• Category Archives Art and Culture
  • Cabin Fever Trip

    Spring and the Moon of Liberation

    Tuesday gratefuls: Great Sol. Brightening our day. Counting the Omer. Begins tonight. Traveling readiness day. Delayed, but happening today. Diane’s great work on setting up an itinerary. Museums, as Ode says, temples of creativity. The Artist’s Way. My Jewish immersion. The Three Body Problem trilogy. Fall Out on Prime Video. High quality television. Kindle.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Artists-painters, writers, playwrights, musicians, poets, actors, sculptors, architects, composers

    One brief shining: With awakening I’m in a new life, a multiverse reality based on the day before yet new as the dew on a spring ephemeral, in that day my many breaths each constitute life breathed out and back in, new lives each breath, how can I keep from singing?


    Feeling the welcoming breath of a travel day exhaling from the end of the week toward me. Inspiring my activities today. Finalize packing. Stop mail. Get a pedicure. Collect myself for a journey.

    This is mostly a cabin fever trip. A way of escaping a place I love because the snow and the cold stayed a bit too long. And for most folks I’ve talked to. A way to refresh the joys of home by vacating its presence for a bit. Enjoy the graces and beauties of San Francisco, see Diane. Live in a hotel for 7 nights, 2 nights in a sleeping car there and back. Write. Read. See the Rockies, the intermountain West, the Sierra Nevadas, canyons and deserts.

    I’ve missed seeing good art on a regular basis. I’ve not found the Denver art scene at all comparable to the Twin Cities and I’ve let that attitude, plus the drive, keep me from seeing much at all. That’s on me. This trip will allow me to visit at least three of the country’s great collections: The Legion of Honor, the De Young, and the Asian Art museum. I plan to see them slowly. Taking as much time as I need. Reenter the world of Zhou and Han, Song and Tang, Picasso and Hokusai, Rodin and Giacometti.

    Yes. You could say of me. Religion, politics, and art. The subjective, the debatable, the aesthetic, the aspects of culture not manageable by STEM. Sure I like a good scientific discovery as much as the next nerd, but to examine an ancient text for the message it carries down the millennia to this day, to stand in the street and face down an oppressive economy, to join the conversation of those for whom shape, color, and language create whole worlds and dizzying perspectives, yes. That’s my journey.

    That and one other thing. The wild spots outside my door, up the flank of Black Mountain. Here on Shadow Mountain I can integrate the seeker, the advocate, and the artist with the world around me. My Lodgepole Companion and I see each other each morning. I said hello yesterday to those Mule Deer Does munching grass along Black Mountain Drive. Within them lie the same message as the Torah portion I will read on June 12th, the same spirit of over against oppressive structures, and an equivalent beauty to the best of Monet.


  • Soon to be on the road

    Spring and the Moon of Liberation

    Friday gratefuls: Pesach. Counting the Omer. Tarot. Astrology. Luke and Leo. Rebecca. Marilyn. Irv. Ginny, Janice. Rabbi Jamie. Conversion. Bar Mitzvah. Hoarfrost again on my Lodgepole Companion. And as far as I can see on other Lodgepoles, too. My son. Seoah. Murdoch. The Ancient Brothers. Alan. Joanne. My tallit. The morning service. The Shema.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Lidocaine patches

    One brief shining: Using scissors, I cut open the thin pouch that contains the Lidocaine patch, pull it out of its airtight container, taking care to remove only half of the covering of its working side, place the open half on my lower back, then peel back the rest of the covering, letting it settle into place over the spot where my back hurts.


    The road so far. P.T. and sitting help my back. Acupuncture. Not feelin’ it. However, the lidocaine patch. It definitely helps. 12 hours off, 12 hours on. So can use for a day of touring, being out and about. Then take it off at night. If I need to, I can try the ibuprofen at night. Suppose I could use the ibuprofen and the patch. Don’t want to. Minimal treatment. Local if possible, not systemic. Beginning to see a path forward here. Most of the time I don’t need the patch or meds, but when I do. I have them. Comforting.


    This weekend. Travel planning in serious mode. Try packing my carry-on as my one bag. I.D. all the must take with me like meds and electronics. Clothes. Go over Diane’s comprehensive list of possible things to do and establish some priorities. Must does are easy: Asian Art, the de Young, and the Legion of Honor. The Japanese Tea Room. Chinatown. Muir Woods. Eating out fancy at least once. Other museums, tourist sites, maybe Japantown, I’ll have to sort through, put on a list of if we get to it. If not, another time.

    I’m no longer an I’ve got to tick off this sight and that one to feel like the trip was worth it. I prize much more these days quality time with a place. I also know that life is short and I’ll never see everything. Mostly in that stance anyhow, by nature and inclination. I’m the guy that reads the plaques in the museum. Listens to the audio. Stays in one place awhile.

    Getting excited for the trip. The journey will be an important part of it. I love traveling by rail, going slower and at ground level, being able to saunter up to the dining car, the snackbar car, the viewing car. Or, sitting in my roomette watching the terrain go by. (unintentional) Maybe reading, maybe writing. Doing nothing at all.


    Just a moment: Looks like Israel at least for now has not screwed the pooch in its response to Iran’s flight of the drones. Thank yod-heh-vav-heh. Maybe the calculus of the Middle East can change. Maybe Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, Jordan, even Egypt can make a pact of some part. An anti-Iran coalition similar to NATO. One for all and all for one. Probably unlikely, but any joint presence that stiff arms Shia Muslims operating in the Middle East would be quite an advance over the current reality.


  • The Artist’s Way

    Spring and the Moon of Liberation

    Thursday gratefuls: 25 degrees. Frost on my Lodgepole Companion’s needles. Rain on the driveway. Probably slick out. Coffee. Sardines. Salmon. Roasted vegetables. Mussar. Rabbi Jamie. Joanne. Marilyn. My tallit. With the Shema embroidered on it. Made by Joanne. Kate’s quilts and other gifts. Out in the world. Her presence with them. Blessed memory.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Travel

    One brief shining: Each morning now I sit down with a yellow legal pad and black pen, writing from the top of sheet one to the bottom of sheet three, cursive, the curse of the millennials, what Julie Cameron calls morning pages, expressing whatever is on my mind, complaints and thoughts and random ideas, some times I feel like I’m cheating on Ancientrails, but this writing serves a different angel, the one who writes fiction, imagines worlds, paints in imitation of Rothko and Buddhist monks.


    As my year of living Jewishly heads towards a climax on Shavuot with the bar mitzvah, I’m beginning to look beyond it, to the point where I’m living as a Jew and not learning new things with such intensity. That guy, also living now, has decided to take the Artist’s Way challenge and focus twelve weeks on reengaging creativity. That is, in my case, writing novels and painting. Right now I’m at the very beginning and I may hold off on starting the course itself until I’m back from San Francisco.

    The two aspects of the process I am doing are writing the morning pages and having artist dates. An artist date is two  hours set aside for nothing but nurturing my artist self. My first one on Tuesday found me writing a thousand words on a Lycaon novel that I’ve been here and there on over the last couple of years. That was about an hour and a half. The last half hour I took out my large Phaidon book on Hokusai and read some of his life story, but mostly looked at his wonderful ukyio-e prints. He was the master of the wood-block prints of the Floating World.

    Engaging the creativity of master artists nourishes my own. Doesn’t have to be writing. Could be a play, a walk in the Forest, a jazz evening, taking the train to San Francisco, seeing art in its wonderful museums. All artist dates. Feels like time to come back around to writing and painting. Even though I’ve said this over and over, rather, because I’ve said this over and over, the Artist’s Way is a path I haven’t tried. Similar in some ways to the Ira Progoff work though I’ve tired of that.


    Just a moment: Gee, many jurors say they can’t be impartial. Imagine. You would have had to be in underground storage for the last seven years to not already have a strong opinion about 45. Granted he’s entitled to a jury of his peers, says so somewhere, but I’m not sure we have enough people that low on the morality scale to fill a twelve-person panel.

  • Its All Nature

    Winter and the Winter Solstice Moon

    Thursday gratefuls: Rich. Tara. Jamie. Ron. Irv. Marilyn. Susan. The MVP squad. Tom. Diane in Taiwan. That Desert Eagle Mark saw. Ai Weiwei. Genius beyond genius. Art. Missing art. Missing music. Writing. My life. Shadow Mountain home. Cooking. Problem solving. Life. Death. Faith. Its all Nature. The Sacred. Talk about manifesting. Water Vapor. Clouds. Transience revealing permanence.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Life and death

    One brief shining: Protean a word embedded in the Greek vision of divinity, of gods and powers, able to change shape transform metamorphose Ai Weiwei Protean man building big cabinets and small cabinets, creating a marble toilet paper roll, challenging nations from his spot acquired through doggedness, brilliance, and a love of problems and, oh yeah, Legos.


    Wanted to make a black-eyed pea soup for the MVP gathering last night. But. Ordered black beans instead. What to do? In a fateful decision I chose to make a black bean soup with what I had on hand, using as well some of what I ordered for the black-eyed pea soup. OMG. How to make bad choices moi. I think it’s better than I originally thought but I took a bag of clementines to MVP instead. The upside is that I got interested in beans again and soup. Which I know I can make if I have the right ingredients and follow the recipe. So now I’m thinking bean soups, freezing.

    Part of the issue with the soups I looked at it including the black-eyed pea varieties were their use of ham hocks. Fine with me, I don’t share my coreligionists aversion to pork, but I respect it. And, one of our little group, Rich, is a vegetarian. So. Conclusion. I’m going to make some black-eyed pea soup for me with ham hocks and all the trimmings. Figure out something else to take next month.


    Coming home the thirty minute drive from the synagogue to Shadow Mountain in the night. Darkness. Trees. The occasional glow of nocturnal evolved eyes on the road side. Hoping for another flashy glimpse into the world of the sacred but fine with the clouds lit up by moonlight, the Lodgepoles and Aspens crawling up the Mountain sides, my own temporary life moving with and through them. Feelings of love for the Forest, the Mountains, Kate who once rode beside me, my friends at CBE, this solitary life I lead now. Some sadness floating up, accepted, yes sad without Kate, without Kep. Without.

    Further on as I make the sharp turn that leads to the top of Shadow Mountain already beyond the sadness welcoming myself back to my home. Enjoying the folks who savor their Christmas Trees and lights so much they can’t part with them quite yet. Enjoying the world I have and am for this time part of. How wonderful it is to be. To open up and let the moonlight in, to feel sad, to shift to feeling at home, to care deeply about friends. In the hospital. Wandering. Discussing faith and wonder.

    How wonderful is to have made bad black bean soup.



  • Neverending Story

    Samain and the Winter Solstice Moon

    Thursday gratefuls: Marilyn and Irv. Good friends. Tom, always a good conversation. My son and compartment syndrome, the bloody treatment. Seoah shooting a 90 at screen golf. My son an 85. Two athletes. Plus Murdoch. Hamas. Israel. Palestine. The diaspora. The Joseph story. The Jacob/Israel story. The Abraham story. Bereshit, Genesis. Beginnings. Ganesha. Krishna. Vishnu. Shiva. Snow plows and their drivers. My mail carrier, Mark.

    (N.B. I capitalize words associated with what I consider the living world, a practice of honor I picked up from the Potawatomi in Braiding Sweet Grass. [except for humans] Also, I include in my gratefuls the dark as well as the light since both make up our whole life and contain a seed of holiness. I learn this from the sacred nature of reality as One. It does not mean that I love, say, Hamas.)

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Breakfast with Marilyn and Irv

    One brief shining: At Primo’s Cafe I scooched between a diner’s chair and a giant Santa, right hand raised in what I imagine is a greeting gesture though it looks more like he’s waving to other outsized folks like Johnny Inkslinger, Paul Bunyan, Babe the Blue Ox, or perhaps very large Reindeer, a Rudolf with a nose the size of a softball.


    Conversations. Tom. Marilyn and Irv. Diane. Alan and Joan. Luke. My life requires time alone the most, yet it also requires conversation, connection, the intimacy of knowing and being known. Yours too I’ll bet. The second one, I mean. Most don’t need as much alone time as I do.

    I’m lucky enough to have regular folks to meet over eggs, potatoes, and bacon in the breakfast spots available here in the Mountains. And others I meet in the cloud, that mysterious realm just on the other side of my computer screen that contains people I know. Like Tom and my cousin Diane, my Ancient Brothers: Paul, Mark, Tom, Bill. The Thursday mussar group. A blend of the cloud and IRL.

    Judaism contains its own cloud. What Christians often called that great cloud of witnesses, referring to the dead. In Judaism the Rabbis speak over the ages through the Talmud, the Midrash, and the stories of their lives.  The rituals and traditions of Jewish life, the Torah, the Kabbalah, even the blood of the ancestors carry their own message. As well as the history of the Jewish people. That great cloud of witnesses places my temporary life in a broader and longer context. Comforting and challenging.

    Each book I pick up becomes a dialogue between the author and me, between the story and me. In this way my life might be said to be a constant conversation with interlocutors living and dead.

    Then there is the world of my wild neighbors and the planets, Great Sol, and other galaxies. A conversation exists between that very young Mule Deer Doe that comes to eat grass in my yard and me. She looks at me through the window with gentle, puzzled eyes. Among those three Mule Deer Bucks who welcomed me here. That Elk Bull watching from the side of the road in the rainy night. Black Mountain and its changes. The running Streams and the Arapaho National Forest. Crows, Ravens, Magpies. The Snow as it marches across Mt. Blue Sky to Shadow Mountain.

    A neverending story you might say.


  • Missing Art

    Samain and the Choice Moon

    Wednesday gratefuls: Choosing Judaism. Nov. 28th. Temple Emmanuel. Mikveh. Beit din. Blood letting. Rabbi Jamie. Mezuzah hanging Nov. 21. CBE. Luke. Feeling better. Leo. And his friend the Corgi puppy. Gracie, Anne’s dog. Marilyn and Irv’s Australian Shepherds. Kippur, Rich’s new dog. Kep. My sweet boy. And Kate. Always her. Rembrandt’s Lucretia. Goya’s Dr. Arrieta. Beckmann’s Blind Man’s Buff. Kandinsky. Bacon. Close. Augustine. Aquinas. Chardin. Tillich. Whitehead. Evans-Wentz.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Blind Man’s Buff

    One brief shining: Missing this morning access to the Art Institute, those hallways filled with art become good friends, relationships that repaid frequent visits with new insights: Goya gripping the sheet as Dr. Arrieta treated him, Lucretia bloodied by her own hand after being raped, the tall red figure with flowing yellow hair in the Kandinsky, new acquisitions, new shows being installed.


    On the personal health front. Yet again. My first labs after stopping all treatment for prostate cancer. Undetectable PSA! Still rock bottom low testosterone. Good news. And the echocardiogram. Nothing serious as near as I can tell from the report. Dr. Gonzalez will let me know.

    Back to normal. Do back exercises. Workout. Try to eat right. Maintain low stress levels. See friends. Write. Read. Sleep. Repeat. All calm here.

    Goya, Self Portrait with Dr. Arrieta, 1820         Minneapolis Art Institute

    As you might have noticed, I’ve felt nostalgic this last few days for my time as a docent at the MIA, the Minneapolis Art Institute. Art occupied an important spot in my life before my twelve years at the museum and only became more important during that time. I grew to understand and appreciate a much broader range of artistic expression across many different cultures and time periods. What a lucky dude I was to have that experience.

    I’ve been a sort of Twin City’s snob here in Colorado. The Denver Post is not a good paper. I really don’t think it is, but when Marilyn told me she wrote for it, I backtracked, owning prejudice. Not that the Star-Tribune is a Des Moines Register or New York Times, but still… Also, the art scene here. Especially the Denver Art Museum. Not an encyclopedic museum. Stuff hung poorly. Bah. Humbug. No Guthrie or Children’s Theater. No St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. Also, further in to any of these things from Conifer than from Andover.

    Result? I’ve let my art world experiences wither. An important part of my life gone. Want to remedy that. Not the Denver Post. But the DAM. Live theater. Jazz. Which is quite good here. Means scheduling time to go and actually going. A bit harder solo, but not much. I don’t mind night driving. I don’t like it, but I’m not impaired. I have the money, the time. And, the art world I can visit during the day. Maybe schedule an art day a month? Something like that.

    Ever since I quit the MIA because the docent role had changed and not to my liking, I’ve had this feeling. Now almost eleven years, perhaps a bit more. Time to wrassle this bear to the ground.

  • Ars longa, vita brevis

    Samain and the Summer’s End Moon

    Friday gratefuls: Alan and Joan. Rabbi Jamie. Ginny. Nancy. Bright, bright Great Sol, a blue Colorado Sky, and Snow capped Lodgepole Branches. No myeloma. Yeah! All those gobulins in the green. Mary. A together gal. Sarah. Annie. A brain bleed. Jerry with foot surgery. BJ and Schecky. In their own personal Idaho. The Minnesota gang. The Ancient Brothers. Community. Burning away everything but love.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Mary

    One brief shining: Mary said, yeah I’ll chase a little white ball in the grass for three or four holes then I start throwing it.


    Pieter van Steenwyck (Dutch, b. ca. 1615–d. ca. 1654),  Ars longa, Vita brevis



    Back to the humanities for a second. See yesterday’s post. Even if the humanities get pushed out of higher education or so cut back they’re unrecognizable, they will never die. Ars longa, vita brevis. Art is long, life is short. Museums will hold the rich deposit of artists long dead and maintain their curatorial and conversatorial roles. Operas will be sung. Classic music will be played. Libraries will remain. Books will get written and read. Poetry, too. Jazz clubs will buzz with food and improvisation. Movies will get made.

    There are even now artists painting. Sculptors sculpting. Writers writing. Composers composing. Off in some elementary school somewhere some boy has become enchanted with the cello, a girl with drumming. An old man hits the keyboard writing books. An old woman takes up her paint brush and begins. That video camera for Hanukah inspires a Cannes winner.

    Jacob Wrestles the Angel, Odeon

    Art expresses the soul and cannot be banished or diminished. Sure, the Bonfire of the Vanities in Florence. The Nazis and their Fahrenheit 451 moments. Those dimwits banning books from public schools. Of course. But the great flood of human imagination and creativity runs over them, through them, in spite of them. When I feel moved to write or read, I do it. I’m a drop in that flood. Perhaps you are, too.

    Art will out. To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum from Jurassic Park: Art will find a way.

    Here’s a related subject. Or, perhaps the same subject. Revelation. Talked with Marilyn and Irv yesterday about revelation. Marilyn said she touched the Western Wall in Jerusalem and felt a shock, a moment of dissolution (my word). In that moment she realized this was her history, her place in the world.

    What is the source of revelation? Is it the sacred? Whatever that is. Is it something beyond our ordinary perceptions momentarily revealed? Where is its locus? Out there? Or, in here? In the rock of the Western Wall or in Marilyn? In the great Bull Elk I saw in the rain or in me? Or is revelation like the Christian Orthodox icons? The Orthodox pray through the icon, not to it. Are these revelatory moments iconic, that is, a moment we can see through, or, maybe better, that sees through us?

    The book God is Here by Toba Spitzer pushes us to find God or the divine or the sacred by employing different metaphors: water, voice, rock, fire, clouds. She roots her exploration first in the Jewish tradition. The pillar of fire and the pillar of smoke. Rock of ages. Let justice roll down like an ever flowing stream. Suggesting as she does that water or rock or fire as metaphor can help us experience different facets of God, that we’re not stuck with God as judge, God as patriarch, God as angry old man. Though those metaphors can be useful, too. Her point lies in broadening our palette of metaphors.

    icon:    archangel michael

    I think she’s provided us with tools for experiencing revelation. For opening ourselves to the world around us as a conduit for the sacred. Not about God. No, it’s about what God is about. We could say God is an artistic rendering of the power and the beauty and the mysterium tremendum that we too often, all too often lose in our pursuit of wealth or fame or in the dulling grind of daily life. God is a poetic expression of the jolt from the Western Wall, the strangeness and awe of seeing a Bull Elk watching me in the rain, the wonder revealed in the James Webb images, in the fantastic realms of quantum mechanics, of the love in a young girl’s heart. Or that jazz riff that grabbed your soul. Mary Oliver asking you, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?

    Don’t you want to embrace the wonder?

  • Oh, my

    Samain and the Summer’s End Moon

    Thursday gratefuls: Marilyn and Irv. Alan and Joan. Thursday mussar. Diane. Mark and Mary. Saudi and K.L. Snow. 18 degrees. A Mountain Winter morning. Mini-splits keeping me comfortable. Dante. Petrarch. Spinoza. Mary Wollstonecraft. Ovid. Homer. Giotto. Botticelli. Michelangelo. Davinci. Hokusai. The Kano period artists. Song dynasty ceramics. One-corner Ma. Fan Kuan. Picasso. Mozart. Hayden. Faust. Rilke. Frost. Collins. Oliver. August Wilson. Chekov. George Bernard Shaw. Horace. Cole. Bierstadt. Emerson. Thoreau.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Art

    One brief shining: In 2002 and for several years after I attended Monday morning lectures, continuing education, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and afterward we could wander the halls of a closed museum, attending to the art with no visitors, only the workers from registration and cleaning, sometimes up on the scissor platform gently vacuuming dust from the wonderful Chihuly Sun burst in the lobby or feather dusting a Rodin, hanging a new work, doing the behind the scenes work that kept the museum fresh.


    I have two thick notebooks filled with notes from those mornings. Art historians would regale us with stories of artists whose works were in our collection or do a deep analysis of a particular work, get us ready for a new show. That was my version of heaven. And heaven only got better when the lectures ended and the docents and guides would file out of the lecture hall, most to go on about their day but a few, always me at least, would turn left into the Japanese galleries and see the majestic painting of Cranes dancing and the suit of Samurai era armor in red lacquer. Or perhaps right into the gallery for the Tea Ceremony with the Tea House built in Japan, disassembled, then built again by the same artisans in our museum.

    Two hours, three hours sometimes a whole morning and early afternoon would go by as I visited old friends like Rembrandt’s Lucretia, the Doryphoros, the Jade Mountain, that spectacular ancient Chinese pottery bowl (see right) which is one of if not the favorite piece of mine in the whole museum. Its beautiful proportions, its simplicity, and its devotion to its material. Over 6,500 years old.

    Oh, I could wax nostalgic about those Monday mornings for pages and pages. A time of pure bliss. As a docent on those mornings, I had a collection better than any billionaire and all at my disposal. And quiet.

    However, I have more than nostalgia on my mind here. The humanities. The liberal arts. Dying now in many of our universities and colleges. When I chose colleges, I wanted a liberal arts education. That’s why I chose Wabash. It was one of those small liberal arts colleges that held fast to that ideal. As I did. At 17. And before.

    In my first semester I took philosophy, contemporary civilizations, German, and English. I satisfied my mathematics requirement with symbolic logic. The Red Masque, a theater group which I joined, did medieval morality plays on the streets of Crawfordsville. I was so happy intellectually.

    The liberal arts still make my heart-mind, my lev, rev up. My curiosity stops me even now in front a work of art, a new poem, the new translation of the Odyssey, the graceful Latin of Ovid’s Metamorphosis, listening to chamber music, seeing or performing in a Chekov play.

    But what good is it? Ah. That’s the rub these days. It used to be the answer to that question was obvious. Learning the poems of Robert Frost, reading Goethe or Tolstoy, knowing how to appreciate a 6,500 year old clay pot, seeing a play by O’Neill allowed you to entertain different ways of being, of being human. And that was important for it was known that we humans tend to stray off the path of decency and justice if we focus too much on making things, earning money for the sake of earning money.

    This simple and straightforward rationale for the liberal arts has fallen into disrepute as the world shines its adoring spotlight on Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, the factories of China, and the MBA. The most popular major in the U.S. right now? Business.

    Is there anything wrong with following a career path in higher education? Of course not. Many always have. Perhaps most. But a few, a few wanted to continue the long march of art, of poetry, of theater, of music, of literature either by producing it themselves or by studying it and then teaching it to new generations. Not much money to be made there. Never in history and still not now. Yet…

  • A Songtan Flaneur

    Lughnasa and the Korea Moon

    Wednesday gratefuls: Seoah feeling better. My son with a sore throat. I’m ok for now. No longer immune compromised. The streets of Songtan. Grilled Fish place. So many restaurants. So many Koreans. Ha. Back still improving. Workout again today. My son’s very long days next week. The 1311 bus to the subway station in Songtan.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Korea

    One brief shining: Stood at an intersection yesterday and watched the light turn green, the digital timer with 20 seconds ticking down, thought for the first time if that was enough time to make it; it was.


    Obvious. Signs in Hangul. Street signs. Restaurant signs. Plant shops. Grocery stores. Clothing stores. Hair salons. The street signs all have transliterations in the English alphabet. Some of the shops and restaurants may have a word or two in English. Most not. Seoah says English literacy declines steadily from Seoul on south. Makes sense. Fewer encounters with English speakers the further south you to. Like Gwanjiu where Seoah’s mom’s seventieth birthday was held. And her home village of Okwga.

    Less obvious. Iron chopsticks. Long spoons for soups. The many, many restaurants with the shiny hanging powered vents over the  charcoal or gas cooking pit for every four chairs. The Orthopedic hospital on the second floor of a non-descript office building soon to have Screen Golf on the first floor. The efficient city bus and subway system. Good taxis if you speak Korean.

    Even less obvious. The large number of fit Koreans, flexible in old age, limber and athletic when younger. Their work ethic. Honed I imagine in centuries of stoop labor where survival meant the rice crop had to come in. The children in their uniforms walking home after school.

    The rolled up thin cuts of beef and pork in the butcher shops. For grilling. Or hot pot cooking. The restaurants with octopus signs. Where you can eat live octopus. The all crab restaurant with the aquariums out front, large crabs clawing and moving against the glass. The various sorts of kimchi. Cabbage. Cucumber. Pickled vegetables.  The multiple side dishes at every traditional meal.

    Bowing. Calculating status by age. By wealth and clan. Complicated calculus likely opaque to even a seasoned Korean expat.I think I mentioned here a few weeks back that Seoah’s dad’s first question to me was, “How old are you?” He’s my elder by five years.

    Something non-Korean speakers cannot parse is the difference between formal and casual language. If speaking to an elder, formal language is always used until the elder indicates casual language is all right. When meeting new people, formal language again is used and often doesn’t change if or until a friendship forms. I can’t parse this as non-Korean speaker so I don’t know much more about it.

    Clans. Bongwans. Those with a common village of origin and paternal ancestor. Bongwans appear to be less important today due to the churn of modern society, but it seems they can still influence business networks and perhaps job seekers.

    There’s more, but that’s the Songtan flaneur’s observations for today.


  • Seoul. Day 2.

    Lughnasa and the Korea Moon

    Sunday gratefuls: Seoul. Bongeunsa Temple. Coex Mall. The KiaF art show 2023. Shogun. Hotpot and barbecue. The subway. The bus. Songtan. Murdoch. My boy. Seoah and her brand new bag. Walking pain free. Healthy walk. Gangnam. A pleasant, Goldilocks day. The Silla Dynasty. The Joseon Dynasty. Deep history in the center of ultra modern Seoul.

    Sparks of Joy and Awe: Healing

    One brief shining: Overhead hundreds of white lanterns each with a different prayer the noonday sun creating deep shadows beneath in regular lines as we walked up the path to Bongeunsa Temple.


    Second day in Seoul. Caught the Seoul Train around 9:30 am yesterday. Snagged a seniors and pregnant women’s seat while my son and Seoah had to stand. Even in Songtan two hours or so from Seoul the light rail had already filled up.

    Right here is the moment for my shout out to Korean medicine. On Tuesday of last week I saw the sharp toothed orthopod (as Kate would have called him). Got a diagnosis, some muscle relaxants, and an initial deep massage, shock wave therapy, electrotherapy, lumbar traction.

    Still tender when I returned on Thursday for another round of massage and procedures. Saw the doc again. We agreed that Mr. Lee was really good and that he had hurt both of us in the interest of healing. Laughing. Doc said I could do some light jogging on Saturday.

    I walked about six blocks on Friday, heel first, head up, stomach in. Did the hip rotation exercises and the spine stretching. Went out again that evening with my son and Murdoch. Tired by the time I got back, but not in pain.

    These folks took what looked like a trip shrinking back and hip spasm and turned it around in a week. They gave me the  tools necessary to not only recover, but in fact walk better than I have in years. As long as I walk healthy as Mr. Lee wanted and get back to my core exercises, I will not return to the me before the hip pain, but will become a better me protecting my back and keeping it strong. Not bad for two sessions.

    On Saturday my son, Seoah and I went to Gangnam. You might remember this neighborhood from the Gangnam dance moves made popular a few years ago. If you don’t, here’s a wiki with a how to do them lesson.

    Gangnam harbors the Seoul fashionistas among whom I count my daughter-in-law Seoah. She lived and worked in Gangnam. She dresses and lives Gangnam style. An upmarket, brand conscious I can be more beautiful than you lifeway. Seoah walked out of the house this morning to go play golf with my son at an Army golf course on Camp Humphreys. She had on a short green skirt, like a tennis skirt, a white top with Malbon written on it. She carried her new Malbon leather golf bag. A golf diva.

    She’s also a caring and thoughtful daughter-in-law, protective of my son, her father-in-law, and Murdoch. A delightful and happy person.


    The three of us came up from the underground into the bright light of a Gangnam Saturday. We walked a block and were on the grounds of Bongeunsa Temple, founded in 794 during Korea’s three kingdoms period. Seoul and Bongeunsa were then in the Silla Kingdom.

    Surrounded by glass and metal high rise apartment complexes and just across the cross walk from the fabled COEX mall Bongeunsa has not given up its peaceful and medieval feel. A large complex of temples, statuary, and monastic housing. Walking on its grounds transported me to a time before even Sejong the Great.

    A monk walked into a small side temple and began chanting. His sonorous tones called out the Buddha spirit from tiled roofs, elaborate painted and decorated eves, the courtyards. Filled them with an ancient religiosity. In spite of the healing I mentioned above going uphill and stairs still proves difficult so I sat on the steps of this little temple as my son and Seoah explored. Listening to the monk my former brother-in-law Bob Merritt came back to me. Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo. Something like that. Nichiren Soshu Buddhism.

    What came next? COEX mall right across the street. And my first chance to do something art related. KiaF Seoul is underway in the mall’s large exhibition space. KiaF’s second year. This enormous show brings together galleries from Seoul, other cities in Korea, L.A., Paris and around the world focusing on Korean artists.

    The purpose? Expose KiaF attendees to the broad range of Korean contemporary art and. Sell art. Galleries had bigger and smaller sized exhibition spaces, some as small as a cubicle, some as spacious as a gallery itself.

    When visiting a gallery, the owners and their staff would brighten, ask questions. What do you like about that piece? Um. It’s religious iconography. And it’s fun. Breaking away before the pitch got more traction.