the liquid into the bowl.

A soup of patterns is whisked into a froth: fine bubbles of green, thick and creamy, milk of that mountain surrounded by darkness.

I have been eating; sweets: sticky, crunchy, and ripe; fruits fallen from the tree beside us; ginko nuts in bean paste. And now I hold the bowl, misshapen, rough, and cracked. It is my entire vista, a bright lake in an earthen valley.

I drink from the green pool, three times, and pull the froth down with my breath. The sound is like a thousand tiny bubbles popping, little worlds I can barely see and will never know.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Flavor in Space: Ch. 25

Some say that the beat of the drum is like the beat of the heart. We humans resonate with the rhythm of the universe. Today, I came close to a loud drum.

We traveled together, "Wishes Come True," "Second," "Compendium," "Beautiful Freedom," and I. We flew there, of course. In a big jet we darted out high above Otoyk. The sun was shining and we slid through clear blue sky. Looking out our window, "Second" named a few old cities as we passed over them. Soon we left Otoyk altogether and reached the nearby world, Akaso. Akaso is an urban world, famous for its gaudy fashions and colorful personalities. In all of Nohin, the people of Akaso are said to be the funniest. I grew excited approaching this new world-- but we flew right over its vast cities-- we flew across the sea to a small island spaceport. Ringed by palms, Osigan is in a beautiful spot. The weather could not have been better. In every direction bright blue sky nearly met bright blue sea. In the distance we could see far off mountains and floating cities.

We were drawn by the beating. Amplified drumming and amplified joy shined out from Osigan like the sun shined down from above. Throbbing crowds, burning with the beat, yelped and rocked with the drums. We reached our hands to the sky, drenched our bodies in sunlight and swam in sound. The energy and music poured out of the huge speakers, washing over us. Wave after wave crashed by, resonating, running in every direction, and dissipating into thin air and beyond, into space.

So many youthful, smiling, joyful, beautiful faces I saw on that island. The joy burned bright; a globe, a star.

But what about the world below? What about Asako, and the other worlds from which these people came? The joyful dance and song is missing there today. The young people are missing there. Once they called from house to house on narrow streets, singing love songs; now they are only beautiful bodies, swaying to an amplified, universal, electronic drum.

The beauties of a thousand worlds burn here. But the fire does not catch, the way it would have, long ago. When the plug is pulled late tonight, when the battery dies, the fire will dim, and the dancing will stop, still, cold, and dark, in the vacuum.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 24

In the dark, I rode for nearly an hour. I stopped in a grand book store for a while, then stopped and landed on the street in downtown Otoyk. Some say it is easiest to live on the surface when you live in the center of a city. I say it is easiest to live on the surface when you recognize the place you live as the center of a city. Either way, I only landed for a short while. I met friends and we clinked glasses of dark foreign beer. It was a Nacerima style bar with peanuts, stools, and high tables. I soon set out again, riding into the dark.

Eventually I landed at a small space station dangled above the forests, mountains, and rivers of Otoyk. My friend met me at the landing pad where travelers were refueling their vehicles. We walked through concrete and plastic tubes to "The Village." A few young people sat on the balcony peering out at the dark sky above, planet below, and steel bubble in between. They welcomed us with a smile, "take it easy, enjoy..."

The entrance was dark and dim, but loud music echoed out. A cluster of people stood about in the shadows, talking under the music. Four artists stood crouched around a large frescoed tablet. They were painting to the music, and we all watched. The painting, brilliantly lit, took various shapes and designs over time. Artists switched topics, areas, colors. Sometimes they sat on couches, sometimes they spoke to guests.

I spoke for a while to a carpenter-architect who knew the Nacerima language. He designed and built the interior for "The Village." He showed me a nook with rounded earthen walls, reed mats, a low wooden ceiling, and an alcove for flowers and seasonal artwork. As this party showed, his spot was a hit with the guests.

Now, he is working on a treehouse project. "There are no restrictions on treehouse architecture in Nohin," he said, "no regulation." He and his friends have complete freedom as designers. I imagined the treehouse: high up, but still attached to nature, a place to meet, a place to play, a place to a share a moment.

"The Village" reminds me of a city I lived in back in Nacerima. Both were full of young people, together searching for a way to live on the planet, a way down from space. "We want to live close to nature!" the architect said.

But, ironically, "the Village" is an orbiting thing. Or perhaps, it is like the treehouse, close to the tree, close to the soil, but still above it, still escaping the laws and rules of the planet below. If the world is full of treehouses then what will be left on the ground below? If we fly from tree to tree, then everything beneath the tree slowly erodes until finally, the tree falls.

After the show, I glided back home through space, high above Otoyk. If I had walked on the surface, it would have taken me all night to plod back through the sleeping city.

Flavor in Space: Ch. 23

Living on the surface means finding amazing food- narrow streets, rich flavors, and friends.

Today I collected a sackful of oranges, and another of persimmons. As I filled a tall green bottle with bean milk at the bean curd shop, I chanced upon my neighbor. She was buying a mash of sweetened beans garnished with onions. The shopkeeper, my neighbor, and I stood about chatting. The shop doubles as factory and street facade. Factory worker, shopper, shopkeeper, and passerby are all fair game for hellos and friendly conversation. I finally gave in and bought a little tray of mash. The dish was a rarity- one can only stand around in front of a delicious treat so long before picking up a pinch.

At home, as I tasted a thick slice of orange persimmon and filled a glass with white milk, S. Pillier came over and settled across the table, behind an arrangement of drooping yellow leaves. Soft white light filtered in from the the frosted glass of the old, south facing, kitchen windows.

He spoke, "So here you are, in this world, Otoyk. You have arrived. It tastes good to eat well, doesn't it?"

"But there is more to the world than just eating, tasting flavors. More than just sharing your table with friends, guests, and strangers. "

"You must do something with the food in your belly." He picked up an old Kazantzakis book I had been reading. His cunning eyes scanned the pages until he found a passage of Zorba's words:

"Tell me what you do with the food you eat, and I'll tell you who you are. Some turn their food into fat and manure, some into work and good humor, and others, I am told, into God. So there must be three sorts of men- I'm not the worst, boss, nor yet one the of the best. I'm somewhere between the two. What I eat I turn into work and good humor. That's not too bad, after all."

Sometimes in books we find reflections of ourselves. Sometimes we find reflections of the kind of people we want to be, cannot be, or simply admire. Here, reading the words of Kazantzakis, the character of that old book had come through time and paper to finally bubble out of S. Pillier's own fleshy mouth. That old voice became S. Pillier's voice.

As Kazantzakis' character began to dance, I remembered dancing on Machiit. It was a dark winter night. An old man was singing an old song, his voice bellowed, calling out to the Tital Tital people, waking them up. We would soon go and meet them in their villages to dance with them and eat with them. In a line the men were dancing, I was among them. Across from us the women were dancing. We hopped, bounded, flew. My long necklace followed the movement of my arms, up and down. We breathed hard, you could almost hear the hearts beating, and everyone was smiling. The floor beneath our feet began to bounce. The whole house began to move, resonating. We traveled together, there and back again, screaming out with joy, waking the villages along the way.